5.17.1

ARC 17: SOMETHING NEW

Let’s talk India.

The Hellpact benefited their country more than Russia, Japan, or the UWC. They took on the lion’s share of defending some of the lesser countries to their west from the Youxia, and they became a new world power in the process. They have some of the most well known capes in the world, though they aren’t called that in India. The translated word for their powered heroes is “vanguard.”

Flying over India in orbit as part of my reconnaissance, I see that it looks like a shining jewel compared to some of the geography around it. Veins of light crowd all the way to border so that I have a solid impression of the shape of their country even on the dark side of the planet. It reminds me a bit of Houston in how bright it is, and the fact that I’m not supposed to be here.

“How are the new earphones working out for you?” Bedevil asks over the comms.

“Great! I can’t hear anything outside of them at all.” A necessary precaution for Doppelgänger’s music. With different settings it will actually filter out entire songs, which we’ve already set to filter the swing band tune we heard. I’ve been playing around with it and right now I have it set to completely block everything. “Hm, I wonder what the command is to filter you out.”

“There isn’t one,” Bedevil says. “You’re stuck with me.”

“Worse things have happened.”

Bedevil giggles on the other end, but trails off into a sad tone. “Hey, you’re not unhappy with me, are you?”

“No. Why would I be?” I ask.

“You just keep making jokes about… you know… filtering me out, I guess.” Bedevil makes a noise like wants to say more, but she falls silent instead. Geez, that does make me sound like a jerk.

“Babe, I love you. I’m ecstatic to marry you. I just thought it was playful banter, but I’ll lay off it if it’s bothering you.” I’ve got to figure out someway to make it up to her.

Bedevil doesn’t respond right away. After a minute, she sniffles. “Thanks, love.” She composes herself. Time to attend to the matter at hand. “Epione said the power facility he’s at is just to the west of the center of the country, putting him between all their major cities. I’m marking the White Shark on your HUD. It’s just you, Meltdown, and Epione.”

We’re keeping it to us three, because between Meltdown and me we can handle any of this clone’s potential power. The plan is to try and talk to him first but if he panics, to get close and let Epione sedate him.

A small white dot appears in my goggles and I follow it to rendezvous with the White Shark, about thirty thousand feet above the western coast. Epione and Meltdown are waiting in the opened bay doors. None of us are in our standard Inheritors costumes, but in high powered stealth suits Archimedes made based off one of the cloaks we captured. The suits are made of a special membrane with a chameleon effect that blends us into the environ.

As I get close, the earphones buzz, and Meltdown’s voice comes through. “Hey, there, Aethon!”

I float toward them. Such an odd feeling sometimes, even though I’ve gotten very good at flying. Odd to just hover at someone, so high in the sky. I reach my hand out and take Epione up into the orbital dance, while Meltdown floats herself to join us.

“We need to be out in an hour,” Bedevil says.

“What happens when the lights go out?” I ask. I know I was gung ho to save this clone ASAP, but now that I’m staring down the barrel, I have to wonder about the consequences.

Then again, he’s a literal slave. He needs rescue. Just because there are consequences doesn’t mean it’s not right to save him.

“There’s a back up grid, but it only powers their essentials. They’re going to be a bit pissed but they’ll have all the basics. We’re not destroying their country,” Bedevil says. “Archimedes and Oracle have reached out to a few contacts they know they can trust in the Sovereigns and in India’s vanguards. We’re not expecting retaliation. Plus, Archimedes is already working on some alternatives for them. They have a lot of brilliant people, though.”

“You know, the more you talk, the less sure I get.”

Bedevil sighs. Meltdown holds her hand up for a five count, and at the end, we drop in a synchronized fall toward India, letting the rotation of the Earth take us to the power plant Epione marked on our maps.

“This is a really gray area, Gabe. Yeah, we’re saving one of your brothers, but this is a mire politically. India is a potential ally for both us and the U.S. and if we take their battery, human or not, then that’s going to drive them one way.”

“Do they have to know?” We are in disguise after all. We could just take him and not say anything.

“If they haven’t tagged our White Shark,” Bedevil says. “We’ll see. But if Doppelgänger has a choke hold on their politicians and vanguards… they’ll probably know the minute we leave with him.”

That was why I wanted to do this as fast as possible. He doesn’t know we have Cynic’s power and he wouldn’t know we’re already working to save this clone. But he will know after we strike. I know that means forfeiting different options, but I can’t let my brother waste another day slaving in this power plant.

The power plant looks much like any other power plant I’ve seen. Large concrete buildings clustered together, huge cooling towers give off great pillars of steam, and thousands of cables running out into India to power their world. A city surrounds the plant, bright and shining, hundreds of skyscrapers and blazing towers that really remind me of Houston.

I reach out to Meltdown. “Stick near me, and we can enter through one of the cooling towers.”

She floats closer and grabs a hold of my hand. Our suits shimmer as we disappear into the steam clouds, turning us into vague blobs. I use my heat sense to guide us down into the tower. I envelop us in a bubble of cool air and kinetic energy that pierces the steam as we fall.

We land amid a metal grate walkway. Water cascades around us in a great torrent while we sneak our way to the exit door and into the facility proper. I follow Epione’s lead here, as she guides us by her Affect sensing.

“There’s some personnel in the facility,” she says. “But not many. We should be okay if we avoid them.”

“Where is the clone?” I ask.

“There’s a central building. Fairly certain he’s there. The facility is mostly normal except for that building, which is built to work with his power. At least, that’s what I gleaned from Doppelgänger.”

We sneak through the power plant, leaving the cooling towers and heading for the central facility, relying on Epione’s power to avoid any guards and workers. It makes it feel a bit surreal, not seeing anyone, though I know they exist because of Epione. The facility feels abandoned since we’re able to maneuver around the living so well, and the few close calls we have are almost like nightmares in that I feel this ominous dread as footsteps clank on metal down empty hallways.

Like I’m walking around ghosts.

Epione guides us into the central building through a lower hallway. There’s one guard, but thanks to our suits we’re able to slip past him as he stares at a computer monitor, and I notice afterward he’s playing some game. Once we make it inside the central plant, I find she was right in her assessment.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Huge steel cables and engines piece together in ways I don’t recognize, like the intestines of some god machine feeding off steam and electricity. Entire sections churn and groan, undulate and squirm, and I get the feeling I’m staring at something alive, not mechanical.

“This way,” Epione says, grabbing my hand and leading me down a cramped walkway.

“God, it’s flowing with energy,” Meltdown says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“One of the Indian vanguards designed it,” Epione says. “Or,  Doppelgänger’s clone of that vanguard did, anyway. That’s one of the names I can confirm. In Hindi his name is ‘Designer.’”

My heat sense tells me there’s a massive temperature flow as well. Whatever this thing is, it could power… good lord, I can’t even say how much this thing could power. I don’t think India is the limit.

“He’s just ahead,” Epione says. “He’s goldsouled. I think his power is remarkably similar to Megajoule’s.”

Good thing we brought Meltdown along, then. I’m hoping there won’t be a fight at all.

We creep into the inner belly of this industrial beast, and there he is.

He is immersed in a blazing gazebo, a forge pouring out heat and from the read out of my goggles, a myriad of radiation energy as well. He grips at two strange bars just outside his forge, which are connected to cables that feed into the guts of the engine he powers. He shines like I do when I absorb too much energy.

“There’s music,” Epione whispers. I can’t hear that, though, my earphone filters are working perfectly.

“How do we approach this?” Meltdown asks.

“We try to talk to him first.” I step forward toward his furnace bath and whisper the command that drops my suit’s stealth field. “Hello.”

The clone gasps and lets go of the bars. He wobbles back and forth in shock, his hands held toward us in fear, before he realizes that we’re not whoever he thought we were. He steps out of the furnace, no longer glowing, and good God it’s like I’m staring into a mirror. Actually, he looks slightly younger than I do, maybe around twenty years old. “Who… what are you doing in here? Are you from the vanguards? Did I do something wrong? Father’s not upset, is he?”

Instead of trying to unpack that horrible set of questions, I take off my mask. “My name is Gabe. I’m here to help you.”

He gapes, calling to mind that painting, The Scream. He gawks at me and reaches a hand out. “Why… are you from father?”

“No. He made me but I’m not with him,” I tell the clone. Honestly, I’ve got no clue what to think or feel right now. I’m not sure if it’s a massive relief, an aching for family, or anxiety that he’s not taking this well.

“Not. With. Him?” He speaks in a halting stammer, as if the mere suggestion that I’m not working for Doppelgänger is impossible. “Who are you? Why do you look like me if you’re not with father? How did you know how to find me? Who are you? Who are you?!”

He panics. He steps backward and throws a jab at me, one laced with kinetic energy. His skin starts to glow and spark and he turns into a solar being in the blink of an eye. I suck up all the heat radiating from him while Meltdown pulls lighting away from his skin. One thing is clear within a few seconds. He has a larger reserve of energy than I do naturally. I’m not even sure both Meltdown and I can handle him.

He’s not nearly as experienced a fighter as I am, though. He telegraphs every punch, doesn’t keep a guard up, and chases me with a frenzy only the terrified know. Which gives Epione plenty of time to slip up behind him while we siphon his deadly energy away, and slap him on the back. Against her power he has no defense. He falls into a deep sleep, thumping on the metal plating beneath us.

The engine continues on as if he hasn’t let go of the bars. Might take a little bit to wind down. Which means we have a head start.

“Okay, what’s our escape plan?” I ask.

“Come on. I’ll have to put that guard to sleep,” Epione says. “From there we just soar back up to the White Shark.”

I put my mask back on and pick up my brother, and we flee the scene of the rescue.

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