The government didn’t approve of superheroes. Most superheroes, aside from the occasional sentient robot or alien visitor, were only human. Nobody with any sense would be excited about giving the Average Joe the power to shoot lasers from his eyes or teleport across the universe. Given their druthers, the government would’ve probably depowered ever superhuman they came across and lock up those they couldn’t. For the greater good, or so they’d say.
The idea was still floated now and then by some senator or city council member looking to make a name for themselves. Some were probably sincerely worried. Most were out to score votes off of public fear. And they could get far on the anti-superhero ticket until some evil genius with a phantom legion or conqueror aliens appeared and made short work of the army and whatever conventional defenses were available. Then it was up to us, the superheroes, to save the day.
Most people with superpowers didn’t take up heroing, and for those people, life went on as normal. Maybe Fran’s ability to generate fire from her hands made family barbecues a little easier, and I’d heard there was a guy who could control animals with his mind who was a heck of a dog catcher. But as long as they minded their own business, they were allowed to live their lives like any regular citizen.
But for us superheroes, the government wanted at least the appearance of some control, and that was why we had to get licenses. Considering how many times I’d saved the city and even the world on occasion, you would think they’d speed up the process. Give us a special “Superheroes Only” express line. But they made us wait in line at the DMV like everyone else, and it wasn’t by accident. Even the most invulnerable superhuman was powerless against government bureaucracy, a little reminder of our limitations.
Dementra, Warrior Queen of Galadron, sat beside me in the hard plastic chairs. She glanced at the lighted sign that showed the current number being served. “Are you up soon?”
I held up my slip of paper for her to read, but she’d yet to master earth numbers. She still got her fives and sevens confused. “Soon,” I lied.
I didn’t know for certain it was a lie. The sign wasn’t predictable. Numbers would scroll by quickly, only to freeze so long one had to assume the sign had broken, and we were all stuck here until the proper paperwork for a replacement went through or the universe succumbed to heat death. Whichever came first.
Dementra fidgeted. She hated stuff like this. On Galadron, government was a streamlined series of fights. Want a driver’s license? Punch a space bear. Registering to vote? Wrestle a six-armed gladiator. Have a complaint about your senator? Battle to the death. It was a harsh world, but it had its upsides.
“You didn’t have to come,” I said.
“As your boon compatriot, it is my duty to aid you in all warrior obligations.” She slouched in her chair. “Also, I had nothing better to do today.”
The number sign clicked backwards. I thought I caught some of the clerks giving me the eye. A lot of clerks didn’t like processing hero licenses. More paperwork than normal. I got the feeling they were putting me off. Normally they couldn’t tell I was a superhero, but the bubble gum pink space Amazon beside me, even wearing a Mickey Mouse tank top and some torn jeans, wasn’t great for blending in.
Eventually, my number was up. I gave the clerk my name and handed him my license. He scanned it.
“Class A Superhuman Emergency Involvement,” he said, more to himself than me. “We don’t get many of these.” He typed a few things into his computer. “Powers?”
“Isn’t that already in the system?” I asked.
He didn’t take his eyes off the screen. “We need to ask. For confirmation.”
“Super strength, Category One,” I said. “Limited invulnerability.”
He adjusted his glasses. “Limited how?”
“It’s not in the system?”
He frowned, annoyed by the situation as much as I was. “Confirmation.”
I leaned closer and whispered. It wasn’t as if the information was secret, but what superhero liked announcing her weakness to the world? “Solar radiation.”
“You’re vulnerable to sunlight?”
“Not vulnerable,” I said. “It’s not like it can kill me. I mean, I guess it could if I spent my days tanning. I’m not weak to it. I’m just not unusually resistant to it.”
He nodded. “Are you, or have you ever been to the best of your knowledge, radioactive?”
“Do you emanate any sort of psychic energy field that could pose a public health risk?”
“Have you accidentally or intentionally caused undue damage to public or private property through use of your unique abilities?”
“Have all these incidents been reported to the appropriate parties?”
“Do you ever feel an overwhelming desire to destroy all those who oppose you and if so, have you sought appropriate psychological counseling for these urges?”
“No, you haven’t felt these urges. Or no, you haven’t sought counseling?”
Stuff like this was why people became supervillains. “No urges,” I lied, and he didn’t call me out on it.
“Have you been to outer space, the center of the Earth, any unknowable dimensions, or temporally displaced in the last year? And if so, were your vaccinations up to date at the time?”
“Yes and yes.”
“It says here your archenemy is Strongobot, the strongest robot in the world. Is this all?”
He said it with judgment. Like I’d screwed up somewhere by not being important enough to have more bad guys dedicated to my destruction.
“Do you have any reason to believe your archvillain will pose an undue threat to the city by your residency here?”
And so on it went. Question after question. I’d glance to Dementra now and then. She amused herself by playing with several children stuck here. Kids loved her. She might have been a savage alien warrior, but she had a way with kids. She caused a teddy bear and doll to telekinetically dance for the amusement of the children and grateful parents were happy for the distraction.
“Eye color?” asked the clerk.
“Brown,” I said, relieved. It was always the last question.
“All right then. I’ll need you to step to the right so that we can take your photo.”
When getting my first license, I did my best to look heroic. Steely eyed, determined, serious. Now I’d just settle for one where I wasn’t blinking.
He snapped the photo. The machine spit out a laminated piece of plastic that he handed to me. “Thank you. Have a pleasant day.”
But he was already done with me and didn’t offer so much as a parting glance.
Dementra gave the children some hugs, and we were out the door.
I handed her the license. I hadn’t the courage to look at it myself yet. “How’s it look?”
“Good.” She squinted. “Though I think there’s a bit of broccoli in your teeth.”
“Ah, damn it.” I picked the speck from my teeth and sighed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Some boon compatriot you are.”
I tucked the license in my pocket and breathed deep the fresh air of freedom. Free for another year, and there was always the possibility that I’d be killed by a mutant dinosaur or a solar death ray before renewal came around again. It wasn’t likely, but optimism was all part of the superhero game.