HELL 1.1

Bedevil was missing five of her teeth. Two of her bottom right molars, one of her bottom left, and one from her upper left. Mostly from the back of her mouth, but he’d taken one of her incisors from the top, too, marring her smile. The gaps in her mouth throbbed when she ran her tongue over them. Otherwise, they ached in a remote fashion, such that she was unbothered as long as she didn’t focus on it.

He took all of her hair. She tried not to dwell on it, but it made her feel ugly.

After sleeping for a bit the first night (though, she couldn’t really say if it was night), she measured out the dimensions of their prison as best she could and determined, by way of the deposit boxes lining the walls, that they were in a bank vault. There wouldn’t be money in the boxes, but valuables, or so she guessed. Bedevil found every box she tried to open locked.

Maisa was very helpful, helping Bedevil try out the boxes, but Meltdown slept a long while and Echo just watched them as they worked, not contributing.

Every so often, someone would come and change their bedpans, and bring them a pitiful meal of bread, scrambled eggs, and milk. Maisa and Bedevil put their heads together but they were tired and delirious, often so tired all they could do was sleep. Doppelgänger put sedatives in their food to keep them compliant, probably.

There was a single window above the vault door that always let in a harsh white light, and with Maisa’s help Bedevil was able to climb up and look through it. The window let her see a hallway that turned sharply to the right. There were two doors to the right and one to the left. Bedevil could just see the top of the Thin Man’s head in front of the vault door, where he sat with a book.

Time passed. Drugged and underfed, they couldn’t find flaws in their prison. They slept often. She felt her hair growing, which gave her a rough estimate of time. A week or so and she had gone from a clean scalp to a scratchy buzz cut.

The door to the vault hissed and swung outward — important, Bedevil thought, that’s very important if we try to escape — and in walked Doppelgänger flanked by two of the Thin Men and five more behind. The light blinded her for a moment, but as they entered and she adjusted to the light, she made them out.

Bedevil stiffened her body, her only resort against crying out in terror, as she came face to face with a clone of herself. Like looking in a mirror, only her expression was blank, her eyes were dead. Her hair long and beautiful. She fought against the instinct to grab a rock, a piece of metal, and bash her twin’s head in.

The other three were clones of Meltdown, Maisa, and Mr. Gold. The final person was an African man that Bedevil had never seen before.

Each of the clones, including the Thin Men, wore strange black bodysuits with a symbol on their chest that resembled a trio of white paper dolls holding hands.

Echo whimpered in the dark.

Doppelgänger extended his hand to Bedevil as if he were escorting her to a ball. “My dear, would you be so kind as to get onto the table?”

Bedevil complied, though she wanted to chew his head off. She lied down on the table, and her own clone strapped her by the wrists and ankles. One of the Thin Men swabbed her elbow with a cotton ball soaked with alcohol, while the other squeezed her arm with a tourniquet.

Doppelgänger pulled a needle from his tote, connected by way of a tube to a blood bag.

“I don’t get it,” Bedevil said. “Why not just take my toes, or my fingers?”

“You mean like I’ve done to myself? Harsh measures, when I was more unpracticed. The hair, the teeth, those are far more useful to me.” Doppelgänger tapped her elbow, gripped her forearm. He gave her a sorry look. “You can look away if you want.”

Needles did not scare her. She looked him in the eyes while he punctured her vein, watching in silence as the tube filled with blood.

“You’re strong. The others have broken down and wailed by now, but you don’t.” Doppelgänger seemed to want to fill the silence rather than make meaningful conversation, in that he didn’t immediately pursue the topic again when she refused to answer. “Are you waiting for him?”

Bedevil tried not to let that get her, but it elicited a tiny gasp that did not go unnoticed.

Doppelgänger smirked at her. “In time, I’ll return you to him.”

“I want to believe that,” she said.

“I know you do.”

“How much blood are you taking?” she asked.

“Enough,” he said. “We’ll feed you after. You need to stay strong. Grow your hair back for me. I work best with hair and teeth, and I don’t want to ruin your smile for when I give you back to Gabe.”

“He’ll come looking for me when he finds out I’m missing,” she said.

“He doesn’t know you’re missing.” Doppelgänger smirked again, an ungracious victor.

Bedevil realized what that meant. There was already a clone of her at New Foundation. One that was posing as Gabe’s fiancee. One that was living in their apartment, pretending to be in love with him, pretending to love their dogs, their cats, and their mission.

One that was sharing his bed.

One that was having sex with him.

Her stomach flipped. Her head felt like it would pop off her neck. “Why?”

“Why what, dear?” Doppelgänger asked, moving on from that news like it meant nothing.

“Why are you doing this?” Her heart trembled and her body shook with agony. Her face twisted out of her control, tears spilled down her cheeks. Everything inside her threatened to escape, her rage, her anguish.

“Ah.” Doppelgänger sat back from her, allowing her space to breathe. “When I was a young man, I was addicted to porn and masturbation.”

Of all the things in the world she expected him to say, that was not it.

Doppelgänger patted her arm, and strangely, she felt no lechery in his touch. “I know that makes me sound like some kind of pervert, or like a freak, but it’s the truth. When I was thirteen I discovered the internet and a very short amount of time later I was watching porn from when I got home from school to late into the night. My parents noticed something was wrong with me. I went through therapy. I came out the other side and of course, by then I had my power.”

Doppelgänger gave her a little smile that expected an accusation, but Bedevil was struck speechless by his admission and had no accusation for him.

“You must be thinking — he satisfied himself with his clones. Keep in mind that I didn’t learn how to flash clone people until after I’d left OPI and by then I’d committed to my path.”

“Your path?”

“To saving the world.”

“You can’t save the world.”

“But you think Gabe can? You said it yourself: the minute he finds out you are missing — which he will not — he would drop everything and come running for you. He would leave New Foundation behind. He would abandon his mission for those he loves, because they are more important than the mission. Tell me I am wrong.”

Bedevil could not.

“He loves. That is his weakness. I removed that from myself.”

“How?” Bedevil asked.

“My power is over genetics. Once I realized I could sway it, I cut out the one part of my life that was holding me back. With my power, I removed my penis and my sex drive. I have no need for them and they will not help the world. Sex only creates attachment and lack of it creates loneliness, Bedevil. Ripe breeding ground for the Fear. Gabe can’t defeat that. He can’t defeat our base natures, what is in our hearts. He can pummel ink all he wants but so long as humans exist, our own natures betray us. I can make us better. Perfect.”

Bedevil tried to come up with a counter, but on the face of it, she wondered if he wasn’t on to something. She’d spent most of her last six years drinking until she puked, and when she didn’t puke anymore, drinking until she blacked out. If someone could have shifted her genetics to make her not alcoholic, or replaced her with a version of her that never got on the sauce, maybe Gabe wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Maybe she’d have kept the team together after Julian’s death. Maybe all the mistakes she made wouldn’t have happened.

But what of Paul, who was nothing but a big ball of fear thanks to Doppelgänger’s influence? She thought of how Doppelgänger’s touch affected Gabe. Would a world full of Doppelgänger’s puppets really stand a chance against the Fear?

It sounded reasonable on its face but positive emotion was how they’d beaten the Fear, not lack of emotion.

Not that he wasn’t insane, based off his callous disregard for human life, but at least he attempted to justify himself. Maybe Bedevil could influence him. “Gabe’s already beaten the Fear.”

“He’s beaten one instance of it. There are two more in this world that we know of. Possibly more. And according to what we know, there are many more on the way. Tell me, do you think Gabe can defeat all of them himself? He didn’t even beat his alone. I’m going to save us, because I will surrender what is necessary to win. That is why I am doing this. There must be someone.”

With a flourish of his hand, he pointed at Echo, who squeaked on her cot as he singled her out. “Take her. We have use of her.”

“What?” Bedevil could do nothing but gawk and wrestle against her restraints while the four Inheritors clones obeyed his command. Maisa jumped in front of them and Echo, but the clone of Mr. Gold slapped her out of the way, while the other three clones seized Echo.

Echo kicked and tried to bite the clones, but they barely reacted to her outburst. They wore no expressions, they did not seem to notice pain. These clones were so different from Paul. More complacent. Doppelgänger’s control over his power had grown.

“Bedevil! Help! PLEASE!” Echo’s screams devolved into guttural cries as they marched her out of the vault.

The Thin Men pulled the needle from Bedevil’s vein, placed a bandage on the puncture, and offered her a small cookie while undoing her straps. Bedevil wanted to grab the needle and jam it into Doppelgänger’s eye, but that wouldn’t save Echo.

She realized that was the last time she’d see Echo alive. Whatever use he had for her, it was fatal. Otherwise he’d have kept her here, with the living.

Doppelgänger patted her arm again. “When this is all over, you’ll thank me. In the meantime, keep growing your hair unless you want me to take even more teeth than I have. I promise you, you’ll see Gabe again.”

He stood, nodded to one of the Thin Men. “Make sure they get some rest.” With that, he and the other clones departed.

The Thin Man revealed a pistol hidden in his waistband. He pointed the gun at Meltdown and Maisa while he shoved Bedevil back to the cots..

“You’re a fucking ugly monster!” Maisa rose with her voice, standing to face the Thin Man.

The Thin Man aimed the gun at Maisa and motioned for her to sit down.

Maisa verbally assaulted him with renewed fervor. “You know you’re fucking expendable! If you stop working, if you stop being useful, he’ll toss you out just like he did that girl!”

The Thin Man struck her for her defiance, the slap sounding like a gunshot in the vault. Bedevil stood up but the gun’s presence kept her from rushing in.

“Weak,” Maisa spat.

“What did you say?” he asked, the first words Bedevil heard him speak at all. His sonorous, musical voice caught her off guard, so imposing for someone so thin.

“I said it was weak!” Maisa shrieked. She lashed out with her nails and caught him on the cheek, leaving a bloody wound.

“Maisa!” Bedevil jumped to intervene, knowing that he’d shoot her down for that. But the Thin Man was quick, giving Bedevil the backside of his fist. He sent her tumbling, and all she could think was that she’d failed both Echo and Maisa in the span of five minutes.

The Thin Man yanked Maisa by the collar of her gown and became a savage, arm whirling in a vicious circle, again and again, beating Maisa with the gun so badly Bedevil thought he would smash her nose in and crush her skull. He snarled as he let her go, his chest heaving, and just for a moment, a single second, Bedevil felt her power.

The Thin Man straightened up and the wall slammed down between her and her telekinesis, but she knew that somehow they’d triggered a weakness in his ability. Blood? Anger? Something.

The Thin Man dropped Maisa like a sack and then exited the room, closing the vault door behind him without even a backward glance. A moment later, clones brought them food and left.

Bedevil stared at her food, clarity striking. They were going to die here.

She couldn’t allow that to happen. She refused to give up. “Don’t eat the food,” she said to Maisa and Meltdown.

Despondence claimed Meltdown, kept her in her cot with her back turned toward Bedevil and Maisa. “I’m not hungry, anyway.”

“Why not?” Maisa asked.

“We’re being drugged.”

Maisa jolted upright at that, hurling the tray of food from her. They were lucky there was no glass, otherwise the sound of breaking would have summoned the Thin Man or Doppelganger.

Meltdown rolled over in her cot to face Maisa and Bedevil. “There’s no way out of this.”

“Don’t say that,” Bedevil said. “There’s always a way out.”

“He’s thought of everything. He keeps us drugged. Whatever we try to do, he’ll just stop us. We’re nothing better than slaves now.” Meltdown shrugged, which pissed Bedevil off. “He’s probably listening to us right now. He’ll send someone to make sure we eat our food.”

“I’ve looked for microphones.” Bedevil wrestled her anger at Meltdown, calming herself. She had to remember that Meltdown likely felt more lost than she did. Her child in another woman’s arms, not just her lover. That and the drugs were potent. Even now that she’d decided not to eat her food, she still felt sluggish.

“Could be tiny. They could be listening from somewhere, who knows? The microphones could be inside a safe-box.” Meltdown shifted onto her back and reached her hand up toward the ceiling. “At this point I just want him to end it. I don’t want to grow hair for him. I’d rather he just kill me and use the rest of me.”

Bedevil did not need Meltdown giving up. She needed a fire under all of their asses. “Listen. We already agreed we weren’t giving up. We’re down one which means we need all hands on deck. Otherwise, you’re killing us just as much as you’re killing yourself.”

“We’re already dead.” Meltdown rolled back over.

“You’re gonna let Jamie get raised by another woman?” Bedevil asked.

Meltdown grunted, not taking the bait.

“There aren’t any microphones, anyway. No cameras, either.” Bedevil didn’t really know why she was still talking, since it seemed like she lost the argument. “Just so you know.”

“Not even a vent they could spy through,” Maisa said. “We’ve looked all over. There’s nothing.”

But Bedevil’s mind was already racing. There were no vents. Yet all this time they hadn’t run out of oxygen, which meant air had to be coming from somewhere. The only thing she could think of was the safe-boxes lining the wall.  “Maisa. Help me look for an air current.”

“An air… current?”

“There has to be some ventilation, otherwise we’d have already run out of air.”

Maisa gasped and bounced up off the cot. She scurried across the room, searching the safe-boxes on one side while Bedevil searched the other side. Bedevil climbed over cots, running her fingers in front of each safe-box, searching for a whisper, a breath, anything. If they found it, they found salvation.

Maisa squealed from one corner of the room. “A breeze!”

Bedevil joined Maisa at the safe-box she pointed out. As Maisa said, a current of air kissed Bedevil’s cheeks. The safe-boxes were tiny, too small to crawl through, but maybe they had hollowed out a few to make a ventilation shaft. Something they could crawl through. At least Maisa.

“How are we going to open it?” Maisa asked.

“We need something to pry it. We’re strong enough.” One thing they’d learned about the Affect and metallic-souled people: they often had higher levels of strength than ordinary humans. Even people with mental powers had roughly three times the strength as a normal human. That was true whether or not they had access to their power. Which meant between Bedevil, Maisa, and Meltdown, they had enough strength to pull open a safe-box.

But Meltdown still waited in her cot for their oncoming death, rather than try and avoid it. Bedevil went to her and knelt down to meet her face to face. “Listen. I want to get out of here. I don’t care if you’re throwing a pity party, because I’m going to crash it. You’ve got a man and a baby to get back to. I’ve got a fiancé. Maisa has her friends.” Bedevil put her hand on Meltdown’s cheek, neither trying to slap her or caress her, but to remind her of the strength Bedevil had. “You’re an Inheritor. Get up.”

Meltdown glared at Bedevil, frowning and refusing to move. Tears welled in her eyes, spilling onto her nose and down to the cot. She placed her hand on top of Bedevil’s, shaking her head and whining, clearly trying to guilt Bedevil into leaving her alone.

That wasn’t going to happen. “Get up, Meltdown. I need you. Maisa needs you. No one’s listening. If they were, they would have already come to make us eat the food.”

Meltdown exhaled a shaky breath, gripping Bedevil’s hand. She shifted — and sat up. “Okay.”

“Okay. I need you to make a distraction,” Bedevil said. “I need you to do some wailing.”

“Okay,” Meltdown agreed, rising with Bedevil.

“We’re going to pry one of these cots apart.” Bedevil pointed at a vacant one. The frames of the cot were ramshackle metal skeletons, screwed at each joint. They could rip it apart but not without making a lot of noise. “Then, we’re going to open a safe-box and hopefully find out where our air is coming from. If there’s a way to crawl out, we’ll do it.”

Meltdown wiped her eyes, nodding along with Bedevil’s plan. “Okay. Argue with me so it’s not like I’m just screaming. That sounds too much like a distraction.”

“Can do. Topic?” Bedevil asked, snapping her fingers at Maisa to go ahead and start working on the cot’s frame.

“You already raised an excellent one,” Meltdown said. “My baby.”

Bedevil didn’t wait. She launched into their fake argument. “Meltdown, think of Jamie!”

“I am thinking of Jamie!” Meltdown raised her voice, making a show of anger. “If I make them angry they’re going to hurt my baby and I can’t do anything to stop it! You want to rock the boat when he said he’ll give us back to New Foundation once they’re all settled!”

Bedevil yelled back at Meltdown: “I don’t care what he said!” Even while she yelled, she joined Maisa at the cot.

Meltdown continued, pacing around the room and slamming cots around. “You can’t just think of us for one second, all you can think about is getting back to Gabe! You’re a selfish cunt!”

Bedevil tried not to think too hard about what Meltdown was screaming and just let her have her tirade. She gripped one of the legs and put her heel into the frame for leverage, with Maisa’s help.

They wrenched, the frame digging painfully into Bedevil’s bare heel, and the metal shrieked.

But not as loud as Meltdown shrieked: “You don’t know what you’re fucking doing!”

The leg popped free. They had a makeshift crowbar. Bedevil and Maisa hurried over to the safe-box they felt the air current through and jammed one end of the leg in. While Meltdown barked and yelled about how she’d failed as a mother and she just wanted Jamie to be safe, that was really all it was, Bedevil and Maisa pried the safe-box open.

A sharp pounding on the other side of the vault door told them to shut up. The three girls waited in tense silence, knowing that if the door opened they were lost. The Thin Man would shoot them down for trying to escape, no questions.

The vault door did not open.

Bedevil peered into the open safe-box. She cursed; they hadn’t excavated out a larger shaft, but only enough to stick her arm into.

She could see daylight, the outside world. A tiny square of the outside world, but nonetheless, it lifted her spirits. Until she saw what she was staring at.

A ruined square, buildings collapsed in as if by an earthquake, concrete scorched black and bearing the scars of a superhuman war. A sign with Mandarin letters and a smiling Chinese woman applying blush to her cheeks.

“Holy God,” Bedevil whispered, gaping at the apocalypse. “We’re in the Hellpact.”

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