The cabin Bedevil is holed up in is the smallest of the three, at her request. The room only has enough space for her little iron frame bed, a small couch, a mini-fridge where Epione is keeping the medicines Bedevil will need over the next week or so, a stove, and an old fashioned furnace that holds relic logs that have long turned into gray pieces of rock.
The early morning sun filters in through opaque blue curtains, but a little lamp fills the gray haze with warm yellow light. The start of our third day here at the Echo’s B&B.
Bedevil stirs from her sleep as I enter the little cabin. I slept on the small couch but got up for an early morning jog through the property, before it got too hot and swampy. Remise made a bunch of homemade hashbrowns, so I wrapped a few in paper towels for Bedevil. Nothing like crunchy, greasy potatoes when you’re fighting a hangover.
Bedevil’s not hungover, though. She’s withdrawing, and I can already tell. Her forehead is clammy and her skin is pale, her eyes dull and blinking in the warm light. She rolls over, grabs the little steel bucket by the side of her bed, and hurls into it.
“I take it that’s a no on hashbrowns, huh?” I ask, sitting down on the side of the bed.
Bedevil wipes her mouth. “You don’t hafta sit next to me, I know I’m gross.”
“Well, I just got back from a jog, pretty gross myself.” I press my hand against her forehead, but she shakes her head free before I can get a good read of her temperature. “How’d you sleep?”
“Awful,” Bedevil says. “Barely. Get those fucking things out of here.” She points at my potatoes.
I walk to the door and chuck them out into the garden.
I turn back, and Bedevil stares at me, tears in her eyes. “You… you didn’t actually have to.”
“You didn’t want them,” I say.
“I didn’t explain why.”
I shrug. “Why should you have to explain why you don’t want something near you?” I sit down next to her and get back to feeling her forehead. She’s running a fever, but she was last night, too, and it’s to be expected at this stage in the game. Feels pretty hot, though, so I take her temp with a thermometer.
103° F. I think that’s too high. Epione told me if she had an ongoing fever that got too hot, I should take some heat. I sap a few degrees and take her temperature again, leaving her at 100° F. She sighs with my cooling touch, and seems to gain some clarity.
“I didn’t sleep much last night, either.”
“Shoulda shared the bed.” She hiccups, and puts a hand over her mouth. “Never mind.”
“Not that I’m opposed to sharing my bed with someone as pretty as you,” I say.
Bedevil glares at me. “Shut up, I’m not pretty. Least of all right now.”
Instead of replying, I lean down and kiss her forehead. Using the moment, I pull the handcuffs Iso gave me and slap them on her wrist, chaining her to the iron bed frame in one deft motion. “And you have the right to remain silent.”
Bedevil groans. “Are we really doing this?”
“It wouldn’t be an intervention without it,” I say.
“Fine, fine, if it gets your rocks off.” She pauses, and with a sly look, adds,
“Does what?” I ask, knowing very well what she’s getting at.
“Float your boat?”
“Tickle my pickle?” I ask.
A small smirk appears on Bedevil’s face. “Rocks your socks?”
“Flips my pancake,” I retort. The game is on.
“Guess it bakes your cake,” Bedevil replies.
“And it creams my cheese.”
“But does it fly your flag?” Bedevil’s smirk grows into a goofy smile, and Megajoule’s bright sidekick cracks through the dirt and grime of six years.
Oh, but I’m not going to stop there. “Really just tosses my salad.”
Bedevil laughs, with no retort. She giggles for a little, and then composes herself to tell me, “Okay, but for real, no cuffs. Not without a safe word.”
I unlock the handcuffs. “We’ll save them for later.”
Bedevil’s face scrunches up. “Hold that thought.”
She leans over the side of her bed, and hurks it into the bucket.
After a few hours of watching Bedevil sleep fitfully, and repeatedly stealing a few degrees as her fever rises, Epione relieves me around noon. We don’t exchange any words, but there’s a passing glance between us, a wealth of unspoken words, and more emotion that Epione’s ever shown me before. She turns her sad gaze to Bedevil, and fixes her neutral smile in place.
“Her fever isn’t bad,” Epione says.
“No, I’ve been monitoring it, and taking some heat here and there.”
Epione nods. “I’ll call you if I need to do the same.”
Not knowing what else to say, I leave, and step out into the garden to stretch my legs.
I’m caught off guard by Doc sitting on one of the benches nearby the cabin. His sagged face lifts a little as he sees me come out. “How is she?”
“She’s okay. Managing better with medicine,” I say. “When did you get here?”
“A little under an hour ago. Epione told me you were watching over her. Didn’t want to bother you.” He looks down at his entwined fingers, and won’t look at anything else.
“Picked out a room yet?” I ask.
“One of the ones in the main building.” Doc coughs. “Thanks for inviting me, kid.”
“Where else were you gonna go?”
Doc scoffs. “I was packing to leave town, honestly.”
I don’t have a response.
“My time being your guardian is done, kid, you and I both know it. You only invited me here out of pity.” Doc finally does look up at me. “The world knows about you now. Everything I fought to protect you from, and now I can’t do a damn thing anymore. What happens will happen.”
“I was tired of hiding it, and hurting people because I couldn’t show them who I was.”
“More people are gonna get hurt now that they know who you are. Megajoule had enemies, kid. You just inherited a shit ton of them, I bet.” Doc scoffs and sits back. “But, I’ll help you while I can.”
“Thanks.” I look back at the cabin Bedevil and I are staying in.
“Does she know?” Doc asks.
I nod. “They all do.”
Doc spits. “Yeah. Thought people were looking at me funny.”
“I couldn’t invite you here and not tell them.”
Doc gets up from the benches. His eyes are red, his cheeks wet. “Yeah.” He walks around me, toward the house, and heads inside.
I sit down on the bench. It’s a hot, swampy day, but there’s an undercurrent of cool breeze from fall overturning summer. I think about how nice it will be to sit in this garden in late October, or early November, and how lovely the wind will be as it rustles the trees.
That thought is soured now by Doc’s arrival. Why can’t I just sit still and enjoy some scenery?
Why do I constantly feel like I’m making mistakes?
“Uh… Mega?” I ask. “Are you there?”
“Hmm.” I stand up. I wonder what it takes to get him to come out.
Remise and Drone approach me from the woods. “Oi! Gabe! Ye ready?” She’s dressed in her sparring outfit. Drone is carrying a briefcase.
“Yeah, but I’m gonna be slow. Didn’t sleep very much.” I rub the back of my neck. Of course, that never stopped me before.
“Ah don’t give a fuck!” Remise grins at me. “Ah’m gonna beat yer ass anyways. We’re gonna show you how to throw down proper.”
I eye Drone suspiciously. “Okay, so how are you gonna help me, Drone?”
Drone opens her briefcase, and dozens of those little black drones fly out. “I’m going to record, and we’re going to go over your weak spots.”
“The first step is close combat,” Remise says. “Ah’m gonna teach ye proper striking, angling, and footwork.”
“I don’t really stay on my feet very often,” I say.
“So? Doesn’t mean ye won’t ever, and doesn’t mean yer enemy won’t, either,” Remise says. “Angling’s good for everybody. All it means is staying out of where yer opponent hits hardest and positionin’ yerself for a good attack.”
“Right.” I’ve been trying alternate ways to draw in energy while fighting so I don’t have to rely on getting hit for huge bursts of power. Bedevil pointed out the flaws in some of my fighting: I’ll pack up heat for these huge finishers, and I’ll go super hard, but I’ll burn out fast. This training with Remise is to teach me fighting with a slower, consistent pace.
Remise leads me and Drone’s hummingbirds out into the swampy thicket surrounding the B&B. She takes me to a small clearing with enough space to move around in. “So first step, footwork and angling.”
I put my guard up.
Remise grins at me. “Okay, first of all-” She launches into a flurry of blows so fast I can’t track her. She socks me hard in my gut and smashes a fist into my jaw before I start absorbing energy, and then bounces away from me. “Your guard is garbage. Elbows in!” She throws a blurred kick into my ribs. “Fists up! Crouch, don’t stand like a fuckin’ pole!”
Another strike at my face, but luckily I’m already absorbing energy.
“I’m used to grappling!” I protest. I retreat back with a kinetic warp, and almost trip over the underbrush.
“Oh, really?” Remise closes the gap between us, throws another punch, and suddenly she’s closed the gap between us while her elbows drive into my chest. In another heartbeat I’m on my back before I know it. Remise laughs and stands up, offering me a hand. “Sorry. But, hey, yer no stranger to hard lessons, are ye?”
I smile, and stand with her help. “No.”
“Ye may not be as fast as me, but ye can cover a lot more ground than Ah can, and yer arms are fookin’ long,” Remise says. “Did ye pay attention to my angles?”
“No,” I say.
“You’ll learn ‘em,” Remise says. “One blow at a time.”
One blow at a time, hours later, I’ve managed to figure out the Remise favors her left, loves quick, disorienting jabs followed by powerful strikes or lunges to throw me onto my back. She’s much better at getting close than I am. My arms are longer, my power lets me strafe in wide arcs, so I work on keeping out of her impressive one-two combos and jumping out of her leg grapples.
Still, her power is too much for me to keep track off, and after our last bout, I’m left panting on the forest floor, much the same as when Bedevil pushed me to use my power after burn out.
Remise pops a squat next to me. “Not too shabby for yer first day. Then again, you’ve already got some experience.”
“Mostly with throws,” I say, pushing up from my prone position. “And heavy knockdowns.”
“Yeah. Use that to yer advantage. Practice with throws tomorrow, and punchin’ trees.” Remise slaps my back. “What now?”
“I want to practice something.” I get to my knees.
Eyes on the sky. “Flying.”
“Ye want to try flyin’.” Remise grins. “Fookin’ sick. Do ye know how, yet?”
“No.” I stand up. “I do have an idea.”
When we fought Rorschach, I hung in the air for a second as I drew in all the energy I could before smashing into the Fear. Gravity is always pulling us down. Everything and everyone. If I absorb the kinetic energy of falling, I can repurpose it as thrust into the sky. Feeding that energy back into itself. Like how Megajoule lifted the Titan Tower.
“You might want to stand back,” I say.
Remise, still grinning, steps back from me.
I crouch down, and draw in kinetic energy from the sensation of being pulled down. Energy flows in to me. I feel weightless.
There’s an immense energy well pulling on me to my left, as if I’m flying at high velocities in a direction I have no control over. Right, the Earth is spinning, and I am with it!
I decide to steal a teaspoon of that energy, and I begin to drift away from Remise ever so slightly. The energy starts to roil inside me, and my skin lights up. After a few seconds, it feels like I’m squatting with a couple hundred pounds on my back.
“Gabe, yer shinin’!” Remise says.
I have to release this energy.
I want to fly.
I let go of the heat inside me and channel it down – and myself up!
I explode into the air with a cannon burst of superheated wind. I rocket higher than I ever have before, so high I can see the spires of downtown Houston in the distance. The city shrinks until the entire county sprawls out beneath me, tangling the swampy woods of Baytown in its urban bramble, snaring the far, flat plains of Katy, the gentle roll and wood of Cypress, the thicket of Spring and Woodlands, and farther still, farther still to the reaches of Texas going out in every direction, to the blue-green Gulf to my south. An entire world and a city.
Gravity starts to pull me again, slowing my flight into the sky. But I don’t want to stop here. I draw in the energy of Earth’s pull. I hang, suspended thousands of feet in the air, a space normally reserved for landing planes, looking down on Houston.
I’m flying. Laughter overcomes me, and I whoop, bursting upward and onward.
Energy floods into me so fast I don’t know what to do with it, and within a couple of seconds, I have more energy than I can bear. I sink toward the ground, unable to lift the weight of my own power.
Shit shit shit shit shit! I scream and rip out of the sky with an explosion of energy, back down toward the woods. I smash through the forest trees, absorbing all I can, and just before my face meets swamp, I shoot to my left with a final burst. I tear through trees until one’s got enough bark to stop me.
I roll onto the roots, groaning. I breathe in, and feel the sharp pinch of a broken rib.
Remise darts to my side. “Are ye okay?”
Even with my new injury, I laugh.
Remise laughs, too, and helps me to my feet. “How bad is it?”
“Had worse,” I groan. “But I flew. For a second.”
“Think of that, no more driving or takin’ the metro or nuthin!” She puts my arm over her shoulder to help me hobble back to the property. Once we make it back, she sets me down on the bench. “Wait here, I’ll get Doc.”
“No-” I start, but by the time I get the word out, she’s already sprinting back to the house. “Crap.”
“Nice job!” Megajoule materializes next to me.
“Oh!” I gasp. “Uh, you were watching?”
“I’m always watching.” Megajoule grins at me. “I didn’t want to tell you anything about flying because I figured it was a waste of time. You don’t have all the different expressions of energy I had, so I figured you wouldn’t be able to get fine-tuned flight. But you’re already one step along the way!”
He stares at me for a few seconds.
I didn’t think about how Megajoule powered his flights. I know from the clips they looked smooth, and what I just did was nowhere near smooth. “Well, it’s a start.”
“A damn good one. If you keep practicing, I’m sure you’ll get it, eventually.” Megajoule grins. “Your fighting needs work, obviously, but I think Remise already showed you that! You’ll get the hang of it. I was pretty young when I started really getting fighting, maybe 15 or 16, but everyone does things at their own pace.”
He’s still staring at me, like he did outside the lab they kept me in, just staring through the window on the door, with that slight smile. It could’ve been a sneer, but I don’t think so. “I- I know I don’t have all your powers.”
“You know, I don’t love the other clones better than you.” Megajoule doesn’t take his gaze off of me. “You’re the only one I thought of as my son. When I made those videos, I made them for you. They didn’t need my advice or guidance, they were always going to die anyway, right? Just because they had more powers than you, doesn’t mean I love them more.”
I really don’t know what to make of that. A very unsure, “Thanks,” wavers from my lips.
Megajoule vanishes right before my eyes as Doc comes running around the garden at me, with Drone and Remise trailing behind. “God, damn it! You flew!” He’s angry laughing his way to me, and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Not broken, just cracked.”
The pain saps from me before I can protest, a quick knit job compared to the broken arm Doc took from me weeks ago. Doc sits down, struggling to find his breath. “Pain-killer… pain-killer in my room.”
The door to Bedevil’s cabin slams open, and Epione stumbles out, a wide eyed look of panic on her face. “She’s not breathing!”