“You think he’s ever going to tell us what he found?” Dalia asked, sitting in the upper room of the lair on one of the couches. Basil had all but thrown them out of his workshop after they wouldn’t stop asking him about his outburst and what he had suddenly started working on.
Now she was reclining on the couch and watching some high-grade TV on one of the Pay-TV channels Basil had hacked for his base. He probably hadn’t even noticed (or cared) that he also hacked into pretty much every major porn channel as well. Not that she was about to complain, especially since it drove Vasiliki up the wall.
Truth be told, she wasn’t that interested in porn, or even sex, as she made out to be. Sure, she appreciated good looking guys (like that gorgeous Outstep) and girls (like that blonde number up on the TV right now – probably a level 0 adonis-type – or that absolutely gorgeous Gloom Glimmer. Seriously, she was almost as hot as Lady Light and she wasn’t even completely grown up yet!) but she was mostly acting like that to tease and drive her new two friends up the wall. Not that Basil gave her much in the way of a reaction. He hadn’t even looked twice the one time she had walked into his workshop naked! Just greeted her, told her to get dressed so she wouldn’t catch a cold and turned back to his work. The boy seemed to have all the sex drive of a plastic shovel. But Vasiliki was giving her more than enough reaction for two.
“Could you please switch to something else! This is completely tasteless!” said witch shouted at her from behind.
“Says the girl who’s currently crouching buck-naked in the middle of a pentagram she drew with magic marker!” Dalia shouted back over her shoulder.
“Well, some of us are trying to prepare for our next patrol! So I’m trying to empower my cloak with a hiding spell! How about you do something useful? And now I’ll have to redo the entire spellwork!” came the angry reply.
Dalia allowed herself a small smile of victory. Though she did turn off the TV. She’d gotten her fun, no reason to prevent her from being ready for a fight.
“Well, it was getting boring. If I wanted some real action, I’d just walk over to the harbor and get me some live action porn. Interested?” That drew a shocked gasp. The icing on the cake. But enough of that. Vasiliki was right, even though she would never, ever admit it: she had to do something to be ready for tonight.
Moving over to the computer console, she threw the recordings of the ravenbot’s onto the screens next to television feeds, varying web pages and hacked telefone lines, all chosen at random. Basil had written the scripts she was running the day after they had teamed up. From what she understood, he’d had a dose of his inspiration when she told him how she saw Vasiliki running through the harbor by accident, following her to the warehouse.
The theory behind her watching more or less randomly as every possible information source for New Lennston was tapped was that her power should allow her to notice useful or suspicious stuff ‘by accident’ – or have it caught by a camera in the same way, if her power was as long-reaching as they thought. After all, her power seemed to concentrate on the principle that it first kept her safe, then helped her with whatever striked her fancy – and since she and her new friends were itching for some action, it should allow her to find some clues as to where to go.
* * *
Barely an hour later, Basil finished his work. The stun-gun he had been unable to complete was now finally working – he had already tested it on a bunch of dummies he had created that simulated the effect it would have on human bodies. It worked like a spell.
The gun looked like a very heavy taser mounted on a gun-hilt with four instead of two prongs encircling the business end of it. He had gone for substance over style, so it did not yet fit his raven theme – but he could live with that for now. He was just glad that the inspiration he got from Polymnia’s stun sounds and the mechanism in her speakers had allowed him to finally develop a working delivery of the stunning electricity over a distance. The rest had already been done, so it had not taken him that long to adapt the already manufactured pieces into his new design, cutting the time needed short. And he had adapted the same energy transfer interface he used for his stun batons. Unfortunately, charging the gun while also using it would not work, as it required too much energy, so he would have to sheath it every six shots for recharging, which would itself take twelve seconds per shot recharged, for a total recharge time of 72 seconds. Not to speak of the drain on his battery, so he would have to use it sparingly.
His next order of business was Tyche’s armor. He had had another idea how to accomodate her tastes without compromising his design ethics and he worked to manufacture the necessary ceramic scales. Thankfully, he had been able to speed up the process, though it was still quite a drain on his ressources. He had to aquire more money, fast.
Now if only the other idea he’d had while working through Polymnia’s chips could work out – but he was running against a mental wall, time and again. Mostly due to energy requirements. There was now way his suit would be able to sustain electrostatic levitation for over a minute or two, not along with everything else. So he had to shelve that idea – he hated shelving ideas. But what can you do? It’s not like I can run around with a cold fusion reactor on my back all the time. Not even if I managed to make one small enough.
After another two hours, he was finally done. The armor would be finished automatically within the next three hours, so he could take a break – it was, after all, dinner time.
* * *
Going up into the control room, he found Dalia hard at work at the console, using the scripts he had written for her to gather information. And he had to turn away from Vasiliki because she was naked inside what looked like a magic circle done with magic marker, doing some kind of slow dance that would have been beyond obscene if a pole had been involved.
“Did you find anything?” he whispered to Dalia.
“I’m pretty sure the mayor just went into the Velvet Room. But that’s not something we can use, so no,” she whispered back.
“Well, keep it up. I’ve got your armor almost ready, the last parts are being done automatically. I’m going out to meet some friends and have dinner,” he told her.
“Are you going to tell them about your little lair here?” she asked.
“No. I don’t want to risk having them caught up in anything they won’t be able to deal with,” he gave back.
“Well, alright. Your decision. What about Vasiliki’s BFF?”
“We talked about this. She can know that Vasiliki has teamed up with Brennus and Tyche, but nothing more.”
“Just wanted to check. Have fun.”
Walking over to the bedroom, he changed into more appropriate clothing than his protective undersuit (just in case anything went down the explosion road) and a lab coat.
Dressing in a pair of jeans, t-shirt and a blue pullover, he pulled on his jacket and rode the elevator to his secret hideout – from his secret hideout. Maybe I should build a third, even more secret one. Just for fun.
* * *
“Wow, this joint is really great,” said Tim. Or at least, Basil thought he did, because he was talking through a mouthful of dolmathakia, a Greek side dish made of green leaves folded around small portions of rice.
“Spoken by a true expert,” said Aimi, who had ordered only a small menu. She was looking noticeably slimmer than just a week ago, not to speak of the last month. Basil was surprised at how fast she had managed to lose weight. Surprised and concerned, considering the amount of contriver-drugs available for stuff like this. Mad scientists the world over were finding easy money sources in young people who wanted to look like Adonis-types. He just hoped she was not one of them. I should better put a ravenbot on surveillance duty, just in case.
“Also, did your mother not teach you not to talk with a full mouth?” he asked before taking a big bite out of his pita.
Tim just flipped him off with a roll of his eyes and continued to eat. It was really an experience, watching Timothy Louis eat. It was like he hated everything edible, and he had taken it upon himself to destroy any food he came across. He seemed to have a metahuman ability, just for completely obliterating food. There was never anything left. You could have taken his dishes and reused them immediately, they were that clean.
“So, guys, what are you doing after dinner?” asked Aimi.
Tim mumbled something. Sounded like “Nothing much”. Probably.
“I am going to meet Prisca. Later, I have some work to do,” Basil replied.
“When are we going to meet this mystery girl?” asked Tim, this time with nothing in his mouth. “I mean, bad enough you just suddenly have a girlfriend – but why ain’t we meeting her?”
All the while, Aimi was starting to chant “Basil has a girlfriend, Basil has girlfriend,…”.
He just rolled his eyes at them. “Honestly, I told you, she does not like people seeing her. It took me two months to get so far that she would agree to a visit,” he told them. “And I guess I did not tell you because I did not want you guys needling me all the time.”
“And why are you asking? Got any plans?” he asked Aimi, trying to change the subject.
“Wanted to show you guys something,” she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. That is new, too. That confidence, he thought.
“Well, since I am going to meet my girlfriend, how about you take some time for your boyfriend,” he replied with a nod towards Tim, who almost spit out whatever he currently had in his mouth.
Aimi just snorted. “Please, I would not go out with Tim if he was the last guy on the planet,” she said scathingly. The one so rejected grabbed his heart as if it was hurting and sagged in his seat. Aimi just blew him a raspberry.
“Well, I will leave you two lovebirds to yourself. Food is on me, by the way,” he said, leaving some money on the table and walking away before they could say anything.
He was barely out of sight when his cellphone rang. He saw Dalia’s ID on the screen – a code made up of various signs – and accepted the call. “Hello. Did anything happen?”
“Yeah, I found something! Dude, this system you’ve got here is scary, I mean, it hacked a secure call from some kind of mafia guy who apparently commissioned a villain team to provide protection during a deal this night at one o’clock,” she said, her exciting making her speak so quickly he could barely follow.
“What else did you find out? And what kind of villain team?”
“Well, apparently he’s going to make a deal with the Snow Queen – remember her? – and he doesn’t trust her, so he bought some new team for protection – he doesn’t like them, but they were the only ones available. The call was him complaining to a business partner that he had to pay a bunch of ‘teenage meta-punks’. Called them the ‘Onis’. Guy was so pissed off, he pretty much ratted the entire operation out. Though I guess he didn’t expect someone to listen in on that call. Anyway, I got time and place – tonight at the south end of the harbor in the old toy factory. You coming over? I’d like to make some kind of plan,” she elaborated. He was momentarily taken aback by the wealth of information. I had expected her power to make this go smoother than it should, but not to thi- oh, of course. How did I not see this – the decryption programs use randomly generated passwords to hack into other systems – her power could be influencing those as well!
“Not now – I’m off for a visit. It should take about two hours, so I’ll be back at about nine o’clock,” he answered.
“Dude, come on, this is serious! What kind of visit could be more important?”
“How about you do not complain and sit down together with Vasiliki to do some research? An ‘Oni’ is a kind of Japanese demon, so they may be a Japanese gang or have a Japanese theme. Look them up, there might be something on the net about them,” he told her.
“Can’t, at least not with witch-girl. She’s still doing yoga in her magic-marker-circle. Not that I’m complaining about the sight, but she’s kinda useless right now,” she replied. “But alright, I’ll do it. If you’ll tell me about this visit.”
He rolled his eyes, even though no one could see it right now. “And what if I do not? Will you refrain from collecting possibly vital information? But alright, if you must know. I am going to visit my girlfriend.”
“You have a girlfriend?!” she practically screamed into the phone. But not loud enough to drown out Vasiliki’s outcry when she slipped and messed up her spellwork.
“Yes, I have a girlfriend. Now, get to work, I’m off to see her,” he said and hung up on the flabbergasted young woman. Off to Prisca, now.
* * *
Prisca’s family was very, very rich and so she was housed in a special room in the long-term care wing of the Petal Memorial Hospital – which meant that there were no limitations on the visiting hours.
The woman at the reception already knew him and waved him through. He walked through several corridors and then up a stairwell to the second floor. There, in front of Prisca’s room, he met Charlotte Smith, an older nurse who worked mostly in the long-term care wing of the hospital. The gray-haired, pleasantly plump woman always seemed to smile and greeted him with a cheery “Hello Mr. Blake!” as she pushed a food cart towards Prisca’s room.
“Mrs. Smith, good to see you well. Call me ‘Mr. Blake’ again and I’ll sue the hospital,” he replied nonchalantly.
“What are you going to sue it for?” she asked, repeating their greeting ritual.
“Don’t know. Slander, maybe,” he answered. He suggested a different cause every time.
“Ha! You have no idea how many of those we get! Anyway, this is Prisca’s meal for the evening. Do you want to help her eat?” she asked.
“Well, of course. You just go and do whatever wretched stuff nurses do when they are alone.”
She gave him a smile and let him take over the food cart. Then she walked away towards the Nurses’ room as he entered Prisca’s room.
“Good evening, beautiful! I bring food and news,” he said cheerily as he entered the room. It was pleasantly lit, as always, the walls covered in varying wallpapers of outside scenery. The wall opposite the door had a large window and a wallpaper of a forest in deepest winter. To the right was another window, as this was a corner room. The wallpaper here showed a forest during spring. The wall with the door he came through sported an ocean at noon, while the wallpaper behind the head of her bed showed a starry night sky with a full moon.
Prisca lay on a large, comfortable looking bed in white sheets that was raised at the head end so she was in between sitting and lying. She had the sheets pulled up to her belly and was dressed in a blue button-down shirt above that. Several tubes were leading under the covers, as well as some wires that disappeared under them. Several more wires disappeared under her shirt, sticking to her chest. She had a large screen on a telescoping arm over the bed and a keyboard he had made just for her. It was formed so her wrists could rest in special depressions, with all the keys arranged so she barely had to move anything other than her fingers to type.
The girl under all of this was barely more than a meter and sixty centimeters tall, even though she was almost exactly his age (three days younger). She had long hair that was carefully brushed, but its colour, which was supposed to be a deep, dark red much like her mother (who was a stunning woman), was dull and faded. Her face was drawn out, as was the rest of her body. Her arms were thin and weak, so weak that she needed his special keyboard to be able to type for more than a few minutes at a time. Walking around was completely impossible – while her muscles were not atrophied despite being barely mobile for nearly a decade, mainly because of regular assisted exercise, they simply did not have the strength to support her. Her hands and fingers were long and delicate and pretty much the only parts of her body that looked normal, even conventionally beautiful. Her face was thin and unnaturally pale, her green eyes ringed in black from a lack of sleep. It all went hand in hand with crushing self-esteem issues, which were the reason why she refused to have any more people see her than absolutely necessary. Apparently, he had been the first non-family non-medical person to meet her in four years.
She greeted him with a white-toothed smile that made his knees weak and said: “Mmm, that smells tasty. It smells like… a protein shake with… some kind of tasteless gruel filled with everything my body supposedly needs.”
“Aye, it is an insult to you. Which is the reason why I brought a special little something along!” he said as he lifted the cover off her food tray. Under it was said meal, made so even her digestive system could take it.
Of course, the doctors here did not have the advantage of Gadgeteering applied to both medicine and cooking. Which was why he pulled out a little flask filled with a red fluid. “Today, I bring you strawberry for your shake…” Another flask, this one a dark brown. “… and chocolate for your gruel, sweetie.” He emptied the flasks into the respective food and drink, then lifted the tray onto a table that could be moved to hang in front of her. Bending down, he gave her a too short kiss on the lips that brought some colour to her cheeks. Smiling, she said: “Thank you… sweetie.” He grinned at her.
She lifted her hands from her keyboard and took up her spoon. It was part of their ritual, a ritual they had worked out pretty much the first time he had visited her during meal time. She was too proud to let herself be fed by him, so she would eat by herself until her arms gave out. Then, and only then, was he allowed to help her out.
Not wanting to distract her, he watched in silence as she alternatively raised the spoon to her mouth and pulled the long straw leading to her shake to her mouth. She managed almost three minutes of eating, eating about a quarter of her gruel, before she sighed, tired, and her hands fell down into her lap. Basil reached out to catch the spoon before it soiled her shirt. Without a word, he took her hand into his and gripping the spoon with it. He put his arm behind her back, raising her a bit and holding her head up with a hand. Then he helped her feed herself, giving her small kisses on her cheeks and mouth every now and then. It took almost five minutes, because she had to pause a few times between swallowing her food. All of this without a sound from either of them.
When the bowl was empty, he let her lean back again while he pushed the table away, taking her shake into his hand. When she motioned for it, he held the straw to her mouth so she could drink. There was not much left, but it still took her almost a minute to empty it. Then she closed her eyes.
“Mmmh. That was great, Basil. Thank you,” she whispered. Then her face twisted into a frown as she tried to stay awake. Basil held her hand waiting to see if she would manage and she did, opening her eyes again half a minute later.
“Sorry. I almost fell asleep again,” she said, her voice getting stronger.
“Do not worry. I would not blame you. And I am glad you liked the flavours.”
“Just flavours? Or did you put anything else into them?”
He shook his head. “Nothing apart from some extra nutrients. I am sorry, but I have not been able to find something to really help you, yet,” he said, referring to his ongoing search for a cure for her.
“Don’t apologize. You don’t have to cure me. Sticking with me despite everything is already more than I ever hoped to have,” she replied. He saw her eyes grow sadder as she thought about everything her sickness was denying her.
When she had been barely six, she had been caught up in Dusu’s attack on Hawaii, where her family had been on a vacation. The bacterial poison gas she released all across the island had killed almost everyone who did not get away fast enough. Prisca had lost her father and nearly all of her siblings. She herself had barely survived, only to be crippled for life as the poison lingered in her body, impossible to remove through science or contrivance, with only Dusu having the knowledge on how to heal her – but the insane super-villain terrorist could not have cared less about helping a little girl. By now, the mutated bacteria that lived inside her body and produced more of the poison had adapted so much to it that any cure was pretty much impossible. The only thing keeping her alive, apart from dumb luck, were various counter-poisons that at least counter-acted the poison enough to prevent any further damage. Unfortunately, the poison had also turned her allergic to many, many artificial materials, meaning that implants could not help either.
And the existing damage was horrifying: her nervous system had been permanently damaged, causing her sudden and unpredictable pain attacks that rarely let her sleep properly; her digestive tract still worked, if barely, and only if she ate very specifically manufactured food, but her heart had been weakened to the point that it could not support her body if she strained it in any way – even standing upright with help was simply too much. Even too much excitement could kill her – even if she had had the strength to sleep with a boy, the strain of doing so would almost assuredly kill her. A prolonged kiss was too much for her heart, which was the reason for the short kisses he was giving her even though he would prefer to glue his lips to hers – as well as the reason why she had expected him to dump her at any moment during the first two weeks of them hooking up, especially after she learned of his teammates and how the two of them looked.
Thankfully, she was not in any way contagious – the bacteria died off immediately upon leaving her body, making her safe, but making it also impossible for anyone, even another gadgeteer like Basil, to analyze them for a cure.
“But I want to. Though I think we should drop this line of conversation for now. I do have better news,” he said. Handing her a thumb drive, he said: “I got you several recordings of the fight between the United Junior Heroes and the Rabid Eight, including some taken from my ravens. As always, they are encoded so you need to use the password and thumb print scanner I gave you.”
She smiled at him, the superhero-fangirl in her coming to the fore. Ever since her being crippled, she had been fascinated by metahumans (a manifestation was pretty much the only chance she had left to ever be cured). “Thank you so much. And I have something for you, as well,” she said, pointing at the topmost drawer of the cupboard next to her bed.
Opening it, Basil found a beautiful drawing of a truly stunning superheroine. She was about their age and built like a professional dancer, with dark red, smooth hair reaching down to below her butt. She was dressed in a dark green, black-rimmed calf-length pleated skirt and belly-top. The top extended into a high neck and long sleeves fanning open at the ends to show delicate hands and fingers. Black, low-heeled boots showed under her skirt and she wore a cape of an even darker, almost black green fastened to her shoulders.
Basil gave the gorgeous picture an appreciative whistle – though he felt more like crying. This was very much a picture of how she hoped to look, of what she dreamed of – and might never get.
“This is gorgeous, Prisca. How long did it take you to make it?”
“I’ve been working on it since, well, since you first visited me,” she said, her cheeks glowing even hotter.
“Are you going to go out tonight again?” she asked suddenly, as if trying to move the topic into safer territory.
“Sure, sweetheart. Dalia said she found some new competition. We are going to go and check them out,” he said. They did not know who might be listening in on this, so they did not discuss his secret openly unless they used a secure connection over her computer. “Now sleep. This was quite enough excitement for one evening,” he told her.
She just nodded and slowly faded to sleep. At least she could fall asleep whenever she wanted.
It had been barely half an hour since he arrived, but he was already used to only having a short time with her.
Now he tucked her in, turning her computer off and pulling the drapes closed. Before he left, he gave her another quick kiss on the forehead, eliciting a small smile from her. Then he turned off the lights and left, pushing out the food cart with him. Depositing it near the nurses room, he went off to leave the hospital and get to his hideout for some planning. He had a need to deliver some kind of beating to a villain or two. And then, someday, he would get his hands on Drusu.
He had already invented a very special bacterial poison, just for her.