"What's your name, sweetheart?"
Crystal looked up over her file at the young girl sitting on a plastic chair in front of her desk. This was her first interview, and already she was feeling overwhelmed by her compassion for these kids.
"Elizabeth Morran." Elizabeth swung her feet below her chair, watching Crystal with big brown eyes.
"And how old are you?"
"And what is your... condition?" It was right there in the file in big bold red print: cystic fibrosis. A genetic, incurable, life-shortening disease that makes the lungs produce thick, sticky mucous. Someone had to pound on Elizabeth's back for 30 minutes a couple times a day, to loosen the mucous so she could cough it out. The disease made her vulnerable to infection, and she'd been in and out of hosptials for antibiotics since she was five. Crystal thought her heart would break.
"Can you list your medications?"
Elizabeth did. It was a long list.
"When was your last infection?"
Crystal wrote some things down in the file and sifted through the papers restlessly. She wasn't sure where to begin with this girl. "You do understand that I may not be able to help you? It depends on whether my lab tests work out and it depends on how well your body reacts to my experiments."
Elizabeth nodded solemnly. She had messy, curly brown hair that bounced when she moved her head. When she talked, she sounded a decade older than her eleven years. "I know. Don't worry about getting my hopes up. There's no cure for cystic fibrosis. My immune system sucks and I can get an infection really easily. I'll probably die by the time I'm thirty. I've always just wanted to be a normal kid. But having superpowers? It's a dream come true just to have the chance."
Crystal's mind was spinning with ideas. The girl needed new lungs, that was certain. Bionic lungs. But what exactly could they do? Create gale-force winds? Breathe fire? Shout really really loud? Maybe all three... She would have to reinforce the windpipe and maybe the mouth...
Crystal put down her pen and picked up a funny-shaped tube, bringing it over to Elizabeth. "Blow as hard as you can into this tube. I want to measure how much force your lungs have now." Elizabeth obeyed. Little turbines inside the tube hummed and Crystal read a number on a dial and wrote it in Elizabeth's file. "Now, blow slowly and evenly, eventually getting rid of all your air."
Crystal did a couple more tests, listening to Elizabeth's chest and back with a stethoscope, and tapping over her lungs.
"Have you given any thought to what type of superpower your new lungs could have?" Crystal asked her as she fiddled with some contraptions on her desk.
"You mean besides breathing normally?" Elizabeth thought about it for a minute. "I guess I've always wanted to have a powerful singing voice like Celine Dion."
Crystal grinned. "I think I could work that in... but I was thinking a little bigger. Do you like swimming?" Elizabeth nodded enthusiastically. "How would you feel about breathing underwater?"
It was 2:00 AM when Harry's phone rang.
"Someone better be dying," he answered instead of saying 'hello'.
Crystal's voice met his ears. "Elizabeth is. That's why I'm designing her some bionic lungs. And that's why I called you. I need more rats."
Harry rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Yes, I am aware of the time. I deduced that this was more important than your REM sleep."
"My rem... never mind. I will order more rats tomorrow, okay? Go to bed, for Pete's sake."
"You want to come over to the lab and see my prototype?"
Harry shook his head with a sigh. Scientists. "Um... not really... fine."
He was still in his flannel plaid pajama pants and grey cotton T-shirt when he arrived at the lab. His grey hair was ruffled and his eyes were baggy and blood-shot, but they lit up when Crystal showed him her pair of "Dragon lungs", and they popped out of their sockets when these lungs spouted fire and inhaled water.
Crystal finished explaining how the lungs were electrically stimulated, and how Elizabeth would have to inhale a flammable liquid into a special lung pocket to replenish her fire-breathing supply. And then they just stood there quietly, watching the shiny metallic artificial lungs breathe eerily on their own. In and out, in and out.
"Come with me." Crystal said, her voice a bit hoarse with lack of sleep. She took his hand and led him to the door. Once outside, she wrapped her arms around him in a hug. He hugged her back, surprised. Suddenly, he noticed his feet weren't on the ground. "Don't worry, I won't drop you," she reassured him.
In seconds, they were above the city, looking down at the twinkling orange lights. Harry closed his eyes as his stomach began to flutter. Cold wind whipped at his hair and clothes, and he realized he was still wearing pajamas. He resisted the urge to kick his feet around in search of a foothold that wasn't there.
"You can open your eyes now." There was a smile in her voice. They were standing on top of the CN tower. The city glittered and glowed below and all around them.
Crystal let her hair out of its ponytail. It whipped in the wind as she perched on the ledge, dangling her feet over the side. "It's harder than I thought, seeing the kids. They're so strong, and they deserve so much better. I know I'm helping them, but at the same time, I'm not curing them. I'm not giving them a normal life."
Harry gripped a handrail for dear life as he sat beside her. "But that's where you're missing the point. Anyone can give them the things they need to survive. You're giving them a new purpose. You're not just helping them, and you're not just giving them another chance, you're giving them everything you have. Staying up all night to torture rats. I mean, if I had your talents, I would be using them to get rich and famous." Harry rubbed his neck, suddenly aware of her body next to his.
"No, you wouldn't." Crystal looked at him, as if for the first time, seeming to analyze every feature of his face, calculating, and moving closer. The kiss was slow and methodic. His hands tangled in her hair, and hers pulled him close and firm. They slid off the ledge and slowly floated down the side of the tower, rotating gradually.
The wind died down as they neared the ground. Crystal released him and stepped back, smiling. Harry touched her face, moving to close the gap.
Sudden movement in the shadows caught his eye, but before he could react, a painful blow to his skull smashed his world into darkness.