When Faiza Hussain was six years old, she ran across a busy street ignoring the calls of her kindergarten teacher, climbed a tree, and refused to come down until someone could rescue both her and the kitten she heard stuck in it. When her parents reprimanded her, she told them calmly, "But Mummy, that's what we do. We save lives."
"Mu..um! That's not how it happened at all! And what could possibly prompt you to tell them about that, anyway?"
"Oh, you know, the tabloids lap up anything with a bit with a cute animal and some kid being cheeky. I figured it was better to let the reporter, although, honestly, working for a rag like the Sun I would think the girl would be ashamed to call herself that... anyway, I let her drag the story out of me like I was embarrassed about it, so that of course she would lead in with it. That sort always like the idea of uncovering some secret shame."
"Well, what did you want me to tell them? I thought the whole idea behind the superhero profile series was to make you lot seem normal and next-to-door like. She's hardly going to think that if I tell her about the time you came home crying because you went to the potty and didn't know how to deal with only toilet paper and then refused to sit down for the rest of the school day because you were afraid your bum would make your chaddis dirty."
"Augh, mum! Do you... I bet you store these horror stories up just to humiliate me in revenge for being polite to the media and not telling them I don't keep my room clean or something."
"What revenge? You think they won't blame me if they find out that a grown up doctor like you still throws her dirty socks underneath her bed? They'll say I must have been a terrible mother who didn't raise you properly, and then something about what can you expect from a working woman who is too busy to pay attention to her child. And then no wonder you took to running around the streets after monsters and demons and what not."
"Now you're just taking the piss, Mum. You know very well I don't... run after monsters, I mean, not in that way."
"What about that time in Hounslow?"
"That was a succubus, and it was just the one time, and alright, I don't even know why I am having this argument with you when you were there and if I remember correctly, which I do, you were the one wanting to take it home and feed it a decent home cooked meal and saying how much more handsome it was than Dane and... what are you laughing about?"
"I am laughing because the reporter asked me if I had ever seen you during one of your assignments and I gestured vaguely at the telly because all I could think of was the two of us telling that demon-thingie how we didn't drink alcohol and so couldn't go with him to a bar, but we would be delighted to invite him out to dinner."
"Oh my god. The reporter would have loved that."
"Yes, exactly. That's why I didn't bring it up. As it was she kept going on and on about how interesting it was that the sword of England fell in the hands of a Muslim girl. I cut her right off because I figured you wouldn't want to talk about that sort of stuff to the papers."
"Right. Good. Yeah, I don't want to be the Muslim for that lot."
"Well exactly, that's why I thought you could be the Doctor. I mean, they're always going to look at you and add Muslim in the back of their minds to anything, but I think Doctor Excalibur is a pretty decent headline on the whole, no?"
"I suppose. But I think giving the papers appalling baby pictures of me is a bit much, Mum."
"It wasn't a baby picture, you were five years old! And I thought you looked very sweet all dressed up in my lab coat and with your Abba's stethoscope around your neck."
Dr. Hussain has been granted an indefinite leave of absence from her job at the NHS – but her former colleagues don't seem to be grumbling at her loss to the posh MI: 13. At least not publicly. Privately, they may well be mourning the loss of someone described by her former boss Dr. Silvadurai as "one of the bubbliest, most wacky doctors I've had the privilege to mentor". And in case you are wondering about the scoop behind the wackiness - apparently Dr Hussain was known to refer to her cases as various superheroes, and their illnesses as arch villains! Good practise for her current job, eh?
"Ah, Faiza! I was wondering how long it would take you to show up here after that rag ran the story they hounded out of me."
"Yes, well, I happened to be in the neighbourhood."
"Oh yes, I'm sure. Would the flying horse you got dropped off on also happen to have just been grazing nearby?"
"Really Faiza. Why don't you sit down and have a cuppa and while you're at it, go nick some of those digestive biscuits from down the hall. You remember where Nurse Thomas hides them in that first aid kit, don't you?"
"Well, yes, I do, but Dr. Selvadurai..."
"Oh and another thing. I know you're trying to make a point by being all formal and what not, but if you're going to keep calling me that, I shall accuse you of having gone over all proper working for those secret service chaps."
"Fine! Meenu! And it isn't the secret service! It's..."
"Look, Faiza. You and I both know I know what it is. And we also both know, or we should, that when the papers started taking an interest in you, they were going to come sniffing around here – humble origin stories and what not."
"I know that! And it's not that I mind you talking to them, although, honestly, I mean, 'bubbly'?! But that's not what I'm upset about. Sorry. But I am upset."
"Yes I know. And I'm sorry too, but Mr. Wisdom was very clear that..."
"Wait, you talked to Pete? When did you talk to Pete? And why wasn't I a part of this conversation?"
"You were not a part of this conversation, Faiza, because at the time you were lying unconscious on a gurney in ward number 32. Which is, in case you have forgotten, the cancer ward."
"Um. Right. But..."
"And the reason you were lying there was that an extremely mentally disturbed man had thought that clocking you out and holding you hostage until you cured all the patients would prove that the money the government spent on the NHS was unnecessary and part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to keep people sick."
"Meenu, I know that was scary and everything, but I wasn't in any real danger, and I hadn't realised that Pete and Cap got there so quickly that you all had time to chat, but I was back on my feet and all fast enough to go with them afterwards to the zombie outbreak in Cambridge."
"Faiza, you're too smart to be missing the point, so I'm assuming you're doing this deliberately. Captain Britain and Mr. Wisdom were on their way to the zombie battle, and had to stop to rescue you from an entirely human threat. Which you would not have had to face if you weren't overworked and exhausted from trying to do the utterly ridiculous hours we make our doctors work alongside your actual job."
"Being a doctor is my real job! Sorry, I didn't mean to yell at you, but really, it is."
"No it isn't, Faiza. Not anymore. Being a magical healer works with all the rest of that superhero thing you have going, but you can't bring it to a hospital and expect to fit right in without things going horribly wonky."
"I don't use the powers here! Not like that! I wouldn't."
"No, Meenu. Is that what you and Pete were worried about, and why you put me on this indefinite leave business without telling me why?"
"Well, frankly... yes. I mean, I saw you in the pediatric leukimeia ward during your off-time, Faiza. What did you expect me to think?"
"That Saira Hussain, Female, Age nine, diagnosis Terminal was my cousin and I was visiting her when the rest of her family couldn't see me and beg me to save her even though my mum and dad told them I couldn't and wouldn't act against the will of God?"
"... I see."
"I'm just a superhero who can fight some of the weird creepy things that show up now and then, Meenu. I know my place. And it isn't up there with Gabreel and Azreel and that lot."
"Don't be silly Faiza, although it's reassuring to know your habit of completely unnecessary apologies hasn't gone away. D'you remember the six year old you were trying to vaccinate who said 'Well if you're that sorry then why don't you just not jab me with a pointed needle!'?"
"The little sod kicked me in the shin anyway, so I'm not sorry at all about leaving brats like him behind!"
"That's the spirit!"
"I mean, sor..."
"Sorry! Right, I mean. Erm."
"Your tea's getting cold. Anyway, here's what we'll do. Let the papers keep spreading the leave business about, and flashing all those pictures of you in action 30 feet over the Thames on a flying horse and what not. And I'll transfer you over to the clinic where your mother works. That way there will be another perfectly ordinary Dr. Hussain about and you can just supplement her shifts so that we don't have you in the paperwork."
"That's brilliant, Meenu, thank you so much!"
"Nonsense. It's why I chose to go into administration. If you can't beat the system, manipulate it for your own nefarious ends from the inside, eh?"
"Got it. I'll try that on Pete one of these days. And I can see now why you got along so well with him. Only, thanks for the tea and everything, but I kind of have to run. It's just... er... Dane is waiting for me. Outside. That is."
"Hovering outside a window somewhere, I suppose? Which floor?"
"Psych ward. Um."
"Yes, I can see Mr. Whitman shares your... unique sense of humour."
Excalibur's new teammates say she fits right in with them. "Faiza's a wonderful person to work with," gushed Lady Jacqueline Falsworth in a phone interview. "She's bright, and cheerful, and knows her way around a good sword, which is always a plus in this sort of thing." And what about the rumours of a romance between the dashing doctor and the Black Knight? "No comment," said Lady Jac coyly.
"Do you want to kill that one or shall I, you know...?"
"Oh, please let me get my hand on it, ta, Faiza."
"It seemed like you wanted to work out some aggression, and anyway, I've taken care of that lot over by the graveyard."
"It's just, I've had the most frustrating day! First I wake up to that asinine story thanks to Blade calling me up and asking me if I knew how to be coy if my life depended on it. Then your young pup calls me up and starts whining about talking to the papers, as though he doesn't know very well that we're all doing it because Pete's making us. Oh hush, I can call him a young pup if I want; old ladies get to have their way. And then Meggan tells me about some sort of photo spread they want me and her to do together, and when I find out that Pete's let you off the hook for 'reasons of religious modesty' and I very justifiably blow up at him, he sends me off to go fight these revolting green slimy things with you making some knuckleheaded remark about a girls night out as though I wouldn't much rather sort things out with you over some fish and chips and a pint at the local."
"I don't drink. Pints, I mean. At locals. Or anywhere else, really."
"Dammit! Will you stay dead! I know, Faiza, you don't need to stand there leaning on that sword and smirk at me. You know very well I don't have a problem with the actual religious stuff, it's just..."
"It's just that you're pissed off that the new PR department is trying to market you like a pin up girl and instead of getting angry Eric thinks its hysterical. Sorry, but you know that's why you're pretending to be mad at me."
"I'm not pretending! And could you reach that one in the left corner, I think it's trying to shoot some of its poison at the tomb it thinks Brian is hiding in."
"Got it. So you're saying you're really mad at me?"
"No! Unf, got that ichor is going to sting, hang on, I'll stick my hand in, just give me a mo. What I'm saying is that it pisses me off that everyone is giving you this kid glove special treatment because of your religion when the rest of us with special needs get told to suck it up and deal with it."
"Someone told a vampire to suck it up? They really don't have much imagination down in paperwork do they?"
"Stop trying to make me feel better. It's patronising. And watch out, there's two behind you."
"Jac, I couldn't possibly be patronising to you. Did you know I had your picture on the cover of my diary when I was nine?"
"Did you really? That's the sort of weird compliment that should make me feel fuddy duddy but doesn't. I suppose when you turned thirteen it was all Brian and Dane."
"No, actually, when I was thirteen I was writing Iron Man RPF. That's real person fiction. Which, actually, if you don't know about, don't try to find out about. Erm. Please don't tell Mr. Stark if you ever meet him."
"Faiza, you know I love you and what not, but did anyone ever tell you how flipping weird you are?"
"My cousin Rukhsana does all the time. And Dane does it whenever he's embarrassed about being soppy."
"Well, good. God forbid you buy into your own press as little miss goody two shoes model Muslim minority."
"Jac, that thing is already dead. You can stop strangling it."
"And you know what else? I am done with the press acting as though you and Dane are the superhero solution to ending racism while they act like I'm just slumming it."
"If you want more things to strangle there's that lot behind the posh crypt thingie. And also, I need you to move out of my way right now. Sorry."
"Good move, that. Dane taught it to you?"
"No, I learnt it off a youtube video of Jackie Chan. Um."
"Hah, you kids these days. Be careful, Faiza! Are you ok?!"
"Just... fine. Now. Phew. That was a close one. Sorry, didn't mean to worry you. I'm alright, honestly."
"Don't be an ass. Sit down and catch your breath and I can finish this off. Then we're going to go get cleaned up and find some kosher place where you can break your fast and I can murder a curry."
"Oh! I didn't know you knew. That is. I mean."
"Hah, yes, exactly. Some twit in HR only sent out a confidential memo, didn't he? Suggesting all the other superheroes take care of you and make sure your weakness didn't become a liability."
"They did what?!"
"Careful with that thing, it's not me you want to jab in the eye with Excalibur. Yeah, and that was after my little chat with Pete otherwise I would have given him another piece of my mind. I suppose next they're going to start sending round memos warning you lot to not bleed around me. Can you imagine the cheek."
"I can't believe Dane didn't tell me about this!"
"Oh, he was struck by an attack of chivalry; I think he actually wanted Pete to send you off here with him so that he could make sure you were doing alright. I had to smack him and remind him that people with much harder jobs than you fast and keep working without anyone throwing a pity party for them. Silly ass. Try going without blood for a couple of decades and then come talk to me about feeling hungry."
"I thought you didn't do the whole blood lust thing."
"It comes with the fangs, apparently. I'm enjoying exaggerating the effects for the eggheads."
"You know Jac, how would you like to come home with me for dinner? My mother makes a wicked chicken biryani."
"Sounds good. Oh, and here's a little care package your knight errant sent along. I think it's got dates and stuff. Don't laugh, Faiza, the poor boy spent half an hour on the internet researching what to put in it!"
But despite her high profile heroic status, Faiza Hussain remains humble and down to earth. She accompanies her parents to the local mosque every Friday, and her friends say that she hasn't changed from the girl they know – loyal, eager to help celebrate someone's happiness, and proud of her home and country. "Faiza's absolutely the sort of person you'd expect the sword of England to pick," says Rukhsana Ahmad, cousin and childhood playmate to the superhero. "She's patriotic, loves her country, is proud to serve it, and grateful to be British. She's probably the most law abiding person you'd ever meet. She even sticks to the speed limit on the highways. It's quite appalling."
"How dare you?"
"What? Speak to the papers? As far as I can recollect, Faiza, in spite of the Big Brother privacy invasion that passes for law these days, it isn't actually unconstitutional to answer questions about a relative asked by a member of the press corps."
"How dare you mock me and the work I am doing in public like that, Rukhsana! No matter what you think about me, you're... we're family. You know better than to air our dirty laundry in public."
"God, can you even hear yourself, Faiza? Dirty laundry? You have no idea, do you? You think they get what I meant when they quoted that little bit I said? You're a fucking idiot. They lapped it up, they thought I was proud of you, that I was delighted about your anointed status as Miss Tea and Crumpets onna Stick. They didn't put in the bit about you being grateful about being British to laugh at you for being the nice little coconut that you are. They put it in to show how wonderful you were – just the nice, safe kind of Paki to feel proud of accepting."
"Don't call me that."
"Oh, I'm sorry, does pulling England's penis out of a rock wipe away all the taint of being Pakistani? You'll have to forgive me, some of us don't get the luxury of not being reminded of our 'ethnic heritage' every other time we walk down the street and get told to go home."
"You know what, Rukhsana, don't even get started on that bullshit. Because I'm sorry, but that's what it is. I know exactly what it's like being called names and harassed and... and having people say rude things about my head scarf and my religion. Just because I ignore it and stay focussed on working hard to get where I want doesn't mean that you're the only one who has the right to speak for me, or say I'm not, not..."
"Heh. Precisely. Do you even realise how ridiculous you look, trying to avoid naming yourself anything? You're obviously not Pakistani, you don't want to call yourself brown or Asian or desi or non-white or anything that would remind all the nice white people you work for that you're not like them?"
"The people I work with know perfectly well I'm not like them. And you know what, Rukhsana? They don't care! They don't care if someone's Muslim or black or a vampire or a skrull or anything as long as we're decent people who do our jobs and stand by our mates and care about the world."
"Oh please, don't stop there. I'm surprised you haven't accused me of reverse racism yet."
"I don't need to, because this isn't even about anyone else. It's just you. You're so wrapped up in your own bitterness and disappointment and rage that all you can do is hate everyone who isn't like you and feel sorry for yourself. And I refuse to stoop so low."
"Faiza. God, ok, no listen. Listen. I don't hate you, ok? I disagree with you profoundly and think your politics are fucked up and I find your taste in men very peculiar, but this isn't about that, yeah? I mean, we should have stopped talking to each other years ago, after that cricket match. But we didn't, right? And not because we're family, but because we're friends. And I'm sorry I called you a coconut, that was rude, and wrong, and though I do think you're stark raving mad for wanting to put yourself in the middle of sodding homicidal aliens and vampires with just a mouldy old sword, I'm proud of you, ok? I think it takes fucking balls to do what you do, and I'm not sure I could do it even if I wanted to. And I know that you save the lives of actual real people every single day and being a superhero hasn't changed the kindness that makes you want to do that, and I get that makes you special, I do."
"But I'm not saying I'm special, Rukhsana! Like, sometimes I think the sword chose me because I was so ordinary. It's not meant to be this big heroic thing, I think, I mean, defending the UK. It's what people like policemen and firemen and nurses and all do every day and the people I help, they're just people, Rukhi, not Paki or Whitey or whatever, just people who don't deserve to die. Right? You don't think they do, do you?"
"If I thought they deserved to die I'd be a terrorist instead of a sociologist, especially since I've heard the pay is better. Don't look at me like that, you know what I think of the whole 'terrorist' terminology anyway. But I guess you just don't get it, hmm? I keep talking about systems of oppression and post-colonial identities and you see a man in a flag suit saving a Benetton ad line-up from aliens too conveniently slimy and monstrous and deadly to be morally ambiguous."
"You like making things more complicated than they are. Do you remember, Rukhi, how your mother sold all her gold jewellery so that she could bring Abba over here? And my Ammi going through all her medical exams all over again so she could practise here. They wanted to come here, they want to be here. And I was born here. Why shouldn't I love it? It's my country, and it wants me back, and I'm bloody proud of that. And yes, grateful."
"I know. That's why its fucking rich of you to come haring at me when I told the reporter so as soon as I walk into your house. Without even offering me a cuppa. It's not how your mother brought you up, that's for sure."
"Mum is too used to you and me fighting to notice, eh. Remember that time we showed up covered in mud and throwing bits of grass at each other and all she did was close the front door on us and tell us to go round and hose ourselves off before stepping inside?"
"Right, and when we came back after that cricket match, she just sort of shook her head and gave us some biscuits."
"Which cricket match?"
"Figures you've forgotten about it. It inspired my bloody thesis and madam superhero doesn't even remember."
"Oh, you mean the one where you got into a fight with those boys because you were cheering for Pakistan?"
"I prefer to call it the one where little miss Faiza age eight and some months fought with all her cousins and three of her uncles and got up and went to sit with the skinheads because they had the largest Union Jack and she was so sure she needed to be cheering for the British team."
"I couldn't understand why you wouldn't. I still can't."
"Look, I'm not going to start the argument again, but you've got to do me one favour, Faiza, in return for not telling that story to the paper and exposing your embarrassing unassimilated relatives in the process. Promise me you'll invite me for your next superhero cricket match and let me cheer for you and you bowl Captain Git out in the first innings."