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Last Thursday at Supervillain Supply Depot

Sarah Pinsker is the author of the novelette "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind," 2014 Sturgeon winner and 2013 Nebula finalist. Her fiction has been published in magazines including Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Fantasy & Science Fiction,and Lightspeed and in anthologies including Long Hidden, Fierce Family, and The Future Embodied. This is her fourth appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

She co-hosts the Baltimore Science Fiction Society's Dangerous Voices Variety Hour, a reading series/quiz show. She is also a singer/songwriter with three albums on various independent labels and a fourth forthcoming. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at sarahpinsker.com and on Twitter @sarahpinsker.

Dora didn't recognize him when he walked into the store. Not at first. She only knew someone important had entered because her supervisor, Madame Furie, said so in her earpiece. "Code Yellow," Madame Furie said, leaving her to try to remember which emergency that was supposed to be. Not the one for police, Code Blue, which went off pretty frequently at month's end, when the cops were trying to fill quotas. Not the one for robot armies, Code Steel.
No, this one was Code Yellow, which she didn't remember, followed a moment later by, "Holy crap. It's Power Star."
Power Star! The Cape of Capes. Dora fought the urge to swing around and stare. Instead, she turned to the monitors under the counter. Her boss kept hidden cameras everywhere, which made it easy to get an unobtrusive view. Sure enough: Power Star. Recognizable even in a tracksuit and baseball cap, once you were looking: the chiseled jaw, the broad shoulders straining the cheap fabric that contained them. She thought she glimpsed the collar of his Spandex costume under the zipped jacket.
Was he the first superhero to walk into Supervillain Supply Depot? Probably not if they had a code to go with it. The first on her watch, but Dora had only worked there six months. She waited to be told what to do: flip the more dangerous displays, slide the secret panels, like for police visits. She tried to remember if he had a secret identity. If she shouted "help," would he tear off the tracksuit, or duck into the bathroom to change? She pictured him saving somebody in the tracksuit, like an off-duty police officer.
Not that she would shout. She only had two months until graduation from Sidekick Academy's online program, and one of the first things she had learned was that sidekicks should expect to get kidnapped and trapped on a regular basis. "Try getting out yourself. You may luck out. Otherwise, sit tight and try not to get killed." It had been her own idea to apply for a job here. Get to know the villains on their own turf, so maybe they'd be more enthusiastic if they encountered her again out in the field.
Power Star didn't seem to be in any hurry. He scanned the shelves as if browsing. First, the books, where his fingers trailed past Hiring & Inspiring Lab Assistants, Monologuing for Dummies, and My Year As A Disembodied Brain. At the magazine rack, he thumbed through a copy of Hench Life and then put it back on the wrong stack, with Better Lairs and Dungeons.
He walked toward the back shelves. Tucked his cap down lower over his eyes, shoved his hands in his pockets. He glanced once at Dora. She wondered if he really had X-ray vision, if he could see beneath her uniform. He'd see she had her own Spandex on for practice, though hers was still plain; no point in decorating when she didn't know who she'd be sidekicking for after graduation. He'd also see her earpiece, know she could call Madame Furie in an instant. Maybe he was wondering why she hadn't already. He looked away.
"Excuse me, a little help?"
She glanced up, startled to see Chimera standing in front of her. Two of his heads sneered. The third smiled, which was much more disturbing.
She sighed. "The usual?"
He nodded all three heads. She pulled the Rent-A-Minion book from under the counter.
"You know there are online ads these days, right?" she asked him, emboldened by the unusual visitor. Chimera came in every week, like clockwork. This store had customers who actually were clockwork, and they didn't even show up as regularly as Chimera.
One of his heads looked up. "Some of the best minions aren't online. Old fashioned. They don't waste time on social media."
He turned all his attention back to the book. She decided not to ask why he needed to come in so often if he hired the best ones.
Dora looked back down at the monitors. She picked Power Star up again in the apothecary aisle. He had something in his hand now, and he kept glancing around. It took her a minute to figure out he was waiting for Chimera to leave.
"Misters--Mr. Chimera, would you like to take the book home with you? You can bring it back next week."
"What are you doing?" hissed Madame Furie in her ear. "That's a violation."
Dora knew she had overstepped her bounds. She'd have to explain later that nobody except Chimera had used the book in the six months she had worked at the store.
All three heads smiled at her. "I'd love that. Thank you. I'll make sure to spare you and your family when I attack the city next."
"Thank you. Have a great day." She watched him leave the store. The lion's tail sticking out through the back of his raincoat gave her a jaunty salute as he departed.
At last, Power Star approached her counter. "Did you find everything you were looking for?" She was supposed to ask. She didn't want another warning.
"Um, yeah." He looked away, like he didn't want to make eye contact.
She reached for the single item he had placed on the counter and tried to hide her surprise. Salve-O. The As-Seen-on-TV cure-all for supervillains caught in their own itch rays and other similar maladies. She didn't see any sign of rash on his hands or face. Maybe it wasn't for him? Or maybe the rash was elsewhere; spandex did get a little sweaty. She couldn't wait until wicking technology caught up with costuming.
"Do you have a customer loyalty card? You can save ten percent today on that itch, uh, your purchase."
He gave her a look that bored straight through her.
"I'll just put an application in your bag in case you change your mind." Dora tried to keep to her script. "Would you like a bag? They're five cents."
He pulled a compact reusable bag from his tracksuit jacket's pocket.
"Thanks for doing your part for the planet," she ad-libbed. Not one supervillain had ever brought a bag, so she didn't remember the pre-planned response.
"Doing your part for the planet?" Madame Furie clearly wasn't impressed. Whoops.
"Would you like to be added to our mailing list? We send weekly coupons."
He shifted from foot to foot, visibly impatient now. "No, thank you. I'm, uh, not in town often."
He paid with cash, grabbed his bag, and strode for the door.
"You forgot your change!" she called after him.
"Keep it," he said over his shoulder.
Two warnings already. She shouldn't risk saying anything else. But when would she have an opportunity again?
"Wait, Mr. Star! My roommate has a great holistic remedy for jock--"
He kept moving.
"Dora!" Madame Furie nearly busted her eardrum. She knew: customers don't want to be known when buying personal items. They don't want to know you, but mostly they don't want you to know them.
"I'm a big fan of your work!"
"Dora, you're fired," Madame Furie whispered in her ear, calm now. Too calm.
Dora sighed and disengaged the earpiece, then headed out the door before Madame Furie made it out of the back office. She couldn't remember what the severance package here was like, but she had a feeling it wouldn't be good for her health. They probably wouldn't give her a recommendation now, either.
She ditched the store uniform as she ran. If she hurried, she might catch Power Star before he took off. Maybe he knew if Heroes-R-Us was hiring. Or better yet, maybe he needed an intern.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 10th, 2015

Author Comments

This story was inspired by a bar discussion after the release party for Michael Underwood's superhero novel Shield & Crocus. I don't remember much of the conversation, but I found a note in my handwriting afterward that said "Monologuing for Dummies." A Codex contest prompt shortly afterward asked us to write a story about a person who has to undertake an activity which they haven't done before, which led me to a superhero trying to buy something awkward in a supervillain supply store.

- Sarah Pinsker
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