“Welcome to S&H Supplies,” the receptionist said from the center of the walkway like a manikin in a black dress and heels. Her hands clasped above her crotch and her buoyant hair was as still as a frozen pond around her bubbling face. “How may I help you today?”
“Just browsing,” I said as I poked at a vinyl body suit hanging on a rack nearby. I tried to pass the woman with a meager amount of disinterest, but failed miserably: She turned and followed me like a possessed doll, only slightly more annoying.
“Can I interest you in a heat–resistant vest, available in twenty colors, with free emblazoning with all purchases?” Her hands flew this way and that, pointing to the designer displays and the lifeless models they glorified. “Have you considered purchasing an invisibility suit? Our models are the most ergonomic and lightweight on the market.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Spotless was hit by a truck using an invisibility suit.” She cringed at the mention of the superhero’s name. “They’re still trying to find all his pieces.”
Her smile returned instantly. “How about a sonic laser? Perfect for disabling technological foes. Perhaps an ice beam? We now offer five unique designs in seven colors each.”
I ignored her and tried to browse the store in some semblance of peace. I wasn’t really looking to get into the business of heroing, but I figured, a little this or a little that might be a nice addition to my wardrobe. Freeze suit for hot summers? Liquid air absorption to save on bottled water? Eye implants for super–enhanced sight capacity? Anything affordable I was up to looking at—which meant I’d probably walk out with nothing.
“Is there anything you’re looking for in particular?”
I faced her with the driest expression I could muster. “No, not really. Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?”
She flattened her smile just long enough to tell me I’d succeeded. “Well, if you change your mind, you’ll know where to find me.” She gave a slight curtsey, her hands once more clasped at her waist, and then scurried robotically back toward her place at the entrance.
I turned down the next aisle, quickly cringing at the colors everything came in. Were they trying to make the world look like a giant comic book? There were hundreds of superheroes these days, and all of the well–known ones had professional designers producing their outfits with a horde of technologists inventing their supplies. Nonetheless, most of them had started with basic equipment from stores like these. I was unenthused, shopping here. Me, super?
That’s a joke if I ever heard one.
I caught sight of a discount shelf and meandered toward it with dwindling interest. Here I found things for everyone. If you wanted to be a superhero of sex education, why not a utility belt packed with fitted with condom holsters? If you wanted to be a superhero for sex solicitation, there was stuff for that, too—far too obscene to describe. Most of it was cheap—most of the world was cheap these days regardless—and most of it I ignored.
But one small item on the discount shelf seemed reasonably worthwhile, which is probably why it was reduced in the first place: a semi–clear glove with electrical fibers lining the back to the tips of the fingers. It didn’t have a label, so I just tried it on anyways. I flexed my fingers, twisted my wrist; it had a good enough fit, rather comfortable, all things considered, but I didn’t see any switches to turn it on, and it didn’t seem to do anything else, either.
I walked back to the receptionist with the glove still on. She didn’t seem at all pleased to see me, but retained her smile nonetheless.
“How much is this?”
Her nose twitched at the sight of the glove. “Oh, that? If its price was reduced, check the label.”
“There isn’t one.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Then it’s outdated and must’ve been missed when we cleared old inventory. We can’t sell it anymore. You might as well just take it if you want.”
I shrugged, saying, “Thanks,” and turned away. Why put it back if it was free? Might as well take it home and try for some fun. Right?
PART 2: The Villain