What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.
– Attributed to St. Augustine, from “Quote, Unquote” by Lloyd Cory
2058: ONE YEAR AFTER NEW FOUNDATION
The enemy looked like humans but their bodies were made of many tiny steel slivers that tore at everything they touched, and they had no features aside from yellow eyes. Their limbs shifted and morphed rather than moving on hinges like a person’s might. Their hands materialized where they needed to be, their feet did not seem to touch the ground.
Houses aflame. Charred bodies burning in the streets. Samantha wandered through the broken town and carried her father — hopefully to safety, but likely not.
Samantha saw a cape kicking and struggling as one of the robotic beasts choked him in one hand and set him ablaze with the other – a process that involved the nano-splinters within the hand vibrating against each other, creating sparks and washing the creature’s fingers in flame.
Samantha and her father had nothing in all this world. They shared a small room together after their mother died but that was gone, a truck shoved through the window, and now Samantha dragged her unconscious father through the streets. In guilt she turned from the dying cape, thinking that she had to cling to what she had left.
Nothing, she could do nothing. Her power let her help people sleep deeply. What good would a cure for insomnia do when machines that did not need to sleep were killing her home?
No, there were gods for that.
And they appeared with all the force of such.
Aethon and his Inheritors descended from the sky in suits of armor that made them look like knights more than capes. They commanded light and fire, lightning and blood, gold and power. Aethon’s voice — a voice that everyone was becoming familiar with at this point — boomed over the city.
“We’re here to help!”
The mechanical swarm rose up to greet them as a storm cloud of nano-splinters. Bolts of lightning lanced through the beasts and left smoldering holes that reinforcements quickly filled up.
The one called Volition surfed on her board of light right above the alley Samantha stopped to hide in. The young cape flung strobing discs of color into the swarm, slicing through dozens of them in one throw.
Remise flew after Volition on jets of flame from her boots, carried by fabric between her arms and legs like a wingsuit. She launched cables from her bulky gauntlets that ended in vicious, bladed claws, which she used to wrench mechanical beasts from the air and traverse the rooftops. The claws seemed to be magnetized, drawing in nanobots and sticking to metal even if they did not sink their blades in.
Behind Remise came Epione, who was wreathed in a deep crimson cloak. She materialized strange red weapons out of thin air that cleared a path through the machines.
A strange object the size of an apple landed in the alleyway. Samantha yelped as it crashed a few feet from her. Her father was undisturbed by the landing, his forehead slick with blood. She fretted over him and at the same time reached to grab the core.
Samantha heard the mechanical horde before she realized how close they were. To her they sounded like an infestation of roaches in the walls of reality. They skittered, hissed, whistled, and shrieked just above her, and she saw too late that with the strange core came the attention of the splintered beasts. They carried hunks of rock, metal carcasses of cars, and their deadly nanobots that would strip her clean of flesh as they had the others.
She clutched her father to her chest and screamed.
At the end of the alley, out on the road, she saw Aethon wrestling with a titanic figure woven of the same horrid splinters. It would be the last thing she saw before she died.
If Aethon did not also happen to turn and see her, as well.
She could not blink before he warped in front of her and her father. He cried out, his face twisted into a snarl, and he stared up at the tide of debris falling upon them.
Aethon shone like a star that had fallen down to the earth. In one hand he held a baseball bat engraved with the word “virtue,” and the other hand he held up above his head. The air seemed to shimmer and freeze in a dome around them, and the onslaught broke against his power as a wave breaks against cliffs.
In a movement too fast for her to follow, Aethon snatched the core from her hands and pinched it between his blazing fingers, and then threw it down the street. She watched it bounce across the street like a baseball, and then wept with joy as the splintered horde above them dissolved into a rain of inert silver.
The monstrous titan entered the alley from the road. Aethon smirked.
Samantha could hardly keep herself from squealing in fear.
The creature striding toward them was taller than a house, and his entire form composed of the silver needles that made up his machines. A human rested inside the titan’s chest, a face peered out from within the helmet. His expression was annoyed.
Aethon called out and his voice washed over the entire alley as it had when he descended, as if he had some hidden amplifier. “Before we do this… what kind of name is Gargantamech?”
The titan had no banter for Aethon. It reached back to the street with one inhumanly long arm, grabbed a hold of a car, and hurled it down the alley at him, instead. Samantha thought that this was the end, surely.
Aethon roared but he did not raise a hand. She thought he intended to just tank the car, but instead the car hit an invisible wall five feet from Aethon’s face and crunched as if it struck a pole. Samantha wondered if Aethon had telekinesis on top of all his other power.
Aethon followed this up by striking the car with his bat. His swing sent the entire car flying back into Gargantamech. The sedan tore apart his arms and revealed a core in each shoulder, much like the one Aethon had already destroyed.
Another lance of lightning ripped one core to shreds, while an arrow of blood pierced the other. A disk of light filed off another hidden core. Gigantamech was crumbling. He made one last desperate charge at Aethon.
Aethon stamped his foot into the ground. He took up a batter’s stance, and his bat sizzled and glowed as if he’d pulled it fresh from the forge. The bat shone brighter and brighter, right up until Gargantamech was right upon Aethon, his nanosplinters bouncing off the man’s skin. In that last moment, Samantha only just heard Aethon’s laughter.
Aethon hit a home run. The light nearly blinded Samantha, and when she could see again, she believed in gods. Except that this god simply set his bat down. He trotted over to her. He knelt down and smiled, and asked her if she was okay.
VOLUME FIVE: COMPULSION TO MOVE
ARC 16: SOMETHING OLD
I love to fly.
There is no feeling that compares to reaching my fingers into the upper atmosphere like a love-struck fool dipping his hand into a pond. There is no feeling that comes close to sitting in orbit and watching the Earth spin on like a celestial toy.
Actually, that is not strictly true. There is one feeling better, but I am not sure what that feeling is called, even as I experience it while watching the workers take Samantha and her father to safety. Before I go to join the New Foundation teams working through the rubble to find survivors, I make sure that she is going to be taken care of.
“Nice shot,” Remise says, landing next to me in a jet of flame.
“I was hoping to leave him alive, but I overestimated the durability of the splinters.” I’d hoped Epione would take his power — standard procedure for us when dealing with cloaks like this — but sometimes the fighting gets a little out of hand. Now we had nothing to turn over to the local authorities but a body.
His unusual splinter nanobots were already decomposing. Super tech never survived beyond the person who made them. Archimedes says that’s because it’s an extension of their Affect, not an actual working piece of equipment. Much like the bullets he used to make that could pierce through super strength. He refuses to make anymore. He says he can’t feel anymore in existence, so I hope that’s the end of that particular thread.
Meltdown joins us while we dig through the rubble with the work crews. She wears a new suit now that she’s an Inheritor, a silver suit of armor that makes her look somewhat like a knight with yellow accent lines that invoke electricity. She removes her helmet and sighs out, looking at the damage.
Celendin, Peru, is not a big town, and really, it’s not much a town anymore. The cloak, named Gigantamech (I know, I know), turned the entire place to rubble. We’ve already estimated that half the population is dead.
Another upstart warlord looking to take advantage of the power vacuum OPI left behind.
“Good grief.” Meltdown sounds like someone in denial about defeat. I get it. It’s hard to feel victorious when the aftermath is a ruined town and a body count over two hundred.
Volition — or rather, Maisa, I should say — surfs above us. She takes off her helmet, too, and waves at us. “Epione and Mr. Gold have rounded up a lot of survivors. Epione said she sensed some people alive on the other side of town.”
I’m really proud of how much Maisa’s developed her power this last year. Archimedes says she’s heavyweight now, and Epione confirmed her Affect is bronzesouled, like mine. Which means, like me, she’ll only get stronger the more she uses it. “I’ll head over there. Good work today.”
Maisa gives me a thumbs up and then zips away on her board of light.
“What color was the cloak’s Affect?” I don’t want to say his name out loud because it was stupid.
“Epione said he was coppersouled,” Remise says. She shrugs. “Fuck if I know about all this, though.”
“Well, come on, then,” I say. “Help me find survivors.”
My comms crackle and Bedevil’s voice fills my ear. I can’t help it; a smile springs to my face. “I’m assuming you’re still alive and our wedding is still on.”
You’d think that this long on the honeymoon phase would be over. That I’d be able to think clearly whenever I heard her voice, that her words wouldn’t quicken my heartbeat. You’d think. “You have life monitors on all of us. You just wanted to bring up the wedding again.” I manage to retain some professionalism. “Epione says the cloak was a coppersouled heavyweight.”
“Yeah, well, I’m excited as fuck. Sorry I annoyed you with my love.” Bedevil pretends to sound hurt but she can’t keep the giggle out of her voice. She gets serious after a few seconds, and asks, “So another cloak that’s a copper. How’s the town?”
“Bad.” I grimace, looking out over the wreckage. I listen for any cries for help but find none. “There was that silver coak we fought a while ago, wasn’t there?”
Archimedes has been refining our knowledge on how the Affect informs superpowers. We’ve come up with a common thread among different colors.
One of those common threads is coppersouled people tend to become cloaks more often than the other colors. They get all of their power upfront, but it usually has a heavy drawback or comes with a lot of negative emotions. Nero and Carnality, for instance. Epione says the color is tied to strength, honor, and ambition, but also hatred, hunger, and pride. A cocktail that leads them to power and cruelty more often than not.
On the other hand, coppersouled people can be great forces for good. For example, Krater is a coppersouled cape.
A bronze power is an adaptive power that will grow in strength the more the user trains with it under duress. Epione tells me that the color is tied to faith and willpower, but can fall into doubt and martyrdom, or be overly judgmental. I’d never felt so called out when she told me that.
Gold is a skill based power, and Archimedes says it’s more like learning to play a guitar than bronze, which is more like working out muscles. Epione says golds are often charismatic and charitable people, but can also be somewhat self-centered or condescending.
Silvers, like Bedevil, Meltdown, Cynic, and Mr. Gold, are about control, whether that means telekinesis, an element, or the flow of information. Epione told me these people find power in love and self-sacrifice, but can be hindered by regrets and self-destruction.
Of course, that’s only heavyweight powers. We’re still working on the wheel for cruiserweight and below. One thing for certain is Remise is only a cruiserweight, and her color is amethyst, which Epione associates with contentment and perception.
That part she puts to good use, pointing out a nearby house as we crawl through the ruined town. “There’s a heartbeat in there.”
I fly over to the ruins and dig until I find a shuddering boy, roughly thirteen years old. He stares up at me, his face caked in blood, and I see bodies behind him. His parents from the looks of things.
There are few feelings that dip as low as this one.
You can’t always save people the way you want to save them.