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 cold, dry air wafted across his face, making his bloodied ear feel ice-cold.
The cone-shaped metal coverings on his ears amplified the muffled sound of police radios and frightened voices that swirled around him through the static; or, at least the one over his left ear did. The one over his right ear was bashed in, explaining the blood drying onto his cheek. He had spent so much time tinkering with them, too: so many hours getting them just right, and now his masterpiece, his ear cones were broken in a stupid accident. He hadn’t even gotten inside the house yet, hadn’t even laid eyes on his target. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He would need to fix it when he got 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 pounding head was the only thing he felt. It was an odd sensation: such an all-encompassing pain should have snaked down into the rest of his body, but it didn’t. It climaxed in his neck and abruptly cut off. For Louis, someone who was intimately familiar with pain, this abrupt pain/no pain line made him a bit panicky. Just a little, though. He wouldn’t openly panic in front of the people who were going to arrest him. Failing before even getting to his target, his father, was embarrassing enough. So what if he died? So what if he failed? It didn’t matter.
Experimenting, Louis tried to clench his hand. Nothing. He tried harder. 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 the rest of his equipment and outfit that made him memorable. And once they did, once they saw that Ignition was nothing more than poor, little Louis Legrand, his vengeance would be over. His purpose. His power. Ignition would be dead and Louis would be stuck with being no one but Louis.
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 police officers to retreat. Summoning a last bout of will, 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 an ambulance came echoing down the street and Louis tried to look at it without moving his head; he was afraid that if he moved his head, it might fall off. The ambulance screeched to a halt behind the circle of police cars. Blood ran along his jaw from his temple. The driver and EMT respondents 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 driver knelt beside him while the other two lowered the stretcher. 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.
“Sir, if you have a concussion we need—“
“They have to stay on,” Louis said, more loudly than was polite.
“Susan, the hospital is only a mile away,” one of the other EMTs said, uneasily. “Let’s wait until we get him there. It will be easier for all of us.”
Ignitions’s unmasking had been stalled, but not for long: he knew that. The EMTs 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. In the cramped ambulance, it was silent as death. 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, Ignition,” 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.
Louis sniffed in amusement. He knew that guy. That was one of his dad’s no-good friends. Fernando…something. His last name started with a B, thought Louis. Fernando, who turned on his cop car lights whenever he wanted to skip traffic, Fernando who would bring his dad confiscated weapons from the police station, Fernando who knew exactly how Louis’ mom was being treated and did nothing about it.
The ambulance jerked to a stop 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.
“Susan,” said one of the EMTs with a smile to lighten the mood. “she thinks traffic laws are a myth.” It didn’t work, especially not with Fernando.
The mile seemed to go on forever and the rocking mixing with the terrible pain in Louis’s head and neck made him nauseated.
“How about some pain killers?” he asked with a smile that only creased one side of his face. The EMTs 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 open the back doors. From what Louis could see, this was not the hospital. The police realized this as well and hurried outside. His neck was throbbing and his eyes hurt, straining to see outside. He let his lids fall closed but as he did, he heard a quiet whistle, like that of a small projectile cutting through the air. 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 black lab coat and heavy-duty maroon 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 human?
Louis averted his gaze. “Surprised and… annoyed,” he said slowly, “but I wouldn’t say ‘caught.’”
The masked figure did not respond. “I saw what you did back there, or rather, what you tried to do,” he continued as if Louis had not spoken. “Fire. What out there is more terrifying than fire? Your inventions are ingenious and your use of them,” A gloved hand traced the edge of the nozzle poking out from inside one of Louis’s sleeves. “marvelous. You have a lot of potential and you’ve caught the eye of some very powerful people. I believe we are kindred spirits. My name is Nightshade. I’m a doctor, skilled beyond anyone you’ll find in a hospital.” He spit the last word. “Would you like to walk again?”
So his injuries were as bad as he had feared. Louis breathed heavily, determined not to get emotional. “Yeah.”
“I can give you that and much more. Partner with me, your machines with my poison, and we will reshape this hopeless world in our image. An eye on your heart, an eye on your friend, an eye on the world.”
This guy was clearly off his rocker, but something about him intrigued Louis. He was a deviant, but he wasn’t a bum. There was something about Nightshade that made Louis want to become better. Passion, anger, pain, intelligence. Leaving the world behind to create a better one, one that functioned on their terms.
Really, there wasn’t much of a choice. 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. Here was a chance to do something bigger than burning buildings—not to mention, repair his body—and once he was all patched up, he could attempt revenge again, except next time he would not bother to climb to the window with the escape ladder. He’d stay on the ground.
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.”
“Okay, then,” Louis agreed with a smile, hoping he hadn’t offended his new partner too badly. “Count me in.”
A/N: I know I already posted the prologue, but it was in ugly, rough draft version, and this version is so much shinier.
Today, I made myself sit down and start hard-core proofreading Ignition, and to my utter disbelief, I actually kind of enjoyed it. I had been putting it off with all the skillful procrastination that comes through university because I didn’t want to deal with the innumerable plot holes, and the fact that the writing style in the beginning doesn’t match the one at the end. How do I fix this??
The answer turned out to be pretty straightforward and anti-climactic: start at the beginning and change anything you don’t like. That’s it. No magic. No frenzied connection maps with string and pictures. I didn’t have to sell my soul to the devil. I just…started at the beginning and fixed things I didn’t like, and since I know how the rest of the story goes (or how I want it to go, at least), I can drop little names and hints and character reactions that will become important.
I feel powerful right now, so I’m going to end this post, and go into the forest to fight some bears.
Edit: I’m thinking of renaming Countersink, “Ignition” for world-continuity reasons. The problem is that Louis created his Host persona to become the character who helped him get through a bad childhood: a superhero from a cartoon he watched every day after school. That superhero had fire as his superpower, so naming him after an engineering term didn’t make much sense, even though I really like the name “Countersink.” Also, first draft of the cover is complete!
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