The first thing John saw was an angel. She was exquisite, with strawberry blonde hair, a round, freckled face, intense green eyes, and a lithe, athletic body. A feeling of lightness filled him as he stared up at her, as if he wasn’t quite solid. She was holding his hand. Strangely, John couldn’t see any wings.
"Hey," the angel said.
"Hey," John rasped.
"You had us worried," she continued. Her eyes glistened slightly.
"Oh. Heather." John tried to chuckle, but it came out as more coughing. I’ve had enough coughing to last a lifetime.
Heather laughed loudly, a sound somewhere between hysteria and intense relief. "Of course, Heather. Who did you think I was?"
John smiled broadly. "An angel."
Heather practically leaped on him, hugging John tightly. "Flatterer," she whispered.
"Well I did," he insisted with a whisper. "White light, floaty feeling, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen hovering above me, it made sense." He looked around at the austere room, the blinking machines and the light blue sheet on his body. He noticed a tube connected to his nose. "Hospital?"
"Well, duh," Heather replied, sniffing and wiping her eyes. "And you’d better not die on me or I’ll haunt you, got it, boy scout?"
John harrumphed weakly. His entire body still felt light, from what he guessed was the gas. "I was never a boy scout. Feh."
"Yeah, well, there’s about a dozen people who’d agree with me right now." Heather smiled at him, her expression becoming more lively as she regarded John with a twinkle in her eye. "You’re an official hero and everything. I heard them talking about getting you one of the official Captain Beacon costumes."
John laughed with a distinct rasp. "Do you have any idea how big Captain Beacon is?"
"Oh, shut up," Heather said, grabbed John’s head, and kissed him with an almost furious passion.
Behind them, someone cleared a throat.
Heather kept the kiss going for a few seconds more, then breathed out with satisfaction, stood, and turned.
A middle-aged woman with a clipboard, a white lab coat, and a tolerant smile regarded the two calmly. "I believe he’s beyond the point of needing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Miss Wing." Before Heather could respond, she turned to John. "Well, Mr. Wilson, you’re lucky to be alive after what you’ve been through."
"What…was that…stuff?" John asked.
"A rather unfortunate mix of chemicals. I won’t bore you with the techno-babble, but the combination created an impressively unpleasant and toxic irritant." The doctor pursed her lips, then examined her clipboard.
John gasped. "Oscar," he breathed. "If I was in trouble, a man with asthma—"
"—was on the floor in a room full of rising fumes. I take it you kept him low to the ground?"
John collapsed back in relief. "Yes. I hoped…I’m glad everyone’s all right."
Heather smiled wickedly. "Oh, I wouldn’t say that everyone escaped unscathed. It seems that your friend with the suit obsession and the bad haircut wasn’t able to rescue his job."
"Duane finally got fired? There is a god!" John began to laugh — then collapsed back in a new round of coughing.
"All right, that will do," the doctor said primly. She checked her clipboard one more time as she waved Heather out. "You’ve made a positively miraculous recovery, young man, but you still need rest. I’ll send a nurse to check in on you momentarily."
"See you later, hero," Heather said with a wink as the doctor herded her out.
As the door closed behind them, John relaxed into the bed. Breathing still hurt a bit if he wasn’t careful, but a little concentration allowed him to get reasonably comfortable. He hoped the nurse would be along soon, though. John had decided that something the comics never mentioned was how thirsty you could get being a "hero." He looked over at the pitcher wistfully.
John started, and the pitcher settled down, though the water in it sloshed briefly. Quake, he thought to himself. He looked around. Nothing else had moved. Oh, great. Now I’m getting delusional. He chuckled again. Of course, it’d be nice if I could summon the pitcher or…something…
The pitcher wobbled again, and as John watched in shock it floated off the counter by the sink, glided gently through the air, and landed with a slight "thunk" on his tray. The feeling of lightness had intensified. John licked his lips; his mouth was suddenly a lot drier than he’d thought. He cleared his throat. "It’d be nice," he said in a trembling whisper, "if I had a glass to go with this pitcher." With that, he stared at one of the plastic cups on the counter where the pitcher had been.
After a few seconds, it too floated over to his tray, sliding through the air more gracefully than the pitcher had.
I’ve lost it. Or I’m still out, and I’m dreaming. Or dying. Or…
Trembling, John slowly picked up the pitcher (by hand) and poured himself a glass of water. Still shaking, he put the pitcher down and picked up the glass. He took a long, deep drink.
I don’t think that weird feeling is just from being light-headed. He closed his eyes and leaned back, still smiling. I think I’m gonna like this.
One hundred feet below downtown Los Angeles
"Sir, we have an Empowerment event. Local."
A tall, well-built man in a perfect black suit looked up from his desk. Behind him, screens showed maps of various continents. Each screen was in constant motion, with dots appearing and disappearing regularly and lines flaring briefly to life, only to vanish again moments later. Before him was a smartly-dressed young woman with a professional demeanor. She stood at military ease in front of him, hands behind her back.
"Location?" he asked.
"We’ve narrowed it down to the San Fernando Valley area, possibly somewhere in Burbank," she replied calmly. "There were five known critical stress events within the time and area parameters."
"Likelihood of multiple Empowered emerging from the event?" The man at the desk looked back down at his paperwork.
The man at the desk looked up sharply. His colleague didn’t move.
"Send in a team. Find our new Empowered. Ensure that whoever he, she, or they are, that the consequences of Empowerment are clearly understood."
The woman nodded. "Right away, sir." She spun expertly on one heel and strode out of the room.
So, a new unknown Empowered, or perhaps even several, right in my back yard, the man at the desk thought, looking at the rows of desks framed in the doorway of his office. It’s been a while since we had a wild card.
No matter. Sooner or later, our latest brethren will learn to respect the power of the Complex.
One way or another.