From the author: Superhero league recruiter Tod McClelland, a.k.a. Nexus, has a hard job. What's up with Millennial generation superhumans these days? Audio version includes author's afterword.
An audio version is available for this story. Listen online →
Interview #1 - 9:00 a.m.
This young whippersnapper’s name is Trevor Dutch. Dutch is tall, blond, and chiseled like one of those Greek statues of Hercules that you see in museums. He saunters into the conference room overlooking the Threat Chamber in the world headquarters of the Legion of Six (which is, for the moment, floating above Brooklyn on an anti-gravity field powered by the Continuum Stone) as if he’s done it a hundred times before. He settles spaciously in the chair across from us. As he brushes a lock of hair off his forehead, his pectorals strain against his arctic blue and white costume. I give my waistband a glum tug. It’s a bit…er, snug as well, but it’s not muscled physique but belly bulge that my costume has to contend with.
It’s not like I’ve let myself go. I work out and I eat right. For a guy coming up on sixty, I’m not doing so bad. But it’s been years since I’ve been out in the field. Nowadays, I only put on the costume for official appearances in my retirement track job as league recruiter. The old suit looks outdated—listen, metallic blue grid stripes on black was considered slick and futuristic back in my day—but there’s no point messing with it now. I’m a founding member of the Legion so quite frankly, my costume is iconic, TRON-style stripes and all. Besides, I’m too old to change.
There are four of us on the interview panel this morning. Salvo. The Spook (both halves of her). And me. My civilian name is Tod McClelland, but I’m better known as Nexus. Sure, Mr. Phenomenon got most of the attention from the press, but it’s no stretch to say, in all humility, that I was the lynchpin of the original Six.
I clear my throat and start us off. “So Trevor, you’re a graduate of the XCalibur Academy for Exceptional Youngsters, and your powers are superhuman strength, energy beams, and force fields, is that right?” He nods, so I give him the classic opening question. “Tell us why you want to join the Legion of Six.”
The young man shrugs. “It’s got to be better than Alpha Squad. That’s the league my folks were in. Cat Man and Princess Syrene. They never got much PR or career development support and Alpha Squad’s benefits are crap.”
“You’ve listed your professional name as Strikeforce,” says Salvo, frowning down at the paper in front of him. The poor guy looks tired; the rings under his eyes show even through his fitted red mask. “There’s already a Strikeforce in Fortress League. And a Stryker working for the Protectors of Earth.”
“And Death Stryke, who’s henching for Mr. Malignus,” adds Camille Frank, who is one half of the Spook. Helena Kim, next to her, is the other half.
Trevor Dutch spreads his hands and gives a rueful smile full of straight white teeth. “I had to come up with something to put down on the application, didn’t I? I can change it easily enough. Don’t you guys have an in-house marketing consultant to help with this sort of thing? No? Well, you should. Even Alpha Squad does.”
I try not to sigh. Call it idealism if you well, but when I joined the Legion of Six at the height of the Cold War, we really believed we had a calling. A solemn responsibility to use our powers to save the world from destruction. You know what? I think it’s just not the same for young superhumans these days.
Interview #2 - 9:45 a.m.
Adelae Proud, a.k.a. Liminal, slumps in defeat as soon as she sits down in front of me. “I know what you’re thinking,” she says at once. “You’re thinking there are already enough telepaths in this line of work and mind-reading is overrated. You’re not planning to hire me unless I have a psi score of over 175 and there are no other qualified candidates.” She snaps her head around and points accusingly at Salvo. “And you’re wondering how a telepathic black girl like me is going to handle a career in a racist industry like the superhuman forces.”
The teenager jumps to her feet and runs from the room.
Both halves of The Spook glare remonstratively at me and Salvo.
“Hey, that was not our fault,” Syed protests.
This is why I avoid hiring telepaths.
10-minute break. 10:00 a.m.
“So sue me if I was giving off negative mental vibes. I just got in from Syria and I have the biggest headache of all time.” Salvo goes to the mini-fridge and takes out another can of Diet Coke; it’s his third so far this morning. Earlier, he made it clear to me that the availability of Diet Coke was a prerequisite for his attendance today; he’s addicted to the stuff. He opens the can and drains half of it.
“I saw the ‘airstrikes’ on the news,” I mention. “That was nice work.”
“I was supposed to get back in last night, but got held up in customs. Again.”
Salvo’s civilian name is Syed Kassam. His powers include perfect recall and the ability to generate massive explosions that flatten everything up to a ten-mile radius around his own body. Also, he speaks five languages. Most of the work Salvo does for the Legion of Six at the request of the United States government and other democratic world leaders involves infiltrating hostile organizations around the world, walking in, and reducing their bases to smoking heaps of rubble.
Unfortunately, the TSA is under the impression that the unmarried, childless, well-traveled engineering professor Syed Kassam is a terrorist, so Syed is always being detained in airports until one of the Legion of Six’s liaison agents in the Defense Department is dispatched to bail him out. Also unfortunately, creating explosions is very dehydrating and gives Salvo headaches.
There aren’t a lot of sane people that would want Salvo’s job, and I don’t know how he puts up with some of the crap he does, but… I admit I envy the man a little. I do miss my days in the field, especially back when it was just the original Legion of Six. Whether it was the Armageddon Virus, or the evil machinations of the Tenebrous Society, or stolen nuclear warheads, the job was different every day. Each member of our team was needed. Given my ability to communicate instantly with anyone via astral projection, it was always up to me to relay crucial information and to coordinate the Legionnaires no matter where on earth or in spacetime we were. Once, while wounded and imprisoned by the agents of the Malix Syndicate, I was nevertheless able to send the override codes of their supercomputer to Mr. Phenomenon in time for him and Desert Fox to stop the Decimator from destabilizing the Earth’s crust from his undersea base of operations. One of our finest moments, if I do say so myself.
Nowadays… Well, nowadays the rest of the original six Legionnaires are retired, dead, or in the case of Sergeant Freedom, in cryogenic stasis. My powers haven’t faded with age, but no one needs them anymore, not with cellphones and GPS and the Internet. I suppose I am due to retire…but I’m just not ready to quit the Legion. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever will be. It may sound cheesy, perhaps even a few shades close to pathetic, but defending the world from evildoers has been my entire life and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself otherwise.
Interview #3 - 10:12 a.m.
“I work alone,” growls Raymond Scott, known as Night Strider. He remains standing and his eyes burn like embers behind the black hood and mask obscuring his face. “I have genetic, cybernetic, and supernatural enhancements that endow me with unparalleled strength, speed, reflexes, intelligence, and invulnerability. I’m extraordinarily wealthy as a result of having inherited the three-hundred-year-old riches of the Brotherhood of Shadows, which created me to be their instrument of conquest, but which I am now sworn to destroy.”
“Okay.” I make some notes. “So…why are you interviewing with us?”
“There may be occasions for me to request the aid of allies. I expect there are several among you who would gladly join my quest of vengeance against my archenemy Duke Bale, and his Gathering Horde.”
Oh he’s one of those. Eternal Vengeance types. I glance at my fellow panel members before turning back to our interviewee. “We’ll be in touch,” I tell him.
Night Strider sweeps from the room with a heavy rustle of his dark cloak.
“Diva,” mutters Helena. “Enough of those in this line of work.”
I have to agree. There are leagues out there (cough, Alpha Squad) that are big on promoting their angsty, Lone Ranger A-listers, but the Legion is more of a teamwork kind of place. In this day and age, open collaboration is where it’s at. One superhuman just can’t handle the variety of apocalyptic threats anymore.
“I’m going to pop out for a sec,” says Camille. “Be right back.” There’s a disturbance in the air as she teleports out, leaving her chair empty. A minute later, she’s back, looking relieved. She pulls off her gauntleted gloves and tucks a stray strand of hair back under her cowl. “Sorry ‘bout that. Ryan’s still asleep, thank goodness. He’s going through this cranky phase where he’s fighting naps.”
Helena Kim and Camille Frank both possess the power of teleportation, so they’ve arranged to share the identity of the Spook. They’re wearing identical silver costumes and masks. Camille’s blonde hair is dyed black to match Helena’s, and Helena’s boots have two inches of lift to match Camille’s height. Still, up close, it’s not that hard to tell them apart. Luckily, most villains don’t get to study the Spook up close for long. Helena is a former assassin, skilled in all forms of combat. Camille can project illusions into people’s minds and alter their memories. When she’s on duty, she manipulates the minds of opponents to make them believe they’re being soundly beaten by Helena, and they obligingly threw themselves to the ground unconscious, so the single identity ruse works out fine. See, teamwork.
Interview #4 - 10:25 a.m.
Zoe Salinas sits forward in the seat in straight-backed expectation. She looks like she’s about to jump up and hit a buzzer like a contestant in a quiz show. Her shiny red and tan costume looks brand new, and probably uncomfortable.
“What are your powers, Zoe?” I ask.
“I can fly,” she says.
“No…just flying. I’m fast though.” Zoe looks a bit uncertain now. “And I’m athletic? I play a lot of sports. I could definitely learn to fight; I’m already taking lessons. And um, I have straight A’s in school?”
“Why do you want a career in the superhuman forces?”
Zoe briefly lowers her eyes, then looks back up with a tentative grin. “Doesn’t everyone with special powers want to be a hero? I mean, okay, somepeople want to be villains, but come on.” She gestures vaguely but enthusiastically around herself. “I mean, this is the Legion House! The original secret hideout of Mr. Phenomenon and his allies: Snakeman, Sergeant Freedom, Desert Fox, The Brain, and you, Nexus. How cool is that? You guys proved that a single person with superhuman powers could make a difference in the world.” She hunches her shoulders up around her ears. “I just want to, you know, be part of that.”
Helena studies the candidate’s file. “Whether you get onto the team or not, I’m going to suggest you don’t use the name Sparrow Girl. Go with the Sparrow, or Silver Sparrow—something without the word ‘girl’ in it. Take it from me, it doesn’t matter if you can kill a man with your pinky finger, people won’t take a ‘girl’ name as seriously, and it’ll only last a few short years before you have to rebrand yourself.” Helena’s speaking from experience; she was ‘Spookgirl’ once.
“That goes for anything for ‘Miss’ or ‘She’ in it as well,” adds Camille, who started out as Miss Astounding years before she joined up with Helena.
“Oh,” Zoe says, looking down. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
Interview #5 - 11:05 a.m.
The fifth and final candidate, Jason Sacks, is an exceedingly pale, thin-faced young man who, contrary to instructions sent prior to the interview, is not in costume. The kid looks like he was grown in a tank under florescent lights. He sits down in the chair and laces his fingers together. “Allow me to explain what I can offer to your organization. As you will already know if you’ve done your research, I am a cyborg genius with the ability to interface directly with any piece of computer hardware and to control and manipulate digital data with my mind.”
I flip through the five-page resume before me. “It also says here you earned two doctorates by the age of sixteen, Jason.”
“I prefer to be called Dr. Omniscience,” Jason says.
Syed squints at the doctor. “After such a lucrative career in financial derivatives, what makes you now want to be a Legionnaire?”
“You mistake my intentions,” says Dr. Omniscience. “I have no interest in racing around in some garish costume to serve hapless governments or save helpless masses. If I wished to, I could bring down the stock exchanges of the world while having breakfast. I could crash the Internet by lunchtime, or launch the entire nuclear arsenal of the planet out of boredom. I suggest you make me a member of the Legion of Six to ensure I remain a friend and not an enemy.”
Camille’s eyes narrow skeptically. “You’re suggesting we ought to make you a hero just so you don’t become a villain?”
“Oh the old ‘Hero versus Villain’ narrative. Please. We’re in the new economy of superhuman talents. I’m a free agent.” Dr. Omniscience offers a faint smile and waves a hand across the table at us. “You, on the other hand, are behind on the times and have much catching up to do. Case in point: why are you still called the Legion of Six if you now have eighty-three members?”
“It’s historical,” I point out. “It shows respect for our founders.”
“Including you, Nexus?” Dr. Omniscience’s voice is coolly curious. “You were the sixth, the youngest, of the Legionnaires. Would you say that the league still respects allthings that have ceased to be relevant?”
“I’m not liking your tone, kid,” says Syed before I can respond. “That arrogant attitude is not the way to get in with us, super genius or not.”
“If you’re planning to become a supervillain, what’s to stop us from preventatively taking you out right now?” Helena cracks her knuckles.
Dr. Omniscience rolls his eyes. “This isn’t my real body. It’s an avatar.”
“Of course it is.” I award him points on my interviewee evaluation form under Planning & Initiative and dock as many from Interpersonal Skills.
Group Interview Round - 11:45 a.m.
Liminal has gone home, and Night Strider took off without notice, so that leaves Strikeforce, Sparrow Girl, and Dr. Omniscience to complete the second, more interactive half of the interview in the Threat Chamber.
Salvo, the Spook, and I stand by the wall of one-way glass, looking out over the aircraft hanger-sized training room. The three candidates appear through an entry on one side of the Threat Chamber. On the other side, a massive steel door lifts to reveal a fifteen-foot-tall four-armed robot with laser eyes and cannons mounted on its shoulders. It proceeds to attempt to stomp, smash, and blast the three interviewees into smears.
The Threat Chamber vibrates with the fighting but fortunately, the observation deck is soundproofed against the noise. As they watch the battle below, Camille asks Helena, “How’s Andrew doing these days?”
“Much better. The physio’s really helped; he can pretty much walk on his own now.” Helena’s fiancé, Andrew Wickham, better known as the Blue Blaze, was killed by Direwolf last year but brought back to life by the Genesis Crystal. The job share with Camille has allowed Helena to take the time off from her Legion of Six duties to help nurse Andrew’s reconstructed body back to health. Since everyone knows that the Spook is still engaged to Blue Blaze, Camille, for her part, keeps her non-superhuman wife, Stacey, and their son Ryan, a secret.
Strikeforce releases an energy beam that blows off one of the robot’s arms. Sparrow Girl flies around the machine’s giant head, confusing it as she dodges laser blasts. Dr. Omniscience is standing off to the side with his arms crossed.
“What’s wrong, Tod?” Helena has noticed my silence. “You’re not upset about what that kid said, are you? You know cyborg super geniuses; they’re always trying to get under your skin. You have a very important job here, you know that.”
“Sure, I know.” But I’d be lying if I claimed it hadn’t gotten to me, what that brainiac said. He’s right; times change. Some of us can’t change with it.
Strikeforce blasts off another of the robot’s arms. It goes hurtling past Sparrow Girl, who whizzes through the air wielding a metal pole. With a shout muted behind glass, she spears out the laser eyes in a crackle of spraying sparks.
Suddenly, the robot stops moving, frozen in mid-crushing motion. It powers down, cannons folding into its shoulders, remaining arms falling to the sides of its metallic torso. The Threat Chamber goes dark and the overhead lights in the observation room flicker for a few seconds before the backup generators kick in.
We stare down into the sudden stilled training room, where Dr. Omniscience is standing with his hand inside an open access panel.
“Well, I guess he aces the interview, the little prick,” says Camille.
Decision Time - 12:50 p.m.
The candidates have been helping themselves to the catered sandwiches in the lounge room outside of the Threat Chamber while we hold our deliberations. It’s a lengthy discussion. In the end, Helena says, “I support your choice, Tod.”
“Me too,” says Camille.
I look to Syed. He rubs the back of his neck and nods. “There’s a reason why you’re league recruiter,” he grumbles, though he gives me a weary smile. “Sometimes a pair of rose-colored glasses is what keeps it from getting too dark.”
“That’s deep, Salvo,” Helena says.
Camille is looking at the clock. “I have to get back before Ryan wakes up.”
“Thank you all for taking the time out of their busy schedules to be part of the interview panel,” I tell them. I know that coming here isn’t an urgent priority like answering a call from the CIA, or stopping Necromage from gassing the city again, but for the first time, I wouldn’t trade my spot for any of theirs. Helena’s right. This isan important job. Remembering that…hell, I feel like Nexus again.
Both halves of the Spook wink out of the room, causing twin concussive vibrations in the air. Syed’s cell phone rings. He takes the call, speaking first in animated Russian, then Arabic, before hanging up. “I have to be on another red-eye flight tonight, so I’ll leave you to do the honors with the candidates.” He packs two cans of Diet Coke into his jacket. “Later, Nexus.” Salvo disappears out the door.
As I put the cans in the recycling bin and gather up the discarded papers and folders from the table, I’m grinning. Sure I still miss being the old days, being young and in the field, fighting supervillains or crises, but this is where I’m needed now. This is the new way that I can be the connection, the fulcrum, of the Legion of Six: as a bridge between the values of the past and the needs of the future.
And then I catch a reflected glimpse of myself in the darkened glass over the Threat Chamber, and I have to say: I still think the metallic stripes look cool.
With a smug sense of once-familiar satisfaction, I astral project into the lounge downstairs, asking Zoe Salinas to come up to the room. She jumps at the sight of my miniature image hovering in the air in front of her, then half-runs, half-flies up the stairs. I adjust my costume and pull in my gut.
Sometimes you need a little idealism in this line of work.
“Sparrow.” I extend my hand as Zoe Salinas bursts into the room, wide-eyed and breathless. “Welcome to the Legion of Six.”
This story originally appeared in The Overcast.