One by one, the headshots popped to life on the Zoom conference which was supposed to have started promptly at 12:30 (it was 6 minutes past). Two of them waved silently, but the remaining faces stared blankly ahead, as if not quite convinced there were eyes and ears beyond their laptops. After waiting a beat for everyone to settle, the infamous gray dome of Malefactor, complete with ornate cowl, called the meeting to order.
“Can everyone see and hear me?” he asked, voice booming. “I had some problems on our last call, the video kept cutting out and my mic was too low. I think Arachanoid fixed the bug, but hey, that’s the reality of using hijacked technology on the lam.”
“We can hear you,” Sister Sinister muttered, sipping her drink. “Though you might want to move your camera down a little…your nose is where your eyes should be.”
“Oh…right, what about this?” he asked, fiddling with his laptop screen. “Better?”
She only shrugged, as if to say, ‘whatever.’
The other heads smiled or shifted in their tiny squares, though one was conspicuously absent in the top right corner. The wall behind showed several tattered centerfolds and the corner of an unmade-bed.
“Sneak, are you there or not? We’ve talked about this, wear a hat or something. Hello? Guys, can you hear him?”
“I just tried him on chat, he’s not there,” Memento Mori said, whose death’s-head grimace belied his high-pitched chirp.
“That invisible degenerate,” Malefactor muttered. “Look, we’re not waiting for him, it’s time to start. I apologize for the informality, but thank you so much for coming today, Bel Canto. It’s a real privilege to interview you, especially after your work with The Grifters, and your brutal take-down of Captain Canary. Is she still in the ICU?”
“Oh, thank you, the pleasure is all mine,” Bel Canto said, her music-note earrings dangling over bare shoulders. “And yes, the last time I checked she was still there, though her condition is stable and she’s respected to make a full—if lengthy—recovery.”
“Sorry to hear it,” Malefactor said, with a polite laugh. “Before we begin, allow me to introduce the other members of The Infernal Brigade. Of course you know me, notorious mastermind and longest-lived human on the planet, Malefactor. Next is Sister Sinister, our resident witch and hex-master. Memento Mori is the grim-looking fellow beside her, but rest assured, it’s just a mask…not that we’ve ever seem him without it. And that’s Kikimora, the muscle of the group. Oh yes, you’ve crossed paths before as rivals, haven’t you? No hard feelings, I hope. And finally, Sneak should be joining us eventually, though he tends to make him self scarce as often as possible…I sometimes wonder if he’s even on the team.”
“Thank you, it’s a pleasure to meet you all,” Bel Canto smiled, adjusting her hair.
“So…tell us a little bit about yourself and why you’re so interested in this position,” Sister Sinister said, her eyes narrowing.
“Well, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t wanted an opportunity to work alongside The Infernal Brigage,” she began, excitedly. “Since I was a kid, long before I came into my powers, I remember thinking, the only difference between the good guys and the bad guys is who’s telling the story. And if not for your selfless work keeping megalomaniacs like Kid Atlas and Sunstone in check, we would all be enslaved, mere nothings in a world of conformity. I want to be a part of that anarchy, pushing against our ‘saviors.’ If that makes sense.”
“Oh yes, wonderful,” Sister Sinister said, distractedly.
“Mori?” Malefactor prompted.
“Ah yes, I’m a big fan—I’ve replayed the fight against Captain Canary endlessly on You Tube,” he said, with a little cackle. “But being a member of our team isn’t just a knock-down, drag-out fight with our foes. It’s also plans and schemes, whether masterminding the next heist or delivering a doomsday weapon. So tell me, what assets can you bring to the table besides your superhuman abilities?”
“That’s an excellent question, and may I say, I’m a big fan of yours as well,” she said, leaning forward. “As you all know, my powers come and go with my voice. I can snap steel, break bones, bend thoughts, and seduce with a whisper. But only if I’m in voice, and I sometimes need hours, or even days, to rest. So in that time I hone my other abilities, and as you’ll see in my resume, I have a BA in Psychics and an MA in Laboratory Technology, so I can assist the team in developing various infiltration devices, as well as the concoction of toxins and serums to assist in our nefarious schemes.”
“That’s right, The Grifters had those snazzy outfits you couldn’t grab; the heroes’ hands slipped right off them. Your invention?” Malefactor asked.
“Among others, though I was never given the appropriate credit,” she muttered, with a less-than-sugary smile.
“Fabulous, thank you,” Memento Mori concluded.
“Is Sneak back yet? Sneak? Are you watching? Shake your monitor or something,” Malefactor shouted, waving his hands.
Sneak’s screen remained perversely still and silent.
“Insufferable twerp. Kikimora, we’ll skip to you.” Kikimora, a female bodybuilder with green tentacles snaking from her scalp and writhing around her torso, responded with an impatient snort. She hated Bel Canto after the two took a very public tousle that quickly went viral, particularly after it became a meme. “Does my ass look fat in this?” was the most popular one, showing Kikimora waist-deep in a taxi, after Bel Canto had smacked her clear across uptown. Kikimora was itching for a rematch, and perhaps if they joined forces now, she could find the opportunity sooner than she thought.
“Bel Canto…is that Spanish? Are you like ethnic or something?”
“Er, no, no, Kikimora, we can’t ask questions like that. Didn’t you read the e-mail I sent you? About inappropriate questions?” Malefactor interrupted.
“No, no, please, I don’t mind,” Bel Canto said, shrugging it off. “It’s actually Italian, and it means “beautiful singing,” which is sort of ironic, since my beautiful voice is the last thing you’ll hear if you cross me…as you might recall.”
“You were sharp, actually,” Kikimora muttered, crossing her arms. “So, were you actually born with your abilities, or are you just one of those Test-Tube Heroes, like that idiot, Saberwing? You two dated, didn’t you? I thought I read something in People—”
“Please, don’t answer that—and I do apologize, she’s still a little sore after all that negative publicity,” Malevolent said, with a nervous laugh.
“It’s fine, I understand,” she said.
“We really are excited for the opportunity to work with you, which is why we want to make sure we can all…ah, get along, and that you share our vision for the future. Perhaps Sister Sinister has another question—”
“All right, you big babies, I didn’t mean to ruffle her feathers,” Kikimora interrupted, leering at the screen. “But if she can’t take a few difficult questions, what’s she gonna do when we find ourselves sandwiched between Dr. Parnassus and The Void?”
“Sorry, guys, I had to take a whiz and I think I missed—my shoes sound squishy,” Sneak said.
“Is that him?” Malefactor shouted. “You little punk, I told you 12:30 sharp! What, did you think time vanished along with the rest of you? Now hurry up and ask Bel Canto a question.”
“Oh, sorry—yeah, hi there, pleasure to meet you,” he said, placing a cap on his head, which seemed to bob in empty space. “Okay…let’s say you were at a business lunch, and you ordered a medium-well steak and they brought it to you rare. What would you do?”
A beat followed, as Malefactor was about to object but saw that Bel Canto smiled, nodding her approval.
“Well, since I’m vegetarian, I would probably say, excuse me, sir, but I think you have the wrong table.”
Everyone laughed politely except for Kikimora, who screwed up her face sarcastically.
“But seriously, I’m a pretty spontaneous person, and I tend to go with the moment. I would at least take a bite, and see if rare steak is something I could roll with. Like the time Captain Canary discovered my lair when I was nursing a hangover from the previous night (I’m not ashamed to admit it!). However, I just had to slip on my spandex and lace up my boots and roll with the punches. And boy, unless you’ve been on the receiving end of her fists, you have no idea: she really packs a whallop! Knocked out my entire front row; they’re all replacements.”
“I’ve fought her--she’s a sissy,” Kikimora responded, with a snort. “And I prefer my steak rare. If they so much as carried my steak near a candle I’d teach them what raw feels like!”
“See, that’s why we never take you out,” Sneak said, with a laugh. “Or at least I don’t. You always stick me with the bill.”
“I stick you with the bill?” she said, slamming her desk with both fists. “Bitch, you’ve run out on me twice with your little invisible act. Last time was just payback. You still owe me!”
“Good god, are we still arguing about this?” Sister Sinister groaned. “Look, I have to get my nails done, so can we wrap this up? Not everyone in town will book an appointment for a super villain, so I can’t stand them up.”
“Of course, it’s always about you,” Malefactor said, shaking his head. “I’ll ask just one more question, then: Bel Canto, what personal goals would you set for yourself over the next five years if you got this job?”
“Oh, that’s an easy one, so I shouldn’t take too much more of your time,” she said, with an arch expression. “#1, I want to work on breath control, so I can sustain a hypersonic scream for longer than three minutes. I haven’t been able to do it longer than a minute-ten, though that’s enough to incapacitate a rhino…or someone the size of Kikimora.”
Memento Mori burst out laughing, but quickly hit mute and turned away. Kikimora, also on mute, gave the appropriate hand gestures in response.
“#2, I want to work on my social media campaign, since people still confuse me with that late 80’s villain, Verismo. And you remember his lip-synching scandal with Sunstone? I have to spend the first ten minutes of every fight proving that I can actually sing…it’s like an audition! Anyway, I know you guys are much better at communicating your brand, so maybe you can distinguish me from the competition.”
“Yes, Arachnoid handles all of that for us, he’s quite talented. Though he makes a terrible cup of coffee, even with the Keurig; it’s always cold,” Sister Sinister remarked. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”
“Yes, and finally, #3: I want to take someone really big out. I agree with Kikimora, Captain Canary’s small potatoes. I have a much bigger appetite. Kid Atlas? Or maybe Dr. Parnassus himself? We shared a flight once. I was so tempted to send an A above high C right at his head just to watch his ears bleed.”
On this, all of the villains were in complete agreement. They chuckled and tittered amongst themselves at the thought of beating him (for once) into submission, or making his ears (and eyes) bleed. Though it wasn’t entirely clear if he did bleed, as no one had ever lasted long enough against him to find out. Indeed, the very reason they were hiring today was because Darkstar had taken it upon himself to find out, and had to be retired from active duty.
“What a wonderful list—quite inspiring,” Malefactor agreed, nodding his head. “We so appreciate your time today, and in closing, I just want to ask if you had any questions for us? While I’m sure you know us quite well already, we’re more than happy to unlock our secrets and give you the insider’s tour.”
“Oh, that’s so kind of you,” she said, with a quick glance at her watch. “I guess my only real question is about your facilities, which I’ve only heard rumors about. Do you have a central lair, or are there multiple locations? I even heard something about a submarine.”
“Sunk, thanks to Kid Atlas,” Sister Sinister said, draining her cup. “It never even set sail. As for our central lair…”
“I’m afraid that caught fire some years ago, so we’ve been mobile since then, setting up shop wherever we can: Tashkent, Riga, and similar out-of-the-way locales,” Maleficent said, uncomfortably. “But we have plans underway, just as soon we get our personnel settled, and tie up a few loose ends—”
“We’re in debt up to our eyeballs,” Kikimora interrupted. “Okay, real talk, sister: we’re living in a pair of repurposed tour buses. I haven’t been paid in months; Memento Mori needs back surgery; Malificent has a personality disorder; Sister Sinister is an alcoholic; and Sneak…well, no secret there, he’s a little perv.”
Memento Mori disappeared. Malficent went on mute, and Sister Sinister raised a glass, more than half full, to the screen.
“Ah, that’s very helpful, thank you,” Bel Canto said, her smile going flat. “Well, I won’t keep you any further, since I have another appointment—”
“You’re interviewing for them, aren’t you?” Maleficent demanded. “I knew it! They’re always trying to steal our thunder. I told you guys we should have moved on this last week! Frightwing will promise you the moon, but don’t listen to him. He can’t even fly on his own. I taught him everything he knows!”
“No, I’m not really on the market, and I’ve never spoken to Frightwing—”
“You wouldn’t, not directly. He’s such a snob,” Maleficient continued, pulling off his cowl and tossing it behind him. “He’s the kind of guy that sees you in Target and says, hey, we should catch up! Why don’t you call my assistant and make an appointment? The insufferable nerve, after all I’ve done for him! And that’s who you want to work for? A man who’s never even infiltrated a military-grade installation? Who sold all his plutonium for a house in Beverly Hills! Would we have done that? No, we may be poor, destitute, but we have standards! We’re still fighting the Power!”
“I appreciate everything, thank you,” Bel Canto said, nodding quickly.
“Your ass is mine, bitch! Just you think twice about leaving your house!” Kikimora shouted.
“So nice to meet you! We’ll be in touch,” Sister Sinister said, with a tipsy laugh.
“See you in the shower,” Sneak snickered. “Or rather, you won’t.”
The Zoom call was abruptly terminated.