“The Interview” – Short Story

“As I’m sure you’ve suspected, this isn’t normal protocol.”

I nod as I take my seat, “If we were normal, we’d be out of a job.”

If the overlord was amused, he didn’t show it. My answer seemed to satisfy him enough, but I can’t say the same for the triad of his peers, my interviewers. Then again, I knew they were a tough crowd. Any supervillain worth their mettle always was.

“Jericho here has to level a Mediterranean island this evening, so forgive us if we are attentive to time. It couldn’t be helped.” A burly oaf with skin fair enough to challenge The White Witch gave a stunted nod. I’d heard of Jericho. He was probably the least imposing of the titans before me, but still had enough experience and power under his belt to give A-class heroes a modest challenge.

As for the piece of work that had been breaking me in, that was Malachi, more notoriously known by-and-large as Utter Doom. I’d trained myself to look at his forehead when speaking with him, so as to avoid direct contact with the “Lucifer Eyes” that brought him to the top of his field. They were blank, cleaner than white, and only an accessory to his esteemed fury. Utter Doom had been around since the dawn of the supervillain, and was the standard that defines many supervillain tropes. Ironic, because nearly all of those came from his younger days and most of them are a reflection of inexperience. Nowadays it’s a rule of thumb you don’t make your ventilation ducts large enough to crawl through, and you never monologue for more than two lines.

“That’s understandable,” I said, “Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.”

Utter Doom gave a curt nod, “Of course. Let’s begin. Why are you interested in becoming a supervillain?”

I did my best to shed a practiced smile and passed my eyes along each of my interviewers, steering clear of their gazes, “As a former superhero,” I paused for an instant to take in their expressions. Good, none of them seemed surprised by this, “I have always admired the resilience of your side. You make greater sacrifices than most of the supposed ‘heroes’, and are very action-oriented. Supervillains are creative, meticulous, and have tremendous resolve. Superheroes do not do much for themselves. They simply respond to your presence. If not for you, there would be no need for the hero. I am fascinated by that instrumental importance and influence you carry.”

Doom scrawled things on the clipboard in his lap. He sat straight-backed in a black throne chair, fitted with leather. It was daunting how his expression remained. Absolutely deadpan, without the slightest tremble or fidget. “You clearly weren’t a superhero for very long.”

This caught me unprepared, “Might I ask why you think so?”

“In my experience, heroes often sacrifice just as much, if not more than the supervillains. We might be lonely, or in perpetual financial ruin, or thought monsters, but like you said: it is by our own devices. We are the proactive ones. Maybe some of us have better reasons for our actions than others, but ultimately it is still our decision to behave and act against standardized morality. We are sinister and underhanded, and many heroes are felled by our cunning and deceptiveness. Some even come to our side because of how much we have cost them. Do not underestimate the sacrifices of your enemy.”

I found myself closing peeled lips. I hadn’t expected such class and respect from a supervillain, especially towards his adversaries.

“Our records show that you were a superhero for only five years?” A new voice broke the conversation. Miranda, the only female in the office. The Queen. I nod my affirmations, “What was your region and what are your powers?”

The Queen was entirely different from Utter Doom. She weaved her words with enough restraint, but the tears of blood forever spinning from her eyes made me wary, like she would happily drive twelve blades into my heart at the drop of a hat.

Keeping your voice straight in front of a woman of this caliber was no simple task, “My first few years were largely based in central Europe, but the latter half was spent on the Eastern American shore. As for powers, I can manipulate gravity.”

This seemed to please her. “Always formidable if utilized properly,” she said.

I couldn’t stop my grin.

“Show me,” Jericho spoke. They weren’t words. They were bombs, and they blew apart both my knees and my conviction. Steeling myself, I thrust one palm forward and unleashed a hideous shockwave, one strong enough to snap pillars of stone like chicken legs. The table we gathered around blew into dust and shards, and the room was filled with a low-bass ringing like we were inside a troll’s war drum. While the hair on his flesh might have flittered, the giant was a full four-hundred pounds of not-moving. Only now did I realize that any one of my interviewers were enough to topple a nation. I had nothing before them. They were each at least ten times deadlier to the world than I was. Doom didn’t even blink. Jericho grunted, “Pretty good.”

Pretty good? Oh, man.

Until now, the last interviewer hadn’t yet graced me with a word from his unholy tongue. Honestly, I would have preferred it stayed that way. The final of the four was Famine, one of the infamous Horsemen of Apocalypse. A demon among supervillains and probably the only inquisitor present with enough spine and cruelty to stand up to the devil. “If you were accepted for the position, what methods would you take to ensure optimal damage output? What are some of your operational preferences?”

Swallowing through my heart, I persevered, “Until now I’ve been familiar with working alone or in small groups, but I feel the next best step for my career is to join an organization. Power in numbers and all of that. This will give me the first-hand experience I need for the long-term ambition of leading my own dark organization. A sort of anti-hero unit, I suppose. We will have no other purpose but to destroy those who defy us,” I paused for a moment to study Utter Doom, who seemed to be clenching his jaw quite tightly. I continued, “As for specific methods, I would abide by the guidebook of Doom’s apprentice ‘Black Stroke’. Absolutely brilliant methodology and technique, with humor and wit to boot.”

“It’s a shame he didn’t take his own advice,” Doom said off-handedly, in a slow drone, “Rule twelve: ‘Never let the hero have a last request.’ That one mistake was all he needed.”

“Nevertheless, they are quality guidelines for any contemporary supervillain,” I defended, “And as for ‘optimal damage output’ I would probably start by convincing my former companions that I was still interested in being a superhero. Manipulation and deceit are wonderful tools, even for ordinary men.”

Famine was a dirty red color in his skin, like desert sands at sunset. His skull was lined with jagged black protrusions and I wondered how he ever slept. Or if he ever slept. He pursed his lips and tipped his head, jotting down notes.

Utter Doom cleared his throat and readjusted himself, “Answer the following with as much speed and precision as possible.”

I readied myself. I’d been studying for this part.

“As a supervillain, is it better to have a son or a daughter for your progeny?”

“Neither,” I shoot out, almost forgetting the rest of my answer, “Sons are proud, and their inevitable plans to usurp me might fail, but it will almost certainly be at a critical point in time. The distraction could result in my downfall. Daughters are easily tricked into falling for the hero’s swashbuckling charm and skill, thus leading to ultimate betrayal. Though if I had to choose, I’d rather have a son. I could use his evil strength until he came of age, and then I would kill him in what looked like an accident. If he had friends, they would be disposed of preemptively, so as to waylay their possible vengeance.”

Doom was quick with the next question, “When is an enemy considered defeated?”

“When they are either cremated, or at the very least, mutilated to the point that they wouldn’t want to live. And absolutely no assumptions. If they fell down a cliff, I would personally go down with a strike team to retrieve the body and finish up a proper disposal.”

“If you had a platoon or army under your command, what sort of aesthetics would you employ in the design of their uniform?”

This one was disappointingly easy. Only the stupid villains missed this question anymore. “Grant them individuality. They might all wear one suit, but make it unique and open to slight variety and character. If helmets are included, and they should be, then they ought to reveal the identity of the soldier underneath. At the very least, the eyes should be visible. Such a simple device does tremendous things to the hero’s psyche and makes your underling more likely to survive in battle.”

Utter Doom sighed and penned his thoughts onto the board, “Straight from Black Stroke’s lessons. I can’t say they were poor answers…just rehearsed.”

“I prefer to use the word ‘practiced’. Makes me feel more disciplined and malleable.”

The Queen licked her lips, “One last question. If there were any one villain you could follow for a day, who would it be?”

“Whipgun,” I answer, aware that I might be making a poor decision.

“Whipgun?” The Queen grimaced, “The speed beast? Why him? He has fulfilled nothing but minor-league contracts, heists, and burglaries. Any hero worth their power can defeat Whipgun.”

“Because if I could follow Whipgun, that would mean I was really, really fast.”

Jericho made a tumbling noise in his chest that I hoped was laughter.

The Queen curled her fingers around the pen in her hand and looked at me hard. For a second, I thought I’d made a mistake. But my concerns melted when she smiled. An evil smile, but a smile all the same, “At the end of it, he cracks a joke. I like how you play this game.”

Doom and Famine were profoundly unaffected by the humor, but it wasn’t for them anyways. “That’s all I have,” Doom said, “Does anyone else have something they’d like to add?”

Unanimous shrugs and head-swaying across the board.

“Very good,” Utter Doom directed himself towards me, “Before we go, do you have any last questions?” He’d already begun to leave his seat, so I took that as a cue I could as well.

I wore that practiced smile like a mask of hope, “Only one. When can I start?”

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