Megajoule told me to tear it all down. He meant OPI and the way things were run. Break the leg that never set properly so it can reset and heal. I’ve done that, I think. At least the breaking.
He said to build the world anew. People didn’t need to be capes. They needed to be good.
Everyone is afraid, I think. I’m afraid of what that looks like; the long and thorny path that I will have to traverse just to arrive there. But my legs feel like they move without my permission, my will drives me toward that goal even when I want nothing more than a nice, soft bed, and a good night of sleep, and Bedevil nestled into my chest.
I want those things, but I need more.
I need the world I’m chasing.
So, New Foundation. It’s an apt name. Crack the old foundation — OPI — and replace it with something else. Show people how to be good.
Archimedes was most certainly not happy with the deal I made. Oracle and Linear understood, Templar was indifferent. “Had to happen sometime,” she said to me. “Where else were we going to get money?” She scoffed at the idea of accepting donations, even though we’ve already agreed to open a fund people can donate to if they wish.
Cynic was handed off to the US capes without issue, I hear. They sedated her for the hand off, a fact that the capes found funny but didn’t object to when Archimedes told them she’d gone rabid over the decision. As far as I know, the US hasn’t accused New Foundation of anything or set up any sanctions, but President Genz told me that negotiations with them were tense. They knew something happened to her power.
As far as I know, she hasn’t been tried yet. I’ve been paying more attention to the world and the media coming out of the States is quiet.
Krater, despite my best efforts, moved back to Houston before they closed the borders. “Sorry, little man. I’m Houston’s Hero. I’m glad I got to help you and glad I got to help this city, but it’s time I went back home. You’ve got my number, though. You can call anytime,” he told me.
I tried to convince him to become an Inheritor, but he was steadfast. I suppose that’s why I wanted him for the team and why I admire him. Even though we fought and shook the city of Houston, he’s a good man. A great one. I do plan on calling him.
Longinus could not be convinced, either. However, he elected to remain in Buenos Aires as a religious counselor to New Foundation, a prospect that Archimedes thoroughly derided but ultimately allowed. I like the idea, a spiritual guide that can perhaps help capes sort out some of their trauma — even if he has a long way to go on his own.
Flashfire, also, was not interested in becoming an Inheritor. Instead, he joined New Foundation as a sort of rep for masks looking to go legit with us. A place he can leverage his charisma and his past as a mask all at once. Thanks to him, we’ve already gained three new recruits from the streets: Torn, a young man that can slice through any inert material with the tip of his finger; Chase, a woman with super speed and a great sense of acrobatics; and Tremble, a young girl that creates tremors by stomping her feet.
Of course, I’m translating their names from Spanish. I’ve actually had to speak it a lot, now that I live in Argentina. I’m glad I picked it up from my days slinging burgers and working as a cook in random fast food places.
How far I’ve come since Houston. Since Colorado. Since the lab.
I hope he’s proud of me.
Bedevil checks my costume one last time. We’re making the announcement for New Foundation and the Inheritors today. With that came a new look. A white spandex suit that’s a bit too skin-tight for my liking, built from the same material that my old suit had, meaning it can store vibrational energy. To invoke my old mask costume, though, and the idea of Home Run, I wear a red letterman jacket with white sleeves. And my goggles, of course. And a baseball bat, but I’m not gonna lug that to an announcement speech.
I run my hands through my hair. I still dye it brownish red. I could let it grow out blond, like Megajoule, but that just doesn’t feel like me.
Bedevil’s in the outfit Archimedes made, sans her cape. She smiles up at me. “You’re ready?”
I nod. It took weeks of arguing and drafting and bickering and Archimedes reminding me that I’m not actually a leader or on the board, I’m just a ceremonial headpiece. Oracle would then remind him that I’m more than that, and round and round it went.
Until we settled on our organization. Honestly, I’ve not got a head for this, but the basic gist is we’re somewhat of a non-profit, like a charity or something, or Doctors Without Borders (Archimedes was very mean to me when I suggested Capes Without Borders and also said I’d managed to wrangle one around us anyway by agreeing to President Genz’ terms).
That brings us to today. The announcement. I may be a ceremonial leader but I am the spokesperson and so I’m the one making the speech.
There’s a crowd of reporters from all over the world in the New Foundation courtyard, and a small podium set up for me to speak at. Archimedes, Linear, Templar, Oracle, and Flashfire sit at one set of chairs behind the podium, with room for Bedevil, and Maisa, Mr. Gold, Remise, Epione sit in the row behind them, with a chair for me to sit next to them. All of them are in suits that Archimedes designed over the last couple of weeks.
President Genz and a few of the higher up Argentinian officials are also here, to the right side, with another row behind them with UWC officials. Meltdown sits among their number. Her belly shows a lot more, now. I’m not sure how far along she is. I know she’ll become an Inheritor once she’s past her maternity leave, though. We’ve already agreed on it.
I stand before the podium. Bedevil sits at her seat, and I stare out over what feels like a sea of reporters and onlookers. I’d say several hundred stand in the courtyard. Who knows how many are watching across the world at this point?
I clear my throat. I turn the speech that we all wrote together in my head, scared I’ll forget something fundamental.
“I’ve thought for a while now what I wanted to say when I had everyone’s ear,” I start. The words fumble around in my chest so that I speak with a slight stutter, but once I’ve gotten over that, I speak with fluid confidence. “The truth is, I won’t be speaking for just myself, though. I’m speaking for New Foundation.”
“OPI has been laid bare, the leadership revealed as corrupt and broken. For some, this is not a surprise. For others, this shook their world so badly that they’ve elected to leave the United Western Continent.” The United States wasn’t alone in this. Brazil ended up leaving, and so did Mexico. “There are many who wondered about what comes next and what sort of structure would replace OPI. I’m not here to offer a solution to that problem, because OPI doesn’t need a replacement or a substitute. The world doesn’t need another cape organization that will become Orwellian watchdogs or out of control celebrities. It needs public servants that are willing to be accountable. It needs healers and helpers more than it needs heroes.
“I use hero in the old sense, in the sense of mighty men that bent rivers to their end—” Archimedes wrote this bit, it waxes poetic for a while. “—and rode chariots through the skies. I use it in the sense of flawed demi-gods that wounded more than they rescued, that killed more than saved. These make for great stories, true, but they do not make for a safe and better Earth.
“So, our resolution, and mine, as the face of New Foundation, is that we are helpers. The old Foundation was built on this idea. They emblazoned the words above their door and hoped it would be a guiding star, but somewhere along the way we lost sight of that. We lost our guiding star.”
I pause, the weight of those words heavy on my mind. Then, I launch into the announcement.
“New Foundation will be a non-profit organization that is publicly accountable to the world. We’re here to help, not to rule. We’re here to build, not to tear down. We’re here to become better than we were, every day. You will always be able to talk to us through any number of venues, through phone or mail, through the internet, or hell, an old fashioned letter if you want.”
This elicits a few laughs from the crowd. For the first time since I started speaking, I notice their individual faces rather than the mass. I see the trees, not the forest. They are smiling, they have hope in their eyes, and they believe what I am saying.
I am glad, because it’s true.
“We’re here to help build a better world. We’re here to help provide aid to those who need it. We’re here to help.” Now for the final piece, the cherry on top. “Almost everyone knows me as Gabe, now. The Son of Megajoule. I have to confess that wasn’t the truth, when I told the world that. It was a lie I’d told myself for years because it was easier than the truth. Now, everyone seems to know it, so it doesn’t matter. I am a clone of Megajoule.
“Megajoule left behind a legacy, some powerful words, a name, and a team. I’ve been asked if I will take up his mantle, but you can see by my costume that I am not. I am also not going to borrow his slogan, as inspiring as it is.”
“If you need me, my mantle is Aethon. I’m here to help.”
Aethon. It was a name Epione suggested to me repeatedly through our meetings and negotiations with the Argentinians. Aethon. It means blazing, shining, or radiant.
It is a declaration: I am light. I am light. I am light.
Perhaps a touch arrogant to call myself their guiding star, but that’s what I want to become.
“There is one thing he left that I find useful, though, and it is the team he left when he died. I am restarting the Inheritors with the guidance of New Foundation and the UWC.”
Maisa, Mr. Gold, Remise, and Epione stand. Meltdown doesn’t, not yet, since she won’t be a part until all is said and done.
There is applause. That surprises me. I chuckle, an honest expression that starts other people laughing, even as the applause goes on.
I close my eyes and see nothing. There is no one ahead of me. I glance over my shoulder and see a few figures in my mind’s eye. I recognize Home Run in his black mask and leather jacket. Behind him I see a young man unsure of where he is, or who he is. I know I’m not quite what he imagined — he imagined Megajoule standing here in his helmet and his armor — but I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad I’m different.
I made it.
I am here.
Later, after the ceremony and Archimedes and the President and endless questions and speeches, we have a party in the command room of New Foundation, using the jagged stone table to host a feast for visitors. It’s actually a gigantic party for the reporters and the visitors, with food vendors all throughout the building and courtyard. We keep the gates open for anyone who wants to come. Part of me is a bit paranoid that someone will attack, but no one does.
I’m sure if they thought about it, Aethon and the Inheritors made them think twice.
I am so happy to see my friends celebrating. I am so proud of how far we’ve all come together. We’re out of our costumes, we’re just people enjoying each other’s company now.
One thing that makes me uncomfortable about the party is the champagne and wine. Bedevil, too, is uncomfortable. I know she is because she winces every time a glass is passed in front of her nose.
I grab her hand and pull her close after we spend an hour at the party. “Come with me.”
“Anywhere,” she replies, and she follows me out of the command room, through the HQ, and to our apartment. She follows me to our balcony, where I pull her up into the sky, thousands of feet above the city and the ocean. We fly until the setting sun crowns back over the horizon to catch a bit more of the fire. I wrap us in an envelop of heat so that she doesn’t freeze this high up, and I cradle her into my chest.
We dance in the night sky, waltz through the clouds. I fly with her up and up, trading kisses and letting her go to soar on her own, and catching her before too long. She smiles and whoops, she laughs and she cries. She is so perfect. I am so in love with her.
I pull her close. “Do you want to fuck?”
Bedevil is scandalized by my sudden offer. “You mean up here?”
“I do,” I say, gripping her waist. “You can say no.”
“We’re in the sky,” she says.
“You’ve never wanted to make love in the sky?” I ask.
Bedevil’s cheeks blush. She gazes into my eyes. “What about our clothes?”
“You can hold them with telekinesis.”
“What if I drop them?”
“We’ll fly back naked, then.”
Bedevil laughs her goofy laugh. It’s not a ladylike titter like Epione, but a full-throated guffaw. I love her laugh, it makes me laugh and it makes me smile.
She stops laughing and puts her left hand on my shoulder, walking her fingers up my neck. “We were having such a romantic moment, too…”
“Sex with me isn’t romantic?”
Bedevil pulls me to her lips.
She doesn’t drop our clothes.
Instead of returning back to our apartment after our flight, we trespass into a closed park in downtown Buenos Aires. It’s a lovely little garden with a pond, perfect for a night time stroll.
Perfect for what I have in mind.
Bedevil skips along the railing and looks over the pond, gawking at the swirl of color reflected on the dark surface. The water stirs up by itself, by her power, and she laughs as the lights dance in the ripples for her. The dark bushes of roses sigh around her with the late night ocean breeze, as if she stepped out of a Van Gogh painting.
My heart pounds as she turns around and smiles at me. My fingers can’t help but find their way into my pocket, to the ring I’ve forged for her.
Bedevil giggles. She folds her hands behind her back, saunters up to me with a grin on her face, and asks, “What?”
I clear my throat and find the courage to speak, but I can barely hear the words over my heartbeat in my ears. “I have something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“And what’s that?” Bedevil asks, grinning at me.
“I… er… well.” My face is burning up and my chest feels like somebody has me in a vice grip. The smooth, confident Gabe from earlier is gone. This is entirely new territory for me. “I know you’re supposed to talk about it first but we haven’t had the chance and we’ve said ‘I love you,’ and I do love you and I know I might be springing this on you and feel free to say no.” I swallow and breathe, unable to say more. Unable to actually ask the damn question.
Bedevil, however, realizes what bush I am beating around. Her grin is gone, replaced with wide-eyed shock and a slack jaw. Within two seconds, the shock starts to change places with her trademark ugly sob. “Yes,” she chokes out between tears. “Yes.”
I’m surprised to find that I have a lump in my throat. “I haven’t even asked you, yet.”
Bedevil wipes her eyes. Her nose is red and sniffling, tears drip off her chin, and she has a huge smile. God, it’s the most perfect smile I have ever seen. “Ask it so I can say yes!”
I drop to one knee and pull the ring out of my pocket. “Would you like to become Ruby Wayland?”
ARC 15: NEW FOUNDATION // END
Cynic woke from her drug induced slumber to find herself tied to a chair. She took careful stock of her environment. The buzzing of plane engines just outside told her that she was in an aircraft, and the vast cavern she found herself in was obviously the hold of a cargo plane.
The three US capes that interrupted her trial stood before her. Even if she had her power, she wouldn’t have been able to read their minds — they wore their masks. The demon woman, the red bucket man, and the bird man all stared at her, still as trees now that she’d woken.
Cynic struggled to breathe and keep her eyes open. She couldn’t quite summon and words, but the chair clattered as she moved her arms.
“You’re awake,” the bird man said. “Good. I’m glad, Cynic.”
He strode over, his walk arrogant and mighty. Cynic expected the demon woman would be the one to talk to her, being the leader, so she was taken aback when he took a knee to meet her at eye level.
He reached up and took off his helmet, and revealed that he was Nero.
Nero grinned at her. His veins coursed with energy, his eyes were alive with light. “Hello, Cynic. It’s been a few weeks.”
“N…ero?” Cynic asked. “You… you went back to the US?”
“I did.” He didn’t look ashamed that he’d run, but rather was proud of his decision. “I ran because I saw the winds changing when Gabe and his crew showed up to fight. I saw the winds changing when the US kicked us out.”
“You’re a coward,” she said.
“No, I’m a survivor. And you got stupid these last years, so I decided to ally myself to someone with a little more sense. I’m not going down with OPI or your ass backwards ship, Cynic, I’m going to live as I always have. I’m going to fuck models in my penthouse and I’m going to take care of my gerbil.” Nero pursed his lips. “And you’re going to give us the data on your drive.”
Cynic scowled. “Argentina and the UWC already took it.”
“Sure, they got copies of the data, but they don’t have the drive, do they?” Nero asked. “It’s in your pacemaker. And not everything you gathered is public knowledge.”
“You don’t want me for my power?” Cynic asked.
“I am very certain that they already took it.” Nero couldn’t have looked more smug. He knew she was entirely at his mercy. “Am I right?”
Cynic stammered. “You’re not… you’re…” She’d planned to use it to leverage the US against New Foundation. She’d planned to spark a conflict and take the heat off her back. Nero’s expression was dashing all the hope of that plan.
“I’d make introductions for my associates, but what’s the point?” Nero stood up. He held out his hand. “For what it’s worth, thank you for making me the man I am today.”
Nero plunged his burning hand into her chest. Shock was her last emotion. Agony her last thought.
Kassandra finished making tea. She scooped two sugars in, just as father had asked. There was a moment of hesitation to bringing it to him, a small thought that screamed out to her that she shouldn’t bring it to him, but that thought disappeared with the familiar beat of the swing band over the speakers.
Kassandra shook her head and brought the tea out of the kitchen, to father’s study.
Father sat at his desk and watched the news with a leery grin on his face. He looked much the same as he always did, dressed in a button up Hawaiian t-shirt and jeans. His scraggly beard grew in patches that revealed old scars where hair did not grow. He rapped the desk with his fingers in a halting beat that revealed the missing fingers of his hands — his pinkies, his right middle finger, his left index.
Father smiled at her. “Thank you, Kassie.” His teeth were falsely perfect — shiny and metal.
Kassandra glanced at the TV after setting the tea in front of father. It was the Son of Megajoule making some kind of speech. The scrolling text said, “GABE, THE SON OF MEGAJOULE, ANNOUNCES THE CREATION OF NEW FOUNDATION—”
She shuddered. Why should his face make her shudder? Megajoule’s face never made her shudder, but Gabe’s did. She’d seen him on the news a few times since he’d become famous. And each time, her skin crawled. Was it hate?
Kassandra didn’t know.
“They keep calling him the Son of Megajoule,” father said.
“Yes,” Kassandra said.
Father scoffed, and then he laughed. “It’s just not true, you know.”
“I know,” Kassandra said.
“Really, he’s my son, isn’t he?” father asked.
“Yes,” Kassandra said. “He’s yours.”
Kassandra knew then why she shuddered. For a brief moment it screamed through her head before the swing band rattling over the speakers silenced her thoughts.
It was fear for her brother.