The annual convention at Arctic Dark was not so different than any other trade show. There were the same pipe-and-drape booths, the same unnecessarily complicated carpet for high-traffic areas, the same pitiful bowls of hard candy and chino-clad optimists. The event was distinguished by its covert location and remarkable consumers. Here, in addition to extra rebar, there were a few thoughtful touches: tonnage weights in the fitness center, fireproof linens, cape hooks and boot racks. Jane likened it to a Ramada that makes concessions for the dog show season by stocking up on industrial spot cleaner and kibble bowls.
She flicked an impeccable red fingernail against her cocktail. Unbreakable. After last year, when she’d clinked drinks with a handsome civilian scientist, the bar was showered in shattered glass. They’d changed to carbonite bar glasses since. Arctic Dark was not extraordinarily well-prepared for its guests, but the staff reacted to and repaired the guests’ incidents without excitement or editorial. Even the scientist had been expediently evac’d after their night of passion had left him in traction.
Pity, thought Jane, but that’s what I get for fooling around with a civilian. She finished her scotch and beckoned the bartender for another. Better stick to someone like me.
The trouble was that Jane didn’t like herself all that much, so her true affection seldom fostered for anyone similar. In her day job… Well, they all had day jobs, didn’t they? Hero work was not as profitable as villainy and still required expensive specialized gear. She was as competent at her day job as she was at thwarting crime. An excellent technician, she adeptly spotted each fracture, crack, or foreign object. She could, in fact, owing to her X-ray vision, do her hospital work with her eyes closed. Yet, rather than feeling satisfied she provided quality health care, Jane felt that every broken bone she identified was a marker of an opportunity for heroic intercession she’d missed. Each injury a day late from saving. Though most would heal. Not as quickly as her exceptional metabolism allowed her to heal. But, most of her patients would be fine while she would regret their injuries for some time.
And still, here she was again, teeth white and spandex tight, looking for suppliers as well as a soul mate.
Jane scanned the crowd of vendors and shoppers, her super-vision giving her more than she cared to see of many. It would be nice, she sighed, to know them inside-out before seeing them outside-in. There was the regular crowd of heroes and sidekicks from around the globe. There were the vendors: military suppliers, arms dealers, technological prodigies, textile designers, chemists and physicists, and other specialists who’d passed the rigid security clearance measures required to man a booth at Arctic Dark. There was a small contingent of greenish salesmen from Galaxon 7, but otherwise the dating pool was humanoid.
No fan boys, no comic geeks allowed. Captain Fabulous was signing autographs nonetheless. Jane identified his profile as one would the decorative prow of a Viking ship, the blond locks commanding a perfect curl. He turned and winked, flexing his chiseled chin and its devastating dimple. Captain Obvious, she snorted to herself. Though she had to admit he was indeed fairly fabulous.
“Hey, there!” he called.
“Oh, hi… ”
She shook his warm hand with an easiness that only came with greeting peers, a peace of mind that she wouldn’t crush his fingers. Fabulous radiated heat. It wasn’t a love connection, it was just his power.
“Captain Fabulous, nice to see you’re doing well.”
“Please, call me Fab.”
Jane stifled another snort and smiled. “Sure, Fab.”
“Listen,” he leaned in. “I appreciate your help in the gym this morning… You’d think they’d hero-grade the treadmills a little better. That thing will loop 400 miles an hour, but it can’t take a pair of hot sneakers.”
His tennis shoes had, in fact, melted to the belt. Jane had helped extricate him but not before his ego got a little bruised.
They walked together to the samovar. Jane crumpled two Styrofoam cups before gentling her grip. The coffee percolated as Fabulous handed her a third, at risk of boiling over in his hot hands. Sure, he was handsome and just the right amount of humble. He was high profile. Jane blinked. He also sported massive triceps and a smallish brain.
“So, what are you in the market for?” she offered.
“Basic gear. Insulated boots. Off-world maps. Oh, and a containment unit. Seen anything good?”
Jane shrugged. Two minutes in, the flirtation already waning.
“There’s this gelatinous brain, you see,” he prattled on, “it is simply hell on my lair carpeting.”
She could see his lair now: white leather sectional, white polar bear rug, and photographs of his fabulous face on every glistening surface. Except perhaps the corner from which evil Dr. Brainiac had escaped and left his sticky cerebellum trail. Too dumb to contain a brain, she realized. She caught another glimpse of his chin divot. And then, just as quickly as Jane became dejected about Fab, she imagined his fireplace crackling from just the friction of their bodies. She pictured his famed physique on the polar bear hide and all the good carpet burns that would be possible.
I am so shallow, she conceded.
“Jane? You okay?”
She regarded her own lip print on the Styrofoam rim, still daydreaming, and finally looked up.
“How would you like a real drink?”
“It’s nine in the morning… ”
“The Galaxons have something new this year.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?”
The concoctions from the further reaches were much more potent than their earthly counterparts. And, it was common knowledge that those green guys were free-handed with samples. While it would take several flights of whiskey before Jane could feel a tingle, the last Galaxon shot she’d downed made her quake so much her deflector bracelets sent sonorous tones echoing through the auditorium.
“What have you boys been working on?” Fabulous smiled and reached for a tiny sugar-rimmed cup.
“BQ-23. Neurotransmitters connect personal power use to pleasure receptors. Very state-of the-art.”
Fabulous touched the mixture with caution and licked the tip of his finger.
“Plus, concentrated supplemental gravity… just for flight safety here. It’s optional, of course.”
They touched paper cups in an awkward tiny toast and drank. Jane could see the BQ-23 course its way through Fab’s bloodstream. His amygdala, nucleus accumbens, and VTA lit up in purple pleasure. His cape began to smoke. Jane felt it, too. The subfloor cracked as she shifted weight from one high-heeled boot to another. She was, at full power, capable of plate tectonics. BQ-23 ping-pinged her grey cells like a pinball machine.
“So, how many bottles can I put you down for, Fabulous?” The green guy reached for a price list. “Still got some room in the lair cellar?”
Jane leaned into Fab. Her breath was cool against his reddening ear. “Let’s get out of here.”
The dynamic duo grappled each other in the elevator, sheepishly pulling apart every time the door dinged to let in a passenger. Voraciously coming together every few seconds alone. Once at the top floor, before Jane could even scan her iris to open the door, she had a second thought. At full capacity, their passion was bound to leave them scorched and scarred. Sure, they’d recover. But she also didn’t want to lose the deposit on her room due to the collateral damage sure to be caused by the rendezvous.
“Wait, I have an idea,” Jane whispered.
“I have six,” growled Fabulous, his perfect teeth nibbling her neck.
“Six? Okay, yeah, whatever… ” Jane briefly considered a half-dozen possibilities. “Yeah, sure, six. Six ways from Sunday, hero. Just follow me.”
The duo made their way back to down the elevator with the same awkward stops and starts as before. When they finally reached the lower levels, they were, to Jane’s delight, the only ones left in the compartment. The doors opened to a great blue expanse. The Olympic-size pool, unoccupied by other guests, was an Arctic oasis of theirs alone. At least, if they were quick about it.
Tool belts, boots, spandex, capes, and bracelets were discarded with abandon. Jane dove in the pretty arc of a sea sylph but made a fantastic splash. Fabulous, once naked still true to his name, entered the pool by the stairs, each step the relief of steam and a sound between a sizzle and a sigh. As in the best of encounters, gravity mattered little. Fab’s body heated the water to just the right degree. It happened fast. Half the water was rocked out of the pool before most heroes had finished breakfast.
Very soon after, the effects of the BQ-23 began to wear off. Jane was damp and a little chilled.
The plastic straps of the lounge chair were not at all comfortable. She hoped to avoid an unattractive lattice pattern on her backside.
“So… ,” she started again, not quite sure what to say. They both reached for the pile of tights at the same time, the tangled Lycra dampening romance even further.
“Want to go up to my room?” she volunteered. “We could strip down, dry off, and order some eggs benedict?”
Fabulous didn’t answer. He turned his tights right-side-out and kept dressing.
“Or, omelets… ” she mumbled. “You know, whatever… ”
Fab cleared his throat and buckled his golden belt with an officious click.
“Yeah, I’ve got to go.”
Jane wrapped a cape around herself. His tone made her vulnerable and self-conscious.
“There’s a conference on the A level on insurance and legal liability in urban conflict areas. Expert on transit incidents: derailed trains and subways and such due to crime pursuit. Starts in a couple minutes.”
Jane blinked. She should have seen before that his heart was small, too.
“Yeah, I’ve got to go.” he repeated. “Nice to see you again, Joan.”
“Jane,” she corrected pointlessly.
He winked, snapped his spandex in place, and boarded the elevator for level A.
So, that was something, she thought. Actually, that was not something. That wasn’t anything.
That was ridiculous. This whole trip is patently ridiculous. Neutralize negative energy, she breathed in yogic fashion. Neutralize the negative with positive-energy ion particles.
After lunch, having sent her things down to the costume cleaners and again properly attired and lipsticked, Jane returned to the trade show floor. She had a supply list to fill after all. She headed to the B level to check out the secret identity resources. It wasn’t all training grounds, landing pads, and containment units. She needed goods for discreet life in civilian circles. It’s not like a regular set of scrubs could withstand her flexing. She needed a few pairs of thick black-framed eyeglasses to disguise her remarkable eyes. A handsome mustachioed man smiled at her from across a clothing rack.
She smiled back but sighed, too. Just stick to the list.
“What’s more inconspicuous,” he asked cheerfully, “a pilot, a doctor, or a firefighter?”
“I haven’t heard this one before.”
“Oh, it’s not a joke,” he assured. “I’m just looking for a new identity.” The man flipped though the rack, searching for a suit to define him. Or at least determine half his time.
“Well,” Jane ventured. “Do you know how to do any of those things?”
“Like fighting fires and flying planes? Not the slightest idea.” He grinned, moustache curling up at the ends. “But chicks seem to dig those occupations.”
Jane stepped closer. He was pretty cute. His brain was impressive. And, when he spoke to her his amygdala truly glowed. she assumed with cautious optimism he had not yet been drinking at the Galaxon booth.
He adjusted his glasses and smoothed his hair back. “Who am I kidding? Chicks dig Captain Fabulous. There’s no protein powder or day job that can make this into that.”
“Thank goodness,” she reassured him.
“If I may say so, you’re even prettier when you smile. I didn’t know you had a softer side.”
“Do I know you?”
“November,” he whispered. “The top of the monorail?”
“That was you? That battle was epic! I have to say, probably the closet I’ve come to losing. And the explosion, totally inspired!” Jane furtively scanned the crowd. “I didn’t recognize you with the mustache… What are you doing here?”
“I mean here, Arctic Dark. I mean, these are your nemeses, right? I’m your nemesis, actually.”
He shrugged. “Bad guys need supplies, too.”
“Well, the moustache looks good.”
“Thanks. And, you have beautiful eyes. I developed a pair of X-ray specs after I saw how helpful your power was in our last adventure.” He took of his glasses, polished them on his shirttail, and put them back on. “But, I would prefer to have the real thing.”
“What assurance do I have that you’re not here to blow up a convention’s worth of good guys?”
“Not my style… ” he grinned. “Much too obvious.”
They stood for a moment, quiet, letting the electricity pass between them. Trying to figure each other out, but not too much.
“Would you care for a drink?”
“Not really,” she winced.
“Want to take a ride in my rocket?”
“I know a great little place at the edge of the Dark Zone. Do you like eggs benedict?”
“Yes,” she smiled a full, confident, and perfect smile. “I really do.”
Listen to Heroes United on The Story Coterie podcast.