Cort’s release was far less interesting that he’d hoped for. Two orderlies came in and unstrapped him, and then one of them asked him if he could get back to his room by himself. Looking around fruitlessly for a wheelchair, Cort nodded and the orderlies disappeared so fast he expected a wind from air rushing in to fill the spaces they’d vacated. Cort sighed a little, sure that this wasn’t really the kind of service he should be expecting given how expensive the Home was, and walked slowly back to his room. On the way he had to walk past Fizz Mission’s room, and he paused outside her door. Should he look inside? Check that she was alone?
“That’s not your room, Mr. Stretch,” said a nurse coming up behind him. A warm hand fell onto his shoulder. “A couple more door, Sir, and you’ll be right there. Who have you been visiting then?”
As she led him along the corridor he told her about his release, and she tutted and sounded shocked, made sure he was seated comfortably in his chair that looked out of the window, and then walked off again without ever telling him that she’d do anything about it. He looked out of the window. It looked into the courtyard, on the inside of the building. He could see the other walls; the building was heptagonal for some reason, and he could see all of the other six sides. Below was a grassy courtyard with a fountain, a tiny lake, and an equally tiny wooden bridge across the lake. There was a small summer-house, and some white plastic chairs scattered around outside. He’d sat down there in the summer, and it wasn’t quite as depressing at ground-level as it seemed from up here. He sat up a little and squinted. The lake was completely frozen.
“Icebro fell into it,” said a voice behind him. He turned his head, hearing the bones click, and saw Dr. Madison in the doorway. “He was with a nurse, so he wasn’t hurt and was pulled out quickly, but he still reacted to the shock by freezing the lake. To be perfectly honest, I’m relieved. I was worrying that he had lost his powers before that.”
“Why would that be a worry?” Cort didn’t know Dr. Madison very well; only that he specialised in superheroes that had lost or were losing their powers, and also did most of the cardiac surgery when it was needed.
“Because lost powers don’t just disappear. They go somewhere. Sometimes they pass on to someone close by, and sometimes they become dormant somehow. That’s dangerous because if they’re woken up by something, say by a sharp shock, or a nightmare, all the built-up energy gets released in one burst, and depending on the power that can be very bad.”
“I mean that if Icebro goes dormant and then gets a bad shock he could encase this whole building in ice. We’d suffocate while we were trying to dig our way out.”
“He’s that strong?”
“He’s gotten stronger as he gets older. I have theories, but that’s all they are for now. And they’re not why I’m here, Mr. Stretch. Do you mind if I call you Cort?”
Cort braced his feet against the floor and turned the chair. It made a farting noise as it rubbed across the carpet, and Dr. Madison’s face twitched with the effort of hiding a smile. As the chair turned, Cort suddenly realised that he could see Fizz’s window from his own.
“Call me Cort,” he said. “Everyone else seems determined to call me Mr. Stretch.”
“Very well Cort, I’m here because of your recent restraint. You know that you produced a mucus after a chest infection that turned out to be mobile and possibly hostile. Well, the results are back from the lab, and as the lead physician on this, I’ve conducted a couple of experiments of my own. Just so you’re aware, we have a sample of your mucus in a sealed glass jar in my laboratory and I expect to keep it there for a while.”
Cort nodded; this sounded like a scientist, though in his experience Dr. Madison should have at least one manic laugh by now. The Doctor would have done.
“So,” continued Dr. Madison, “we’re confident that this was an isolated incident. Although your mucus is capable of a bacteria-like reproduction it’s non-sentient on seven out of eight measures and appears, at least in part, to have been produced as a side-effect of medication. We’ve updated your medical records with specific notes to ensure that we don’t repeat the medication and this incident. The mucus has some unusual flame-retardant properties that we want to investigate further, and an old colleague of yours, Chip Inside, has offered to help out in his spare time.”
“That’s good of him,” said Cort. “So I’m in the clear?”
“For the mucus, yes,” said Dr. Madison. “However, I now need to run some tests to find out if you’ve transferred any of your powers into the mucus. I think I mentioned earlier that powers can be transferred, and this is one of the ways. If you’re starting to give up your powers then we need to review our protocols for you. We may have to restrict your visitors.”
“You mean no-one will be able to see me, don’t you.” It was a question, it was a flat statement.
“No.” Dr. Madison held Cort’s gaze without blushing or squirming. “I mean that we’ll provide you with visitors who we think would benefit from your powers, and only they will be able to visit you until you complete the transfer.”
“Most likely, but the Board makes the decision and there are some board-members who have other interests and priorities.”
“Wait. Wait a minute. What happens to me if my powers are all transferred?”
Now Dr. Madison broke eye contact. He looked down at the ground.
“This is a home for retired superheroes, Cort. Do I need to spell it out any further?”