Doppelgänger rented a small house overlooking the Buenos Aires coast, a two-story townhome with a quaint green door, and to our great luck, wide open bay windows that Epione will be able to spy through and read his mind. Just in case, we’ve also equipped a microphone and mini-camera rig in my glasses with Archimedes’ help. Remise is on standby in her full armor, ready to spring into action in case anything happens to me.
“I’m going to try and get him to open up about what he’s been up to in the last seven years or so,” I tell Archimedes.
Archimedes grunts, staring down at the laptop he brought along to watch through. Epione can use Cynic’s power either through the window or the video feed, but we’ve learned that Cynic’s power is more effective with direct line of sight. The window is our first choice.
Bedevil takes my hand and we head down to the street, and walk across three blocks to his house. Outside the door I feel a bit hesitant to knock. Maybe I’m being paranoid about him. Maybe he really is what he says he is. I don’t want to assume that just because he’s creepy he’s a bad person.
To my surprise, a woman answers the door. Her hair is brilliant red and her eyes are a luminous green, so luminous I almost think they’re glowing, even from behind her thick glasses. There’s a familiarity to her face but I can’t quite place where I’ve seen her before, if I have at all. She smiles and says, “Hello, Gabe. Ruby.” Strange, but her accent is… bland? As if it’s as neutral as possible on purpose.
“Hello… are you related to Doppelgänger?” I ask. That’s kind of a strange question given that she doesn’t look at all like him. Or maybe she’s a clone? I’m not sure how I’d feel about him having cloned more people in the time since the lab.
The woman giggles and I swear she bites her lip at me. “I am not. I’m a hired assistant, actually.”
Bedevil arches an eyebrow and glances at me to make sure I’m not ogling her. I squeeze her hand and smile.
“He didn’t… er… how do I word this?” I ask.
“He doesn’t seem like a wealthy man?” the assistant asks. She laughs at my embarrassment. “He is, he very much is. Trust me, he’s someone you want on your side.”
Admittedly, we do worry about money sometimes. Argentinian funds and donations keep us going but we’re not the massive operation OPI once was. We’ve hit our limit recently of the amount of capes we can afford to have on our payroll, and Bedevil told me she’s worried we’ll have to resort to hiring one of the powered security firms that’s popped up in the wake of OPI to help us out on missions. I don’t like the idea of working with mercenaries.
“I hope it’s okay that I brought my fiancee. She had the day off, and well, I’d always wanted to do the ‘meet the parents’ thing.” I wrap my hand around Bedevil’s waist and pull her close, and smile at this assistant. Hopefully that seems innocent enough. Underneath our clothes is a high powered mesh armor that will protect us from small firearms and blunt trauma. I can feel the rough material scrape under my touch.
“Of course. Do come in. My name is Kassie.” She steps back to let us in to the meager town-home.
The living room is pleasant enough, two couches at a side angle from the bay window with a wooden coffee table between them, and a tiny kitchen that has a pot of fresh grown herbs sitting on the counter in the sunlight. Doppelgänger works in the kitchen and smiles at us when we enter. “Ah, Gabe! Ruby! Welcome to my home. I hope you’re both doing well.”
It’s been a few days since I saw him last. I hoped to postpone until he’d had an interview with Flashfire, but there was a part of me that wanted to meet him before. To see if there was something I could dig out of him before they did all the official business. And then Archimedes wanted to spy on him and I agreed and here we are, standing in his kitchen.
Spying on him.
“We are,” I say.
“How goes the planning for the wedding?” he asks. His smile grows wider, hungrier. He wants details.
Why should he make me so nervous? Why should his face inspire such hesitance in me to act or speak? Why should he look so… inhuman to me? He’s an old man making us tea, apparently, which he brings and sets down on the coffee table while we sit.
“It’s well,” Bedevil says, apparently not inflicted by the same strange fear that I am. However, she is still guarded. “We’ve got a lot to do still, but Gabe’s picked out a venue.”
“Oh?” Doppelgänger acts like he’s catching up with old friends. He offers us cups and then pours the tea, one for himself, Kassie who sits next to him, and then Ruby and me. “Do tell, Gabe.”
I try to compose a thought. A sentence.
I’ve never felt this chained save when the Fear had me. There is something wrong happening here. Something completely off. But I can’t put my finger on it yet. “Uh… we’re going to a beach. A beach wedding.”
“That’s so lovely,” Doppelgänger says. “I wouldn’t presume for an invite this late in the game.”
Bedevil breaks into an awkward, goofy laugh. She covers it up with her hand and says, “Sorry.” She snorts into her fingers once or twice.
“No worries.” Doppelgänger chuckles. Kassie titters next to him. “Like I said, I didn’t expect it. I hope the wedding is a joyous one. How do you find Buenos Aires?”
“It’s lovely,” I say.
“Do you ever miss Houston?”
“Sometimes, I think I do, but there’s nothing quite so pretty there as here. Argentina is a beautiful country and Texas is not so much to me. I enjoyed Colorado more than I did Houston.” The warm memory of the mountains in Colorado thaws the chill in my body.
“You said you wanted to talk?” I ask. “About what?”
“Well… about you! About your time in Houston as a mask, about everything you did.” Doppelgänger’s grin is impish, he looks delighted in asking, “What was it like seeing Cynic thrown down?”
“It… I didn’t like it.” I frown and gather my wits with my attention on that memory. Seeing her in the court room brought so low. “She was trying to fight the Fear. She was a monster, true, and she did horrible things. But underneath all that it was just a misguided desire to save the world.” I’ve come to understand why OPI acted the way it did. The world got broken and they were trying to hobble on the best they could.
Doppelgänger clicks his tongue and takes a sip of his tea. “Well, you’re a good man, Gabe. What about Houston?”
“Houston was… a strange time of my life.” I pat Bedevil’s hand. “I met this one, though, so that’s good. But I lost a lot there, too. Friends and family. Do you remember Doc?”
“I do. So I take it…” Doppelgänger shook his head. He sighed. “How?”
“Nero,” I tell him.
“They took everything from us, Gabe. Everything. They broke the world and then they tried to save what they had broken. Like a bull in a china shop desperately trying to glue the pieces back together. But bulls can only destroy, can’t they? They can’t fix anything. It takes a craftsman. It takes a human, not a monster. Someone with quick fingers and the power to replace what’s broken.” Doppelgänger stares into his tea like he’s reading the leaves. He grimaces at whatever he sees in there. “But you. You had the nerve to kill the bull.”
“What do you mean, replace what’s broken?” Bedevil asks. She stares at Doppelgänger and I can tell — it is not a friendly stare. She senses it, too.
Doppelgänger sets his tea down. He smiles again and breaks slowly into a speech that picks up the pace as it goes. “Well, like you, I’ve been at work. While I’ve kept my head down, I’ve taken to studying the corrupt governments of the world. Almost all of them are, you know. Bribes, black ops, lies, threats, they’ll do anything to keep their power, you know? Cynic had that heart drive of hers and you opening it up has led to dozens of investigations across the world. I was so happy to see that.”
He becomes engaged, enthusiastic, and I can see real passion in his eyes.
Maybe I’ve misjudged him.
“These people, they hurt children, Gabe. They take from the poor. They let powerful criminals do what they want because they’re lining their pockets, too. Just like OPI, Pandahead, and his trafficking ring.” Doppelgänger scowls at the mention and makes a spitting motion. His hand wriggles toward Kassie but restrains itself from touching her. She turns her polite smile toward him and leans into his hand. Maybe a bit more than an assistant, then.
Though, her eyes… there’s something off with them… and the little gray lump in her ear… is that an earbud for music?
“Replace what’s broken,” Bedevil says again.
“I wondered how I could use my power to help the world. And I realized it. I can impress commands on my clones, entire thought patterns and behaviors. I can make people that act the way I want.”
My heart stops. Replace what’s broken.
“I’ve been searching for the corrupt. The men and women that allow people to get hurt underneath their watch. The ones that take bribes, that order innocent people killed, the ones that fail in their duty to be good heroes and leaders. The imperfect and the sociopath, the sinners and the misanthropes.” Doppelgänger grows more impassioned. “I replace them with people that will take care of their nations. Heroes that won’t let evil slip by on their watch.”
Clones. He’s made clones of people in the world. “…How… how do you get away with this?” I ask.
“Get away?” Doppelgänger shakes his head. His words hit the air like arrows, hit my chest like bullets. “It’s not getting away. It’s righting what’s wrong. Like you were doing in Houston. Even thought it was illegal to be a mask, it was right, so you did it anyway. And you overturned the festering power that had fallen on the western world. You killed the bull.”
Bedevil can hardly speak. She stammers nonsense and grips my hand in terror.
“You’ve cloned people in power and replaced them, to do your bidding.” For seven years he’s been at this. The horror of it, it’s disintegrating my thoughts. All I can see are my brothers. My brothers dead long before their time. Cloned into a lab that would devour them. “What do you do with the originals?”
Doppelgänger shrugs, as if this is all a simple matter. “What else? I remove them from the world.”
I stand up, energy flooding into me as I draw it in from the air and gravity. “We are nothing alike!”
“What? You killed cloaks!” Doppelgänger cries out and retreats back into the couch. “You’ve killed bad people, too! Gabe, please! I thought you’d understand! I’m trying to do what you did! I’m trying to do what you did for the world! Slay their bulls and fix their shops!”
“The cloaks I killed… the capes I killed… the masks I killed… They knew I was coming, they knew we were fighting.” I am rage. I am fury. I am fire. “They faced me head on and that was their decision. But you… you’re ghosting people and making other people—”
Doppelgänger stands up, now. “I’m replacing them with better copies! It’s like a clock, Gabe, you have to take rusty gears out and replace them with new ones!”
“Gabe!” Bedevil screams.
“They’re their own people!” I lift into the air. I’m going to bring him before New Foundation and lock him in a cell. I want to kill him now, to make him pay, but we need the list of people he’s cloned. We need to know. “They have their own lives and bodies. They aren’t gears or machines. They’re human beings for God’s sake!”
Doppelgänger presses a button on his couch.
Music bursts through the room, a swinging jazz band.
My body locks up. My power fails and energy drains from me. “W-w-what-” My tongue won’t move, my mouth is locked up. My body is completely shut down. I can’t move at all.
Bedevil launches from the couch with telekinesis, but a huge pillar of stone rises from the ground, cracking through the coffee table and blocking Bedevil off. Kassie stands up and waves her hands, and the pillar pushes us against the wall. If not for Bedevil it would crush us.
Doppelgänger shouts from beyond the stone threatening to crush me and my fiancée. “I thought you’d understand, Gabe! What I’m doing for the world! I can’t stop it. I’m sorry, son, I’m so sorry! I thought…”
“We have to go!” Kassie’s command comes in tangent with Remise roaring through the window and Bedevil ripping through the wall of rock with her telekinesis. The room explodes in stone, fire, and wooden debris, and the music cuts off.
I fall forward as my body relaxes from the paralysis.