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Funny Contemporary Fantasy

Intern 17 got off the bus right as the Hypermetro City Authority triggered a blanket warning. At once, all streets were bathed with a bland yellow emergency light and all windows on every building self-shuttered with reinforced titanium plates.

Every street corner had a sturdy municipal loudspeaker, and these now clicked to life – and then Emergency Enid spoke. “Attention all citizens.” Her voice was the pleasant kind of dull, ideally suited to inoffensive announcements. “An imminent Superhuman Disagreement Incident has been detected, above the Hypermetro City downtown area, at an elevation of about twenty-five-hundred metres. Caution is advised.”

Most pedestrians grumbled and shuffled along at a faster pace. A few, like Intern 17, looked up towards the towering downtown skyscrapers.

He spotted flashes of blue light and a sustained green ray cutting through the clouds – and then there was an explosion and bits of skyscraper careened to the ground.

Intern 17 adjusted the dial on his helmet and his visor zoomed in. Smoke, a flurry of motion… there! The villainous Pyrodactyl, a bright-red pterodactyl-man with a twenty-metre wingspan and an extra set of arms, flew out of the smoke and belched forth a gout of fire at the building. And there! Hot on his tail, Dame Democracy on her skybike, trying to bring him down with her plasma rifle.

No sign of Boss though.

Given that a tempestuous cloud was enveloping the skyscrapers at an alarming rate, spewing violet lightning, Intern 17 surmised that the wicked Inclementia was here too – so Boss was probably busy.

Intern 17 let out a tight breath and checked his phone’s to-do app. Lots still on the list. Lots a super-battle could disrupt. He adjusted his demicape – the hallmark of superhero-adjacent professions – and stepped into the public library.

“Good morning, 17!” Belinda, his usual librarian, said.

He sauntered to her station. “And good morning to you, Bel.”

A muted rumbling shook the foundations of the city, and everyone froze until it passed.

“So, what’d you think of those recommendations?” she asked, taking his returns.

“Loved them! You really know how to pick them.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Um, question.”

Belinda shook her head with a smile. “Let me guess. You want an extension on Proust again?”

“Well, it’s not for me, it’s for–”

“–Doctor Dogood,” she finished with him. “Yeah, I know, I know. Doesn’t seem like he can find the time–” she paused for the joke to land (it didn’t) “–to read it.”

Intern 17 frowned. “Well, you know. He’s always so busy saving all of us from certain doom.” The lights flickered as the building rattled again.

“Maybe he’d prefer an audiobook?”

“Oh, good idea!”

“I’m full of good ideas,” she said. “Maybe we could discuss them over coffee?”

“I’d love to! But no can do. Much too busy helping Doctor Dogood.”

Belinda sighed. “You work too hard, Intern 17. Are you even getting paid?”

“I am getting paid in experience.”

“Honestly, that sounds like a terrible job.”

“It’s not a job, it’s a calling! I love what I do. The Doctor would be lost without me. Oh, speaking of which, I need to get his dry cleaning.”

“Right, well, don’t be a stranger!”

Intern 17 waved and departed the library. Outside he opened up his app again and checked off the library errand, right as the sun suddenly vanished and the city was thrust into the dead of night. He saw the colossal form of Mecha-Atlas beyond the city’s skyline, creating an artificial eclipse with a metal disk even bigger than he was. But when he zoomed in this time he saw that Skyknight was already flying her giant pigeon towards him, and she was joined by all three members of The Spaceguard, in their sentient robosuits.

Intern 17 closed his app and went to the bus stop. There was a deafening crack from somewhere above, and he saw that a number of the skyscrapers trapped in Inclementia’s storm cloud had fractured, and were now free-floating in defiance of gravity. Just then his phone rang, and caller ID said Doctor Dogood.

“Hi boss!” Intern 17 said.

“Oh, thank fun!” Doctor Dogood’s voice was full of emotive vibrato. “Finally, someone picks up. Who is this? Which one are you?”

“17, sir!”

“17!? Damn, that must mean all the other ones are dead.”

“Well, 10 and 3 are on their honeymoon, sir, and 8’s on a sick day.”

“I see,” Doctor Dogood said. Intern 17 heard a muffled battle raging through the phone. “Fine, I suppose you’ll do.”

“Thank you, sir!”

“Shh! Our situation’s dire and the world itself hangs in the balance!”

“I’m way ahead of you, sir! I’ve already vacuumed your apartment and ordered a cake.”

“The–what!? What are you talking about?”

“Sir,” Intern 17 said, “you have Randy this weekend. Sheila will be dropping him off tonight after school.”

Silence. Then: “Shit. Is that this week? I didn’t mean to forget, it’s just with these damned villains I’ve had my hands full–”

“–Sir! It’s all right. As I said, I’ve handled it.”

“Thanks, 17. If Sheila’s lawyers heard about this I’d probably lose custody altogether. But why cake? I’m not forgetting his birthday too, am I?” Doctor Dogood laughed heartily, and then his laughter petered out and suddenly cut off. “Christ! I am forgetting his birthday!”

“Not to worry, sir! As I said, the cake is covered, and, ahem, you’ve even gotten him a nice gift, which you’ll find wrapped up in your closet, behind the winter coats.”

“17, you’re a real lifesaver, let me tell you.”

“It’s an honour to serve.”

“Well, not literally a lifesaver of course – but that might change right now. Listen, the reason I’m calling is, Null Reference is behind this attack. My archnemesis! He’s teamed up with Inclementia and the others, and he’s manufacturing a black hole – right over the city!

“What do you need me for, sir?”

“I need you to bring me my backup Seismic Stethoscope.”

Intern 17 looked up at the mess of superpowers, unnatural weather, and free-floating skyscrapers above the city – and gulped.

“Bring it to you, sir?”

“Yes, now! Hurry!”

“Like… you want me to get a courier?”

“No, don’t be ridiculous. It’s too delicate. You bring it.”

“Up there?”

“Yes, of course! It’s not going to carry itself. I hope you’ve been taking advantage of that gym membership perk I give you guys.”

“But what about your dry cleaning?”

“Forget the bloody dry cleaning, 17! Existence is at stake! Consider this your highest priority. Chop chop.” Doctor Dogood hung up.

Intern 17 looked up at the roiling cloud of laser-emitting, physics-defying, exploding chaos above the city and gulped again. He opened his app, reluctantly keyed in a new item: “bring Seismic Stethoscope,” and dragged it to the top of the list.

His bus to the dry cleaners was here, but with a stiff upper lip he crossed the road instead and boarded the bus heading the other way, to HQ. Fifteen minutes of sudoku later, he arrived and rushed to the weapons labs. He tore through drawers and lockers and cabinets, but couldn’t find the spare stethoscope. Right when he was beginning to panic his phone added fuel to the fire by ringing again.

“Where the hell are you?” Doctor Dogood shouted, the bzzap of a laser going off in the background.

“I can’t find it, sir! Where’s the spare stethoscope?”

“Hold on, let me think.” Another laser, another explosion. “Okay, I think it’s in my spare white coat, in the right pocket.”

“The spare coat!? But–” Intern 17 sputtered “–but that’s at the dry cleaners!”

“Well get a move on, 17! We’re all counting on you. You don’t want to let existence down, do you?” Doctor Dogood hung up again.

Intern 17 let out a frustrated howl as he ran back to the street. The next bus was due to arrive in eight minutes, and above downtown the very air itself was warping, deforming the size and shape of things. He waved down a cab. Twelve minutes passed in a blink and they’d arrived at the dry cleaner’s.

Intern 17 collected the spare white coat and indeed found the backup Seismic Stethoscope in its pocket. He got back into the cab and they raced downtown – and his mood soured as he considered the boondoggle developing above the city. How was he supposed to get up there? Where was he even supposed to go? It looked like a giant child had just uprooted the tallest buildings, mushed them together, and left their ruins spinning in a vortex of storm clouds and lasers.

“I don’t suppose your cab can fly?”

“Nope.”

Intern 17 sighed and got out at the base of the Grand Hypermetro Commercial Tower. This close to the cataclysm, he could feel the waves of shattered reality washing over him. They alternated hot and cold and rippled across both his clothes and his skin.

“Gross,” he muttered, trying to ignore the nausea. The only thing that gave him a smidge of relief was being able to cross the dry cleaning off his app.

“Okay, you can do this.” He took a deep breath and entered the lobby. His helmet’s visor told him that the elevators were out, so stairs it was.

As a matter of fact, he did take advantage of the gym membership perk. He’d have to remember to tell Belinda that. He got paid in experience and great perks. Only, by the time he hit the thirtieth floor his legs were on fire, as no elliptical could have prepared him for this. His visor told him there were still about fifty more floors to go.

He pushed over the hump and resumed clomping up the flights with his leaden legs. Going was hard, but he knew if he stopped he wouldn’t be able to start again. To distract himself he dug out his phone and called Doctor Dogood, to get a better idea where he was supposed to go – but he didn’t have any bars.

When he hit the fifty-ninth floor the walls around him exploded.

Pyrodactyl crashed through them with a deafening roar, and when he lurched to his feet and took flight again he knocked out even more of the building. Lightning fast, Dame Democracy came screaming after him on her skybike, closely followed by two of The Spaceguard, as well as Blink, who didn’t fly so much as he repeatedly teleported short distances.

The force of the impact caused the tower to tip, all of its girders groaning, and Intern 17 slid across the floor and through the wall hole. He caught onto a railing just as he was about to plummet to his death, screaming the whole while. Below him he saw the distant streets as well as his wallet in freefall – and then suddenly there was a flutter of giant feathers as a colossal pigeon nearly crashed into him. Skyknight grabbed him and slung him over the pigeon’s saddle, and the bird took flight.

“Stop screaming!” she shouted over the rush of wind. “And what the hell are you doing here? This is an active incident zone – all you mundanes were supposed to evacuate.”

Intern 17 held on for dear life, sobbed, and blubbered.

“I can’t understand you! Pull yourself together, man!”

Intern 17 managed to enunciate “Dogood!”

“Oh! You’re that intern. You got the Doctor’s thingy?”

“Yes!” Intern 17 wailed.

“Good.” Skyknight snapped her reins and her pigeon cooed and started climbing hard. “We’ll take you to him!”

Intern 17 kept his eyes closed for the journey, and kept his lunch not at all. When Skyknight set her bird down on what seemed to be an island floating in the eye of the storm – in the sky – he fell onto the ground and hugged it. There were other heroes nearby them, including Doctor Dogood, with Null Reference and his lieutenants arrayed against them on the opposite side of the island. The air, naturally, was filled with lasers, as well as a conspicuous black orb hovering over everything and deforming space and time.

“The Seismic Stethoscope!” Doctor Dogood bellowed, one hand outstretched towards his intern and the other deflecting lasers from the enemy. “Bring it!”

Intern 17 rose to his feet and tapped deep into the well of adrenaline his mortal panic afforded him. With a wail he ran to Doctor Dogood and handed him the Seismic Stethoscope – and then, overwhelmed, he collapsed into a quivering heap and missed the rest of the battle.

But they must have won, because the next thing he knew – the next moment he was consciously aware of – he was sitting on a pile of rubble at street level, with a blanket around his shoulders, a cup of cocoa in his hands, and emergency workers all around. The downtown streets looked like an absolute ruin, but not much different from any other Superhuman Disagreement Incident all things considered. But the sky above was blue and clear and calm.

“Are you back with us?” Doctor Dogood said, clambering over the rubble. He looked a little scuffed and bruised, but otherwise fine.

“Sir!” Intern 17 said. “Yes, sir! At your service.”

“Relax, 17. You went through quite the ordeal. But you did good, kid.”

Intern 17 blushed. “Thank you, sir.”

“I mean it. I don’t think we could have done it without the Seismic Stethoscope.” He clapped Intern 17 on the shoulder. “Listen, Mecha-Atlas kind of snuck up on us. He stepped on Kid Bluejay – and you know, given he weighs like ten thousand tonnes, there wasn’t much left of Kid. Just a flat, red smear.”

Intern 17 tried to suppress another wave of nausea.

“Guess what I’m saying is,” Doctor Dogood continued, “I’m looking for a new sidekick. And I think you might have what it takes. Interested?”

Intern 17 smiled broadly. “Hell no, sir! I’ll stick to dry cleaning and cakes.”

“Fair enough.”

“But I wouldn’t be opposed to a paycheque.”

Doctor Dogood chuckled. “Oh, you’re serious. Well, fine, I’m sure we can arrange something. And tonight, we’ll celebrate with a night on the town!”

“With your son’s birthday party, sir.”

“Tonight we’ll celebrate with my son’s birthday party! Right.”

April 26, 2023 21:13

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31 comments

Russell Mickler
23:41 May 01, 2023

Hi Michal! A fun story, ringing a little like Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog! Aaand I'm probably dating myself, but hey, superheroes! I think an intern superhero would have to be the worst - all the crap and no pay, plus, no super powers. Fun times :) Thanks for the story! R

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Michał Przywara
20:36 May 02, 2023

Thanks, Russell! Yeah, there's definitely better jobs out there, but maybe it's a calling. Or I guess since so many superheroes have day jobs, maybe it's a hobby? Either way, I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Jack Kimball
02:37 May 01, 2023

My son was an intern (film industry) in Brooklyn and this exactly describes his experience! The super heroes are actors, managers, and directors though. Everything else is exactly the same including the ‘roiling cloud of laser-emitting, physics-defying, exploding chaos above the city.’ As always, super Michal. Go write a book will ya! You don’t want to let existence down, do you?

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Michał Przywara
20:43 May 01, 2023

Heh, wouldn't want that - I'll have to get on it :) Yeah, I think there's a tendency to take the invisible support people for granted, maybe even to disparage their occupation - but this seems very backwards, and it's an arse thing to do. Thanks for reading, Jack!

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Michelle Oliver
01:47 Apr 30, 2023

Loved it! I love the superhero movies and comics, with their over the top kind of heroism. You have pegged the superhero persona brilliantly. Collateral damage is part and parcel of the game they play to save the world. There are so many great lines in this piece I am hard pressed to just pick one or two. Loved the -Fifteen minutes of sudoku later. Just shows how mundane life goes on throughout the cataclysmic chaos above. -He got back into the cab and they raced downtown – and his mood soured as he considered the boondoggle developing abo...

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Michał Przywara
20:47 May 01, 2023

Thanks Michelle! I'm glad you liked it :) "he is satisfied with his small but significant role in life, and really doesn’t want to be more" - I think that's a key point, good catch. A lot of jobs get ragged on, which is a shame, and being able to find satisfaction in what you do is really a cause for celebration, not shame. "boondoggle" - any day with a new word is a good day :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Laurel Hanson
11:36 Apr 29, 2023

Excellent concept. I am not a fan of superheroes; they lack any kind of depth of course, or room for growth, but above all, their stories tend to involve an awful lot of collateral damage as if that's OK; because they are the protagonist, somehow, the effect on other is looked at in movie-land as immaterial. So your story hits that right on the head with the chaos caused by the, "Superhuman Disagreement Incident." Love the phrase, "superhero-adjacent professions" - always been a big fan of the people behind the scenes probably doing the bulk...

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Michał Przywara
20:52 May 01, 2023

I suspect "flamboyant but essentially superficial characters" make us feel good on some level. Life is complex, and here are these people who simplify it into black and white, remove all ambiguity, and streamline decisions into right and wrong. Or, maybe we're upset at where our life is, but then if we see only truly superhuman people can do the kinds of things we want to be doing, we feel better about ourselves for not achieving our dreams. (And so, the advice to never meet your heroes, because it might shatter that fantasy when you reali...

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Delbert Griffith
11:01 Apr 29, 2023

Man, was this fun! And you pegged the superhero-sidekick relationship perfectly. We all want to be superheroes - until we have to do something superhero-ish. The psychology of the superhero is subtly brought out, but it is quite illuminating. And I love how we 'mundanes' are portrayed: regular people doing essential work. "Fifteen minutes of sudoku later..." LOL "The only thing that gave him a smidge of relief was being able to cross the dry cleaning off his app." Great line! That's how we mundanes operate. All in all, an epic tale that ...

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Michał Przywara
20:57 May 01, 2023

I do admit, I also love my todo lists :) It was a fun story to write, and I thought a hero for contrast was fitting. And you're right about the normal people doing essential services thing. It's easy to forget about, in our world of easy media personalities. Thanks Del, I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Viga Boland
14:55 Apr 28, 2023

Well that was one Fantastical ride Michal. Loved the “15 minutes of sudoku later” line. That’s clever…like so many other aspects of this story. Nice blend of dialogue and narrative enhanced by imaginative descriptions e.g. picturing giant pterodactyls duking it out. Excellent as all your stories are. 👏

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Apr 28, 2023

Thanks, Viga! I figure normal people lead very interesting lives in the world of over-the-top superheroics, and this prompt seemed like a good opportunity to take a less-than-serious look at it :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Mary Bendickson
19:23 Apr 27, 2023

Just another day, Huh?

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Apr 27, 2023

You know it :)

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Lily Finch
00:59 Apr 27, 2023

Michał, now this story is a real story! I cannot say anything wrong because it is so right. Love these lines, "Hot on his tail, Dame Democracy on her skybike, trying to bring him down with her plasma rifle." The visual on this is so awesome. "I’m calling is, Null Reference is behind this attack. My archnemesis!" = beautiful and brilliant names. That is the smorgasbord of imagery right there in this sentence. I absolutely loved it. "It looked like a giant child had just uprooted the tallest buildings, mushed them together, and left th...

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Michał Przywara
20:53 Apr 27, 2023

Thanks, Lily! I'm glad you enjoyed this sillier take on superheroes :) I think in a world of over-the-top abilities and powers, the lives of normal people become *very* interesting. How do you manage your day job if some lunatic might blow up the moon at any moment? Well, I'm sure life finds a way. I'm glad you picked that visual out, as I liked it too :)

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Lily Finch
23:26 Apr 27, 2023

I thought that your story should win the contest. Let's hope so. LF6

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Sophia Gavasheli
17:31 May 13, 2023

"The only thing that gave him a smidge of relief was being able to cross the dry cleaning off his app." -oh, so relatable! There's no greater joy than crossing something off your to-do list.

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Michał Przywara
21:01 May 15, 2023

Thanks, Sophia! Yes, lists are the real superhero :) I appreciate the feedback!

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Amanda Lieser
03:40 May 09, 2023

Hi Michal, As always, you have produced a piece with a wonderfully charming and creative take on the prompt. You setting was brilliant with all the fast paced details of a comic book incorporated beautifully into the piece. I loved that this story centered around Intern 17, and I even loved more that that was his name. It gave me such a chuckle because I know for a fact that there are so many amazing human beings who make big decisions in the world, who could not survive without their assistants and interns. I especially love that you includ...

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Michał Przywara
20:50 May 09, 2023

Thanks, Amanda! Yes, you're right. People often look down on those kinds of jobs, but I'm not sure why, as the jobs wouldn't exist if they weren't necessary. Whole industries, like movies, would cease being if it wasn't for all the people working off-camera. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece :) It was fun to imagine and get down on paper. I appreciate the feedback!

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Graham Kinross
06:12 May 05, 2023

I like the end. 17 seems like someone who wants to be far from the action but Doctor Dogood really needs him. Maybe the son would be safer if the mother had custody though.

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Michał Przywara
20:37 May 05, 2023

Ha! That's an excellent point :) That might be a fun spin-off to explore too. The surly teen growing up, resenting his absent hero father. Maybe turning to villainy and making a hash of it.

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Graham Kinross
21:38 May 05, 2023

Or becoming a super villain that plans his father’s downfall from the safety of his phone?

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Chris Fullwood
22:13 May 03, 2023

Delightfully inventive, intellectually wild, a brilliant gallop through your imagination, very stimulating read and just so much fun too, really liked it. Unique and funny, highly creative!!

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Michał Przywara
02:03 May 04, 2023

Thanks, Chris! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) It was certainly a fun story to write.

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Peter Gerber
21:51 May 03, 2023

Fun and Thrilling. Makes the reader want to continue reading.

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Michał Przywara
23:27 May 03, 2023

Thanks, Peter! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Mike Panasitti
19:31 May 03, 2023

What's remarkable about this story is the crossing over, like recombining transgenic DNA, of the mundane and the fantastic: the slogging responsibilities of paternity impinge on the crushing preoccupation with artificially induced black holes. At one point amidst a cornucopia of catastrophes instigated by Superhumans, "[t]he only thing that gave [Intern 17] a smidge of relief was being able to cross the dry cleaning off his app." Just brilliant Przywarian humor (and action) in a tale that easily deserves half a dozen more genre tags. Exc...

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Michał Przywara
02:01 May 04, 2023

Thanks, Mike! "the mundane and the fantastic" is what it's all about :) Sometimes you just want to go out and do your job, and life keeps getting in the way. The idea of living as a normal person in a world of superheroes/villains seems terrifying, but then again, maybe it's no different than accounting for natural disasters. I appreciate the feedback!

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Delbert Griffith
11:01 Apr 29, 2023

Man, was this fun! And you pegged the superhero-sidekick relationship perfectly. We all want to be superheroes - until we have to do something superhero-ish. The psychology of the superhero is subtly brought out, but it is quite illuminating. And I love how we 'mundanes' are portrayed: regular people doing essential work. "Fifteen minutes of sudoku later..." LOL "The only thing that gave him a smidge of relief was being able to cross the dry cleaning off his app." Great line! That's how we mundanes operate. All in all, an epic tale that ...

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