Bedevil helps me to my feet once our laughing fit is over, and I’m surprised to see Remise trying to coax Epione out from the driver’s side of a worn down truck cab. “Come on, lass, it ain’t tha’ bad!”
“Please!” Epione says. “I can’t, I can’t!”
The hair on the back of my neck stands up. Her tone of voice tells me she’s in real danger, but I can’t see anything wrong. She’s just huddled up in the truck cab.
“What’s wrong?” Bedevil asks.
Epione cries out and puts her hand over her ears.
“She borrowed my power,” Remise said. “She started goin’ all wonky! Saying its all too much!”
A wave of sorrow washes over me, so much that tears roll down my cheeks almost instantly. I turn to Bedevil and Remise, both sobbing out of nowhere. Bedevil is mid-ugly cry, and Remise is covering her mouth, her shoulders shaking. Both of them look at me, just as overwhelmed by the surge of emotion as I am. This has to be Epione’s power.
Her eyes are glowing, but she told me she can’t use her power without touching someone.
Yesterday she said that too much light and noise bothered her, and borrowing Remise’s power must have kicked that up to overdrive. If normally, it irritates her, then right now it must be like somebody digging an icepick in her brain.
We aren’t feeling sorrow. We’re feeling what she should be feeling, how upset she should be while she’s in an incredible amount of pain. She’s putting her emotion somewhere else.
I hold my finger up to my lips at Bedevil and Remise, and hold my hand out to tell them to stand still. Remise doesn’t speak, she falls to her knees, wracked with sobs.
I speak as softly as I can, tiptoeing around Epione’s newly enhanced hearing and my own grief-laden voice. “Epione, this is probably really loud, but listen.” I choke, and shudder, trying to steady myself. “What can I do to help you relax, so you can return the power to Remise?”
Epione grimaces. She’s screwed her eyelids shut, and covered both ears with her hands. Even so, she responds to my question: “Something to cover my head. Hum a song, too. Please.”
“Okay,” I whisper. I lean over to Bedevil and whisper into her ear. “She can’t control it. She needs the towel, and can you hum something as soft as possible?”
Bedevil sniffs in my ear, but leans back and nods. The towel floats over.
“Epione, we’re gonna wrap your head in a towel, is that okay?” I ask in my low voice.
The towel gently wraps around her head, covering her ears and her eyes. I just make out Bedevil humming.
A tense, silent minute passes, and Epione’s sobbing calms down. The heavy boot on my chest lifts up, and I’m back to normal. Bedevil wipes her eyes, also regaining control of herself.
Remise gasps. “My power. It’s back.”
Epione takes off the towel to reveal her fabricated smile. She gets out of the cab in measured movements, and returns the towel to me. Her eyes are red, but she’s smiling all the same. She opens her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.
“It’s okay,” I say. “Go take it easy for a second.”
Epione nods, and walks toward the warehouse doors, and lets herself out the building.
“What the hell was tha’?” Remise asks. “How’d you know wha’ t’ do, Gabe?”
I don’t know if Remise knows about Epione’s autism. And Bedevil definitely doesn’t. It’s not my place to tell them anything, so I opt for: “I figured if she had no idea what your enhanced senses were like, she wouldn’t be able to control them. The sadness? I’d guess she was using her power to off load the discomfort she was feeling.”
“She needs to train,” Bedevil says. “With all of our powers. And her own.”
I guess I’ll let Epione explain when the time comes. For now, I simply nod.
“We’ve got that meet soon,” Remise says. “With the Street Devils.”
“I’ll let you go to that, I don’t think Bedevil should be showing her face at a vigilante hideout,” Bedevil says. She wipes runny mascara from her cheek and flicks it on the ground. “Besides, I’m on double patrol today, to make up for the other Houston Heroes still being out.”
I think about that. The other vigilantes don’t know I’m a clone of Megajoule. “I think we need this meeting to be masks on,” I say to Remise.
“They won’t like tha’,” Remise says. “Flash always went maskless with other vigs.”
“We need to make an exception for me.” I point to my face.
“Fair enough,” Remise says. “I’ll let ‘em know. We need to get a move on soon, Iso’s already on the way with Drone.”
Bedevil hands me her apartment key. “Here. I’m guessing you’ll be back before I am. If you are, will you feed my animals?”
“I will fulfill this sacred duty,” I tell her, putting the key into my pocket.
Bedevil rolls her eyes. “I’ll see you later, then.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll see you later.”
Bedevil heads off to get ready for patrol, and Remise shuts the warehouse doors and does a walk-around to make sure everything’s locked. Epione’s squatting in front of the warehouse, hugging her knees to her chest, still smiling all the same.
“Hey, you okay?” I ask.
Epione burrows her nose into her legs. “I don’t know.”
“You used your power at a range,” I say.
“I don’t know how to control it.”
“We can figure that out.” I squat next to her. “I’d say maybe don’t take Remise’s senses, though.”
“They were too much. It felt like everything in the world was right in my face. Every sound living in my ears.” I feel a tinge of heartache at the borders of my mind. She’s still doing that, even now. “I think this is because of what I did to my feelings. Normally my power suppresses emotions, but I think if it can’t, it sends it somewhere else.”
“You know, I used to have something similar. Before I knew how to absorb kinetic energy, I’d break my own arms and legs using my power. I couldn’t jump nearly as far or high as I do now, because I had to save heat for landing.”
“All I’m saying, there may be some way to make your power work with your emotions, instead of cutting them off or sending them elsewhere, but also in a way that doesn’t hurt you.” Pandahead’s thermos comes to mind. Clearly, he uses that to get in touch with the Fear somehow. “Like, for instance, maybe you could put them in an object? Keep your emotions close but not too close?”
Epione shrugs. “I’ve never tried, I don’t know if it’s possible to put emotions in an object.”
“Something for next time,” I say.
Remise rounds the corner. “All ri’, you losers ready t’ go?”
“Yeah.” I stand up, and offer a hand to Epione. She stands with my help.
Remise’s van has yet another new paint job, this time a dull yellow, and in this vaguely banana colored van we ride down to the Street Devils’ hideout.
Their base of operations is nestled in a neighborhood of one story houses, all painted in variations of pastel, all with the same tin can covers over their driveways, all wrapped by pavement sidewalks that have warped under years of flooding with no one to repair them.
Houston built downtown into a shining metropolis of neon skyscrapers, and left the outskirts petrified in the amber of time. These houses haven’t changed since before the dawn of superpowers. Some houses even bear the scars of that time: unnatural burn marks, strange blemishes, scars of battle. Likely some neighbors got powers and went on a spree, like everyone else did in the Anarchy.
Remise pulls us up to an auto service garage, a horseshoe building that’s half mechanic’s workspace and half a normal house. A broken sign buzzes over the entrance: Nobody’s Better Than Tom!
The building rings around a tiny lot where Tom, I’m guessing the titular mechanic, keeps a few cars waiting for repairs. Remise parks the van next to the others, and we put our masks on. I text Bedevil: (3:16 PM) I am entering a strange house, if I do not feed your pets it’s because I died here.
Remise leads us to one of the doors and knocks. A little panel slides open at eye height. A man asks: “Password?”
“Ye know very well there ain’t no fookin’ password,” Remise says.
“Remise! So good to see you!” The door opens. The guy guarding the door wears a red hockey mask with the word “Supreme” above the eyes, underneath a cowl-style black hoodie. He doesn’t wear any armor except some knee braces, which wrap around his black sweat pants. His shoes are black sneakers with reflective white laces. All in all, he looks more apt for a street fashion show than a vigilante group.
“Asperity,” Remise says. “Good t’ see ya. Ain’t hot, are ye?”
“Oh, very,” he says. “But you asked costumes on, so, costumes on. This is the Home Run, huh?” He gestures to me.
“Don’t get yer knicks twisted,” Remise says.
“Goin’ commando, anyway,” Asperity says. “Really lets me breathe, you know? So, how was it clobbering Krater? That makes you stronger than most of us here, you know?”
He’s asking me. I stammer. “Uh, felt good?”
“I bet it did.” Asperity sounds like he’s smiling under the mask. “Well, come on in. The party’s waiting for you.”
“What’s his power?” I ask Remise as he heads inside.
“He controls friction. His own. He can get all slip n’ slidey if he wants. He can climb walls all Spider-Man style, too.”
“No web slinging, though.” Asperity looks over his shoulder. “Sure wish I could.”
The hideout is about the size of my apartment, and the centerpiece is a ping pong table littered with papers, pictures, and maps. Iso stands with his back to us, next to two other vigilantes. They both wear black hoodies like Asperity, but one has red gloves, shoes, and a vibrantly crimson mask that looks like a classic demon, horns and all. The other wears tights under their hoodie, black and blue. They have a blue mask with insectoid glass eyes.
Lugs, Mil-dot, and to my shock, Saw Off all sit on a couch facing a TV. Saw Off is the only one not in a mask, but everyone else is in full costume. Mil-dot has a bandanna covering her face, much like Vaquero did, though hers is a camouflage print.
“Gabe Babe!” Saw Off shouts. She struggles to get up, but Lugs keeps her down with his metal arm.
“You ain’t supposed to be walking,” Lugs says. “Doc barely let us take you.”
Saw Off crosses her arms and pouts. “Fine. Least he’s not dragging that wanna be pastel emo anymore.”
Does she mean… Bedevil? I shake my head. “Glad you’re feeling a little better, Saw Off.”
Drone comes out of a kitchen, holding a beer in hand. She’s not wearing a mask, though I guess I can’t hold that against her. “Gabe!”
“So your name’s Gabe, huh?” Asperity asks.
“Yeah. That’s all you’re getting,” I say.
Iso waves me over. “Gabe, this is Carapace.” He points at the girl with the bug eyes mask. “And Dustdevil.” He gestures to the girl in the devil mask and red gloves.
Dustdevil makes a peace sign by her eyes. “Nice to meet you, Home Run! Heard a lot about you.”
Carapace, on the other hand, comes up to me. She takes off her mask.
“Woah!” I say.
“No, no, it’s cool, I get it,” Carapace says. Underneath the mask she’s a Hispanic girl with a short cut and a nose ring. “You can keep the mask, I just wanted to take mine off. Flashfire told us he had some paranoid friends. I don’t care much about taking my mask off.” She grins at me. “I saw that footage of you kicking Krater’s ass. Hot damn!”
“Oh, well, good?” I rub the back of my neck. “This is Epione.”
Epione’s mask shifts into a smile emoji. Carapace squeaks: “That’s the cutest thing!”
Dustdevil runs over to her, the phone out. “Can I take a picture?”
“Excitable bunch,” Iso says.
“Oh, you’ve got no idea,” Asperity says. “Last week, we took down a local burglar that had started getting violent with people. Found out he was Welterweight overall but had near Heavyweight strength. Dude could bench press a car. Left him wrapped up in steel-fiber cable in front of an FIS station. We took some tabs and partied all night long.”
“Yes, that sounds productive,” Iso says.
“Any movement on Flash or Maisa?” I ask.
Iso shakes his head. “Sorry, Gabe. It’s only been a night. We’ll keep it up. Not even OPI’s got any leads yet. Give it a few days, and we’ll get something.”
I nod. “Thank you for all your help. I don’t mean to seem pushy.”
“Flashfire’s not around right now,” Drone says. She offers me the beer. “We need pushy.”
I decline her beer. “Thanks. Thank you for everything. So, what’s our agenda?”
“We’re waiting on one more group,” Iso says. “The Bay Biters. Four of them. Crane, Echo, Tamper, and Sidestep.”
Carapace and Dustdevil are in the middle of selfies with Epione, looking at her mask. I smile. Even when she’s not trying, she makes new friends. I hope we can get Flash back soon for her.
“What are their powers?” I ask.
Iso smiles. His mask only covers the upper half of his face. “Carapace can create an exoskeleton. When she’s wearing it, she’s much stronger and faster. Dustdevil can shoot high pressure blasts of winds from her hands. Asperity controls his own friction.”
There’s a knock on the door. Asperity answers. “Password?”
“Let us in, Ass, we have news,” someone says outside.
Asperity opens the door, and leads five people into the hideout. I’m guessing these are the Bay Biters, but Iso said there were only four.
“Who’s this?” Asperity asks, pointing at a guy in baggy clothes.
“Woah! You’re Home Run!” the first guy says. He’s wearing normal clothes but has a orange and black helmet on with a thin black slit to see through. I’m guessing he didn’t go full costume, just the mask. “I’m Crane, and this is my crew! Plus one.”
“Who’s the Plus One?” Asperity asks again, his voice dropping into a threatening tone.
“Sorry, sorry,” Crane says. “Go ahead and introduce yourself, Pyre.”
The guy in the baggy clothes steps forward. He looks very nervous, his brow is furrowed, his shoulders are slumped. He coughs, and says, “I’m Pyre. I’m part of a group near Laredo.” He hesitates for a second, struggling to find the right words, and finally, “We came out here to help Pandahead.”