Tim Prince’s smile splits his face like a knife. He scratches at his beard, a bit overgrown since his incarceration. His eyes are dead and dark. “What makes you think that I have a power?”
“I was possessed by the Fear, too. The only way that’s possible is if you have an Affect for it to use. If you don’t have a bright Affect, then you’ll just be one of those puppets. That’s not what happened to you.” I’m sure no matter what his power is I could waltz in there and destroy him, but one, I don’t want to do that, and two, there’s a tiny primordial doubt that maybe I can’t.
Tim rubs his chin, trying to hide his smile. “I got lucky.”
“You’re lying. You lied back then when I asked you about your power, and you’re lying now.” I pet Isabelle for comfort, as if she’s come kind of holy bauble. “You had a power that the Fear wanted. You have to be Cruiserweight at the very least. But it would have been subtle. Something nobody noticed, not even your family.”
“Say I tell you what it is. What do I get out of it?”
“I’ll let you look at Isabelle a little longer instead of handing her to the guard.” I pet her again, just to let that point sink in.
Tim chews his lip. “Yeah, cool. Keep the dog here. Not like I have a choice, anyway, and I like you a lot more than I like that other guy. The fat one with the beard.”
“Archimedes?” I ask.
“Yeah, him,” Tim says.
“So what is it? Your power?”
Tim walks over to the panel window. He stares at me through it and presses his fingers against the glass. “If I could touch you, I could make you suffer.”
I hold Isabelle close to my chest, as if Tim will leap through that glass and try to use his power on her.
“I could also take your suffering away.” Tim pulls his hand away and drops it to his side. “I’m like your girl, Epione, just… smaller scope. I saw all that she could do that night in the Second Ward and I realized I was nowhere close to her.”
I thought Epione would be the only one of her kind, but why wouldn’t there be more? Emotions are the flames of our Affect. It shouldn’t surprise me anymore than there being more than one pyrokinetic or telekinetic. “You’re an empath.”
“Yeah, but only for one color. I can kinda sense the other ones, but it’s like everything is dim except for purple. Darker shades are pain and suffering.” He frowns. “Lighter shades… my sister was light purple a lot. Really she was bronze, like you, but purple was a big color for her. It is for you, too.”
There’s an actual hint of remorse on his face. I didn’t think he’d be like this. I took him for a sociopath… but now I have to wonder if that was the Fear. How much of his evil came from its corruption. “What’s light purple?”
“Compassion.” Tim sighs. “So yeah. I have a power.”
“Is that how you captured the Fear?” Epione could battle with it, and she destroyed the Thermos, which I doubt anyone else could have done.
“Yeah. Trapped it in a prison made of suffering. Kind of like burying it in its own food, I guess. I kept reweaving the prison with new pain, and that kept it down for a while. Until you raided Parlor, and I lost my fuel source. I tried to keep it up with that kid Maisa, but one person wasn’t enough.”
The truth relaxes me. I ease up on petting Isabelle, though she whines for my attention. He might be able to make me feel like I’m in pain, but he can’t bust out of those walls. I suspect that he’s able to project his Affect around like Epione, but I’m not going to say that. I don’t want to isolate him and I can talk to Epione about it.
“You got something on your mind,” Tim says.
“I do. The Fear told me that it created more of itself in the battle for Buenos Aires. You spent a long time with Rorschach.”
Tim retreats from the window. “Yeah, I did. I don’t really know how it grows or makes babies or whatever. I just know that it ate pain. I know that it killed my sister.”
“Then tell me everything you know about it. Doesn’t matter how little,” I say. “I’m going to kill every last one of its kind before it kills us. I promise.”
Tim sits down on the bed again. “Yeah, yeah, the hero routine. But why do you want to work with me, anyway? You hate me. I’m giving you pain just by being here.”
I had a feeling he’d want to address the elephant in the room. “You’re neutralized. You’re not a threat anymore. Make no mistake, I would set this puppy down and smash through that glass the instant I thought you might be again.”
Tim pales. He stuffs whatever banter he had planned.
“You were a coward and people suffered for it.” I set Isabelle down and let her run around the room, yipping like nothing is wrong. “Don’t mistake me for your friend. I’ll be polite but that’s the extent of any grace you’ll get from me.”
“Yeah,” Tim says at last. “Got it.”
“You said you don’t know how it reproduces. Not a single idea, even with all the stuff it showed you?” I ask.
“How do you know what it showed me?”
“It showed me, too. I figure if we put our heads together as former hosts, we can get somewhere.”
Tim considers that. He rubs his chin again, and says, “I dunno if that’s something we can figure out in one night.”
“I know. I want to bring Epione tomorrow,” I say. “Think over it.”
Tim nods. “Sure.”
I stand up, and strangely, give him a bit of a nod myself. He doesn’t really deserve my respect, not after everything he’s done out of cowardice, but I know what it’s like to be corrupted by that monster. He didn’t have to say a damn thing to me. “Thanks, Tim.”
“Just be sure to bring the dog next time,” he says, as I leave him be.
I don’t return to my apartment right away. Instead, I find myself knocking at Epione, Remise, and Echo’s apartment.
Epione answers the door. She smiles, as usual, but there’s more emotion behind it. More genuine meaning. “Hello, Gabe. You brought your dog! I thought you’d be asleep by now.”
“I couldn’t… I went to talk to Tim.”
Epione nods, but she doesn’t stop smiling. “Come in, then.”
Remise and Echo are playing games together in their living room. Their apartment doesn’t overlook the sea, like mine, but has a wonderful view of downtown Buenos Aires. Despite the destruction, some of the buildings still have their lights on. It’s another hopeful sign to me. People get on with their lives.
The same thought hits me as Remise grins at me. “Oi, Gabe!”
“Reminds me of old times,” I say. I set Isabelle down so she can explore the apartment, which she does with a gusto. “Reminds me of Drone.”
Remise’s grin dies out. “Yeah. I regret not playing with her more. I just always seemed to win.” This is the closest I’ve ever seen Remise to crying, I think. She purses her lips and stares at the floor. “I just thought it wasn’t fun for her to lose all the time.”
Echo grabs Remise’s hand. “She loved all of you. She didn’t feel that you neglected her. I talked with her a lot while she was at the hostel.”
I can’t forget the day I found out. I can’t forget that I wasn’t there to help her. I know it wasn’t my fault, but it’s painful for me to imagine her out of her element, dying in those woods. I’m glad I don’t know the specifics. It would haunt me.
“She was my work wife,” I say. “I’m going to find a way to honor her. Mil-dot, Vaquero, and Asperity, too. The Bay Biters. They all lost their lives doing the right thing, and they deserve to be honored for it.”
I’ve been thinking about the best way to do that, but I’m not sure. If they ask me to speak at a public event, maybe.
For now, I change the topic. “Did you know that Tim had a power?”
Epione’s smile vanishes. “I suspected. Once I knew more about the Fear.”
“He agreed to tell me what he knows. Maybe we can create profile for hosts and start looking for new entities.” They’re out there, somewhere. The Fear made more of itself. “Something that’s more immediate, though. Do you know what his power is?”
“Oh, shit, now I want to know,” Remise says. She leans into Echo. They both look tantalized.
“He’s like me,” Epione said. “Right?”
“How did you know?” I ask.
“I’ve felt someone like me close by since we moved in. Like an echo, I suppose. Someone else who can bend the Affect. He’s weaker, though.”
I whistle at Isabelle, who is trying to teeth on their couch. “He said he can only use one color. Purple. Suffering, but compassion, too.”
“You’re saying he’s an empath, but just for one emotion,” Remise says. “Wild.”
“Yeah. Makes sense, though. Bedevil’s not the only telekinetic in the world. She just happens to be the best,” I say.
Echo drapes her leg across Remise’s lap. The one that used to be broken, I notice. There’s a thin white scar along her ankle. She purrs, and says, “You would say that, Gabe. My Remise here, she’s the fastest person in the world.”
I chuckle. “Sure, sure. But I don’t know a lot of telekinetics that could put Krater down for a ten count.”
“She’s gonna be on your new team, right? The new Underground or whatever?” Remise asks.
That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, actually. If Argentina lets Archimedes and Oracle start up a new cape org, then they’ll want me as the face. They’ll want me to lead a team. They’ll want something symbolic.
“The Inheritors,” I say at last. “We’re going to start up the Inheritors again. Bedevil is going to be on the table with Archimedes, so she can’t be on the team, really. She already said she wanted to learn how to lead, but I’m going to see if she’ll lead us.”
“The Inheritors.” Remise whistles. “You gonna take his slogan, too?”
“Nah,” I say. “They’re good words, but they’re not for that.”
“Well, you have to have good words,” Echo says.
“And a new cape name,” Epione says from behind me. “I have a lot of recommendations. Mostly from Greek myth.”
I laugh and get my back to a wall so I don’t feel so surrounded. “One thing at a time. My first question was to ask you if you wanted to be on the team. Remise and Epione, I mean. No offense, Echo.”
Echo bares her fangs at me. I get a spooky flashback to Carnality, but she turns her snarl into a grin. “It’s fine. I’m not interested in being a big name cape, anyway. I’d rather work on the street level. I was actually thinking of joining Saw Off’s new team—”
“Oh, you are absolutely not gonna do that,” Remise says.
“Why not?” Echo whines and pouts, and slaps her leg on Remise’s lap. “I’ll be good, I promise!”
“Mhm,” Remise says. “You’ll be good by not joining up with Saw Off.”
“Well?” I ask. “Are you two in? Epione, you can steal any power we come up against, and Remise, if you get outfitted with good gear from Archimedes, you could go toe to toe with almost anyone out there.”
“I don’t need gear,” Remise says. “I just need a good sword.”
“Sure, but when someone slams you with super strength that can shatter steel, you’ll want a little more than a sword.”
Remise frowns. She crosses her arms and turns her nose up at me. “Won’t hit me. But aye, I’m for you, Gabe. Always wanted to be an official cape. Almost was once, and this is as good a second chance as I’ll get.”
“And I’ve got more tricks up my sleeve than just borrowing powers.” Epione beckons me to her room. “In fact, I want to show you something, Gabe.”
Well, that’s not ominous. I take a last look at Isabelle, gnawing on their coffee table, and chuckle. I follow Epione.
Once the door is closed, I say, “I heard about you and Flashfire.”
“Yes,” Epione says. Her voice tightens. This Epione is more emotional, more expressive than she used to be. She still does things that are off-kilter, like tapping wood and other little things I’ve come to understand as tics to her autism. Despite that, she seems more open.
“It was my call. I’ve tried, but I wasn’t able to rekindle it. It’s somewhat like… a bald spot on my Affect. I’m not even able to get more love for him if I tried.” She wipes her eyes. “It sucks, Gabe. I took off my armor and the first feelings I get are sorrow and regret. I feel all these things about him but love, and it’s terrible. I’m jealous of you and Bedevil, of Remise and Echo, and I can’t do anything about it.”
“I’m…” I shut my mouth. I don’t have any words for her. Just like I didn’t have any for Flashfire.
“I’m seething when I see him with Saw Off. I’m hurt just to look at his face. But if I even try to imagine myself with him—” She shudders. Tears dance down her cheeks. It’s like seeing a miracle. “—there’s nothing. There’s nothing there but an empty hole.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I doubt he’ll do anything with Saw Off,” I say. “I can help you with a dating profile, I guess?”
Epione scoffs. “I don’t think that’s for me, Gabe. I don’t know if I can love someone that way at all, anymore.”
I frown. “Either way, I’m here to help.”
“I’m here to help,” Epione parrots. “That should be your slogan.”
That tickles me a bit. The words remind me of the epitaph over the doors to Foundation. Look for the helpers.
“Here’s what I wanted to show you,” Epione says. She grabs my hand and produces a small ruby ring. “A while ago, you asked me if it was possible to put emotions into objects instead of projecting them or holding onto them. You asked me if I could store Affect inside an object, though you didn’t know that’s what you were asking. Tim’s Thermos made me suspect that I could.”
The ring, for some reason, makes my blood run cold. It feels heavier than it should be. “What did you put in it?”
“Carnality,” Epione says. “This is Carnality’s power.”
I gasp and almost drop the ring, but steady myself. “You put her Affect in the ring?”
“I had the idea that if I do become a cape, this will elevate me beyond just being able to fight the Fear. I’ll be able to keep up with everyone. My idea is that if we were to capture cloaks or criminals, and they were sentenced to something like life imprisonment or death by a court, then I could take their powers and use them.” Epione smiles. This time it is chilling.
I can’t fault her, though. This is inspired. I return the ring to her hand. “Would this work on Nero? Cynic?”
“Cynic, yes, but I already asked Archimedes, and he would not allow it. Not before her trial, anyway. He doesn’t think anyone should have Cynic’s power.”
I shrug. “It would be really useful.”
“It might also turn us into her, too. I won’t use Carnality’s power if I don’t have to. I already held onto it for a long time, and sometimes I remember things that she experienced.” Epione grimaces, recalling some unpleasant thought. “Nero, I don’t know. I figured his power out, though. He hasn’t had a real body since he died the first time. Every body he’s made since then is a simulacrum. His real form is just his Affect. I suspect that I might be able to contain him inside an object, like Tim did with the Fear.”
I quote Remise from earlier. “Wild. Now we just need to find Nero.”
“No easy task. Remise and I have both looked for him. I think he’s left town.”
“Yeah, I’ve searched, too.” I don’t like it, not one bit, but until he shows his face I can’t do anything about it. “Mr. Gold arrived, right? Maybe he can help.”
“Maybe.” Epione closes the ring with Carnality’s power inside a lock-box, and hides that inside her closet. “No one else can use that besides me, but it’s better to be safe.”
My phone buzzes. Bedevil sent me a pic of her frowning in bed alone.
“Duty calls,” I say. “I can practice my line on her, too.”
“What line is that?” Epione asks.
“I’m here to help.”