Thaddeus George shuffled into his cube. His liver-spotted hand shook as he pulled his chair from under the desk. Lowering his body, he grunted as his weight transferred to the chair. “That part’s done.” Leaning forward, his shoulders and silver hair head hunched over the keyboard. The knobby index finger of each hand poked at a key as he typed his password, then hit enter.
“Thaddeus,” Mr. Danforth said leaning into the cube where Thaddeus sat. “Shouldn’t you be retired by now?” A smile jumped to his face and morphed to a grin.
“Shut it, ya snot-nosed brat,” Thaddeus said pivoting to face the large man and smiled. “Do your parents know where you are, kid?”
“Haha,” Danforth said. “Same old lines.”
“They still work,” Thaddeus said. “I’m still capable, at least for the rest of this month.”
“Hey,” Danforth stepped into the cube. “I’ll be there to hand you your watch.” He clamped a meaty hand on Thaddeus’ shoulder. “Losing you will be a loss to us. You have a lot of knowledge up there.” He pointed to Thaddeus’ head. “Even if it is gray.”
Thaddeus smiled and said, “Don’t make me, make you, make me wanna hurt you.” Pivoting around to face the monitors, he added. “I gotta get back to work or my jerk of a boss will fire me.”
“Yeah,” Danforth said with a wave as he left the cube. “That guy is a jerk. Trust me, I know.”
Thaddeus chuckled to himself and glanced at the picture pinned to his cube wall. Danforth, with hair, was pumping on the chest of a man in a superhero uniform. To the side, a younger looking Thaddeus was wrapping a bandage around the arm of a woman with glowing eyes. The faint, translucent gray of a forcefield showed in the background, just above the shoebox-sized device generating it.
A double beep pulled Thaddeus’ attention. “Hmmm…Sprite.” Tapping the screen, a picture of a girl appeared. A dusting of freckles spread from under her lavender mask. “Sheesh. They’re getting younger and younger.” Cutting his eyes back to the medical readouts, he arched an eyebrow. “Yeah, better get going on this one. She doesn’t know when to get out of there.”
Thaddeus pushed his hands down on the table, and his knees wobbled as he stood. He moved the chair and walked from his cube. Leaning against the walls, he wound his way to the end of the row and stepped to the elevator. His wrist panel beeped three times. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Using his other hand he tapped the surface. “Senior EMT Thaddeus George responding to call dealing with Sprite.”
“Noted, Mr. George,” the electronic female voice said in his earbud. “Be safe out there. We’re looking forward to your party.”
The metal doors slid open and Thaddeus tottered in. Leaning on the rail, he muttered, “Everyone is, except me.” A gnarled finger pressed the button for the garage. Both hands gripped the rail as the elevator sped up toward the ground floor. The ding sounded, and the elevator slowed to a stop. Both doors slid open and Thaddeus staggered from the metal room. “I hate that thing.”
“We got the crossover ready for you,” a young technician said as Thaddeus walked toward the bay of vehicles. “Knock it out of the park.” The technician put a firm tap on Thaddeus’ shoulder.
Thaddeus jerked and a corner of his lips twitched. “Thanks, kid. I needed that.” Yanking the driver door open, he slid in and touched the ignition button, making the red and white vehicle roar. Next came the lights and siren buttons. Touching his wrist panel, Thaddeus shouted, “Dispatch, EMT George rolling to scene.”
“Understood, EMT George,” the familiar female voice said over the earbud.
Thaddeus shifted the transport to drive and pushed the accelerator. The car lurched forward and swerved at the end of the driveway.
Holding onto the steering wheel, Thaddeus followed the directions on the readout. He swerved around traffic and blew through intersections with red lights. At the turn before the destination, he turned sharp and rolled over the curb and onto the sidewalk. A quick yank on the wheel and he righted the vehicle on the road.
Screeching to a halt outside of the art museum, he tapped the button to open the back. Sliding from the front seat, he jogged to the back. Using his momentum, he pulled the gurney from the storage compartment. With quick steps, he hustled toward the lump on the ground forty feet away.
“Old man,” a voice called. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Thaddeus rolled his head to find the voice but didn’t stop moving. “Picking up my patient.”
A shimmer appeared and solidified into a smoke-gray uniformed person. The large, bulky shoulders were topped with an elongated head. A granite colored point protruded from the forehead. Thick arms crossed over the chest and planted feet held the person in front of Thaddeus. “No. She ain’t dead. But she will tell me what I want to know.”
Thaddeus stopped short and let the gurney bump into his backside. “I’m just an EMT doing my job. This ain’t personal, son.”
“Exactly,” the large, oddly shaped man said. “This ain’t personal. She has information I need and she will give it.”
Holding a hand out, Thaddeus patted one of the rocky shoulders. “How about you follow me to the hospital? You can talk to her when she comes to.” He stepped to the side and pulled the gurney with him.
A heavy hand planted on Thaddeus’s flat chest and pushed. “I said no.”
Staggering back a pace, Thaddeus braced against the rolling bed. His lips twitched as his shoulders straightened. “You’re going to begrudge an old man from saving a little girl?” He tossed a hand forward and pointed a finger at the downed form. “You truly are evil.”
“You damn skippy, I am,” the large man said. “The word’s going to get out how evil Granite is, and then I’ll get the respect I deserve.” A wide finger poked Thaddeus twice in the chest. “And don’t you forget it.”
Thaddeus smiled as the hand pulled back from him. He cocked an eyebrow as his chest expanded and his posture straightened.
“What the hell?” Granite rolled his eyes over Thaddeus’s features. “You had a full head of gray. Now it’s got black in it.” He shook his head and put a hand on the EMT’s shoulder. His fingers made a grinding noise as he squeezed. “It don’t matter. I can wait until she’s willing to talk.” He tossed the other thumb over his shoulder.
Thaddeus turned his eyes to the hand gripping his shoulder. He felt his lips tightened and the skin around his eyes shift. Wrinkles disappeared and his eyes brightened. The white drained from his hair and was replaced by midnight black, except around the temples. His shoulder grew bigger as did his arms and legs. “Son,” Thaddeus said. “I think you better let me through to that little girl there.”
Granite’s face faltered as he looked closer at the EMT’s features. “Your hair is almost all black now. What the hell are you?” He pulled his hand back from the shoulder he was failing to crush.
“No harm, no foul,” Thaddeus said and stepped to the side again. “Just let me through.”
“I can’t do that, mister,” Granite said. “Step back or I’ll have to hurt you.”
“Figures,” the EMT said. “If you’ll hit a little girl, you’ll hit an old man.”
“Stop calling her a little girl,” Granite said. “She’s like thirty or something.”
“If you say so, son,” Thaddeus said and stepped to a side again.
“That’s it, old man,” Granite said. “You made me do this.” His hand moved in a fluid motion and slapped Thaddeus across the cheek.
Thaddeus’s head jerked to the side from the blow. Righting his gaze he looked at the masked face of Granite and smiled.
Granite’s mouth fell open as he saw the wrinkles disappear with the remainder of the white from the EMT’s hair. The sparkle in the medic’s eye showed bright and true. His entire body increased in muscle tone and filled the tight outfit he wore. Forty years vanished from the old man’s face and other features in three seconds. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m an EMT doing his job,” Thaddeus said. He lowered his voice and leaned in close to Granite. “Now, either let me pass, or I’ll put on the other gurney.”
“Fuck you, old man.” Granite cocked a fist back and sent it forward.
Without flinching, Thaddeus smiled and remained still. The heavy fist connected, smearing his nose to one side and grinding his teeth upon impact.
When the fist was pulled back, there was no mark of the hit. Thaddeus laughed. “My turn.” His hand darted up, then down on the shoulder of Granite. A loud crack sounded followed by a scream. The blur of a backhand smacked across Granite’s face, turning his head. A leg dashed out and connected below the knee of Granite, bending the leg at an odd angle. Granite dropped to the cement, screaming as he fell.
Thaddeus dashed to the fallen hero and scooped her up into his large hands. “Gotcha,” he said and moved her to the gurney and strapped her in place. Running at a dead sprint, he dashed the rolling bed to the vehicle and secured it in the back of his vehicle. He pulled the second gurney and repeated the process for the loud rock man. “For someone made of stone and working at being evil, you scream like a little girl.” He reached into a drawer and pulled out a bandage. Taking the paper backing off, he slapped it on the stomach area of Granite. “This is for the pain you’re causing our ears.” He closed the doors then vaulted over the vehicle and jumped behind the steering wheel.
It took no time for Thaddeus to drop off his patients. He filled out the paperwork for the capture of Granite and handed the clipboard to the officer. Speeding back to Special Delivery, he parked his vehicle and ran up the stairs. Busting through the door he ran into Danforth and another woman.
She stared at Thaddeus. “Wow!” She leaned in close to Danforth and whispered, “Who’s that hunk of fun?”
Chuckling, Danforth waved at Thaddeus who walked away. “Do you remember about forty years ago the hero called Shift?”
“Barely,” the woman said, craning her head to watch Thaddeus walk away. “I was like five when he retired.”
“Yeah,” Danforth said. “He did retire. From the hero biz. He became an EMT and worked for a start-up company called Hero Aid.”
“Isn’t that the original name for us?”
“Yup.” Danforth nodded and walked toward the offices. “That was him. He retires again at the end of this month.”
“Wait?” The woman reached a hand out to stop Danforth. “That was Shift? He should be like seventy or something.”
“Eighty-two,” Danforth said. “And looks damn good.”