A Brand New Short Story by John Scalzi

Here’s a short, but corrupt and funny, tale by SubPress favorite, John Scalzi.

Read on for Denise Jones, Super Booker…

Denise Jones, Super Booker


Q: Please state your name and your occupation.
A: My name is Denise Jones, and I’m the Super Hero Booking Coordinator for the International Society of Super Beings, formerly the National League of Super Beings, formerly The Liberty Friends.

Q: First off: Do you yourself have any super powers?
A: Not unless booking counts as a super power, no. I got the job through Craigslist.

Q: What does a booking coordinator do, in the context of super beings?
A: Well, as you know, cities and countries all over the world are under constant threat from terrorists, organized crime, natural disasters, arch villains and monsters both alien and supernatural. When these cities and countries find themselves under attack, they’ll give me a call and I’ll find them a super being affiliated with the ISSB to help them deal with whatever crisis they’re dealing with at the moment.

Q: So you’re saying that if Chicago were attacked by a sewer monster or something, the mayor would have to go through you to get help from ArachnoLad.
A: No, Chicago keeps ArachnoLad on a retainer.  The Evening Stalker, too. Most large cities have one or two super beings under contract.

Q: So, Chicago pays ArachnoLad for protection?
A: You make it sound like a mob racket. It’s more like a consulting and services fee. In exchange for certain considerations, Chicago can expect ArachnoLad to be a first responder to any arch villain or monster attack, with a certain number contractually-agreed-to nights and evenings in which ArachnoLad freelances against common thugs and criminals, for deterrence purposes.

Q: When you say “certain considerations,” you’re talking about money.
A: Sure.

Q: That kind of goes against the idea of super beings doing this sort of thing out of the goodness of their heart.
A: Well, do you work for free?

Q: No, but I’m not a super being.
A: Even super beings have to eat.

Q: I thought that was what secret identities were for. So they could have bill-paying day jobs.
A: Super beings haven’t had day jobs since pagers and Blackberries hit the market. There’s no way you can get away from work anymore. And when Chicago is being attacked by a sewer monster, it doesn’t want to have to wait for ArachnoLad to find some clever way to sneak out of a sales meeting.  That’s just stupid.

Q: Okay. Chicago and ArachnoLad notwithstanding, walk us through how someone gets a super being out of you.
A: All right. As I said before, most of the major cities in the US have a super being or two on retainer. So the calls I get are usually from mid-sized cities.

Q: Like, what, Oklahoma City?
A: Oklahoma City actually just put The Invisible Avenger under retainer.

Q: I thought he was in Seattle.
A: He was. Oklahoma offered him better terms. You know how it is. City gets ambitious. So not Oklahoma City. Let’s say Fresno.

Q: Fresno it is.
A: Fresno has no in-house super being, so when disaster strikes, they give me a call. We look at the nature of their issue, who among the ISSB roster is available and appropriate, and then work to find someone who can respond on an expedited basis.

Q: So, let’s say that Fresno is being attacked by a monster.
A: What kind of monster?

Q: A big one.
A: That’s not specific enough. Is it an alien monster? Is it some sort of mutated animal? Is it shooting laser beams out of its eyes or does it have fire breath? Can it fly? Is it actually a massive colony of smaller creatures that form together and combine intelligences? All of this matters, you know.

Q: Yeah, but if the city is under attack, I don’t think you’d have time to stop the monster and ask it what its weaknesses are.
A: Of course not. That’s why we have the standard questionnaire.

Q: The monster’s attacking and you’re giving a questionnaire?
A: It’s not that long. And by that point city officials are motivated to respond quickly.

Q: Okay. It’s a Gila Lizard large enough to stomp a car, that shoots poison from its tear ducts.
A: Good. That’s a Class Four monster, which is our classification for non-sentient mutated animal species, with the poison-casting sub-classification. Now, if this were a real emergency I would check the ISSB database, but off the top of my head I can tell you that there are three ISSB-affiliated super beings that could respond in under an hour with powers that would be useful for this particular mission: Battling Tiger in Glendale, ElectroBot in Emeryville and Bryan Garcia in San Jose.

Q: Bryan Garcia?
A: Yes. What about him?

Q: It’s just not the usual sort of super being name.
A: He’s new and he thinks the super being masked identities thing is kind of silly. He fights in jeans and t-shirt. Whatever makes him happy.

Q: I admire someone comfortable with their own identity, so let’s say I pick him.
A: Then from there what we do is check his availability, agree on a consulting fee, and fax over waivers to be signed by the appropriate local authorities.

Q: What kind of waivers?
A: Indemnity for property damage, mostly.

Q: Right, because that usually happens.
A: It depends. Super villains are generally respectful of property, contrary to popular belief, because they usually have some economic goal in mind, and it’s hard to put a city to work if you’ve blown up all the building with lasers. But Class Four monsters? Big time. They claw through skyscrapers looking for people to snack on. A super being shouldn’t be on the hook for that.

Q: Cities won’t really try to collect from the super being that saved their bacon, would they?
A: Are you kidding? The owners of the destroyed properties try to collect on their insurance, the insurance companies try to sue the city for negligence, and the city tries to pass the buck onto the super being. Happened in Tempe in 1993. The Crimson Valkyrie defeated the Gelatinous Menace and then lost everything she had. Had to quit. She works in a Jersey tollbooth now.

Q: That’s awful.
A: It’s awful for Tempe. Their calls don’t get returned around here. They’ve been swallowed by the Gelatinous Menace six times since then. It’s hell on property values. But the good news is other cities saw Tempe covered in goo and decided that trying to roll the blame for the damage onto the super being just wasn’t the way go.

Q: Fair enough. Although if they’re totally indemnified, super beings don’t have any motivation not to level a city to get at the monster.
A: Sure they do. Most of the city contracts offer bonuses to the super being if the overall property damage is below, say, $10 million. The exact figure varies from case to case. But that’s the amount on the standard contract.

Q: There’s a standard contract?
A: Sure. When a monster is devouring your citizens like Pez, you want don’t want to haggle too long.

Q: I guess not.
A: I mean, this is sort of why super beings join ISSB in the first place. Freelance monster fighting seems appealing at first blush, especially for those super beings who are moody and have problems working in a team setting. But if you show up somewhere and just start cracking skulls, your legal liability goes right through the roof. Seriously, you know what the difference between a super being and super villain is?

Q: Henchmen?
A: Contractual indemnification. Really, in a lot of cases that’s just it. The Sinister Glove started out as a super being, you know. Then he started getting charged for damages and had to turn to crime to claw his way out of the debt hole. It’s sad, really. He should have joined the ISSB at the beginning. But he didn’t want to pay our finder’s fee for each mission. Penny wise and pound foolish.

Q: But the Sinister Glove is now the uncontested master of Andorra, where he rules with an iron fist.
A: Iron glove.

Q: Right.
A: And that’s an object lesson in what happens when a city or in this case a principality tries to cut corners in making a deal with the ISSB. When The Sinister Glove attacked with his army of hyperintelligent cyborg cats, we offered Andorra a really nice package of three super beings plus Sparkles the Robot Dog and his Running Pack, and an optional assist from Extraordinary Man if required—which isn’t something we ever do, he’s booked years in advance—and they tried to haggle. Wanted to pay in an installment plan. And in Euros. We can’t take Euros. It’s part of our tax deal with the US. By the time they were ready to get serious, the cyborg cats had already consumed the Prime Minister and two thirds of the legislature. And of course, by then it’s too late.

Q: Well, you could have just had Extraordinary Man circle the globe backwards and turn back time, and then try again.
A: We did. Twice. Same result both times. After a certain point there’s no percentage in trying anymore. And now look at Andorra.

Q: The world’s smallest villainocracy.
A: Cyborg cats everywhere.

Q: Okay, so you help connect super beings to the places that need their services. But what about the downtime? I know the ISSB has something like 400 members in the US alone, but typically there’s only a single arch villain or alien monster attack in the US a day. Even if you double-up some of those contracts, we’re still looking at 99.5% unemployment on a day-to-day basis.
A: That’s right. So in addition to connecting super beings with cities in need, I also act as a conventional book and schedule our members for corporate and public events.

Q: So, like, what, exactly?
A: Motivational speaking gigs are very popular. Encouraging people to live up to their potential, that sort of thing.

Q: No one seems to mind the irony of someone with super powers lecturing ordinary people on reaching their potential.
A: What do you mean?

Q: I’m just thinking of those corporate events where they have people walk on coals as a way to show they can do anything. For a super being, that’s not exactly a great feat.
A: It depends on the super being, really. LubricantGrrl wouldn’t like that particular event.

Q: There’s a super being named LubricantGrrl?
A: She saved Reno last month from the Sandpaper People.

Q: I missed that one.
A: She got them before they reached the casinos. Not much of a write-up. But yes, she’s one of our more specialized members.

Q: I bet she’d be popular at parties.
A: In fact we do book private parties, although, let me be clear, not the sort you just implied, for which I’m offended on behalf of LubricantGrrl.

Q: Sorry. What kind of parties?
A: Birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs.

Q: Instead of, say, a clown.
A: I wouldn’t put it that way. There’s a certain segment of society that enjoys celebrity appearances at their events. We’ve all heard stories of how some people will get Coldplay or Hannah Montana to play their kid’s birthday party. Same concept, different skill set.

Q: Are there indemnity riders in those contracts too?
A: You bet there are. You would not believe how many kids want to go flying with a super being, and then eat a bug at 5,000 feet and go screaming to mommy, who then tries to sue because her precious snowflake got an unexpected six-legged snack.

Q: Parents.
A: Well, parents of the sort that hire super beings for parties. They do tend to come with a certain mindset, if you know what I mean.

Q: Sure.
A: Not that they aren’t valued partners, whom we are happy to serve.

Q: Of course not. Although it does bring up the question of what happens when one of your super beings is at a bar mitzvah and a monster attacks.
A: Obviously our super beings’ availability for parties is contingent on the absence of monster attacks at the time. Unless the monsters are attacking Tempe. In which case, party on, super beings.

Q: Seriously?
A: Seriously. Really, screw Tempe. Those people are on their own.