Prologue: Louis is pronounced, “Loo-is,” not “Loo-ee.” (Remember, because I won’t tell you twice.)
Louis Legrand was paralyzed.
He lay on the blacktop, staring up through his goggles at the side of the smoking building and the oak trees flashing red and blue from the lights on the police cars that scattered the area. The now cold air wafted across his face, freezing his lips and the trail of blood that ran into his left ear. The large metal coverings on his ears amplified the muffled sound of police radios and frightened voices that swirled around him through the static. He would need to fix it when he got back home. If he got home, that is. An ambulance was on its way, according to one of the policemen standing around. Firemen confirmed that the fire had been put out; his fire had been put out.
His head and neck hurt like nothing else, but he had no feeling in the rest of his body; he couldn’t even move, and yet they guarded him. He could not feel the familiar pressure of the straps that wrapped around his chest, holding his fuel tanks in place, or the flame thrower pressure chambers strapped to his forearms, or even the fuel tanks under his coat that caused him to lay arching his back unnaturally. Once the ambulance arrived, he would be laid on a stretcher and pushed into the back, where they would remove his goggles and all the rest of his equipment and outfit that created his memorable silhouette: the face that mounted wanted posters on every telephone pole in the county. His identity would be revealed, and everything he had worked for would be over.
All he needed to do was squeeze the levers in his palms and fire would burst from his sleeve in a powerful arc, forcing all the policemen to retreat. Louis stared intensely at his left arm and hand that lay extended straight out beside his body, telling it to move with all the will he had – and that was a lot, for the record – but it no longer heard him. This was a disappointing way to go.
The siren of the ambulance came echoing down the street and Louis flopped his head to the other side to watch as it screeched to a halt behind the circle of police cars. Blood ran along his jaw from his temple. The woman driver and two men in scrubs came dashing out from behind, rolling a stretcher towards him as if they were going for the gold in a wheelbarrow race. The police parted and the woman knelt beside him while the men lowered the stretcher to the ground. She dabbed the blood away and felt his pulse under his jaw, then squeezed his arm, dodging the tube that wove in and out of the leather jacket.
“Do you feel that?” she asked.
“No,” Louis croaked.
She asked him the same thing for multiple places, but his answers were identical. By this time one of the men was on the ground with her; they both looked worried. Louis was too, but his eyes were not visible and he could hold his facial muscles as still as ice. The doctor reached for his goggles.
“Leave them, please,” Louis stopped her.
She hesitated. “I have to check your eyes for sign of concussion.”
“I need them,” he insisted. “or I’ll go blind.”
“Susan, the hospital is only a mile away,” the man said, uneasily. “Let’s wait until we get him there. It will be easier for all of us.”
His unmasking had been stalled, but for how much longer? They lifted him gently onto the stretcher, carefully supporting his head and then they loaded him into the dark back space of the ambulance, along with two policemen. It was silent as death back there, even more potent because of how many people had crammed themselves inside. The vehicle rocked back and forth as it sped down the road and the whole time, Louis stared at the policemen, one of which looked like he was boiling.
“Don’t think this means you’re off the hook, Countersink,” he said in a huff. The other policeman frowned at his partner and told him under his breath that it was not the place to say such things.
Suddenly, the ambulance stopped and those who were standing had to grab onto the walls for balance. It was stationary for a while and then it continued on at a smooth pace.
“There must have been traffic,” one of the doctors said with a smile to lighten the mood. It didn’t work, especially not with the policemen who were determined to fume the whole time.
The mile seemed to go on forever and the rocking mixing with the terrible pain in Louis’s head and neck made him nauseous.
“How about some pain killers?” he asked with a smile that only creased one side of his face. The doctors exchanged glances for a few seconds and then one of them stepped forward.
“I suppose that’s alright,” he said as he tried and failed to roll up Louis’s sleeve.
“No, leave that there,” Louis directed. “Just stick me in the back of the hand or something. Don’t remove my jacket.”
The ambulance stopped again, but this time it remained motionless; he heard the door to the driver’s cab open and close. The police swung the back doors open. From what Louis could see, this was not the hospital. The police realized this as well and hurried outside. His neck was throbbing from craning to look over his arched body, so he let it rest back on the stretcher but as he did, he heard a quiet whistle, like that of a small projectile cutting through the air and when he looked up again, all four men lay on the dark concrete, still and unresponsive. Before he had time to respond, however, a man in a white lab coat and heavy-duty black gloves climbed quietly into the back of the ambulance.
Louis stared completely dumbfounded into the black faceless mask and goggles.
“Caught in a snare, are we?” a grating, robotic voice said from behind the mask.
Was that even a man?
Louis averted his gaze. “Unexpected and… troubling,” he said slowly, “but not caught, per say.”
The masked figure did not respond. “I like your work, Countersink,” he continued as if Louis had not spoken. “Your inventions are quite ingenious. And your use of them,” A gloved hand traced the edge of the nozzle poking out from inside one of Louis’s sleeve. “marvelous. I believe we are kindred spirits. My name is Nightshade. I’m a doctor, skilled beyond anyone the hospitals will employ. …Would you like to walk again?”
So his injuries were as bad as he had feared. Louis breathed heavily. “Yeah.”
“I can give you that and much more. Join forces with me, your machines with my medicine, and we will reshape this hopeless world in our image.”
What was Louis to do? Tell this man, this skilled mastermind, that he would rather go it alone, paralyzed for the rest of his life? He would not be able to build anything else, and he had no one whom he trusted to work with. Louis knew there would come a time when his Countersink charade would have to meet reality: that his scattered arson would need to answer tough questions. Here was a chance to do something bigger than burning buildings. Not to mention, repair his body. The choice was not hard. Louis looked straight into Nightshade’s hidden eyes: goggles to goggles.
“I have a question, first,” he said.
“Are you human?”
Nightshade’s shoulders slumped and he cocked his head to one side. “What do you think?” he asked flatly, if his robotic voice could possibly be any more dull. When Louis didn’t answer, he sighed. “Yes, I am.”
“Ok, then,” Louis agreed with a smile, hoping he hadn’t offended his new partner too badly. “Count me in.”
So, this is the prologue of a book I am working on. If you like super-villains, fire, grumpy people, or friendship, you might enjoy it. I’ll only be putting up a few scenes from it, as I am in the editing stage and will then submit it for publication.