206 - YOLOdex

The original “Quill Qids” program received a lot of flack, from the usual corners. It was a takeover of the superhero community by the unaccountable and elitist Quill Foundation, from the ever so transparent and trustworthy HHL. It was a meaningless corporate brand that did nothing for the populace. It was a dangerous program that put our children at risk as they helped the populace.

Jason shrugged, threw the problem at a mixture of adult and teenage associates, and announced the renamed (if not revamped) program. It was technically called ASIST - the Available Superhero Index, Scoring, and Tracking system. Every program needs an acronym. In practice, the participants called it anything but that, although some used the term “YOLOdex”.

There was an app, installable on any phone. You’d sign in with a QID (Quill ID, not Quill Qids - the branding there was complicated). You’d get rated by the Foundation’s examiners on a spectrum, including Protection, Movement, Utility, and so on. You’d send friend requests to other people. And when a job came in that needed a superhero, the app would let you hustle a team together to respond to it.

It was a game, too. Do three daily good deeds. Refer a contact to the Foundation. Get recognized by local media. It all fed into a system of points, redeemable for a variety of otherwise expensive entertainment options that the Quill Foundation had assembled from its tech base.

What were the jobs like? Oh, the usual. Stop a supervillain. Rescue some helpless civilians. Stop an outbreak of something dangerous. Was it risky? Always.

Today, the Irregulators member Alloy is sitting on the roof of an old brick building, eating ice cream. Next to her is her teammate, “the Animal”, in the form of a spider monkey and eating a hot dog. She’s thumbing through her phone with a free hand, keeping the cone carefully balanced. She’s the absolute worst thing any kid can be, which is bored. Bored. BOOOOOOOREEEEEEEED.

Gimme a job!

There is a job! Woohoo! YOLOdex has something that fits her power exactly. A Bolivian superhero thwarted the plans of a Peruvian super-scientist to add uh, something or other to some kind of water supply. Water shortage? Something something Andean glaciers melting. Sounds like school stuff. What about the job?

Looks like the substance is super nasty. It’ll react violently with anything that’s not itself. Well, Alloy can make herself into whatever she touches, right? Perfect.

Problem. The job is actually in Bolivia, and she’s not. She glances at Animal. Not good enough. Their Movement rating is only C, flexible but strictly local. She needs a B+ rated Movement hero to get her down there. Someone with super-fast flight, or teleportation, or whatever. Nobody on her team has that.

She thumbs the “Find Hero” button, watches the rolling letter Q spinny animation thingie, waits, waits, waits, crunches down hard on the ice cream cone. The cold headache is a rush that only she can enjoy, as her powers meld with the frozen dairy and neutralize the worst of it. It feels like a big ol’ ice cream bomb exploding inside of her head and it’s great.

Boom. A match! Who’s this? Someone she’s never worked for, or heard of. “Big Bill”? Who’s that? Whatever, as long as they can do the job. Movement rating B+ too, exactly what she needs.

Come on, come on, accept the friend request, accept the job share, hurry up whoever you are…

Big Bill’s acceptance comes across her screen. “DISPATCHING TO JOB,” the app tells her.

She grins at the Animal. “Time for some Bolivian desserts, buddy!”

The spider monkey sniffs, clearly unconvinced.

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Alloy knows there’s some kinda passports and clearances thing involved in international travel. She knows that because the ASIST app tells her that it’s taking care of all that. And did her parent or guardian consent to this trip? Of course they did, as long as we thumb this checkbox here…

Big Bill’s message included “coordinates”. This is a fancy term for a place to meet up, Alloy guesses. Well, as long as she can show it on her map and get directions, great. Travel time is less certain. The maps apps on her phone can tell you how long a trip will be via car, or bus, or walking, but it doesn’t account for horseback.

Alloy rides the Animal bareback, crossing Halcyon intersections, galloping along major streets, plunging down alleyways, and generally making ridiculously good time. When the situation calls for it, the Animal will leap off an overpass and shift into a gorilla or gibbon form to brachiate under a bridge. Sometimes the situation calls for a kangaroo, and Alloy hangs on with a look of excitement and terror on her face.

So they get to the place, and it’s just a field? Next to a river? And there’s a big huge jet plane here? Alloy guesses the airplane is the transportation, and goes to check it out. Wait, this plane is Big Bill’s avatar on the app. Dude must be proud of his plane.

The two heroes find an open hatch and a staircase leading up, and head on in. “Welcome aboard! Alloy and the Animal, right? We ready to take off?” The voice comes from everywhere, some kind of speaker system?

“Yeah!” calls Alloy. “Hey, are you in the cockpit? Can I ride up there?”

“Sure can, Ms. Alloy, come on up and have a seat!”

There’s nobody in the cockpit. Alloy takes a seat anyway, and buckles up.

“Ah, sorry, ma’am, I am the airplane. I shoulda explained better. Alright, here we go!”

Alloy peers out the windows. She watches the wings twist in ways that regular jet wings don’t, sees the sudden burst of fire from the engines, and feels a continental land mass come down on her as the jet accelerates vertically into the sky.

Alloy wears a lot of jewelry-looking things. Bracelets, bangles, necklaces, whatever. It’s not because she’s vain. It’s because it’s all material to work with. She’s got copper, steel, titanium, even diamond to work with here, in sufficient quantities for her powers to use. She calls on titanium now, and the pressure of the takeoff dramatically eases. The Animal, now in the shape of a raccoon, is flattened against the seat of the other chair and is not taking this as well, if bulging eyes and a pitiful squeaking noise is any indication.

The jet levels off at a high altitude, and the engines point forward. The plane flies in a wide arc, aiming itself south, then accelerates again. “'Bout to hit Mach 1 folks, hold yer ears!” Big Bill announces, and there’s a shuddering through the fuselage and a loud loud noise outside. Then everything’s surprisingly quiet.

Alloy finally feels like she can talk to this weirdo. “So you’re a jet.”

“Yes ma’am!”

“I’m not ma’am, I’m Alloy.”

“Ah, sorry, just a habit of manners. Y’all can call me Bill or Big Bill.”

“Cool. So uh, do you have like, flight attendants or anything on here? Food? Snacks? What if we gotta use the bathroom?” Alloy has a lot of questions.

“It’s just us, and if you need any sorta refreshment, we can land somewhere and you can take care of that.”

“Well whaddaya usually do to pass the time on long flights?” Alloy asks.

“Uhh, that’s a good question.” Big Bill hesitates. “To be honest this is my first long flight.”

“Cool. So, what do you want to do?”

“Hmm, also a good question. Y’see, I got an autopilot function, so I could just leave things to that, but I was havin’ fun sorta lettin’ the wind run across my nose and stuff. I don’t suppose that’s very fun for you though, is it?”

Alloy has to admit he has a point. For the two Irregulators, it’s just watching sky go by. And while the Animal is a good teammate and a better listener (animals tend not to talk back), it would be sort of boring to just sit around in a plane, even a talking one.

“Tell ya what,” she says. “If you like flying, let me take the stick for a bit. I’ve never flown a jet, and it’ll be your turn to hang on for a bit.”

She can’t see a face, but she gets the feeling of someone seriously and worriedly considering this option. Even the Animal is peering up at her with pleading eyes and shaking its head.

“Welll, alright, but I take things back in case we get in trouble. Here ya go.”

The W-shaped yoke in front of her goes loose. Alloy rubs her hands together and grabs hold. “Awright!” She twists, and pushes, hard.

“And whoooaaaaaaa–!”

The Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, or UMSA, is the most prestigious institution of higher learning in Bolivia. None of the American supers speak any Spanish, so a third-party translator hired by the Quill Foundation is on the call between them and the Bolivian authorities, who have gathered in a conference room at UMSA. Their Peruvian counterparts have joined the call as well, but the translator is already overwhelmed enough and so Alloy misses whatever their deal is.

Lake Titicaca is a freshwater lake in the Andes, on the border of Bolivia and Peru. Big Bill is to fly directly there. Three brothers, named “Los Impulsores” or “the Drivers”, have some kind of kinetic power and are on site, busy keeping the stuff under control. They can’t keep their powers going forever, though. Some other hero, named “La Deleite”, is busy dealing with the Peruvian guy who did this.

A senior scientist at UMSA has a long and complex term for what the stuff is, and the translator gives up. Alloy hears the scientist come on the call herself, and in crisp English say, “it is the Devil Molecule. It must not touch the water. You understand. It would be a great disaster.”

The Devil Molecule? Catchy!

“We understand,” Alloy says.

Big Bill descends through the cloud layer and Alloy gasps. The lake is amazing! She can see little specks, which on closer inspection are floating islands. There’s people down there, living on the lake. That would be so fun.

Those people won’t have a good time if the Devil Molecule hurts them.

“There!” she shouts, pointing. She isn’t sure in the moment if Big Bill can even see her pointing, but the plane banks again.

“The Revel has reported back. She interrogated the maker of this thing.” The UMSA scientist’s voice is level, but Alloy can hear the tension she’s holding onto. “There is a device at the center. Los Impulsores cannot get to it without losing control of the mass. It is a liquid. American team, can you get to the device safely?”

Alloy isn’t sure. She’s able to mimic a lot of stuff. But something called the “Devil Molecule”…?

She stares down at the artificial islands, passing by at high speed. She catches sight of the faces of the people there, all staring at the purplish blob in the distance being held aloft by the Drivers.

“Yeah. I can do it,” she says.

Alloy has this awesome heroic image of herself leaping out of Big Bill, diving toward the purple sphere of liquid, bravely facing death and saving the day…! Unfortunately, the jet deploys pontoons and soft-lands on the lake, then taxis over to a barge where the Drivers are standing.

Alloy and the Animal hop out and take stock. There’s people dressed like paramedics here, administering saline IVs to the sweating trio. How long have they been here, doing this? She tries to catch a glimpse of the Drivers’ faces, but she’s interrupted by a guy with a clipboard.

“You are the American team?” he asks urgently.

“Yeah. Uh, Alloy, Animal, and Big Bill.”

“A pleasure. I am Esteban. I am part of the ERU.”

“ERU?”

“Emergency Response Unit. We are part of the Red Cross.”

Alloy cranes her neck to spot the Drivers again. “You guys evacuating the people on the lake too?”

Esteban shakes his head. “No, we do not have the resources ourselves. Vehicles are on the way, I am told. The Bolivians are trying to get the Peruvians to assist, but there is some kind of political difficulty.”

“Cool. So uh, what do I do?”

“What can you do?”

Alloy realizes this is going to be one of those times she has to take initiative and be responsible. She’s still not sure how she feels about those times. Usually A10 just bosses the Irregulators around and Telekinetian makes some kinda smart suggestion, and the rest of the team does it.

Okay. There’s a device at the center… We gotta shut off the device… it’s surrounded by the Devil Molecule…

“Alright, I’m gonna swim up there and turn the thing off,” Alloy says.

Esteban goes pale. “You have not seen what the Devil Molecule does to flesh, have you,” he says in a shaky voice.

Alloy doesn’t need this kind of negativity in her life, especially right now. She pushes past Esteban and approaches the Drivers. For the first time, she can see their faces. Sunken eyes, sweating brows being mopped by Red Cross personnel, gazes focused on the huge ball of purplish liquid they’re holding up with their powers. They’re giving their all. I have to as well.

She walks under the shadow of the sphere, and holds out two cupped hands. “Hey, can you guys let a little go, just a little?”

For the first time, the Drivers seem to acknowledge her presence. One spares a glance at her, and Alloy feels shocked and a little ashamed at the relief on his face. I’m promising a lot here. Sure hope I can deliver.

Esteban takes the time to translate Alloy’s request into Spanish, and the Bolivian superhero nods quickly. He replies in rapid-fire, something which Alloy doesn’t understand but recognizes isn’t Spanish, and Esteban in turn has to take a moment to make sense of it.

“I’m sorry, my Aymara is not so good,” Estaban finally reports. “He says they will let a little out, and you had better be ready to catch it. He also says you are an adventurer in the sky. I don’t think that’s quite what he meant. I don’t understand the idiom.”

“It’s okay, I get the idea.” Alloy gives a thumbs-up to the Driver, then readies herself. “Okay, let’s do it.”

A small gap in the Drivers’ levitation field opens, and the purple goop comes out. Come on powers, don’t fail me now, copycopycopycopycopy–

The purple splashes down, and it burns for just a moment.

Alloy feels like she’s on fire. She struggles to contain it, pushing back against the Devil Molecule trying to take her over. It wants to transform her into more of itself, and it will, it will, unless she masters it.

She falls to the deck of the barge. Several paramedics rush toward her. She holds out a purple-hued hand, urgently. “No! I got this. I got this.”

She can’t use that hand, not right now. She struggles to rise, using her two bare feet and her one free hand. Esteban is keeping his distance.

He’s seen what this stuff does. Now that I can feel it, I respect it a lot more.

“Big Bill!” she shouts. “I’m ready!”

She did not expect to see the jet plane transform.

A giant robot hand reaches down for her, to the shock of everyone else here. She clambers aboard, careful not to touch him with her cursed hand. She sees an enormous human face, made of something that’s not metal but definitely not flesh, smiling at her. Hey, teammate.

“Drop me in the top of the stuff!” she calls. Big Bill lifts, and carefully angles his hand. Her descent is part slide, part jump, and for a moment she’s in free fall.

Now everything is the Devil Molecule. She feels like she’s in a deep fat fryer. It’s not painful, not any more, but definitely terrifying. There’s death, all around her, just waiting, and she’s got maybe an inch of space between herself and the stuff.

Where are you? Where are you? Come on… She peers around, spots a dark blob at the center, starts swimming for it.

There’s a problem here. She feels when she reaches the device. It’s about the size of a tool box. But she can’t see it clearly. The purple stuff isn’t opaque, but it’s definitely dark in here.

Oh, and she needs to breathe. Her lungs tell her about that little detail.

She grabs hold of the device. She kicks, hard. Kicks again. Kicks more. Come on, swim practice, what good were you if not for this? Gradually, slowly, she gets closer to the top. She can see the details on the device, see the controls, and it’s labeled in Spanish. Of course.

She’s not buoyant, not like this. Absorbing the Devil Molecule’s properties makes her want to stick to the rest of it. That’s not good. Maybe she can toss the device out, maybe that’ll help. She feels herself drowning, even as she tries to push the gizmo above the surface–

She spots a weird tentacle looking thing reach down, and press a button on it.

Immediately the purplish liquid around her freezes up. She’s lucky she’s got a grip on the device, because she’s now dangling in midair, holding onto it for dear life. On the other end, the Animal in squid form has a grip on it too, and is holding onto Big Bill’s pinky finger.


The Drivers are all taking a much-needed recovery. Esteban is seeing to them.

The UMSA conference call is still going on. They talk a lot. Alloy gets the gist. Turn off the device, and you neutralize the Devil Molecule. Makes sense. I mean, how was the villain gonna get it out here to set it off, if he didn’t have a way to do it safely? And everyone’s safe.

Alloy has a chance to look at herself in the gorgeous waters of Lake Titicaca. Most of her hair is gone, taken by the Devil Molecule. She’s wearing a spare Red Cross jumpsuit, and covered in a blanket. Her wallet is toast, and she’s out $36 in cash. But she herself is okay, and more importantly, she saved the day.

“You know, shaving my head could be a good look for me,” she tells the Animal, now in the form of a capybara. The rodent eyes just look placidly back at her.

“What? I’ll just grow some of it out, but shave the rest.” She turns her head this way and that, looking at the water and trying to gauge her next aesthetic move.

She looks up. “Hey. Big Bill! You got parents?”

“That’s a tough question, honestly, Ms. Alloy.”

She considers. He’s basically a robot jet plane, right? Yeah, that makes sense. “Well… say that you had parents at home that you had to go back to. How would you tell them you were gonna shave your head and keep it that way?”

Big Bill scratches his own robotic head. “I don’t really have hair, so… I guess I’m already kinda shaved? In a way? I mean, I got my Flannel shell, and that’s got hair…”

Alloy gets the feeling everything is going to be complicated with this guy. “Okay okay good enough. I’ll just make it happen.”

Big Bill gives a gigantic thumb’s up, and Alloy returns the gesture. Who cares if she’s bald, or partially bald? You only live once.

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So that’s what the Animal and Alloy are up to. The rest of the Irregulators will be getting some time & space soon, but as far as I know these two characters haven’t had much spotlight ever so here we are!

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Fun!

Agreed, an enjoyable if short story.

Having read this, I could see an entire Marvel Team-Up-style comic series with a revolving cast centering around the plot device of “people getting alerts from ASIST and team up with folks you wouldn’t expect.”

“Next issue… can Kid Kelvin and Armiger work together long enough to stop Hannibal Lectic’s latest plot?”

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