By Michael Logan
Lycra-clad and legs akimbo, the afternoon sun burnishing her auburn hair to a fiery mane, The British Overseer stood tall and lithe on Oxford Street, the epicentre of a cooing circle of admirers. She adjusted her stance, treating the scrumptious blonde in cut-off denim shorts to the angle of perfect lust, and stared into the middle distance, as though searching for evil to defeat.
While the press of bodies clogged the pavement, nobody grumbled. A brief delay in returning to tedious jobs as shop assistants, baristas and office workers after a too-short lunch was a small price to pay for the opportunity to bask in the magnificence of the nation’s protector. Sometimes she wished she could replicate herself and bask too, but that was a power the Garian hadn’t granted.
She couldn’t hold up the everyday people too long. In this job, timing was everything. She drifted to head height, paused to tip the cutie a wink, and corkscrewed up into the clear skies—thumb clamping shut the plastic lid of her quadruple espresso. Raining scalding coffee into the upturned, adoring eyes would ruin her exit. As the city fell away, The Overseer’s acute hearing drank in the applause and, most pleasingly, a shuddering groan from blondie. Well, she wouldn’t be frustrated for long. The Overseer had used her x-ray vision to pick out a home address from the fan’s driving licence. She would honour her with a visit that night.
She put aside the shiver of anticipatory pleasure, and concentrated on the glories the moment offered. Every time she flew, she could almost hear the universe bellow its disapproval at the wrongness of her aerodynamically challenged body taking flight. The planet revolved, straining to create the gravity that by rights should pin her to the ground. She just laughed in its face. For the first few weeks of her superhero life, her feet had barely touched the ground. She even flew from bed to toilet in the morning, hovering over the bowl to tinkle. Now she needed the open air and speed to thrill her; besides, she’d grown tired of having to wipe the seat dry.
And so, she soared. The concrete sprawl and glass peaks of London diminished until the city was so small she could pinch it between thumb and forefinger. She dialled down her hearing until only the rush of wind filled her ears, and punched through a wispy cloud, relishing the cool moisture on her skin. On the top side, she flipped onto her back, popped open the cup and swigged. Coffee in the clouds. God, being a superhero was awesome. She was awesome. She should be called Mindblowingly Awesome Girl, not The British Overseer. It was such a dull name. Then again the Garian, who had bestowed the title upon her, was a dull species. Sure, they looked exotic—how could they not, with their shimmering blue eyes, translucent skin and extra appendages of uncertain usefulness?—but in their souls they were grey-suited bureaucrats.
During orientation, she’d suggested the name change. The Garian responsible for training didn’t even acknowledge her request. Thanks for appearing from nowhere to create a global force of superheroes to bring world peace, but learn to chillax a little, she’d thought—and then broken out in sheen of sweat as it occurred to her they may be able to read minds. For a moment, she thought she’d blown it: all those arduous tests to see if her body could bear the alien race’s gifts, and the ensuing months of cutthroat competition on So You Want to Be a Superhero? tossed away in an instant. When the Garian had kept talking, listing the rules and regulations she must follow in a monotonous, glottal voice, she’d blown out a sigh of relief that shattered every window in the room.
Now, six months into her four-year tenure, her powers were under control. She’d learned not to pulverise her smartphone, tucked into a handy side pocket, every time she picked it up, and not to burn holes in the screen with her laser eyes when she glowered at a disparaging tweet. Her body was fireproof, not her ego. Online flaming from the odd ungrateful troll still burned, even though their comments—she was self-obsessed, preening, publicity-hungry—were born from jealousy. Any one of them would have taken her place in an instant.
The Overseer chugged down the rest of her coffee, supercharged nervous system barely registering the hit. She swooped down, letting the disposable cup tumble away on an air current, and skimmed the Thames. Her shockwave carved up the water as she slalomed through the pleasure cruisers, waving to the excited tourists. She halted by Tower Bridge, whipped out her phone and trained it on her face. It took two minutes to adjust her hair. She’d yet to find the perfect combination of hairspray and gel powerful enough to hold her locks in place during flight. Once she was happy, she removed the wet wipes she kept beside the phone, and ran one over her face. Bug splatter was an occupational hazard nobody had warned her about. She rode the air with lips clamped shut, which lent an aspect of steely determination to her flying face. However, there was no way to avoid some kind of nastiness mashing into her forehead. Bug bodies wiped off, she snapped a selfie and posted it on her Twitter account, captioned, ‘On patrol and feeling great!’
The pic was cheesy, but she scooped more retweets and favourites if she took her shots around London landmarks. She browsed the accounts of her biggest rivals—The American, Indian and Brazilian Overseers, who were all irritatingly gorgeous and popular. The Indian Overseer boasted 250 million followers; she had 30 million. There were over one billion Indians, and a measly 65 million residents of Britain, so the playing field wasn’t level. The disparity chafed all the same. At least none of the heavy hitters had pulled off any big rescues over the last 24 hours, which presented her with a window of opportunity to outdo them. She looked hopefully at London Bridge; no busload of cute school kids dangled over the river’s muddy waters. It was early yet.
Her rituals completed, she ascended to cruising altitude and began to circle the city. Technically, there was no reason to do so. The wrist communicator the Garian gave every Overseer told them where they were needed, and she could be anywhere in the country within a few minutes to respond. But the rules required her to patrol, to remind any would-be criminals that their efforts were futile and watch for small injustices that may fall below the alien’s radar.
So round and round she went, working outward from the city centre in a leisurely spiral, scanning the streets for action and wishing her communicator would beep already. An hour passed, then two, with nothing remotely nasty happening below. She didn’t feel like trying another city. Outside of London was so parochial: heroic actions in Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow didn’t have the same global impact.
Her phone buzzed. She pulled it out, expecting a juicy assignment from her publicist. Instead, she found a message from Bridget, her oldest friend.
Hey, superhero. Been ages. You still on for my birthday bash tonight? Starts at seven. Bring a bottle!
The Overseer bit her lip, smearing red lipstick on her teeth. She’d forgotten the invite and had committed to attending the after-party for Taylor Swift’s O2 gig. When that was over, she was going to see blondie. She’d make it up to Bridget later.
Soz. Need to work. Lunch next week?
No response came, but The Overseer didn’t notice: she was too busy tweeting on the fly and thinking about the fun she would have that evening: the way the celebrities would jostle to get close to her, and the squeals blondie would emit as she put her superpowers to sensual use.
She was coasting over Hoxton, lost in her preview of the night to come, when her stomach fluttered, a sure sign somebody nearby was in danger. The feeling intensified when she looked in the direction of Caliban Tower, an ugly concrete block of flats that had spewed out its low-rent residents years ago and morphed into a nest of lumbersexuals. A lone figure sat on the roof, legs dangling over the long drop, a bottle of cheap vodka perched on the ledge within grabbing distance.
A suicide. She hated suicides. They were always so ungrateful when she saved them. Plus they weren’t big news. She preferred to operate on the principle of economy of scale. Multiple saves: averting a terrorist attack or stopping a bank robbery—not that you got many of those any longer. The Garian and their Overseer army had seen to that. It was mainly halting speeding trains and catching falling cranes these days.
She was tempted to pretend she hadn’t seen the muppet. But one of the rules stated, Never knowingly let a human die. And the Garian would be watching. On the day her mentor her loose, it had told her they would always be watching. The humourless sod didn’t laugh when she said, “Even when I’m on the lav?” No, she’d seen the mopey git now, so she had to act. It would break the monotony of the slow day, she supposed.
She came in low, ensuring all and sundry in the area saw her and whipped out their mobiles, before arcing up and landing lightly behind the suicide. She didn’t have to call her super senses into action to register how bad he smelled. The little hair remaining on his head looked matted, and there were unsavoury stains all across the back of his sports coat. He was holding a cigarette upright by the filter, staring intently at the unlit tip.
She took a step forward, intending to startle him into jumping, at which point she would plunge after his twisting body and snatch him from the air in full view of the smart phones bristling upwards. She would then fly him to the nearest psychiatric hospital and get back to searching for a juicier assignment. As she prepared to shout, a frown blemished her perfect brow. There was something familiar in those shoulders, broad despite the depressed hunch, and in the curved ridge of his dark brown scalp. She knew him from somewhere. She edged to the side to get a better look. The deep-set eyes, the prominent cheekbones, the flared nostrils: they all tugged at her memory. Only the unkempt beard, greying along the jawline and slick with dribbled vodka, looked out of place.
“I should’ve known you’d show up to rub it in,” he said without turning, his voice as familiar as his features, if distorted by bone-deep bitterness.
“Why are you staring at that cigarette?” she said, curiosity overcoming her desire to effect a swift rescue.
“I was trying to light it,” he said. “I forget sometimes. Not often enough.” He fished in his pockets and emerged with a lighter, which he put to use. “I’m fine. I’m sunbathing. I’ll go back down soon. You won’t be knowingly letting me die. So you can toddle off and save somebody who needs saving.”
To her super senses, the lie screamed from every syllable, ever inflection. He intended to kill himself. That wasn’t what made her gape, though. The words of the Garian on his lips had released the trapped memory. “You were the second Overseer. Two before me. 2008-2012, right?”
He raised the bottle in mock salute and took a healthy swig. “Finally. Somebody recognises me. Don’t bother saying you were wondering what happened to me. I know you weren’t.”
The Overseer didn’t say anything. He was spot on. She hadn’t spared him a thought since he hung up his tights. His successor had filled the hero boots seamlessly and, even then, she’d been too focused on plotting how she would become the one who saved the day.
Now that she’d placed him, she tried to recall some of his on-the-job exploits. Maybe reliving former glories would cheer him up. “Hey, didn’t you stop that meteor heading for London? You smashed it to pieces with one mighty blow or something.”
He snorted. “That was the one before me. The first. Jesus, people don’t even remember what I did when I was in the costume.”
“Awkward,” she said under her breath.
She’d always told herself the former heroes enjoyed long, merry retirements, spending the wads of cash they’d built up on villas in the sun and a string of ever-younger lovers. That was her plan. Nike paid her ten million a year to design and brand her outfit, Lancome five million to wear their make-up, and BMW sloshed two million her way to film an ad in which she let their newest middle-aged-man-mobile beat her in a race. When her time was up, at the age of 26, she’d be set for life. Faced with this wreck of a man, who offered an alternative vision of the future, her stomach fluttered again—although this time it was a mundane human response heralding creeping unease.
She should end this now: scoop him up in her arms like a distressed infant, let somebody else deal with his issues and get back to simpler, more action-packed heroism. But she needed to know why he wanted to take a concrete nosedive. There had to be a good reason for his behaviour, one that wouldn’t cast a shadow over the bright future she’d convinced herself was waiting.
“So, tell me,” she said. “What’ve you been up to?”
“Drinking, mostly. I’ve gotten bloody good at it.”
He necked the bottle again to prove his point, at least three fingers worth glugging down his throat. Okay, so that wasn’t the best start. A bit too chatty. Not sympathetic enough. She wasn’t good at this sort of thing. She didn’t even like to examine her own life, never mind a stranger’s. Any time thorny questions bobbed up, and a few had done so over the last year or so, she jammed them back into the recesses of her brain, where they would hopefully expire from lack of oxygen. All she wanted from this conversation was reassurance that whatever afflicted him was an isolated occurrence, so she could go back to her carefree awesomeness.
“I can see that. I meant to ask why you’re really up here. Lover leave you? Lose all your money?”
She winced. Those questions hadn’t come out right at all. They were too direct, too abrupt. Fortunately, he didn’t seem offended.
“I didn’t lose it. I gave it away. Every penny.”
“Why would you do that?”
Finally, he turned to look at her. “You wouldn’t understand. I wouldn’t have, when I was you. Look at you, all puffed up in your purple camel-toe costume. You’re ridiculous. I was ridiculous.”
The Overseer momentarily forgot her disquiet as the urge to blow the cheeky swine off the roof and let him pop on the pavement seized her. She didn’t have camel toe. Sure, there had been an issue with the first iteration of the outfit, and a few unfortunate pictures in The Sun, but the Nike designers reworked it with a crotch panel.
“I don’t have time for this,” she snapped. “You’re coming with me to the happy ward.”
“The hero saves the day! Well, it’s only one day. I’ll pretend I’m okay, get them to release me. Next time, I won’t give you a chance to stop me. I’ll be right out the stairwell and over the edge.”
“Thanks a million. Now I need to try and talk you down. Never knowingly let a human die, and all that jazz.”
“Like that’s going to work. You don’t exactly ooze empathy.”
The Overseer closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and kept her voice even. “Try me.”
“You really want to know?”
He fell silent for a while. The cigarette, pinched between dirty fingers, shuttled to and from his lips. When it was down to the filter, he tossed the butt over the edge of the building and exhaled a wavering stream of smoke. “What do you see down there?”
She peered over the edge, tracking the progress of the drifting fag end. “Littering.”
“Apart from that.”
Around thirty people had gathered, necks and phones craning for a view of the rooftop drama. She indulged them with a wave. A cheer drifted upwards.
“Yes,” he said. “Your adoring public. You think they love you?”
“No, I’m asking if you think they love you? The real you? Or do they love The Overseer?”
“Same thing,” she said, the hesitation before her response so small only a superhero could detect it. She tugged at the neck of her costume, which suddenly felt tight.
“God, you’re as deluded as I was.” His voice dropped in volume, as though he were talking to himself; she cranked up her hearing to catch what he said. “Actually, maybe that’s why I’m here, why you saw me. My last chance to be a hero. You think you’re here to save me. Maybe I’m really here to save you.”
He was babbling now, either the booze taking effect or his insanity shining through. That was it, she thought with some relief. The Garian hadn’t tested him properly, had missed some mental crack that time and their inhuman powers levered open into a chasm of madness. That wouldn’t happen to her. She was solid. “I don’t see what you’re getting at.”
He held her gaze. As much as she didn’t like to admit it, she saw no delusion in his eyes. Pain, yes—so much pain she had to look away—but no madness.
“Before I became a superhero, I never used to notice gravity,” he said. “Who does? It’s always there, weighing you down. The day they took my powers away, I noticed alright. I lay in the garden, the weight of the world mashing me into the dirt, and stared at the sky. I only moved when it began to rain, big fat drops that stung my skin. The same skin that bullets wouldn’t even have tickled the day before. I crawled into bed and stayed there. For a week, maybe two. Every time I woke up, I thought I was still superhuman. Then I remembered. It hit so hard I could barely breathe.”
The Overseer shuffled her feet and squinted up at the sky. She’d never considered how she would feel once her powers were gone. Even though it wasn’t a comfortable thought, she couldn’t imagine feeling desperate enough to kill herself. But he wasn’t finished.
“I was so down I turned off my phone,” he continued. “I couldn’t face anyone. But, little by little, I started to get used to the loss. It’s amazing how quickly the body can adjust. I didn’t feel so heavy. I didn’t mind having to prise open the jam jar with a knife. So I switched my phone back on, expecting hundreds of messages and missed calls. You know the deal: invites to parties and premieres, requests for signings, the full bhoona. There were four messages. That’s when I realised not one person had come over to check I was okay.”
“Maybe your phone was wonky,” The Overseer said. “Happens to me sometimes. Nothing, then a big flood at once.”
“That’s what I told myself. I was wrong. The people there for the fame and glory were the first to go. The actors, the pop stars, the politicians, the faces around town. None of them answered my messages. They were too busy hanging around with the new Overseer. I saw them, all my best pals, plastered over the tabloids with the new grinning loon. It was as if they’d never known me.
“I tried to convince myself I was okay. I was disgustingly rich, and enough people from the second tier, the money grubbers, did answer my messages. I threw parties, got wasted, shagged around. But something was squirming under my skin. It was the real me, trying to get out. It knew I’d swapped the costume of The Overseer for the costume of The Playboy. And the real me knew it was just as fake. I needed to know if I had any real friends left. So I donated all my money to charity, to see who stuck around. The answer was nobody.”
He stopped to take a slug of vodka and light another cigarette. The Overseer began rubbing the base of her skull to relieve the deep, insistent pressure that had built as he spoke. She no longer wanted to hear his story, wished that she’d never swung by this way. Her life was awesome, and would stay that way. This guy was an aberration, nothing more.
“That’s what I learned,” he said. “All your new friends, the people down there, the unwashed masses of Great Britain. They don’t love you. They love the costume. They love The Overseer. You’re just the warm body stuffed inside it. You’re less than a footballer or a movie star. They at least have names. Beckham is still Beckham, even though he’s retired. I bet you don’t even know my real name.”
He paused to give her a chance to respond. She didn’t have a clue what his name was, so said nothing. Besides, the pressure in her head was now so intense it made her eyes water and her tongue feel like a thick, useless slug.
“Thought as much,” he said. “Enjoy it while it lasts. Post your trout-pout selfies, get your face in the magazines, make sure the little people adore you. In a few years, nobody will want to know you. When you take off that costume for the last time, you’ll be a nobody yourself.”
She felt her face flush, until she was sure it was almost the same colour as her costume. “I’ve had enough of this,” she shouted, loud enough to ruffle his disgusting hair. “You just want the costume back.”
“No. I want my old life back. I wish I’d never been The Overseer.”
“You’re so full of shit. You want to throw yourself off, be my guest.”
She pushed off the roof with all her strength, sending cracks rippling through the concrete, and channelled her fury into flight. He was like all the twats on Twitter: jealous of her success and popularity. That was all. There was no truth in what he said. She scrunched her eyes shut, trying to focus on the coming festivities. There would be champagne, dancing and laughter. Nobody would prise their mucky fingers into her head and ruin everything.
He wasn’t done torturing her. Even as she sped away, she heard screams. He’d chucked himself off. No matter how big an arsehole he was, she couldn’t let him die. She hauled ass back, zeroing in on the plummeting body. He made no sound, head aimed at the ground and arms tucked by his side to accelerate his descent. This was no half-hearted attempt. This was a man who wanted to die. He didn’t want the suit back.
She caught him a few feet above the rubberneckers, who’d been too busy looking through the screens of their devices to scatter. The digitised click of camera phones spat at her as he flailed in her relentless grip. Then one kid, a chubby teenager in a t-shirt bearing the stylised ‘O’ she wore on her own chest, began to chant in a reedy voice. The others joined in, dozens of throats yelling her name in unison. Except, she realised with a jolt that felt like being smacked in the chest by a missile, and loosened the doubts she’d tried so hard to suppress, they weren’t chanting her name at all. They were chanting her job title.
“Overseer! Overseer! Overseer!” they shouted.
Once, a similar crowd would have chanted the same thing at the sobbing man she cradled in her arms. He had been her, as she was now. And she would be him, as he was now. There was no escaping the truth. When he was telling his story, her senses had detected no lies. She could save one hundred thousand people, post a million selfies, drink in the adulation of tens of millions of fans between now and 2020 and still be replaced. These people didn’t know her name. They didn’t want to. She’d even taken over the old social media accounts from her predecessor. The British Overseer, that’s what everybody saw. Indestructible, and utterly expendable.
She struggled upward, the former hero heavy in her arms. All traces of rage gone, she laid him down far from the ledge, and retrieved the vodka and cigarettes. She lit two smokes, absentmindedly noting her hand was shaking, and drew deep on one before jamming the other into his lips.
“I’m sorry I flew off,” she said.
“I’m sorry you came back,” he said, between sniffles. “It felt like I was flying again. You should have let me die.”
She’d heard that phrase so many times before from suicides, and each time it had made her want to slap them. Now she felt only sympathy.
She touched him on the knee. “Can I tell you something? Between you and me?”
He stayed silent so long she thought he’d gone catatonic, his mind broken by the last-second denial of the peace he craved. Finally, he nodded. The thoughts that his story, the reality of his ruined life, had set free shot up from the depths, like an underwater buoy released from its tether.
“Part of me always knew it was fake,” she said softly, focusing on the burning tip of the cigarette. “I didn’t want to admit it. I mean, I was popular enough before, I suppose. I had friends. But I didn’t inspire awe, devotion. Love. When it came, I wanted to believe it was for me. That’s why I did all the publicity stuff. If I saw my face on TV, it meant it was really about me. If I told myself and everybody else that I was awesome in a loud enough voice, I thought it would be true. You’re right. It’s for the suit. All for the suit.”
They sat side-by-side, shoulders touching, and listened to the chants tail off below. She felt shaky and hollowed out, as though she’d been nauseated for months and finally vomited out the poison.
“You want to know why I came up here?” he said. “What really drove me over the edge? It’s because I got what I deserved. Comics and movies, they sold us the idea that heroes were selfless. They hid behind masks and outfits and saved the world because it needed saved. They sacrificed their personal lives for the greater good. It was all make-believe, an idealised version of humanity’s best traits.
“This is the real world. Superheroes are real, flawed people. I didn’t do the job because I wanted to help. I did it because I wanted to be special. I was, for a while. It changed me. I dumped my girlfriend and all my old friends, the ones who gave a shit about the real me. And I replaced them with people as fake as I was.”
She nodded as he spoke, remembering the last time she’d seen Bridget: just before she took up her duties. They’d sat in Bridget’s flat, watching dumb chick flicks, squirting whipped cream into each other’s mouths straight from the can and laughing themselves sick. She’d never done anything like that with her new crowd, because it was always that: a crowd. A cluster of insecurities and neuroses, each individual flitting around to reassure themselves and each other how wonderful they were. She knew nothing about them: their histories, their worries, their hidden desires. And they knew nothing about her. They wanted Overseer anecdotes and a pose for the paparazzi, nothing more. They wore their costumes; she wore hers.
She remembered the many messages Bridget had sent over the last six months: inviting her to yoga, seeing if she fancied going to the pub, asking if she could tag along to the fancy dos and get some autographs, maybe a snog from Paolo Nutini. She’d met none of her friend’s requests, saying she was too busy. She hadn’t been too busy. She’d been too selfish. The former Overseer had held a mirror up to her life, the first person to do so rather than fawn over her. What she saw filled her with shame.
“I’ve been such a fool,” she said.
He laid a hand on her arm. “No. You were human. Blame the Garian. They saw humanity clawing itself to shreds. All the war, the crime, the intolerance. They came down to save us, but they didn’t take time to understand the savages fully. Sure, they figured out enough to know they couldn’t trust a human with that kind of power for life. So they make us Gods for four years. Only they don’t think about the damage it does when they take it away.”
“So what I do now?”
“How long have you been Overseer? Less than a year? You’ve got time.”
“Are you saying I should quit?”
“I’m saying you should hold on to who you really are. The Overseer is your alter ego, not the other way around. Soon enough, you’ll be back to who you were. You need to be ready for that. And you can be. You’re not like me. Part of you knew, you said. Now all of you knows. Me? I had no idea. I genuinely believed I was amazing. I didn’t see it coming.”
She sat up straighter, feeling the strength return to her body. He stayed slumped, his gaze turned back toward the ledge.
“What about you?” she said.
“It’s too late for me.”
She placed her hand on his. It felt so fragile, the pulse simultaneously slow and jittery beneath the skin. Even if she dropped him at the psychiatric ward, it would be easy for him to find a way to still his heart. She couldn’t leave him to that fate.
“I hate to ruin your pity party, but you told me to blame the Garian. So why are you blaming yourself? You didn’t deserve this. You were being human too.” His gaze flickered away from the edge of the building. She sensed his pulse quickening and pressed on. “I don’t think you wanted to kill yourself. You could have taken a handful of pills in your bed instead of trekking up here, saved yourself the trouble of getting out of your PJs. I think all you wanted was to fly again. As it happens, I need to fly. I’ve got a party to go to. Want to come with?”
“Dressed like this?”
“We’re about the same size, give or take a few bulges. I’ve got some suits that would fit. People suits, that is. With ties and stuff.”
“No. I just liked wearing suits.”
He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “You’re not doing this to comply with the Garian’s rules, are you? Because if you are, I promise I won’t try to kill myself again.”
“I don’t give a toss what the Garian think. I’m asking because I want you to come. How often do two superheroes get the chance to hang out?”
“I’m not a superhero.”
“Yes, you are. Today more than ever. You saved a life. Mine. And you didn’t do it for glory or publicity. So stop being a whiny bitch and come to the party. You can bring your bottle. What’s left of it.”
He hiccoughed—half laugh, half whimper—and shrugged. “I don’t have anything better to do.”
Before he could change his mind, she grabbed him round the waist and flipped him onto her back. She took off from the rear of the building, away from the crowd, and rose at a 45-degree angle. He moved in unison with her, keeping his stomach flat against her back and turning his shoulders when she turned, only holding as tight as he needed to. The smell wasn’t great, even with the wind in her nostrils. She didn’t mind.
She flew high, far beyond the cameras, feeling his chest heave as he laughed. She grinned herself, uncaring if any bugs whooshed between her open lips. Up they went, beyond the frizzy clouds, seeming to rise above the setting sun. Previously, riding high above Earth had made her feel bigger, more important, as the settlements below shrank to concrete blotches. Now, as the planet’s subtle curve bled into the hazy sky, she felt small. And it was okay.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said.
“Lovely. Can you take me back down?” her passenger said. “I’m going to pass out.”
“Ah. Altitude sickness. Sorry. I didn’t think.”
She powered downward, setting a course for home. It took five minutes to reach her brand new Canary Wharf apartment, where she set down on the balcony.
“The spare room’s down the hall,” she said. “There’s a shower there. I suggest you use it. I’ll bring a suit through in a minute.”
She went to her room, peeled off the costume and threw it onto the bed, where it lay, still and empty. She would keep doing her job, because somebody had to: they didn’t have another superhero lined up yet. But she wasn’t fooled any longer. The costume brought her to life as The Overseer, not the other way round.
She dropped off a suit for her guest, who was busy scrubbing off the grime, showered herself, and changed into a smart worsted three piece: the first time in six months she’d worn anything apart from one of the ten identical Overseer costumes she owned; it felt good to be free from its constricting embrace. She tied her hair back, and entered the living room. There stood the former Overseer. The navy blue suit was tight around the shoulders, his gut strained the buttons, and one wash hadn’t been enough to sort out his matted hair. He was presentable, no more. The real change was in his eyes, no longer flat and dead.
“Are we flying?” he said.
“I thought we’d take the tube.”
“Fine by me. I don’t want to barf on your nice suit.”
They caught the underground, swaying along with the other commuters. One or two people glanced at her, but they were the same looks she’d drawn before her hero life, those flicked at a young woman who wore men’s suits. She didn’t care—either that people were judging her or that nobody recognised her.
“Where are we going?” her companion asked.
“I told you: to a party,” she said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
They disembarked at Tooting Bec, picked up a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers from Tesco, and rang the buzzer at a nondescript block of flats off Ritherdon Road.
In answer to the buzzer, Bridget said, “Who is it?”
She swallowed hard, and said, “It’s me.”
Her friend’s breath hissed down the intercom. For a moment she felt the sting of tears in her eyes, thinking it too late. Then she heard the delight in Bridget’s voice, “You made it!”
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said, relief coursing through her body. “I brought a friend. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Is it Paolo?” Bridget said in a helium-balloon voice. “Please tell me it’s Paolo.”
“Afraid not. I brought …”
She tailed off and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Trevor,” he said. “My name’s Trevor.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jane.”
“I thought you two were friends,” Bridget said.
“We are,” Jane said. “We just met, but we are.”
The door buzzed open and, hand-in-hand, they walked inside.