The storm rages. Inside my heart and over the nighttime jungle, it cracks whips of lightning, their tips laced with powerful thunder. I can almost taste the sound waves traveling through the air and rain, laced with vibrational energy. Even that temptation frays at the prison in my mind. I could take that energy, if I wished.
If I survive, sound. Sound is what I will try next. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before.
So many things I’ve missed because my head was too stuck up my own ass to realize they were right in front of me. And even then, I wasn’t really examining myself. I was just… I don’t even know. Hiding. Hiding behind a mask because I was afraid of my own face.
Another bolt of lightning rips apart the darkness. Not that it’s any use to me, without my glasses or goggles.
I guide my way through the jungle with my fumbling hands. I’m unworried about minor injuries. The suit Archimedes made for me protects my skin. I am worried about picking up a disease, a parasite, or getting caught by capes.
My hand scrapes on something smooth. I press my fingers against the barrier and find it wobbles. Not a boulder or the side of a hill, no. This is a wall. I press my nose to it and feel the scrape of stone, the coolness of the brick. There’s slimy moss, too, and it is slick from rain. I extend my reach and find that the wall is crumbling, and not even as wide as the span of my arms, and only slightly taller than I am. There is a piece of metal embedded into the wall at about eye level.
A cross. The metal thing is a cross. A symbol of faith.
I’ve never believed too much in God. Thinking on it, I’m somewhat of an affront to him, aren’t I? Made by someone’s power, gifted to them by the Affect, and a direct copy of a man long dead. What would God say about me?
No, I’ve never believed too much in God. Perhaps because I am scared to do so.
Perhaps I am scared to believe in anyone at all.
I rest my back against the stone. I listen carefully and make sure that no one is near. I don’t see any lights nearby, any indication that I’ve stumbled onto civilization somehow. I think that I’ve found only the ruins of some old church or mission, the only piece left hundreds of years on this little wall. I decide that I will rest here, even though I’d like to be out of the rain.
The few times I’ve fallen asleep, the Fear dragged me under and turned my rest into a nightmarish battle. The end result is that I haven’t felt very well rested. It’s only been two days since I managed to imprison the Fear, but those two days feel like months thanks to those nightmares. I don’t wish to sleep, even if I must. Even if I prevail in the dream, the battle is so exhausting. A cruel joke of a fight. Like falling into knives.
If you look, it takes you. Closing my eyes is looking, unfortunately.
And if I lose in the dream, what happens out here? The Fear can go on much longer than I can.
What did Bedevil say to me, back then in Houston? I can’t let an obstacle dictate how far I can go. My power is unusable. The Fear is tearing up my brain matter. Neither of these should dictate how far I can go.
I sit cross-legged under the wall and close my eyes. Sleep threatens me as soon as my eyelids shut but I balloon my lungs and hold the breath for a ten-count.
I don’t have a pencil, a paper, or anything to write on. Even so, I want to dictate who I am. I want so fervently to acknowledge who I am and what I believe. I’ve always worried that I am only a sum of questions, and that, in answering those questions, I will disappear.
Now, I believe differently.
In answering those questions, I will find out who I really am.
Who am I? I am Gabe.
What do I want? I want many things. I want to save the world. I want to feel Bedevil’s arms around me and the soft beating of her heart. I want to taste her lips and make love to her again. I want a kid, when I settle down. I hope she wants a kid. I want my friends safe and happy. I want Maisa to feel loved. I want to kill Nero and Cynic. But I also want them to face justice, not vengeance. I want to go home. I want to eat a cheeseburger. I want those jellybeans back, babe.
Where are you going? Toward something. Toward myself.
What am I afraid of? That no matter how hard I fight, no matter what I do, nothing will change.
What do I need? Right now, clean water and food. A restful night of sleep. I need my friends. I need Bedevil.
What am I?
That’s… a strange question, isn’t it? That’s not something that’s so easy to answer. I’m almost asking ‘what’s a clone?’ or ‘what’s a human?’ or even ‘what’s a superhero?’
All good questions. What am I? I am a human. Even if I am a clone, or a cape, or a mask, beneath all of that, I am a human.
I am just like all the other humans, deep down. Embroiled in this world with them, struggling to fulfill my needs and desires. We are entangled in each other, arms interlocked in a constant battle for ourselves. Together we sink or rise.
That’s what Bedevil meant. I believe we are all sinking. Megajoule rose. The rest of us sink.
I disdain us all.
Something inside me chafes, it screams and it rages as I turn my gaze upon it to study it. I disdain us all. I disdain us. I disdain us. It hurts. It hurts so bad to look at that.
If you look, it takes you.
No, that’s what it wants me to think. It doesn’t want me to look because it’s scared that if I cast light on it, the shadow will disappear. If I surround it in light, there is no place for a shadow to go. It’s just that the light I am casting now is not quite bright enough, not encompassing enough.
Now… how do I do make it brighter?
That’s not something I have the answer to just yet, but I can sense it just beyond the horizon. Bedevil, thank you. I know you can’t hear me from wherever you are. Epione hasn’t been back to relay any messages. But still, I hope you know how much I owe you. How much I have leaned upon your love in this fight.
God, it’s almost like I’m dying. I wonder if this is what Megajoule felt in his final days. If he thought of his wife. If he thought of his mistakes.
There is so much of me that is him. Yet, I disdain myself. Even him. Even him. That’s how the Fear has used him against me. Because I believe both that he is beyond my reach and that he is a parasite on my soul. Because I hate him and I love him. Because I am torn between those two things: wanting to be my own person and wanting to be him.
There’s a part of me that is him. I can’t deny that. Denying it and being afraid of it, that gave the Fear the toehold in my psyche.
Still, Bedevil. Thank you. I love you.
A silver light sparks and grows in my mind’s eye, gently blossoming as if a rose. The silver fire warms me and weaves into my Affect, and I feel Bedevil’s love within it. I don’t know how I know, I just know it’s what she gave me. Her perfect gift.
The Fear quiets inside. The storm calms.
I drift into peaceful oblivion.
A soft murmur stirs me from that peace.
“…you dead?” she asks.
I open my eyes. It is mid-morning, judging by the dim light reflecting off the sopping leaves and mud-soaked dirt. A woman stands in front of me, dressed in white. Golden hair spills down her shoulders, and she holds a hand out at me. Is it Bedevil?
She mutters to herself. She looks around her to see if anyone else is nearby.
My lips crack open, startling the woman. “Bedevil? Ruby?” My body feels weak. I don’t know how long I’ve been under this wall but I am too weak now to resist anyone. My spirit feels strong but my body… it’s suffering. I haven’t eaten in days.
She stares at me for a moment. In her silence I study her as best I can. A white spandex outfit, laced with green. A green smudge around her eyes. Probably a bolero mask. Some kind of backpack? She must be a cape.
Then I’ve been caught. “Not Bedevil,” I say.
She retreats a step back from me. She reaches her hand out and lightning dances between her fingertips. Ah, now I recognize her. Meltdown. One of the capes the Fear almost killed in Puerto Guadal. I can’t do anything against her right now, not with my power restrained as it is, and even then, I can’t do anything against electromagnetic energy. The Fear rages — it does not want me to die. Even so, it’s the second best thing that can happen to me now.
I close my eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Go ahead.”
“You’re… you’re Gabe. Not the Fear,” she says.
I open my eyes again. Would it be better to bait her into killing me? Spare everyone the trouble? Ah, but then again, I’d be creating trouble for my friends. I told Bedevil I would fight this until I fell and after I fell, I would get back up again and fight it until I beat it. Until I won. “You’re hesitating.”
“You don’t have ink coming out of you,” Meltdown says.
“No. I’m…” How to explain? “I don’t know very much about what I did but I trapped it inside me.”
“You’re not possessed.”
“Sharing a cell,” I tell her.
Meltdown pauses. “I… I don’t even know… what to do or what to say.”
“Neither do I.”
Incredibly, she sits down.
“Don’t you have back up?” I ask.
“We’re sweeping the jungle, in search parties. I have back up nearby. I’m supposed to buzz for them.”
I can’t read her expression from the wall. I don’t want to move because I’ll spook her. “So why don’t you?”
“I thought you were dead.”
“That’s not an answer,” I say. “You saw what I did in Chile.”
“That wasn’t you,” Meltdown says.
“It was my body.”
“Were you in control?”
Only briefly. Only for a moment, to beg Nero to kill me. “No.”
“I know what the Fear does,” Meltdown says. “I’m one of the few who knows. We thought you were lost completely. But I’ve seen hosts still aware right up until they died. I’ve never seen a host restrain it, though.”
“Don’t you think you should buzz them, then? Or kill me?” I ask. “Since you’ve never seen that before, how can you believe me?”
“You want me to kill you.” Meltdown’s voice wavers. From here she really looks like Bedevil.
“Aren’t you Wind Rider’s wife?” I ask.
Meltdown nods. That much I can make out, at least.
Yikes. She looks like Bedevil. I wonder if she realizes that. Oh, no fucking doubt. Looking like someone else is all I’ve ever obsessed about.
They also called her the next Megajoule. Interesting that she’s the other half of my pie, though likely just a coincidence. “It’s tough being in someone else’s shadow, isn’t it?”
“What would you…” She trails off. “Yeah.”
“It’s okay, I know.” I smile, even though it takes all the effort in the world. “I know all about it. Inferiority. Right?”
“Why do you think you know me?” she asks.
“Because I know myself.” Somewhat. I know the part of myself that is a part of her. Weird that I’m sitting her, talking to her about her issues. “So why aren’t you calling for backup?”
Meltdown starts several words and gives them up halfway in. She stutters, trying to form her response.
I simply wait. I have no control over this situation outside of speaking to her.
“I don’t know. You don’t seem… You are acting like…”
“Gabe?” I ask.
“Yes,” Meltdown says. “Gabe is not my enemy.”
“Hmm, I distinctly remember you throwing a lightning bolt at Gabe,” I say.
Meltdown starts. “I… Yeah… I did.”
I chuckle. That all seems like a lifetime ago, now. “I forgive you. We were just on opposite sides, as we are now.”
“I don’t know if we are,” Meltdown says. “You are fighting against the Fear.”
“I am. Are you?” I ask.
“Then we are on the same side.” I laugh. “This would be easier if the Fear wasn’t inside me, huh?”
My laugh must be infectious, because it draws a chuckle from Meltdown. Here, she is not like Bedevil at all. This laugh is her own, or… or… what? Borrowed…
“Where are you headed? Anywhere but here?” she asks.
I laugh again. The absurdity of it all tickles me. “I’m afraid I don’t have the strength to move. And, well, if you are on my tail… I don’t suppose it matters.”
“Are you trying to get back to your friends?”
“I was. Or to find a nice cliff and throw myself off of it,” I say.
“Would that even kill you?” Meltdown asks.
“Right now, it would,” I say. “I used my power to imprison the Fear. If I use my power at all, if I lose focus, then the prison will break.”
“I see,” Meltdown says. She gasps. “Gabe, you’re bleeding. Your neck.”
I press my hand against my neck, right above the collar of my suit. Sure enough, there is a smattering of blood on my fingers. “I’ve been stumbling around the jungle—”
“No!” Meltdown shouts. “Carnality!”