Getting to the Hospital did not take long – before the reconstruction of the city even began after DiL’s attack, it had been decided that the new public transport system was going to be the most efficient in the world – and they had succeeded (at the time). And while Washington had managed to snatch that title away during their 2001 reworking of their public transportation system, New Lennston’s was still one of the world’s finest. The magnetic trains moved almost soundlessly through the city and one needed half an hour at most to reach any station from any other.
So he entered Prisca’s room just as Mrs. Smith was leaving with the food tray. She did not even notice him, as she had to hurry to bring the tray to the kitchen and then run along to the next patient needing help with eating. And then the next one. Plus those who needed help with going to the toilet – a problem which Prisca wished she had, because it would mean that her bowels still worked well enough to actually process food – and so on.
Which meant that he and Prisca would be undisturbed for at least an hour and a half. Perfect.
Inside, he found Prisca on her bed, with her drawing board in front of her, working on a picture.
She saw him and smiled. “Hey, Basil. You came just a minute too early”, she greeted him.
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? How come?” He moved to look at whatever she was drawing but she waved him off.
“No, no, no, wait ’till I’m ready!”, she replied hotly.
He raised his hands in a gesture of submission and stepped back, waiting. With a smile, he watched as she put the finishing touches on whatever she had been drawing, the electric pencil flying over the drawing board. She was never as energetic as when she was drawing.
“Alright, I’m done!”, she said with a tired breath, her hand falling down onto her lap – whatever reserves she had tapped into, they were pretty much spent, it seemed. Pushing a button with her other hand, a flat white screen rolled down the wall opposite of her bed. Another button turned a projector above her bed on and it projected the image she had drawn onto it.
Basil whistled appreciatively. Projected in life-size, he saw a picture of himself, in full costume, his batons in his hands. He was poised as if leaping down from some height, his cloak billowing upwards. The only difference was that the cloak he wore in the picture was white, not black.
“A masterpiece, sweetheart”, he told her. And it was – she had caught almost every detail of his armor and weaponry and the picture was so well drawn, it looked more like a photograph. “But why the white cloak?”
“Well, I thought the whole black-in-black thing was a bit boring for the eye. Not that I want to insult you, or anything, but…”
“I get it. It is nice. How long did this take you?”, he asked.
“I started working on it after you sent me those pictures a week ago. I alternated between this one and the other picture I drew on paper”, she answered.
“I like it. Say, your style somehow reminds of… something. I do not know what exactly, but I am sure I have seen similar pictures before.”
She actually blushed. “You know, I’ve had a little inspiration. I always loved Ember’s work – who doesn’t? – and I kind of emulated it a bit.”
Pushing a few buttons, she projected a picture that covered the entire wall. It was an incredibly detailed drawing of Lady Light and The Dark, charging each other from one side of the picture towards the other, her glowing weapons meeting halfway with his Darkwraiths in an explosion of light and shadow. The picture had obviously taken an unbelievable amount of skill to create. And there was so much emotion radiating from it – a profound sadness at the unavoidable battle between lovers, but also a jubilant exultation at the challenge.
“Ember’s Eternal Duel. It’s one of my favourites, and it’s the last picture Ember made before manifesting his powers”, she explained. “Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”
“It is breathtaking. He was just eight when he made it, was he not?”
“Well, anyway, we do not have much time until the special airs. And I wanted to set up a voice-chat between here and the girls, so we could talk. Are you alright with that?”
Another worried look flew over her face. “It’s only voice-chat, right?”
He put his hand on hers to reassure her. “Sure thing. Just let me set it up – why do you not turn the TV on?”
She did so, the screen now showing some HeroView commercials (mercifully mute). Basil worked on setting up the laptop and connecting it with his lair through all the defenses he had installed without compromising them.
After about a minute, he was done and the link was set up. There was no video feed, as promised, and neither did he allow the two of them to see the girls (that would not have been very fair).
“Lie down with me?”, Prisca asked, scooting over on her bed.
“With pleasure”, he replied, slipping in next to her, putting one arm around her shoulders. They lay there for a few minutes – there was still time until the show began – while she inspected the laptop and he just watched her.
“So, how does this Lovecraftian abomination work?”, she asked, breaking the silence and pointing at the laptop.
“What is wrong with my laptop?”, he asked.
“Oh, nothing. Except that laptops generally don’t have this many buttons. Or dials. Not to mention the seven different cams I can see just on the inside. And…”
“Alright, alright, I put a bit much into it. That is no reason to call it Lovecraftian!”
“No, but the way you arranged them – the way you rearranged even the standard keys – most definitely is“, she teased with a smile.
“Just because I like to make my stuff more efficient…”, he pouted.
“Ohh, don’t pout. You know I’m just teasing”, she giggled. “It’s not that bad, but you really should learn to make it less… conspicious, especially if it’s stuff like this that you use as a civillian. Because you definitely can’t get that out of a shop.”
He thought it over. “Okay, you are right. I will remember it.”
“That’s all I want, Basil. Now, why don’t you show me how to turn on the microphone?”
* * *
In the end, all that was needed was a single button that would turn the microphone on and off and another one for the loudspeakers.
Shortly after that, the system informed him that the tv in his lair had been turned on and he activated the voice-chat.
“Hi Leroy!” That was Vasiliki – she was using one of the pseudonyms (if you could call it that) they had agreed on in case they needed to talk as civilians but did not want to use their real names. It was followed by another two greetings – Dalia and the one who had to be Stephie. Much like Vasiliki, she had a distinct Greek accent, though hers was not as strong.
“Hello ladies. So, how do I call our guest?”
Stephi answered: “Just call me Stephie. I don’t need a codename and it’s not like you don’t know who I am, right?”
“Your choice. Either way, let me introduce…”
“…Raine. Call me Raine. Nice to hear from you all”, said Prisca.
“Nice one”, he whispered into her ear. She blushed.
“A pleasure to finally hear from you!”, replied Vasiliki.
“Same here. Though I’d still like to see you”, said Dalia.
“You have any idea how difficult it is to secure a video feed as opposed to a simple audio feed?”, asked Basil back.
“Yeah, yeah, Whiz-Kid”, replied Dalia.
Prisca tapped the mic-off button. “Smooth. Not a lie, just misdirection. I like it”, she said with a wicked grin.
“Thank you very much”, he replied.
“Hey, the special is starting!”, called Dalia.
“Turn up the sound”, he told Prisca.
“This night, on HeroView: The Night of the Spiteborn.”
* * *
“Welcome, dear viewers, to this special episode. As you know – how could anyone have missed it – there was a sudden attack by a whole army of spiteborn last night”, greeted Tamara Werd once again. The hostess, herself looking barely old enough to drink, was dressed in an immaculate dark blue evening dress and heels, her blond hair done up in a complex knot.
“That woman looks waaaay too pretty to be real”, commented Stephie.
“Not that I wouldn’t like to haul her ashes, if you know what I mean”, commented Dalia.
“Gross!”, gasped Vasiliki.
“She is actually a metahuman – an adonis and a regenerator. Enhanced physique, retarded aging – she is actually a bit more than thirty years old and has already had seven children. She tried herself at being an active hero, but she was not really good at it – though it turned out that she was really good at making herself likeable and she was transferred as a co-hostess to the HeroView show. A few years ago, she took over after the former host went into retirement”, Basil told them.
“And how do you know that?”, asked Prisca.
“Yeah, why do you know that much about the pretty thirty-something tv star?”, supplied Dalia with her usual old-man-leer being noticeable even over the connection.
He sighed. “I built up a database of every metahuman I could find, with a special focus on those in or around New Lennston”, he explained.
“You know, with anyone else I would find that suspicious – but it so fits you”, commented Dalia.
“Agreed”, came from Prisca and Vasiliki – followed by giggles from all of the girls.
“Let us concentrate on the show again, shall we?”, said Basil.
Mrs. Werd had introduced Patrid (again dressed all in white) and Michael Andrews, dressed in a tweed jacket that was probably older than him. They had entered the room as she introduced them and now she went on:
“Now, our final guest – and I am very, very excited to have this one here. It probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t talked to Mr. Patrid around noon and bounced the idea off of him. Let me introduce to you: Irene Whitaker!”
And Gloom Glimmer walked on to the stage.
“Good God, that girl is hot“, commented Dalia.
Irene was dressed in a high-necked dress reaching all the way down to her ankles. It was a blue match for her eyes, except for the shoulders and sleeves, which were a transparent black. The dress did not show any skin other than her bare feet, her hands and her face, but it clung to her every curve. And what curves those were…
“For once, I have to agree…”, commented Vasiliki, along with a sigh that came probably from Stephie.
“But why is she barefoot?”, asked Prisca with a lower voice than usual.
“Probably because she does not need any footwear. Judging by her fight against the eight and later the spiteborn, she can shift her powers, either freely or along certain rules, I do not have enough information to say yet. Either way, neither cold, nor filth or sharp objects should be any trouble to her”, Basil explained.
“So, she uses her phenomenal powers to be able to walk around barefoot? Girl’s got style”, commented Dalia.
On the screen, Irene had walked over to the others and sat down after shaking hands with a dazzling smile. They made the usual introductions and some small talk, then moved over to the meat of the show.
“Let’s start with the basics: Yesterday, at roughly nine p.m., more than three hundred branchlings started coordinated, simultaneous attacks on nearly every metahuman in the city. Fortunately, the number of injured and dead was minimal – the only reported lethalities were Black Tiger, Gega and the Footer, who were all taken by surprise while at their respective homes”, explained Mrs. Werd.
“About fifteen minutes after the first attacks, a trunk was discovered, leading an attack on the Western part of the city, but it was beaten back by Mindstar, who discovered the location of an entire acre from out of its head. Since they were the only heroes available at the location, Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia enlisted the help of several young metahumans who had come out that night to help and entered the tunnels beneath the harbor left behind by the infamous Diggerer, until they found the acre – and we have all seen Polymnia’s records of what followed! Do you want to add anything, Ms. Whitaker?”
“Just Irene, please. Well, there is not much to say other than what you have said already. I was out flying a patrol together with Polymnia when we were attacked by a single branchling. Polymnia took it down basically by herself and we flew towards the harbor. We saved Osore and Bakeneko – our two new members – from a small army of branchlings and joined forces with the Snow Queen and three independent heroes who had also helped out.”
“I must ask – were you not concerned about going down those tunnels?”, interjected Professor Andrews. “Your first day as an active hero, with only a supervillain and some inexperienced teenagers as back-up? Weren’t you worried that you might not make it out? Or that they would not make it?”
“Wow, way to make yourself popular”, said Prisca.
“Yeah, he is totally killing the mood”, agreed Stephie.
“Focus, girls. I do want to hear her-“
He was cut off by an explosion that blew open the left-hand wall.
* * *
Basil opened his eyes after seconds of blackness, only to see the ruined remains of the room.
He was lying on top of Prisca – he could remember, barely, throwing himself over her. How did I react this quickly?
Then somebody grabbed him by the shoulder and threw him off of her. He flew across the room and into the wall between the room and the hallway.
Looking up, he saw a mockery of a nude man, shaped like some kind of red-skinned, leathery goblin that stood nearly two meters tall and a woman shaped far too much like a cartoon character to be really attractive, dressed in a skintight red leather suit and wielding a strange object that looked like a long red and very thick stick.
“Is this the little bitch we’re after?”, asked the tall goblin. It pointed at Prisca, who was unconscious and bleeding from a shallow head wound.
The woman looked at a picture she pulled out of a belt-pouch. “Yeah, Redder, this is her. Pick her up, but be careful – she’s supposed t’be real fragile.”
Redder stretched one of his disproportionally long limbs and picked her up – nowhere near as careful as he should – to throw her over one shoulder. “Alright, let’s run before some do-gooder shows up – they tend to be picky about this hospital”, he said.
“Yeah let’s- hey, what the fuck are you doing, asshole?!”, shouted the woman – going by that stick, she was probably Switchbitch – as Basil grabbed onto her left high-heeled boot.
He looked up at her and she flinched back from the raw hatred she saw in his eyes. Kicking out with her left leg, she threw him around, followed by a right-legged kick to the stomach that launched him into the wall again.
“Fuckin’ little asshole, no one touches me like that without my permission!“, she screamed and swung her red stick, which shifted into an extending blade that pierced him through his left shoulder, pinning him to the wall.
Basil grounded his teeth as he bit down on a cry of pain.
The woman let the blade pull back, then she attempted to cut him again – only to stop as the door flew open and three armed men in heavy riot gear stormed in, aiming their rifles at the two villains.
“Freeze!”, they shouted in unison.
Switchbitch turned the stab at him into a swing that bit into the left-most security man, but it was stopped from killing him when one of his colleague lashed out with the butt of his rifle and beat it back.
“Let’s go, Switchbitch! Fuckers can’t shoot while we have the girl”, shouted Redder as he turned around.
Switchbitch sneered at the men and turned to leave ahead of her partner. At the hole in the wall, she turned around and said to Basil: “You’re lucky, asshole. But if you touch me again, I’ll make this stick thick as your leg and shove it up your ass!”
And she jumped out of the room.
* * *
“So you were watching TV with Ms. Fion and then the wall blew up. You woke up only to be kicked around, stabbed through the shoulder and watch the two villains take her away?”, asked the police officer.
“Yes. They called each other ‘Redder’ and ‘Switchbitch’. And they were looking specifically for her – they even had a picture of her”, he said while a nurse fixed a bandage around his shoulder after applying a gel that was supposed to speed up the recovery and prevent infection.
“Man, boy, you’re lucky to be alive. That bitch already has five murders under her belt – and those are only the ones we know about”, said the policeman. “Well, anyway, if you remember anything else, please tell me.”
Basil shook his head, pressing a fresh ice package to a particularly vicious bump.
“Alright, take care of yourself, kid”, the older man replied, then left the room.
Basil was in the emergency ward of the hospital, where his wounds – the one in his shoulder, as well as several bumps and bruises – had been taken care of as well as was possible.
The policeman had barely left when he heard the sound of high-heels on linnoleum and then a frantic voice talking to the policeman outside. He could not make out any words, but he recognized the voice.
Amy stormed into the room, dressed in a dark blue dress suit.
“Basil!”, she shouted, throwing her arms around him. “My God, what did those assholes do to you?!”
“Some bumps on the head – no concussion, though – a cracked rib and a clean stab wound in my shoulder. Nothing too bad”, he replied as she checked him over quickly, her fingers flying over his bare torso.
“Don’t worry, Ms. Blake, your brother should be fine – there was nothing life-threatening”, explained a doctor that followed her in. “Though we will need to keep him here for observation, just in case.”
She did not even turn around, instead cupping Basil’s face and looking into his eyes.
I need to get out of here – I can take better care of myself at my lair than they ever could, he told her as soon as he felt her touch on his mind.
Are you sure?
Yes. You will need to confuse the doctor, I guess. Please make it fast, we do not have much time!
She turned around to face the middle-aged doctor (whose eyes rose straight from her butt to her cleavage) and stepped forward, quickly planting a kiss onto his mouth.
Basil averted his eyes as she pushed the doctor against the wall. After a few seconds of very discomforting (to him) noises, she walked back to him and helped him up.
He looked at the doctor, who was leaning against the wall with a dreamy look on his face.
Let’s go – he’ll file you off as stable and then forget most of what just happened.
That went… faster than I thought it could.
It was easy. The guy was already horny from the moment he saw me and he hasn’t had any fun in a while. I put my hand into his pants and he was wet clay in my hands. Plus, he wanted to get rid of you either way, I just pushed him to make the decision to go through with it.
Alright. Could you also do something about my laptop up in Prisca’s room? I do not want anyone to find it.
I’ll see what I can do. Let’s get you to the car, meanwhile.
They reached said car without further incident just as the fragments of his laptop flew into it.
“Let’s go home, you can-“
“No”, he cut her off. “Take me to my lair. I will fix myself up, then I am going after them.”
“Basil, that’s too dangerous!”, she said as they buckled in and she started up the engine. Her hands were trembling – from rage, he guessed. He would be pretty angry as well if someone hurt her, after all.
“No, it is not. They just took me by surprise. Next time, I will be ready for them. To my lair. Please“, he said in a voice that broke no argument.
“… Alright. But I’m staying close until I’m sure you’ll be fine”, she said as she pulled away from the hospital.
Basil nodded and pulled out his mobile phone. After pressing a few buttons, he leaned back in his seat. The tracer he had put onto Switchbitch’ boot was working and within range.