Superhero Sidekicks LTD.
The bland décor of the waiting room unnerved Yul as soon as he stepped in. Everything was unnaturally calm in an antiseptic, soulless sort of way. Beige, white, beige, baby blue, and beige patterns occasionally broke up the beige predominant in the beige walls, beige floors, and beige ceiling tiles. The beige art almost brightened the beige mood.
"Welcome to Superhero Sidekicks please sign in fill out this form and take a seat someone will be with you shortly." The receptionist's words were a dull monotone, the vocal equivalent of the rest of the room.
Clearly the beige was contagious.
Yul gingerly picked up a pen, added his name to the sheet indicated, then snatched a clipboard from the counter and backed away quickly. A glance at the paper showed a beige logo with, thankfully, legible black ink and a basic questionnaire. Name, age, dimension of origin, medical history, billing address, next of kin...the usual information for this line of work.
The gotcha was on the back side of the page, of course. Yul frowned as he sat down and considered his reply. What are the special abilities you possess that a superhero would find useful? What are your weaknesses?
Just be honest, right? It's not like anyone here would use that information against him.
Special ability: Mimic person.
There was nuance to that, of course. He didn't become a mirror image of someone else unless he could see every inch of them first. He could fill in the blanks, or even create a new look entirely with some effort. It was pretty good, as far as abilities go.
Well, that was a bit harder to put into words. Bad luck? That wouldn't get him hired, and it wasn't entirely true. Maybe he could just write down the limits of his ability?
He'd been cautioned to be honest, however. So, he looked at the form again, shrugged, and wrote.
Weakness: No save versus plot device.
Yul stared at the words, hard. That could be a make or break admission. Well, too late now, it was there in black and white (and beige), and too late to erase now.
Well, he could scribble it out. Or ask for a new form. Maybe he could—
Too late. The receptionist was pointing him out to a man dressed in a dull gray suit. Yul hopped to his feet, extended his hand to shake...switched the pen and clipboard to his left hand and tried again...
...and recoiled in horror.
"Y-your hand! You've caught the beige!"
"What?" The man in the gray suit stared at his hand in confusion. "Beige is a color, Mr. Yul. Not a condition."
"Are you sure?" Yul looked him up and down, skeptical.
"It's a tan. Not beige." He snatched the clipboard from Yul's hand, and the offered handshake had been rescinded. "I am Gav Grayson, Great-grandson of the Graceful Grackle, one of our founding fathers."
"Pleased to meet you, Grav."
"It's Gav," he said, the corners of his mouth sliding in a southerly direction.
"Are you sure?"
"Follow me, Mr. Yul."
"It's just Yul. Rhymes with dull, not tool."
Gav Grayson's expression didn't change as he turned and guided Yul down a beige hall and through a white door into, you guessed it, a very beige office. Even the plants were starting to catch the beige, poor things.
"Take a seat, Yul, no last name." Gav was looking over the form, one eye squinting a bit, twitching at the corner. "Never even heard of your homeworld before. Not many heroes there, I take it?"
"Well, not any superheroes, or at least none of note," Gav continued before Yul could reply. "Next of kin is your father, and no dependents. Good, good...less messy that way." He flipped the sheet over. Yul's short answers to the questions stood out in the gaping white space he'd left unmarked. Gav's mouth puckered as tight as a cat's asshole. "Two words? And one small sentence? Well. Aren't you succinct."
"Quality over quantity?"
Even as Yul spoke, Gav straightened. "Plot device?" One eyebrow began migrating toward the thinning hairline above. On a slight delay, the other began to catch up. "Hmmm." The eyebrows sprang back to their natural state of down and trying to meet in the middle. Gav began to scribble notes, filling in the blank space with bold, red strokes. "Fourth wall awareness," he muttered. "Possible main character, possible supporting character destined for..." He looked up. Looked back down. "Further testing recommended. Extensive training probably required. Chances of death...dramatic or none. Test for possible retconning and narrow escapes."
"I'm sitting right here."
"Quips are standard, somewhat rehashed and uninspired. Remedial classes recommended."
"Could be a cheap, knock-off version of a currently popular rated-R antihero whose name does rhyme with tool, pre origin story, use caution."
Yul didn't know what any of that meant, but he could tell it wasn't flattering. "Did you actually just write that on there? Tell me you did not just write that on there."
Gav smirked and put the paper in a beige folder. "You'll have to learn to watch your tongue around here, Yul. We're the good guys. Family friendly, if you know what I mean. You will train under old-fashioned heroes, close to retirement age. They won't put up with that sort of language. Think it'll still cut into their profits, so they're likely to garnish your wages or put a reprimand on your record. And potty-mouthed heroes like the aforementioned rated-R hero don't hire sidekicks."
Yul counted down from ten to one, silently, while reminding himself that he needed this job. Bills at home, people to help, greater good to be done. It's why he was here.
Finally, he nodded. "Does that mean I'm in?"
"It means, Mr. Yul with no last name, that we will test you and most likely put you in training. What happens after that is up to you."
Yul could have mimicked anyone in the multiverse, anyone at all, and there'd still be no possible way for him to make the default trainee uniform at Superhero Sidekicks look flattering. The beige had been deceptive. It spoke of calm and soothing things. It whispered bland professionalism.
It didn't so much as hint at bright orange and pastel purple spandex.
Yet, here he was, digging an offending purple stripe out of the crack of his ass as the trainer stepped in.
"I have your results," Blind Parakeet announced, prompting all five recruits to jump to attention. "Proceed to the door to the left, except for you, Mr. Yul."
It was a bit of a shock to be singled out. After all, he hadn't done all that bad, certainly he'd done more than the others. But, Blind Parakeet sat down beside him and gestured for him to be seated as well.
"Was this a joke to you? What makes you think you have any of the qualities of a sidekick? I've never seen anyone score a zero in every category before. It's supposed to be impossible."
A zero? In every category? Yul paled. "But..."
"You didn't even fill in the paperwork with a suggested sidekick name. That's a gimmie point right there. For heaven's sake, we had a guy come in and put down his real name, Arthur, and got five points. We managed to pair him with someone, but you didn't even give us that much to go on."
"I couldn't think of anything..."
"Your banter score. Come on. That wasn't banter, it was...it was atrocious. A pun? You turned into the villain's ear and said, 'I'm hear to rescue you.' What was your strategy there? Make the bad guys groan into submission? You didn't even follow through when they paused. One pun and done, Yul. An ear can't rescue hostages on its own, can it?"
"I suppose not..."
"Speaking of hostages," she continued, "you bit one on the hand. Turned into a puppy and bit a hostage. Is that what you call a rescue? Zero in rescue, fine, I've seen it before. That can be trained, or buttressed by a good hero, but actually hurting one?"
"I saw it in a movie!"
Blind Parakeet hit him over the head with a rolled up newspaper. "No! Bad sidekick. An old movie where they use a shoot the hostage strategy isn't remotely the same as a little nip from a temperamental puppy. Our bad guy shot you in the head, killed the hostages, and got away."
All Yul could do is whimper. The other sidekicks hadn't done any better, but he'd thought he'd get a point for at least infiltrating the area.
"Ingenuity, zero. Power? Don't make me laugh. If you've got the ability to take someone else's appearance, why wouldn't you imitate one of the members, or their leader, and wreak some actual havoc? Get them to stand down by barking orders, something like that."
"But that never works. Just because I look like someone doesn't mean I know what they know. What if they had a secret password?"
"They're villains! They're not allowed to—" She frowned. "You've never read the Evil Overlord handbook have you?"
"No!" Yul gasped. "Why would I do that? It's, well, isn't it against the rules?"
"How do you fight an enemy you know nothing about?"
Yul had a good argument, waiting to burst forth in all its glorious wisdom, to put this second-rate superhero in her place about being pure, standing true, and not giving in to the corruption of the opposition. It was going to be an amazing argument, possibly the best of his life! But...
What she said was a plain, bald, irrefutable truth. How do you win if you don't know anything about who you're fighting?
"So. That, uh, handbook, huh? Useful?"
Blind Parakeet shook her head. "You also failed the test of obedience."
Now this one, Yul knew he had nailed. "How? I did what I was told, and nobody else did!"
"You haven't read the Evil Overlord Handbook, and you obviously haven't read the Sidekick Compendium...."
"Hey," Yul protested. "I did exactly what I was told! The Hero in charge told us to stay there until—"
"And he was about to get killed!"
"I'm a shape-shifter! If a seasoned pro was about to get creamed, what was I going to do to help? Look like the guy's mom and scold him?"
"Oh, you're a mother, alright..." Blind Parakeet muttered under her breath. "If you knew anything about the job, you'd have gone in at the last second as a distraction, so the hero could have saved himself. It's all about timing, and frankly, you don't have it." She took a deep breath, cooled off a bit, and let it out slowly. "Look, Yul, maybe you should study a bit longer. Take some classes. Read more books, watch more movies and documentaries. Research. Something."
"I can't afford classes," he said. "Look, I need this job. I need money."
"I don't know what to tell you, kid," she said. "This is the wrong job if you're looking to earn a steady paycheck. It's more of a glory thing than a money thing. And, with your luck skills being in the negative range, well, even if you found a hero to hire you he'd probably be broke and noble."
There it was. The luck factor. Damn it. When had they tested that?
"Is your only motive the money?"
"Well, no," Yul said.
"It's okay to be honest, here."
"Look, the economy back home is...it's bad. Bad is an understatement. If I don't get a job off planet, I'm not getting a job at all. Homeless, in the gutter, too thin to shapeshift into anything but a supermodel. A clumsy supermodel. What kind of future would I have at that point? Trophy wife to a politician? You have to hire me. I'll do anything."
"Wait, you're a guy. Why would you be a trophy wife? Why not just be a politician?"
"I'm not all that good a liar," Yul said, downcast.
Blind Parakeet stared at him a moment, then cleared her throat. "That's...that's neither here nor there. Look, I have an idea. I'm not supposed to do this, but we have a sister company I think you'd be a better fit for." She handed him a business card.
It was black, with white letters embossed on the front, perfectly centered.
Evil Minions Inc.
"Evil?" Yul frowned.
"Oh, it's mostly just a name. The employees aren't actually evil, they just cater to a less conventional clientele than we do here."
Yul's frown morphed into a scowl momentarily.
"They have safeguards in place to keep you from getting killed by their more troublesome customers. You have refusal right on any assignment, plus housing and meals are provided in your downtime. No matter what branch, the company takes care of their employees."
Yul wavered, staring at the card. Evil overlords probably had more liquid assets than superheroes, on account of being evil. Then again, there was the whole being evil part of the equation.
No. He couldn't. Could he?
He shoved the card back at her, but she didn't take it. "Just think about it, okay? A few years under your belt over there, and you might make good recruit material over here. Give it a try, and I'll put in a good word in another five years, once you've learned a few things."
Blind Parakeet stood up and walked out the door, pleased with herself.
With his luck score, he'd be the perfect recruit for Evil Minions Inc.
It would sure make the superhero business easier, at least.