Devlin was one of thirty-two people who answered the newspaper ad for Superhumans— with REAL powers only— wanted for secret society squadron.
The midtown location was a huge, rundown warehouse near the East River. The brass placard on the peeling green door read The Hindshaw Institute. Devlin pressed the intercom button and was buzzed inside. After trekking through a short, dark corridor, he entered a glass-walled waiting room.
Devlin felt underdressed in his faded jeans and white t-shirt. There were two costumed men and one woman in an oversized coat. All were seated.
No one made eye contact.
Devlin jotted his name on a sign-in sheet. He picked up an application form from the coffee table and sat on a folding chair beside an empty coat rack. About twenty feet in front of him was a conference room door with a Do Not Enter sign taped to it. As he filled in his address, a deadbolt unlatched and the door opened. A tall, redheaded woman stepped out. She lifted the clipboard and cleared her throat.
“The panel is ready to see… the Black Ruse.” Her voice was a soothing alto.
Devlin watched the blond-haired figure rise from a worn, leather couch. He was barely five feet tall, wrapped in an ebony silk cape. His mascara and red lipstick were thickly applied.
“This way, please.” The woman escorted the sashaying figure toward the dimly lit entrance way.
“Oh brother.” The man on the sofa across from Devlin shook his head. “Whaddya think that sissy’s power is?”
“Excuse me?” Devlin’s left ear had begun to ring.
“His power.” He smirked below his blue cowl. “I’m thinking it’s probably transforming rainbows into fairy dust.”
Black Ruse peered back at them. As the door swung closed, his mouth formed a silent O.
“So what’s your superpower?” the man asked him. “I manipulate water. In fact, I can make rain.”
“You make rain?”
“Yep. I snap my fingers and— voila!— it’s raining.”
“What? You don’t believe me.” He squeezed his right hand thumb and middle finger together. “Shall I prove it?” His blue eyes became gray and the dusty ceiling above them darkened with storm clouds.
“Hey.” Devlin threw up his hands. “It’s cool, man. I totally believe you.”
The woman against the far wall was staring at them both.
“Shoot, I’m just messing with you. The name’s—”
“Let me guess,” the woman interrupted. “The Drip?”
He craned his neck toward her and narrowed his eyes. “Ha-ha… real cute. It’s actually Stephen. But I prefer Rainblade.”
“Hmm, I don’t get it,” the woman teased. “Do you play with knives or rain?”
Rainblade scratched an ear itch with his pinkie. “I’m so glad you asked.” He stood up and moved to the center of the room. “Watch this.”
He rolled up his right sleeve and his entire arm grew instantly translucent. Droplets of salty water seeped from his elbow. The swirling rivulet of Rainblade’s skin rippled into a sharp, clear edge. He slashed to his left and the coat rack stand was cleaved in two.
Devlin and the woman were astounded.
“That was awesome,” she said.
Rainblade bowed with a flourish. “Thank you, my lady.” His arm returned to flesh and blood. “Whadda ‘bout you?”
“Who me?” she said demurely and rose to her feet.
Both men watched her coat gracefully slip to the floor. Her skintight purple costume accentuated magnificent curves. There was the faint outline of a flower stitched to her right hip.
“I call myself Bloomstone.” She snatched an empty envelope from the desk, winked and kissed it. The paper stiffened and discolored.
Devlin leaned forward. “Is that—”
“Yeah,” she said and threw the stone envelope through one of the flimsy walls.
“Whoa!” Rainblade avoided the shower of glass shards. “Brilliant.” He turned to Devlin. “What can you do?”
Devlin got up from his seat. “What I do might seem a bit gross.”
“Let me guess,” Rainblade said. “You pee acid.”
“No, but I do use saliva.” Devlin licked his fingertips and wiped it on the doorknob.
“Oh, I see,” Rainblade said. “You’re all about spreading the cooties, huh?”
“Not exactly,” Devlin responded. The knob smoked and flames erupted. “And please call me Napalm.”
“Wow. That’s so—” Bloomstone stopped in mid-sentence. She focused on the light fixture and the second floor above them.
“What is it?” Rainblade made a fist. Water trickled from his knuckles.
“Do you hear that?” She tugged at her ear.
Napalm took a step backwards. “Sounds like a woman crying.”
“She’s in pain.” Rainblade clenched his teeth. “Someone’s hurting her.”
“You think we should get involved?” Bloomstone brushed her hand over a file cabinet and the sheet metal transmuted into rock.
“Hell yeah.” Rainblade’s legs stretched into ocean foam towers. His arm blade struck the ceiling and plaster sprinkled down. “You guys comin’ or what?”
Bloomstone and Napalm gazed at their new comrade and nodded an emphatic yes.
“That’s what I can do.” Black Ruse spun away from the split monitor view of hidden cameras.
The panel of shadowed men and women seated behind the conference table were delighted.
“In their minds,” Black Ruse explained, “they’re sharing the adventure of a lifetime. But in reality, they’re completely incapacitated.”
The redheaded woman touched the monitor screen. The heroes in the next room had collapsed the moment Black Ruse left the waiting area and triggered his power with a piercing cry. All three continued to clutch their ears and scream themselves hoarse.
“How long does it last?” The woman asked.
“Until I release them.”
“Excellent.” The squad leader, Doc Fusion, came around the table and shook Black Ruse’s hand. “Welcome aboard.”
“You do know, of course, there are no heroes here.”
“And,” Doc Fusion said, “membership is contingent upon the elimination of your three competitors.”
Black Ruse grinned.
In the waiting area, Bloomstone, Rainblade, and Napalm stopped breathing.
The conference room exploded with maniacal laughter.
Illustration by: James Brown