The Mundane Adventures of A. N. Tompkins, Bureaucrat Extraordinaire

Dean Cracknell



While the name on the file, Elin Oväder, appeared to be a comfortingly uninteresting name and the subtitle alias of Åska Kvinna had sounded equally Scandinavian and unthreatening, the English translation of the names provided by the Commission’s interpreters however, were less reassuring. Opening the file revealed an accompanying photograph of a well-dressed woman in her late twenties who was as unremarkable in appearance as any other secret identity that Tompkins had encountered. He closed the file and tried to recall details of the face in the picture, Nordic perhaps though not stereotypically so and certainly not fair haired, a kind smile like a hotel receptionist or a sales clerk in department store and blue eyes… or greenish-blue, or were they bluish-grey? He resisted the impulse to sneak a peek to refresh his memory but closed his eyes instead: white blouse, pale grey jacket, she wore glasses… he shook his head… no… no glasses. The face he imagined merged and morphed into a sequence of faces in an impossible identity parade of nondescript twenty-something female faces, all different yet all the same. He sighed deeply, opened his eyes and then turned back the cover of the file. A nondescript and unmemorable face stared back at him. The art of blending-in was a skill that all the subjects that were on file at the Commission were adept at and Ms Oväder was no exception there, you could pass her on the street or meet her in a bar and be completely unaware that those work-a-day clothes concealed considerably more than a just a naked body.

For all of the twentieth century and the first decade and a half of the twenty-first unemployment in the European superhero profession was officially listed at one hundred per centum. Of course official figures are far from truthful and there was some degree of massaging of the data involved in getting the percentage down from the actual figure as collated by the European Commission on Superheroes to a credible one that the public would believe. Not that the public at large would believe that such a commission could exist, and officially it neither could not nor cannot, or would exist, (which, also officially it would not and forever will not), or even should exist (and as a matter of public-record shall not). As far as the public are concerned, and as far as the civil servants (who may or may not be sitting on the Commission’s governing committee) are willing to admit, there are no European superheroes so it is only logical that none are enjoying full or part-time employed anywhere in the member countries of the European Union. Therefore the need for a sanctioned commission to deal with such anomalies was completely unnecessary. Even the numerous security services of the 28 member states were unaware of the Commission’s existence, the members of the Commission had long since decided that knowledge of its existence was on a need to know basis, and the total number of people who needed to know was limited solely to those employed by the Commission itself, but not necessarily all of them.

To Archibald Nathaniel Tompkins making the unemployment figures match public expectation was of paramount importance, whether that was by illusion, collusion or confusion did not concern him, as long as the end result permanently showed total unemployment vis-à-vis heroes of superhuman stature. He would, he often joked with himself, resort to murder if necessary – simply ‘pop a cap’ (to use the street vernacular) in Capitán de España or make Die Fledermausmann die by some violent means should such anomalies appear on any of the monthly reports gathered from the numerous security services and bureaus of public records. Fortunately such a drastic solution had never been seriously considered within the annuls of power by the powers that be, though Tompkins did suspect this was due to the scarcity of kryptonite, carbonadium or whatever exotic material was the debilitating weakness of the current superhero du jour.

When he first joined the Commission back in 1987 he was informed that gentle persuasion is the weapon of choice with the officers of the Commission in dissuading emergent superheroes from practicing their skills on European soil. The aspiring superhero is quietly taken to one side and shown the mountain of bureaucratic paperwork that needs to be completed (in triplicate) before appropriate licences are granted. These licences include, and are not limited to: licence to fly over the respective air-space of the member countries ensuring flight-plans are logged with the designated aviation authorities six working days before the intended flight; licence to carry passengers for rescue or pleasure but not in any fee-paying capacity; licence to carry and operate concealed weaponry such as heat vision or adamantium claws within the borders of the 28 member states; licence to flaunt the laws of physics outside the confines of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN; and licence to wear tight-fitting and garish coloured lycra when not involved in physical exercise, sports or professional cycling (this licence is only required when operating in France, in other countries the wearing of garishly coloured tight-fitting lycra is mandatory). It is also made clear that it is a prerequisite for any prospective superhero to be fluent in all 24 official EU languages to avoid any inadvertent misunderstanding that should arise with any of the law enforcement agencies whose jurisdiction they have encroached upon. They are also advised that they must be covered by indemnity insurance underwritten by Lloyds of London at all times. They are furthermore required to obtain the written consent of any parties they intent to rescue or engage in combat prior to any physical interaction, this should be countersigned and witnessed by a recognised professional or someone who is ‘a person of good standing in their community’.

Tompkins was told, (because he asked), that if this fails to discourage the postulant vigilante Commission officers are empowered to deploy whatever physical force is necessary in relocating the wannabe übermensch to a country that is more receptive to their chosen profession. What constitutes necessary physical force in relation to beings of superhuman ability was never convincingly explained to him and in his years at the Commission he has never felt the need to find out.

Staring at the unimposing picture of the young woman with the kind smile, his years of experience told him that Elin Oväder, otherwise known as Thunder Woman, would not provide that need.