The nurse in the blue scrubs with the teddy bears on them brings me another cup of hot chocolate. I don’t look her in the eye. I clutch the cup in both hands and mumble thanks at her ugly white shoes. The hot chocolate isn’t even warm enough to give off steam. She touches my shoulder. “Rough night. Let me know if you need anything, hon.”
The hot chocolate starts to boil, and I force out a smile. “Thank you.” This is all my fault. She stands there for a moment, waiting for me to say more, and it’s all I can do to keep from lighting up like Las Vegas. The foam lip of the cup starts to brown and melt. I stare hard at the floor, and when I look up again, mercifully she’s gone.
Hours ago men in black suits questioned me, nodded, looked serious and wrote things on clipboards. They assessed, conferred among themselves and left me here in this room to wait. I know they’re still around somewhere. Doctors have been in and out giving me updates. Words without meaning have filtered past me. Critical, but stable. Not out of the woods. And for the last three hours, nothing. Just a nurse with teddy bear scrubs bringing me hot chocolate and looking for answers. I know she’s been questioned too.
I put the cup down on the coffee table. Pick up a remote control. Turn on the news. There’s a camera crew standing outside the bowling alley. My fault. “—Government officials confirm Metahuman activity at Bowl-shoi Lanes, but deny rumors that this marks a resurgence of either the Terrorist Group known as the Sinister Squadron or The Domination Consortium.” Picture changes to a man in a bad suit in front of a podium. He’s a spokesman from the Bureau. “I’d like to stress that Metahuman crimes have been down by 45% in the last five years, and there is absolutely no evidence that the Von Wick—“ My fault. I hit the power button on the remote control.
There’s no smoke coming from the remote control, and only a tiny discoloration on the red power button. Good. I have some things under control.
There are magazines. People with white teeth smile up at me from imaginary perfect lives. These people don’t sweat, and maybe they pose with forks halfway to their mouths, but I suspect they don’t eat. I rifle through them listlessly. “Please your man in 6 easy steps!” There’s no pleasing him. I bite my lip, and flip over that magazine. Try not to be angry at the model sewn into her pink plastic dress. “How do you know if he really loves you?” By the time I blink back tears, the cover of that one is brown and the air smells unpleasantly like burning paper.
The door wooshes open. The nurse in the Teddy Bear scrubs. She wrinkles her nose, it makes her look much younger. “Sir? There’s no smoking in –“ She sees the smoldering magazine. Her eyes widen. Her voice is softer. “Your friend is out of surgery, you can go see her if you like, hon. But she’s going to need some rest.”
I nod. Say thank you for the fiftieth time. And trail after the nurse. I’m grateful to leave the yellow waiting room and its waterstrained drop tiles and old coffee smell. We go down half-lit hallways. The linoleum is immaculately clean, and the sounds of gently beeping machines drown out moans from patients who stir in their rooms as we pass. We come to a pair of fire doors. Men in black suits stand outside them and nod as the nurse pushes the doors open. She beckons for me to follow. The bureau has been busy. The unit we’re on seems to be empty of patients, but full of high-tech machinery and government agents. Tired looking men pore over laptop computers, hold print-outs up to the fluorescent light. Techs trail wires across the floor.
No one so much as looks at me. The nurse heads towards a room with shutters drawn closed against the bureaucratic bustle. I walk a few steps behind her. A doctor nods at me and the nurse, closes a chart and walks briskly out of the room. The nurse looks at me. “Are you sure you’re safe to go in, hon? There’s oxygen in there.” She adds, perhaps remembering the smoldering magazine.
I nod weakly. “I’ll be fine.” And step through the doorway.
Agent Delia Sanderson is lying on one of those hospital beds with complicated controls. She’s hooked up to machines and an an IV drips clear fluid into her arm. Bandages surround a rubber tube that sticks out of her neck and connects to a machine. There’s a faint hissing of some sort of respiration thing behind her. Her hair fans out across the pillows. She looks sallow and pale. Her eyes are closed. I stand there for a minute, look at the nurse’s teddy bears as if they have something to say about this. Don’t want to clear my throat. I shouldn’t be here
Sanderson’s eyes snap open. She stares at me for a second, and tries to focus. I can’t find the words to say anything. Her lips part. She pants. She makes a gesture with her hand. For a second the hissing of the machine changes in pitch; everything sounds like it’s underwater, then everything’s back to normal. Her brow furrows. She makes the gesture again. This time nothing happens. She stares at me hard. There’s rage in that look. She makes the gesture again. Nothing. She shuts her eyes, but not before a tear slips out and slides down her face. A monitor somewhere makes a beeping noise.
“I’m sorry. I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room. You seem to be agitating the patient.” The nurse says. Her arms are pulled across her chest and her lips are pinched tight. I stumble out of the room, turn back once to find Agent Sanderson staring after me, and head past the nest of snaking wires and bleary-eyed agents to the long, cool linoleum tiled hallway.
One of the two men in black suits follows a few steps behind me as I make my way back to the yellow waiting room. He waits outside the door, but I’m not alone this time. I recognize the salt and pepper crewcut and pencil thin mustache. Colonel Hanes is sitting on the ugly floral couch. Thumbing through a magazine. He doesn’t look up. The magazine is the one I singed earlier. Blackened bits of carbon from the cover flutter to the ground.
He turns a page. “All things considered, that could have gone worse, Mongolian clusterfuck that it was.” He turns another page. “Have a seat, son.”
I flump into a chair across from him. I put my head in my hands. “I’m not sure I’m the right person for this.”
He turns another page. “I’m not sure either.” He gestures at the coffee table. The Scylla and Charybdis dossier lies atop the stack of magazines. He clears his throat. “On the one hand, it seems Delia Sanderson owes her life to you. On the other, you can melt granite and the number one target seems to have walked right out of that damn bowling alley without any burns you couldn’t treat with butter and a quick lie down.” He turns another page in the magazine, and gestures absently at the dossier. “Pick that up. Turn it to page 363.”
I do as he asks. My stomach roils as I see pictures of dead bodies, mutilated beyond recognition. One was pieces of what might have been a human stained with some sort of yellow paint, each one methodically tagged. The other was a charred and blackened corpse, teeth still bared in either fury or agony. My eyes water, and for a second I don’t bother to keep control of myself. The light is intense, but Hanes keeps thumbing through the magazine as if nothing extraordinary has happened.
“You need to know what you’re dealing with. Those were two extremely talented Metas we sent after the Von Wickeds. I know you got personal reasons to want to see them brought down, hell, we all do. But if you don’t have the stomach—“ He stops for a second to shield his eyes from me. “If you don’t have the stomach for this line of work, I don’t think any man would call you a coward.”
Light off. I wait for a second until the air around me no longer ripples. “You didn’t send me after them. You sent me after an eighteen –year-old…”
“An eighteen-year-old monster who was brought up and trained in secret by the two deadliest people in the world.” He put down the magazine on the table. He stopped to look at me. His expression was cold. “Two deadly people who might be a little miffed that we’re after their precious little scion. I don’t blame you if you want to back out. You did good, and Delia Sanderson owes you her life, such as it is.”
“What did you expect me to do? Incinerate someone because his parents are criminals?”
He smiles at me. There’s not any humor in it. “Look, I know you’re a boy scout. I know you believe in the rule of law, and justice and the flag. I do too. The difference is that I know that justice isn’t pretty. She’s a right bitch and sometimes I think they keep her blindfolded to slow down her body count.” He stands up, brushes invisible crumbs off the front of his shirt. “But let me put it this way. Way I understand it, this innocent of yours damn near killed a highly trained and talented Metahuman agent without showing a lick of meta talent. You think he would stop a moment to spare you because his parents did you wrong? You think he’d spare a thought for you if you got in his way?”
I look at the floor. I used to know the answer to that question. Now I’m not so sure. Hanes puts a hand on my shoulder. “I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying it’s damned hard, but you got lucky once. I don’t know if you should test it two times.”
“And I got to know that you know which side you’re on if we’re going to go any further with this.” That hand on my shoulder feels like a weight. “Like I said, if you want out, no one’s gonna blame you.”
I shut the awful images in the dossier away and pull it close to my chest. I wait a few heartbeats. “I know which side I’m on.”
Hanes looks at me, appraisingly. “There’s a lot about your mother in you, son. I can see that same determination.” He pulls his hand away from my shoulder. “Take a few minutes to get your head together. Then I’m gonna pull some of my team in here for a debriefing.”
I get up. Walk out of the room, pace towards the restrooms. I run the water in the sink. Splash it on my face. The steam rising is somehow soothing. I pull my cell phone from my pocket.
I press a shortcut. My heart falls. Julian. How could this have happened? My fault. My fault. I type in three letters. The word flashes across the screen, and soon as I have confirmation that it’s sent, the phone glows cherry red. In a few seconds there’s only cinders left to wash from my hands.
The Von Wicked Chronicles
by Excalibur and Evil Catullus
I remember when it was me who made you want to take over the world and enslave humanity
Latex. High heels. Knives. (Excalibur's writeup)
It's not my fault that I'm so evil
I was a teenage Overlord
Lady Deathblast's Lover
This little light of mine
The Thanksgiving battle
My funny villaintine
Robots and comic books
This wicked life
The education of little overlords
all things truly wicked
Darkness lights its own way
How it all began
Sometimes I think you love that doomsday machine more than you love me.
They are mine. They are dead.
There is a crack in everything