- August 14, 2022
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 8)
Faintly, I think I hear my husband say, “I think she’s waking up.”
“About time!” I hear someone, maybe my mother.
A lot still hurts, I thought that was the point of drugs, I’m not supposed to feel pain. Maybe I just need more.
“Need more what, hon?”
Oh shit, I said that out loud, I should be careful, asking for drugs after giving birth probably doesn’t sound good. Anyway, yeah that’s my mom, she calls me hon, she’s the only person alive who calls me that.
The anesthetics or whatever they gave me must have been really strong. It’s taking me longer to get my bearings than I… I guess I don’t really have a point of reference.
My eyes are taking some time to adjust and I try to move my hands to my face to push my hair out of the way.
I open my eyes and Carter is looking down at me, his hand on my cheek. “Scar, are you alright?” He looks so concerned with the way he’s staring down at me.
I bring my hand to my hair and move it out of my eyes. I joke, “I don’t know, but when in doubt, fuck it. I’m up.”
Carter laughs, he always laughs at my jokes.
My mom doesn’t, she groans, “Hon, please.”
“I just gave birth, let me say what I want,” I whine.
She is quick to ‘correct’ me, “What I did with you was giving birth, they knocked you out with drugs and cut yours out.”
Ugh, I wonder if my mom is going to hold that against me forever or something.
Speaking of giving birth, I think my arms are strong enough. I lift myself up against the bedside, and Carter thinks better than to tell me to lie down. I look up to him and ask, “So, where is he?”
“He?” Carter repeats with a smile. I convinced him early to let the sex be a surprise, but goddamn I just feel it.
“I know what came out of me, call it mother’s intuition,” I tell him, and then it hits me, “I can’t believe I can say that now.” It always sounded stupid when my mom said it but it feels like a “get outta jail free” card.
My mother stomps that out by informing me, “Well, your intuition is pretty crap since you have a daughter.”
I have a little girl.
I look up at Carter to see him grinning like an idiot. He really wanted a girl, me though, I didn’t want to raise another me. I guess, he probably felt the same. You never want to risk raising another you, your kids are supposed to be better than you. It doesn’t make sense but… I just worry about it.
Fuck, she’s been alive maybe an hour now and this is what I’m worried about? Things I won’t know for decades, if at all.
Oh, the hell I’m going to experience in ten, twelve years? My mom says I was thirteen when I really went downhill. Let’s hope mine can last that long.
“Okay, where is she?” I ask with the right sex this time.
“I’ll go get her,” Carter says as he bends down to kiss my forehead, and before he leaves, he says, “thank you.”
When he’s out of the room my mother is watching him, shaking her head. I can already guess.
“What?” I ask her.
She continues to shake her head and comment, “If your father could see you now.”
Ah, my dad.
“I think he would have loved her, she would be his granddaughter,” I mutter, thinking about how he would react to the love of my life, and now I guess the second love of my life too.
Thinking about it, I realize how stupid the idea is.
“Scratch that, I guess it’s good that he’s not around then.” My mom makes that humming sound to let me know that she agrees, and it’s hard not to remember that she’s still around. “What about you, are you going to be okay?”
She smirks as she says, “I didn’t object at the wedding, did I?”
“Oh sure, like I didn’t see Henry hold your hands down,” I laugh at her.
“I told him it wasn’t necessary,” she says with a huff of her shoulders.
I just want to hold her. I want to hold my baby, and not let go. I don’t care how big a pain in the ass she’s going to be. I squeeze the sheets in my hand, wondering to myself, “What’s taking him so long?”
My mom jokes, “Maybe he has to convince them that only one of the babies is his.”
“Mom,” I sneer at her.
“Oh, when you do it, it’s fine, but when I do it it’s all, ‘Mom,’” she complains.
I shake my head and continue to get antsy as I wait. I look up at the TV and see that the news is on, but it’s muted. I look for the remote and see it in the chair beside me.
I ask my mom to give it to me and she complains as she walks over and picks it up, “It’s just more bullshit.”
As she hands it to me, I remind her, “It’s still better than your bullshit.”
I see the picture of that monster who sat on Mt. Exitium a couple of weeks ago, the one who threatened to step on all of us. We all heard that monster talk about stepping on us, me and my baby.
When I press the volume button, I catch the start of a discussion about the girl who stopped him. They show an image of her… this girl covered in ice, called Icicle. To think the stupid little comics Henry used to read have come to life.
If only the news were half as amazing.
There’s the male news reporter whose name I can never remember. He likes to remind us that we’re trusting the city to ‘kids’, who know nothing of ‘responsibility.’
“This is what happens when we let the government have a base for super-powered teenagers in the middle of our city. Before them, Aegis City was as peaceful as can be, but now? We have a new super-powered bozo every week!”
I wonder what he would have said if his cue cards didn’t give him fake cuss words.
The woman, now I remember her name, same first name as me, Scarlett Dune. Huh, what are the odds?
She’s trying to deescalate. “Super-powered individuals have been reported by the police for years since the Outbreak. If anything, we only know about these super-powered criminals because the kids like Espada and Icicle have been spotting them.”
“Are you trying to tell me the police have been covering it up? That’s ridiculous, Dune.”
She tries to explain herself but he doesn’t let her.
“Our boys in blue have been doing their damnest to keep us safe for no thanks or recognition. They are all that stands between us and the gangs that pollute this city, and they just saw their budget cut! The only city in the America to do it, and look where we are!”
Ms. Dune interrupts him to point out, “Really? What proof do you have that we’re worse for wear? The police departments may be reporting one thing, but university studies, the mayor’s office, and everyone else are saying another. Between the vigilante and these superpowered kids, the city’s saving money and lives.”
“Well, that’s not what we’re talking about,” whose-his-face says, typical bullshit, “we’re talking about super-powered teenagers running amok through the streets. One man has already had to be killed, how long before it’s not some monster but one of us?”
“I don’t see the correlation-” Ms. Dune tries to say, but the dickhead keeps talking over her. How does she not slap him?
The man points his pen at the picture of Icicle, reminding us, “Three weeks now everyone has been calling this kid a hero, but let’s not forget that she killed someone in cold blood, and based on what? The orders of some spook?”
“What, do you want her to be punished?” Ms. Dune asks, keeping the other guy on his toes.
He shakes his head and swears, “No, but I want some accountability, should a child have been put in this position in the first place?”
“That is a fair question. S.I.L.A.S. is throwing kids into life and death situations, it is an important question as to why we’re okay with that.”
She’s not wrong, I couldn’t imagine wanting my baby to go through that, I mean… hell, I wouldn’t want to go through that.
The man disregards Ms. Dune’s great question to ask, “People really should be talking about how S.I.L.A.S. is training them and if we can really trust these kids to control themselves, especially considering the accident that almost happened with Espada. We can’t let this one win make us forget about the danger superhumans still cause the rest of us. Icicle isn’t free from judgment-”
I turn off the screen as I curse, “Oh, that guy needs to go fuck off.”
My mother chuckles and asks me, “What’s wrong?”
“He clearly gets off on picking on kids and making it a ‘us vs them’ thing, what that girl did was save our lives,” I tell her as I sit back and cross my arms.
Icicle saved me, saved my husband, and she saved my kid.
Saved my mother too but I can let that mistake fly.
“I don’t care what they say, I like Icicle, and you know what, she’s my favorite! Stupid news anchor should leave her alone.”
My mother shrugs, not having much stake in that horse.
Under her breath, she muttered, “Could have picked a better name.” I guess she’s not wrong about that.
“Here she is,” Carter calls as he comes in with the nurse behind him, and the most beautiful potato I’ve ever seen.
“Give her to me, now,” I demand from him, or really the nurse, reaching my hands out for my baby.
Carter laughs as she comes close to slip my potato into my arms. That’s going to be her nickname, my potato, even when her friends are over, especially when her friends are over.
Carter tells me, “Slow down Gollum, she’s not a ring.”
“She’s my precious,” I say, making myself laugh as I hold my baby. She’s so quiet, and she really is so precious when she’s asleep. She must be a heavy sleeper too if this didn’t wake her up.
My mother warns me, “Enjoy the quiet while it lasts, you won’t be sleeping anytime soon.”
The nurse comes around the bed to check all the instruments and asks to feel my head. She makes sure I’m okay and I ignore her to focus on how small and tiny my baby is. Well, tiny to me, not in that she’s small to a baby.
The nurse asks me, “Do you have any questions before I go?”
“Please,” Carter starts, “this woman studied harder for this than she ever did in school.”
“Shut up,” I tell him out the side of my mouth. Still, the nurse waits for me to answer and I assure her, “no I’m good, thank you.”
“Okay then, if you need anything nurses will be all over the hall,” she informs us, and with the last compliment of, “cute baby,” she leaves.
I press my cheek to my baby’s head and whisper, “My potato.”
“What?” Carter laughs.
“Potato, that can be her first and middle name,” I tell him.
“Sure, and the next one can be chocolate french fry.”
My mother begins to worry, “Did you two even chose a-”
“-Seven hells!” my mother yells after we all hear the scream.
My baby wakes up and starts to cry.
Carter turns around to look outside the hospital room and mutters, “What the hell was that?” He walks and looks out the door. His face grows shocked pretty quick.
As my baby cries, I hold her and try to bounce her up and down, telling her, “Mommy’s here.”
Jesus, as if she knows. Now I know why people say that, it’s for me, not her. As she continues to cry, I call to Carter, “What’s happening?!”
He mutters back, “I, I don’t know, the nurse who just left, she’s bleeding a lot and convulsing…” He trails off as he looks back towards us, and holds his finger to his nose because it’s bleeding.
As he looks at us, he starts to bleed from his eyes too.
“Carter?” I call him, but from his face I can tell it doesn’t register. “Carter?” Then his face twists and his eyes flutter, and he falls back against the door to the ground. I’m screaming his name before he hits it.
My mom curses and backs away, looks back to me, and only looks more horrified. She points to me and… and… I…
I can’t think straight. I look down, I… I think she’s pointing down.
My baby, my baby, her veins… there… their… they’re black.
Some-something is dripping down my nose, my eyes.
My mom, she still stares, she still stares at me.
“Your baby, it’s the child.”
“Tommy, are you sure you’re alright?” Marie asks me.
Ever since I got cleared by the doc to light myself on fire, Marie, the good friend she is, has been hounding me to make sure I’m okay.
I’m okay, doc said so, I said so, and the Director said so, and in all honesty,, that opinion is what’s most important all considered.
“I’m sure, Mar.” I shorten her name because she hates it, and she gives me the classic cold glare.
I scratch the back of my head as I reiterate what the doc said, “My legs are melded good as new, the bruises are going to leave scars, but that’s just an effect of my healing ability. Not everything about me can be perfect as it used to be.”
For future reference, the healing ability is pretty minor, I’m not going to regrow an arm or survive having my throat slit. I just recover pretty fast.
I smile at her because if I don’t, she won’t laugh at me. Now she smiles and shakes her head, but with her, that’s pretty much the same thing.
She apologizes to me, “Sorry, I just don’t like the idea of you going out with us only for you to go back to the hospital, you’re kind of the most fragile of us.”
“Hold up,” I stop her, holding my hand up to make sure she knows she just wounded me in all the wrong places. “I get me being fragile compared to she-who-must-not-be-named, and you with your ice armor, but I’m more fragile than the Hood? He doesn’t even have powers!”
“Uh,” is the sound she makes while she thinks of an excuse to get out of this. “Well, he’s not part of the team remember, who said I was even including him?” she says.
If that reasoning came a few seconds earlier I might have believed that.
I shake my head, trying to look as hurt as possible, but she doesn’t take it seriously. She should, that hurt my feelings, thinking that the Hood is tougher than me.
I mean that in the physical sense, like obviously that guy is hardcore in the head, but come on, I can take a harder punch.
“Also, Tommy,” Marie starts, her voice sounding like she got hit by a truck, which means an admittance is coming, “um, you don’t have to call her that, Burke I mean.”
Oh, what happened there? I haven’t been to the Needle in the three weeks I spent in a hospital bed and then my own.
I only have to arch my eyebrow at her for her to know she needs to elaborate.
She chews on the inside of her mouth, her face twisting as if it physically hurts to say what she wants to say. “After you went down, things got dark, figuratively and literally, and in both… cases she really tried to help me out. I guess I can give her… a little less shit… I guess.”
While I am really happy to hear that the girls are showing signs of a functional working relationship, I can’t not say something.
Marie was always, ‘I’ll never forgive her and her family!’ this and ‘fuck Emily Burke that!’ and ‘I’ll never be friendly with her, what are you nuts?’
Suffice to say, I wrap my arm around her shorter shoulder and grin at her.
“I’m not above nailing you in the balls, jerk,” Marie warns, right before elbowing my side without warning.
I gasp out in admittedly hyperbolic pain, “I didn’t even do anything.”
Marie groans and reminds me, “Stop playing around, we’re late for the morning debrief, it’s supposed to be really bad.”
I have to ask, “Is it supposed to be Atlas levels of bad or long-term Savaage global domination bad?”
“I think it’s closer to Atlas, but we have to move to find out.” She makes a good point, so we should probably stop taking our time walking through the halls.
The briefing room is like a fancy classroom if you ask me. Rows of desks and seats, only it’s full of adults instead of kids. It’s like a big assembly.
There is the strike team should lethal force be authorized, which would mean the superpowered kids aren’t going in, and there’s a group of scientists or experts as they’re officially called. In the back, is where the kids sit because we don’t pay attention until we’re called upon.
Emily is already here, her head in her hands… with the Hood.
Like I said before, I respect anybody who cleans up North Aeg, the cops have abandoned it, marked it as their garbage dump back when my family lived there, and from what Marie tells me they still do.
Though, to be honest, as few cops as possible probably helped a bit.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Hood has always rubbed me wrong since he labeled me a fuckboy after he beat the crap out of me. Maybe that’s why Marie says he’s tougher.
Also, considering how much time he spends here, always with Emily, it makes me wonder, didn’t he say he didn’t want to be on this team?
Look how long that lasted.
It’s not like he wants to hurt good guys so I’m not scared, still don’t want to sit next to him, but Marie will want to sit somewhere else.
Emily already sees us and she locks eyes with me. Emily and I have always been cool, and she gets that I’ve always liked her, but when I’m with Marie first I’m not going to leave her alone or make her uncomfortable.
That’s why it’s all the more surprising when Marie says, “We can sit next to them.”
“Are you sure?” I ask because let’s face it, I figured she’d rather freeze Emily’s face off than be near her when she didn’t have to be.
Marie stares up at me with this look that tells me, ‘I don’t want to, but I should, so I’m going to,’ and hey, that works for me.
I lead Marie there because while the girls seem to be getting better, I’m not stupid enough to think they’ll sit next to each other.
Emily gives us the big smile she has for most people, and is a little hesitant when she says hello, not to me but to Marie. Marie nods her head and says hello back, which to me is a sign that my life is about to get so much better.
Now it’s my turn to be awkward as I say hello to the Hood.
“Hey, Hood,” I say to him. He leans his head over his chest to look at me. When he responds to me with silence and this… nod, I have to point out the problem. “Hey, I’m trying to be nice and make friends, the least you can do is cut me some slack and help me out.”
Now it’s time for the girls to know how I’ve felt around them. Marie and Emily actually share a look and watch us with clear anxiety.
The Hood sits back in his seat with his arms crossed, shaking his head like I’m some child he has to entertain. The guy dresses in all black with a hard-on for murder and breaking the rules, he acts like the edgiest teenager to come out of the 90s, and he’s going to treat me like a kid?
“Do you… do you not know what the nod is?” he asks.
Then he looks at me again and does that small, subtle head nod.
“That’s not a greeting!” I yell at him.
Marie looks over my shoulder and reminds the Hood, “He’s from the suburbs.”
“Aaahh,” the Hood says as if that explains it, “I had forgotten.”
“What?” I ask Marie.
“You’re not a city kid, you don’t know the nod of acknowledging, I see it all the time,” Marie explains to me as if I should know.
“Yeah,” Emily jumps in, “it’s so weird, like you just lock eyes and nod your heads, why don’t you just say hello?”
“I’m trying!” I claim.
“Jesus Christ, if I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have saved you,” he states.
I shake my head and correct, “Uh-uh, I remember waking up covered in snow, Marie saved me.” As if he would believe that I would give him credit for that.
“Actually Tommy,” I hear Marie mutter behind me.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I turn back as Marie scrunches her eyes and she admits, “He kind of saved you, even before I did.”
Emily joins in to point out, “He flew like a missile to fly up and catch you,” and with a mocking purse of her lips in the Hood’s face, she adds, “it was so sweet.”
“Why do I come here?” he asks her as he shrinks in his seat.
Emily presses her hands together and mocks him, “Because, like any socially starved loner, you crave companionship.”
The Hood tilts his head at her. “Do I look like Batman to you?”
Marie gets confused. “Doesn’t Batman work alone?”
“He has more sidekicks than there are people in the Avengers, he hasn’t worked alone since April 1940,” the Hood corrects her.
“Nerd,” Emily mocks him.
“Don’t make fun of him for having hobbies,” I tell her, “we need to support his normal hobbies so maybe he’ll stop with the murder.”
“I feel like my serial killer tendencies have become a joke to you people,” he says, and maybe there’s a bit of truth to that.
“Didn’t you say you only kill bad people?” Emily asks him.
“You have a code, like Dexter,” Marie adds.
“I couldn’t get into Dexter,” I admit, “maybe I should give it another shot.”
“I didn’t say code,” the Hood tries to correct, “I have a computer program that tells me if someone is dangerous enough that the world is safer dead. That way I know if I may take my enjoyment in killing him.”
“That sounds like computer code,” I point out.
Emily leans over the Hood’s shoulder to point out, “That’s a kind of code! You’re just like Dexter.”
The Hood crosses his arms and starts brooding in his chair. “At least Dexter has good writing.”
“I heard it doesn’t stay good,” Emily says making him throw up his hands in anger.
“Hey,” I say, nudging him in the shoulder, getting this sideway glance… or I think it’s a sideway glance, I can’t tell with the helmet. Regardless, I tell him, “Thank you for saving me.”
The Hood leans his head back and gives me that nod I just learned about.
Emily then adds, “He also stood up for you when the military mannequins started talking shit.”
I think my heart just fluttered at the idea. “Aw, you do like me!” I’m not actually going to hug him, but I open my arms up like I will.
Before anyone can even point out Emily between us, the Hood threatens, “I will shoot you in your face.”
“Well then,” I mumble, “here I am just trying to say my thanks and you gotta be a dick about it.”
He totally likes me.
He groans and says, “God, how could so much pretty be wrapped around so much stupid?”
“I’m pretty?” I chime, making Marie and Emily laugh and cackle
“Pyre, quiet!” I don’t need to look to know it’s the Director. Why does she always assume it’s me? I mean, it was, but not only me.
I quiet and mutter, “Yes, ma’am.”
She’s walking into the room with a stink eye towards us in the back. She shouldn’t be mad at only me, everyone else was talking just as much.
She starts with, “I don’t have time to deal with any bullshit from the back, we have a dangerous superhuman problem to deal with, with the capacity to be worse than Atlas.”
The Director gestures her hand to a woman standing by the doorway, and introduces her, “Being that many of our science team is still out of commission, we brought in outside help for this in the form of Dr. Ray, she’s an expert in the field of genetics and biology.”
Dr. Ray walks in looking like Susan, dressed in slacks and glasses that cover this mean look in her eye. By a mean look, I mean she clearly isn’t happy to be here, and I think it’s because she doesn’t want to have to lecture a bunch of people who aren’t going to understand what she’s saying.
She takes the Director’s place and places her own folder on the desk down in front. With a clicker in her hand, she starts a PowerPoint about the superhuman gene.
Oh my god, I will never escape PowerPoint presentations.
“As I’m sure the rest of you know, people who have naturally occurring superpowers do so with what has been so aptly named, the superhuman gene.”
From the get-go, I can tell she’s not impressed by the name.
With another click comes a 3D model of human DNA and of a superhuman’s DNA. She points out, “The DNA of the superhuman is similar to a double helix, but in layman’s terms to show the difference, the model has the strands connecting from the previous to the next, instead of connecting both sides. This happens after the original human DNA meets a triggering stimulus that breaks the looser strand of DNA, again layman’s terms.”
DNA doesn’t work like that, another animal’s DNA would also be shown in a double helix, but this is for clarification of the process I’m sure.
“In Burke County Hospital, this did not happen as it should in a newborn infant that was born last night. Instead of being triggered by a normal stimulus, such as a physically or emotionally traumatic experience, or the ending stages of puberty, this infant’s superhuman gene was triggered manually.”
God, that means someone did this to a newborn kid, what kind of sicko would do something like that?
The doctor gets to the point, “Someone used impure cantorium, likely a byproduct of the purification process, and used it to manipulate the child’s DNA, triggering a violent superhuman transformation. The child’s power is viral in form, it releases a virus that causes death in minutes, and the symptoms include bleeding through all orifices on the head, before dying from violent seizures.”
I raise my hand to ask a question, which I see gains me little other than strange looks. The scientist rolls her eyes and asks, “What?”
“If this child’s DNA was affected by exposure or insertion of a metal, that means it would have had to be inserted before birth,” I first explain, prompting surprised looks from everyone in the room except the Director, and the Hood. My question now is, “Do we have to worry about the places the mother went before last night?”
Dr. Ray’s eyes flutter in response to what I said, and she focuses on me like she can’t believe I had logically intelligent stuff to ask.
Well in her face, and everyone else’s.
She responds in a mumble that turns into words, “Well, no, you, you shouldn’t have to worry about that, the virus started in the nursery and the child’s nurse, so after it was born.”
Jesus Christ, the virus started in the nursery.
“Were there any survivors?” Emily asks.
The Director informs her, “Only patient zero, everyone on that floor is dead.”
The Director takes back control of the briefing and begins giving out our assignments. She moves Dr. Ray aside but she’s so busy staring at me that she takes her sweet time. What’s her problem?
The Director first tells the skeleton crew of the science team, “You are to take samples and do whatever you can under the advisement of Dr. Ray and other experts you’ll be put in touch with. Strike teams will be on standby, and our superhumans will be playing crowd control.”
After an order to James, tech support, a live feed of the people outside the hospital comes up, people waiting, not rioting, but waiting. When there’s a large number of people together, they get riled eventually.
“Pyre, Icicle, we need to make sure they stay out, it doesn’t mean you can harm anyone but you can’t let anyone inside now that’s it quarantined. If the pandemic of ’21 proved anything, it’s that people are really fucking stupid and don’t respect quarantines.”
“Is there a reason to protest?” Espada asks without raising her hand.
The Director warns her, “Besides the fact that everyone who was on that floor and the one below is dead, there won’t be for another hour, so we need to be ready. Espada, you need to be with the science team, both so they have superhuman DNA to compare, and in case anyone gets past Pyre and Icicle. From what we’ve been able to tell by testing samples against your blood, superhumans are unaffected by the virus, but you can still carry so be careful.”
Wait, they have our blood?
The Hood doesn’t so much ask but figures with a raise of his hand, “Can I assume I’m not being asked to participate because there’s nothing for me to do?”
Director Knight puts him his place, “You can assume that, and you can assume that because I’m not asking you to participate, you know I don’t want to see you there.”
The Hood doesn’t make a peep in response to that.
To everyone else, the Director orders, “Now get going, we don’t have much time to figure this stuff out before it gets worse, and believe me, it will get worse.”
I turn to Marie and tell her, “I guess I’m going back to the hospital after all.”
Now, Claire told me she doesn’t want to see me at the hospital, she was very clear about it as she said it in front of everyone. This is not one of those moments where I try to reason that Claire wanted me to do the exact opposite of what she said. This is one of those moments where I just ignore what she said.
Burke County Hospital is funded by the Burkes, with the top-of-the-line medical supplies, conveniently near their home skyscraper. It is also the closest hospital to a lot of the surrounding suburbs.
That means this place needs to be expansive, with several connected buildings in fact. It looks more like a campus where the patients look how students feel.
Being that there are multiple buildings, the quarantine allowed for the other two to keep working, with the corridors that led to the infected wing being closed off. The protest that followed all the news about all the deaths is more at the front door than inside the hospital. The police were given permission to fire rubber bullets should anyone try to enter, but Pyre and Icicle replaced them.
Ice and mild burns don’t have a history of killing people like rubber bullets.
I’m waiting for the next guard shift to come down the hall. There is a thirty-second interval where the next two are walking down the corridor and can’t be seen by the nurses after they switch.
They’re walking now, leaving their post unguarded as they move to meet the next two and trade-off confidentials. The connection between the buildings had to go around and over a fault line so it wouldn’t keep cracking with every earthquake California gets. This means they have too long a walk to meet each other.
After their trade-off, the new pair begins to walk around the bend towards the barred entrance that has only a key swipe to open it.
As they walk, I can hear them talking about the team.
“I would not want to be those kids right now,” Boyer says as he looks out the one-way windows where Pyre and Icicle maintain a crowd.
“I wouldn’t want to be those kids ever,” Hackenberg says, drawing his partner’s attention.
“Why? What’s not to like about having superpowers?” Boyer asks, smiling at the idea himself. “I mean I wouldn’t want ice or fire powers; I’d think I’d want to read minds, maybe superspeed.” He taps Hackenberg’s shoulder to tell him, “Hey, I bet you’d want to shapeshift, make yourself taller.”
Hackenberg rolls his eyes and tells him, “No, seriously, think about it, superpowers are really fun and all in movies, but seeing everything now, imagining that kind of pressure to stay in control all the time or somebody dies… it kind of makes it seem more unnatural.” Boyer puts on his thinking face and starts seeing the downside to his happy fantasy, until Hackenberg reminds him, “Having seen the way you get shitfaced, in-control is not how I would describe you.”
Boyer chuckles as he admits, “Probably right about that,” then he points out his gun, “but they trust me with this.”
“They trust literally anybody and everybody with that. It has a safety on it though at least, there’s no safety switch on super strength.”
Boyer is still looking for some upside to this conversation, not letting his partner drown him out with pessimism, right as they enter my thirty-second window. “What about the Hood? He doesn’t have any powers, just guns and a cool suit,” he points out, much to my chagrin.
“I want to know how he pays for all his shit first,” Hackenberg points out.
I tell them, “Wouldn’t you like to know,” and they look up to the dark ceiling. Maybe they see the metallic curve of my helmet.
I drop down on them as they lift their weapons. Surely, they know I’m not supposed to be here, but it doesn’t matter as my hands grab their faces and electrify them. I don’t kill them, they didn’t do anything, but I knock them unconscious for the time I need.
I pat them down and find my keycard to get in, then make my way towards the entrance. I look out the window on my right to see how Pyre and Icicle are doing.
I can see Tommy trying to calm them down, he’s a people person. Icicle’s giving off her icy steam, she’ll stop them, she’s a violent person.
People are no doubt angry to hear that no one survived the infection floor and that a child did it. More people want to know what S.I.L.A.S. is going to do about it, and due to all the misinformation being spun on TV and online, there are a lot of arguments that aren’t even relevant yet.
Who knows how many people there are here for someone’s body. A lot of people won’t believe their loved one is dead until they see the body.
I listened in through a couple of phones over there, and some people didn’t even know the child was born yet, talking about whether it should live or not. Lucky for us, that’s not a non-issue.
When I get to the entrance, the door has been replaced with one that’s more infection hazard friendly. That means it’s made of steel.
I swipe the card and head into the sanitation chamber where the hazmat suits are in transportable lockers.
When I enter the science team’s space, their equipment is closer to the baby, so I don’t worry about being seen at the entrance. I jump up to the ceiling and move the panel out of the way. I know the layout of the hospital and where the child is, I just have to crawl my way and be quiet about it so no one hears.
I take my time getting there, and when I hear familiar voices and I take a moment to stop and listen.
“Well, for the better it seems, Espada is more than immune to the virus, your cells annihilated it, so you’re not even a carrier if its not on your clothes,” I hear Dr. Ray say. That doesn’t sound right, antibodies are what eliminates pathogens.
“Cool, so does that mean I can take off this hazmat suit, doesn’t really match with my outfit,” I hear Emily ask, probably causing a vein to burst on Dr. Ray’s forehead. She didn’t seem like the type to like jokes of any kind, reminds me of me. “Sorry, just joking.”
“This hardly seems like the place.”
“Kind of why I tried it.” I imagine right now Espada is trying not to shake under the glare Dr. Ray. “So uh, can you use my blood as a cure or a vaccine?”
Dr. Ray doesn’t answer at first, I bet she glares for a little bit first.
“I said your cells killed the virus, that’s not normal, antibodies kill pathogens in actual people. I can’t make a vaccine that teaches cells to do the job of antibodies, so no, your blood is useless on most accounts. If anything, it might just actively kill a person after a blood transfusion.”
“Alright,” is all I hear Emily say in response. I’m sure the kind doctor didn’t bother her at all. “Can I go?”
I assume Dr. Ray nodded her head based on the noise of a hazmat suit being ripped off. I’d like to move but I don’t want to risk Emily hearing me right above her. I hear the sound of an air bubble popping, the one she makes whenever she starts floating, and I hear the sound of the wind as she floats away.
I continue my trek as well, while at the same time wondering where Emily went off to. I’m sure we’ll find ourselves face to face sooner rather than later, but I plan to see the kid first.
Going through the ceiling was dusty, dirty, and not worth going into great detail over. When I get to my destination, I remove the panel and look below to see no one under me. I stick my head down and no one is looking around, but I see some people far down the hall.
I make this quick as I see the door has no lock, leaving the hospital wood intact. I slip out and shift the panel back in place as I swing my body towards the door frame. In a second I’m turning the handle and I’m turning around to shut it.
If anyone saw me, they saw a blur that convinced them that their mind is playing tricks on them.
Unless it was Emily, I probably looked like a dumbass to her.
I see that the room isn’t much different from a normal hospital room. The child has been put into an incubator and the windows have been boarded up with steel and metal and whatnot with no light but the one in the incubator itself.
I look into the incubator and I see the kid. The child is decaying around its veins, growing skinnier and translucent. I would question if it’s being fed, but the small tube in its mouth means that it is.
No one’s with it, and I bet that is because it’s hard to look at, less that it is unnecessary. The child’s weak and dying, that much is clear by its wheezing and inability to grab at the tube.
The wheezing, I know that kind of wheezing.
I hate kids, babies included. I hate them a lot, never want to hold them, be around them, or listen to them cry. Having one of my own is a fate worse than death to me. That being said…
How could you not feel it in your stomach? Like you just want to slump and fall apart? I hate being around it, something so vulnerable that it has to become my responsibility to protect, to end its pain.
I know the kind of wheezing it’s making, not one of asthma or an inability to breathe, it’s because it hurts. It can’t cry because it hurts too much to do so, and its muscles must hurt so much it can’t even frown.
Someone did this to her, I have to remind myself. This is not one of those times to distance myself from the victim, I need to get moving.
There’s work to do still, and I lean over the incubation chamber to get to it. I want to know if I can track who did this, or how this was done. An absence of proof that the baby was tampered with means this happened before childbirth, but that’s hard to believe considering how reportedly healthy the mother was, aside from her lacking pain tolerance.
Fingerprints on the baby that don’t match the nurses or the parents in the morgue database would have to match whoever did it, assuming the guilty party wasn’t on a suicide mission. As I go through my helmet’s different visions to look for anything, I know that whatever I find is only narrowing down a thousand possibilities, to a hundred more likely options. Still, that is better than nothing, and someone needs to get a head start on this.
“Can I hold her?” I hear a familiar voice down the hall. Emily is many things but I’m not sure about her playing mom.
Dr. Ray responds, “I doubt that will do anything for it, but do what you want, I’m sure you can control your strength.”
They’re coming so I need to hide, nothing like with the guards, that would be obvious in a space this small. I need to blend in and stay still, so I pick the shadows, a spot in the room already dark without the light.
When they come in, they don’t think twice. Emily comes in dressed as Espada, and Dr. Ray is helped by two others in hazmat suits. They open the incubator, remove the tubes, and Emily takes her chance to hold her. She puts on a smile as the baby makes noises resembling a coo and wheeze or trying to at least be warm for its sake.
Dr. Ray tells her to hold the child still and she takes a syringe to its arm to draw blood. Emily grows concerned and asks, “You’ve taken a lot of blood from her, why so much?”
“I told you, its blood deteriorates, it’s inhuman like yours and we don’t get much time to test it,” Dr. Ray explains, showing an unforeseen problem, but we have time for her to solve that. Still, she complains, “It’s making this process a bigger pain than it should be.”
“Why do you keep calling her an ‘it?’” Emily asks. Part of me wanted to say because I’m cold, it’s actually just easier.
Dr. Ray answers, “What’s the point in sympathizing for something that’s not going to live? Sounds like a way to purposely break my own heart.”
Cold, brutal, and honest, I can respect that more than Emily does. At the same time, once you start doing that some of the time, you start doing it all the time.
Emily doesn’t see why the doctor has to be that way. I can see it written over the thin line of her lips. She should be careful to not squeeze.
When Dr. Ray finishes a second later, she tells Emily, “You can spend your time getting attached to it, it doesn’t matter to me, keep eating your heart out if you want.”
Emily still cradles the child as she answers, “Understood.” I wonder who taught Emily how to hold her tongue and stare daggers like that, the politician or the business tycoon?
Dr. Ray leaves the room and I contemplate how long I’m going to stand still, but Emily makes the decision for me. “I see you; they may not see very well in the dark, but you know we both do.”
It’s hard not to chuckle a little. “Not in the same way I’m sure,” I tell her, and with a step from my corner, the light of the incubator reflects off my helmet.
“You’re very good at staying still,” she compliments me as she turns her eyes back to the baby. She has this warm smile for it, but she can’t possibly be happy, and its eyes are closed so it doesn’t see it. What is she smiling for?
“Why are you here?” she asks me.
I walk to stand across from her and watch her.
I answer her question best I can. “Everyone’s trying to see how to beat the virus, and figure out the dangers, see if it will get worse. No one’s trying to figure out how it happened and I’m not one to let a monster get away with this.”
“You really think someone could do this, to a baby?” Emily asks. There’s no reason to raise her eyebrows like that, she heard what they said in the briefing.
“Cantorium doesn’t naturally happen to appear in a person’s body, someone had to have put it there,” I remind her.
Emily shrugs as she begins to set it down again because its wheezing gets faster. She asks me, “Is it possible that the mother was a superhuman, that the cantorium came from her?”
I tilt my head at her. “It’s possible but highly unlikely.”
“As unlikely as a girl who can fly and stop bullets I bet?” she asks rhetorically, thinking that she’s being clever.
“Actually, both those abilities are common and make sense, in terms of evolution they would be quite helpful and build upon what the normal human body already does,” I explain, killing that patronizing look on her face. “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re not the only superhuman on this block who can fly or stop bullets with your skin, you got the grab bag of common superpowers.”
She crosses her arms as she looks away from me, shaking her head in the way I notice some other people do when I explain why their sarcastic comment is wrong.
If she’s done talking, I go back to doing what I was before she came in. I started with the more extreme forms of my vision, leaving x-ray for last. As I finally use the x-ray vision on my helmet, I realize how wrong I was not to start with it.
There’s something on her heart, and whatever it is, it’s now flowing through her veins. I shouldn’t even see her veins with this vision but I see something flowing through her. Emily was watching me because she reacts to the way my head moves back.
“What do you see?”
“I see it on the kid’s heart, something that’s pumping shit into her veins, but I can’t see what the stuff is doing.” If I can’t see what it’s doing from the source, how can the science team deal with it deteriorating as they remove it? I look up at Emily to ask her, “You said you don’t have x-ray or any other kind of vision?”
She shakes her head and reminds me, “No, you know this.” I do but I had to be sure.
“But you have increased sight?” I also ask, there’s gotta be something in her powerset besides punching people and taking bullets.
She clarifies for me, “I can hear and see far away if that’s what you mean.”
That gives me an idea. “Have you ever tried focusing on something up close, seeing it at the microscopic level?”
Emily’s eyes open wider at the idea, but not her mouth. She rubs her arm with her hand and says, “Well, no.”
“If I may, why?”
“I, I’m scared to do that,” she admits. In any other situation I would try the whole sympathy thing that I’m pretty terrible at but knowing how these things usually go I would bet we don’t have time for it.
“Emily,” I start, “this child needs you to get over that, I’m sorry but it’s true. Who knows how long it will take for the scientists and the doctors to figure out what’s disappearing before they can see what it really is.”
“They know it’s cantorium,” she points out.
“And that’s it.”
Emily’s eyes shift from me to the kid. I don’t have godlike powers. To look at things like she can, I need a microscope.
For Emily, it’s far different. There are a lot of reasons to be scared of what you could see at any time if you only looked hard enough.
Especially since she can look at the world and see how it really is.
I don’t know when she decided to try. She must have started sometime while I was thinking about her, but she’s doing what she fears to do for this kid without a second thought. Her eyes are focused and inhuman, her pupils grow smaller, so I see brown.
“I see, I don’t know what it is, but I see something changing what are probably her cells, her insides,” she informs me as she looks for more. Nothing in her body moves, Emily is still as stone. I can’t imagine the concentration this must take. “It’s not only in her bloodstream, that’s just where it builds up, it’s all over her body, and it’s changing… everything. How can she live through this?”
There is a simple answer to Emily’s question.
Emily stops cold and turns her eyes towards me. She didn’t like what I said.
“It’s like no one has a little faith around here,” Emily says with a shake of her head.
I point out to her, “Maybe a lot of us have been burned by faith too many times to have it now.” This may be misleading about me, I was never taught to have faith in anything except what I know, and even then, to have doubts.
“Uh, huh,” comes this sound, like a cry, the build-up before a baby starts balling.
Emily and I both look over the kid, and it’s about to cry alright. I could have sworn it couldn’t earlier-
Holy mother of fuck!
Mother of god it’s like a searing pain right through my fucking skull!
My helmet isn’t stopping it, and neither are Emily’s powers, yet we weren’t infected by the virus. I see her on the ground with me, convulsing as her head is pounding as hard as mine, and all I hear outside of my brain moving back and forth in my skull is the baby’s scream, which has to have gone supersonic.
I have to stop this, who knows how far this power reaches? I struggle to wrap my hands around the side of the incubator. I try to pull myself up over the side as I clamber to one knee. I see Emily trying to do the same thing, but she’s trying to mutter something.
“Don’t,” she spits out, literally.
Goddamn her, her and her bleeding heart would have us all die.
I look into the incubator at the kid, and it’s screaming as its black veins have turned red. I can’t get to it, and as I figure out a way, the room starts to feel like it’s shaking, or maybe that’s just me.
Emily brings her hand over the incubator, trying to make her way around towards me.
As I figure out what to do, I know full well I can’t open it back up with the way I’m going, but the tube in its mouth runs outside of it. I can grab it and shock it to knock the kid out.
Emily’s gurgling and reaching towards me as I reach for the tube. I grab it as she grabs me, and my suit runs electricity through it.
I hear the child go, “Ack!”
Then I’m thrown through the wall.
Emily just missed the door when she threw me, and I go through the plaster all the way across the hall and into the other wall. My upper half nearly breaks through to the other side, but maybe there isn’t another room on the other side. Whatever the hell they put in walls falls all over me.
My head hurts too much for me to be thinking.
I can faintly hear Emily coddling the kid to make sure it’s still living. I didn’t hit it with enough volts for that, it’s still on the setting I used on the guards. Still, she doesn’t know that, but I bet she knows how hard she threw me.
Honestly, I’m surprised she didn’t throw me harder.
Footsteps are coming our way, the rest of the science team no doubt. Lucky me.
I pull myself out of the wall in time for Emily to use her superspeed and push me back in. If I could move my arms up and down, I’d make a snow angel in the wall.
“You hurt her!” she screams at me as the science team comes on us.
“She was hurting us,” I hiss through my teeth.
Dr. Ray, who I can tell is right behind Emily with her hazmat suit and her oh-so-soothing voice, confirms my fears, “She was hurting all of us, including the people outside.”
Emily looks away from me toward Dr. Ray, speechless. The kid would have killed more than just me and her and the people who signed up to die, but also the people who didn’t.
Sometimes I really hate how arbitrary people’s morality can be. Two useful people versus one dangerous one, the math is pretty fucking clear on that account alone.
“The Director is coming so we can decide what to do about Patient X, and about you.” The ‘you’ is me, and she uses it as if I’m really the problem right now.
“Pull me out of the goddamn wall already,” I tell Emily. She twists her head and removes her hand from my chest, letting me know she will do no such thing. To say my groan was only internal is so far from the truth, lying isn’t worth it. “Alright then, get out of the way.”
I use my jetpack and that signals both women to move as I remove myself from the wall. I turn to Dr. Ray and make sure she is informed about what just happened.
“I would like to point out one thing,” I start as I take a step towards her, “if not for me, we’d all probably be dead by brain implosion.”