5.18.4

A day in the life of Kassandra:

Kassandra rose at 5:30 in the morning everyday, and enjoyed the few moments of silence before father woke up. She took those moments as she found them — moments to enjoy coffee and a piece of fruit, moments of contemplation.

Moments for a flash of dread and fear.

As if someone deep inside her head screamed and raged at hidden chains, at the edges of her memory and her thought.

The silent kitchen waited for her and she brewed a bit of coffee, hoping it would soothe the tattered, painful thoughts. And it did, it did at that. Just the smell of it was enough. She wondered if father made her so coffee made her more compliant, if caffeine kick-started a mechanism just as the music did.

Then she found herself not caring very much about what father did at all, or rather, she found herself agreeing with it, somehow. What he was doing to her was necessary. Purging the inner thoughts and demons so that she could focus on the mission. They were saving the world.

Kassandra saw her shoes by the couch — fuzzy slippers that she’d stolen from the man that previously owned this house — and resisted the temptation to put them on. Father asked that she be barefoot at all times so that if they were surrounded, her tremor sense would alert her.

Paul shuffled into the kitchen from his room as if he had shackles around his ankles. He rubbed at his eyes and followed the smell of coffee. “Kass.”

“Paul,” Kassandra said.

Wait… why did she call him that? That wasn’t his name. He said they gave him that name when they kidnapped him, but that didn’t mean it was really his name.

But even now, she was thinking of him as Paul, wasn’t she?

And how she wanted to be named. Kassandra was stolen from some Syrian women, twice over by another clone that fought a war for Doppelganger and was labeled a cloak for it.

She sipped her coffee. Paul became Cog with each passing sip. “Drink,” she said, offering him a cup.

Cog did drink.

“They’re going to come, you know. Aethon and the Inheritors.”

“What will happen?” Cog asked.

“Father will take them by surprise. He’ll kill Aethon, insubordinate child that he is, and that will be that. Better, he’ll kill the Inheritors, he’ll kill Bedevil, he’ll kill them all. Replace them with proper versions. We can get back to the business.”

Cog nodded.

Kassandra went about making breakfast, waiting for father to wake up. In the meantime, she watched the news. More garbage about Aethon and Bedevil’s upcoming wedding, like they were some sort of celebrity couple. Gossips talking about Bedevil having a relationship with a clone of Megajoule.

Meh. Kassandra could dare less about her brother.

Brother.

Kassandra bolted upright, as if she heard a noise. No, definitely not. Just her imagination. Paul working on making breakfast in the kitchen. Nothing was wrong. Nothing at all. Coffee. Sip.

All better.

Speakers whirred out of their hiding spots all across the house, and jazz music filled the living room and the kitchen, silencing what her coffee could not. Doppelganger emerged from the basement with a large grin on his face. He buttoned up his shirt. “Hello, my lovely children! How’s the morning treating us so far?”

“G-good,” Cog said, timid and nervous.

Doppelganger clapped him on the back and scooched him aside. “Coffee, huh! Let’s make egg tacos. Does that sound good, kids?”

“It does,” Kassandra agreed. “Anything you need my help with?”

“No, you just take it easy for now. We’re expecting guests at some point, aren’t we? You need to be in tip-top shape if we’re going to greet them right.”

“When do you think they’ll be here?” she asked.

Doppelganger whistled and shrugged. “Any day now. Maybe today. Tomorrow. Not more than a week.”

“How would they get into the states?” Kassandra asked.

“Who knows! It’s your brother. It’s Gabe! He’ll find a way, he always has, hasn’t he? He found a way to beat the Fear, found a way to overcome Cynic and OPI and Carnality, didn’t he?”

“Seems that Oracle and Archimedes beat Cynic and OPI,” Kassandra said.

“Then at the very least, he’s good at lashing himself to the right boat, isn’t he?” Doppelganger asked.

Kassandra had to suppose so. “Why not just kill him, father? He’s insolent.”

“No, no, he’s brash and bold, but not insolent. He’ll see the light. He’ll see it.” Doppelganger began to heat up a pan. Butter crackled and bubbled on the metal and filled the house with a pleasant smell to go with the jazz music. “He wants to save the world, Kassie, and that makes him just aaaaallllrrrriiiiight in my books. Just alright, alright?”

“Alright,” Kassandra agreed, but still she felt uncertain. Gabe, Aethon, her brother. Whatever he was, he couldn’t be controlled by father now. And that made him dangerous. Neither could he be replaced at this point. Doppelganger couldn’t make a clone from a clone, and he was out of Megajoule’s DNA. If they killed Gabe… that would be the last anyone ever saw of him. Same with Cog.

“What about India?” Kassandra asked. “Shouldn’t we take Cog back?”

“No, we’ve… we’ve lost ground in India, my darling. The Warlord has already begun his invasion. Paul was fine there when the grid was up and the walls worked, and their borders were secure, but now that the hordes are beyond the gates… no… no…” Doppelganger trailed off. “Besides, Paul is useful here. He compromises Gabe, clouds his judgment! Oh, I do hope Bedevil comes, too. She also clouds his judgment. Clouds it something bad, Kassandra. The more clouded he is, the easier he will be to convince. If I can’t convince him with reason, I’ll do it with violence.”

“And if you can’t with violence?”

“Well, then he’s insolent, isn’t he?” Doppelganger asked. He started to hum and kept working on his eggs.

The day passed with Kassandra watching TV. It passed with Paul meandering around the house and doing odd tasks for Doppelganger, while their father worked in the basement and occasionally returned for more food or something to drink. The day passed in boredom for her as she wondered at what Doppelganger was really planning. Did he really think he could convince Gabe?

She hoped he could. Gabe would be a powerful ally. They could truly save the world then.

Kassandra decided to take a jog. She went out through the back door, past the pool and out the gate onto the trails that covered the mountain. She stared down at Los Angeles while she jogged, at the warm Pacific Ocean. She’d seen many oceans, many coasts, many cities. This one was certainly a city on the coast looking at an ocean.

A curious thing she found while jogging, using her tremor sense. Every step mapped out the geography for hundreds of feet, so that she could sense every crack in the ground, every tree’s root system, every different type of soil. Her power led her to a scar in the middle of the mountain, which turned out to be the first mark of a greater fight further down the slope. Dozens of jagged marks pocked the face of the mountain, reminded Kassandra of father’s face.

She followed the scars, wondering at the gods that left them, and realized it must have been from the Anarchy. The trees had the chance to grow over them and recover a bit, so the battle was not recent. It wasn’t necessarily the Anarchy, but she hoped it was. The thought excited her.

A battle with Aethon, with her brother, excited her, she realized.

A tremor in the ground, coming from the trail. Footsteps. She used her power to map out their path, a random hiker coming from somewhere further down the slope. She considered killing them, uncomfortable with someone she didn’t know being so close to father’s house. She could use her power to open up a mouth in the earth and swallow them alive, if she wished.

Killing them could kick up a storm. Father didn’t need the extra attention right now.

Kassandra let the hiker pass and then returned to the trail. She jogged back to father’s house a different way, arriving at the back porch just as the sun kissed the horizon and set the Pacific on fire with color. She took one last look at the sunset, and something in the edge of her mind begged her to stay and look a little longer. Stand by the pool and just watch the sun sink below the sea.

But she could hear the jazz music from inside and that quelled whatever voice was telling her to watch. She marched back inside.

Father and Cog were sitting on the couch, watching a movie. Father beckoned her to sit next to him and paused the movie. She sat.

“Anything interesting out there today?” Doppelganger asked, patting her thigh.

“No,” she said. “Just a random hiker. Well, there was also some markings in the side of the mountain. I think from a battle long ago. Maybe from the Anarchy.”

Doppelganger grinned at her, showing off his metal teeth. “And does that excite you?”

“It does,” she admitted. His smile unnerved her. But why should it? Why should father’s smile make her afraid. “What are you planning, father?”

Doppelganger’s grin widened. He looked so jolly and so pleased, and Kassandra thought he’d make a good rent-a-Santa if he gained more weight. Also, if there was not some undercurrent to his smile that creeped her out. “A grand test, my darling, to see if Gabe really is the man he claims to be. To see if he will join us or if this is all folly.”

“What kind of test?” she asked.

“Ah, well that would spoil the surprise, wouldn’t it? When he arrives, well, I want you to do your best to defend me, in case he doesn’t see eye to eye. But… if things look bad… I want you to use your power and dig, dig, dig, alright? Find a way out of this mess. And take Paul with you, too!”

Kassandra didn’t understand. She didn’t reply, because she knew better than to question father, but it didn’t stop the questions from sprouting in her mind. Was he expecting to lose? Was he expecting a fight?

Doppelganger snapped his fingers at Cog. “Come, Paul. Let’s make dinner! What are you two up for tonight? Burgers? Omelettes? Tacos? We could make pasta! The world is our oyster!”

“Oysters?” Cog asked, hopefully.

“No oysters. I hate oysters,” Doppelganger said. His entire demeanor changed in a flash. His jovial persona slipped, a mask dropping to show something darker beneath the surface. Something wrong. Something off.

The voice in Kassandra’s head screamed so loudly it almost became distinct, but the music started up again, and she could no longer hear anything over the swing band.

Doppelganger busied himself with cooking while Cog helped, a master and his sous chef working in tandem. Smells of olive oil and charring meat escaped the kitchen. Kassandra smiled at the thought of a delicious meal. She knew people hated father but she never would, she never would, oh she never would.

Her tremor sense picked up a pair of footsteps just outside the house, in front of the garage. Then she sensed two people at the door, and two more on their back porch, by the pool.

“Father,” she said. “We have guests.”

Doppelganger did not miss a beat. He continued to chop vegetables and called out to the house’s command system. “Outside lights on, please!”

From where Kassandra sat, she could see the back porch and the pool light up through a window.

Gabe stood at the back door, his eyes wide behind his goggles. The empath Epione was beside him.

“Gabe, so good of you to come!” Doppelganger called. “We’re just starting dinner, if you and your friends would like to join us.”

 

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