A contract villain investigates the cause of a former opponent's death.
|ONE THING I WISHED MODERN PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT MYTHS is that they’re often based around narrow events. Suppose you’re walking along and stumble on a broken piece of sidewalk. If you have a decent number of brain cells, you’ll make note of it and not do it twice—no big deal, right? Run that same event through a few millennia of retellings and modifications, and you’re now the arrogant mortal who refused to dodge the Chasm of the Gods you saw from a kilometer away.
So, hi, I’m that asshole who didn’t listen to his dad and flew too close to the Sun—once, with malfunctioning prototype equipment that couldn’t handle updrafts. Bystanders of my era put ten terrifying minutes of my life on repeat and developed it into a cautionary tale. For the past few years, I’ve decided to use it to my advantage instead of running from it. It can even be fun when people believe my name is just a contract villain call sign.
“Hey, shouldn’t you have wings or something?” A lower-tier hero asked as he flew up to me. It was the first time we’d met, but I’d worked with his agent several times. This would be my final match in Atlanta, so I wanted it to be easy.
“Maybe they melted,” his camera operator friend said from the ground before I could answer.
They both laughed. I laughed, too.
“Yeah, tell your girlfriends I’m sorry about the mess,” I replied. The hero continued laughing for a split-second and then glared at me. His buddy apparently didn’t have a girlfriend but went quiet, too. “My full suit can be lethal. I don’t use it for contract matches against college kids.”
They both froze. Once he recovered, the hero shook his head and spoke first. “You’re an actual villain? I thought this was supposed to be staged. My agent said you were safe. I—”
“We all have to eat somehow,” I explained, gesturing to the open soccer field behind us. It was a nice location due to the downtown skyscrapers being visible in the distance. “It’s either help snot-nosed brats like you go viral and get my cut, or it’s doing something worse that could get me in a lot more trouble. Did you read the message I sent through your agent? I kept it simple.”
He looked up like he was trying to recall everything and listed it out on his fingers. “You’ll cue me when to hit you and when you’re about to hit me. Follow the blocked pattern. No improvisation on attacks or moving the fight into a populated area. Banter is fine as long as it doesn’t sound lame.”
I nodded in approval. “Guess you’re not a total idiot.” He glared again, and I smiled. “I’m just getting you warmed up. I’ve worked with worse—and I mean that as a compliment.”
“Where do I need to be?” Camera Guy was still nervous. They had both introduced themselves earlier, but I’d already forgotten their actual names. “We originally had two more people, but they cancelled at the last minute.”
This wasn’t unusual. Most contract match volunteers aren’t that reliable without proper motivation—food, at minimum. If I had known, I would have shelled out a few bucks myself. It was too late for that, though.
“Then we’ll do more than one take—one with nothing but wide shots and then as many as you need for close ups,” I suggested. “If either of you are decent editors, the public won’t know the difference and think you had multiple cameras. Do at least one pass with your cell phones, too—automatic focus. You don’t want it to look too perfect.”
Camera Guy nodded, maintaining his distance from me. Even with a tripod, we would end up with shaky video if he didn’t relax. A little imperfection added realism. Anything that induced motion sickness could lose his friend sponsors.
“You’re willing to do that?” The hero asked in a skeptical tone, and I nodded. My new apartment in Chicago wouldn’t be available until the following morning, so I wasn’t in a major rush. Plus, the better the final video, the more money we’d both make. “No offense, but why aren’t you on our side?”
I shrugged. “Not all villains are evil people.” This is usually a revelation to heroes, especially if they have been in training since childhood. “Some have serious mental issues. Others just wouldn’t make it past the entry requirements to be a hero and have to find an alternative use for their powers.”
“Which one are you?” He didn’t mean it as banter, but I laughed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like—”
“Little of both, I think.” I replied, which made Camera Guy drop a battery. “Look, I won’t hurt either of you. It’s more of an anxiety issue. My brain processes things differently than most people, and it gets overwhelming sometimes. It would make me a liability in dangerous situations. Even if I could get through all their agency hoops, no hero team would want someone like that. I’m trying to develop a position in all of this where I can still make a decent income without doing any real harm.”
The hero nodded. “I have asthma, and attacks always hit me at the worst possible moments. I can’t do live contract fights, and I may have to stop a few times during this. It’s embarrassing, but like you said—I have to make money somehow.”
“Sponsors paying for your college tuition?” I asked. He nodded. “I’m leaving here tonight, but I’ll send your agent a few contacts who can get you through your undergrad. It wouldn’t hurt to network through them, too—if you decide to continue with this.”
There was a difference in people who enjoyed these fights as sport and who did them out of necessity. This guy didn’t want to be here but felt obligated—either from financial or family pressure. In these situations, I pulled back on the acting unless the camera was running.
The hero hesitated for a second, glancing at his friend and then back at me. “Do you know of any way I could make a lot of money in one fight? Like fighting an upper-tier villain who’s like you? I just want to be done with this as soon as I can.”
I would test above a modern upper-tier, but they didn’t need to know that. It got me curious, though. “Maybe, but I’d like to know why.”
“Medical bills—not mine. Someone else’s…” He likely meant a parent but didn’t fully trust me with details. Smart kid. “How would something like that work?”
“Let’s see how this goes first, and I may be able to arrange something with one of my contacts.” I just needed to know if he could physically handle an upper-tier fight, even a rigged one. “If I set up anything, you’ll have to give me a cut from it, too. I’m not running a charity.”
Despite the asthma, he did well—only having to stop once near the end of one of the close-up passes. I also had to get him to quit grinning when I insulted him. It started to get late, and we were almost out of daylight.
“The medical issue with your relative—what is it?” I asked. He locked up and dropped a few feet before leveling out again. “Humor me. Your friend isn’t videoing us right now, and I won’t use it in bantering.”
“Lymphoma.” He sighed and shook his head. “The doctors say Mom will be fine. It’s just she had to stop working for a while, and her insurance turned out to be shit.”
I nodded. “On this next pass, take it all out on me just like you see in the sports movies—same blocking, but you don’t hold back.” His eyes widened in shock. “You don’t register as a danger on my senses, so I won’t hurt you by accident. I’ll block and dodge for a while, and then I want you to hit me as hard as you can on my cue. I’ll be able to take it.”
He went pale. “I don’t know if I can do that.” The whole idea went against his hero training, but I wasn’t trying to corrupt him as much as test his limit. “If I hurt you—”
“You won’t, Wheezy Boy.” I grinned, and he finally started to catch on. I signaled his friend. “One more pass, and we’re done!”
At full capacity, the guy had closer to mid-tier strength and speed. He’d just been told his whole life to take it easy. The asthma thing would always be an issue, but at least he learned something new—and we got a few shots that looked great.
“Solid work—both of you,” I said as we reviewed the videos. Camera Guy finally seemed to calm down. “Well, it’s been fun. Tell your agent I’m moving to Chicago next if she has any clients there who need help.”
“What about setting up an upper-tier fight for me?” Wheezy asked. I shook my head, wishing I could have left before he brought it up again. “What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing, kid.” I sighed at his disappointed expression. “Most upper-tier fights are live, and contract villains at that level won’t make exceptions. It’s their livelihood. Good news is you can probably handle some shorter mid-tier matches. Keep training, and talk to your agent about that. You won’t get what you need in one fight, but it can be done much faster than what we just did.”
It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but he nodded. “Thanks, anyway...” He seemed to catch himself on being dismissive and then held his hand out to me. “Sorry, it’s just been rough lately. Thank you, Icarus. You’ve been more than generous with your time, and this will help me a lot.”
“I like win-win situations.” I shook his hand and then his friend’s. “Keep a backup of all the footage and the final copy on an external drive. It doesn’t usually affect my fights, but sometimes videos of me get erased from the Internet.” It was the simplest way I could describe the AI scrubbers that protected my digital profile.
“So, you’re like Bigfoot or something?” Wheezy asked. He wasn’t too far off from guessing the truth but then laughed. “You should really get some fake wings, man—cool ones—or just use a different call sign.”
“Not a bad idea,” I replied. I had thought about the fake wings—just hated the idea of all the cleanup. “Good luck.” I took off before they could ask me anything else.
It was weeks later when I was browsing my phone on a rooftop, waiting for a coordinated group match in Chicago to start. The top video on the feeds was Wheezy fighting an upper-tier villain—live. No one I knew would have taken that deal, and Wheezy’s agent was an idiot for sending him into something that far above his level. I checked his profile, and he’d dumped the agent I knew for someone with no track record.
He appeared to be holding his own in the fight, but his opponent seemed to be having a problem with staying in character and looked concerned.
Something wasn’t right.
Wheezy yelled something but then passed out and dropped about forty feet—the villain diving to catch him before he hit the asphalt.
“Hey, he needs help!” the villain shouted. Hero-side volunteers were not used to this, and they seemed dumbfounded by what was happening. From what I could see, none of them were Camera Guy. “Damn it, someone stop filming and call an ambulance! This isn’t a part of the fight!”
This was from a corporate-sponsored feed, and it went dark. I couldn’t find anything else about it for several minutes.
A mid-tier hero finally approached me with her hands raised. “Fight’s cancelled, villain. Just didn’t want you waiting around for it.” She started to fly off to notify someone else.
“Is the hero in Atlanta okay?” I asked. She turned around and faced me with a skeptical expression. “I came from there. He wasn’t exactly a friend, but we fought once—rigged fight.”
“We haven’t heard anything officially, but it doesn’t look good,” she replied. I cringed. “I’m going to a team meeting about it in about an hour. We don’t usually let in villains because of security—even contract ones—but you can come out-of-costume if it’s important to you. I’ll just have to let my team leader know.”
“Are they upper-tier?” I asked.
She gave a reluctant nod. “I’m on Onyx Heart’s team.” He was the big guy I’d seen plastered on everything from drink cups to shoes to buses since I’d arrived in the city. I wasn’t exactly a fan, but at least he seemed to have the skills to back up the fame. He also didn’t mind his team doing contract gigs on the side, so he was aware of villains like me. That didn’t mean I wanted on his radar.
“I would probably set off his senses—not intentionally, but it would be a distraction right now. Thank you for the offer, though.”
“If I hear anything, I’ll try to find you later. I’m Delphi.” She wasn’t from my era but was possibly a descendant of someone I knew.
“I’m Icarus.” The name caused her to raise an eyebrow, but then I realized she thought I was being sarcastic. “It’s my actual call sign. You can look it up.”
The news hit at a global level before she ever had a chance to update me. Wheezy was dead—a once legal-turned-illegal performance enhancing drug called Relanta found in his system. The villain wasn’t charged with anything, but the entire situation went viral for days.
Wheezy’s real name was Elliot Spencer. He was nineteen years old and a sophomore at the University of Georgia. Honors student. Someone’s son. Good-hearted kid who thought he could shortcut a solution to all his problems and made a mistake—unfortunately, a fatal one. He wasn’t my friend, but it bothered me to watch the media and public narrow his entire life down to that one bad decision. They turned him into a cautionary tale for textbooks and societal studies. Elliot Spencer? Oh, that hero who died from Roulette. Don’t be like him, kids. All the while pressuring those same kids to perform and compete as if their powers were the only special thing about them.
I knew something about that, too.
I’m a part of the industry now, so I guess I don’t have much room to talk. I just wish there was a better way sometimes.
Even worse, some people still weren’t heeding all the warnings. Relanta was highly addictive, but it gave some civilians temporary powers and boosted the existing powers of heroes and villains—sometimes as much as an entire tier. It also kills one in six people on the first dose, hence its street name.
The heroes and police had a growing problem on their hands, and it carried over to contract villains like me who preferred their opponents not to drop dead in the middle of a match. That’s just bad for business.
Somebody was targeting major cities with this shit, and I wanted to know who.
Continue Roulette at this link:
Book 1 of The Heroes of Corvus: A Superhero's Duty (takes place 5 years after the events in Roulette) is available here: