by Tom Dillon
Silvia resented many things. She resented the job that made her feel like the Red Queen, running ever faster only to find herself stationary. She resented that her crippling student loan debt had paid for an education but not prospects of employment. She resented the economic necessity that forced her to share her too-small apartment with a roommate. But she loathed none of those things. Loathing was reserved for Adam. Her roommate.
Even worse, he was oblivious to her feelings towards him, and continued to do aggravating things. Like talking to her.
“Look at this,“ he said, handing her a slip of paper that could have come out of a fortune cookie save for the block lettering that was the hallmark of the Machine. It said SUPERVILLAIN. “What does it mean?“ That was the other hallmark of the Machine, it was annoyingly vague.
“It means that you‘re going to be killed, somehow, by a supervillain,“ she said. “I‘m thinking comic convention.“ After all, there were no super-powered people running around.
Adam didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t say anything else, which was good enough for her. She took one look at the common area, which appeared to have a nasty infestation of a fungus composed entirely of Adam’s things, and headed for her room, which was almost it’s own apartment within an apartment. If not for the bathroom and the exit being on the other side of No-Man’s-Land, she would never have to leave.
Perhaps it was because of how mundane her own cause of death would be (she cried when she took the blood test and got a slip that read SURGICAL ERROR) or maybe it was something else, but Adam’s notice gnawed at her. He wasn’t into comics, and she just couldn’t figure out how he could possibly be killed by a fictional being. His slip might as well have said UNICORN. Apparently, he had something of the same feeling.
“Hey Silvia, I’ve been thinking,” he said, cornering her near the bathroom. She had just come out, so she couldn’t well go back in, and he was standing between her and her room.
“Hmm.” Maybe she could noncommit her way out of this.
No such luck. “I’ve been thinking, why shouldn’t there be a such thing as superheroes and supervillains?”
“The same reason there’s no Santa, Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny,” she said, although she was sure that geneticists were working on the last one.
“No, hear me out. How much of the stuff around us do you really understand? Where does the water in the pipes come from? Where does it go? How do cell phones work? Why is the line you pick at the supermarket always the slowest?”
“And . . .” She wanted to take the lingering prompt back the second it left her mouth, she sounded interested. So much for her armor of annoyed disinterest.
“My point is that none of us really have a grasp on the basic mechanics of the world around us. For all intents and purposes we live in a Science Fictional universe.”
He had a point. “So? Someone, somewhere, understands how those things work. I don’t have to be able to calculate planetary orbits in order for sunrise and sunset to occur every day.”
“What about the Machine? No one knows how the Machine gets its predictions, all we know is that they are right, every time. My point isn’t that it’s possible for a person to turn invisible, but rather that there’s room for mystery in our lives.”
She wished he were some idiot, that she could easily dismiss, but he was smart, and he was right. “OK, you’ve got me there. What does this have to do with your prediction? Are you saying that someone, somewhere, is going to become a supervillain, and then that they are going to kill you?”
“Why?” she asked. “You‘re not important enough.“
“Because I’m going to be the world’s first super-hero. If I’m going to die by the hand of a supervillain, I might as well do some good, first.”
The grin on his face would have driven Gandhi into a homicidal rage.
“Admit it, you’re in love with him,” Kate said.
It took Silvia a second to process what her friend had just said, her attention was on the vacant building across the street.
“Wait, what? No!” Silvia was glad that she had chosen to meet in one of those little combination microbrewery restaurant places, this conversation was clearly going to require alcohol.
“You’re always talking about him, always complaining. Face it, you have a crush on him. Besides, he’s kind of cute.”
“You’re on crack. This is not a RomCom, this is real life, and dislike doesn’t equate to love.” Silvia waved over a waiter and ordered a pint of whatever was on special, something about watermelon and wheat.
“Well, when you get around to admitting it, I’ll be here for you. I won’t even gloat,” Kate said. They both laughed. “So what made you choose this place?”
“I’ve been meaning to try it since forever.” It was true, she had been meaning to try the place since she had moved to San Francisco, but that wasn’t the reason she had insisted on meeting there. The real reason was that she had been spying on her roommate, and he had a note about a crime ring being run out of the vacant space across the street.
“Well I’m glad you did, this place is great,” Kate said.
“Thanks.” Silvia felt a small measure of relief that Kate had accepted her explanation, she had been suspicious when Silvia had not only been there on time, but early, remarking that there ‘must be a first time for everything’.
The food came and Kate focused on her salad while Silvia started on her Cuban-style pressed sandwich. It was tasty enough to give her another reason to hate the ridiculous embargo on the island nation. Communism or no, she wondered what other culinary wonders were holed up behind silly foreign policy.
Her attention was drawn back to the building across the street when a man in a suit walked up to the glass doors, unlocked them, and stepped inside. He must be the one that Adam was following. Less than a minute later Adam came around the corner, produced a key from somewhere, and entered.
“Hey!” Silvia said, recoiling from being poked in the arm wit a fork.
“Where are you?” Kate said.
“Sorry, my mind’s just been . . . cluttered, is all.”
“You were thinking about Adam, weren’t you?”
“Of course not,” Silvia said.
“Right.” Kate didn’t buy it, but that wasn’t surprising, she could always tell when Silvia was lying.
Silvia was spared any further denials by a loud burst of noise coming from the building across the street, gunfire. All heads in the restaurant swiveled to focus across the street, then abruptly disappeared as a bullet shattered one of the six-panel windows that overlooked the street. More gunfire, then yelling, then the low sound of a dozen people talking to 9-1-1 on their cell phones. It looked like she would be stuck under the table for a while, so Silvia stuck her hand up and fumbled around until she found her beer, then her sandwich.
“What are you doing?” Kate whispered, staring at her from the other side of the table’s metal support.
Silvia took a bite of her sandwich. “Why are you whispering?”
Kate’s shoulders slumped and she held her head in her hands.
“You know, Adam, just because you’re out there saving the world, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a moral imperative to clean up your crap,” Silvia said. “You know, think globally, act fucking locally.” Ever since he had gone off on his superhero idea, the state of the apartment had been steadily deteriorating. Whereas before she had chosen not to enter the kitchen, now it was physically impossible.
“Hey, injured guy here,” he said. He tried to wave with his left arm, but the sling prevented him from finishing the gesture and so instead he looked like he was dancing to a mediocre song that no one else liked, either.
“Yeah, and who’s fault is that? What did you expect, that you could just walk into the secret headquarters for San Francisco’s human trafficking ring and what, reason them out of it?”
“I had a plan, and it worked. What’s your problem?”
“My problem is that I’m worried that soon I’m going to have to get a HazMat suit just to use the bathroom. And you call that a plan? You walk into a place like that and get the shit kicked out of you then call the cops. Doesn’t that sort of seem sort of like you’re asking to get shot?”
“I did get shot–”
“But it didn’t kill me, and it won’t, not until I run into a supervillain, and I haven’t heard anything about any of them. Have you?”
She hadn’t, of course.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Adam said. He was a talkative drunk.
“What do you mean?” There was no point in Silvia listing off his faults if he wasn’t cogent enough to get it. She was glad that she had cleaned off enough of the couch for them to sit far enough apart that she wouldn’t be expected to pat him on the shoulder or something.
“I mean, look at all the good stuff I’ve done. I’ve stopped human trafficking, drugs, guns, gangs, you name it, but the best I can get is ‘vigilante’. I’m not sure that I can do the whole superhero thing.”
“Maybe you need to do something bigger?”
“Like what?” he said. “Is it even possible to be a superhero without a supervillain?”
It was a good question, one to which she didn’t have an answer. After all, why would superheroes be any better at solving the worlds problems that regular people? Sure, it would be great for things like hostage situations, but it wouldn’t be much use in the face of something like hurricane Katrina or the housing bubble.
They sat there in silence, passing the bottle of Aquavit back and forth every couple of minutes. Eventually the alcohol started to get to her, because she found herself feeling envious of her roommate. No matter how much she hated him, at least he had a purpose, however misguided.
She, on the other hand, worked in the marketing department of a toothpaste company. She couldn‘t think of a more pointless job. How many different kinds of toothpastes did the world really need? She knew that if something didn‘t change, she would pass through life leaving less of a mark on the world than a bug did on a windshield.
That thought coupled with the drinking to form a new and even worse idea. She envied Adam because the Machine gave him a purpose. At some level, did that mean that she wanted someone to come along and do the same for her? What was the point of working towards someone else‘s purpose? She took another swig of the Aquavit.
“Maybe you just need better PR,” she said, surprised at her own words. Perhaps they were a result of the alcohol, or perhaps they were her brain trying to derail her spiralling depression before she did something pathetic and cliche like kill herself or turn to Adam for comfort.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” Adam perked up like he had just heard the best news of his life.
The depression she had just escaped came back in force, and Silvia went to her room to find her emergency bottle of Tequila.
It was the fifth of the month. There was a notice peeking out from under the door. Silvia didn’t need to open it to know what it said. Rent was due, and her roommate, the Superhero, hadn’t come up with his share. So she waited on the couch for him to come back from one of his crime-fighting outings.
It was almost dawn when she heard his footsteps in the hallway. He stepped right over the notice, oblivious.
“Adam,” she said, startling him. He had a black eye and he looked exhausted. “We need to talk.”
“It’s about the rent, isn’t it?” he asked. His voice made it clear that the rent was the last thing he wanted to worry about at the moment.
“Listen, I had it, but the hospital bills . . . my insurance won’t cover it,” he said.
“Have you tried telling them that you’re a Superhero now?” As silly as it had sounded, when he started promoting himself as a Superhero, calling himself Captain Justice of all things, the media had taken notice. He was no longer a vigilante.
“I would, but my identity–”
“I was kidding.”
“I’ll figure something out, I promise,” he said, and continued on to his room.
A few hours later, she was woken by him getting ready for work. She had called in sick on account of the long night waiting for him, and was trying to get some sleep, but when she heard the water running, had to use the restroom. Adam was in the kitchenette, making coffee. She stumbled past him and across No-Man’s-Land and into the bathroom, and was rapidly brought to full wakefulness when she sat down on the toilet only to find that the seat was left up. She had gotten pretty good about checking, and was going to let it go, but combined with everything else, she need to vent. She cleaned up and was out in the common area in an instant.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You can put your life on the line for strangers but can’t be bothered to put the seat down?”
“Hey, I need it up, you need it down. We’ve been over this,” he said.
She didn’t say anything, but rushed him and punched him in the face. He wasn’t expecting it, and tripped over something, falling backwards. On the way down, his head caught on the corner of the coffee table, and there was a loud crack. After a few moments, she crouched down on him to take his pulse.
She couldn’t find it.
She closed his eyes as they stared unfocused at the ceiling. The consequences of what had happened slowly unfurled in her mind. He wouldn’t be able to come up with the rest of the rent. He was never going to clean up the apartment.
A different thought occurred to her and she crouched down to dig through her dead roommate‘s pockets. Keys, lint, normal things. She found his wallet, flipped through his cards, pocketed the cash, but stopped when she found what she was looking for. The slip from the Machine was tucked behind his driver’s license. SUPERVILLAIN. The Machine’s prediction had come true.
The idea was just too much. She didn’t have any powers, any abilities, any resources, nothing. She ran to her room and started digging through the catch-everything drawer on her desk until she found her own slip. It was wrinkled from being crumpled up and thrown away several times, only to be fished out of the waste basket and tossed back into the drawer. It still read SURGICAL ERROR. When it had first popped out of the Machine, she had thought that it doomed her to an oppressively banal existence, but Adam’s death had shown her that she had a choice. She carefully tucked Adam’s slip into her pocket then crumpled her own into a ball and threw it into the trash.
“I am the world’s first Supervillain!” she shouted to the empty room. Now she just had to figure out what sort of reactor to have implanted in her chest.