“Hey, Weedkiller! Tight dreads! Army Ant, those antennae are perfect! Whoa! Sweetie, you are the best, most adorable Panda-Man I’ve ever seen! Can I get a selfie?” Mia crouched down next to the 7-year-old and held him tight as she snapped a picture with her phone.
The cosplay contest at the Mid-River Silver Age Con was the highlight of her year. She’d spent weeks perfecting her steampunk design and another month constructing it.
She had a lot more free time to spend on cosplay since she finished her BS in mechanical engineering. She found work, don’t get her wrong. It just wasn’t exactly in her field. Or any field. But she liked coffee and muffins, so serving it to customers wasn’t the worst job there was. At least, that’s what she told herself every day until her shift ended, when she rushed home, waved hi to her roommate, and shut herself in her room to apply for any job she could find.
She had the degree and the brains, but she hadn’t gotten through an interview without embarrassing herself, cutting off the interviewer, or accidentally insulting the company. She sometimes considered studying her rejection letters to find patterns of polite, normal conversation she might use for future interviews.
She looked up from her phone to see a tall, cut, middle-aged man approaching her.
“OMG! Your costume is amazing! That black armored spandex spy outfit is spot-on. Where’d you get it? Aw, man, you’ve got little pouches and everything! And your gun looks so real! I can’t believe you got it past security. They usually want it to look fake.”
“It is real.”
“Ummmm, okay, wow. Hey, I’ve gotta catch up with my large group of paranoid friends who will call the police and track my phone if I’m gone for more than 10 minutes, so I’ll see you later.”
Oh, she waited.
“How do you know my name?”
“I know everything about you, Mia.”
“Just kidding. I know a lot about you, but not everything. Probably. But I’m not a creep or anything, just a spy. And now that I said the s-word, you have to come with me or I’ll kill you.”
Mia was still frozen from before.
“Sorry, I was kidding again. I’m working on my managerial methods. My performance evaluation said I come across as distant, so I’m trying to use humor to be more easygoing.”
“Maybe stick with distant instead of casual jokes about murdering me.”
“Noted. Okay, but I do need you to come with me. That was real.”
“Are you really a spy?”
“Oh, yeah. Super secret stuff. Killing terrorists, neutralizing evil organizations, fighting off aliens before anyone finds out about them. It’s crazy.”
“Did I do something wrong? Oh, crap. Does Etsy fund terrorism?”
“No, no. You’re not in trouble. I want to recruit you!”
“Huh. So the Etsy thing just now wasn’t an immediate clue that maybe I’m not the type to rely on to kill scary people?”
“Oh, we’ve got killers. Ha! So many killers. You have no idea. No, we need you because you were the best engineer in your class.”
“Oh, hell yeah! Look at the detail on your costume! All those little gears and belts and stuff? I’d almost expect it to work.”
“Well…don’t tell anyone, but it does.”
“That’s gonna be hard. I’m really bad at keeping secrets.”
“No, sorry, kidding again. So definitely stick with distant?”
“Are you a dad? You strike me as a dad. Wait, how do you know about my mad engineering skills?”
“College transcripts, your emails to your parents, your friends’ texts about you, your advisor’s files. Speaking of which, he’s really gross. Hooks up with a different freshman every year.”
“Yuck! Should I report him?”
“Meh. I’ll slip some articles about some crazy STD outbreaks on campus into his news feeds. That should settle him down.”
“What STD outbreaks?”
“Oh, it’s not true. I’ll have our media division make it up.”
“Wait. So fake news is a real thing?”
“Oh yeah. Well, some of it. Only like 15%.”
“I can’t say unless you work for me.”
“What’s it pay?”
“Not much week to week, but you get a big bonus if you survive each mission.”
“You should really stop kidding.”
“Can you make my student debt disappear?”
“Sure, yeah. Do you want it paid off or just eliminated?”
Mia’s eyes widened. She had never felt so powerful before. “Eliminated.”
“Awesome.” He tapped on his phone for a few seconds and showed Mia her new principle balance: $0.00.
“Woo hoo! And no killing? Just building stuff?”
“No killing. You in?”
“Yeah, let’s do it!”
“Come on. My ride’s waiting outside.”
“Yes! Best day ever!”
“Do you need to tell your friends first?”
“Oh. Right. That was a lie. Not a big, ah, friends person. Or fam-i-ly. Orphan. Only child. Bad at relationships. Not a great roommate. Also never was much of a–”
“Yeah, I know. I read up on you.”
“You have that in your files?”
“What? No. I follow you on Instagram. By the way, you’ve gotta stop posting pics of polenta. It tastes fine, but it’s not photogenic. Okay. Ready to go?”
“Yeah, let’s do it! I just said that, didn’t I?”
They stepped outside of the arena and onto the sidewalk. The street was closed off for the convention and there wasn’t a car to be seen for blocks.
“Where’s your ride?”
The bottom of a rope ladder suddenly dropped in front of them. Mia looked up to see a plane — or maybe a spaceship — whose cloaking device had just disengaged.
“Oh, one thing. The other members of the team are pretty unusual.”
“You like comics, right? Hold on tight. Oh, by the way, I’m Dwayne.”
Mia screamed as the ladder was hauled aboard and she and Dwayne were yanked into the air. Within seconds, she found herself in a cargo bay. She caught her breath and looked around.
Dwayne spread his arms. “Mia Ortiz, welcome to the Redressers.”
“Is that Frankenstein?”