Captain Confederation was annoyed when he got off the elevator and it showed. It would have been so simple and logical for him to land on the roof of the Superhero Administration Centre, or in the ample grounds surrounding it, but these alternatives were no longer open to him. Last month Transport Canada had proposed a regulation requiring superheroes to take off and land from helipads unless actually fighting crime, and for some inexplicable reason the Department of Superhero Affairs had gone along with it.
The nearest helipad was two kilometers away, across the street from the Ottawa Civic Hospital. From there he had to either walk or take a cab to Tunney’s Pasture, an industrial park without the industry. The development was entirely made up of federal government office buildings, the newest and least impressive of which was the Superhero Administration Centre.
“Captain Confederation to see the Deputy Minister,” he announced, managing not to growl at the Deputy Minister’s recently hired private secretary. Laura Lister was unfailingly pleasant and polite, and the idiocy that had run rampant in the department for the last few months wasn’t her fault, so Captain Confederation was careful not to take out his frustrations on her.
“He’s expecting you, sir,” she said as she stuffed the latest issue of the Weekly Squealer, a supermarket tabloid of exceptionally low repute, under a stack of file folders. “Can I get you some coffee? Tea? An energy drink?”
“No, but thanks,” Captain Confederation replied, and knocked on the Deputy Minister’s door.
The Deputy Minister didn’t turn from his computer screen. “Are you still in a snit about the helipad?” he asked. “It could be worse, you know. Just be glad you’re not Speed Merchant.”
Speed Merchant, who needed a thirty-meter running start to take off and land, was now restricted to runways for his airborne comings and goings.
“Let’s start with your application for the SH-4 Senior Superhero position in Greater Vancouver,” the Deputy Minister continued, turning to face his visitor. “The position has been awarded to another applicant whose qualifications are a better match for the job requirements.”
“May I ask who got it?”
“You have super hearing. You heard me.”
“The job posting calls for super speed, invulnerability and a genius-level IQ. I have all of those qualifications, and Halo Man doesn’t have any of them. How is he better qualified than I am?”
Even when you’re invulnerable, Captain Confederation discovered, there are shocks to the system that can still affect you. He sat down, more heavily than he intended to, in one of the Deputy Minister’s overstuffed easy chairs, and felt one of the stubby back legs crack under the impact. His lack of remorse over this was unbefitting a superhero, and he couldn’t keep it from showing on his face.
“There, that’s the spirit,” the Deputy Minister said as he smiled back, totally misinterpreting the situation and its effect on his capital budget. “Anyway, as long as you’re in a good mood, there are a few other things we should talk about.”
The Deputy Minister’s new favourite management technique was to save up several pieces of bad news and deliver them all at the same time. Not trusting himself to speak, Captain Confederation remained silent and waited for the Deputy Minister to continue.
“Transport Canada is still worried about you superheroes colliding with aircraft, so they issued another directive yesterday. You can continue to fly as before, but only under visual flight rules at no more than 350 kilometers per hour as a no-radio aircraft. Otherwise you’ll have to file a flight plan and carry a two-way radio to maintain contact with air traffic control.”
“All this might make emergency response a little difficult, since I’m supposed to be defending Edmonton and you just moved my base of operations 375 kilometers away to Fort McMurray.”
“Well, that’s the way it is. You’ll have to be creative.”
Captain Confederation couldn’t believe it — he was actually starting to get a headache. This was a new experience for him. He had never come close to feeling pain before, not even when he’d battled the Big Green Thug.
“Moving right along,” the Deputy Minister continued, “we’re getting flak from both Health Canada and the Atomic Energy Control Board about your X-ray vision.”
“But my X-ray vision doesn’t involve X-rays — that’s just the name. My eyes don’t emit any radiation at all.”
“They aren’t convinced of that. So, until you can prove that you meet all regulations promulgated under the authority of both the Food and Drugs Act and the Radiation Emitting Devices Act, you’re banned from using your X-ray vision. Don’t wait too long before you submit yourself for testing, because they were talking about having you confiscated and impounded.”
Captain Confederation could only shake his head.
“If you’ve been following the papers,” the Deputy Minister continued, “you’ll know that we’ve been in negotiations with the Province of Alberta over the renewal of their superhero contract. We signed the agreement in principle this morning, but we weren’t able to get the amount of compensation we were looking for from them. That’s going to affect your remuneration package.”
Captain Confederation gripped the arms of the chair a little too firmly, and he felt the frame beneath the fabric crumble into splinters and sawdust beneath his fingers.
“You can rest assured,” the Deputy Minister went on, “that you’re still entitled to the same salary as you were before. However, you’ll be expected to earn at least fifty percent of it from what you do in your secret identity.”
“You do remember what that is, don’t you?”
The Deputy Minister stole a glance at his monitor before replying. “We set you up in a shop selling swimming pool supplies and accessories. What of it?”
“A shop selling swimming pool supplies and accessories — in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Fort McMurray, 225 miles south of 60. Where ...”
“What’s that in kilometers?”
“360,” Captain Confederation snapped back. “Fort McMurray, where the daily mean temperature is less than one degree above zero. Celsius,” he added, before the Deputy Minister could interrupt again. “Fort McMurray, where there are only three seasons, July, August and winter, and you set me up in a swimming pool shop! How am I supposed to make even half a living at it? Even counting the motels with swimming pools, I don’t have ten potential customers in the whole town!”
“You’re just going to have to build up your customer base through advertising and price competition. You’re the one with the genius-level IQ; you’ll figure it out.” The Deputy Minister tipped his head to one side and peered at Captain Confederation’s face. “Is it my imagination, or are you looking a bit blurry?”
“I think I might be vibrating a little. Is there anything else?”
“No, I think that’s all. Have a good day.”
“Right,” Captain Confederation replied as he fled the office.
After the elevator doors closed behind Captain Confederation, Laura tucked her supermarket tabloid back under the pile of file folders, went into the Deputy Minister’s office and flopped down in the nearest chair. A puzzled expression crossed her face. She stood up again, went to the other chair, and carefully sat down.
The Deputy Minister turned from his monitor and leaned back. “What’s up?” he asked.
“I had an idea I wanted to run by you. And by the way, there’s something seriously wrong with that chair.”
* * *
Two weeks later Captain Confederation emerged from the elevator so quickly that he was standing at the reception desk before the doors were completely open. “Laura, I have to speak to the Deputy Minister immediately. This is an emergency!”
Laura turned to the telephone console and punched a button. “Sir, Captain Confederation is here to see you. I think it’s important,” she added. “Yes, sir, at once.” She pushed another button on the console. “The Deputy Minister will see you now.”
“Thanks, Laura.” Captain Confederation strode to the door and entered the Deputy Minister’s office without knocking.
“Mr. Deputy Minister, I think your computer has been hacked, because my secret identity has been compromised. My car was vandalized last night, and it looks like the work of my arch-enemy, Bulldozer.”
“What would make you think that?” the Deputy Minister asked.
“It’s only two inches high now and it has track marks all over it.”
“No, I mean what would make you think that my computer has been hacked? Didn’t you get the memo?” The Deputy Minister pulled a sheaf of paper from his out basket and leafed through it. “Ah, here it is,” he exclaimed in triumph as he handed Captain Confederation one of the documents.
“Tell me you didn’t—”
“You’re familiar with the Weekly Squealer? It’s one of those scandal sheets they sell at supermarket checkouts. They filed a request under the Access to Information Act asking for a list of the ‘real’ names of all superheroes operating in Canada.”
“And you gave it to them?”
“We wanted to refuse, of course, but they threatened to appeal to the Federal Court. Their legal counsel argued that the names of civil servants aren’t included in the definition of personal information under Section 3 of the Privacy Act. With the cuts to our legal budget we couldn’t afford to fight them in court, so we had to give them what they wanted. Miss Lister told me they printed the list in this week’s issue.”
Captain Confederation stared out the Deputy Minister’s window for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was under tight control. “Would you excuse me for ten minutes? I have to make a phone call.”
* * *
Exactly ten minutes later, Captain Confederation knocked on the door, opened it and marched up to the Deputy Minister’s desk. “This memo is for you, sir,” he said, a hint of triumph in his voice.
The Deputy Minister scanned the page. Then he leaned forward and read it more carefully. Suddenly he shot to his feet. “Is this what I think it is?”
“If you think it’s my letter of resignation, effective immediately, then yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. When you have my final pay figured out, send it care of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.”
“What ...” the Deputy Minister sputtered. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m emigrating. When I was in your office earlier my telescopic vision picked up a recruiting ad for the Federal Bureau of Superheroes in a newspaper on a desk across the street. When I told them who I was they hired me on the spot. I haven’t decided where I’m going yet — they’ve offered me my choice of New Orleans or Los Angeles but I’m leaning strongly towards the latter. Captain California is catchier, and Lieutenant Louisiana could be interpreted as a demotion.”
“But why? Is it the money?”
“The money is better — a lot better — and their secret identities are all millionaire-playboy setups, but that’s not why I’m leaving. If you review our last few conversations you’ll figure it out.”
“And there’s no way I can change your mind? I might be able to get you a promotion to SH-3.”
“Well. Just remember that you aren’t a Great Canadian Superhero anymore, so your special flight permit is automatically revoked. Keep that in mind when you plan your trip south.”
“The Deputy Director himself is coming to pick me up in a Special Missions Gulfstream jet. He’s bringing their letter of offer, my green card, and a judge to swear me in as soon as we’re inside U.S. airspace. I’ll be a duly appointed All-American Superhero before we’re halfway to Washington.”
Captain Confederation walked to the door and opened it. Then he turned back to face the Deputy Minister, who had resumed his seat and was studying the letter of resignation intently, as if looking for spelling errors. “By the way, my pension vested last month. You’ll notice that I’ve opted for the life annuity at age 65 rather than the immediate cash payout. I’m thinking of coming back to Canada when I retire from heroism. Have you ever been to Elliot Lake? Really nice country, friendly people, the fishing is great — and there’s almost no crime.” He closed the door behind him.
A moment later the door opened again. Laura slipped into the office and glided to the chair nearest the door. After examining the arms and rocking it experimentally, she settled herself contentedly into it.
“Well? How did it go?”
“Read for yourself.” The Deputy Minister slid the letter of resignation across the desk. “I was so excited I had to concentrate on proofreading the letter so my distinctive evil chuckle wouldn’t give me away.”
“Oh, honey, you did it! I’m so proud of you!”
“No,” said the Pink Chameleon as he let his true features show through for a momentary victory grin. “We did it, Soporific Lass. If you hadn’t put the real Deputy Minister into suspended animation, this never would have worked.”
“So what’s next?”
“Once word gets out about Captain Confederation, it won’t be long before every half-competent superhero in the whole country follows his lead. With no superheroes to get in the way, the Council of Canadian Super-Villainy will be the real power in this country in no time. And then, love of my life, you and I can get back to honest evildoing while the Deputy Minister takes the heat.”
“I wanted to talk to you about that, honey,” Soporific Lass replied. “Answer me this: Why did you go in for super-villainy in the first place?”
“Well, my last court-appointed psychiatrist said I was overcompensating for a misguided sense of injustice over the fact that ‘superhero’ is a recognized word while ‘super-villain’ is a hyphenated construct.” He dismissed the possibility with a wave of his hand. “For the money, I guess.”
“In all our time as partners in crime, have we ever lived as well as we do right now?”
“No, but we’re getting that big honorarium from the Council for this piece of work.”
“We haven’t touched that money — I had them pay it all into an offshore bank account, just in case the evil plan went south instead of the superheroes. We’ve been living like this just on our combined government salaries.”
“Holy crap,” the Pink Chameleon exclaimed. “How much are we making?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is?” The Pink Chameleon shook his head. “You’re losing me.”
“It’s never been about the money. If it was, we should have targeted a bank CEO — they make ten times as much as deputy ministers. Face it, honey, we became super-villains because we crave power. That’s why super-villains are always trying to take over the world.”
Soporific Lass stood up and leaned on the desk. “We’re never going to be in the same league as the total-world-domination types, but we can still go after some pretty serious power. After this caper is over you could replace another deputy minister — a more important one. Finance. Agriculture.”
The Pink Chameleon got up and stared vacantly out the window, lost in thought. Suddenly he turned around. “You know something? You’re right.” He walked swiftly to Soporific Lass and pulled her into his arms. “You’re a genius,” he said. “An evil genius — and I love you.”
* * *
The black van was parked on Spencer Street just east of Holland Avenue, where a large condominium complex blocked the line of sight from the Superhero Administration Centre. Captain Confederation rapped on the van’s side door and it slid open. He climbed in and closed the door behind him.
A partition separated the vehicle’s cab from the windowless cargo area. A shelf ran along the left side of the van from the partition to the back doors, supporting an assortment of impressive-looking electronic devices. These were being tended by a man wearing an RMCP windbreaker and sunglasses, sitting on a swivel chair just aft of the side door. “Mr. Smith, I presume?” Captain Confederation asked.
The man nodded. “Have you been listening to this?” he asked, waving the set of headphones he held in his left hand.
“I sure have,” Captain Confederation grinned as he tapped the earbud in his left ear. “The microphone your people installed in that new chair is working perfectly.”
“After that remark the Pink Chameleon made about the super-villains becoming the real power in this country, we’ll have no trouble justifying our involvement. Your career is really going to take off over this. I’m betting they’ll create an SH-5 Supervisory Superhero position for Western Canada just so they can promote you into it. An upper-middle-class secret identity, and a serious pay raise.”
“I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but we superheroes have something in common with super-villains — we aren’t in it for the money, either. We believe we have a duty to protect society from the forces of super-evil, because we’re the only ones who can. That leaves me with a tough decision. You see, I really did make the call.”
“You’re not saying—” Mr. Smith stammered.
“The thing is, they need every last superhero they can get down there. They have ten times the evil to fight that we do. What’s more,” Captain California said as he turned to the door, “I could finally afford to option a piece of retirement real estate in Elliot Lake that I’ve had my eye on.”
Jim Robb is an accountant living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.