ASH: Coherent Super Stories #16 - Confessions of a D-Lister
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Sun Feb 1 20:00:31 PST 2009
The cover shows a man in a leather jacket, his face hidden in shadows.
He's whistling and counting a wad of money as he walks towards the camera.
In the far background, Lady Lawful II is fighting a giant mutated cactus.
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #16 - Confessions of a D-Lister
Featuring a D-Lister copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen
My name really isn't important. It wouldn't mean anything to you, even
if you're a total para geek. You might have heard of the codename I ran
under in 1991, but I doubt it. I was, and am, a total D-Lister paranormal.
My powers are nothing special, for the most part. I've got superhuman
strength, and if I'm really careful I can lift a small car. But I don't have
that funky secondary power the real strongguys have that holds stuff together
when I lift it, so odds are I'd just rip off the door or the bumper or
something. I'm lightly bulletproof, but if a bunch of guys with .38's all
shoot at me I'll probably go down, from the pain even if none of the shots
break skin. I can leap tall buildings in a single bound, if by "tall" you
mean "two or three stories". I've got one or two little powers I'd rather
not discuss right now, but trust me, they won't help me in a fight.
If I'd been around in the 1940s with these powers, they'd have made ME
the guy in the Minuteman suit. Even in the 1970s, my power set would have
made me a solid B-lister. I mean, the original Brightsword would have handed
me my head, but if I could've found a decent weapon like his it'd've been
People with my power level are a lot more common than you'd think, even
ignoring the fact that some guys calling themselves gods have started handing
out powers lately. You just don't hear about us because we don't last very
long in the public eye.
Seriously. If you're on my level and you want to play with the big
boys, one of three things is gonna happen:
1) You train like a madman and become as good as any normal human
martial arts master, on top of your powers.
2) You find some sort of gimmick or gadget. Sometimes a mad scientist
comes up with a super thingy that kills any normal person who uses it, but
being a little bit invulnerable lets you survive turning it on.
3) You die. Or at least get hurt so bad you retire immediately.
The A-list supers, they can toss buses around, blow holes in battleship
armor, take a howitzer shell to the face and get back up. Maybe not all of
those things in one person, but that's the scale we're talking about. A shot
that's aimed at Set or Panzer and hits me by mistake isn't gonna care that
I'm bulletproof, it just means they can recover my remains with a shovel
instead of a wetvac. I don't have to tell you who the A-list are, if you've
heard of a super and they're not local to you, they're A-list. Just like
celebrities, only slightly less likely to have drug problems.
B-list is a weird spot. These are the people who are almost there.
They may even be on a team of A-listers, thanks to some oddball utility power
or simple gumption. Or they form up their own B-list teams, like the
St. Louis Cavaliers, or they're solo acts in towns where there's not a lot of
C-list? Eh. Unless you're a total geek, no one even really knows what
makes someone C-list instead of B or even D.
But everyone can tell a D-lister. Most of us are so lame that our
powers are party tricks, used to win bar bets and that's about it. A few of
us try to play neighborhood protector, dealing with the "street level" crime
that slips under the radar of the regular capes. I tried that when I first
discovered my powers, and it's why I know that a bunch of guys with pistols
will take me down. Short, lame career. Maybe I helped a few people, made
the neighborhood a little better, but eh. Nothing like a bullet to the
forehead to smack the naive idealism outta someone. I took a job in the
private sector where being strong and tough is an asset, but no one shoots at
Still, having a record as a hero, even a lame and failed one, cuts you a
lot of slack with the government. They kinda treat it as jury duty...use
your powers for the Public Good at least for a little while, and so long as
you don't do any obvious crime after that, they don't bother you.
And that brings me to the real point of this little confession.
Y'see, I'm retiring from my second career now. No, not that job I
mentioned earlier, I mean my night job. Yeah, the illegal kind of night job.
I've made my pile, I'm smart enough to know I've gotten lucky too often to
push it any further. But maybe that bullet didn't knock all the stupid outta
me, and I'd like to leave a warning about us D-listers. Oh, it's not gonna
be read by anyone but me until after I die, so maybe you're not reading this
until 2055 or something. Or maybe my luck already ran out and someone's
gunning for me right now.
The thing people tend to forget about us D-list paranormals is that,
well, we're still outside of what humans can do or be. Maybe I can't fly,
but I can sure jump any fence you care to put up. I can't toss trucks
around, but I can certainly snap a padlock in my bare hands. And while being
"only" bulletproof isn't too impressive against someone like Devastator, it's
more than enough to handle a lone rent-a-cop if things go south on a job.
Yeah, I'm a thief. A good one, too. Skilled-good, not ethically good,
although I try to avoid taking any jobs that are too scummy. Partly so I can
sleep at night, but mainly because doing things like stealing medicines
intended for orphans or whatever tends to attract the attention of the
A-list. If it makes the front page of the paper, it's probably too big to be
safe for guys like me.
Here's the thing. There's loads of security systems designed to stop
superhumans. Field-detectors that will nail a flyer. Active restraints that
can hold a rhino without being so dangerous to normals that the law would ban
'em. Collapsinum-reinforced locks on titanium doors thick enough that I'd
never get through in a million years. But all of these things are
*expensive*. And no one's going to pay for these measures if they're only
protecting a target worth a few hundred thou.
So site security tends to come in two flavors. The A-list security that
might slow down serious supervill action long enough for the heroes to
arrive, and stuff that's really only built to stop a normal. Fences,
padlocks, tasers, handguns...things that won't stop a D-lister like me, but
still get used to protect targets worth enough that people will hire me to go
Oh, yeah. It's all contract work. I don't have any super-casing-the-
joint abilities to speak of, and I don't want to assume that a lab has no
super-defenses just because it looks normal from outside. For all I know,
they're playing the Hide In Plain Sight plan, but there's something nasty at
that last door. Of course, I know a few D-listers who have nothing *but*
case-the-joint powers, like vision powers or low-level teeps. They're good
guys to know in my night job. And then there's the guy with, I kid you not,
Super Accounting powers...he's why I'm going to be able to retire on my ill-
gotten gains without worrying about the IRS.
There's a lot of us D-listers who have decided that crime pays if you're
smart about it. No tights, no fights. Most of us look like crap in tights
anyway, that's another of those funky secondary powers reserved to the
A-listers. And most of the B-listers. And maybe that's where the line
between C-list and D-list is...they're not any more powerful than we are, but
they look good in spandex. Whatever.
The closest I've ever come to a superhero was back in 96, I had a job
stealing something from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Yeah,
normally I steer clear of the bigger cities. Even with ASH long gone,
there's just too many people in Chicago to trust it to not have a new
B-lister that I can't plan around. Plus, Chicago used to be a hotbed, so a
lot of places had leftover anti-supers systems even though nothing more
impressive than Lady Lawful's dance partners had been active in town lately.
Well, long story short, I was having to do a little of my own ground
work, but since the museum's open to the public I figured no problem.
I saw the robot first.
Clunky, slow, ugly. I already knew there wasn't a robotics exhibit at
the museum that week, but even if I'd been tempted to write it off as
something being moved in for later, the distracted-looking guy with the robot
Doctor Developer, late of Detroit, now rumored to be part of some
special team that went after the kinds of things the A-listers let slip
through the cracks. Things like me and my buddies.
Needless to say, I got out before he could notice me, called the client,
told him there was superhero interference and I was out. I always have a
clause in my contract saying I can call a job off if it looks like big guns
are getting involved, makes life a lot easier.
No, I'm not worried about being sued for breach of contract, are you
stupid? That's like calling the cops to complain that your drug dealer
ripped you off and cut the cocaine with flour. But despite the adage there's
at least some honor among thieves, and a good contract can keep you from
getting a visit from a B-list legbreaker if you have to bail on a job.
Anyway, that was my brush with superdom, the only time I even came close
to running into security that I couldn't breeze through.
The lesson here, to whoever reads this? Don't dismiss us D-list guys.
Maybe we can't punch out an elephant, but we can probably rob your payroll
pretty easy. So think about ways to at least make our jobs harder, eh? Even
if you can't afford force fields and stun nets, there's always a few things
you can change if you just think about it a little, and assume that someone
like me is out there trying to get my hands on your stuff.
Because we might be.
Just not me anymore, I'm off to...well, someplace a lot nicer than
Chicago. But for ever A-lister you see on the news, there's dozens of
D-listers, and not all of us are content to make an honest living....
Sometimes the weirdest things inspire a story (or vignette, or whatever
you want to call this thing). In this case, I was driving past the National
Guard property in Topeka and looked at the fence they added during the
post-9/11 round of "make everything look more secure" in 2003 or
thereabouts. It occurred to me that even a low-level paranormal could
probably leap that fence and any electronic defenses built into the
perimeter, assuming he had a reason to get in. And from there I tinkered
with the idea more, realizing that there was a whole niche for D-list
paranormal crime, all of those places that couldn't afford the anti-supers
security but were still tempting targets.
The near-meeting between the D-lister and Doctor Developer takes place
during the 1996 scene of CSV Annual #2. The point of view for the D-lister
is probably mid-1997.
This story was actually written between the commercials during Super
Bowl XLIII. :) And the style "experiment" for the issue is "rambling first
person confessional". Not something I do a lot of, probably for a number of
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