- September 4, 2022
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 9)
My healing ability is minor. My limbs won’t grow back, it won’t save me from a knife to the gut by itself, so really what it is, is just a quick recovery perk.
My wounds close a little faster, my bones mend easier and never wrong, but most importantly I can stand up before anyone else. After that brain fuckery we all just experienced out in front of the hospital, maybe it’s a good thing.
Here I was thinking about how I’m going to deal with an angry crowd who just learned that a child is releasing a deadly disease. Now I know I’m going to have to deal with a crowd who experienced this child’s power first hand. I don’t know that for sure, but come on, anyone can figure that out.
First priority, check on Marie. She’s still on the ground with everyone else as I’m steadying myself on my feet.
She groans as she tries to push herself up, and judging by the way she groans having ice armor around her head didn’t do her any favors. Hell, there are normal people recovering faster than her.
I’m right next to her, powered down with my hand on her head. I move between us and the people in case her armor falls, and do that shushing thing Mama does for me when my head hurts.
“Tommy’s here, you’re alright, Tommy’s here.”
“Shut up, there’s nothing not weird about what you’re saying,” she complains to me, shaking her head at my laughter.
I help her up and hold her still to stop the little sway going on here, and she looks up at me with a worried expression to say the least.
“What the hell is going on here?” She asks me.
“I don’t know, Icy, I can give you a pretty good guess, but I think one of us should go in and check for sure.” Please let it be me, please agree that it should be me.
Marie is still breathing pretty heavily as everyone in front of us is getting their bearings. She nods her head and tells me, “You should do that, I can make an ice wall or something if that didn’t calm people down.” I love you Marie Xu-Lin. “And don’t name me after a snack at the movie theaters!”
I nod my head and turn on my flames to fly towards the door. “Pretty sure Icys count as drinks.”
When I open the door, I am greeted by the strike team and their guns. I think, “Whoa,” is an appropriate response.
One of the men in what looks like SWAT gear calls back, “Director, Pyre’s here.”
He looks over at me and waves for me to come over, but no one lowers their weapons. Dios Mio, they turned a hospital’s reception lobby into a scene from an apocalypse movie.
I fly over the barricade and the strike team as Director Knight comes out from behind the nurse’s desk.
She twists her neck like usual. Before she can even ask what I’m doing here I ask her, “Is this really necessary?”
The Director looks at me from the corner of her eye. She thinks I don’t get it, and why would she? I spend my time acting like I don’t get it, much easier that way. Now I might pay for it.
Before I can add anything, she walks right to me and gets in my face. She stares right into my eyes, instilling in me a desire to run away.
“We have a biological weapon that if exposed could infect everyone,” she snaps her fingers, “like that.”
She moves back away from me and I feel a little less like she’s about to chomp her teeth into my neck. It’s haunting to watch as she shakes her head and stares into space. Its almost as if she doesn’t know what to do, and if she doesn’t know what to do, I’m sure as fuck no one else does.
“We don’t even know if it’s airborne yet and now we know it doesn’t have to be to cause whatever brain damage that was just now…”
Her hand goes to her head and ruffles up her long hair as she stresses over what to do. “I just had to report to the president that I have no idea what could happen, imagine the fucking response I got to that.”
I find the Director scary, not in that she’ll kill me like a supervillain would, but kind of like I’m scared of Mama, or even Papa. When the Director is stressed out, she comes off the same way, and I feel bad about it.
I don’t know what compels me to not realize how inappropriate and a bad idea this is until after I’m doing it, but whatever it is, it allows me to give the Director a hug. I wrap my arms around her, and I don’t feel her hug me back.
“Uh, Tommy, what are you doing?” she asks me, sounding surprised and confused more than angry.
“We’ll get through this, we always do,” I tell her as I release her from my hug, and put on a smile for her to see.
The Director looks up at me with this befuddled expression. I can’t tell if she’s just shocked by me or if she’s considering hitting me. She turns around from me, and mutters, “Thanks I guess, why are you even here?”
“To find out what’s going on,” I inform her, “kind of want to know why my brain felt like it was being shaken in my head, but… I think I got my answer.”
She rubs the bridge of her nose between her two fingers. “Fine, sure, I have to talk to this one guy and let him talk to the science team. He’s the baby’s only living relative in the state, her uncle.”
I nod my head and she waves for me to follow. I’m about to light on fire and float with her, but she orders me to stop. “Walk, the hospital’s sprinklers will go off.”
We walk back to the nurse’s office where there’s this man, not old by any means, sitting in the hospital chair. The Director calls to him, “Henry, you ready to meet your niece?”
His long blonde hair whips up when his head does. I can tell from the redness of his face that this isn’t going to rank among the better days of his life.
In his open button shirt and t-shirt underneath, he asks the Director, “Is what I’m wearing alright?”
The Director reminds him, “You’ll be wearing a hazmat suit over it so it doesn’t matter one bit.” He lets out this nervous chuckle and my spine sort of freezes in response.
She barely gives him time to follow before we’re following her to the stairwell, which has been retrofitted with steel and a hazmat container.
After opening it, I see the hazmat suits which she orders us to put on. It’s weird to wear the hazmat suit. When I’m covering in flames, I’m free, my body can roam and venture, but in here I feel stuck, contained. It’s supposed to protect me but it feels like it trapped me.
The Director leads us up two flights of stairs in this hazmat suit. Maybe I should start using the gym if I’m having trouble walking up stairs. Marie would probably tell me to stop flying everywhere and walk.
I turn to Henry to see the nervous look on his face. I tell him like I did the Director, “Hey, we’re going to fix this, that’s how stories like this go, your niece is going to be fine, we’re all gonna be fine.” I hear the sound of the Director’s hazmat suit turning around to glare at me after I say that.
Henry is even less confident than the Director was. He reminds us, “Last time something like this happened, one of your guys had to kill that giant. Wasn’t he just like my niece, screwed by bad genes?”
“Bad…?” I repeat the word but catch myself before I get into a conversation I’ll regret. He said bad genes, he means the superhuman gene that gave me my powers. I want to argue how wrong he is, how there’s nothing bad about being special, but at the same time we’re living through the only example he needs.
When we get to where everything is happening, I have to say that I can’t really tell. The bodies have been cleaned up and taken to the morgue, and there’s no blood left on the floors to think of. If it weren’t daylight out, I would think it just looks closed, though I’m pretty sure hospitals like this are 24-hour operations.
I keep thinking this as we walk around the floor towards the science team, and the baby’s room on the way.
The hole next to the door doesn’t inspire happy thoughts.
The Director complains, “What in the actual fuck happened here?”
“Is that her?” Henry asks as he points inside the room with its incubator lighting it.
The Director’s head swivels to look at him for a moment, and back to the hole as she answers him, “Yeah, and now I want to know what the fuck happened.”
As I look around, it’s hard to miss the dent in the wall on the other side. Especially considering it’s in the shape of a man. I tap the Director with the back of my finger, and she grabs it hard.
“Tommy, what do you think you’re-” I don’t turn around because I can tell she sees what I see. “Fuck, the only person who’d survive getting hit like that… goddamnit, I told him not to be here!” She yells at me and Henry, “You two, you can look at the kid later, let’s go now.”
“But I want to-” Henry starts but Director Knight cuts him off.
“You can’t hold her anyway so let’s go, now,” she orders him.
She really doesn’t seem to know what it means to just ask someone to do something.
We hurry to follow her, and the second Henry trails behind, one stare of death from the Director knocks that shit right off. I wonder who’d win a scary look contest, Mama, Marie, or the Director, they’re masters of sending a chill down my spine.
I can tell that the science team have set up shop nearby, because we haven’t even turned one corner before we hear the sounds of them chatting about how screwed we are. The second the Director can see around the corner she stops, places her hand on the wall, and lets herself get angrier and angrier as she squeezes her fist.
It’s all the Hood’s fault, all because he showed up.
He sits in a chair with his feet on the table and his arms crossed, no hazmat suit or anything, just his armor and Emily glaring at him from across the hall. She’s pissed too but her glare doesn’t do what others do.
Director Knight stomps right up to him, yelling, “What the hell did I say?!” as the Hood is standing up to meet her.
When she’s about to get in his face, he steps into hers, shocking her to take a step back. He growls at her too, “Enough, when have I ever answered to you? I’m not even on your team, remember?” With a thumb towards Emily, he points out, “I just come when I get invites from her.”
Emily shouts back, “Like that’s happening again, after you shocked the baby!”
“You shocked my niece?!” Henry shouts.
There are a lot of loud voices going on right now, and like the science team, I’m not appreciating it. Henry makes the mistake of going to reach for the Hood. As brave as that is, that’s like going up to a bear without at least a shotgun.
The Hood backhands him right into the wall for stepping up to him. I go to catch him when he falls after the impact. Emily uses her superspeed to grab the Hood, but the Hood scares the shit out of her by catching her wrist when she was using superspeed.
The Hood tells all of us as he holds Emily’s wrist, “Get over yourselves,” and throws her hand away so she takes a step back. He points at Emily to make sure everyone knows, “If it weren’t for me, she would have let you all die.”
The Hood turns his eyes to Henry as I help him to his feet and tell him what he feared the most. “Your niece is a time bomb waiting to kill us all, and anyone with a brain cell can tell that she’s getting worse and worse. Eventually, we won’t be able to stop her, and she’s suffering the most while we wait.”
Director Knight moves to stand between Henry and the Hood as she questions, “What do you think you’re suggesting?”
The Hood leans closer to her and growls, “Did I stutter? I’m suggesting we stop making her suffer and stop risking all of our lives because no one has the stones to step out of the way.”
I move around Henry and push my way around the Director. I jab my finger into his chest to make sure he knows, “You’re talking about killing a child! This isn’t Atlas!”
“You think I don’t know that? You’re right, it’s worse because for all we know Atlas may have deserved it,” the Hood snaps back, and with a solemn admittance he says, “and this kid’s only crime is being born into a life of constant pain… and that changes nothing about what someone has to do.”
Why does it feel like he’s arguing for this kid when he’s talking about killing her?! He can’t be for someone he wants to kill.
Then the Hood slaps away my finger and stabs his own into my chest. “It’s not about what she deserves, I’m talking about sacrificing one life to save everyone’s, including your little brother,” and he jabs me again, “and your big sister,” and he pushes me back, “and your parents, and Marie’s brother, and Emily’s, and everyone outside, and all of their families! God damnit, why are you all looking at me like this is all so complicated for you?!”
His hands come together before him, straining like he wants to crush something into pieces. He’s boiling with anger at us because he thinks we don’t understand, but as fast as his anger comes, it goes away.
He clenches his fists and moves to the gun on his side to hold it up. “I’ll do it,” he offers, “I don’t fucking care, I fucking hate people yet I’m the only one of you trying to actually save them.”
This, this is a side to the murderous vigilante I didn’t think existed. Underneath all that smug and violent bravado, he actually thinks he’s right in doing wrong, he thinks there’s no other way.
There has to be another way.
Emily tries to appeal to him first. She uses superspeed to stand in front of him but she doesn’t try to manhandle him this time. She places her hand on his with the gun and tries to press him to lower it.
“We’re trying to save everyone,” she tells him, “which includes this girl.”
“You know what,” he mutters, turning his back to her and placing his gun in its holster, “run your tests, do them all you want but come the end of the day, you’ll know I’m right, we can’t save everyone.” He starts walking away from us and ultimately away from the child. “When it’s time, I’ll be waiting here to save everyone when you won’t.”
Henry moves to the Director and tells her, “He can’t be allowed here, what he’s talking about doing-”
“Shut up,” she snaps at him, “we have a plan A and B before it comes to that, so get a hold of yourself.”
I figure plan A was a cure and that’s nowhere in sight, and I don’t see anyone around us looking anything but confused at her words, so plan B sounds a lot like plan Bullshit.
The Director goes up to the lead doctor, whom I see is Dr. Ray, the one who was giving me weird looks earlier. “I need something from your team in an hour, we don’t have time for an ‘or else.’”
Dr. Ray shakes her head, her eyes bloodshot, maybe from being so close to the epicenter of the brain attack. “Considering how it’s impossible to see an event coming outside of the few seconds where she cries… an hour may not be enough.”
I can’t stand this, every day I can, every chance I get, I go out and punch crooks and criminals in the face. I win the fight, I save the day, and then times like this come around and I can’t do a goddamn thing!
It’s all this ‘Espada’ thing is good for, punching people in the face. Anyone can do that without powers. I’m supposed to be something different, that’s why I’m so powerful. If I can’t help then what’s the point?
I squeeze my fists; I try to control my rage and resentment as the dust rises from off the floor around me.
“Emily,” Claire calls me.
I stop and look up at her in her hazmat suit, as useless as me as we wait. She warns me, “Calm down or else I’ll have to send you outside with Tommy.”
I’m dangerous when I’m not even doing anything, that’s the difference between my super strength and a normal person. I’m always a second away from being a danger.
Claire turns in her seat as the science team runs their tests with their vials and their do-hickeys that I don’t understand. Dr. Ray is micro-managing everyone, talking, theorizing, and comparing notes, when eventually she’s told something I’m too busy brooding to hear.
Dr. Ray looks up at the ceiling, the universal sign that a foregone conclusion just became the only conclusion. Claire looks up at her from her seat where she holds her head on her chin. “Please tell me something useful before C-span here blows a gasket.”
Dr. Ray turns to look at Claire, and then moves to her table of instruments. She grabs one of the many needles she still has to stick into that poor kid. She raises it in front of her face to inspect it.
Then she punctures her suit with it.
Right above the neck, she punctures her suit and makes a hole so she can rip the mask off her head in dramatic fashion.
Claire yells at her, “What’s wrong with you?! What about the infection?!”
Dr. Ray shakes her head and begins to explain something no one anticipated. “It’s… it’s just… gone.”
“What?” I muster out.
Dr. Ray shakes her head and explains that, “It has always been affected by the child’s superhuman gene, and it behaved like a bacterium more than a virus. No, I can’t even say that; it behaves like nothing on record, it’s- it’s alien to biology.”
She starts to remove herself from her hazmat suit as the rest of the science team do. She stops halfway as she hypothesizes even still, with a mad look on her face, telling us where she’s driving herself towards. “I think, I think the virus died when the child evolved to migraines instead. I fear what kind of attack we will experience next.”
Henry, the one civilian here, rips off his mask like a normal person and kneels at Dr. Ray’s feet, clutching her shirt and pants.
“Please, you have to help her, that little girl is all I have left, there has to be something else you can do!”
The begging is heartbreaking, and the way Dr. Ray pushes him away from her to the ground is enraging.
“I don’t have to do anything, there’s nothing that I can do, nothing that I want to do, but leave.” She looks up at all of us and tells us point blank, “We can only kill this child or if that’s too inhumane, evacuate the city and hope she dies naturally before her power becomes too strong. All I know is that I don’t know how to stop this, so I’m leaving Aegis City and getting away as fast as I can. No one here seems to value our lives as much as they say, but I value my own a whole lot.”
Claire takes off her hazmat mask as well as she approaches Dr. Ray. I move to help Henry to his feet when I see that she’s breathing like she just came from a marathon, but the stress of this situation is definitely worse.
Claire’s head twitches as she comes to grips with what was just said. “Can you even predict when the next attack will happen?”
“Any time, I don’t know, all I know is that that kid cries a few seconds before it happens, whether that’s a signal or a trigger, I don’t know…”
Dr. Ray relays to Claire the last of her information, and moves to leave, with the temporary scientists on the team moving to leave with her. Only those on S.I.L.A.S.’s staff stays.
As Henry pulls away from me to stand against the wall and wallow, I ask Claire, “What are we going to do?”
Claire turns around to look at me, and she gives me that same look she gave Marie when she asked her to kill Atlas.
“I will never kill-”
“Let him do it,” Claire interrupts me, “that’s why I wanted him on the team, to do what he’s already knee deep in doing.”
She says the words, but then she looks down at her own hands and I think she’s going to realize that we can’t do this. I’m mistaken when reaches underneath her hazmat suit and pulls out her taser-gun.
“No, wait, I should do it… I’ve done worse in my life, why let him do it,” she tells herself, her eyes glaze over as if something flashes over them. I can’t imagine what she could have done that’s worse than killing a baby but this can’t be happening.
I grab Claire by the shoulders and shake her out of her daze. I try giving her options off the top of my head. “Director, listen to me, there has to be other ways to deal with this besides killing her! What about anesthesia, or an induced coma? Something that will stop the attacks from going on.”
One of the scientists left states, “We tried that, but sedation never worked with the cantorium and whatever else is circulating her body.”
On instinct I ask, “Can’t we remove it?” and I’m called on it before I realize the problem.
“You’d ask us to operate on a baby’s heart while she was awake?” Claire asks me to my face. She knows that’s not what I meant.
“Even if we did, she’s already dying Emily, she’s not going to make it the week, maybe not even the day, but any second her powers can get worse.”
Still doesn’t it make it any easier that I can’t think of anything else. I can’t hold my hands to her shoulders, I feel them tightening again, squeezing because I can’t stop anything, I can’t save anyone today. My powers are useless.
Claire brings her hands to my cheeks, and tells me, “It’s the only way, Emily, we don’t have the time to have a choice.”
My eyes are closed shut, I can’t look someone in the eye and admit something so heinous is the only option we have, that’s the same as saying it’s the best option.
“No, this is stupid! We should be able to come up with something else, but you’re all just giving in to fear!” I scream at them. “You don’t even know if something worse will happen, or if she’ll hurt us again! If you don’t know how it works, you don’t get to say you know that there is no other way!”
I’m screaming, as loud as I can, the building beginning to shake, and I can only assume that it’s me.
I’m the danger that’s making people back away, and they should be afraid. I’m not going to let them give up, I won’t-
Besides us I hear crying, sobs, and I look to see Henry, sobbing to himself. His family died in this hospital, and now he’s being told his niece has to die too, the only family he has left. If I lost my family like that…
Everything becomes a whisper in my throat, in everyone’s throat. We’re trying to scream but we can’t. It’s like my brain is expanding against its own surface and my spine is being shocked into paralysis!
As I bend backwards and my knees fall forward, my back feels like it’s about to snap in two. Every move is amplified by pain and all I can do is struggle to maintain sanity, cohesive thought, working, working…
“*Hah*, *huh*, *hah*, *huh*.”
I’m breathing again. Everyone stopped screaming and convulsing. We all lie on the floor in pain. This… I don’t know how long it lasted, I feel like I’ve just come out of coma where my mind was knocked out by constant pain, or that’s how I imagine that would feel like.
Wait, that, that stopped as suddenly as it started.
It hurts more than anything else in my life – aside from the last minute – to struggle to my feet, to float and fly, but I have to.
Everyone else is on the ground incapacitated, their mind broken by pain.
When they’re down and out, I can’t be.
I fly around the corner, I fly down the hall, and I get to her room.
The guards are knocked out, whether that was before or after the wave of pain doesn’t matter. I can barely control myself as I fly towards the hole and knock my shoulder into it, making it even bigger. I fall over onto the ground, and I’m struggling to my feet, grabbing the incubator and trying to force words out of my mouth to say-
Crank, folds back the hammer, click, as it snaps into place.
I look up, through the shadows and he has her in his arms, the gun pointed and ready.
“Hood, just, just wait,” I ask him as I try to lift my hand to stop him.
As he turns to face me, he falls up against the wall, barely able to stand on his feet. He slides down against it, to the floor. His legs spread out as he holds the baby in one arm, like he’s done it a thousand times before, but how many times with a gun pointed down?
“Emily, just watch her,” the Hood tells me.
“I am, listen to me-”
“No, you’re looking, you’re not watching,” he hisses at me.
“Watch,” and my eyes turn towards her, doing what I need to, to keep him from pulling the trigger, “look at her face, she looks like she’s about to cry but she can’t, the poison running through her, making everything burn or ache, it doesn’t matter. She shouldn’t be made to endure this.”
“Look at her face and tell me you think she should go a minute longer of this hell?”
I’m looking at her face, it breaks my heart, but- but what he wants to do…
There’s nothing after this, she can feel pain now, but she’ll never have anything else. She won’t go to school, she won’t make friends, she can’t even know what it means to be held, to be loved. Almost as bad…
He can’t come back from this, we can’t come back from this.
“She doesn’t deserve this, I know,” I sob out. I didn’t even know I was crying, my tears aren’t there, but my face is stuck crying. “But you shouldn’t do it, we shouldn’t do this”
The Hood is silent.
I don’t want to kill her, and almost as much, I think… I think I don’t want another one of ours to have to kill an innocent again, not like Marie… not after I held her, shivering from her own cold, telling me that Atlas wasn’t a bad man.
I refuse to hold him, crying about how this child didn’t deserve this. I’m not supposed to let that happen again.
“Emily,” he calls my name, “I’m not going to make her wait.”
The Hood is quiet, he tilts his head back against the wall. “Emily, when my parents died, my father and my mother along with my sister, the only family I had left was my aunt. I moved in with her when she was pregnant after she had lost so many babies before. All she wanted was one of her own, and… I tried to help her, to keep what little I had left in my head from coming apart. Then she gave birth to her son, my cousin.
“He was born with spina bifida, so severe he was on life support from the day he was born. My aunt, she loved him, the only child she ever gave birth to that wasn’t dead on arrival. She loved him so much, but I saw, I saw what the doctors saw, and her friends saw, and she saw. We all knew what she couldn’t accept, that no matter how much she held him, no matter how much she kissed and hugged him to tell him how much she loved him, it didn’t matter.
“All he could understand was pain. He’d cry all the time like this little girl tries to. There was no room for him to understand love, to understand anything at all. He never slept, never rested, never stopped crying… there was only pain. He died crying… or really screaming, and I won’t let petty morals make this child suffer like that, I won’t wait anymore.”
I ask him one last time, tears streaming down my face, the pain he must feel. “Please don’t-” Chouk!