Nero noted with a hint of glee that Wind Rider and Meltdown were unnerved by the entrance to Carnality’s prison. The entrance was tucked away on miles of remote land outside Point Barrow, Alaska, in territory jointly owned by OPI and the U.S. Federal Government. Her prison was under constant surveillance by a dozen Primum capes sitting inside a booth with near invincible glass. They waved Nero and Danger Close forward, and then Wind Rider and Meltdown.
For all that ceremony, for the very high tech facility under the earth, the entrance itself was an unceremonious cement block with metal doors. A sign above it said Authorized Personnel Only.
Beneath that sign was a stone slab engraved with a terrible image: a giant goddess pouring blood into her mouth from a handful of corpses. The style reminded Nero of Mayan carvings.
“Why?” Meltdown stared at the stone slab. “Is it a joke?”
Danger Close eyed her up, clearly interested in her more than the facility in front of him. His bionic eyes were indistinguishable from human ones except at certain angles, where Nero could see a glint of light inside the pupil. “It’d be one hell of a joke.”
“Hell of a joke,” Nero agreed. “No. It’s like those warning signs they wanted to make for nuclear waste facilities, in case society ever collapsed. It tells people there is nothing good here. Don’t open these doors. Don’t let out the devil inside.”
“Then why are we letting her out?” Wind Rider asked. “Why the fuck do we need the world’s deadliest Cloak?”
“I made a deal with this particular devil,” Nero said. “To be honest, I think between Gabe, Bedevil, Templar, Archimedes, and Linear, that they would ransack us. Especially on their home turf.”
“You promised her another Gabe. What does that even mean?” Meltdown asked.
“Jesus, you two gonna split twenty questions in the divorce proceedings?” Nero checked to see what kind of nerve he’d struck.
Pay fucking dirt. Those words had cowed Wind Rider and ignited Meltdown’s fury. She scowled at Nero. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The metal doors opened and instead of answering, Nero walked inside the cement box. This led to a set of stairs that led to another set of stairs. The air chilled as they descended, the lights embedded into the cement walls grew more sparse.
The final step was a small elevator with glass doors. Nero went inside, waited for his team to catch up, and then pressed the down button. He could practically feel Wind Rider and Meltdown coiling up in anxiety. Danger Close, however, seemed fine behind those glasses of his.
“Danger, you’re doing okay?” Nero asked.
“Always,” Danger Close said. “You’ve already beaten her once, right?”
“Do you want to know how I beat her?” Nero asked.
“How?” Meltdown asked, probably looking for some deep assurance that everything would be okay.
“Don’t,” Wind Rider said. His face fell when he realized that Nero would tell it anyway. “I… It’s…”
Nero couldn’t help his grin. “Happy to elucidate. You see, Carnality killed me, over and over. I don’t think anyone’s ever killed me as many times as she has. Not even Megajoule.”
Meltdown started at the mention of his name. Wind Rider bowed his head in shame.
Nero continued. “I could stall her but I couldn’t stop her. We waltzed our way down the Pacific Coast and we only barely managed to keep her from slaughtering everyone.”
“Wind Rider was there, yeah?” Danger Close asked.
Wind Rider stared straight ahead. He glanced at Meltdown and then at Nero, and shuddered. “Yeah. Yeah. I was there.”
“But the final bout was all me,” Nero said, watching the rock roll by the glass window. If he timed this big reveal right, maybe he’d make Meltdown shit her pants. “Everyone wonders how I did it. Everyone asks me and I just dodge the question.”
Meltdown’s voice was so small he could hardly hear it over the elevator’s hum. “How?”
“I told her the truth. I said OPI would send every cape they have after her. She said to let them. I said, if that didn’t work, they would nuke the shit out of her. She said, let them. I said, what happens when you kill everyone? What happens when all of mankind is dead and you have nothing else to do with all your time?”
Meltdown had transformed into a pale ghost. All the blood drained from her face. Ironic, Nero thought, that it could literally happen. “You didn’t beat her.”
“We tied,” Nero said. “I made her an offer. One immortal to another. Glut herself and then waste away after it was all gone, or live in a fancy box and let other people do the work of feeding her.”
Danger Close whistled.
Meltdown could not speak. She stared at Nero in horror.
God, he loved this. “She took the offer. Could we kill her? Maybe. Still, once I’d talked her down from genocide and Cynic from trying to atomize her out of existence, OPI saw uses for her. Especially when the Youxia are out there. Part of our agreement was that Carnality would serve OPI’s needs when necessary. When I promised her another Gabe, I meant it. She helped us dispose of a few of the older clones of Megajoule, ones that had a good grapple on their power.”
“Jesus,” Meltdown whispered.
The rock beyond the elevator doors gave way to a long hallway with only enough room for two people to walk shoulder to shoulder. Harsh lights split the hallway into painfully bright and abysmally dark sections.
“The only reason she doesn’t break out of this place is because she’s lazy.” Nero grinned at Meltdown, satisfied that he’d pushed all of her buttons. “We aren’t imprisoning her. We’re using her.”
The elevator doors opened and Nero didn’t miss a beat. He strode headlong toward the end of the hallway. His companions followed like reluctant shadows. How could they not be afraid? They were flies walking into a spider’s web, hoping that their offered meal was more appetizing.
Nero knew it would be. Her favorite meal had been the clones she’d fought. And Megajoule. Megajoule most of all.
This Gabe was different, though. He’d been free of the lab so long he was a different person than the other clones. That would entice Carnality even more.
Even if it didn’t, Nero would be fine. He was immortal.
A Primum cape stood at the end of the hall, guarding a single, white door that was semi-opaque. He reached for the golden handle and opened it for them. Nero had to wonder how a Primum felt playing concierge, or if Cynic lied to them about how important this position was. Nero wondered if this Primum knew he’d be the first to die if Carnality decided she didn’t want to stay here anymore.
The door let in to a small room with a one way window. Nero didn’t bother keeping it that way; he flipped the switch that would adjust the lighting so Carnality could see them.
Carnality stood in the middle of her home, completely nude and eating a bowl of cereal. She was a true albino. Like she was carved from pure marble. Her eyes were larger than a normal person’s, large enough that Nero could see the faded pink irises start to spark with glee. She chewed her cereal in slow bites as she made a quick study of who’d come to see her.
Her home was simple, yet cozy. A fire roared in a hearth underneath a collection of figurines from various anime, and a collection of katanas sat above her bed, which she’d assembled into a pillow fort. She owned a huge flat screen, hanging from the ceiling so that she could watch it from her pillow fort or her couch.
A box of cereal and a gallon of milk sat on the counter of her kitchenette, next to a plate of raw steaks left out so long they were rotting.
Meltdown averted her eyes. “Why is she naked?”
“It’s my home, darling,” Carnality said, her voice filtered through a speaker above them. Her lips parted to reveal her fangs as she grinned. “Nero, it’s so good to see you! It’s been so long since you brought me any morsels. You know where to put them. Are you planning on staying a while?”
“I’m afraid these ones aren’t for you.” Nero ignored the horrified stare from Meltdown. Hell, even Danger Close looked nervous, now.
Carnality came close to the window. Her body was emaciated, reminding Nero of an anorexic woman at the end of her life. Her eyes reflected red light as she peered into the security booth. “Are you sure? The woman is pregnant. I have not had one of those in some time.”
Nero glanced at Meltdown. Her face gave it all away. She really was pregnant.
Carnality leered at the girl. “Don’t act so shocked, darling. I can smell it on your blood. You have a cut in your ankle that you keep picking the scab from. The placement says… a pair of high heels that don’t fit you very well.” Carnality kicked her bare leg up in a dancer’s pose. She ran bony fingers along her thigh. “I haven’t worn heels in so long. I could have them bring me a pair, I suppose. Are they nice heels, Darling? What size?”
Meltdown stammered nonsense.
Wind Rider slammed his fist on the window. “Fuck off.” His defiance fell flat on its face, thanks to his surfer affectation.
“Jamie, so good to see you, too,” Carnality tapped her fingers on the glass between them. “My, I’d have liked to have had you.”
Nero knew a womanizer when he saw one and Danger Close was one of those. Despite that, the expression on his face was nowhere close to lust. Not even in the same galaxy. Might have been the kind that didn’t like a girl that was stronger than him.
Nero, on the other hand, loved that shit. Nothing made him feel more alive than dying and nothing made Carnality feel more alive than killing. Two immortals that could end the world but chose not to? They were practically peas in a pod. Of course he was tempted by her.
He gave into that temptation once. If it ever came out, his career, his standing. It was fucked. The only other person who knew was Cynic and she’d lorded it over him.
So, instead of following his base instincts, he pressed to the matter at hand. “I have another Gabe for you. The last Gabe.”
That piqued Carnality’s interest. Her pink eyes locked on Nero. “You mean the one that escaped?”
“I do,” Nero said. “We need your help tracking him down.”
“You want him alive?” Carnality asked.
“Cynic did, yeah,” Nero said.
Carnality showed her fanged grin again. “If that were the case, you wouldn’t have come for me.”
“No, I wouldn’t have. She wanted him alive. That’s not possible anymore.” Nero reached down and found the switch that unlocked the door to the security booth from Carnality’s room. Some security, when she could shred through this glass if she had even a pint of blood in her veins. “Are you interested?”
“Oh, yes, absolutely.” Carnality pumped her fist into the air. “Let me get decent. Unless you’d like to stay for a while?”
Nero chuckled. “I don’t shit where I eat, Carnality.”
“That didn’t bother you last time,” Carnality said, disappearing into a closet.
“What the fuck, Nero?” Wind Rider got into his face. “What is this?”
“You knew about it.” Nero shoved Wind Rider into the glass. Meltdown started, reached her hand out, but Nero extended burning fingers in her direction. “Back off, sweetie. You’ve got to think about your baby.”
Meltdown broke down into tears. “I… We weren’t… Telling people.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re not sure you’re gonna have it because it’s his,” Nero said, still staring into Wind Rider’s eyes and daring him to do something. “Well, nut up. I don’t need weak links in the chain that’s gonna bound Gabe. Are you a weak link, Meltdown? Wind Rider?”
Wind Rider growled. “Fuck you, Nero. You can’t push us around. I outrank you.” A stiff breeze shoved Nero back. “And in fact, I could report back to Cynic that she needs to keep you on a tighter leash because you clearly want to bone Carnality. Capes don’t make compromises for Cloaks.”
“The only one of us here who’s stepped out of line in that arena is you,” Nero said. “And maybe Danger Close.”
“What line?” Danger Close jested.
“Stop talking about me and my wife like you know us.” Wind Rider looked like he could rip Nero’s head off at any second. “You don’t.”
For her part, Meltdown didn’t say a word.
“I know you.” Nero straightened himself up. “Number two.”
“And what number are you on the rankings, seven?”
“The rankings don’t matter to me.” Nero laughed, his desired outcome falling into his lap. They hated him.
Better that than trust him.
“They don’t matter at all and they shouldn’t to you, but I know that big fat “Two” by your name stings, since you can’t topple Megajoule from the top spot even after he’s been dead for six years!”
“It’s ceremonial,” Meltdown finally said. “They won’t take him down because they need him at the top.”
“Yeah, they still string his corpse up everywhere they can. You want to end up like that? Cynic will toss you out the first chance she gets if you step out of line.” Nero did not want that for himself. He couldn’t die but she could make his eternal life miserable. He snapped a glare at Danger Close but the man didn’t need any encouragement stepping in line. “If you don’t want to end up like that, shut up and do what I say.”
Carnality returned, dressed in a flowery dress and a sun-hat. She tapped the glass. “Let me out, darling. Don’t make me do it myself.”
Nero pressed the button that opened the door. The smell of rotten meat wafted in ahead of her like a bad omen.