Oracle hoped that stepping off the White Shark and onto Kenyan soil would not stir up her heart too much. Her hope proved unfounded. The heat wrapped its arms around her like an old friend, the sun shone in the sky in a way it did not anywhere else in the world. And Kenya reflected that light, oh, how she reflected it. The Sovereigns built the proverbial “city on a hill” and let it shine on the world.
They named it Holy, because it was.
Crystalline spires and beautiful buildings splashed with vibrant colors that made them look like flowers Oracle could reach out and pluck, and how she wanted to gather a bunch to bring back to Argentina with her. How she wanted to hold this in her memory forever.
Memory had become fleeting, as of late, and she had no power to control it. Oracle found that she would often wake up in the middle of the night with tears staining her cheeks, and a dream fleeing the edges of her conscious thought. A dream with a familiar, crystal face that she was beginning not to recognize.
Holy gave her back his name as she stared up at it. Simon Cheboi, the spires told her, Ethereal. Her love. Even though he was gone now, killed in the last fight with the Dominator that had nearly brought Africa to heel, the things he had built — this city — still stood.
Oracle fought not to weep right there on the landing strip outside the Sovereign’s HQ.
Maisa and Meltdown strode just ahead of her in their armor. How sleek the interlocking plates, how vibrant the colors and the hum of the machinery within the suit. Archimedes knew his craft and he knew how to make people look — and feel — like gods. Not that their powers weren’t impressive by themselves. Anyone who cracked the armor thinking the women inside easy pickings would learn a nasty lesson.
A man strode up to Oracle, shaking his head, a sign Oracle did not like. He had a wide, friendly face marred by frustration. She vaguely knew his name, something like Celestial or Lunar, implying something cosmic. “Oracle, it is good to see you, but I wish I had better news for you. We tried to radio your base to tell you but it seems that your comms are down.”
“Down?” Oracle asked, turning back to Meltdown. “Was there anything wrong with our radio? Did we get any messages from HQ?”
“No, not that I’m aware of.” The fact unnerved them all, and Meltdown furrowed her brow as she thought about what might cause a radio blackout at base.
“What was it that you wanted to tell us?” Oracle asked.
“The address you asked us to investigate and lock down for your arrival… it’s gone. Eaten into the earth.”
For a brief moment, the world darkened, and she forgot the name the city was telling her. She forgot her husband’s name in the grip of fear.
Epione looked over her shoulder into Paul’s room, where he pretended to sleep peacefully in his hospital bed. His colors gave him away — a furious storm of worry, of guilt, of fear. Worry that he will be found by Doppelganger. Guilt that he should worry at all, since Doppelganger is his father, his family. Fear. Fear at everything. So much fear Epione was surprised that an entity did not spawn itself right there.
She turned her attention back to the card game with Saw Off, who was in the middle of cheating by placing an extra power card on the field. The girl felt no guilt for her actions, but anger at being caught. “God damn it, I thought you’d look a little longer,” she grumbled, returning the card to her hand.
Epione couldn’t be mad, though. Saw Off wasn’t here just for games. The rest of her team — Torn, who could slice through any inert material with the tip of his finger, Chase, an acrobatic speedster, and Tremble, a young girl that shook the earth with each step, and of course, Lugs, who no longer had a power but a new, robotic arm from Archimedes — waited on standby in case of an emergency. Paul’s latest outburst and his last conversation with Gabe worried Epione so much that she’d maintained a constant vigilance near his room. Today they’d set up the card table.
“I’m worried,” Epione said.
The words caught Saw Off by surprise. “I mean, it was just one card, I promise.”
“No, no, I don’t care about the game.” Epione glanced again at Paul and found him staring back at her. She held his eyes for an eternal moment. His colors and hers, swirling into one mess of anxious sick yellow. In a whisper, she continued. “He’s scared.” She checked the rings on her finger, the ring carrying Carnality’s power and the ring carrying the ability to forcefully activate powers. She had another, one with hydrokinesis, but that seemed not as useful in dealing with Paul, since it couldn’t extract water from the body.
“Yeah, he’s scared, we kidnapped him and have him in a hospital room while we’re playing cards outside. I’d be scared, too.” Saw Off grimaced at the young man. “I’d be scared if that nasty old dude was in my head, too.”
Lugs pulled up a chair to sit next to them. His new arm, shiny metal and black, held compartments for various weaponry like small arms and rockets. He couldn’t use his magnetic pulses anymore, but he’d told Epione during one of the poker games that the new arm was in many ways better than his old one. “Hey kids. Tremble’s getting hungry.”
“Well, she’s like thirteen,” Saw Off said. “Feels like y’all stuck me with a babysitting gig instead of my own team.”
“It’s my team,” said Lugs. “I’m in charge.”
The speaker above their heads crackled into life.
Bedevil straightened her dress and tried to look severe. Archimedes and Templar sat next to her at the New Foundation table as they greeted their guest — USCO Director Thomas Lancer, formerly the OPI Director for Los Angeles. A short but proud man, dressed in a strict military uniform. Bedevil remembered him as a happy-go-lucky dude that liked to get blitzed on weekends. They’d had a couple of heart to hearts back in Basics.
There was no trace of that man left. Here was a soldier. He sniffed and walked up to the table, reached out to shake Bedevil’s hand. “Ruby Dawson. It’s been some time. It’s still Dawson, yes?”
“Yes. We’ve not had the wedding yet.” Bedevil shook his hand and offered him a seat. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Director.”
She hoped that he would smile and laugh like the scruffy boy she knew in Basics, that he would tell her to call him Tom and they could move forward on good terms. That did not happen. “You know I’m sticking my neck out on this. Things are tense right now in the States.”
“I know.” Bedevil didn’t like his tone already.
“So what am I doing here?” Director Lancer folded his hands on the table.
“We’re looking for a fugitive,” Bedevil said. “We are aware that he has a hideout in the States. Specifically, near Los Angeles.”
“Do you think that I can grant you leave to investigate? You think I wouldn’t be strung up immediately if you sent Aethon or any of the Inheritors into U.S. territory and I held the door open?” Director Lancer wasn’t just angry, he was offended. “I came here out of respect for our friendship, Ms. Dawson, not for a ridiculous request. I came here to talk in person because you asked me to. Do you have a compelling reason as to why I should allow you to search that hideout?”
They’d worked it out. Where would he really go if he knew that New Foundation was searching through his hideouts? The one place they were forbidden — the United States. He had one hideout there. They could try and sneak in but the flags patrolled non stop, and the U.S. was turning the gigantic military machine to the task of keeping everyone out.
Bedevil steeled herself. Archimedes and Templar could talk and argue, but only Bedevil knew this man personally. He’d only agreed to meet because of their old ties. “Thomas. Tom. Do you think I brought you here to waste your time?”
Director Lancer paused. He frowned. He shook his head. “No, Ruby. But things are bad.”
“They are,” she agreed, glad that he’d relented a bit. “I’m deadly serious when I say this: the fugitive we are after poses a significant threat to every nation. To the entire world.” She began to lay the case for why Director Lancer should look the other way when they went to Doppelganger’s hideout. Why he should provide them the gap to slip through.
Of course, at that point, they hadn’t internalized the threat that Doppelganger really represented. They spoke in abstract. They spoke in ideas and theories about what Doppelganger was really capable of doing. Director Lancer would have never agreed if he hadn’t seen it firsthand.
Unfortunately and fortunately, Doppelganger was about to show them exactly how much danger they were all in.
Mago entered the room, which shocked everyone there. Bedevil stammered, choking on her speech to Director Lancer, who glanced back and forth between the two. Archimedes rose out of his seat, as did Templar, who began to ask, “What?”
Mago did not acknowledge them. The command was already implanted. Had been for the last few days, since he’d been replaced.
He strode to the command center and tapped the comm system, and bent down to speak:
“Cog, you are powerless.”
He drew a knife, cried out, and stabbed himself in his heart, in his eye, in his throat, whatever would kill him before Templar could mend his wounds.
Epione did not like the sound of those words. She did not like the accompanying storm of red color that bloomed out from Paul. Flashes of rage and hate sparked and forked from him in lightning paths and he rose to his feet. His skin crackled, his eyes shone. He drank in energy.
“What the fuck?” Saw Off had time to ask, just before the wall exploded.
Epione summoned Carnality’s power as the debris pelted her face, providing her with invulnerability. A strange emotion filled her heart, a bitter desire to see Paul and everyone else in this room dead. A coldness that would see the task complete. The taste of copper in her mouth and the giggle of a blood goddess in her ear.
“Do you think they’d let you use this ring if they knew my mind came with it?” Carnality asked.
Epione drew power from her blood, weaving a shield around Saw Off and Lugs before the blast could strike them. She was a hair too late on Lugs. A hair too late as a shard of glass entered his throat and exited out the back of his neck. His blood smelled so sweet as he toppled back.
Epione jumped up, pulling blood from Lugs’ fatal wound and from her own body, and leapt into the room with a fresh spear woven from the ichor. Saw Off screamed somewhere far behind her as she faced down Paul.
“God, I miss this!” Carnality squealed as she lunged at the boy. Epione knew enough not to want to kill him, but it didn’t make the desire go away. She had experience managing Carnality’s emotions by now, but she had to admit, since he’d just killed Lugs she wanted to murder him right here. The need to kill him, he killed Lugs, he killed Lugs!
“Kill him back!”
Paul was different from Gabe. When Gabe unleashed his power it was like staring at a sun in human form. A fire elemental, a god of molten lava. This boy crackled with electricity and his skin undulated, his eyes filled with a strange pale light. He looked more like a ghost than a god.
The power that answered her blood woven weapons was the power of a god, though. Light and thunder and Paul moved with kinetic flurries. Epione tried to get close, just to lay her hands on him and still his emotions, but magnetic energy repulsed her before she could touch him.
He dissolved through her shields and leapt at her with a vibrating, crackling hand aimed at her chest. Carnality screamed in delight and terror, Epione was not sure which it was. One last thought for how the world would survive without her.
A shotgun blast interrupted the fight, catching Paul on the shoulder. Blood sprayed and Epione reached out with Carnality’s power, throwing Paul backwards. The boy was deft in his use of gravitational energy, fighting back and wriggling free to flee out the door. Saw Off tried again to sneeze on him but he got by her. Epione switched out her power for the other ring.
Another voice filled her head, this one confused and alone. A young boy named Alec, whimpering and afraid. “Where am I?” he asked, but Epione did not answer. “Everything is too bright!”
Epione reached out with his power and used Tremble’s power to shake the floor in a last ditch effort to capture Paul. Better to kill him than let him run back to Doppelganger’s arms! Better to shake the walls down.
Tremble’s power contested with the conjured material of New Foundation’s headquarters and won out, a unique quirk of her power that ruptured molecular bonds regardless of how hard they were.
They were submerged in darkness and rubble. Epione switched to Carnality again at the last moment and wove domes of blood around the survivors, around Chase, Torn, Tremble, and Saw Off. She trapped herself with Saw Off and half of Lugs’ body.
She could not see in the darkness, but the colors.
Colors of pain. Of agony. Of grief.
She didn’t need to see the colors to know that. Saw Off shrieked next to her, shrieked and wept. Tremble’s shrill cries pierced through the rubble, and Chase called out in Spanish, asking if everyone was okay.
The only thing the colors showed her was that Paul had managed to slip away and continue his rampage.
And Carnality in her ear: “That was delightful, darling. D-e-l-i-g-h-t-f-u-l.”