Threat Level: N/A
Power Type: N/A
It was late in the evening when Danny finished cleaning the gym. He had sent the other staff home as soon as Sal walked out of the door. It meant he had to finish mopping alone, but Danny didn’t mind. After all, his work day only comprised a couple of evening classes and the other two trainers had worked all day. Danny also enjoyed the gym once the building was empty. No one tried to talk to him, and he could watch old super fight videos on his phone’s second-hand HoloLens attachment.
He was in the middle of watching Dryad fight a villain group called the Freaks when the ThreatLevel App flashed, interrupting the video just as the superheroine grew a full body suit of purple-thorned brambles.
Local threat level alert!
Six women in black masks and white lab coats spotted assaulting an armoured truck.
Two instances of Bruiser and Mover type powers were witnessed.
Suspected Fabricator-made tech.
Avoid Highbury and Islington Station and surrounding areas.
Another new gang?
Gangs rarely bothered wearing matching outfits. However, there were records of a few trying to set a brand and build street credit. The six women could potentially be a villain’s minions, too. However, villains that made their followers wear uniforms often made appearances on the crime scenes, or ensured the public knew of their hand in the crime. Danny swiped through the clips and photographs witnesses had uploaded before returning to his video. Before he could finish it, a familiar face peeked through the gym’s front door.
“You done cleaning up, mate?” Jose asked.
“I might as well be,” Danny replied, squeezing water out of his mop head. “Honestly, I was killing time until you showed up. I’m ready to go if you are.”
“We’re not going anywhere, actually.”
“Oh. Did the Power Merchant change his mind or is tonight not good?”
Jose’s lizard eyes scanned the gym for a moment before he stepped aside. “It’s all clear, sir.”
“Thank you, Jose,” Power Merchant said, entering the gym. He looked nothing like what Danny expected. The super villain stood a couple of inches shorter than him and had a bad comb-over. He had a small paunch, but his black suit did an excellent job of hiding it. By Danny’s estimations, the man was in his early to mid forties, and the bloated face suggested he drank heavily.
Power Merchant marched across the gym floor and shook Danny’s hand. “Jose has told me a lot about you, Mr Daniel Das. I asked around and you have an excellent reputation in the neighbourhood—for a powerless. It’s surprising I haven’t heard of you.”
“As a powerless, I consider it important to keep my head down,” Danny replied. “People like me that get too big end up in the crosshairs of the gangs or worse.”
“Unfortunate but true.” Power Merchant sighed. “It’s a shame, really. You’d think people would just learn to leave each other alone. But, weaklings need to target the weaker to feel strong. It’s good for business, though. I help people turn their lives around and discover their true selves. Is that what you want, Daniel Das?”
Danny nodded. “I’m sick of feeling helpless. I want to walk home at night without constantly peeking over my shoulder, and a job where my talents are appreciated. Unfortunately, the powerless don’t have that opportunity unless they want to end up under a megalomaniac F-rank Mind super whose pencil-pusher manager job has gone to their head.”
“You’re funny!” A high-pitched laugh burst from Power Merchant. “I used to be one of them, you know! A pencil-pushing manager, that is. I wasted too much time playing by the rules when I could’ve been helping people. Someone’s got to help arm the weak against the villains and the increasing rift outbreaks.”
“I appreciate you coming out to meet me, but I just want to make it clear first that I don’t have much to offer. My savings are barely enough for a deposit on a place of my own—”
“That’s not important right now,” Power Merchant said. He clicked his fingers, and a woman entered the gym carrying a giant case in each hand. If Danny adopted the foetal position, he’d fit in one of them comfortably. “First, we need to test your potential.”
The woman placed both cases in front of Power Merchant and he pressed a button on the smaller of the pair. Its sides slid open, and the top rose, revealing a collection of needles, vials, and tubes. Before Danny could ask what Power Merchant needed from him, the woman swabbed the inside of his cheeks and nostrils. Then she plucked a strand of hair from his scalp, drew blood and sliced a bit of skin off the palm of his hand. She kneeled in front of the case, scanning each sample and stored them away in separate vials.
“While we wait for your results, why don’t you tell me about your dream powers and what you’d do with them.”
The last time someone had asked Danny the question he was eleven-years-old. He struggled to remember the answer he’d given them, but a lot had changed since. At first, he wanted to emulate Vish. The energy-chakram-wielding superhero was Danny’s role model. Then, as he grew older and started following super sports, Bheem took over with his mysterious combination of Bruiser and Mover abilities. Now, as he grew older and more desperate, Danny didn’t care what superpower he got.
“I’ve always wanted to be a Controller or Projector. Kinesis powers and energy beams fascinated me when I was little. I suppose the power to harden light would be amazing. In all honesty, I don’t know. I’d want something that helps me make a difference.” Danny paused, studying Power Merchant. The villain appeared so ordinary that he might have well as been powerless. “I don’t want to end up a Fabricator, though. My finances aren’t the best for funding such a power—”
“Do you have any German or Japanese ancestors?”
“No,” Danny answered.
“Then the chances of you carrying a Fabricator meta gene are low,” Power Merchant said. “Research suggests that origin and genealogy play a major role in what powers you might get. Think back to the first recorded supers. Most Fabricators were German and Japanese due to their focus on industry. In the US, we see most of them coming out of Silicon Valley or Detroit. Asia and Africa have the most bestial powers with Shifter, Bruiser, or Mover classifications. Island nations and states have hydromancers. Families that have lived in volcanic regions for centuries birth pyromancers. The research is inconclusive, since supers only came into the forefront towards the end of World War Two, but the patterns speak for themselves.”
“Unfortunately, I know very little about my family’s heritage,” Danny told the man. “My parents died when I was a toddler and my uncle won’t tell me much about them.”
“Any supers among them?”
Danny shook his head. “But I’m hoping the one-in-two statistic works out in my favour.”
“That’s a common misconception. The one-in-two is based off the local population of Western Europe and the Americas before migration became as easy as it has been in the last three decades. For individuals with Greek, Indian, Central African and Caribbean heritage the statistic is closer to one in ten.”
Danny’s heart dropped. However, he reminded himself to take anything Power Merchant said with a grain of salt. He expected the villain to try to recruit him because of his combat prowess. “Does that mean I have no chance of awakening a power at all?”
Power Merchant glanced at his colleague as she noted readings of the case’s machines. “I don’t think so,” Power Merchant said. “For some people, puberty isn’t enough. They require a trigger event for the dormant meta gene to stir. You simply don’t have one. At a glance, it looks like you’re an ordinary Homo Sapien Sapien.”
“Well, that’s a kick in the nuts,” Danny said. He rolled the mop bucket across the gym floor to its cupboard. By the time he returned to Power Merchant, the woman had put the case away, and the villain had a plastic folder in his hands.
“Don’t lose all hope, Daniel Das. We can still get you powers. They’ll just be more expensive. On the bright side, you’re a blank slate. So you can choose from a wider range. Your friend Jose didn’t get such an opportunity. His meta gene had already decided whatever powers he manifested would connect to the Iberian Lizard. So it was a matter of deciding whether he wanted to walk the path of a Shifter, Bruiser, or Mover. We could’ve coaxed him towards chameleon-like powers too for a chance at the Stalker classification, but he didn’t want that. You, on the other hand, can have whatever you want.”
“And what will it cost?”
“Depends on the power, classification, and rank,” Power Merchant answered. “It’s not a perfect science. Bruiser, Mover, and Stalker powers are the cheapest. Getting high ranks in the latter can be difficult, though, and they often come as byproducts to the former.”
“Makes sense,” Danny said. “Bestial physiologies often exhibit prey or predator instincts and senses.”
“Precisely.” Power Merchant grinned. “I get the sense you’re more than a great fighter. There’s a decent brain in that head of yours, too. Makes me wonder why you’d want to join the League.”
“Despite the official records, my parents’ death coincides with a major hero-villain-battle. I’ve always suspected it was a rampaging villain that killed my parents. You could call it a need for revenge and lifelong idealism.”
“Well, I have a variety of packages,” Power Merchant said, tapping the folder. “Depending on what you select, you’d pay it off through service—the length depends on what percentage of your pay you give up—or by completing certain tasks for me once you’ve joined the League. My night isn’t particularly busy, so we could go through the catalogue or I can transfer you an electronic copy.”
“I think I’ll go for the latter,” Danny replied. His stomach rumbled at an embarrassing volume. He smiled sheepishly before retrieving a bag of kiwis from his gym back. Sweet juices burst from the fruit as he bit into it and ran down his chin. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long evening and I’m starving.” Power Merchant froze watching Danny. His nose twitched and Danny saw the man swallow. The woman and Jose by the door had stilled, too. He offered the bag to Power Merchant. “Would you like one?”
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your dinner.” Power Merchant took the fruit from Danny before he could answer. He bit into the fuzzy brown fruit and moaned. “Where did you get these?” He asked. “The smell is intoxicating, and the flavour…”
“The green grocer in Seven Sisters Market has it every Saturday,” Danny answered. “She sources them from a super-run farm just outside London—or so she claims at least.”
Power Merchant took one more and pocketed it before passing the rest to the woman. She took one too, and the last went to Jose. Danny chuckled, watching them fawn over the fruit. He recalled the first time he encountered it. The smell had intoxicated him, too.
“Well, that’s got my appetite going now, Daniel Das,” Power Merchant said. “My hench people and I are going to get dinner. Look through the catalogue and let Jose know what you want.”
“Of course,” Danny said, and felt his phone vibrate in his pocket.
“The app will delete itself in six hours and the camera will activate whenever it’s open. I can’t have any unapproved individuals looking through the catalogue, after all. If there’s an attempt at transferring it to any other device, your phone and everything in the network will fry. We’ll know and despite your friendship with Jose, I’ll have to send someone after you. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” Danny replied, trying his best not to stiffen at the casual threat.
“Good!” Power Merchant exclaimed before devouring the rest of the kiwi. He marched out of the gym and the woman followed. Jose waved Danny goodbye and closed the door behind his employer as they disappeared into the night.