I’ve mixed feelings for Cynic’s court martial.
On the one hand, I’m struggling with the feeling that this is not justice. Justice for her would be death, a slow miserable crawl as she’s hounded by psychopathic capes intent on violence. The same death she gave Megajoule.
On the other, to see her brought low and forced to sit and listen to the horrors she visited on me, that’s a justice of a kind. That others will hear what I have to say about her. They’ll know what she inflicted on me and mine.
The lobby outside the court room looks exactly like every other lobby in every court drama I’ve ever happened to glance at. Wooden walls, an ornate carpet, benches, etc. We’re not doing this at Foundation, unfortunately, but the Argentinians are hosting the trial in their Supreme Court building.
I feel very out of place. I’m not a policy maker or a lawyer. Hell, I’m not used to wearing an actual suit. Not a cape suit or a mask costume, but a real, three piece suit with a tie. Bedevil helped me with that since I’ve never tied one before.
“You look good,” she murmurs, stepping back to look at me after straightening my tie for the hundredth time. “You should dress up more often.”
I’m not the only one dressed up. Bedevil’s hair is in a fancy braid, her make up flawless from Epione’s help, and her red dress and white jacket combo fits her just as well as her cape outfit. “Takes one to know one.”
Bedevil smirks. The ember of amusement goes cold and she sighs. “Are you okay?”
“I just never expected to stand before a court. I never expected to be on the right side of the law.” I’m not going to dress up my time as a mask. It was outside of the law, even if I was just. Always felt like the law was a cudgel for the people in power.
I will admit this. It’s nice that once in a while, the law works as intended.
We’re not the only ones summoned before the UWC court martial. Templar and Longinus are here, too. Longinus stands out from the rest of us in his neat black shirt with a white clerical collar. He mutters nervous strings of words on repeat as if a broken record. Templar is frigid as usual, lost in her own thoughts.
Meltdown turns down the hall, stumbling on her heels as she hurries toward us. She reaches down to fix the strap of her shoe and then comes the rest of the distance. She shows just a bit of her pregnancy; looking at her dead on I wouldn’t have noticed, but when her profile gives her away.
Again, I am struck by how much she looks like Bedevil’s sister. Now that I have my glasses it’s even more apparent.
“I’m sorry I was late… I just…” Meltdown waves her face. “I know we agreed to meet beforehand.”
“It’s okay,” Bedevil says. “We only just arrived.”
Meltdown smiles, though it’s tempered and sad. I’ve seen her out and about a lot in Foundation’s halls, since she can’t exactly help out in the repairs. The doctors ordered her to take it easy. She does help charge up batteries and such for workers to use but that’s the extent of her aid.
After her comes Mr. Gold, and I’m somewhat relieved and surprised to see him. I only found out he got into town yesterday. I let Bedevil chat with Meltdown and make my way toward him, intercepting him halfway down the hall. “Gold!”
“Gabe, good to see you. I trust you’re doing well.” Mr. Gold’s smile is thin and does not show his teeth.
“Are you here to testify?” I ask.
“Yes. FIS is shaken up over all this. They’re currently being audited by the UWC with their compliance in Pandahead, among other things. For my part, I’m no longer an agent. I tendered my resignation the moment I arrived in Argentina.” Now, his smile does show some teeth. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen him to a grin. “You know, I’m from here. This is my home city. I hate to see what you’ve done to it.”
I cough. “Well, you know. I’m trying to repair the damage.”
“I hear you’ve done a lot. You have my thanks.” Mr. Gold nods. “You have my thanks in tearing open a corrupted wound in the world.”
I’m not quite sure what he means. I tilt my head and wait for him to go on.
“The corruption in OPI and FIS, the way that all the capes and agents and public had their heads in the sand about it. You exposed it by stepping into the light. I still remember watching the news and seeing the media slam Cynic for the fight outside the airport.” Mr. Gold chuckles.
For my part, I don’t remember that. Then again, I was very focused on helping Bedevil get sober at the time. “I wish I’d turned on a TV. I’ve felt so disconnected all this time.”
Mr. Gold shrugs. “You can start now. From what I hear, you have been.”
“Yeah, trying to, anyway. Bedevil’s got more of a mind for that. I can’t keep all the people we talk to straight.” Well, not the politicians and capes and organizations, anyway. I remember the people I’ve worked with and talked to on the streets. Mago, Lucas, Mattie, Alma, Isabelle, Lorenzo, and more and more. “What are you going to do now that you’re not a fish?”
Mr. Gold clicks his tongue. “You’re still using that word?”
I shrug. “Sorry.” I’m not overly sorry.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I’ll apply to the Argentinian capes, or perhaps work for the UWC. If there is one after all this. The US dropped out and Canada might, too. That would leave only South American countries and who knows who will stay then,” Mr. Gold says. “I wonder if OPI will even exist, or if they’ll be dissolved. Bedevil told me that some of the directors are already asking about New Foundation.”
“New Foundation, huh?” I ask. “It probably sounds better than ‘corrupt OPI’ or ‘fish.’”
Mr. Gold chuckles and pats my shoulder. He continues on.
He’s not the last one to arrive, either. That honor belongs to Archimedes, Linear, and Oracle. Archimedes is dressed much like me but without the same care that Bedevil gave in straightening my tie and jacket. Linear is almost the same as he always is. Slacks and a polo that makes him look like some retail employee.
Oracle wears a simple floral dress. She smiles at me as she approaches down the hall. Her eyes don’t carry her power anymore; they are plain and dark, now. Still, I can’t help but imagine them gleaming, anyway.
“This’ll be easy,” Archimedes says. “Not even you can fuck this up, Gabe.”
“Gee, thanks.” I flip him the bird. His barbs are friendlier, now. He’s still an asshole, I’m just used to it.
“We shouldn’t be vulgar in a courthouse,” Linear says. “We could get kicked out.”
“Held in contempt.” Archimedes scratches his beard thoughtfully. “I’m actually not sure how long I’ll last.”
“You’ll last,” Oracle chides him. “She may be our enemy, but…” Oracle pauses. She sighs. “You shouldn’t gloat over your enemies. Cloaks gloat, bad capes gloat.”
I nod. “This isn’t a roast.”
“Right,” Oracle says. “We’re already representing New Foundation, all of us. Assuming, of course, you’re still willing to be its face, Gabe?”
I nod. I think back to all those screens that captured Megajoule’s face, along with his slogan. All the merchandise and the books and the endorsements. “I know for a fact that I’ll look good on a poster.”
Oracle guffaws. “I’m sure you will.”
Behind us there is the painfully loud clacking of an ancient wooden door opening, and a clerk calls, “The court calls Gabriel Wayland to the stand.”
I chew my lip and nod to my friends, and in I go.
There are few things I would say that unnerved me as much as walking into this room as every eye fell upon me. The jury sits in the jury box to my left; they are a collection of uniformed officers, UWC officials, and capes in the Primum under-suits. The gallery is full of more of these types, and I recognize president Lucio Genz among those watching the trial.
The judge, an elderly woman with silver hair and the stern expression of experience, sits behind the bench and beckons me forward to the stand. As I enter the well before her, I glance to my right and make eye contact with Cynic.
I’m not sure what she’s trying to convey, or if she reads my thoughts inside my head, or if she’s given up that. I’m unsure even of how I feel about her right now. There is pain, pain in her eyes and pain in my heart, and I’m not quite sure what to make of that, either.
For now, I decide that she is simply another body in this room and that she will not effect what I have to say.
An officer comes up with a small card and tells me to read from it, and I mumble out the words that swear me to the truth. He guides me to the witness box, opens the door, and lets me stand inside. I hoped there would be a chair but no such luck.
I dig my heels into the carpet and grab a hold of the wooden railing, and wait for the questions to start.
“Please state your name,” the judge asks.
“Gabriel Wayland,” I tell her and the court.
“You may interview the witness,” the judge says to one of the lawyers sitting at the table opposite Cynic.
The one she spoke to is foppish man in a uniform, green with a golden cord around his waist like all the others. He is ginger in his approach to the box. “Would you tell us your relation to Director Miller?”
“I am a clone of Megajoule, created by her orders.” I never thought I’d say those words loud and proud without a twinge of emotion, but I’ve let the hurt and pain fall away from me. I don’t need it right now. “And later, I was her prisoner in the Houston OPI tower.”
“Would you tell us about your experiences in the facility where they made you?”
I lay down my history in the lab. It’s spotty and imperfect, like a file that’s had sections inked out, but there’s enough that I see the jury wincing at some of my testimony. I understand what’s happening; this isn’t what Cynic is on trial for — she’s here for her part in the destruction of Buenos Aires and her complicity to Pandahead’s trafficking ring — but they’re using my past to paint the picture of her character. Even though this is a UWC military court martial, there’s still a jury and a judge.
I tell them everything I know. He asks my questions of my past, my time in Houston as a mask, my ordeal inside the Houston tower, and my time being possessed by the Fear.
The most important and damning question that the asks is this: “Were you at any point able to convey your predicament to anyone while your body was occupied by the Fear?”
I tell him the truth. “I was. I conveyed to one of the OPI capes, Nero, that I was fighting with the Fear. I also later conveyed to Meltdown that I was attempting to regain control of my body, before the Cloak Carnality intervened.”
Cynic’s eyes are closed. I see in her a dying, caged woman, with no escape plan. She is thoroughly defeated. Even with her power and her mind-reading, her ability to manipulate and isolate, she is cast down.
Perhaps I can find justice in that.
I sit down in the gallery after I give my testimony and the lawyers ask me questions. I want to see the outcome of this trial.
They call in Bedevil next, and her testimony is much shorter than mine. It mostly focuses on her relationship with Megajoule and her capture in Houston. After she finishes, she joins me in the gallery. She takes my hand in hers, holding my arm across her lap. She doesn’t smile at me. Instead, she is engrossed by the trial, chewing her glossy-red lips as they call in Templar.
It is a brutally long procession of testimonies against Cynic. Archimedes manages to remain composed, though I can see the spiteful glee in his eyes as he relays the orders that Cynic gave him.
“And, though the UWC and the UN both agreed that the Archimedes Bullets would no longer be developed and used in combat, you claim that Cynic wanted you to continue making them?” the lawyer asks.
“You’re god dam-” He pauses after a withering glare from the judge. “You’re correct.”
Oracle is the last witness called.
The lawyers ask her about her long service to OPI and the UWC, even asking her a few questions about the Sovereigns. They ask her about the drive that she gained access to with all of Cynic’s illicitly gathered blackmail and intel, and they ask her about the memories she rewrote under Cynic’s orders.
Their exchanged glances strike me as agonized. They were best friends, once. It would be like Flashfire testifying against me. I’m reminded of the night he cast me out of the Underground, and strangely, I feel a tiny spark of pity for Cynic. It is snuffed out almost as soon as it appears, but it’s enough.
The trial proceeds on as the lawyers present evidence to the jury, and give their speeches. Cynic’s defense attorney does not have much to say, except a plea that Cynic is dealt with as fairly as possible before the eyes of the law.
And I wonder; was Drone dealt with fairly, dying in a forest alone? Vaquero, beheaded by an overeager OPI cape? Mil-dot, gunned down trying to escape from the deadly trap Cynic laid for us?
Or the children that Pandahead kidnapped and sold off, all to fuel the Fear’s prison.
I am furious.
I acknowledge that fury.
I let it go. I sigh out and squeeze Bedevil’s hand, and let go of my anger. It may not be what I want, but it’s something.
The door behind the bench opens and a clerk rushes up to the judge. The clerk whispers something and I can hear the urgent tone from the gallery. The judge stammers. “…they’re here, now?”
The clerk nods.
“We’ll hear them,” the judge says. “I don’t know if we have a choice.”
“What’s going on?” Bedevil whispers.
I have no clue, but I’ve got a pit in my stomach.
The door to the court opens. Three people stride in like they own the place. They wear suits somewhat like the Primum outfits, except they are camouflage patterned rather than all black like the regular mesh suits. Instead of the white star, their shoulders bear the flag of the United States.
All of them wear helmets of some kind that mask their faces. The one on the right has a helmet that looks like some kind of bird creature. The right is a navy blue half helmet that covers their eyes completely, but leaves their mouth exposed.
The head of the trio wears a helmet that looks like a demon’s face. They are shorter than the other two, and their suit gives them away as a woman. When she speaks, her voice is distorted beyond recognition. “We represent the U.S. Cape Organization. We’re here to extradite Director Cynthia Miller back to the States, to face a federal trial for her crimes against our nation.”