by Laura Johnson
HERO HUNTERS INC.
JOB POSTING: SIDEKICK
Job ID: 09012015
Base Pay: To be discussed
Reports to: Hero
- Fighting evil
- Protecting the innocent
- Rescuing damsels in distress
- Saving the city/world/universe from danger (as required)
- Listening to the Hero explain his origins
- Engaging in witty banter with the Hero
- Possession of a Sidekicking degree from an accredited university*
- Prior Sidekicking experience preferred
- Superpowers are an asset
- Knowledge of weapons and technology
- Sense of humour
- Must be comfortable wearing spandex
- Must be willing to endure rumours of romantic involvement with the Hero
- Must be willing to be kidnapped so the Hero can stage a dramatic rescue
*May be substituted with appropriate experience
Underlings need not apply.
Interested applicants can send resumes to: Xenethera@herohunter.net
Frank Mattie was sick of being a minion.
Sure, the pay was great (danger pay and all), travel expenses were covered (on a private jet, no less), and the on-site training had been a phenomenal learning experience (oh, to use that freeze ray again!). Yet, Frank was thinking of settling down, and there was nothing more disconcerting to a potential long-term lover than the very real possibility of his or her spouse dying on the job. (Minions, as you may know, invest heavily into life insurance.)
And nobody had ever heard of a minion getting a happy ending.
With his current Villain recently killed by an up-and-coming Hero hotshot, and the second-in-command on permanent leave, Frank was out of a job. It was certainly time for a change of career. After what happened to poor John… Frank shuddered. Heroes were getting darker every day, it seemed. No more “incapacitate the henchmen.” Now it was all “kill ’em dead.”
Heroes have no mercy when you’re faceless. You’re less than human.
To a Villain, unless you were a pretty high rank—or had some niche skill that made you more useful than the average mook—chances were you’d be in a generic uniform with generic equipment and a monotonous routine. If you were exceptionally lucky, you’d be allowed to fiddle with the Villain’s more expensive toys. It made you feel like you, too, had superpowers—but such opportunities were few and far between.
And so when Frank saw the posting for a Hero looking for Sidekick, he jumped on it.
Frank’s palms were sweating as he arrived outside the Hero Hunter building, a glass skyscraper that gleamed in the midsummer sun. He wasn’t sure what the appropriate dress code was for a Sidekick position. Hell, he didn’t own any spandex. Or a cape. He didn’t even have a mask. All he had was his former Underling uniform (his official and politically correct job title), complete with his rank and distinction badges sewn on his left shoulder. The leather was well-worn, with two bullet holes on the right shoulder and claw marks around his ribs.
The bloodstains hadn’t come out, alas.
When Frank walked into Hero Hunter’s atrium, heads turned and mouths gaped. Perhaps it was the rugged scar that cut across the bridge of his nose (a most unsavoury feature, he’d been told). Perhaps it was his attire. He was, without doubt, a sharp contrast to the clean-cut, cookie-cutter candidates already inside, with their pretty faces—a leather-clad minion in a sea of spandex-sporting Sidekicks.
In fact, he was sure he’d shot himself in the foot with his outfit alone. When he’d applied for the post, he’d hardly expected to be considered.
Underlings did not become Sidekicks.
As Frank approached the front desk, the receptionist gawked at him, then quickly regained her composure. “I’m sorry, sir. I think you’ve come to the wrong place. We don’t recruit Underlings here.” She smiled tightly and resumed her typing, fingers click-click-clicking at an inhuman speed.
“I have an interview with Xenethera at ten o’clock. Under Frank Mattie? For the Sidekick position?”
She sniffed, click-click-clicked for a few seconds on her computer, and stared at the screen. She turned to him again and said, “Please have a seat, Mr. Mattie. Xenethera will be with you shortly.”
Frank sat down. On his left: a scruffy, wide-eyed male teen with restless leg syndrome and a sprinkling of acne on his forehead. On his right: a woman in her early twenties dressed for a job at the bank. She was scowling into her smartphone as if it had insulted her.
The gangly teen was summoned first. He shuffled to the designated room, muttering to himself. Fifteen minutes later he emerged, skin pale as the belly of a shark. The woman, when called, strutted to the same room. Confidence radiated from her like from a bonfire. Upon her return to the atrium, however, that fire was gone. She moved stiffly, posture rigid. Through her mask of calm, her lower lip trembled.
This did not bode well for him, but his rent was overdue. If he didn’t get this job, he’d have to apply for another Underling position, and his former employer was dead. His supervisor was also dead. And the Head Henchman had vanished. So there went that potential reference.
If evil had it easy, they’d obviously never spoken to the minions.
“Mr. Mattie?” called the receptionist. “Xenethera will see you now.”
Frank approached the door. He walked with confidence he didn’t feel. You’ve been in more stressful situations, he told himself. Remember the time when the Hero activated the lair’s Self-Destruct™ feature and you were running for your life? This is a walk in the park. He wasn’t convinced; he was terrible at this positive self-talk stuff.
“Do come in, Mr. Mattie.” Xenethera spoke with a light accent he couldn’t quite place. Eastern European, perhaps. Her black hair had a rainbow sheen to it that reminded him of an oil slick, tied in a severe bun. “What is your name?”
He blinked. Had she not just addressed him? “Uh, Frank Mattie.”
“Your Sidekick name, Mr. Mattie.”
His throat seized as if an invisible hand were slowly crushing his windpipe. “I don’t have one. I was expecting to work with the Hero on it if I’m hired.”
“I see. Have a seat.”
When he sat down, the interviewer peered over her horn-rimmed spectacles at him with neon green eyes, the pupils a trio of black wedges converging around a tiny dot. She removed her glasses and looked at him. For a few seconds she was silent. The soft skin below his temples suddenly itched, and at the back of his mind it felt like someone was rifling through a heap of disorganized folders. Images flashed through his mind, as if a disinterested third party were flipping through a photo album, and nausea gurgled in his stomach.
Then a memory surged to the front of his mind, blotting out reality and Xenethera’s intense gaze.
Him, another brick in the wall of faceless goons defying the Hero, firing their weapons with unified screams. Bullets and laser blasts pockmarked the walls and ceiling, deflected by the Hero’s armour. The Hero was a glorious sight, cape billowing even in the absence of wind, glowing sword in one hand as he slammed and sliced his way through the throng. Helmets cracked and bones crunched. Blood splattered the walls like a Pollock painting.
It was a losing battle. Frank fled.
The memory faded, and Xenethera’s face appeared before him once more. Finally, she sighed.
“You have a most interesting resume. It is not every day that we consider former…” She glanced at the resume on her desk. “Underlings.” Another pause. “Why don’t we begin there? Tell me, what prompted you to leave your former position?”
“After Dr. Pain’s defeat, due to budgeting restrictions and restructuring my job was eliminated. I am seeking a more stable job with long-term potential.”
“Is it not your job to prevent the Hero from achieving such things?”
Frank swallowed. “Sometimes, you have to know when to admit that your foe is stronger than you.”
“So you fled the fight. Have you considered yellow spandex?”
“I sought backup. I cannot aid my employer if I am dead.” He forced his tone to be cordial. He almost added, If Dr. Pain had not stood his ground, he would be alive to thwart the Hero another day.
Xenethera’s lips twitched. She made a note on a clipboard, then glanced at Frank’s resume again. “It says here you worked for—ah, a Nemesis!” Her triangular pupils whirled, though it was unclear her thoughts on the matter. She arched an eyebrow. “How do you feel that experience can benefit the League of Superheroes™?”
Frank was beginning to understand the emotional reactions from the previous two candidates. He plucked at his collar, inhaled deeply, and said, “A Nemesis is a cut above your typical Villain. My experience with a Nemesis gives me insight into their methods, their way of thinking. I know how they bait Paragons, how they set up traps and the like.”
Xenethera’s face remained expressionless. “Is that so? Imagine that you had just contested against the Villain. On the one hand, there is a busload of innocent civilians dangling precipitously off the road. On the other side is the Hero’s love interest, holding on for dear life. You only have time to rescue one of them. What do you do?”
The questions continued like a barrage of arrows, each a piercing barb in his confidence.
“You do realize,” Xenethera eventually said, “that a Sidekick is very different from a minion.”
Something in Frank snapped. This was not what he had signed up for. If Heroes were like this, hell, maybe returning to Villainy wasn’t such a bad idea. He could rise to the rank of Head Henchman eventually, forgo his own life story’s love interest, maybe live long enough to retire on an island lair. That was about as cushy a job as they came.
He rose from his chair. “If you didn’t see potential in me, I wouldn’t be here. You’d have thrown my resume in the shredder and been done with it.” The moment the words left his mouth, he regretted them, wished he’d bitten his tongue instead. But more words bubbled at his lips like a vat of roiling acid and he couldn’t withhold them. “You want to discriminate against me because I went to the Underling Academy instead of Sidekick School? Fine. You want to know what they teach Sidekicks there? How to look cool in a cape and spandex. How to deliver cheesy one-liners. How to be funny. Hell, you might as well have joined the circus to learn that.
“You know what they teach Underlings? How to stand up to the Hero without pissing yourself. How to fight in the face of certain defeat. How to take orders even if you don’t like them and negotiate your way out of trouble from the Villain, like when the Hero overpowers you and the Villain’s debating whether to feed you to the piranhas just because he’s in a bad mood. I’ve operated technology that baffles a Hero. No Sidekick is going to be taught in school how to wield a freeze ray. I can memorize labyrinthine lairs and complex procedures for Code Red. And if it didn’t occur to you already, I have personal knowledge of how Villains think and operate. Not stale, outdated textbook theory. But I guess that counts for nothing.
“I thought you Heroes were forgiving, turn-over-a-new-leaf types. If you want to go all holier-than-thou and split hairs over the morality of working for a Villain, fine. Hire Circus Kid. I’ll take my talents elsewhere.” He half-expected to be shouted at, to be ripped apart by her next words. He was about to turn when he saw a smile tugging at the corner of Xenethera’s mouth.
“Finally, some evidence of a backbone. We’ll have to work on your snark, of course, but at least there’s something to work with. All the candidates who walk in here and tremble in their boots in front of me, and they think they’ve enough mettle to be dangled over a vat of acid and threatened with death without pissing their spandex!”
She set down her clipboard and rose. “I’d like to forward you to the next round, the skills practicum, though I am sure you will have no problems there. You will, however, need a Sidekick name. Quite frankly—” She grinned wryly. “I’m afraid ‘Frank Mattie’ will not do.”
Frank thought for a moment. “How about… Minion?”
About the Author
Laura Johnson is a fantasy writer who resides in London, Ontario, where she is pursuing graduate studies in Psychology at Western University. When she’s not writing for pleasure, she’s immersed in academia, researching prosocial and antisocial personality traits. A huge geek, she enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons, dressing up in cosplay at conventions, and gaming with friends.
Previously, her work has appeared in three anthologies by Bushmead Publishing (Heroes, Monsters, and Scoundrels), and one story is scheduled to appear in As Told By Things, to be published by Atthis Arts following their Kickstarter campaign in March 2018.
About the Narrator
J.S. Arquin is a writer, voice actor, audiobook producer and narrator, podcaster, entertainer, and adventurer. He has lived in beautiful, inspiring, and disturbing places all over the world, and currently makes his home in Portland, OR, where he dodges raindrops on his bicycle and sometimes writes about himself in the third person. His fiction has appeared in Plasma Frequency, The Best Vegan SFF of 2016, and Digital SF, among others. He has produced over a dozen independent audiobooks, and his narrations have been featured on Escape Pod, Cast of Wonders, and Starship Sofa. You can catch his ramblings and some breathtaking speculative fiction on his podcast, The Overcast. www.theovercast.libsyn.com. You can also find him on Twitter @JS_Arquin.