The Handy Pavilion was packed to the gills with customers. This was always the way on a Saturday. But on this Saturday things were even more hectic thanks to the public appearance of Sydney's newest superhero, Voyager, just out the front, downwind of the Rotary Club sausage sizzle.
The scent of sausages and onions made Voyager's mouth water. She couldn't buy a sausage sandwich, though. Her stupid costume didn't have any pockets. Her utility belt was full of crime-fighting gear, but the designer had neglected to include a change pouch. She decided that she should get rid of one of the micro-torches. She could melt steel with her eye beams, what did she need it for anyway?
Voyager took photo after photo with her new fans. "The public loves its newest hero best," Aquaticwoman had told her with a touch of bitterness. Voyager didn't quite know yet whether she liked the attention, as she had her picture taken with customer after customer.
"Is Captain Stellar coming back?" a teenager in a 'Walking Dead' t-shirt said.
"Captain Stellar needs some time alone to work some things out," Voyager said for the hundredth time that day.
"I heard that it was a mind-control ray that made him go crazy," a chubby young woman in flannels said.
Voyager struggled to come up with an answer, but the Vigilancers' publicist stepped in and gave the official story that Stellar's actions were under investigation. Voyager simply nodded. The photo session came to an end, but there was still work to do. Voyager flew up into the sky, turned invisible, then dropped back down to the staff entrance in her work clothes, just plain, everyday Laura Cho.
As she clocked on, she saw Axel Platzoff taking a pack of cigarettes from his locker. She almost choked on her surprise.
"So how come you didn't get fired?" she said.
Axel turned around, to see . "Oh, hello, Laura," he said. "I'm a little surprised to see you back here, too. Wellsey told me you dropped in on him in hospital, that was very nice of you for someone you barely knew."
"I'm still working here because the Vigilancers say I need a day job for my secret identity," Laura said. "How come you didn't get fired?"
Axel shrugged. "Stellar took all the blame when he sobered up," he said. "He couldn't remember what happened, and like a big hero he decided it was all his responsibility. You were unconscious, Wellsey was coming around but he didn't dob me in, and Gwen refused to say anything to anyone…"
"So no one knows what you did?"
"No one with the power to fire me," Axel said. "Zorbar got away, for what it's worth. When Stellar went flying, he smashed the room those DIY Barn bastards were holding him in. The Barn hasn't reacted… yet."
"And what about me?" Laura said.
"You got superpowers from all those isotopes you absorbed," Axel said. "And a nice position on the Vigilancers that came open because Stellar claimed responsibility for the accident. Do you know how seldom positions in the Vigilancers open up? You can dob me in, but that would exonerate Stellar, so…"
Laura felt her teeth hurt, and realised she was grinding them very hard with her superhuman strength. She thought her teeth were pretty invulnerable, but stopped grinding them anyway. "Let's get to work."
They went out onto the floor, and all its horrors. It was worse, far worse than battling subterranean monsters or invasions from space. The people were mostly nice, but frazzled and impatient and even though Laura had been studying her product guides diligently, she still didn’t know the answers to half the queries put to her. She was supposed to go to Axel when she needed help, yet she felt entirely justified in doing nothing of the sort.
She should tell on him. Seriously. Yeah, she'd lucked out when the ray-gun had exploded but she could just as easily have died. Axel had said as much himself.
"Settling in okay?" Marlon said. Marlon had been there at her interview. She hadn't formed any strong opinions about the man yet, but at least he was a familiar face. Marlon raised a sausage sandwich to his mouth, and Laura drooled at the scent of low-grade mince.
She tried to bunch up her nerve to tell on Axel. She should. The only thing stopping her was twelve years of Australian schooling telling her 'do not dob'.
"I'm doing okay," she said. "But…"
"Glad to hear it," Marlon said, between bites of sandwich. "It's a busy day, chomp, chomp. We're short-staffed, chomp, chomp."
Laura's stomach did backflips. Oh God those onions smelled good! They were overcoming her concentration so badly, and she needed her concentration right then if she was going to...
"Well, don’t forget, chomp, you run into any trouble, chomp, talk to me or Axel," Marlon said, before licking the barbeque sauce from his fingers.
A customer came over, a big guy wearing slightly too little in the way of clothing. No, not a customer, Marlon waved to him. Not now! Laura had an asshole to get fired.
"What's up, Zorbar?" Marlon said.
"Have coffee for Laura," Zorbar said. "From Carol. She say, we owe Laura one."
Marlon looked like he was hoping for more information, but the big man said nothing. So this was the ape-man she'd unwittingly helped to rescue. She ground her teeth again. Putting a face on Zorbar just made it harder to tell on Axel.
But no. She had to do it. Screw it, in the end no one had been hurt, so she saw no need to go to the police. But to be have to work with a man with so little regard for her safety... it just wasn't on.
"Thanks, Zorbar," she said. "But Marlon, I have something important that I…"
Through the din of the crowd, she heard a creaking noise. Zorbar must have heard it at the same time as she did, because both their heads turned before the others' did. They saw the shelfing unit--the huge, heavy shelfing unit that reached three whole metres above the concrete floor of the Pavilion—start to topple and fall.
She shoved Marlon hard, sending him sprawling into the front aisle. But there were other people threatened by the falling unit, a hipster couple with a trolley full of paint-cans… and a small child.
Everything was moving slowly. What would happen when the shelving unit hit the next one? Would the whole Pavilion fall like a row of dominoes? Laura didn't know. But then, Zorbar was moving, bracing the unit, muscles and veins standing out on his arms. He was holding it back, but for how long?
Laura knew she couldn't use her powers where everyone could see… or wasn't supposed to, or something. She needed to think quickly. With a shove from her foot, she sent the hipster family and their trolley reeling backwards. With an invisible eyebeam, she burned through the feet on the shelving unit opposite. It creaked and groaned, and then started toppling the other way.
"Come on!" she grabbed Zorbar's hand and pulled. Freed from his iron grip, it began to fall. The two massive shelves collapsed into one another, then struck in the middle of the aisle, propping each other up.
Laura and Zorbar stood in a space between the leaning shelves that now seemed like the interior of a short, practically designed church. Gingerly, they stepped out from under the huge iron archway.
"Well that wasn't so bad," Marlon said from the ground. And then all the things started falling off the shelves – tool chests, letter boxes, lawnmowers. In seconds, the place they'd been standing was littered with hazardous debris.
"Marlon," Laura said.
"Could I take my break now? I really, really, really need a sausage sandwich."