Epione’s voice fills my dreams. Gabe, there’s something wrong with you!
G for good a for able b for beautiful e for enough
Three months three months of this three months longer than eternity
I wake in the middle of the night, Bedevil sleeping peacefully next to me, her nose just brushing the edge of my shoulder and her wild hair tangled around her head. She is repugnant, I can’t forget the sneer she had after she fucked me and called me by his name. I can’t forget the way Doc laughed at me after I realized he killed Megajoule. I can’t forget the way Flashfire was disgusted by me and hated me for killing those people. I can’t forget the way Drone stared at me as she died.
No, I can’t know that, how would I know that?
I sit up and go to the bathroom. I retch into the toilet. My head is on fire and the toilet water turns black and hands reach up and grab my face and pinch my cheeks and probe my body. They guide me back to the bed and they will me to move the heat into my fingertips and press them against Bedevil’s chest, press them into her chest, press them through her chest until she wakes, choking because her lungs are pieces of charred meat—
For a moment, I can’t see when I wake up. I sit up into the dark and on the edge of my vision, I see something coiled around itself. I cough and crud comes out of my lungs.
My vision clears and I see Bedevil sitting right where the thing stood in the corner of my eyes, working at the desk in our room. It was her.
“Hey, you,” Bedevil says, turning to me and smiling. She puts her cheek in her hand and her eyes nearly slay me. There’s a second of deep bitterness from that dream before reality takes a hold and I remember the past three months with her have been bliss. I don’t think there’s a hill around here we haven’t hiked together — or broken in together. Every night I’ve helped her study books on leadership, management, and what not, but she’s a natural, and pretty soon I was more of a handicap than a training wheel.
Bedevil grasps a pen in her left hand and starts to write. “Hey, so, I’ve been meaning to ask. What’s your full name?”
“You mean my last name?” I ask.
Bedevil nods. “Yeah. I’m practicing my handwriting and thought I could spell it out.”
I scratch my chest and stand up out of bed while my stomach turns. I need to visit the bathroom. I feel sick again. Third time in three months I’ve been like this. “Uh, yeah, it’s Wayland. Doc liked the name.”
Bedevil looks back at me, with a newfound sadness. She reaches out with her maimed hand and grips my pants with her thumb, and pulls me into a hug. “I’m sorry, babe.”
I press her head against my stomach and stroke her hair, and I know I should feel sad but all I feel right now is sick and unsettled. “It’s okay.”
We hold each other for a minute before Bedevil returns to her work. “So, Gabriel Wayland, huh?”
“That’s what it says on my license.” I make my way into the bathroom while my gut does aerials inside me. I kneel down in front of the toilet and grip the porcelain. I don’t really want to alarm Bedevil right now, so I just wait until I’m sure I’m going to puke.
I don’t. My stomach just turns and turns like a whirlwind while I kneel, and when I don’t throw up after a few minutes, I stand and return to the bedroom. Bedevil’s gone, her work left on the table, and our bed a mess of crumpled, sweaty sheets. Since when do I sweat without working out? How can she stand to be near me right now?
I take a peek at her work. It’s a lot of chicken scratch, but there’s progression from when she first started trying to write. My heart pounds when I realize what she’s written, over and over.
Ruby Wayland Ruby Wayland Ruby Wayland Ruby Wayland
Should I feel something? There’s a glass wall between what I’m seeing and what I should be feeling.
I snap out of my daze. Maisa wanted to train today. She’s made incredible strides in her hand to hand combat.
When I turn to go leave the bedroom, Megajoule leans against the door. He saunters up to the paper and glares at it. “Getting cozy with her, aren’t you?”
“She’s my girlfriend.” I cross my arms. “I thought you said I was a man.”
“You’re a man that’s making a mistake.” Megajoule shakes his head. “What are you doing here? Why are you just holed up when your friends are out there. They could be wounded, dead, or worse. You’re pissing your days away waiting for other people to tackle your problems.”
I feel something now. Anger. I clench my fist and restrain the energy that tries to feed into it. “I can’t always be the one charging in.”
“I’m disappointed in you, Gabe. You can do so much better than hiding from your problems.” Megajoule’s expression is dark. “You need to go out and fight.”
“I’ll get killed if I do that.”
“No. You’re strong. You’ll survive.” Megajoule’s hand cuts the air as he lectures me, swishes around like sword he’s waving way too close to my face.
“Why do you always show up when I should be happy?” I ask. “Every time you appear, every single time, you show up when I’m feeling good and knock me down a peg.”
“Are you feeling good right now? Does sleeping next to the woman that humiliated you because she wished you were me make you feel good? Does living in the house of a woman that’s been manipulating your memories all this time make you feel good? Does your friends being out there without help — excuse me, with the help of an arrogant prick and his awkward calculator friend — make you feel good?”
I stammer. God. Damn. It. I’m tired of this.
“Epione is still catatonic. Do you think they’re helping her? Or do you think Oracle is just making her that way? Do you think that you’re not all being played?” Megajoule asks, his voice rising.
“You’re wrong! Oracle is a good woman, now!”
“Now.” The word rings with all the venom of a hundred snakes and spiders, it rings with the disdain of a lion tearing apart its prey. “She’s weak, now. Not good. She had the chance to kill Cynic and blew it. She had the chance to shape the world for the better and ran away, and you expect me to believe that she’s a good person?”
I hide behind my arms. He always makes me feel like a child. He makes me feel like I don’t know anything. Makes me feel like shit.
“Well, Gabe, are you gonna grow up and do what needs doing?”
“Fuck off!” I shout at last. I stand up and rush out the bedroom door, and down the stairs. I need to be anywhere but trapped in my room with him.
No one is here. Archimedes and Linear left in the White Shark yesterday, they left to try and find the Underground again. The last seven attempts have left them empty handed; the trail is cold. Maisa and Bedevil aren’t here.
Oracle comes out of Epione’s room, and Megajoule’s accusation rings in my head.
“What were you doing in there?” I ask.
Oracle turns her shining eyes on me. I don’t know if I should feel something if she tries to change my memories, but every time she has before I felt a shifting in my head. I don’t feel that now. “Feeding Epione. She’s actually shown improvement, today. She said hello when I came in.”
“That’s nice.” I stare at her.
I need to know something. I need to know why… she… put… what did she do? Why can’t I remember? “Are you using your power on me?”
Oracle frowns. “No.”
“How do I trust that?” I ask. “How do I trust that you aren’t playing us all, that you aren’t rewriting every memory that’s inconvenient for you?”
“I’m not, Gabe.” Oracle’s frown deepens, her eyes close. “Look. My eyes are closed. I can’t use my power.”
I struggle with everything I know. I was just upstairs talking to him, so why can’t I put two and two together and make a sentence?
I fight. I start to babble. The words start as a salad but as I press through: “Why Bedevil does make sneer, Drone and Doc in one grave, Nero is in all my dreams, Epione is in all my dreams, my mind feels like it’s breaking and I think you’re the one doing it, and I’m angry because you put Megajoule in my head and he makes me feel bad about myself.”
Oracle’s eyes snap open and her mouth drops in shock. “What?”
Finally. The question I’ve been dying to ask for months but could never actually voice. “Why did you put Megajoule in my head? Why did you try to overwrite me like that? He told me you made him into some kind of memory construct so he could talk to me, but he only ever makes me feel bad.”
Oracle’s puts one hand over her mouth. Her shining eyes hiss as tears spill down her cheek. From behind her fingers, she speaks, and her voice is so small I can only just make out the words.
“Gabe, I can’t do that.”
The black hole opens inside my chest. “What?”
“I can’t make a memory construct.” Oracle’s voice breaks from her usual serene tone and she starts to wail. “I can’t put someone inside someone else’s head like that. I can make you remember things from their life but I can’t give them a voice or a personality.”
I take a step back.
Oracle retreats from me. “Someone else did that to you.”
My stomach turns and I fall to my knees. My lungs inflate and press against my ribcage and I hack crud out of my lungs. I cough black mucus onto the floor.
The crud from my lungs.
The world rips in half as hands pull my ghost out of my body. Megajoule screams in my ears. “You weak and impotent child! I told you! I am the predator! YOU ARE THE PREY!”
I’m in two places at once. I’m trapped in Megajoule’s iron embrace in the void of ink coils shredding through my heart, and I’m rising to my feet against my will in the living room. Heat flows into my fingertips — through the chest, very quick — and I warp toward Oracle.
I snarl and bite down on Megajoule’s arm in the void. I have no fire here, no kinetic energy. My ghost against his. We brawl and kick and punch, his hands wrap around my neck and thousands of dark tendrils wrap around my wrists and ankles, more than Bedevil could ever hope to make.
I’m frozen in place as I try to fight Megajoule — not him, the Fear — in my mind. It infected me, it survived, and it waited for months. I took this from Tim Prince. I thought we killed it. I just gave it a new home.
“Months of suppressing the empath! Months of hiding my influence from the oracle! Months that were an eternity shackled inside your meager flesh!” Megajoule’s voice vibrates on my mind and I lose my grip on my body.
The Fear marches to Oracle. The eyes first, her power is in her eyes. My white-hot thumbs thrust into Oracle’s eyes, shutting their light off forever.
“Gabe!” Bedevil screams. “What are you doing?”
Oracle sobs and retreats from my blazing hands, her eyes now ruined sockets, and my body turns to Bedevil, who stands in the door with Maisa right behind her. The Fear vibrates inside my body, ink spills out of my mouth.
Burning fingertips through the heart. Through her chest.
My body lunges while I am helpless to watch.
Bedevil’s eyes widen as my molten fingers dive for her chest. Her telekinetic tendrils smack against me but my power drinks in the kinetic energy of their attacks. She’d already taught me how to beat her, never thinking that it would be used against her. Never thinking it would be used to kill her.
“I will not kill her!” I scream. I kick free of the tendrils and shove Megajoule’s shadowed form off of me. We struggle for my body even as I rocket through the air. I try to use my power to change course but that’s not working. I’m going to hit her, I’m going to punch through her body.
It’s a matter of where I hit.
I rip Megajoule off of me and the Fear shrieks. I’m in two places at once. I will my ghost back into my body, even for an instant. Just a half-second.
I earn that half-second refusing to kill Bedevil or Maisa, or anyone else in this home, and I change my aim at the last moment.
My hand sears through the Bedevil’s side, just grazing her rib cage. My heat cauterizes her skin instantly. Bedevil opens her mouth but no scream emerges from her throat, only a single, pitiful squeak. She looks up at me, her eyes wide.
I still have control. “Bedevil! Kill me! Kill me before-”
Megajoule rips me in two again. One by one, my molecules fall into the dark. I scream and struggle the entire way, knowing that if I fail Bedevil dies, they all die. I have to get my body away from here.
But the Fear is stronger than I am. It is ancient, it is powerful, and it’s using my own worst memories as its strength. Tendrils rip me from my brain and back into the void.
The Fear throws Bedevil into the living room and then launches upward, bursting through the roof of the house with an explosion of kinetic power. Debris showers down as the house shakes and collapses, catching my friends underneath the fallen roof. The Fear drinks energy from gravity’s pull and from the air around us until my body shines brighter than the sun, and the wood begins to catch fire and the air shimmers. If I don’t get control I will boil them all to death.
White light rips through the inky coils wrapped around the void. The light becomes a girl becomes Epione. Her light pushes Megajoule off of me and I regain control of my body, and Epione descends to wrestle with the Fear.
I launch myself away from the house with all the energy the Fear gathered, flying toward the General Carrera Lake and the mountains beyond. Ink and tar spill from my mouth as I burst through the sound barrier passing above the sleepy town of Puerto Guadal below. My flight leaves a massive wake across the water, parting it with biblical power, and I strike into the opposite shore, shaking the snow from the mountains in torrential avalanches.
Epione shouts into my ear. “Gabe! Find someplace to hide! Find someplace we can lock your body until we can get control of it!”
I can feel her losing. The Fear’s weakened us, I can feel that. Now I know why I’ve felt so damn out of it these last months, why Epione’s been catatonic.
Now that I know, I can do something about it.
Before the Fear beats her down I fly into the mountains, searching for an outcrop or a cave entrance of some kind. I don’t care where, any cave will do. Anything where, if it comes down to it and I can wrest control back, I bury myself inside the rock and deny the Fear it’s prize.
I search the icy ranges while I feel Epione’s defense dropping in my soul. Memories are twisting inside my head, the dark emotions of rage, panic, and depression rise like a tide of sludge in my heart. I have to find somewhere.
Fine. If I can’t find it, I’ll make one.
I will energy into my hands and dive into the side of a mountain, slicing through the stone with flaming fists, until I carve out a small hiding hole that has enough space for me to sit down in. I can’t hear Epione anymore but I can feel her weakened will like a candle flame dying inside a hurricane. The Fear rises up.
I am the predator. You are the prey.
I’m not going down like a wimp. My mind is clear for the first time in months. I’m not going to scream and cry for it because I know that’s how it gains strength. “Do you know what a zoo is?”
The Fear splits me in two, turns me into a ghost again and imprisons me in the void. I grip my body in one hand and press against the Fear’s onslaught with the other, desperate to keep it from controlling me.
I manage to continue speaking: “It’s a place we put predators.”
You will not cage me. The Fear’s power bears down on me like it did that night at Parlor, like it did at the airport. But underneath that, as our minds duel and our spirits battle, I can see that it remembers well the thermos that it was trapped in for years. I know it’s possible, even if I don’t know how yet.
“You’re wrong, you’re wrong!” I shout into the void.
The dark morphs and shows me the billions of worlds that have fallen to its terrible march through the cosmos. You are wrong human. You forget that I am not the only one of my kind. I am but the point of the knife thrusting into your heart.
“It doesn’t matter how many there are! We will understand you, we will cage you, and we will take our fat children, cotton candy in hand, to see you in the cage we made for you. Humans will turn you into an exhibit and your long terror of the universe will end with tourists taking pictures of you from outside a glass box. They’ll pay for the privilege to feed you with their own fear and you won’t be able to do anything about it!”
I glow with bronze fire. It’s not enough to keep the Fear from surrounding me but it’s enough to lock us into a stalemate for control of my body. I summon all the will I’ve built from years of trying to control my power, for years of keeping myself from ripping people apart and burning them alive by accident, years and years of patient control that nearly killed me.
I grab the ragged hole I tore into the mountainside before the Fear can stop me, and with a burst of kinetic energy, I imprison us in stone and darkness. And in that darkness, I whisper the last defiance I have before the Fear wrenches my mouth shut.
“I promise you that, I promise you that I’ll see it happen myself. You are a predator, but humans kill predators for sport. Because it’s fun.”
Those are the last words I get out before the Fear forces my silence and we begin our struggle under rock and shadow.