Aethon would often rescue orphaned or homeless children and return them to care or take them to a special organization in Argentina which re-homed these desperate youth. He always seemed disappointed when that happened, though.
– “Did You See That Morning Star” by Lucille Price
The boy’s name is Bryant. I try to find authorities to rehome him in Peru but from what I am told, that seems unlikely. I take him aboard the White Shark instead. He’s a wreck, emotionally. He startles at the slightest sound, he snaps his head at potential signs of danger. His eyes are red, his cheeks are wet, but if I catch him crying he quickly clamps up.
Epione says that his Affect is below welterweight, a dim orange, which she says signifies some kind of creating power. She also says he’s young and that his Affect might change as he grows up, like Maisa’s did. Probably will change now that he lost his parents.
At this point, I’ve got enough experience to know no kid losing their parents will react the same way, but that generally, they’ve got no idea what to say. No words I speak will help, so instead I just sit next to him and assure him that I’m there. That seems to help a lot of people.
I guess when you’ve become somewhat of a legend, just existing seems to make people feel safer. That’s what Megajoule did. I’m proud to be following in his footsteps on that regard. I want people to feel safe around me. It’s a cape’s job to keep peace.
I’m not alone, though, and I think that’s the distinction. I smile at my team — my friends — as they sit and chat. Outfitted in the latest of Archimedes’ equipment, each custom designed to accent our abilities, we really do look the part of gods. But when I see them relaxing, chatting, and smiling with each other, I don’t see divinity. I see people. Colors entwined.
Remise, Epione, and Maisa chat about her new helmet, which she’s colored to look like a rainbow around the visor. Remise is the same as always; tough, Scottish, permanent grin. Check, check, and check. If nothing else, she’s a very consistent person.
Epione, on the other hand, looks way different than she used to. Somehow she’s become close friends with Saw Off and the influence shows. Her hair is now a bright pink, though you can see from the roots of her hair that she needs to reapply dye. She pierced her nose when before she never would have let someone touch her with a needle. Still, she’s the same modelesque girl, though now she looks more like one of those alternative models than a traditional one.
Epione is in the process of placing her rings in her safe-box. She’s up to four, now, though she never brings Cynic’s ring with her.
Cynic died. Epione told me that. I don’t know how she knows, but she knows. Epione tells me that she died right after we sent her off so I’m guessing the flags killed her.
Speaking of the flags, they’ve been a thorn in our side. Former capes that joined the United States Cape Org, the flags keep up that favorite of American pastimes — imperialism. Constantly showing up and asserting their authority, even when they have none. They do have a lot of holdings and alliances, however, and President Genz pressures us to be careful where we tread.
News from the States is hard to come by, but Krater gets a message out every now and again. Houston’s much the same, but he says there are parts of the country where minor rebellions spring up from time to time against the USCO and the government. He says they get cleaned up pretty fast, though.
I asked him if he was a flag, but he denied it. He says the same thing he always says. He’s Houston’s Hero. He told me that the government considers him a freelancer, along with Tachikaze (who made a full recovery from the airport, and got a nice prosthetic limb out of the deal), and so the flags have an uneasy relationship with his team.
Mr. Gold and Meltdown chat about a book they’ve both read, some history of Foundation by some journalist. Mr. Gold shows his age, but his power has not waned at all. His armor, his guns, and his equipment (which includes chains spooled into a backpack, daggers, crowbars, you name it) are all laced with gold so that he can manipulate them.
Bedevil comes out of the cockpit after a little bit. She smiles at me, but instead of making a beeline for me, she drops into a squat in front of Bryant. “Hey there.”
Bryant is suspicious of her but he is also a thirteen year old boy. Not to toot my own horn, but my fiancée is beautiful. Then again, maybe I’m just like super in love with her or something.
Still, he replies in Spanish. “Hello.”
Bedevil’s a little new to Spanish, so her switch is a little less than smooth and her words stilted, but she manages to continue talking to him. “We’re going to get you somewhere safe. Have you been to Argentina?”
Bryant nods, but he’s still guarded. He leans into me a bit. “I visited once.”
“Buenos Aires, then?” Bedevil asks. She holds out her unmarred hand for Bryant to take. He does, after a few seconds, looking like a frightened dog still unsure of his caretakers.
Bryant tells her that, no, he has not been to Buenos Aires. Bedevil asks him if he’s seen out of a cockpit before, and asks him if he wants to meet the pilot, and Bryant is very eager to see outside and to meet the pilot. She leads him off before returning a moment later and plops down next to me.
“Why are you so good with kids?” Bedevil’s frustration surprises me. I didn’t realize that interaction went badly, but she’s in a huff over it. “You don’t even say anything and the kid won’t let go of you, but the minute I open my mouth he gets all skittish.”
“You seemed like you handled it well.” I take her crippled hand in mine, placing my fingers in her palm. All she has in that hand is a part of her thumb, which she uses to stroke my knuckles.
A little smile graces Bedevil’s lips. She glances up at me with a look that says “my womb has room.”
I know what’s on her mind. “First comes marriage.”
Bedevil does not repeat the rest of the rhyme, but the thought of a kid flusters her even more. Perhaps she thought that her musings were private, but she’s incredibly easy to read. At least for me, anyway.
I’m not saying I don’t want kids. I really do. Right now would be just about the worst time to have one for both of us.
“That reminds me,” she says, suddenly. “There’s another rhyme about all the junk I’m supposed to gather to make sure our marriage is up to snuff.”
I struggle with my laughter, cover my smirk with my hand. “Up to snuff.”
Bedevil grins, clearly tickled. “It goes like this: ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’”
“I’ve never heard that before. You have to have all that stuff so that we don’t divorce?”
“I’m not taking any chances. I don’t do divorce.” Bedevil loses the smile and her gaze is very serious. I’m reminded that she came from a broken family.
“You’re far more likely to end up a widow than a divorcee.” I squeeze her hand to show her that I’m not going anywhere. “And you won’t end up a widow, I promise.” I decide to change the subject from this dark topic. “I didn’t think you’d come to pick us up personally.”
“Your boss has to show up every now and again.” Bedevil smirks at me, but then turns her attention to the other Inheritors. “We’re waiting on more intel on the cloak in northern Chile right now. Linear’s monitoring the situation.”
“God, where are all these losers coming from?” Remise asks.
Maisa grunts in agreement. “It’s exhausting.”
“I’ve been leaving Jamie too much,” Meltdown says. She twirls a lock of her hair in her finger and looks like there’s someone else she wants to mention, but then she doesn’t.
I’ll have to take personal responsibility for that one. Since OPI collapsed, a lot more masks and cloaks popped up out of their holes, eager to stake a claim in the new “lawless” American continent. They didn’t realize how committed the New Foundation would be in making sure there’s not another Anarchy, but everyday if feels as if we inch toward that.
We need some new system, some sign that the world’s not on the edge of collapse. Fighting criminals and supervillains is all well and good, but I became an official cape to build something everlasting. Something that would withstand the winds of politics and time. Some structure that people couldn’t fuck up.
Maybe that’s asking too much.
“I think we’re looking at a coalition of cloaks,” Mr. Gold says. “Whenever we cut one down the rest seem to know. They scatter to the four winds.”
Bedevil’s become a pretty savvy leader. She never says ‘no’ in a way that makes you feel dumb, and she’s dialed back her temper a lot from her drinking days. I only ever see her angry in private, now, where she’ll sometimes spend about fifteen minutes screaming into a pillow over a meeting or a negotiation. “Right now we need to be careful about stepping on the flags’ toes.”
“If I burn one, will it be freedom of speech, still?” Epione muses out loud.
Bedevil isn’t saying something, though. I can see it on her face. Maybe there is some indication that cloaks are banding together. That honestly would not surprise me. “Do you want us to look into it? See if there is a connection between these cloaks?” I ask.
Bedevil thinks for a moment. She nods. “Yeah. Remise, Gold. You two start digging. Let’s see if there’s something tying these people together.”
Mr. Gold does not nod or say anything, he simply blinks his acknowledgment of her command. Remise claps her hands like she’s about to dig into a Thanksgiving turkey. “Ooo boy, can’t wait to smoke out some cloaks.”
We return to Buenos Aires, where I begin the arduous process of getting Bryant enrolled in Thirty-One, an adoption system I kind of helped bankroll and push through New Foundation. Even though I’m the namesake, I can’t just walk in and snap my fingers and find a kid a new home. I have to file the same paperwork as anybody. In the meantime, they put the kid up in a temporary orphanage.
I sit in my apartment, alone. Maisa likes to go out now, and Bedevil has to put in her reports about our mission. Pawpaw sits at my feet and Isabelle nestles into my lap. I don’t want to disturb them.
All I can think about is Byrant, and how he doesn’t have parents anymore, and what that must feel like.
Well, I suppose I know, don’t I? I lost Doc, the closest thing I had to a father, and I lost Megajoule, the second closest. That wasn’t easy. Bryant’s path will not be easy either, but all I can do is help him walk it. I can’t make the crooked road straight.
My phone buzzes, sending Isabelle into a barking spree and Pawpaw lumbering to his water bowl. I guess I’m free now. I check my phone. Maisa sent me a text.
6:37 PM: I’m waiting, Dojo Master.
Maisa and I train in one of the underground facilities in the New Foundation. Mostly we use it to test her abilities, but sometimes we manage to test mine, too. For instance, the fact that I can now direct or absorb kinetic energy at a distance of a few feet we found out while sparring. Following the principle of my ability to freeze pockets of air molecules, I realized I could turn the gas into a solid object and absorb the impact through it, much like I did with my shield.
People keep thinking that I’m telekinetic, though, and to Bedevil’s chagrin I tell them that I picked it up as an STD.
Maisa waits in the training room. It’s a big box, roughly half the size of a football field, and made from the same synthetic material as the rest of the Foundation HQ, making it harder than diamond. The material is glossy blue, which makes the room look like we’re submerged in the ocean.
“I messed up.” Maisa is pained. She sounds like I used to at my lowest, when I felt all my failures piling down on my shoulders. “I had the chance to hit that cloak earlier but I missed.”
The last thing I want to be is hard on her. Maybe the fight did drag on because she didn’t capitalize on an opportunity but there’s no way to know that for sure. “It happened the way it happened.” I feel a burden now, not only as a brother to her but as a mentor. I don’t want her to ever feel like I did — abandoned and helpless. “You know, I felt the same way when I almost saved you in the Second Ward. But in the end, we still rescued you. What matters is the result.” I tell her the lesson I’ve been contemplating all day. “You can’t always save someone the way you want to save them.”
Maisa sighs out and then grins at me, a devilish look in her eye. “I might start thinking you’re wise one of these days.”
“Oh, don’t do that.” I laugh out loud and confess: “I still need to write my vows.”
“You dummy!” Maisa shouts. “You’re telling me they don’t just spring out of your heart right away when you think about Ruby?”
“Woah, that’s awfully romantic coming from you.”
Maisa falls down to her haunches and stretches, preparing for our training. “Well, someone here needs to be. I can’t believe it’s me. What else haven’t you planned?”
“Er, just that, and not really sure what to do about a stag party since I’ve never been on one. I kinda hoped Flashfire would have one before me.” I chuckle and stand up. With the way things are going between him and Meltdown, that might still happen. Nah, he’s too traditional for that. He would want the big wedding. “How long has he been dating Meltdown now?”
“Like… five months?” Maisa taps her chin, and then conjures a light disk and throws it at me.
Her conjured weapon bounces off my chin. I hiss when I feel the bite as it slices a bit of skin, and watch incredulously as it bounces through the room. Say what you will about the Foundation but they built things to last. I guess that means it isn’t super tech, since that would have degraded by now.
Maisa dispels the disk. “Sorry!” She runs up to me and hugs me, and I’m guessing she feels just as horrible as she did after Gargantamech, because she starts sniffling. “I meant to hit your chest.”
That makes me laugh. “Because that would have been better than my chin?”
A buzzing alarm sounds and the door to the practice hall opens. Bedevil stands there, gulping down air, her brow sweaty from running. “There… you… Gabe… someone’s here for you…”
I warp over to her and cool her down with my power. I help her recover her breath. “What’s going on?”
“There’s a man, he just showed up. He says…” Bedevil’s eyes are wide with shock. She looks like she can barely believe what she’s saying. “He says he’s your father.”
Another thought does not cross my mind until we arrive in the command room, where Archimedes, Oracle, Linear, Mago, and Templar are already gathered. Another man waits at the end of the table closest to the door.
He is a late middle-aged man, with a brown goatee, a horseshoe ring of silver-brown hair that wraps from ear to ear, and an orange flowery button-up t-shirt. He smiles and reveals a mouthful of golden teeth. He is missing a few fingers on each hand, as if they were deliberately cut off at the knuckle.
Archimedes arches his eyebrow as if I should know what the fuck is happening here. Oracle shakes her head, as if she already knows. “Gabe,” she says, “this is the cape Doppelganger, real name Charleston. He made all of the clones in the lab you came from.”
Doppelganger grins at me and approaches, his arms wide for a hug. “Hello, son.”