“The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies."
You know Scott, right?
My friend Scott? The guy with the cute kid who’s in and out of jail - not the kid, Scott - and that ant suit? That Scott. Scott Lang.
He’s real smart, is Scott. Not about things like staying out of jail and keeping his mouth shut, no, because then he wouldn’t be in the soup so often, but about science and stuff. Like, when he figured out that to make a proper michelada how you can use a Budweiser instead of a Corona and it actually tastes the same, as long as you add a few drops of Maggi? I mean, that’s chemistry, man. That’s smart.
And he reads a lot of fancy books too, even when he’s not in jail, just to learn stuff and then he tries to pass whatever he reads on to me ‘cause I never had time to go to school much and I don’t have the brains to read books like that, but they’re interesting and he thinks I should know more stuff than I do. Which I’m totally cool with, really.
So the other day, Scott tells me about this principle, which is why I’m telling you all this. Now, I know about principles. I’ve got lots of them. Like the one where you don’t leave a guy to have a building fall on his head when it was you who knocked him out in the first place and just for doing his job? Or how you help out a homie even if he owes you ten bucks? Like I say, lots of principles out there and I got most of ‘em.
But this one? Never heard of this one until Scott tells me about it: The principle of terrestrial mediocrity.
Man, that’s a mouthful. Like the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which is a thing I didn’t know existed until me and a buddy – not Scott, some other guy, my lips are sealed - did a job in La Jolla and ended up in a dumpster staring at their junk mail for over an hour before the cops went away and we could go home.
Anyway, Scott says the principle of terrestrial mediocrity means that we humans as a species can’t possibly be the only ones. That for something like Earth and us to even happen, there have to be a bazillion other Earths and people in the universe. “Law of averages,” Scott says; ain’t no such thing as a one-off.
“So wait a minute,” I say, “you trying to tell me that the human race isn’t the Lord’s Crowning Achievement like my Momma says it is, but basically just a galactic version of Joe Shmoe?” And he goes, “Yeah, pretty much.”
But then I say that even if you operate from a baseline of mediocrity (whatever that means) doesn’t that mean you have to get the occasional spike of awesome or awful? ‘Cause otherwise, how’d you get to even have a middle to be in the middle-of-the-road of? Scott claps me on the shoulder and laughs, like I said something smart, so maybe I did.
He was explaining all that to me just before I took that job with Stark Industries. Still trying to get me to go straight, Scott is, and he said this guy owes him a favour, which he called in by making him give me a job.
Of course Scott doesn’t really know Mr. Stark, but he does know Hank Pym – that’s this old guy whose house we broke into one time, which started all this jazz with the superheroes and the ants. Mr. Pym is like Mr. Stark (except older); they both invent stuff and Scott got that ant suit because of Mr. Pym. And Mr. Pym made him go to that place where the Avengers hang out and that’s where he met this guy Sam, who’s got a backpack that makes him fly, and Sam told these other guys about Scott and that’s how he met Mr. Stark, see?
Their first meeting didn’t go all that well I gather though. So here’s what happened.
One of the other guys this Sam hangs with is called Hawkeye. Hawkeye, like that Captain from M.A.S.H., except he’s not with the army but an outfit called S.H.I.E.L.D. which isn’t the same thing at all except for the acronym and the dots. Also, Hawkeye isn’t a Captain himself but he knows one: Captain America. Yes, that Captain America. So one day that Hawkeye guy comes to the halfway place where we live - we’re just sitting having a beer and watching a game - and he asks Scott to grab his ant suit and go to Europe to do a job.
Europe! I’ve never been to Europe. I’d like to go, but what if they don’t let me back in here ‘cause my name’s Luis, even though I was born in Fresno? Can’t be too careful these days, my Momma always says, and she’s always right except she didn’t vote when she should have and look where that got us. But now she’s being smart and careful.
Anyway, so Scott and that Hawkeye guy go to Europe where they piss off Mr. Stark and Germany and the United Nations and a whole bunch of other people, and they end up in jail for a bit. Scott says when they got out Hawkeye made Mr. Stark feel real guilty because that particular jail turns out was a terrible place and, when it came right down to it, the whole shebang was all Mr. Stark’s fault. Seems like Mr. Stark agreed with that, sort of, and said if they shut up about it already they could both have anything they asked (except his girlfriend and Iron Man gear).
And so Scott, you know, he could have had anything. A million bucks, maybe? Cash for life? Or even a vineyard? But he only asks for two things. One is a college fund for Cassie, which makes sense because she’s his kid, but for the other thing he makes Mr. Stark give me a job, because that’s the kind of guy he is, always thinking of other people before himself. Says being a security guard is my secret calling or something like that, plus it’ll make me harder to track for the FBI who for some reason are still looking for people involved in the Pym Industries meltdown, like they don’t have bigger fish to fry right now what with the Russians infiltrating our government and all.
Now I don’t know about ‘my calling’ exactly, but the uniform is pretty cool and I didn’t even have to rip it off someone so it fits much better than last time and my Mom likes it a lot, says it makes her real proud. Plus, there’s a lot of interesting shit in that Tower, especially on the top floors - like at Pym Tech, except Stark Tower only gets blown up a little bit at a time and is all fixed for now. Then again, maybe Scott just wants me to have eyes on the place, in case he ever needs to get in at some point when no one’s looking. Like I said, he’s smart.
So now I have this job watching the monitors. They got security cameras, like, everywhere in this building, even in the bedrooms, just in case someone does disgusting things in there that they shouldn’t or maybe so that Mr. Stark can prove to the Missus that he didn’t. Who knows what goes on with these billionaire types? Maybe they just like hour-long porn selfies? But those we don’t get to see in the monitor room; the transmissions from the bedrooms go straight to the computer that’s in charge of the house, maybe she gets a kick out of them.
Right now the monitors are going a bit nuts; one winks out for a second then comes back on, probably cycling through the tapes. The Friday computer thinks all is fine, she even sounds a bit huffy when I ask. Upshot is, here’s all that tech and it ends up looking like a disco show, but it’s good for keeping people like me awake if it doesn’t give us a seizure first.
But whatever, it’s Saturday night and not much is happening, especially not in the bedrooms, ‘cause everyone who lives here has gone elsewhere. Even Mr. Stark isn’t in the lab for once, probably out saving the planet or trashing some third-world capital or both.
The only place worth watching is the bar on the fifty-eighth floor. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but duty, hello? No booze for this cat, not until closing time, which it isn’t for several hours. Principles, remember.
Reason I’m watching the bar is that it’s the only place with any life in it. There’s this kid on the couch, real scrawny-like, you can see that through his sweats. Couple of zits, greasy hair, doesn’t look like he’s had a shower in days. About sixteen, best guess, although he doesn’t have a computer with him and that’s usually a tell. Instead, he’s got a stack of papers and is scribbling on them.
And now this other guy walks in and I turn up the sound, because frankly this is a pretty boring gig for a Saturday night and I could use some entertainment.
The new guy, he says, “Well, shit. I spend a few months in jail and not only is there an orange turd blossom in the White House, but Stark’s bar is open to kids now? I thought the joint was adults only.”
The kid looks up and his eyes go all googly and he squeaks, “Jail?”
But then he scratches his head – really, wash your hair dude! – and he says, “Oh man, are you Hawkeye? The Hawkeye? I’m so, so thrilled to meet you, sir. And also, I’m really sorry.”
He doesn’t say sorry for what, but Hawkeye guy seems to know. He nods slowly and it dawns on me that this is the guy who collected the favour for being in jail from Stark on behalf of Scott and that Scott passed on to me, so he’s the reason I now I have this job. Huh. The universe can be really odd sometimes, like everything is in orbit around everything else and all you have to do is watch for meteorites and supernovas, know what I’m saying?
So that’s Hawkeye.
I think he’s supposed to be an Avenger or something? He doesn’t look anything special, just a guy in jeans and a t-shirt and a leather jacket, looking like he just walked in off the street. With a pizza carton too, like a gazillion other guys without a date on a Saturday night.
“So,” Hawkeye says, like they just settled something between them. “Guess you’re that spider kid, Peter Parker?”
The kid shrinks in on himself, like spiders do when you hit them with bug spray, and he pulls his legs right up against his chin so his papers go fluttering everywhere.
“How’d you … No. I mean, yes. I’m Peter. But… no. Spiderman? Of course I’m not Spiderman. Whatever gave you that idea?”
He unfolds his legs again and scrambles for his papers which have mostly landed on the floor by now and starts picking them up. Man, the resolution on these cameras is great, you can see the squiggles on the individual pages; looks like geometry homework. I hated geometry. Algebra, now that was okay. Got a C- in algebra, I did. Wonder how much those cameras are worth?
Hawkeye grins and says, “Clint Barton. Pleasure. We didn’t meet directly, but I saw you in action at that airport. Plus, Hawkeye. Remember? I notice stuff, including about people. Can’t help it.”
The kid cringes a little and clutches his arms like they hurt suddenly. Bad memory? I saw some of that fight on TV, with Scott in that outfit of his getting all huge and Imperial-Walkerish; that was some messed up epic fighting that was, holy cannoli. And that kid was in it? Is that even allowed?
”Here’s a hint,” Barton says. “Don’t wear spandex if you don’t want people to recognize you, kid. That shit shows everything.” He grins at Parker and grabs a slice of pizza. “And I mean, everything. What’s there and what’s not.”
He stuffs half a slice of pizza in his mouth and talks around it.
“Trust me, I know. Why I switched to tac suits - Kevlar, leather, and neoprene all the way, baby. So, next time you see Stark, I’d ask for an upgrade. That, or start working out more. I’d still recognize you, though.”
The kid deflates right then and there, like someone poked an air hole in him, but Hawkeye offers him the box with the pizza.
“Here, have some protein, young Padawan. Build up those pecs.”
Man, that pizza looks good. I can almost smell it – or are those cameras in Odor-a-ma? Domino’s, the box says. Pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, double sauce, double cheese; dripping over the side and making those long, looong threads when Parker takes a piece. Making me drool like Niagara Falls and here I am stuck in the monitor room. Starving. Maybe I should call Domino’s myself? It’s almost break time.
Wait a minute, Domino’s? I didn’t see anyone open a door for no pizza delivery guy, and wouldn’t I have to let them in after hours?
Meanwhile, those two guys start talking about superhero outfits, which is something I honestly don’t get. The ant suit and that Iron Man thing, yes. Those I get. Tools of the trade, useful tech. But suits that just look cool and say, hey look at me, I’m a superhero?
Barton says in the circus he had a purple one once with owl ears and sixties’ type shades which if true, ouch. And then Parker tells him that his first outfit was, like, something he made himself out of an old curtain or something because he couldn’t ask his Aunt May where to buy fabric, but the thing scratched horribly so he was pretty happy when Mr. Stark found him and he could go designer.
As for Parker hanging out in Stark’s bar? Well, turns out that apparently this Aunt May, whoever she is, has a new boyfriend and they’re making loads of noise and Parker needs to study for a test, so he’s taken up Mr. Stark’s offer to crash at the Tower anytime he wants.
Come to think of it, he must have come in during the previous shift, ‘cause I don’t remember him coming in either. How long has he been in the building? How long has either of these guys been in the building?
Barton says he’s here because Natasha told him that Pepper said maybe someone should show Stark that they’re still friends, ‘cause Stark has been moping, so Barton’s here for purposes of re-con-cee-lee-ay-shun – he says it real slow, like it’s covered in slime and rusty nails and he doesn’t really want to get his tongue around it – and how’s that working for young Mr. Parker here? Does he feel the team spirit building yet?
As in Romanoff?
That the Black Widow that Hawkeye just name-dropped? Whoa, man. No wonder Scott is so excited about all these people, despite the bruises and the jail and everything. Wonder if they give autographs?
Anyway, so there’s a bit more back and forth and then Barton says homework is important, he never got to do any when he was a kid and wishes he had, so he’ll just read the paper quietly in the corner and let Parker finish what he’s doing.
But Parker goes all puppy-dog eager, like, “No, no – I’m good. I was done anyway. We can talk! I’d like to talk. It’s really nice to meet you, Mr. Barton, even if we weren’t on the same side, whichever that was. I’m still trying to figure that out, to be honest. Say, do you really never miss when you shoot?”
They seem all set for a major yak fest, but just as Barton tells Parker to call him Clint, Banerjee shows up in the monitor room. Says it’s my break and I should go to the John and then out to grab a bite, because it’s now or never and the night is young. Wannabe Hollywood scriptwriter, Banerjee is, she just needs to work on her clichés.
But seriously, breaks here at Stark Industries are the bomb. You don’t have to do anything for half an hour and you still get paid! My Pa would just pee himself if he were still with us, Dios lo tenga en su Gloria. Nothing like paid breaks in his day, let me tell you.
I try and tell Banerjee about the blink-outs with the monitors but she just looks at me with pity and shakes her head.
“You’ll get used to this kind of thing here, Luis. Some game is always afoot here. The boss has been playing with his rays again, or whatever. He knocks the system out for days on occasion. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother with the monitors. Now go eat, shoo.”
So I’m heading to the basement where the vending machines are, except the elevator smells of pizza and dammit, my hand hits the button for the fifty-eighth floor all by itself. No harm going up there, is there? That Hawkeye dude knows Scott and a friend of Scott’s is a friend of mine, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
Wait a minute.
If Barton came up the elevator with that pizza, shouldn’t I have seen him? There’s a camera in that thing. Or was it one of the ones that went out? Anyway, the elevator door opens and man, that place is even sharper live than on those screens and they’re HD. Lots of chrome and black leather and glass, and a fish pond in the middle that is vaguely shaped like a guy’s body went through the floor and water came up.
It’s all pretty cool but one thing is pretty clear pretty quick: Maybe I should have knocked.
Those two guys twist around like scorpions – you know, that mid-air flip they do from zero to nuclear that ends with a stinger in someone’s body part? Parker has his hand raised like he’s about to shoot some kind of ray straight from his wrist and Barton points a gun at me that I don’t even know where it came from.
I’m like, “Whoa, guys, take it easy. I work for Mr. Stark. Luis. Security?“
I guess the uniform does it because Parker lowers his arm – like it was a gun, wonder what he’d have shot from it? And Barton does something flick-y with the gun that’s so fast I can’t see it, but it gets the thing out of my face and back into whatever cavity he kept it in on his body so I’m good.
No, really, I’m good.
“Security?” they both say at once, in the same snarky sort of tone that would probably piss me off if I wasn’t from California, and Barton gives the Parker kid a little wink and a slap on the arm. Like the kid said something fiendishly clever and funny and Barton just found his soulmate or something.
I explain to them about Scott and the job – more about Scott than about the job, ‘cause Scott and I were in jail together and so were Scott and Hawkeye, which makes us practically cousins. Barton seems to agree and offers me a slice of pizza. It’s real good and juicy and I’m trying to not let it dribble down my chin, but I have to ask.
“So how’d you guys get in here, anyway? With a pizza? I been watching the monitors all night.” There’s a strand of cheese hanging from my mouth and I roll it up with my tongue like my brother taught me. Mh-hmm.
Barton looks over at Parker with something that’s almost professional interest and the kid looks sideways a bit, like he’s twelve and been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“I don’t, like, use the stairs,” the kid stammers. “Usually.”
“That’s not helpful, kid,” Barton says, with a grin but also a little bit of an edge, and Parker thumbs over to the window.
“Outside?” he squeaks. “I came in over, you know, the balcony. The door was open.”
Barton nods like that makes perfect sense to him, here on the fifty-eighth floor, and maybe it does. I wouldn’t know. These people are strange, you know?
“And you?” I ask, and have to swallow. That crust is beautiful, all crispy on the outside with a chewy center, and I wonder if I could get another piece if I stopped asking questions. But I really wanna know, because Scott got me this job, you see, and I want to do it properly until he tells me what he’s really got planned.
Barton snorts and grabs the box. (Guess not, then.)
“Professional secret.” He smirks at me but then he holds out the box to me with the last two pieces, the ones I thought he was gonna eat himself. “Here, you look hungry.”
“Wow,” I say, looking at that beauty, all gooey and with extra pepperoni and yeah, don’t mind if I do. I reach out for the bigger piece, because where I grew up you eat as much as you can as quickly as you can, because before you know it, there isn’t any more there, see. “All those cameras, that’s quite something. And you can turn ‘em off just like that. So why do we even have those here?”
Barton pulls back the box and his voice gets that little edge again. What’s with this guy – he goes from total floppy dudeness to stainless-steel menace in, like, zero point five seconds?
“All those cameras? How many are we talking about here? I only fucked with the one in the entrance and the one in the elevator. That one on principle - been bothering me ever since that time me and Tasha were…” He looks over at Parker and waves his hand a bit. “Never mind. Kids in the audience.”
He puts down the pizza carton and stares at me, and man, is that why they call the guy Hawkeye? ‘Cause that goes right through me and out of the back of my head, that stare.
“Where? Where did they go off?”
Parker has gone all quiet-like too, like he’s ready to pounce on something and I just hope it’s not me, because maybe he doesn’t weigh anything, but that kid’s like twenty years younger than me and if he can climb up the outside of a Manhattan high-rise I don’t really want to know what else he can do with his hands. Plus, maybe he can squirt poison from his zits? Isn’t that what spiders do?
I close my eyes and think about the blinking show, and it’s like …
“Front entrance, twice. Two elevators. Lab level on the forty-seventh…”
Barton sprints over to the bar and grabs something from underneath the counter. Wait - is that a bow and a quiver? Why would he keep one of those stashed here? Does Mr. Stark know there’s a weapons cache in his living room and shouldn’t that be something they tell Security? Huh. Barton hooks the quiver over his shoulder and looks at Parker.
“How strong is that spider stuff of yours, Parker? Enough for two?”
Parker nods and now the two of them are running out onto the balcony and I don’t really see how Parker does it, but when I get there there’s this splotch of stuff stuck to the wall, with a rope coming out of it that goes right over the railing, and they’re both gone over the side, swinging out and down and feet first into a window several floors down. I assume it’s the forty-seventh, ‘cause otherwise what’s the point, right?
And I’m supposed to be the security guard in this joint; thanks a lot, Scott.
I guess I have to take the elevator? I push the button and while it comes up I have a quick look under the bar and there’s all kinds of stuff under there – it’s almost like Mr. Stark is expecting trouble to come bursting out of the walls in his living room or something. I grab something that looks like an alien ray gun and head into the elevator.
By the time the door opens on the forty-seventh there’s sound effects happening, all sorts of booming and crashing and grunts and the occasional small arms fire, which, oh shit. But it’s too late, the door opens and I see Parker swinging around on some more of those ropes that are stuck from the ceiling, kicking people in the head, and ... Hello?
There’s Banerjee, my shift boss, with her back to me - still in her uniform and stashing some sort of Stark Industries gizmo into a Nike bag. Figures she’d know what cameras to turn off and where to let this gang in, and maybe that’s why she was so keen that I go on break? Why didn’t she just offer me a cut and see what I’d say?
She’s hollering at her buddies to get their fucking shit together - guess she’s done with trying for a career in literature and is going the full Cartman - but they’re too busy getting that kicked out of them to listen to her. She says something very un-ladylike and grabs a gun to take aim at Barton, who’s doing stuff with that bow of his and isn’t looking behind himself, and so I whack her over the head with the ray gun and she goes down like a sack of anvils and the shot ends up in the ceiling.
Barton wheels around, takes it all in, gives me one of those short military-like nods and goes back to doing mayhem with his bow. Pretty good mayhem it is, too; those guys are falling like flies, what between the arrows and the ones Parker kicks in the head from up top. Maybe that's why Mr. Stark let him in on that fight?
And then it’s all over and Parker comes down from the ceiling looking a bit sheepish and stuffing his t-shirt back in his pants, and says, “I don’t usually do this without my suit, but there wasn’t time to change.”
Barton slaps him on the shoulder, says something nice, and goes to pick his arrows out of people’s eye sockets - like, ew, but I suppose - after which he heads over to a sink to rinse them off. Remind me never to wash my hands in that lab.
The total body count is nine or ten – I lost track - and some of Mr. Stark’s lab equipment is smashed up and/or smoking; other bits are packed into boxes so it looks like this was pretty much a targeted effort at patent avoidance, with a spot of inside help and some rent-a-thugs. I suppose if you do a job inside Avengers’ Tower you should be ready for some resistance? But at least the bad guys didn’t bring down the building this time like Scott did with Pym’s place, so there’s that.
Barton’s done arrow washing and reaches for his phone while I put some cuffs on Banerjee, who is still breathing, which I’m kind of happy about because maybe she sent me on that break to save my butt? Not all us heist artists are totally evil, I should know; many of us enjoy some mutual professional respect and she probably saw my record.
I can hear Barton say something on the phone now, like, “Hey Stark, your lab’s been raided, better get back to New York on the next cloud. Bring a mop and some lawyers.”
He clicks the thing off and turns to me.
“Good job, Parker, Luis Security Dude. Let’s go back upstairs. I could use a beer and some more pizza.”
And so this is how we end up back in Mr. Stark’s bar, me figuring I don’t have to go back to the monitors, because seriously what’s the odds that there’ll be another major security incident tonight?
Never thought I’d get to hang out with a couple Avengers just like Scott does, though. It’s pretty awesome, actually. I mean these guys are on anything from magazines and cereal boxes to Jimmy Kimmel and wanted posters, and they’re way out there when it comes to being equipped. How does that even happen, that you get a scrawny guy like Parker who shoots gooey ropes from his wrists and that Hawkeye dude who never misses? You have to be dropped in a vat of toxic slime or something? ‘Cause that shit ain’t normal, is it.
Maybe this is how those aliens must have felt and that guy with the horns, whatever his name was, who’d come here thinking they’re King Shit and on some middling planet they can take in a walkover, and instead they end up in Manhattan getting their butts handed to them by a people who may or may not have been bitten by a radioactive flea or something, but who still like pizza on a Saturday night.
And here I am - me, Luis! - having a beer with these guys like I’m one of them and Barton is handing me a slice of that new pizza. He even got one half with pineapple on it because I like it; he asked me and didn’t even judge when I said I like it like that.
“So, yeah – we can only exist because we’re basically average. But just because planets are a dime a dozen and there’s a bazillion of them doesn’t mean Earth can’t be special, too,” Scott had said. “Because it is. And we are.“
The principle of terrestrial mediocrity.