Blackout quickly slipped his hand over the guard’s mouth, then eased him to the ground before moving to the other guard. Everyone’s eyes were on the sky in front of the hospice, lit orange with a slowly growing ball of flame, like a second sun.
C.K. slid his tablet into the specially made pocket below his belt and helped slide the guards into the lobby.
Fern stopped the fireworks, gave the orderlies his pearliest, crimson smile, “After you.” They both ran into the lobby after Blackout and C.K.
“How much time do we have before they wake up, Blackout?” C.K. asked.
“Maybe 10 minutes.”
C.K. raised an eyebrow while pulling his tablet back out, “Maybe?”
“It’s always different.”
“He doesn’t know how his power actually works,” Fern said with a shake of his head.
“This is coming from the guy who lights things on fire, but still manages to sweat,” returned Blackout. “Because that shit makes sense.”
“Let’s get the tanks out of the car,” C.K. cut in.
The lobby was still in shock. It had all happened too quickly for people to believe. Actually, even Fern couldn’t believe it was going so well. The nurses behind the counter were furiously pushing the alarm button and trying to lock down the doors, but C.K. had already hacked into the system. All of the electronics were under his control, now. The two orderlies tried to run into the stairwell, but Fern lit a path across the doorway, then did the same thing for the doors leading to the first floor common area. He made a rope of fire between his hands, then addressed everyone in the hospice with a commanding voice.
“You are now property of the Terriferno,” he began, twirling a flame into the air while turning slowly around, being sure to make eye contact with everyone. “You do not speak unless I say you can speak. You do not move unless I say you can move. You do not breathe unless I say you can breathe!” He was really going, now. It had been so long since he had seen the honest, pure fear on people’s faces. It was intoxicating.
“You two,” he pointed to the orderlies who were frozen near the stairwell door. “Go outside with Blackout and bring the oxygen containers in.”
They exchanged looks with each other before one of them ventured, “Can—can we breathe, now?”
“Oh, yeah,” Fern conceded, then turned around to tell everybody. “Yeah, sorry, got a bit carried away there,” he mumbled. “Everyone can breathe!”
There was a loud, communal exhale. “But nobody move!” he added.
The orderlies looked at each other, again.
“Oh,” Fern said. “You two can move. Nobody else, though!”
Blackout, who had just seated the unconscious guards into chairs opposite the reception counter, took this time to come forward and speak to Fern in a low voice, “Maybe it’s better if we just have everyone sit in the floor or something…”
C.K. joined them, making a tight huddle. “We only have a few minutes before things start to get more complicated than they need to be,” he said. “We need to make that video to broadcast now.”
“Blackout, go with the nurses to bring the O-tanks in, and me and C.K. will find a hostage to put in the video.”
They broke silently, and Fern surveyed the room again. People were starting to shuffle their feet. The nurses’ beepers were ringing one by one. Everybody was glancing at Fern while deciding how much danger they were actually in. He couldn’t allow them to start making calls and taking videos of their own.
“Everyone put your phones on the floor and kick them over to me,” Fern commanded.
Of the 5 people left in the room, 4 of them were nurses. Two were behind the reception desk, another two must have been on their way to assist patients, and the last person was leaning on his IV stand. C.K. grabbed all of the phones and put them in a plastic bag.
“What do you want?” the man with the IV asked. He was in his fifties, but his voice was soft and low.
“We only want you to be quiet,” Fern answered. He was very seriously considering the IV man for the hostage video, now. They didn’t have much time, and he seemed perfect.
“It’s alright, Mr. Cristo,” one of the nurses behind the counter said. “They’ll be gone soon.”
“We’ll be gone when we’re through,” Fern corrected. Blackout came through the door with the two nurses, pushing the oxygen tanks on two dollies.
“I need to—” Mr. Cristo started, but the sight of all of the oxygen tanks stopped him midway through his sentence.
“That’s all of them,” Blackout informed C.K. and Fern.
“Put them in front of the reception desk,” Fern said. “C.K., are we ready to broadcast?”
“Anytime. We need a face, though.”
“I think we found one,” Fern grinned, looking at Mr. Cristo.
“Oh,” said the same nurse who consoled Mr. Cristo before, “you probably want a different…”
The other nurse next to her nodded. The two orderlies next to Blackout both nodded furiously, as well. It looked like the room was full of bobble heads in scrubs. Fern ignored them. All they needed was a 30-second hostage video. C.K. had the rest made.
“If you would stand right over here, Mr. Cristo,” Fern asked politely, motioning to the space behind the oxygen tanks, in front of the reception desk where the two nurses were still standing.
Mr. Cristo shuffled over to where he was asked, with a nurse looking after him. Fern sensed a strange tension in the room, but he let it go. The video was the most important thing if they wanted to be out of here quickly.
C.K. got his tablet in position to take the video. “Ready when you are,” he said.
Fern stood next to Mr. Cristo, and then he pointed at the camera to cue C.K. to start rolling.
“This is a message to all heroes out there,” he started. “We’ve got exactly 57 oxygen tanks at Northside Hospice.” Fern let a smile creep across the left side of his face, then raised a hand with a fireball whirling around his palm. “Or, as I call them, 57 oxygen bombs, ready to explode whenever I say.” He wrapped his other hand around Mr. Cristo’s shoulder, “So, if you’re not here in the next 10 minutes, well,” he blew smoke from between his red teeth and lowered his chin to give the camera a vermillion glare, “I’ll let you figure the rest—”
Suddenly Mr. Cristo erupted into a vile, slippery shitting noise that sent rumbles throughout the whole hospice lobby. “Unnhhhh” he continued, and more unspeakable tremors followed.
Fern’s face scrunched into the most disgusted expression imaginable, and he ripped his hand from Mr. Cristo’s shoulder in the same motion as he leaped backwards. C.K. was in complete shock, his eyes alarmed and stretched wide, tablet still recording everything. Blackout covered his mouth, but couldn’t stop staring.
The noises continued for a full 10 seconds, and Mr. Cristo started to sweat and lean on his IV stand. One of the nurses came around the counter and gingerly took him to the bathroom. Fern regained what he could salvage of his composure.
C.K. was silent.
“C.K.” Fern repeated.
“C.K.!!” he screamed, finally.
C.K. snapped alive, “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Yeah…”
“Can you do something with that?” he asked.
“Please, tell me you can do something with that,” said Blackout, still covering his mouth. “We need to get out of this room.”
“I guess…” C.K.’s eyes wandered around his tablet screen, “…I guess I can cut the tape and send it out. But it’s not gonna look too good.”
“As long as the basic message is there,” Fern said. He was trying to cover his shock, to keep it all together, but this wasn’t a good indicator of how things were going to turn out.
“I mean,” Blackout began with a shrug, “It is a patient-care facility.”
“We probably should have expected something like this,” C.K. agreed.
Fern’s eyes were watering. There was no hiding it, anymore. He walked over to the empty seat next to the two unconscious guards and slumped into a chair. He was going to need some time to emotionally recover from what had just happened.
“I didn’t know villains were so sensitive,” came the nurse behind the counter. “If something like that is gonna shake you, you sure don’t seem cut-out for your line of work.”
“Blackout,” Fern said, quietly.
“Can you shut that lady up, please?”
“Sure thing, Fern—ah—Terriferno.”
The nurse tried to move away from Blackout, but he caught her arm, whispered, “Sorry,” and she fell into the floor. He put her back up against the wall and walked back to where C.K. was editing the video.
“Hey,” he offered, “it doesn’t look too bad.”
“Send the video, already,” said Fern in a resigned tone.
“Alright,” C.K. replied. “Done. All networks should have it running over their news programs, now. And I also sent it to the Hero’s Federation.”
“See?” Blackout said, trying to shake Fern out of it, “Everything is going alright.”
Fern put both hands on his forehead, stared at his knees, and muttered, “Somebody open the front doors.” Then he said, in an even thinner voice, “And, for fuck’s sake, make sure they stay open.”