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The Return of Dr. Necropolis
Chapter 10: The Other Shoe
Tiffany came awake slowly. Her eyes were glued shut with tears, her mind was stiff and drowsy, and in waking, she felt as if she were crawling from the abyss of the grave. She was twisted into something, and there were straps around her arms with tubes rising up above them. Her vision cleared, and she saw pale pink walls alongside long bars of light running across the ceiling behind frosted glass. Something was beeping off to the left side of her head, softly but steadily.
A heartbeat monitor.
“What in the—?”
Her voice was a croak, and it set off a splitting pain behind her eyes that forced her back into darkness. Her stomach roiled, and for a long ten-count, she thought she would vomit.
“Shhh… You’re at St. Vincent’s, Tiff. The Siberian Tiger set off a wide-angle blast from the Neural Disrupter, but you were on the far side. You’re gonna be fine.”
“Oh my God. Is Blaine...?”
Tiffany could hear something like disappointment in Casey’s voice. “The kid’s fine, Tiff. He was up two days ago.”
“Why do you sound upset?”
“Are you serious? I’ve got eight guys in the ICU and another six in the morgue, and you ask after the one kid who woke up without a scratch. All you ultras are teh same. You only ever care about each other, and that doesn’t count the fact that…”
Tiffany’s stomach twisted and heaved, drowning Casey out. She rolled to the side and moaned, and her knees curled into her chest. She felt like her whole body was fighting itself. The muscles in her stomach contracted and heaved, pushing a line of yellow bile from her mouth. It spilled out across her body and onto her sheets. A pulsing headache came racing behind, and Tiffany moaned in agony. Beside her head, the beeping sound of her heartbeat accelerated to a fevered paced.
Casey’s voice was far away. There was a bustling beside him and the sound of wheels rolling over tile. Sneakers squeaked, and a commanding female voice said in an urgent voice, “You’ll have to leave, Agent Walcott.”
“I didn’t mean to—”
More voices sounded, stabbing at Tiffany’s consciousness, and she vomited again. In the back of her mind, she thought, I get hit by the goddamned Neural Disrupter, and who comes to visit me?
Special Agent Casey Walcott. Major league asshole.
Blaine didn’t like hospitals. He’d never needed one, and even after the debacle with the Siberian Tiger and Gun-Girl Gracie, he still didn’t. Everyone kept coming in, asking him if he was okay, talking about how many times he’d been shot or how badly he’d been beaten up, and it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing because he’d failed and because he knew darn well that the hospital staff was needed elsewhere, and he just wished everyone would leave him alone. Let him wallow in his failure. But the hospital staff was so earnest, and they kept making him repeat his story over and over, and that meant that Blaine kept having to relive it. Blaine was fine, but others weren’t, and that was Blaine’s fault, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He had to live with his failure when others had died.
He’d been kidding himself. He could see that now. He’d gotten all dressed up in his uniform, and he’s put on his father’s old mask, and then he’d gone and gotten his ass beat like some clueless teenager out joyriding on the bad side of town. It would’ve been different if the Tiger had barely escaped, if he’d had to use the Neural Disrupter as a last resort to avoid jail, if Blaine had at least made some kind of showing for himself, but that wasn’t what had happened.
Not at all.
The Tiger hadn’t needed the Disrupter. In fact, Gun Girl Gracie had barely needed the Siberian Tiger. She’d shot Blaine a dozen times with a large caliber semi-automatic pistol, and that had pretty much been the end of it. Blaine had been lucky. Gracie used hollow points, which had flattened when they struck, preventing the slugs from penetrating Blaine’s super-hard skin. That was the only reason he was still alive. The hollow points had slapped him with a crap-ton of highly localized blunt force trauma, and while one or two might only have given him a nasty bruise, a dozen tightly spaced shot cracked ribs and left Blaine gasping.
Blaine didn’t know if he could’ve taken the Siberian Tiger in a fair fight, but the fight hadn’t been fair, and the Tiger hadn’t made any apologies for his advantage. Blaine had survived, but it was only because he’d been born with the kind of ultra-human genetics that let him get up after a beating that would have killed another man. That was no credit to Blaine; that was an accident of birth.
Even so, Blaine was still in the hospital. Everyone else who’d been hit by the Disrupter was either dead, in a coma, or recovering in Intensive Care, and even with Blaine’s gifts, the doctors were afraid he might have suffered latent long-term neurological damage. Blaine doubted it, but given that most of the hospital staff had now seen how badly Blaine had been beaten before the blast via taped television coverage, he was not in any position to demand that the staff trust him and let him go. Good men were dead, and the staff was legitimately concerned about Blaine’s health, and that was why he had to stay put.
And it was all Blaine’s fault.
Well. The hospital staff might not blame Blaine for what had happened, but his mother had visited him long enough to leave him with little doubt that she, at least, knew who was at fault. Emma Jean Winters, the infamous Ice Queen, had also seen the television footage, and if she didn’t care that some mundie police had died-- because ”That’s what they’re for, dear”--she was nevertheless deeply disturbed by Blaine’s public humiliation. Blaine was carrying his father’s legacy. By losing to a punk like the Siberian Tiger--on TV, no less--Blaine not only embarrassed himself, he humiliated his family and disgraced the name his father had spent a lifetime building.
Blaine sighed, looked up at the ceiling, and tried to clear his mind. There would be another time, and dwelling on past failures accomplished nothing. It was his fault, but he would do better. It was as simple as that.
Blaine was sitting in the chair beside the bed in his room. There were case notes open on the room’s little end table, but Blaine hadn’t been reading them. “Yes sir. How is Agent Trujillo?”
“Fair enough,” Casey replied. “But you’re still pretty green, lieutenant. Tiffany put you in a bad spot back there. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
“I didn’t come here to argue with you, Blaine. I came because there’s been a development in the case.”
Casey spread his hands. “I don’t know, kid. When Tiffany gets back on her feet, you two will have to go back to Sing Sing and see what’s what.”
“Like I said, I don’t know. I mean, the Tiger and Gracie are dangerous, sure. We all just saw that. But Necropolis is and always was the brains of that particular group, and him being back on the street… There’s nothing good about it, that’s for sure. Either he’s out for revenge, and we’ll have an ultra-human gang war, or he just got tired of sitting in jail, and he wants to link back up with his old crew now that they’ve finally resurfaced again. In which case, we may never catch them because Puck’s not here anymore, and he was the only one who could ever go up against Necropolis one-on-one back in the day.” Casey sighed. “Either way, we need you and ‘Titania’ back there back on your feet and ready to roll. I expect things are about to get more interesting, not less.”