High Stakes at the Cosmo Hotel
It was inaccurate to call the Cosmo a hotel. In all, the entire Cosmo complex encompassed four square blocks of downtown Jet City and included the hotel, the convention center, the shopping mall, the transit hub, an exclusive night club, high end condominiums, a food pavilion, and an indoor theme park. It was a far cry from its origins in the early forties when Jet City had just gotten its name and the skyline was little more than freshly laid building foundations and future promises. By the mid Sixties, the complex had metastasized into an entity all its own, forcing other hotels to move away lest they too be absorbed, thus creating Hotel Row. The original hotel had been built by a man no one remembered, but it was later bought and developed by one Captain Cosmo, the Space Age Ace. With the power of his brand and the country’s obsession with Space and the Space Race, the hotel became what it was today over a very short period.
Cosmo had its own power grid, its own private security force, specialized rooms for supers of various physical persuasions and habitat requirements, and a legion of employees that catered to the every whim of VIP guests. The architecture itself was a retro style that was part Art Deco and part Space Age futurism with warm earthy interiors and cool linear exteriors. The convention center was even more state of the art and the people behind Hero Fest were going all out by using every feature the center had to offer from holographic displays to intuitive digital guides.
Though it had seemingly weathered the Recession better than every other part of Jet City, James had heard rumors in the odd job circuit that Cosmo was having money troubles. There were talks of layoffs and the cancellation of seasonal work. Not that anyone could tell with the party of the century going on. The center was divided into several halls and each hall covered a different era of superhumanity. There were exhibits featuring gadgets and costumes of various iconic heroes and there were even some living legends in attendance who would be doing special panels throughout the day. James wondered if he’d died and gone to Heaven.
“I can’t decide where to go first. Oh I’m so excited I could die! This is the best!” James squealed.
“I love your energy!” Mallory said.
“We could go chronologically. Unless there’s something you want to see first,” said Evan.
“The 70’s are calling me, yo,” Tina said, doing a Disco point in the direction of the 70’s hall.
“I wanna see it all. I want the whole shebang! I… I gotta pee. BRB,” James said before bolting in the direction of the nearest restroom.
“Your friend is adorable,” Mallory said.
“Yeah. I actually haven’t seen him in years,” said Evan.
“No way,” said Tina.
“We ran into each other earlier and I roped him into hanging out with me. Didn’t know it’d turn into this.”
“Sorry I tricked you into coming to the biggest event of the year,” said Mallory.
“You could have just asked,” said Evan.
“You would have been busy. You’re always busy lately,” Mallory said.
“Can you blame me? I have a lot on my plate,” said Evan.
“After school programs?” Tina asked.
“Yeah,” Evan lied.
“Hey Tina, why don’t you go save us a spot in line at Teen Rogue?” Mallory asked.
“Okay. What are you going to be doing?” Tina asked.
“I’ll catch up,” Mallory said. Tina gave them both a look, but shrugged and made her way through the crowd to the main hall.
“What’s up?” Evan asked.
“You need a team,” said Mallory.
“I don’t do teams,” said Evan. Mallory gave him a look that could have filled volumes. “I’ll do team-ups if it’s absolutely necessary but that’s where I draw the line.”
“You can’t do this alone. No, forget that. I can’t do this alone. I need your help,” said Mallory.
“You don’t need my help. You have what it takes to do this,” said Evan.
“Why don’t you want to train me?” Mallory asked.
“Last time I trained you, you lost a hand,” Evan snapped. Mallory rubbed her bandaged wrist without thinking. Evan sighed. “Sorry, that was dickish of me. How is it?” he asked.
“Alfredo did a great job reattaching it. Still hurts.”
“It’s not your fault. I could have run or, I don’t know, won the fight,” said Mallory.
“It was my plan,” said Evan.
“You didn’t know they’d have a crazy chick with super swords.”
“Fair,” Evan said, after a moment’s consideration.
“Is that why you’re so hesitant to train me? Because you’re worried about me?” Mallory asked.
“You can take care of yourself. You don’t need me, Mal. You’re confident and capable and you’ll make a great superhero some day.”
“That’s not why you ghosted me twice in as many months. What’s the real reason?” she asked.
“I’ve got nothing useful to teach you,” Evan admitted.
“That’s not true. You’ve already taught me lots of useful stuff.”
“You’re going to be a different kind of hero than me. You’ve got powers,” said Evan.
“So do you. Your power of super patience? Your power of super hiding?” she offered.
“You can’t put super in front of everything and call it a power,” said Evan, trying not to smile, which made Mallory smile.
“I think we’re stopping by the 80’s and 90’s first so you can visit all the dark anti-heroes you look up to, you brooding crusader,” said Mallory.
“I’m actually a fan of the mystery men of the 20’s and 30’s,” said Evan.
“You never cease to surprise me, Mr. Singh,” Mallory said like a 30’s femme fatale.
Her vision came back piecemeal, but eventually she could see clearly again. She checked that her limbs were articulating properly. They were.
“Driver?” she called. The driver replied but he was clearly malfunctioning. She shook her head. That frustrated feeling was coming through a lot stronger now.
She looked through the database for the three faces she’d caught on her eye cam. They came back as matches to some very dangerous individuals. Eastman, you cheap bastard, she thought to herself. She placed a call to her client.
“Is it done?” the client asked.
“You didn’t tell me there’d be competition,” she said.
“Is it done?” the client hissed.
“That’s why you rushed the job. You knew there’d be others.”
“I knew you were capable. If you finished up before they arrived then it wouldn’t have mattered, would it?”
“Your little stunt just voided our contract,” she snapped. She took a breath and cleared her throat. “However, I’m willing to overlook this transgression if you agree to do something for me.”
“Hazard pay I assume?”
“That was already going to happen. And doubled. No I want a special favor,” she said. He took a moment to think.
“Fine. We’ll talk,” he said.
“I know we will.”
Mallory was dancing a jig, which was a mezmerizing display with her sparkly rainbow costume. Evan didn’t know what to make of it.
“Need to use the bathroom too?” he asked.
“Nope. Just happy we’re here and having a good time. I’ve been waiting for Hero Fest for months and months.”
“Aren’t you having a good time?” Mallory asked.
“I’m just trying not to stress.”
“Why? Worried about the Spiders?” Mallory asked.
“Well, yeah,” Evan said.
“They’re not going anywhere. They’ll be waiting for you when you get out of here and then you can beat them up to your heart’s content.”
“I’ve only got a week to figure out what their deal is,” said Evan.
“Oh. What you got so far?”
“They’re planning something for the Centennial. Just found out today at a Spider pep rally,” said Evan, pulling his spy cam out of his pocket.
“So first the Order and now the Spiders? Crazy,” Mallory said.
“Yeah,” said Evan.
“No wonder you look so ragged.”
“You’re living the authentic superhero life. I think it’s kinda cool,” said Mallory.
“Still not a superhero,” said Evan.
“Yeah, but it’s so authentic. Oooo I want it so bad.”
“Your authenticity. You’re like a punk rocker who hates everything including punk rock. So authentic!” Mallory said, clenching her fists and growling with envy.
“I can safely say I’ve never met anyone like you,” Evan said, a smile sneaking on his face.
“Same, hero boy.”
“There you guys are,” Tina said, waving from the line to the Teen Rogue booth.
“Girl! You ready to get our groove on?” Mallory asked.
The lights flickered and then changed to a deep red. All the holographic displays in the room focused together to form a giant floating image of a man dressed in red and black gangsta chic. Each hall had its own projection of him at their center, above everyone’s heads. He surveyed the room and then let out a menacing chuckle.
“Greetings, y’all. I’m the Spider and I’ll be your host this evening.”