ARC 15: NEW FOUNDATION
A month goes by like the snap of a finger.
At dawn, Bedevil and I walk hand in hand — okay, if I’m being honest, it’s more like I’m dragging her by the hand — into the relief crew tent, as we have every day for the last month. Even this early, workers swarm the tent, waiting for orders and supplies.
Mago, the Argentinian cape in charge of the relief efforts, works at a temporary desk alongside a few other clerks. He’s performed a miracle coordinating the repair and rescue efforts of Buenos Aires. While he’s a stick-thin man, he gives me the impression of an unshakable tower. Unlike most capes, he’s just dressed in a work outfit with large overalls, and he has a bushy beard and long, unkempt hair.
Mago greets me with a big smile that splits his beard, and in Spanish, he says, “If it isn’t the lovebirds! Same time as always.”
“The butt crack of dawn, just like I like it. We’ll probably need an IV of coffee for her.” I pat Bedevil’s head.
Bedevil grumbles at me. “Up too late.”
“Nobody’s fault but yours,” I reply in English. “Besides, I told you to sleep in.”
“Nuuuuhhhh.” Bedevil stuffs her face into my chest and clings to my arm. “Nuuuuhhh.”
I laugh and switch back to Spanish for Mago’s sake. “Coffee?”
“We’ve got a pot brewing,” he says. “While I’ve got you, here’s where we could use your help today.”
Mago tells me where he needs us most while Bedevil gets some coffee. She drinks it with a sour face and even though I’m supposed to be listening to Mago, I can’t help but stare at her. I drink her in; her golden hair and eyes, her sleepy pout at the coffee, and the way she sticks her tongue out at me when she notices me watching.
Fireworks explode inside my chest. I am wild for her.
“Oi, lovebird, you gonna join me anytime soon?” Mago asks.
I chuckle and listen in.
The work is not easy, and we’ve been at it for weeks. I’ve tried to go where I’m needed most; clearing rubble and hauling heavy things around. Bedevil and I work together for the most part, since her telekinesis makes her incredible at construction and cleaning debris.
We take vans out to the disaster sites. We crowd shoulder to shoulder inside. While we ride out, I stare out the window at the scars the Fear left on the city. Huge craters, collapsed buildings, and broken roads. There are still bodies lying around in places. Even though it didn’t destroy the city, the Fear made good on its promise to break the foundation of the world.
Yet, in that destruction, the people of Buenos Aires work day and night to rebuild. The buildings they replace, the roads they repair. The craters they fill with dirt, cement, and rebar skeletons to provide a solid foundation again. From the window of the van I see them smiling and laughing as they work. I smile at their resilience. This is a good city.
Our van pulls up to the site we’re working on, the ruins of one of the collapsed skyscrapers and some of the buildings it crushed. The damage sprawls for nearly a block.
Bedevil stares at the wreckage and frowns. “There’s still so much left to be done.”
“Do you think this counts as me lifting a building like Megajoule?” I ask. “I mean, you’re here, too. It’s technically a whole building at this point.”
Bedevil snorts. “You’re a turd.”
“We’ve reached the phase of our relationship where you’re calling me a turd.” I wrap my arm around her and hold her close, and gesture grandly. “It’s a new stage of us.”
Bedevil sticks her tongue out at me, again. But once she’s done, I can see her smile wistfully. She rubs her left ring finger with her thumb. I know what she’s thinking about. A certain paper that got burnt up in Oracle’s old home, where she’d written her name and mine together over and over again.
A new stage of us. I’ve thought about it, too.
I’ll have to bite my lip a little bit longer. Not until after we’ve settled everything with Cynic and Lucio Genz.
The one big thing I’ve worried about is Nero. No one found him after the fight with the Fear, and Cynic has no idea where he is. He just up and disappeared. I’ve spent a few evenings scanning the city with Remise, but we’ve not been able to find him at all. Linear’s watched cameras but the city’s CCTV is in chaos from the destruction.
I’ll find him and I’ll kill him, though.
I use my power to keep the workers cool and to lift the things they can’t lift. Chunks of stone that each weigh more than a ton are no hurdle for me anymore, so I haul them over to piles for trash compactors or Krater to take care of later.
At around noon, we take a lunch break. The crews are provided with boxed rations which are mostly sandwiches and fruit, and I’m not gonna complain about free food. At the start of the clean-up, the other workers didn’t want to sit near me much less look at me. I think they thought I was a god.
“Ey, Gabe, did you get an apple? I’ve got some grapes, do you want to trade?” a worker named Lucas asks me.
“Fuck your grapes,” I answer, but I offer him a slice of my apple anyway.
I listen to their stories. Lucas is a shop clerk with a two year old daughter. He hasn’t found his wife since the attack, and the longer the time goes on, the more the spark in his eyes die. I don’t want to lie to him but I don’t want him to give up hope. So, I told him I’d look for her when I could.
Mattie, as he wants me to call him instead of Mateo, is the eldest son of two sixty-somethings that own a mechanic shop on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. They were spared from most of the trouble, and so he’s been using his spare time to volunteer.
A twenty year old girl named Alma that kind of reminds me of Saw Off asks me about Houston, and tells me that she’s dreamed of visiting the U.S. I tell her about Houston but I try not to tell her that with the U.S. closing its borders, she might not get the chance to go.
Isabelle is looking for her dog, and his description reminds me of Pawpaw. I promise to help look for him. Lorenzo has had trouble affording food so I give him my sandwich.
I start to feel a bit like the Giving Tree, but they all want to talk to me, too, so it’s not completely just me being a doormat. I always make them tell me a bit about themselves while I’ve got them for a minute, and being human, they like to give it.
They don’t realize that we’re linking arms as we do so, that our colors entwine together and they’ve given me a piece of themselves to reflect on. I’m not sure it matters, since they get a piece of me, too.
Bedevil sits next to me toward the end of our lunch. She leans into my shoulder, takes my hand in hers, and brings it to her lips for a kiss. The touch of her lips still sends a jolt through my body, even though it’s been almost half a year since we first kissed.
I lean my head on hers as I watch the other workers finish up their lunches. “I’ve been thinking about something.”
“What?” Bedevil asks.
“It’s just that… well, I’m worried about something and I’m afraid you’ll reject me.”
Bedevil pulls back and puts her left hand on my cheek. “I swear that I won’t reject you.”
“When is it okay to fart in front of you?” I ask.
Bedevil slaps my shoulder. “You fuckin’ ass. You had me worked up. I thought it was gonna be something like kinky or… or…”
“Or that I have an extra dimensional demon of pain inside me?” I ask.
“Yeah, that.” Bedevil rubs her forehead against my arm, not unlike a cat. “I’ve been thinking about something, lately, too.”
“Is it a kinky thing?”
“You wish. No. I just…” She pauses, tapping her chin. A piece of me that made it to her. A piece of Megajoule, really, but that’s okay. He got it from somewhere, too. “I can’t express it with words, but do you know that feeling when you lose a bunch of weight?”
“Were you fat at one point?” I ask.
“No!” Bedevil growls. “Like if you take off a heavy backpack or something, and then you stand up straight.”
I nod. “I am light, now.”
“Yeah. It’s good. I’m really happy that you are.”
I smile. “I hated that I borrowed so much from him, you know. I hated myself. But I don’t, anymore.” Not that it’s been completely easy to rid myself of those thoughts. I suspect I’ll have dark days in the future. But I know why, now, and I know what to do about them. “I’ve been thinking about something else, too. What we’re going to do next. I know Oracle and Archimedes have been negotiating with the government to set up Foundation again.”
Bedevil nods. “It’s going well. OPI is a roadblock but once Cynic is tried before the senate I don’t think they will be anymore.”
“Look at what happened to you and me, and Megajoule. Hell, Wind Rider, Meltdown, Templar, Longinus. How many of these people went uncared for after they suffered? Where was OPI’s therapy? Where were the aftercare people?”
“I was assigned a counselor,” Bedevil says. “They didn’t make me go, though, not after the first appointment.”
“That’s what I mean. OPI didn’t take care of people.” I click my tongue. “We should take care of people.”
Bedevil squeezes my arm. “We will. I promise.” She checks her phone after and gasps at the time. “Hey, babe, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tonight when you get back, okay? Arch’s gonna be so pissed at me for being late.”
I kiss her on the cheek. “It’s fine, love, he knows you’re out here helping.”
“He literally said it was a waste of time for me to be out here instead of learning.” Bedevil looks like he’s said a lot of things like that. She snorts, and adds, “He didn’t tell me at all what he and Oracle had planned.”
“Front toward enemy. You were a substitute for me while I was gone,” I say. “He probably didn’t want to mess you up from saving me.”
“That… makes sense…” She furrows her brow. She’s so cute. “Okay. I’ve got to go. I’ll see you.”
With that Bedevil steps up, balances on her feet, bends over to give me a kiss, and then launches into the air with her telekinesis. I watch her fly off, still amazed that she knows how to fly on her own, now.
When I look back down, the workers are grinning at me.
Late that afternoon, Flashfire and Saw Off show up at my work site. Saw Off trots up to me like she always has, like the first day I met her in the firing range. “Gabe Babe! How’s it hanging? Are you ready for your special day?”
“What’s special about today?” I ask.
“She means it’s the day before Cynic’s trial,” Flashfire says. He walks up and pats me on the shoulder. “Hey, brother. How’s it going out here?”
“It goes. The work is slow, but it goes.” I grin at him. “Has Archimedes let you back into the command room, yet?”
Flashfire scowls. It’s not bitter and angry, like it used to be when he would stalk around Epione’s backyard by himself. Lighter, friendlier. Being out of Houston has been good for him. “I don’t want OPI to be replaced by another OPI. If it’s the same business as usual, you can count me out.”
I try my best to reassure him. “Bedevil and Templar are gonna be on the new table of Foundation. You think they’ll let things go the same way this time?”
“No. But still.”
I pull him into a side hug, leveraging my height and a slight boost to strength with kinetic energy so that he can’t worm his way out of it with judo. “It’ll be fiiiine. You’re just paranoid.”
Saw Off has already started flirting with Mattie, so she’s left us alone for the time being.
Flashfire pulls free of the hug. He sighs, and he struggles to speak.
“What’s up?” I ask. Flashfire is the type to be concerned about twenty different things at once and to get really upset about each one.
“It’s about me and Ep, Gabe.”
Oh. “Shit, dude.”
“Yeah. It’s… We called it. Threw in the towel.”
“It’s over,” I murmur. “I’m sorry.” I haven’t been paying attention to my friends since the incident. I’ve been working every day to help clean up the city. To be fair, so have they, and we’ve all been a bit quiet since we’ve started working.
“She told me about what happened.” Flashfire blows a raspberry and sighs. He’s rattled and busted by it, I can see that. “What the hell do you say to that, dude? She literally lost her love for me fighting the Fear. She lost it saving lives. You can’t be mad about it, she didn’t know.”
And then, Flashfire turns on me and I see the pain running all the way down to the core of his heart, a deep well of it in his eyes. “And you didn’t, you fought the Fear and you still love Bedevil, so why did she lose it when she has power over that stuff?”
“I…” Shit, I have no idea what to say. “I don’t really have the right words to say to you.”
He shakes his head and wipes his eyes, and composes himself. “I’ll bounce back.”
“I know, you’re hot,” I say. “Everyone thinks so.”
Laughter cuts through his sorrow, and he kicks a rock while laughing. “I’ve never seen it, myself. I’ve been asked to model, my brothers and sisters called me ‘pretty boy’ back in the army.”
“Maybe you’re just not your type.”
He grins, though his eyes are red and tears trickle down his cheeks. “I’m glad you’re back. I missed you, bro.”
“I missed you, too. I wanted to come rescue you about three different times, but…”
“But sometimes you just can’t,” Flashfire says. “Trust me, I know. Sometimes there’s walls you can’t see between you and the people you want to protect.”
“You two done with your manly tears session?” Saw Off asks, trotting up to us. “We’re gonna be late if we don’t hurry.”
“Late for what?” I ask.
“A little thing. Will you fly us back?” Flashfire asks.
I shrug. I guess I’ll see what they’re up to. “Hey, guys, tell Mago I had to call it a little early today!” I shout to the other workers.
“Sure thing, lovebird!” Mattie shouts back.
I place my arms around both their waists, drink in all of our kinetic energy, and launch us into the air. I’ve gotten better at manipulating gravity since I’ve started helping clean up the city. Easier to fly with others, now.
We return to the Foundation HQ, landing in the courtyard together.
The one thing that I love about this building is the inscription over the walls. It is a vague translation of an old quote from a famous celebrity of the 20th century, named Mr. Rogers. I didn’t realize it at first, until one of the capes explained it to me. Roughly, it means: “Look for the altruistic ones.”
But the quote it is invoking moves me.
Look for the helpers.
The thing I like less about the courtyard is the giant gold statue of one of the first Foundation heroes. Not like there’s much I can do about that. Not like they’d let me melt it.
“Do you think they would let me melt the statue?” I ask Flashfire as I set him and Saw Off down.
“I’d let you do it,” Saw Off says. “When are we doing this? Tonight? As part of the—”
“God, Caileigh, just… shush!” Flashfire says.
Now, I’m curious. “What are you two planning?” I’m worried my plans to propose to Bedevil have been spoiled somehow.
“Nothing, it’s nothing,” Flashfire shakes his head and scowls at Saw Off. “Come on.”
Okaaaaay, then. I follow them into Foundation HQ, where we’ve all been living for the past month. The HQ reminds me of an anvil, a fitting metaphor as we aim to help build a new world in the face of the Fear.
The lobby is, again, far too garish for me. Marble columns, glittering gold, a babbling fountain. Oh, and tons and tons of capes and OPI agents, and now Argentinian officials, too. They watch me enter but no one bars us from heading into the living quarters.
I am suspicious, now. Saw Off is practically buzzing with excitement, and she bounces up and down as we make it back to my apartment. Saw Off stares at me and gestures to the door. “Open it.”
I take out my keycard, squinting at her. I worry I’m about to eat a grenade.
I open the door.
A flash of light and a pop, and a cheer: “Surprise!”