Every cape, every soldier, every officer in the courtroom stands up. The lawyers get between Cynic and the US capes, and I’m reminded that they aren’t just lawyers; they’re soldiers, too.
“You’re interrupting a court martial held by the UWC,” the judge says. “That should be enough to put you in contempt. You don’t have an extradition warrant.”
“Our interruption will last a mere minute,” the woman in the demon mask replies.
“Your interruption is over,” I say, rising to my feet. “You don’t get to just come in here and demand Cynic.”
The woman snaps her gaze at me, though it’s really not her gaze. The demon mask makes her look far more intimidating. “So now that it is in your favor, you want to respect the rule of law, Home Run?”
I don’t sit down or back off. “Yeah, now that it’s not corrupt as hell, I’m for it.”
She continues, her voice amplified over the sudden roar of everyone in attendance trying to shout her down: “We’re simply here to deliver a message to Argentina and New Foundation, whose leaders have conveniently gathered in one room for us to address. Cynic belongs to us. You’ll find that you have a warrant waiting for you on your desk. You’ll also note that Argentina and the United States currently have an extradition agreement that predates our membership in the UWC, and by the wording of that document, is still in place.”
“This is a UWC court martial. You simply can’t barge in here like you own the place,” President Genz says.
The cape is not deterred by this. “You can deliver her to us now or within the week, or else the US will be forced to embargo the nation of Argentina should they choose not to honor our extradition agreement, once we have departed from the UWC.”
The mention of an embargo silences the room. Even I know that’s an executioner’s ax over Argentina.
She swivels around and marches out of the room. Her two lackeys, the one in the bird mask and the red bucket helmet, both spare me a sideways glance as they follow after her.
The threat of retaliation from the U.S. prevents anyone from chasing. Embargo is a serious threat, especially with the U.S. Their sanctions have sunk entire economies, and they’ve used it in the past to secure their position on the top of the UWC.
Except me. These guys can go fuck themselves. I chase them out into the hallway.
“I’m not going to let you take Cynic,” I call after them. “You’re going to go home with nothing, whoever you are.”
There is an electricity to their stop, a tension in all of their bodies as they turn to face me. They do not approach but seem to sway on their heels like they’re contemplating a sudden leap.
“You’re a hypocrite,” the woman says. “Would you like the U.S. government to consider you a terrorist instead of a lost piece of military hardware? That’s your choice. I’m sure you’d also enjoy the economy of Argentina collapsing on your watch, after all the damage your power did to Buenos Aires.”
She ends her statement by turning to leave.
The man in the bird mask cocks his head at me, lingers a moment to keep up his gaze. Once the woman is at the threshold of the building, he shrugs, turns around, and follows after his companions.
I return to the courtroom to find the judge maintaining order. “The case will be put recess for the short term.” Soldiers pull Cynic from her seat and escort her out of the room. The politicians and officers scurry out, probably wondering if a missile strike is following shortly.
Bedevil is panicking at Archimedes and Oracle, while Templar chews at her index finger, lost in thought. I shake my head at Meltdown. I know one thing, we’ve got to prevent Cynic from being taken. The U.S. will use her power, it’s the only reason they could want her on such a short timescale.
Epione. I dash out of the room, out of the building, before anyone can stop me. I soar over the city once I’m free. I blast back to Foundation HQ, rush past the giant golden statue, and into the lobby. I warp through the apartments.
I knock on Epione’s door and call out to her. She answers in a flash. “Gabe? What’s wrong?”
“The U.S. is demanding Cynic. I think they’ll get her, but we can’t let them use her power.”
Epione understands what I want immediately. If she takes the power, then we don’t have to worry about the US spying on us all the time. She nods. “Take me to her.”
The soldiers return her to the Foundation HQ holding cells a mere fifteen minutes later, where they’ve held her for the past month. It seemed the safest place for the former director. I doubted they would change their itinerary over this, and I was right. They take her down.
Epione and I rush down to the cells. I don’t care if Archimedes didn’t want us to take her mind-reading, I’d much rather have that ability stuffed inside a ring for Epione to use than the US to have it.
If they get it, every video feed, every recording, every face they can see would expose the world’s thoughts to them. I don’t know how much they’d get Cynic to cooperate, but I can’t allow the chance she’d give them what they wanted.
We wait until the guards have secured her in her cell, but just as they’ve resumed normal watches, Archimedes, Oracle, and Bedevil materialize behind us.
“I had a feeling you were going to pull something,” Archimedes says.
“You said yourself that power is too dangerous in one person’s hands,” I reply. “You told Epione not to take it.”
“Oh, I’m not here to stop you. I’m here to make sure you do it.” Archimedes is a bit lost, from his expression, and that’s an unusual look on him. It does accompany his disheveled suit, but it’s just not something I’m used to seeing in his eyes. “I do think it’s too dangerous to stay in the world, so it’s much worse if the US has it. The only problem is getting Cynic to agree to that. We’re not, strictly speaking, legally allowed to do this.”
“It’d be shaking the boat with Argentina something awful,” Oracle agrees.
“Why don’t I ask the president, then?” I ask.
Archimedes’ snorts. “You think he’d listen to you?”
I shrug. “Worth a shot. Unless you don’t trust me to be your spokesperson. Can you get me to see him today?”
Archimedes nods. He and Oracle head back to the lobby to make arrangements for me to talk to the president. Once they’re gone, I pull Bedevil and Epione into a group huddle. “No matter what the president says, we have to get that power. Why don’t we three go talk to Cynic. Ep, you can use Bedevil’s telekinesis to increase the range of your power, right?”
Epione nods. “Can do.”
“What about the president?” Bedevil asks.
“Easier to ask forgiveness than permission?” I ask.
This answer frustrates Bedevil to the point of groaning out loud. But, she relents. “You’re right that we can’t let them use Cynic. The best thing to do is render her unusable.”
We break our huddle and stride over to the Cynic’s cell. Bedevil takes the lead, still looking confident — and I have to admit, really hot — in her dress-jacket combo. Her heels clack on the tile and signal her approach, while Epione and I follow like reprimanded children.
“Oracle wants us to talk to her,” Bedevil tells the two guards.
She’s still our prisoner, technically, per the arrangement with Argentina, so the guards don’t refuse us. They let us go in to talk to her.
Cynic is not surprised by our arrival, not at first. Her eyebrows creep higher and higher as she reads our minds while we approach the glass window of her cell.
“You know why we’re here,” I say.
“It’s an insane plan. The US will retaliate. They’ll enforce their embargo.”
“The embargo is over handing you back, not your power.”
Cynic scoffs. “You think they’ll just accept that? They’ll march right around and demand that you give it to them.”
“On what grounds?” I ask. “What right do they have to the power?”
“What right do you have?” Cynic asks, but as she asks that, her eyes snap open. Epione must have just gotten the tendril through. “What?”
I grin. “I have the right of ‘finder’s keepers.’”
Cynic presses her hands against the window. “No, no! You can’t do this! You can’t! They’ll kill me! They’ll murder me.”
My brothers leap to my mind. Megajoule’s broken face in his videos. Drone and Mil-dot, Vaquero and the Bay Biters. The kids in Pandahead’s control. This woman does not deserve mercy from me.
“Then they will murder you,” I say. “And it will still be too quick for everything you’ve done.”
Bedevil is a bit taken aback by my statement, but she softens when she sees my face. I’m not furious or angry. I’m not vindictive. I’m simply stating the fact. Letting Cynic run around like she did would be completely moronic.
“We’re good,” Epione says.
“Good,” I say. “Good luck out there, Cynic.”
“Wait! Gabe! Please!” Cynic cries.
I do not stop. I have no words for her.
Epione returns to her apartment to stow away Cynic’s power in another piece of jewelry, while Bedevil and I return to our apartment. Maisa greets us in the living room. “What’s going on? The news is going berserk about an emergency senate thing.”
“They’re going to hand Cynic back,” Bedevil tells her. “The US demanded her extradition and Argentina can’t afford sanctions.”
“That’s insane! We can’t let them,” Maisa says.
“It’s okay. We can.” I explain our plan to her, and Maisa’s eyes light up with devilish glee.
A little while later, Archimedes knocks on my door. “The president wants to meet with you.”
Lucio Genz is a hawk of a man. He does not sit at his desk so much as perch at it, surveying the documents like they are his prey. Not a man you’d trifle with, normally, but it seems that’s what everyone’s been doing lately. Even me, if I’m being honest. I’m not here to respect his decision.
“Archimedes told me about your plan.” Lucio’s words are brimming with danger. I feel as though I could pluck them out of the air and play chords on them, they are so taught. He gestures at the couches in the middle of the room, and stalks his way over to one of them. He waits for me to seat myself and then sits across from me. He leans back into his sofa and crosses his legs, all the while never taking his gaze from me. “And given that she is kept at the Foundation HQ, would I be safe to assume that you’ve already done your end of things?”
I’m not going to lie to him. I nod.
“You understand that I can’t officially let you do this.”
“What would you want us to do?”
“Exactly what you’ve done,” Lucio says. “I know handing Cynic back to the US to be a surveillance drone means another fifty years of US dominance. Another fifty years of them sticking their nose in every facet of the world. Another fifty years of a political landscape shaped by their whim. I don’t want that, especially now that they are withdrawing in the United Western.”
“Who falls on the sword, then?” I ask.
“I’m going to need a compelling reason for letting you set up New Foundation,” Lucio says. “You’ve just now shown me that you’re willing to eschew the law for your own ends.”
“You’ve just said yourself that Cynic’s power in the US would be a nightmare. I’m not sure the law has much to do with it,” I say.
“Whether or not we like it, the law has to do with everything you and I do.”
“Do you think the US will enforce their embargo over Cynic’s power?” I ask.
“No, but we’ll lose any chance of allying with them. We create a new enemy.”
I understand at last. He’s worried about all these rogue agents running amok in Argentina, doing as they wish. He wants assurance that New Foundation won’t go the same way as OPI did, setting up shop and then letting his city get destroyed. “I’m not your enemy, sir.”
“You’ll have to provide more than your words,” he says. “Why should I let you and New Foundation stay in Argentina. Why should I not throw you under the bus? I’ll admit, if you ran off with Cynic’s power, I’d feel a lot better than the US capes doing so. But that’s still not ideal for me.”
“What if we left it in your hands, then?” I ask. “What if we gave her power to the UWC, and we gave you a seat on the table of New Foundation?” I’m not sure I should be bargaining with Lucio over New Foundation when it’s not even set up yet, but it seems the best chance of this going the way I want it to. We need backing. “They’ve chosen me as their spokesperson. I can sell the idea of tying ourselves more intimately to Argentina than we normally would be, if that smooths things over for you.”
Lucio considers this. He thinks long and hard, and still I get the impression of a hawk watching its future meal. “You allow us to appoint a board member to New Foundation. You also follow our directives on foreign relations.”
I nod. “You’ll have to hammer out those details with Archimedes and the others.”
“No. There will be no hammering out. Those are my terms. You want to take Cynic’s power, you allows us a seat at the table and you follow our rules. You’re a guest in my house, Gabe, and as glad as I am that you stopped the Fear, you’re going to cause me trouble.”
“I guess I don’t have a choice, then.”
“Sell it to the others,” Lucio says. “I imagine this won’t be the last time you and I talk.”
“I imagine not.”
I leave feeling like I’ve gotten the short end of the stick, even though I got exactly what I wanted. Only one thing left to do for today, then.
I fly toward the western mountains using my new knowledge of orbital velocities. The journey takes an hour or so, where I gather my thoughts and throw away my doubts about my plan. Whatever comes, I’ll face it.
I find the air on top of the mountains brisk and refreshing, though I can’t really feel the temperature. There’s just something crisp about it, like biting into a fresh apple, or eating something minty. I can tell the energy is unusually low this high up, though the icy caps are a better indicator of temperature for me.
I dive into the mountain, parting the stone like water as I use my power to guide me way. I dive like a pelican looking for a fish, and when I come back up from the burning scar I leave in the peak, I bring a large chunk of rock with me.
I’ve tried carving out of stone with my power before, but I’ve gotten more practice since then. Through a combination of heat, sound, and kinetic energy, I manage to wrangle the shape I desire out of the stone. The few minutes it takes me are relaxing, as I alternate between working on the rock and staring out over Argentina, feeling like the king of the castle.
I hold up the product of my labor: a ring.