I groan and clutch my head. Bedevil’s hand touches my face, caresses my cheek, and from very far away she says, “Gabe, please, are you okay?”

I swallow a mouthful of spit and crack open my eyes. My vision is blurry, but I’ve still got my glasses on, and not until I blink a few times does it clear. The townhome looks like a meteor smashed through it and continued burning through the earth. Remise stands before the hole in the ground, shaking her head. “Just what in the righteous fuck was that?”

The room isn’t the only thing wrecked. I feel like that meteor smashed through me, too. My body is sore, my muscles and my lungs ache. My throat is raw. My eyes water as I blink and struggle to compose myself.

“He’s okay,” Bedevil says, half a prayer of relief and half a declaration to Remise.

“He paralyzed me somehow.” I sit up, though it takes all of my effort to do so. I haven’t felt this bad since I fought Sledge. “With that music.”

Wait, Kassie, the girl, she had an earpiece, and Doppelganger said he could imprint clones with behaviors. What if the activation was music? What if he did that to me?

What commands would he have imprinted in me?

Bedevil helps me to my feet and I hobble over to the giant hole in the floor. My whole body feels like jelly, so that I need Bedevil’s help to stay upright, but eventually I get to stare into the abyss. The tunnel closes in a dozen or so feet down, wrenched shut like the jaws of a beast. “She’s a geomancer.”

“Yikes,” Remise says. “Well come on, Epione was having a fit when I left. She’s still having a fit actually. Archimedes is trying to calm her down.”

We leave the townhome, which I’m sure someone from New Foundation will be going over with a fine tooth comb in the next fifteen minutes, and return to the stake out point where Archimedes and Epione are waiting. Sure enough Epione is ranting at Archimedes, and we walk in right in the middle of it.

“-for years, for seven years he’s been doing this! There were so many names I didn’t have time to learn them all! So many that I can’t…” Epione is sobbing openly, jabbing the air with her hands, and when she sees us come in she runs up to me. “Gabe, Gabe, there’s another one like you. There’s another clone of Megajoule alive!”

I have no response.

There’s another clone of him.

I have a brother.

“You’re sure?” Bedevil asks.

“Yes, I’m sure, I saw him slaving in India in that man’s memory, I saw him powering their entire grid by himself, with no break except to sleep. But it’s not just him, it’s so many, so many, hundreds across the world, replaced so that they’ll follow Doppelganger’s orders!” Epione’s words are strangled by her sobs but she just keeps going. She unloads bomb after bomb. “The redheaded woman with him, that’s a clone of Kassandra! A clone of that cloak in Syria! No, no, they were both clones, I saw him make them both from the same woman that he drugged and killed for her DNA and her power!”

So that woman was under his control, if he uses music. “The swing band, is that how he controls his clones?”

“Yes, yes, but the newer clones have it worse. I saw… he’s gotten so much better at this, Gabe, back when he made you the clones had to age like normal children, had to grow up, but now he can flash clone people, he can make them whatever age he wants!”

Jesus, Buddha, fucking Thor, someone help me, I’m going to kill this man.

“He thought we’d really want his help, he thought we — no, not us, you, Gabe — he thought that you would agree with him and see what he’s done as a good thing! He absolutely believed that you would accept him.” Epione’s eyes look like they’ll pop out of her skull.

Archimedes appears behind Epione and jabs a small needle into her back. She squeaks, stumbles back and looks at him with a shocked expression, before her eyes start to droop and she stumbles. I catch her before she falls.

“What the fuck, Arch?” I ask.

“She was hyperventilating and panicking. She needed to calm down. See, she’s calm now,” Archimedes says. “She’ll wake up in a few hours. For now, we need to address everything she just told us, and when she wakes up, we’ll find out what else she learned.”

The ring on Epione’s finger, the one with the ruby embedded in it, glows softly as Cynic’s Affect returns to its home. She can’t hold onto the power when she’s unconscious. I pick her up and carry her, now that the strength is returned to my muscles. “You’re right. This is absolutely fucked.”

“It’s our job to unfuck it,” Archimedes says. “We need to get an exact list of everyone he’s cloned. Take the Inheritors and start digging into this.”

“What about the cloaks?” Remise asks.

“This takes priority.” Archimedes, for just a moment, looks frightened. “Whatever they have going on, this makes that look like playground games. This is an undermining of world governance on a scale I’ve never seen.”

He screamed about how he was doing this for the world. How he was trying to save it. He thought that I would agree and see what he was doing as valuable.

“He’s doing it to fight the Fear,” I realize out loud. I see it. Make them agree, make them work to one end, remove the squeaky wheels for new ones. That has to be it. He acted like this was some noble quest to save the world.

“The problem being that it’s fucking stupid,” Bedevil says.

“Not that I don’t agree, but what do you mean?” Archimedes asks.

“If the clones know they’re clones but can’t say anything because they’re under his control, if the music just makes them comply when they can think for themselves… if they have any degree of autonomy inside at all… then they’re ripe breeding grounds for the Fear.” Bedevil stares through me, recalling the horrible memories of what happened to me just a year ago. “If there’s another incident like Buenos Aires, we might be looking at hundreds of potential hosts.”

“Permission to go save the clone of Megajoule,” I ask, either Bedevil or Archimedes. “Right away. This instant.”

Archimedes does not answer me right away. He looks uncomfortable with the idea, which I understand. If he really is powering India’s grid, then we’re risking a confrontation if I extract him, and we’re risking war if we accuse them of using a clone to power their country. And maybe the people don’t even know. Doppelganger might have replaced the officials he needed to make it work and only them. Without knowing the exact names, which Epione says she doesn’t know them all, it would be impossible to sort out who’s on his side and who isn’t.

But Bedevil, after a few seconds, turns to me and says, “Granted.”

Archimedes does not object, though he looks like he wants to. Still, he’s the director of New Foundation, so if he doesn’t say no then no one else can. Or they can, but I won’t listen. I’m going to save my clone. I’m going to get him out of there, no matter what it takes.

And I’m going to stop this lunatic replacing the world with clones.


3 thoughts on “5.16.5”

  1. I always thought duplication was a bit of an underrated power, but this takes it to a whole new level.

    Heh, I was wrong. Doppelganger is not only a horrible villain, but he’s very clearly not a Music Master.

    Liked by 1 person

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