She rode the elevator up Titan Tower to Megajoule’s office. Nineteen years old, and she was being recruited onto the greatest ever superhero’s team. Bedevil! Megajoule’s Spunky Crimson Sidekick!
Er, she scratched her arm. Maybe not that. She still had time to decide on a theme. Or OPI would decide for her. Or Megajoule, even! Maybe he’d have her wear a costume like his.
The elevator walls were glass, so she could see the city on her ride up. New York sprawled out before Titan Tower in all its glory. No other city like it in the world. Not Sao Paulo, not Toronto, not Beijing. Not even London or Houston could compare to New York. The Titan Tower was the tallest in the world. But the next twenty tallest skyscrapers? They all shared the same road in New York. A threaded network of sky rails draped over everything, entangling New York in a web of fast-moving shuttles; the highways cut through the heart of the city before heading out into the country. She thought of them like tendrils spreading out to the rest of the UWC. Like her power. Everything was connected.
The elevator took over a minute to get from the lobby to Megajoule’s office. Her heart pounded as the floors approached 136, the floor dedicated to Megajoule’s team. She’d never seen him in person. Only on the posters in her room, the screensaver on her computer, the background of her phone.
Oh, shit. She needed to change the background of her phone.
She scrambled through her photos for a picture of her mom, and changed the wallpaper just in time. The elevator beeped, and the doors opened to her destination.
She swallowed, held the phone to her chest, and stepped out into a lime green lobby. Cool air conditioning washed away the stagnant smell of the elevator. A secretary lady sat behind a desk.
He was already there, walking up to her with a big smile on his face. Just like his posters. He was older, just over forty, but he’d aged like her mom’s wines (her mom used that phrase a lot about attractive older men.) “Ms. Dawson?” He held his hand out. His arm was super muscled.
Deep breath. Smile, like mom showed her. “Yes! That’s me.” She took his hand. His grip was firm, but his hands were softer than she thought they’d be. “I came as soon as I got your call.” The wording of that was… oh. Uh. She tried to stop her cheeks from flushing.
Megajoule grinned at her. “Oh, no need to be so bashful. Every one of my teammates was like you when they first showed up, until they figured out I’d work them to the bone.”
‘Please work me to the bone,’ she thought. Good grief. He was twice her age.
“Come on, let’s go talk,” he said. He whipped around like a man on a mission and led her into his offices.
The main room of his headquarters was a huge, open space concept, a command center and break room all rolled up in one. There were four desks slammed together, bearing monitors bigger than her dad’s wall TV. There were notes and files strewn everywhere. The smell of coffee wafted from a kitchen in the corner, beside which was a small door with a sign that said, “Bathroom Broken, go downstairs.” A plush Godzilla doll dangled from an indoor basketball set.
It was like one of those start-ups run by guys in their twenties, tweaked out on cocaine and Adderall: walls painted in vibrant colors, so you knew the company culture was whaaaacky! A TV played some old movie from the 20th century.
Three people hung around the office. A grim-faced woman Bedevil knew for Templar sat at the desks, reviewing psych evals of villains. She had the power to shape flesh. A boy about her age with wavy surfer’s hair all in his face played with the indoor basketball set, but Bedevil didn’t recognize him. He must’ve been new.
Bedevil recognized the man brewing coffee in the kitchen. Longinus, Megajoule’s right hand man for a long time. His power was technically cruiserweight, but only because he needed to be reading from a Bible to activate it. He could fly, he could shoot beams of light, and call down fire from the sky. Nearly as invincible as Megajoule himself.
“That coffee better not be decaf,” Megajoule said as he walked into the room.
Longinus turned his attention away from Megajoule. “It’s not decaf, but you don’t want any. It’s my special brew.”
Special brew? Now, what the hell did that mean?
“Let me introduce you to my merry band of rapscallions. The only one who’s actually doing her job is at the computers. Templar.” He pointed to her proudly, like a dad pointing at his first born, straight A student.
Templar saluted to Megajoule, and nodded at Bedevil. “Welcome to our office. Good luck on your interview.” She refocused on her work, ignoring them after that.
Megajoule grinned at Bedevil. “She works hard. Unlike some around here.” He led her to the young man playing basketball from the comfort of a bean bag. The boy swept his hair out of his face and rose to his feet. He extended an awkward handshake, and smiled. Bedevil took his hand.
“Wind Rider,” he said. “But, uh, you can call me Jamie, if you stick around.” He grinned. Bedevil thought he was kind of cute, in that young, adorkable “I’m not very good with girls” kind of way.
“If you end up joining, you’ll replace him as our youngest,” Megajoule said.
“Oh? How old are you, Jamie?” Bedevil asked.
“19,” he said. “But don’t be fooled. I’m gonna be as famous as boss.”
“Not playing basketball, you won’t,” Megajoule said. “Maybe go help Templar.”
Jamie smiled sheepishly and went to do just that.
“Last but not least, the man who should need no introduction,” Megajoule said, taking her to the kitchen, “Longinus.”
Longinus looked around the same age as Megajoule. He wore glasses, had a slight receding hairline, and a half-smile that seemed caught on a sad thought. He raised his coffee cup to Bedevil as a salute, and Bedevil saw there was a marijuana leaf emblazoned on the side of the cup.
Oh. Special brew.
Longinus took a sip and grinned at her. “So, you’re the telekinetic wonderkid, huh?”
Bedevil stammered and hid her hands behind her back. Ever since one reporter called her that, everyone called her that. Pure telekinesis was super rare as a power, and so everyone treated her like royalty over it. Except her mom. “I- I guess.”
“Don’t worry,” Longinus said, “I’ll only call you that every day. Wonderkid. Have you thought about that as your superhero name?”
“Actually, it’s Bedevil,” she said.
Longinus took a swig of coffee and swirled it in his mouth while he looked up at the ceiling in thought. He smiled and looked her in the eyes. “I like it. Bedevil. It fits. Much better than Wind Rider.”
Jamie, from his seat next to Templar: “I heard that.”
“You were supposed to hear it, it’s why I said it.” Longinus raised the cup at Bedevil and said, “Good luck, wonderkid.”
Megajoule smiled at her. “You ready for the interview?”
She was ready to explode, that was for sure. She settled on a polite nod, instead.
Megajoule took her up a set of stairs to a smaller room that overlooked the main space. He closed the door behind her. A horseshoe shaped desk filled this space, with one chair on either side of each prong. He gestured for her to sit at the closest chair, and took the one opposite her.
“So,” he said, pulling open a drawer. He locked eyes with her, and her heart hammered. “Why do you think I chose you to interview?”
“W-what do you mean?” she asked.
“Don’t get me wrong: your power is certainly a good fit for a Lictor class team. You’re definitely powerful, but at the heavyweight level that means little. You’re one of the youngest candidates I had. You’re also inexperienced in any real heroics. You went through Basics, like everyone, but your field training was peaceful.” His eyes… the look… it was severe. Not the kind man she’d met at the elevator. Not the man joking with his teammates. A man with the world on his shoulders.
“Uh… I’m… I’m not sure. Are you gonna tell me?” she asked.
Megajoule stared at her for another moment, and then pulled a stack of papers from his drawer. “Hollow Emirates and Brittle Continents: Comparing the assimilation efforts of the United Arabian Emirates and the United Western Continent. An Analysis of Peter Erikson’s Moral Imperative of the Tribe.”
“That’s… my senior essay from high school?”
“It is,” he said. He licked his finger and flipped open a page. “Insurgencies are present in both the Emirates and in the Mid-American countries. The fervor is based out of different places: for the Emirates it’s a holdover from the myriad of ultra-conservative religious terrorist groups created by the wars and political situation of the late 20th and early 21st century, and in Columbia and Venezuela the independence sought by drug cartels and threat of violence spur the people to resist UWC control. Both countries have used supers in their suppression efforts. Both countries have faced heat from the UN Councils and their own people over this fact.”
He flipped to a different page. “Power consolidates. Through the Imperialism in the last millennium to NAFTA which ultimately led to the foundation of the UWC, nations absorb each other as society becomes more globalist. This becomes an issue for those on the bottom: the massive structures above them bear little resemblance to their original cultures, and the tribalism reacts in violence to the threat of extermination by absorption. Insurgency is born out of that fear. Erikson argues that this is not an immoral or unethical action. In fact, he argues it’s an ethical obligation on both parties to survive. That one side wins and the other loses, to Erikson, doesn’t matter. That’s his great Moral Imperative of the Tribe.”
He turned the essay to the final page, paused for a moment while he looked over the passage. She waited for him to speak. Every word he said he examined and considered, and his thoughts had great weight, even if he quoted her. “And what of the loss as these conglomerate nations take in all around them? What are we giving up connecting everything under one government and flag? Erikson argues that the less fragmented humanity becomes, the less borders and cultures, the more innovation and profundity we’ll lose. Philosophy, religion, art, music. To Erikson, it all becomes distilled into populist swill. Mass appeal becomes the highest goal of any creative endeavor. We lose the spark to that.”
Megajoule set her paper down, and met her gaze again.
“I… Heh… I wrote that the week before it was due.” That fact embarrassed her, but she figured it was better to be honest with her future boss.
“Yet it seems you’d been thinking about the topic for a while. They let you choose what your senior thesis was about, right?”
She nodded, trying to quell the butterflies in her stomach.
“You didn’t really pick a side, in your paper. You didn’t come down hard on either the Emirates, the UWC, or the insurgents resisting their control.”
“Picking a side defeats the point,” Bedevil said. “Both have their reasons for doing what they’re doing. Erikson-”
“I don’t care what Erikson thought, I care what you think.”
He cared what she thought? “I think it’s hard to say. Nothing’s black and white. But you can’t sit on the sidelines, either.”
“So, which side would you pick?” Megajoule asked.
Bedevil could barely think about anything but his face. Chiseled jaw, five o’clock shadow, baby blue eyes. With a metric ton of discipline, she rubbed a few braincells together. “I can’t choose a side when I don’t agree with either one. Can I start a new side?”
“You’re refusing to answer the question?”
“You would,” she said.
Megajoule grinned. “Wow. You’re the first interviewee to ever accuse me of something.”
“No! I’m not accusing you of anything!” She buried her head in her hands. “I’m sorry.”
Megajoule stood up. “No! It’s fantastic. Tell me, why did you apply? I mean, I get it, so did twenty thousand other people. But what made Ruby Dawson want to come here and become Bedevil?”
‘Well, if I’m completely honest about why I applied, we’d be having a very different conversation.’ Of course, she kept that to herself. “I don’t care about money, or reputation, or a resume. I want to help you make the world a better place.” She hoped she appeared earnest. She really did believe that. Megajoule was the one hero that really had a vision for a better world.
“You’ve got a good brain, kid. Are you hungry?”
Bedevil nodded. She’d go anywhere with this man.
“Come on,” he said, grinning. “I know a great ramen place.”