Theatre of Heel- Chapter 5: Exit Interview
Erica pushed opened the door and paused just inside its frame. Inside, four of her professors and the Dean waited for her behind two tables. Dean Golden Gladiator sat in the center on a reinforced chair that supported his ten-foot-metallic frame. He didn’t look up as he sharpened his immense sword.
On the Dean’s left was Cyber Gauntlet, her professor of Advanced Scientific Theory and Application. He seemed oblivious of her arrival as he ran a diagnostic on his right arm with his other mechanical appendage.
Beside Cyber Gauntlet, was Madame Migraine, Professor of Psionic Defense and Telepathic Subterfuge. Her eyes glowed with an eerie light as she hovered in a lotus position, apparently meditating.
Directly on the Dean’s right, the was hooded Shadowhunter, professor of Criminal Intimidation Tactics, Advanced Martial Arts, and Dining Etiquette, yawned.
Beside the cloaked professor floated Autumn Lightning, adjunct Professor of Gym. The young professor did not acknowledge her entry either as he texted on his cell phone.
The Dean looked up from his sword, and Erica felt as if the weight of his stare had a mass all its own.
“Candidate Erica Joy Belfry,” he boomed. “Are you ready to begin?”
Erica's mouth went dry. “I am,” she squeaked.
“Very well.” The Dean stabbed his sword down into one of the tables. “Have a seat, and let’s begin.”
He picked up a clipboard dwarfed by his massive hands, slipped on a pair of reading glasses inside his helmet and began to read. “This interview will be conducted to evaluate Kirby Lee Sidekick Academy candidate Erica Belfry, to determine if it is appropriate to grant her full superhero status. In accordance with our testing protocols the candidate must be evaluated by a panel of fully-licensed superheroes. The candidate’s past and present performances as well as her moral, mental, genetic, and physical capabilities are subject to scrutiny within this hearing. Does the candidate have any questions?”
Erica couldn't believe it. Today was the day she stood on the precipice of a whole new life.
Golden Gladiator looked up from his clipboard and addressed her with his penetrating stare. “Well?” he demanded.
“Um . . . no . . . Sir.”
Professor Cyber Gauntlet gave her an encouraging smile.
Dean Golden Gladiator scowled at her. “You assure us that you are indeed Sidekick Candidate Erica Joy Belfry, and not a clone, shapeshifter, robotic replica, magical construct, dimensional/temporal representative, or any other imposter not before mentioned.”
She stared at him. “I believe I am.”
Erica met Madame Migraine’s gaze. The professor of Telepathic Subterfuge gave her a disconcerting smile. Erica quickly looked away.
Golden Gladiator read on. "Ms. Belfry, the accuracy of your responses will be evaluated in real time by this panel’s required telepath. Professor Madame Migraine will serve in this capacity for the duration of this interview.”
“I, Dean Golden Gladiator, Order of Heroes 1984, will serve as the panel’s administrator. Once the panel has made its decision, their judgment is final. Ms. Belfry, do you understand the terms of this interview?”
Erica nodded as her eyes flitted between the professors.
The Dean looked over his notes. “Very well. Let us begin. Ms. Belfry—”
Erica interrupted. “You can call me Erica, sir.”
He looked up at her sharply.
“Or not. . .” she wilted.
“Ms. Belfry, what are your super powers?”
“Um . . . well. . . I can control my robots, and make them do whatever I want. I can also refit them pretty quickly for any task at hand.” She smiled at them.
“I see.” The Dean looked over his notes. “And these robots that you control, do you control them with some sort of technokinesis?”
Her smile faded. “Um, no.”
“Do you control them via electromagnetic manipulation?”
She shook her head. “No, sir.”
“Do you have a cybernetic implant that allows you to access you to access their internal processors, remotely?”
Golden Gladiator put down his notes and stared at her over his interlocked fingers. “Then how, pray tell, do you control these robots of yours?”
She held up the gauntlet on her left hand. “I made this gauntlet to interface with my robots from a distance.”
The Dean looked at her without blinking. “So, what you mean to tell us is, that you do not actually have any powers?”
Erica’s face warmed. “No, sir.”
Golden Gladiator made a notation on his clipboard with the tiny pen in his hand. “The candidate, Ms. Belfry, does not have any powers.”
Autumn Lightning looked at his notes for the first time. “Wait a minute! What do you mean, she doesn’t have powers?”
Erica’s eyes bulged. Oh, no—I knew this would come up. She caught her train of thought and tried to rear back on the brake. Erica calm down—stay cool. No one has to know you’re panicking if you just keep your composure. Wait a minute. What about the telepath?
She looked to the far end of the panel and her wide eyes caught Madame Migraine’s gaze. The Professor of Telepathic Subterfuge smirked at her and made a note on her clipboard.
Erica’s face went crimson.
Autumn Lightning, unaware of her mental plight, continued to rifle through his notes and read snippets aloud. “She performed below average on her hand-to-hand combatant course. She doesn’t have any particular weapon proficiency. Her accuracy was only above average on the range. Her overall athletic score is average, and not Sidekick-Academy-average, but standard-populace average.”
Autumn Lightning paused as he looked her up and down. “That makes sense. She’s a bit on the chunky side.”
Erica’s eyes bulged. Was he really fat-shaming her during her exit interview? She could feel her face heat again and she stared down at her hands, unsure of how to respond.
Her surprise wasn’t isolated. Golden Gladiator scowled at the younger professor, while Cyber Gauntlet was more vocal.
“I beg your pardon.”
Madame Migraine made another note on her clipboard.
Oblivious to his peers’ reactions, Autumn Lightning continued reading. “She excels in mechanical, electrical, aeronautical, and robotic engineering.” He looked up at her, annoyed. “Oh, God, don’t tell me you’re another Gadgeteer. Is that your classification? Are you a Gadgeteer?”
Erica stared at him, willing herself not to tremble. Her mouth went dry, but she refused to swallow. She answered him with a barely whispered, “Yes.”
“What?” His voice resounded in the room. “I can’t understand your mumbling. Are you a Gadgeteer or not?”
Cyber Gauntlet rose with a series of mechanical whirs and faced Autumn Lightning. “Do you have a problem with Gadgeteers?”
Autumn Lightning looked down at his robotic colleague from where he hovered. “Not especially. But let’s face facts, Gadgeteers are a dime a dozen. We have who-knows-how-many that pass through this school and they don’t amount to anything special. Those who do make it are only cannon fodder.”
“Not everyone can skate through this pristine institution relying only on their innate powers,” countered Cyber Gauntlet.
Erica stared at Cyber Gauntlet. The warmth she felt for her Professor of Advanced Scientific Theory and Application melted the icy fear Autumn Lightning had stabbed her with.
Sparks of energy burst from Autumn Lightning’s fingertip as he jabbed the cyborg professor’s armored chest. “Do you have a problem with those with a meta-status?”
“Not at all. I have a problem with anyone who wears their ignorance like a cloak of pride,” Cyber Gauntlet said.
Autumn Lightning snarled. “Listen if you want to step—”
“Enough!” boomed Golden Gladiator. “The panelists will act with the decorum that befits their station. Is that understood? Now, sit down!”
Cyber Gauntlet and Autumn Lightning glared at each other as they did as they were told.
“Now, Ms. Belfry, however rudely it was addressed to you, Adjunct. . . Professor Autumn Lightning”—he turned his piercing stare on the young professor who had the good sense to look abashed— “asked you a question. What is your classification?”
“I’m a Gadgeteer, sir,” she said weakly.
“And that is a fine classification.” Professor Cyber Gauntlet smiled encouragingly. “After all, how many other seventeen-year-olds have earned three doctorates?”
Erica shook her head, offering him a small smile of her own. “None that I know of.”
“That’s not true,” said Autumn Lightning. “There was that robot that came through last year. It was only three and it had over a dozen doctorates—and he could pick up a car.”
Erica stared. Again, with the car thing!
“Yes, but it was preprogrammed with most of that knowledge,” countered Cyber Gauntlet.
“And that clone of Einstein, Hawking, and a Gazelle. He had the best lay up on the basketball court. And that five-year-old telepath. Little dude was creepy, but he sure could play a hell of a game of dodge ball with his telekinesis.”
“We are here to interview Ms. Belfry,” snarled Cyber Gauntlet. “What do these other students have to with her evaluation?”
Autumn Lighting’s tone was pure acid. “My point is just because she’s smart doesn’t make her that special.”
Erica inhaled abruptly. There it was. No matter what she accomplished, it wouldn’t be enough to impress these people and make them accept her.
As Autumn Lightning’s words echoed in her head, silence stretched in the room, only punctuated by pens scratching paper. Professor Cyber Gauntlet tried to catch her eye, but she couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“Ms. Belfry,” Shadowhunter said in a hushed voice that somehow filled the room. “Could you please tell us your strengths?”
She gave the hooded professor a strained smile. “I guess I’d have to say my biggest strength is flying.”
“Noting that it has already been established you don’t have any innate powers,” said Shadowhunter, “how do you master the air?”
“I fly my aircraft. I built it myself.”
“Oh, brother.” Autumn Lightning sighed.
“Autumn Lightning, will you please refer to page eight of your dossier?” Shadowhunter snapped.
Autumn Lightning looked through his papers, grumbling to himself. Moments later his eyes widened. “A letter of recommendation from Skydive!”
He wasn’t the only who was surprised; Erica’s hands went to her mouth. “Professor Skydive, wrote a letter of recommendation for me?”
Shadowhunter nodded. “Your Professor of Aerial Maneuvers and Tactics wrote an exemplary letter for you. In truth, it’s not something the professor has done before for anyone else.”
“Yes, he stated you were a masterful aerialist. You should be proud.”
Erica beamed. "I am."
Golden Gladiator intruded on her momentary euphoria. “Let us proceed.”
Before anyone else could ask another question there was an enormous crash as a huge winged beast burst through the window. Erica screamed as the monster flew between the professors and herself. It had bullhorns protruding from its head and its skin was the color of wet blood. Holding a spear aloft, the creature snarled at the room.
The professors battle-hardened reflexes kicked as they rose to meet this enemy as one. Erica couldn’t believe her eyes. She had a front row seat to an actual superhero battle!
A huge grin spread across her face. This is so awesome!