I enjoy my last cup of coffee with Bedevil the morning before I’m supposed to head out and start tracking down clues about Doppelganger’s whereabouts. We’re hitting up his various properties that Epione dug from his mind.
Bedevil is just returning from a walk with the dogs while I stir the cream and sugar into my mug. “Hey, we’ve got something really important to talk about.” There’s no joy in her tone, her expression is flat. This is deadly serious.
“What is it?” I am admittedly a touch concerned at this point.
Is she talking about Paul’s Affect? Hers? Mine? “What about them? Epione can look at your Affect if you want—”
“No, no, I mean, our wedding colors!” Bedevil cries.
“Wedding… colors…” I stare at her, unsure of what she means. The theme of the wedding? “Uh… pink? White?”
“Do either of us look like pink or white wedding people, Gabe?” Bedevil marches into the kitchen, her telekinesis pulls the cup from my hands.
“Hey, that’s—” I reach for the cup but Bedevil takes my hand in hers. She jumps up into a passionate kiss. Even after all this time, her lips… man, they just short circuit me. A current sparks between our bodies, a heat so delicious and powerful I can’t even think about drawing it in. I’ve given up alcohol for over a year but I still remember being intoxicated and lightheaded, and my heart hammering in my ears, and it’s like I’ve downed an entire bottle of whiskey when I’m done kissing Bedevil.
She shudders as we pull apart, her breath hot on my neck. “I love you.”
“I love you.” I rub her arms with my hands — she feels cold, so I give her a little heat — and retrieve my cup of coffee from the air once we’ve separated fully. “And why not ask Epione about the wedding colors? She’s pretty good at that, too.”
“We’ve already asked her to do so much.” Bedevil shakes her head, nibbles at her fingernails, and acts like she’s being a bother. “But she is really good at it.”
I wonder if Epione is good at it because she planned out her own wedding with Jason. I wonder how she feels watching him and Meltdown start a new thing since she can no longer love him. Maybe that’s what prompted her question yesterday. “I didn’t even realize colors was a big issue.” Then it hits me. We’re doing a beach wedding and that makes me think: “Blue and gold?”
Bedevil ponders that for a moment as she peels an orange with her telekinesis. “Yeah… Yeah.” Her eyes light up. There’s the goofy girl I love. “Yeah!”
“What was the kiss all about, anyway?” I ask.
Bedevil chomps on her orange. Through pulpy teeth she says, “Oh, it’s just in case you die.”
I visit one more person before its time for me to suit up. Paul, in his hospice room. I’d wanted him to stay with me, since Maisa spends a lot of her nights out and didn’t need her room for at least the next couple of days, but given his outburst Archimedes ordered him to be kept in the hospice center.
He’s awake, watching TV. Actually, not really watching it. He stares through the commercials, beyond the paid actors and bright colors to something dim on his horizon.
“Hey.” My word strikes the air and fails to pierce his malaise, sinking into the room as if it were a stone dropped into the sea. Paul glances at me and it’s like I have a time traveling mirror, one that takes me back to Colorado.
“Hey,” he answers, the sea spitting back the stone I offered. What a strange thing.
“I’m going to be gone for a couple of days, I think.”
“Hunting down our father.” He returns to his stare like its his holy duty. His jaw clenches and I know we’ve struck a sore topic. There must be a million confusing feelings inside him, just like there are inside me.
I’m not gonna bullshit him. I nod. “He’s gotta pay.”
Paul shrugs and says nothing.
Paul interrupts me. “You said… L for Loved.”
“But you don’t know me.”
The statement reminds me of that horrible night I found out Bedevil was Kitsune, though I’d suspected and ignored it for two months beforehand. It reminds me of what I said to Bedevil as she proclaimed her love for me on that rooftop, before I ran from her. “How could I love you if I don’t know you?”
Paul is taken aback by my honesty.
“I don’t know you fully yet, but you’re family. You’re my brother.” I sit down next to his bed. “Besides, I love everybody.”
Paul snorts, a tiny noise that sounds a lot like Doc, a little piece of that man that somehow made its way to this boy. “Everybody.”
“I mean it. Until somebody gives me a reason to think otherwise, I love them. They’re a human! We all need love and we all need to love. Far easier to love everybody than not, in my opinion.”
“But you don’t love anybody as much as your fiancee, do you?” Paul asks. “You don’t love me more than her?”
That’s one hell of a question, kid. “I love her more than you, yeah, but she’s gonna be my wife. I also love her in a different way than I love you. You’re… someday you’re gonna meet someone. You’re gonna love them more than anyone else, you might want to marry them, maybe not.”
“What about me? Because I’m your brother…. You say… You love me more than some of your friends?”
I can’t answer that. I don’t know how to answer that.
Paul looks me dead in the eyes. He takes a moment before speaking, and when he does his voice breaks with grief and his eyes glisten. “I love father. I can’t not love him. Do you understand?” He claws at my arm, digging his fingernails into my skin. I absorb the impact but he still scrapes at the top of my arm. “Do you understand, Gabe?”
I wrench my arm free and stand up, hissing as his nails scratch into my forearm. Not the right move, apparently, because Paul grunts and retreats from me, and clamps up.
I have to free him from this. I have to save him. Doppelganger has free rent inside his head, free rent inside his heart. There must be a way to snap that cord, like there was a way to free me from the Fear.
Droplets of blood well on my arm. “I understand.”
Paul does not reply.
“I’ll be back in a few days. Epione want to visit you. Is that okay?” I ask.
I don’t really know what else to say. I linger at the door, studying his profile as he keeps his gaze locked on the television. I don’t know what he’s feeling. I don’t recognize the emotions on his face. “I’ll be back.”
Remise is waiting for me in the New Foundation hangar, which is a mess of metal, voices, and chaos. White Sharks sit mostly silent except for the one Remise and I are about to use. Mr. Gold and Linear sit in the cockpit, waving at us as we approach. I don my red jacket, completing the Aethon costume. Remise, for her part, is not wearing her armor. She’s wearing a simple mesh armor with a motorcycle jacket over it. Reminds me a lot of her old mask costume.
“Oi, Gabe. You ready to break some eggs?”
“Only if you are,” I tell her. “Did Bedevil tell you where we’re going?”
“Nah.” Remise is filled with childlike glee as she guesses our destination. “Are we sneaking into the States?”
“Better. We’re going to Europe.”
This stuns Remise. She stalks after me as I board the White Shark and the bay doors close behind us. “Gabe… I can’t go back to Europe!”
“Oh, sure we can! You’re with me.”
Remise checks for a fever, holds her arm out to make sure she’s not having a stroke. “Oh, God. God. Echo’s gonna kill me.”
Now, that is interesting. She’s not worried about being arrested. She’s worried about Echo finding out we’re headed to Scotland. I’ve always wanted to know but Remise would never elaborate. This seems like the time for some elaboration. “I thought you left over a scandal.”
“I did, I did.” Remise frowns and takes deep breaths. Once she gets control over herself, she goes on. “I’m… I’m not wanted over there. But I could never have had a career. I made me a powerful enemy in ORDERS, Gabe. She hasn’t forgotten, I know she hasn’t.”
ORDERS. The European cape organization, the equivalent to OPI over there. And Remise pissed off someone high up in their ranks, apparently. “Who is she?”
It’s like pulling teeth with her, but eventually she offers up the name. “Lady-General Sal Tomas.”
The name is vaguely familiar to me. An iron woman much like Cynic, before she started to crack from all the pressure of running OPI. One could even think of her as a kindred spirit, a rival, and sometimes an ally to Cynic. She’s known for her socially progressive policies in the face of a far more conservative society and her bureaucratic authoritarian (read: fascist) approach to governing the European Kingdoms through her ORDERS capes. She’s the de facto ruler. “What happened between you two?”
Remise scowls and struggles with the answer, wrestling with that inside her head. “She… and I… had a bad date.”
“A bad date? You’re afraid of the leader of the ORDERS because your night out didn’t go as planned?” I don’t really believe that’s it. Remise is beating around a huge bush.
“No, no. It’s part of it, it explains some things later about why I left. Here’s a terrible fact about the EK, Gabe. They’re not kind to LGBT folk. Something changed after the anarchy, something made them regress, and now they don’t take too kindly to it.”
I’m not really sure what to say to that. I know that the States used to be awful about that, but likewise, something changed after the anarchy. They stopped caring about it more than anything. Started caring more about outside threats like the Youxia and Africa and the Sanctified.
Remise hangs her head. She messes her hair up in a flurry and groans some more. “We were a thing. I thought it was casual…. She didn’t. We kept it under wraps because the climate wouldn’t have accepted us. I was barely an adult, really, and I wanted to have fun. I should have talked to her about it but apparently I went around behind her back when I thought I was just having fun, you know?”
I nod. Easy mistake to make when you’re a kid.
“But Sal and I, well, you know. I was a cape in ORDERS. Specifically the Thistles, which watch over Scotland. I found out there was a massive wire tapping thing going on and I reported it to Sal. She wasn’t Lady-General at that point but she was on her way up.”
“She was the one ordering it done, wasn’t she?”
I’ve never seen Remisel like this. Slumped up against the walls of the White Shark, staring off at nothing. Like Paul. “Turns out Sal was way different than I thought. She took pictures of me hooking up with other girls when I wanted to go over her head. Said she’d bury me if I didn’t go along with what she wanted. So I left. I left and I dropped the bomb and…” She clicks her tongue in disappointment. “Didn’t change a god damn thing, Gabe. EK is under more surveillance than ever. They’ve got cameras in people’s sphincters.”
I struggle not to chuckle, since Remise is taking this so seriously.
“I wish I could do something about it, Gabe. I think about my home all the time. I know I don’t…” Now she seems disappointed in herself. “I try not to talk about it. Not even Echo knows how much I miss home.”
“Maybe we can get you back there, someday.” I sit down next to her, trying to show her that I’m here for her. “You don’t always have to be the stoic big sister, you know?”
Remise chuckles. “Some things just come naturally to us, I guess. That’s my default state, Gabe.”
“Yeah, and mine is to dive into my friends’ problems until I can beat them into submission,” I reply.
That kicks up her humor like the wasps of a nest. “What was it Bedevs said? She don’t need your corpse hurtling at her.” Remise cackles in delight. “For real, though, if I could just beat this lady with your limp body, I think that would solve my problems just fine.”
“What’s her power?”
Remise hisses. “Oh, that. It’s… it’s not easy to deal with, so let’s stay on her good side. She can speak things into existence.”
I frown in reply.
“I’m gonna guess it’s Affect related, too, because I’ve seen it have different interactions on different people. She’s told two people to die in my life. One was a heavyweight cape. He didn’t die but god did he have a bad stomach ache for a while. The other was a common drunk that had accidentally killed a lady while mugging her.” Remise’s lips thin as she recalls that unpleasant memory. “He just… unraveled in front of me.”
“Why is she not in charge of the world?” I ask.
“Well, one, I don’t think her power is as useful on people with more powers, and two, she’s already in charge of Europe. She also can’t influence someone’s thoughts, just their body, I think. She can also create stuff out of the air with it. She usually conjures bullets mid flight, or something nasty.”
Well, now I’m worried about Lady-General Sal. She’s one of the powers of this world. I need to know them all. How else will I be able to fight the Fear? If we don’t unite somehow, the Fear will destroy us, no matter how many times I’m able to personally triumph over it.
We’re about to walk into her stronghold. Granted, not unannounced. Linear’s coming with us because he has direct communication with some of their higher ups. It’s not like India, where we just kinda… did that.
But now I’m wondering: removing Paul is probably causing a lot of suffering in India right now.
I entertain the dangerous thought, study it to see if I can unravel it. There are millions without power in India, right now. Removing Paul removes their power source for the foreseeable future, and they will have to adjust. People will probably die. People will probably hurt over this.
Even with that, there is not a single part of me that would change it. Paul is a human being. He did not deserve to be stuck inside a giant engine for the rest of his life.
There is always another way. I’ll ask Bedevil what we can do to help relieve the suffering, but I won’t give Paul back.
If they want him back, they’ll have my corpse hurtling at them, first.