Cranking his wheels, Malcolm rolled into the elevator. The readout displayed Ground Level Launch Deck ONLY in large, red, glowing letters. “Turbo mode,” Malcolm said as he pinched his nose and breathed out, making his ears pop. Next, he pulled his goggles down over his eyes, then re-tightened the gloves on his hands. Squeezing in a few more bites of the sandwich, he stuffed the other in a pouch under his seat. His weight shifted towards the floor when the elevator stopped.
The doors opened and he saw the red and white blur of Karl as he darted from the starting blocks. “Damn. He took the stairs. Eighteen floors in under ten seconds.” He shook his head and smiled as he rolled onto the launch floor.
The lights flashed green and he accelerated. With a firm grip on his right wheel, he veered onto the main road and picked up speed. His chair’s back leaned forward, lowering him into a rolling crouch. The wheels splayed and he poured on the rotations. His wrist panel showed the map he needed to follow as well as his current speed of 136 miles per hour. The estimated arrival time was set at ten minutes. It also showed the indicators for the rest of his team, along with their codenames. Edie (Marble), Casey (Sonique), Anders (Ape), Lawrence (Beam), and Karl (Dash).
Tapping the communication button on his armrest he said, “Dash, slow down or at least wait. We need more intel.”
“Roger,” Karl said. “Slowing now. Besides, I couldn’t read the street signs. I had to backtrack three times so far.”
“Keep the chatter down,” a new voice said. “Mag Wheels, this is Paladin. Get your team to the rally point on the map. Intel will be delivered.”
“Roger,” Malcolm said. Glancing at his panel, an orange dot appeared on the map. The vitals read-out flowed across the top. Paladin was green as was Damsel. Fisticuffs’ name was yellow. Filament’s name turned yellow as it appeared. Titanium’s turned red, and was followed by Twins, Telestic, Cutlass, Fold, Glimmer, and Garbage. “Edie isn’t gonna like that.”
Following his map, Malcolm made the last turn and saw the small building indicated by the orange dot on his map. The red and white blur of Karl stopped running as Malcolm approached.
“Dash, at location,” Karl said over the earbud.
“Dash, enter from north door,” Paladin said.
A momentary blur and he disappeared around the building.
Malcolm slowed his approach. “Mag Wheels on site. Using north door.” As he slowed, Malcolm tapped a button on the armrest. His wheelchair shifted to the normal configuration, leaving him upright. A quick turn put him on one wheel and the door opened for him. Pivoting around, he stopped inside the building, leaving a skid mark on the cement floor. The first thing Malcolm saw was Karl bent over, bracing against his knees and breathing heavy. Sweat ran down the runner’s face and dripped off his nose and chin. Malcolm nodded at the wan smile and quick thumbs up from Karl.
“Sonique on site,” Casey said and landed outside the closing door. She snaked a hand out and grabbed the door. Stepping in, she moved next to Malcolm. Her body heat radiated, making him look up at her. Like Karl, rivulets of sweat poured down her face. Her usual lustrous raven hair was held down by the same moisture.
The room was lit by four poles with lights on the top end. At the base of their tripods a plastic box with a cable winding up to the bright bulbs. Shadows played on the wall at the far end where another room opened behind a wall.
“Where’s the rest of your team?” A figure wearing a sky-blue costume with silver trim stepped around the corner. His bronze-colored cape showed rips and burn marks. The normally swept back, black hair splayed in different directions. A bruise bloomed, angry and purple, on his cheek under his half-mask.
“Paladin,” Malcolm said, nodding in greeting. “Each of them travels at different speeds. The fastest ones are here.” He indicated Casey and Karl with a wave.
“The teleporter,” Paladin said. “He should be here by now.”
Touching his communication button, Malcolm said, “Beam, position check.”
“I just picked up Triage,” Lawrence said. “We should be there in two hops.”
“Good job, Beam,” Malcolm said. “North door when you arrive.”
“You need to hold on to me,” Lawrence said. “Gotcha.” Static hissed over the earbuds. “Roger, Mag Wheels.”
“Come with me,” Paladin said and crooked an arm towards Malcolm.
Rolling where indicated, Malcolm saw an improvised table of scrap plywood and three sawhorses. Several dirty pieces of paper, pens, and a few makeshift bandages lay strewn about the wobbly surface.
“Is anyone hurt?” Malcolm’s eyes moved from the table to the other two figures in the room. Filament and Damsel sat across the table. Their uniforms were stained, but no holes.
Filament stood, her brunette hair lay finger-combed to one side. “I think my arm’s broken,” she lifted her left arm in the makeshift sling rigged around her neck. Her lips parted and she hissed air through her teeth. The white cord stood in contrast to her navy-blue uniform.
After pulling a kit from behind his chair, Malcolm activated his brakes. Next, he tugged on his armrests, which extended into two crutches with the tops wrapping around his forearms. “Let me see that.” His crutches poked the cement and he swung both of his odd-angled legs forward. Repeating the process twice, he walked around the table towards Filament.
“Mag,” Paladin said. “She’s been in tough scrapes before. She’ll survive for a few—”
“I don’t tell you how to fly around and beat up villains,” Malcolm said without looking at Paladin. “You handle being a badass on your own. This is my job. I’m damn good at it and that is why you wanted us.”
Both Damsel and Filament’s eyes cut to Paladin as Malcolm ran his hands over Filament’s arm. Paladin stayed where he stood, his lips forming two white lines across his face.
Filament flinched and let out a squeak when Malcolm reached the area of her wrist. “Hmmm…” Rummaging through his aid pack, he pulled out a small square. Holding it over the area, he tapped on a corner. The square flared to life and displayed the inside of Filament’s arm. The dark line along a bone stood out in the image. “Looks like a hairline fracture. You’re cutting off circulation with this thin sling.” He scanned the debris and spotted two slats of wood. “Damsel, would you break one of those into two pieces about eight inches or so.” Without looking, he tossed the x-ray screen onto his chair where it landed on the cushioned seat. Reaching over, Damsel snapped the wood as directed and handed the pieces to Malcolm. Bending over he ran the ends over the concrete floor, breaking off snags and other long, jagged pieces. Placing one slat on the outside of her arm, and the other on the inside, he situated the pieces to cover from Filament’s hand to below the elbow. Holding both pieces in place, he looked at Filament. “You know what to do. Not too tight.” Looking at the improvised splint, Filament waved an arm on one end, then the other. A white line wrapped a few times around where she indicated and tightened. There was no bump or knot. “Good. You won’t need a sling. I have a shot for pain if you want.”
“No,” Filament said, shaking her head. “I’m good.” A blush crept from her jawline to under her domino mask. She pinned back a few stray locks of dark hair behind her ear. Looking at her feet, she found her chair and sat.
“Damsel?” Malcolm turned to look at the other woman. She shook her head, sending waves through her platinum hair. Making his way back to the wheelchair, Malcolm stowed the x-ray screen, his medical kit, and repositioned to the chair. He used his arms to pick his legs up and placed his feet on the flat metal rests.
“Where are your masks?” Paladin leaned on the table, looking at Malcolm. His eyes narrowed and a corner of his mouth crinkled. “We insisted that each of you have codenames and masks. You are using the codenames, but aren’t wearing the masks.”
“Well,” Malcolm said, lifting his eyebrows. “We are wearing highly visible EMT uniforms with patches and Special Delivery emblazoned on them. Additionally, we are required, by law, to display identification. So, we all have a name badge on our chest.” He tapped the plastic-coated card. “Most of us pull a normal shift at Special Delivery, so we go from that job to this job in the blink of an eye. A mask to cover our identity seemed silly.”
Paladin’s lips pulled at one corner and pink rose to his forehead. Damsel and Filament hid their smiles behind their hands and looked away from the two men.
“Look,” Malcolm said rolling closer to the table. “I know this wasn’t exactly what you wanted. We didn’t get what we wanted either. I’m sure your people wanted different things from Special Delivery and there was pushback. I get it. Management is notorious for it. You didn’t have the funding to take us on full-time. And to train a select few of you to do what we do would have been a waste of time. Compromises were made beyond both of our control. What we control is understanding.”
Paladin nodded. “You’re right. I’m used to a well discip—” He looked at Damsel, who shook her head a fraction of an inch. “A different type of group. You aren’t commandos or heroes like us. You’re well-trained EMTs and, as you stated, damn good at what you do. I’ll leave that side to you.” He extended his hand to the sitting medic.
Malcolm smiled, took the offered hand, and shook it. “Excellent.”
“Beam and Triage on site,” Lawrence said over the earbud. The sound of a door opening and closing followed.