Part 4

“This food is amazing.” Janice said between savoring bites of her fish.

“Isn’t it? I love the seafood here, even if I’m usually more ambivalent about it elsewhere.” Chris replied, focusing on his own meal. “It’s not surprising that they favor seafood, though.”

“When you live in the ocean, what’s more convenient, beef or fish?” Janice retorted, shaking her head as she grinned at Chris. “Still, I take your point.”

The restaurant they were in was small, with no more than a dozen tables and a half-dozen booths, but the food was excellent and the furnishings were high quality. The price of the food was high as well, but that was to be expected. Chris enjoyed the food, and around them were about a dozen other retired heroes and villains, from Lord Dusk to Soryan the Eternal. The latter had surprised even Chris, since he hadn’t realized that Soryan had retired.

The shopping trip had been as expensive as Chris had anticipated, but not too bad on the whole. The clothing and jewelry was essentially the only thing outsiders could purchase and take home, so they’d both purchased a fair number of things. Chris looked forward to seeing Janice in the elaborate blue dress she’d chosen, but he’d have to be patient and hope she’d wear it on another date.

“So… I have to ask, what are you planning with this whole independent supplier thing?” Janice asked, taking another careful bite. Her casual tone didn’t fool Chris, since he saw how focused she was on him and he let out a slight sigh.

“You aren’t suspicious I’m going back on my word, are you?” Chris asked, pausing to sip at his water. “I’m not, so you know.”

“No, no, it’s just… it sounds slightly worrisome to me. I’m trying to figure out what you’re thinking.” Janice explained quickly, frowning as she did so. “You’d be going semi-public, and that could cause a lot of problems. Just the reparations for all of your different actions are going to be bad enough, but the people who have grudges against you… I’m a little worried about the possible consequences.”

“Ah, fair enough.” Chris said, relaxing slightly and sighing more deeply. “That’s going to be problematic, I’ll admit. I’m fortunate that only a handful of my people left when I told them about my intentions, but that’s not a huge deal. One of the things I’m trying to work out with the government is what I’m going to do for security. I think some of the officials want me to give up all my armor suits, and that makes me nervous.”

“Well, you are squishy.” Janice agreed, then flushed as she shook her head and corrected. “Sorry, I meant that you’re physically normal, without superhuman resilience.”

“I knew what you meant.” Chris said, shrugging and smiling at Janice. “It’s something that’s worried me a lot before… but it doesn’t really matter, I suppose. In the end I’ll work things out with the government, one way or another.”

“Right.” Janice agreed, working on her meal as she asked. “So what is your plan, anyway? You’re the planning type, I know that much.”

“Again, it depends on the government, but what I expect is that I’ll be scaling down most of my lines and only selling most of the gear to the military, government agencies, or hero teams. That’ll likely be painful for my bottom line, but it’s doable.” Chris said, taking a spoonful of soup and considering as he swallowed the chowder, then continued. “That’s why I’m thinking to branch out. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that inventors have a hard time finding the components for their gear, they generally need to buy the raw materials and build it all themselves. That takes a lot of time and effort that they don’t like spending, in my experience. While I may not be able to make gear like other inventors, my components are top of the line.”

“So you’re thinking to open a shop like Malevolence and Watt, but more for inventors in general?” Janice asked, her eyebrows rising in surprise. “That… actually, it makes a lot of sense, and I haven’t heard of someone who does that.”

“I’m glad you approve.” Chris replied, grinning again as he relaxed. “I don’t claim that I’m the only one who could do it, I can think of at least six other heroes and villains who could manage a line like I’m talking about, but not many of the others have the patience for it. Most of them can capitalize on their components, anyway, where I can’t really use their full potential.”

“That…” Janice paused, her fork halfway to her mouth, and she frowned, staring at Chris.

“What?” Chris asked, growing concerned again.

“I just have to wonder, does it bother you?” Janice asked, her tone slightly odd. “That you can’t use the full potential of what you build, I mean. That despite having powers, you’re fragile and that I could easily hurt you without your gear without you being able to stop me. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it’s part of the whole… power disparity that I’ve heard people talk about before.”

Chris sat back, uncomfortably aware of the other people around him. Some of the others in the room didn’t have powers, he knew, but most of them were more powerful than he was, and he wouldn’t be surprised if some of them could hear the two of them clearly. Sanctuary was a small community, so if he said anything it’d probably travel through the entire city within days. Still, Janice deserved an answer.

“It used to. It’s the main reason I became a villain, if I’m being honest.” Chris admitted, shrugging. “My powers manifested in high school, like most people’s do, but you know as well as I do that we were among the first waves of teens to gain powers. My school had a positive glut of supers, and I had the misfortune of not being nearly as spectacular as three other inventors, nor being able to keep up with the people with physical powers. It drove me to decide to prove myself, and I… was bitter, I suppose. It all seems so far away now, but it was painful at the time. Now? I’ve made my peace with things. I’m brilliant by the standards of most of humanity, but not quite to the degree of the most brilliant unpowered people alive. I’ve been important enough… but much of what I’ve done hasn’t really had the payoff that I’d like. As long as I can contribute to a relationship, I’ll be alright, Janice. I approached you after the fight with White Annihilator knowing what I might be getting into.”

“I see.” Janice replied, seeming to be contemplating what he’d said. “I do think I understand what you mean, though. School was stressful enough even without powers.”

“I’ll agree with that.” Chris said, chuckling again as he worked on finishing his food.

Just as he was about done, Janice spoke again. “So we’re staying the night, aren’t we? What’s the plan?”

“They have a few rooms for visitors, and I went ahead and reserved two rooms.” Chris replied, not batting an eye as he smiled wryly. “I wasn’t going to overplay my hand where that was concerned.”

“Smart man.” Janice replied, her eyes glittering mischievously. Chris couldn’t help a laugh as he sipped at his wine and tried to relax.

Part 5