Bedevil crept out of oblivion, through the sludge of a sedative, and into a searing pain in her jaw. Cold metal pressed against her cheek, gripped at one of her teeth. A powerful light shone through her eyelids, and she knew that opening them would blind her. Someone’s fingers wedged her lips apart and wrenched the tool up.
Blazing fire and warm blood filled her mouth. She screamed, unable to stop herself. She opened her eyes on reflex. A brilliant lamp shoved a spear of light into her eyes. She wanted to rub her eyes, to grab her mouth, but her wrists were bound.
She tried her telekinesis.
Bedevil panicked, writhing in her binds. She rubbed her back against cold metal, felt the shift of fabric on her chest. A medical gown? She wanted to rip it off of her, tried with her telekinesis. Nothing, nothing, nothing. She had no telekinesis.
Rough hands with missing fingers grabbed her arm, stroked her cheeks. “Shhhh. It’ll be alright. The sedative wore off a little soon.”
The light turned off and Bedevil blinked against the after image, trying to get her bearings. She was in danger, true, but not immediate. She calmed her breathing, steadied herself. She spat the blood from her mouth and searched for other missing teeth with her tongue.
Her probing shocked her jaw with pain as she found each hole — she counted three, unable to search for more missing teeth after that. The throbbing across her gums told her there were more.
A whimper echoed on stone. Bedevil turned her head toward the source of the sound.
Her vision returned gradually, gave her vague shapes that morphed into distinct figures. Doppelganger sat next to her on a rolling chair, his hands drenched in blood and a tray of tools next to him. Behind him was a tall, thin man with black hair down to his back. The thin man stared at her with such little expression she wondered if he was dead, until a flare of his nostrils gave him away.
Beyond the thin man was a long bunk-room, full of cots. Shadowed forms huddled on the cots, some moving, some still. The whimper came from there, she knew that for certain.
“Do you need some water?” Doppelganger asked.
Bedevil didn’t want to reply to him, so she stared at him, hoping that her eyes would drill a hole through his skull and hit the thin man behind him. Alas, no eye beam powers developed for her in this moment of need.
“You need some water.” Doppelganger snapped his fingers at the thin man. The thin man moved like a scarecrow trying to come down off his pole. He exited through a metal door, which clanked loudly as it closed. A gear churned and the door hissed.
Bedevil strained to see into the darkness at the huddled forms, but Doppelganger scooted in front of them.
“I’m sure you’re surprised, but I hope in time you will see how necessary this is.” Doppelganger grinned, showing off his golden teeth. He held up his hands and wiggled the fingers he still had. “Everything you’re going through now, I’ve been through before. I would not do anything to you I wouldn’t do to myself.”
Bedevil checked her hands to make sure her fingers were still there. Of course the right hand was missing the fingers Hasuji sliced off back in Houston, but she still had her left hand fingers. And no ring. “Where is my engagement ring?”
Doppelganger clicked his tongue. “Apologies. It was necessary.”
“Necessary,” Bedevil repeated, trying to keep control of her temper. “What does that mean?”
“I’m trying to defeat the Fear. To defeat the world. Every action I take is for that purpose, for the greater good.” Doppelganger leaned into the chair, away from Bedevil, and glanced back at the cots. “The world is broken. If you’d listened to me, this all could have been avoided. Now India will suffer because of Gabe.”
Bedevil did not let him get a rise out of her. She played it cool. She listened. She had no other option, and she knew flying off the handle without her power was far more likely to get her killed than save her.
“He’s not right, you know. Not right for the world. Tell me, Ruby — can I call you that?”
Bedevil nodded, but she thought: Go fuck yourself.
“I get it, you’re afraid. I understand. But if both of us play our cards right, maybe we can get you back home. Maybe if Gabe sees the error of his ways, you’ll get him back.”
“Error?” she asked.
“What is his policy on firearms? On property taxes, on the the relation of churches and states? How does he police superhuman crime? Does he force everyone to register?” Doppelganger asked.
Bedevil wasn’t quite sure how to answer to that. “That’s not… what New Foundation does.”
“Yes, I’m aware. New Foundation is a humanitarian aid organization sponsored by the Argentinian government, authorized to combat superhuman rogues, vigilantes, and enemies of Argentina.”
“And the UWC,” Bedevil added.
“The UWC is a scrap of burnt paper that hasn’t disintegrated into ash yet. Gabe burnt through them in his pursuit of a better world, but does he have any idea of what that better world looks like? What the credit policies are? What the government is supposed to do?” Doppelganger shakes his head. “And yet he charges around, acting like the savior of the world. Much like his progenitor. Megajoule had the same delusions, you know. Beat the world into submission. Defeat the killers, depose the tyrants.”
“The world’s different,” Bedevil retorted.
Doppelganger’s eyebrows rose in interest.
“We don’t play politics the same way.”
“You’ve got to answer my questions, though,” Doppelganger said. “And Gabe can’t.”
“No, but he knows who can and he puts them in the right places. He knows he’s not the right person for that. He knows he’s only good at fighting and putting on a brave face, and inspiring people.” Bedevil glanced down at the straps on her arms. She didn’t feel like she was in the right place. She hadn’t anticipated Doppelganger would take her and leave New Foundation even more vulnerable. “You can’t do that. Your way… you’re just building a back door for the Fear.”
“No, I’m repairing the broken machinery.” Doppelganger glowered and shook his head.
“Is that what I am?”
He didn’t answer Bedevil right away, so her attention turned elsewhere. To her own body.
To her head. To the lack of hair on her neck and her shoulders. Her eyes widened. “Did you… shave my head?”
Doppelganger nodded. “It’s the easiest batch of DNA to harvest, though it’s not as bountiful as teeth or fingers. Still, you can regrow hair, which is why I’m loathe to kill you right away. I’m loathe to kill you at all for his sake, so that when he sees the error of his ways I can reward him.”
Jesus, he was planning on making an army of Bedevils. “If he does, I can go back to him?”
“You’d need to see, as well.”
Bedevil knew he wouldn’t buy it if she groveled now. She chewed her lip and tried to look conflicted. It wasn’t difficult. She’d spent six years pretending, putting on a face.
The door opened and the thin man returned with a gallon jug of water. He left this by the door and nodded to Doppelganger. Bedevil tilted her head to see out into the hallway, hoping to get some bearings, but she couldn’t get the angle right.
Doppelganger stood up. “You’re their leader, right? Gabe is the face, yes, but you’re the one who tells the Inheritors what to do, am I right?”
Bedevil clenched her jaw.
“You don’t have your power, but I am sure you’re trained in hand to hand given your long career in heroics. Rest assured, if you try to harm me, my companion will do far worse to you and your friends.”
“My friends?” Bedevil asked. A thrill of hope and horror all in one. She wasn’t alone, but at the same time she was not alone.
Doppelganger loosened her straps. “You’ll receive meals and water as you need them. If you need to use the bathroom, please knock on the door and call for my assistant. He will be nearby.”
The Thin Man bowed so deep it looked like a mock gesture, but he did not smile and Doppelganger did not laugh. If Bedevil was watching it on TV she would have laughed, but not here in this prison, wherever they were.
The two men left the room.
Bedevil rubbed her wrists, though they didn’t pain her. She hadn’t been on the table very long.
Her hair, though. She ran her fingers along her head, felt bumps and scabs and a badly done buzz cut.
That hurt, and it hurt worse than she thought it would. It was not vanity or pride in her looks that upset her, but Gabe loved her hair so and if she made it back to him she’d be sheared to her scalp.
Not if. She couldn’t think like that. When.
When she made it back.
Bedevil rose to her feet, trying to shake her limbs free of the sedative’s grasp. Her legs gave out. She sprawled on the cold stone.
Someone helped her to her knees. Bedevil feared for what face she would see when she looked up, so she delayed as long as possible from meeting their eyes. Which friend, which loved one had he taken. Hopefully no one she knew.
Bedevil wanted to wail. Half the girl’s hair was gone, shaved in random paths, and her eyes were red from crying. She had a split upper lip and stained blood under her nose. Someone had punched her in the face, hard. She, too, only had a patient’s gown.
“Are you okay?” Bedevil asked.
“Is there anyone else we know here?”
Maisa nodded again. She tugged Bedevil up and together they hobbled to the cots, to the two shadows clinging to each other.
Meltdown and Echo.
“Oh my god.” Meltdown stood up, but Echo did not. They held hands so tightly.
Bedevil wished she could say something inspiring. Something about them making it home and getting out of here. Gabe would.
But he was Gabe, and she was Bedevil. She started building her plan to leave, instead. “Do you have your powers?”
“None of us do,” Meltdown said.
Bedevil cursed, but it was workable information. “Do you know why?”
“I think it’s the tall one,” Maisa said. “He’s always with Doppelganger.”
“Always?” Bedevil asked. “How long have you been here?”
“Five days. Meltdown showed up a day after me. Echo was already here.”
Bedevil wanted to scream. These three had been taken under her nose, while she was so worried about Paul and Gabe’s crusade to capture Doppelganger. She’d never stopped to consider whether or not they were getting guided by the nose.
Nothing to be done now. “The Thin Man might be the reason, but we don’t know for sure.” She’d seen one or two nulls before. Epione was one, technically, but the others she’d met didn’t borrow powers. “It might also be technology.”
“We’re not going to get out of here.” Echo’s voice felt like a pin poking a hole in her hope. “Why are you bothering? We’re going to die, no matter what he says.”
Bedevil shook her head. “I think he’s sincere. He doesn’t want to kill us.”
“No, he doesn’t care to kill us,” Echo said. “That’s entirely different and you know it.”
Bedevil grimaced in the dark, hoping that the others couldn’t see it. She felt responsible for them being here, for not realizing how much of a threat Doppelganger was.
Christ, last thing she knew she’d opened the door for the Inheritors to go to California. They could be walking into a trap Doppelganger set.
Bedevil sat next to Echo, trying to adjust her medical gown. That ended up not being worth the effort. They were all in gowns, all exposed. Modicum and decorum were out the door. Only survival mattered. “Echo, we can sit here and mope. We can. Because you’re probably right. He’s not killing us right this second because he doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter why he isn’t killing us, though. He isn’t, and that’s enough wiggle room for us, isn’t it?”
Echo stared Bedevil down, just barely visible in the dark. She frowned, but relented.
“We’re going to get home. I promise.” Bedevil reached out for Maisa and Meltdown, grabbed them by the hand and brought them into a huddle. She wrapped the three of them in a big hug.
Maisa sniffled, Meltdown cried openly, but their grip was strong, their faces set.
Doppelganger had given them an inch, and they’d take every bloody mile they could.