All posts by Megajoule

5.16.3

The man who claims to be my father is far more unremarkable than I would have expected. He stands at roughly five foot five, he keeps a shaggy beard, and wears the most obnoxious “I am a tourist,” outfit I’ve ever seen – cargo pants, Hawaiian t-shirt, sandals. He slouches and stuffs his hands into his pockets but pulls them out to scratch at his beard.

The details are what make him more interesting. His teeth seem to be entirely false, made of metal, and he’s missing a few fingers. His right middle finger, his left index, and both of his pinkies. The other fingers he adorns with rings like he’s fiercely jealous of them. There are small scars pocking his face and carving up the little beard he’s grown.

His smile reminds me of Epione’s, calculated to conceal something else. With him I am uncertain, where with Epione I understand why she does it.

“Gabe, it is so good to see you after all this time,” Doppelgänger smiles broadly, showing off his golden teeth. He doesn’t approach me just yet, but holds his hand out like I’m a spooked deer. Which, to be fair, I absolutely feel like a spooked deer.

“You are supposed to be dead.” I understand there’s some irony in saying that, considering Oracle was also presumed dead, but there’s an actual account and recording of Nero killing this man. A video of his death, pulled from Cynic’s heart-drive. “I saw you die.”

Doppelgänger closes his smile, makes it thin lipped to express some kind of disappointment. His emotions seem mechanical to me. Unnatural. Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’m staring at a specter. “Yes, well, these things happen. I survived.”

“How did you survive?” Archimedes asks, clearly not impressed with Doppelgänger’s explanation.

Doppelgänger does not seem impressed with Archimedes, either, and looks like he finds Archimedes to be an annoyance. An obstacle to speaking with me. “Through the help of my power. I discovered a great many things about it between my time at the lab and when Nero shoved his fist through my chest.”

“You made me,” I say, still feeling like my heart is about to explode. “Me and my brothers.”

“I fathered you,” Doppelgänger corrects. “You see, my power manipulates biology, specifically through genetics. Much like Templar, in fact, but less broad. However, I don’t believe Templar can grow an entire human, can she?”

Templar gives Doppelgänger a curious look. She doesn’t answer him but instead shrugs.

“Why are you here?” I ask. He helped them make the clones, helped them provide sheep for the slaughter. I’m not sure how I feel about him but I know that one fact makes me furious. Yet, didn’t Doc do the same thing? “Why did Nero try to kill you?”

I must look very angry, because Doppelgänger tries to placate me with a soft expression, with hands held up in surrender. “Because I refused to play their game anymore. They need to clean up loose ends and I was a loose end. They tossed me away.”

“And what have you been doing since then?” Oracle asks. How I wish she had her power to read memory, still, how I wish we could have this laid bare before us. We have Cynic’s power in Epione’s ring, but Epione doesn’t have it right this second and Archimedes forced us to give it to him. He’s the only one who will sign off on using it.

Looking at Archimedes’ expression, something tells me he might.

“I’ll be honest. Mostly healing. Mostly hiding. Powerful people thought I was dead and it was in my best interest to stay that way.” Doppelgänger turns his cheery smile upon Oracle. I see the comparison, honestly. They did the same thing. Though Oracle spent her exile working on Cynic’s defeat and the erosion of OPI.

“What brought you out of hiding?” Linear asks.

“Gabe did. Aethon.” Doppelgänger grins at me. “I was just absolutely floored by what you’ve accomplished. You knocked down OPI, you defeated Cynic, you defeated an entity they didn’t even want the world to know about because they didn’t know how to beat it! Now you’re cleaning up shop with the cloaks and making other nations tremble.”

I’m not in the mood for flattery. “Why did you help them make the clones?”

Doppelgänger’s smile fades out. He grows more serious. “I was young. I wanted to know my power. I didn’t understand back then what I was capable of, that I was capable of making humans like I am.”

“So why come to us?” Bedevil asks. She’s positioned slightly in front of me, perhaps because she thinks she’s protecting me from danger. One of the reasons I love her, she’s basically already a fierce mama bear.

“Again, I’m here because of Gabe. He’s doing remarkable work and I want to help,” Doppelgänger says. “I’ve been very worried about the way the world is going. I was so afraid that I’d have to stay in hiding forever, but when he toppled OPI—”

“Honestly, I had very little to do with that,” I say. “Oracle had the evidence against Cynic. Archimedes and Linear did far more than I did. I just fought a few people.”

“Still, it emboldened me. You’re emboldening the world, Gabe. I want to help. I want to join New Foundation.” Doppelgänger seems sincere enough in this, but there’s something in my gut that doesn’t like his fervor. Some hidden facet that is driving him more than a simple need to join our group. Yet I can’t put my finger on it and it might just be that he’s quite literally a specter of OPI’s corrupt past.

And really, since they tried to kill him and exploited his power, isn’t he as much a victim as I was? He was so scared for his life that he stayed in hiding until now.

However, I’m not the one who gives consent in the end. In the end it is Archimedes, who says, “Okay, then we’ll sit you down with our recruitment officer, DeClaire. He’ll go through what you need to know.”

“Of course, of course,” Doppelgänger replies. He’s enthused by this, flashing his metallic teeth at all of us and smoothing his shirt, and he seems for a moment a harmless old man that just wants to be involved in the world again. He wants to help.

We take our leave, but before we do, Doppelgänger pulls me aside to speak. I grab Bedevil’s arm and make her privy to the conversation; I don’t feel comfortable with a secret between me and this man.

“Listen, Gabe, I would love to chat with you some more. I’d love to hear about you and what you’ve been doing, and I’d love to tell you about what I’ve been doing, too!” Doppelgänger peels his lips back over his teeth into a smile, discomforting me. He offers me a small handwritten note. “Here’s the address of where I’m staying in the city. Come by and see me.” He pauses, and gingerly he pats the back of my hand while I take the card. “I’m glad to see you… and I look forward to working with you, hopefully.”

Bedevil and I head back to the apartment. I’m too frazzled to actually think about training right now. Instead, I just sit on the couch and let Pawpaw and Isabelle cuddle up to me while Bedevil makes tea. She brings me a cup and we sit in quiet for a minute.

It’s not unusual for us to bask in silence. At first we both would try to come up with some way to fill space with words, to stuff them in and somehow make every passing minute meaningful. Bedevil had a bad habit of this at first. Just being engaged did not remove that awkwardness from between us, that need for every moment to feel like a firecracker.

Now, there’s a comfort in quiet between us. An anticipation of things unsaid that creates a pleasant tension to when we do talk. After all, a violinist is not constantly bowing the strings, a pianist does not smash the keys down one after another with absolutely no space. Music is made with absence as much as it is made with existence.

Though I do feel the need to talk about Doppelgänger. “I’m not alone in thinking he’s creepy, right?”

Bedevil is relieved to hear me say that. She almost chokes on her tea mid sip and says, “Oh, God, I was worried you’d be taken in by him. He’s super creepy, babe. Something’s definitely not right there.”

“Do you think it’s just that he almost died? Spent the last six years in hiding?” I’m obviously privy to when someone’s trying to ply me, ever since the Fear masqueraded as Megajoule. However, I can’t assume this guy has malevolent motivations until I see him actually do something bad. People have been ruined over simply being creepy without any ill will.

“It’s possible…” Bedevil contemplates the question over her tea. “Obviously give him the benefit of the doubt. He reached out to us. He says he wants to help. Why don’t you ask Flashfire how his interview goes?”

Flashfire is an excellent judge of character. I nod. I smile and take Bedevil’s hand. She sets aside her tea and cuddles up to me, and lays her head on my shoulder.

“I love you,” I whisper to her.

“I love you, too.” She pecks me on the cheek. After the peck is a kiss, and hands on each other, and clothes slipping off, and a crescendo that leaves us breathless on the couch, her chest pressed against mine as we lay there in the afterglow.

I run my hands through her long, golden hair, and feel at peace. “I can’t wait to marry you.”

Bedevil grins and runs her fingers up my chest. She kisses me and stands up, and I watch her walk away to our room. I purse my lips at her, feeling a bit slighted.

“You didn’t say it back!” I call.

Bedevil pokes her head out of our room. She still doesn’t say anything but merely beckons me to join her with a sly smile. “If you want a response out of me, you’re going to have to work for it.”

What else to do?

Later that evening, I decide to do a bit of work on the wedding, which I find preferable to dwelling on the man who claims to be my father. Bedevil told me that I’d handle caterers and the venue. The venue, I’ve decided, will be the beach. That was easy enough. However, I need to rent a company that can decorate a beach for a wedding.

To that end, I recruited my incredibly affluent and polite minded friend, Epione.

I find her and Saw Off hanging out in one of the lounges on our floor, playing a party video game with Remise and Echo, and they appear to be on the losing side.

“Gabe Babe!” Saw Off shouts at me. She drops the controller and trots up to me, abandoning Epione. “Haven’t seen you in a hot minute.”

“Well, you know, life ending threats, super-villains, everything’s on fire,” I jest. “Man’s gotta eat.”

“Mmm, something needs to fuel those muscles. I bet Ruby’s a pretty happy girl.” Saw Off grins at me. Strange that she’s started getting flirtatious again. I’d assumed she was trying to woo Mr. Gold still, but maybe that didn’t pan out?

“Okay, well, since you mention it, I’m here about my wedding. With the pretty happy girl.” Saw Off makes a gagging face, an air-jerk, and flips me a bird as she returns to her chair. I smile at Epione and ignore the child. “What have we got so far?”

Epione drops her controller, too, and jumps up from the seat, and claps her hands.

“Hey,” Remise complains. “We’re still playing a game here.”

“Oh, let it go, love,” Echo says, patting her cheek.

“Right,” Epione says. “From a pool of twenty seven decorators I’ve selected five for you to choose from. I recommend…” The words fall away as I struggle to keep up with the details of each of these companies.

I just pick the first one she recommends.  But once I’ve done that, I drop my voice to a low murmur. I know Remise will hear me, but she’s the only one I am comfortable with knowing what I’m about to ask. “Listen, the reason I really swung by is that I want you to come with me to Doppelgänger’s house. He invited me to talk with him, and I want you to bring Cynic’s ring. Can you do that for me?”

“We’ll have to ask Archimedes.” Epione meets my gaze. She really is different these days. She’d never look you right in the eyes back when I first knew her. “I’ll go with you.”

5.16.2

Aethon would often rescue orphaned or homeless children and return them to care or take them to a special organization in Argentina which re-homed these desperate youth. He always seemed disappointed when that happened, though.

– “Did You See That Morning Star” by Lucille Price

 

The boy’s name is Bryant. I try to find authorities to rehome him in Peru but from what I am told, that seems unlikely. I take him aboard the White Shark instead. He’s a wreck, emotionally. He startles at the slightest sound, he snaps his head at potential signs of danger. His eyes are red, his cheeks are wet, but if I catch him crying he quickly clamps up.

Epione says that his Affect is below welterweight, a dim orange, which she says signifies some kind of creating power. She also says he’s young and that his Affect might change as he grows up, like Maisa’s did. Probably will change now that he lost his parents.

At this point, I’ve got enough experience to know no kid losing their parents will react the same way, but that generally, they’ve got no idea what to say. No words I speak will help, so instead I just sit next to him and assure him that I’m there. That seems to help a lot of people.

I guess when you’ve become somewhat of a legend, just existing seems to make people feel safer. That’s what Megajoule did. I’m proud to be following in his footsteps on that regard. I want people to feel safe around me. It’s a cape’s job to keep peace.

I’m not alone, though, and I think that’s the distinction. I smile at my team — my friends — as they sit and chat. Outfitted in the latest of Archimedes’ equipment, each custom designed to accent our abilities, we really do look the part of gods. But when I see them relaxing, chatting, and smiling with each other, I don’t see divinity. I see people. Colors entwined.

Remise, Epione, and Maisa chat about her new helmet, which she’s colored to look like a rainbow around the visor. Remise is the same as always; tough, Scottish, permanent grin. Check, check, and check. If nothing else, she’s a very consistent person.

Epione, on the other hand, looks way different than she used to. Somehow she’s become close friends with Saw Off and the influence shows. Her hair is now a bright pink, though you can see from the roots of her hair that she needs to reapply dye. She pierced her nose when before she never would have let someone touch her with a needle. Still, she’s the same modelesque girl, though now she looks more like one of those alternative models than a traditional one.

Epione is in the process of placing her rings in her safe-box. She’s up to four, now, though she never brings Cynic’s ring with her.

Cynic died. Epione told me that. I don’t know how she knows, but she knows. Epione tells me that she died right after we sent her off so I’m guessing the flags killed her.

Speaking of the flags, they’ve been a thorn in our side. Former capes that joined the United States Cape Org, the flags keep up that favorite of American pastimes — imperialism. Constantly showing up and asserting their authority, even when they have none. They do have a lot of holdings and alliances, however, and President Genz pressures us to be careful where we tread.

News from the States is hard to come by, but Krater gets a message out every now and again. Houston’s much the same, but he says there are parts of the country where minor rebellions spring up from time to time against the USCO and the government. He says they get cleaned up pretty fast, though.

I asked him if he was a flag, but he denied it. He says the same thing he always says. He’s Houston’s Hero. He told me that the government considers him a freelancer, along with Tachikaze (who made a full recovery from the airport, and got a nice prosthetic limb out of the deal), and so the flags have an uneasy relationship with his team.

Mr. Gold and Meltdown chat about a book they’ve both read, some history of Foundation by some journalist. Mr. Gold shows his age, but his power has not waned at all. His armor, his guns, and his equipment (which includes chains spooled into a backpack, daggers, crowbars, you name it) are all laced with gold so that he can manipulate them.

Bedevil comes out of the cockpit after a little bit. She smiles at me, but instead of making a beeline for me, she drops into a squat in front of Bryant. “Hey there.”

Bryant is suspicious of her but he is also a thirteen year old boy. Not to toot my own horn, but my fiancée is beautiful. Then again, maybe I’m just like super in love with her or something.

Still, he replies in Spanish. “Hello.”

Bedevil’s a little new to Spanish, so her switch is a little less than smooth and her words stilted, but she manages to continue talking to him. “We’re going to get you somewhere safe. Have you been to Argentina?”

Bryant nods, but he’s still guarded. He leans into me a bit. “I visited once.”

“Buenos Aires, then?” Bedevil asks. She holds out her unmarred hand for Bryant to take. He does, after a few seconds, looking like a frightened dog still unsure of his caretakers.

Bryant tells her that, no, he has not been to Buenos Aires. Bedevil asks him if he’s seen out of a cockpit before, and asks him if he wants to meet the pilot, and Bryant is very eager to see outside and to meet the pilot. She leads him off before returning a moment later and plops down next to me.

“Why are you so good with kids?” Bedevil’s frustration surprises me. I didn’t realize that interaction went badly, but she’s in a huff over it. “You don’t even say anything and the kid won’t let go of you, but the minute I open my mouth he gets all skittish.”

“You seemed like you handled it well.” I take her crippled hand in mine, placing my fingers in her palm. All she has in that hand is a part of her thumb, which she uses to stroke my knuckles.

A little smile graces Bedevil’s lips. She glances up at me with a look that says “my womb has room.”

I know what’s on her mind. “First comes marriage.”

Bedevil does not repeat the rest of the rhyme, but the thought of a kid flusters her even more. Perhaps she thought that her musings were private, but she’s incredibly easy to read. At least for me, anyway.

I’m not saying I don’t want kids. I really do. Right now would be just about the worst time to have one for both of us.

“That reminds me,” she says, suddenly. “There’s another rhyme about all the junk I’m supposed to gather to make sure our marriage is up to snuff.”

I struggle with my laughter, cover my smirk with my hand. “Up to snuff.”

Bedevil grins, clearly tickled. “It goes like this: ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’”

“I’ve never heard that before. You have to have all that stuff so that we don’t divorce?”

“I’m not taking any chances. I don’t do divorce.” Bedevil loses the smile and her gaze is very serious. I’m reminded that she came from a broken family.

“You’re far more likely to end up a widow than a divorcee.” I squeeze her hand to show her that I’m not going anywhere. “And you won’t end up a widow, I promise.” I decide to change the subject from this dark topic. “I didn’t think you’d come to pick us up personally.”

“Your boss has to show up every now and again.” Bedevil smirks at me, but then turns her attention to the other Inheritors. “We’re waiting on more intel on the cloak in northern Chile right now. Linear’s monitoring the situation.”

“God, where are all these losers coming from?” Remise asks.

Maisa grunts in agreement. “It’s exhausting.”

“I’ve been leaving Jamie too much,” Meltdown says. She twirls a lock of her hair in her finger and looks like there’s someone else she wants to mention, but then she doesn’t.

I’ll have to take personal responsibility for that one. Since OPI collapsed, a lot more masks and cloaks popped up out of their holes, eager to stake a claim in the new “lawless” American continent. They didn’t realize how committed the New Foundation would be in making sure there’s not another Anarchy, but everyday if feels as if we inch toward that.

We need some new system, some sign that the world’s not on the edge of collapse. Fighting criminals and supervillains is all well and good, but I became an official cape to build something everlasting. Something that would withstand the winds of politics and time. Some structure that people couldn’t fuck up.

Maybe that’s asking too much.

“I think we’re looking at a coalition of cloaks,” Mr. Gold says. “Whenever we cut one down the rest seem to know. They scatter to the four winds.”

Bedevil’s become a pretty savvy leader. She never says ‘no’ in a way that makes you feel dumb, and she’s dialed back her temper a lot from her drinking days. I only ever see her angry in private, now, where she’ll sometimes spend about fifteen minutes screaming into a pillow over a meeting or a negotiation. “Right now we need to be careful about stepping on the flags’ toes.”

“If I burn one, will it be freedom of speech, still?” Epione muses out loud.

Bedevil isn’t saying something, though. I can see it on her face. Maybe there is some indication that cloaks are banding together. That honestly would not surprise me. “Do you want us to look into it? See if there is a connection between these cloaks?” I ask.

Bedevil thinks for a moment. She nods. “Yeah. Remise, Gold. You two start digging. Let’s see if there’s something tying these people together.”

Mr. Gold does not nod or say anything, he simply blinks his acknowledgment of her command. Remise claps her hands like she’s about to dig into a Thanksgiving turkey. “Ooo boy, can’t wait to smoke out some cloaks.”

We return to Buenos Aires, where I begin the arduous process of getting Bryant enrolled in Thirty-One, an adoption system I kind of helped bankroll and push through New Foundation. Even though I’m the namesake, I can’t just walk in and snap my fingers and find a kid a new home. I have to file the same paperwork as anybody. In the meantime, they put the kid up in a temporary orphanage.

I sit in my apartment, alone. Maisa likes to go out now, and Bedevil has to put in her reports about our mission. Pawpaw sits at my feet and Isabelle nestles into my lap. I don’t want to disturb them.

All I can think about is Byrant, and how he doesn’t have parents anymore, and what that must feel like.

Well, I suppose I know, don’t I? I lost Doc, the closest thing I had to a father, and I lost Megajoule, the second closest. That wasn’t easy. Bryant’s path will not be easy either, but all I can do is help him walk it. I can’t make the crooked road straight.

My phone buzzes, sending Isabelle into a barking spree and Pawpaw lumbering to his water bowl. I guess I’m free now. I check my phone. Maisa sent me a text.

6:37 PM: I’m waiting, Dojo Master.

Maisa and I train in one of the underground facilities in the New Foundation. Mostly we use it to test her abilities, but sometimes we manage to test mine, too. For instance, the fact that I can now direct or absorb kinetic energy at a distance of a few feet we found out while sparring. Following the principle of my ability to freeze pockets of air molecules, I realized I could turn the gas into a solid object and absorb the impact through it, much like I did with my shield.

People keep thinking that I’m telekinetic, though, and to Bedevil’s chagrin I tell them that I picked it up as an STD.

Maisa waits in the training room. It’s a big box, roughly half the size of a football field, and made from the same synthetic material as the rest of the Foundation HQ, making it harder than diamond. The material is glossy blue, which makes the room look like we’re submerged in the ocean.

“I messed up.” Maisa is pained. She sounds like I used to at my lowest, when I felt all my failures piling down on my shoulders. “I had the chance to hit that cloak earlier but I missed.”

The last thing I want to be is hard on her. Maybe the fight did drag on because she didn’t capitalize on an opportunity but there’s no way to know that for sure. “It happened the way it happened.” I feel a burden now, not only as a brother to her but as a mentor. I don’t want her to ever feel like I did — abandoned and helpless. “You know, I felt the same way when I almost saved you in the Second Ward. But in the end, we still rescued you. What matters is the result.” I tell her the lesson I’ve been contemplating all day. “You can’t always save someone the way you want to save them.”

Maisa sighs out and then grins at me, a devilish look in her eye. “I might start thinking you’re wise one of these days.”

“Oh, don’t do that.” I laugh out loud and confess: “I still need to write my vows.”

“You dummy!” Maisa shouts. “You’re telling me they don’t just spring out of your heart right away when you think about Ruby?”

“Woah, that’s awfully romantic coming from you.”

Maisa falls down to her haunches and stretches, preparing for our training. “Well, someone here needs to be. I can’t believe it’s me. What else haven’t you planned?”

“Er, just that, and not really sure what to do about a stag party since I’ve never been on one. I kinda hoped Flashfire would have one before me.” I chuckle and stand up. With the way things are going between him and Meltdown, that might still happen. Nah, he’s too traditional for that. He would want the big wedding. “How long has he been dating Meltdown now?”

“Like… five months?” Maisa taps her chin, and then conjures a light disk and throws it at me.

Her conjured weapon bounces off my chin. I hiss when I feel the bite as it slices a bit of skin, and watch incredulously as it bounces through the room. Say what you will about the Foundation but they built things to last. I guess that means it isn’t super tech, since that would have degraded by now.

Maisa dispels the disk. “Sorry!” She runs up to me and hugs me, and I’m guessing she feels just as horrible as she did after Gargantamech, because she starts sniffling. “I meant to hit your chest.”

That makes me laugh. “Because that would have been better than my chin?”

A buzzing alarm sounds and the door to the practice hall opens. Bedevil stands there, gulping down air, her brow sweaty from running. “There… you… Gabe… someone’s here for you…”

I warp over to her and cool her down with my power. I help her recover her breath. “What’s going on?”

“There’s a man, he just showed up. He says…” Bedevil’s eyes are wide with shock. She looks like she can barely believe what she’s saying. “He says he’s your father.”

Another thought does not cross my mind until we arrive in the command room, where Archimedes, Oracle, Linear, Mago, and Templar are already gathered. Another man waits at the end of the table closest to the door.

He is a late middle-aged man, with a brown goatee, a horseshoe ring of silver-brown hair that wraps from ear to ear, and an orange flowery button-up t-shirt. He smiles and reveals a mouthful of golden teeth. He is missing a few fingers on each hand, as if they were deliberately cut off at the knuckle.

Archimedes arches his eyebrow as if I should know what the fuck is happening here. Oracle shakes her head, as if she already knows. “Gabe,” she says, “this is the cape Doppelganger, real name Charleston. He made all of the clones in the lab you came from.”

Doppelganger grins at me and approaches, his arms wide for a hug. “Hello, son.”

5.16.1

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

– Attributed to St. Augustine, from “Quote, Unquote” by Lloyd Cory

 

2058: ONE YEAR AFTER NEW FOUNDATION

 

The enemy looked like humans but their bodies were made of many tiny steel slivers that tore at everything they touched, and they had no features aside from yellow eyes. Their limbs shifted and morphed rather than moving on hinges like a person’s might. Their hands materialized where they needed to be, their feet did not seem to touch the ground.

Houses aflame. Charred bodies burning in the streets. Samantha wandered through the broken town and carried her father — hopefully to safety, but likely not.

Samantha saw a cape kicking and struggling as one of the robotic beasts choked him in one hand and set him ablaze with the other – a process that involved the nano-splinters within the hand vibrating against each other, creating sparks and washing the creature’s fingers in flame.

Samantha and her father had nothing in all this world. They shared a small room together after their mother died but that was gone, a truck shoved through the window, and now Samantha dragged her unconscious father through the streets. In guilt she turned from the dying cape, thinking that she had to cling to what she had left.

Nothing, she could do nothing. Her power let her help people sleep deeply. What good would a cure for insomnia do when machines that did not need to sleep were killing her home?

No, there were gods for that.

And they appeared with all the force of such.

Aethon and his Inheritors descended from the sky in suits of armor that made them look like knights more than capes. They commanded light and fire, lightning and blood, gold and power. Aethon’s voice — a voice that everyone was becoming familiar with at this point — boomed over the city.

“We’re here to help!”

The mechanical swarm rose up to greet them as a storm cloud of nano-splinters. Bolts of lightning lanced through the beasts and left smoldering holes that reinforcements quickly filled up.

The one called Volition surfed on her board of light right above the alley Samantha stopped to hide in. The young cape flung strobing discs of color into the swarm, slicing through dozens of them in one throw.

Remise flew after Volition on jets of flame from her boots, carried by fabric between her arms and legs like a wingsuit. She launched cables from her bulky gauntlets that ended in vicious, bladed claws, which she used to wrench mechanical beasts from the air and traverse the rooftops. The claws seemed to be magnetized, drawing in nanobots and sticking to metal even if they did not sink their blades in.

Behind Remise came Epione, who was wreathed in a deep crimson cloak. She materialized strange red weapons out of thin air that cleared a path through the machines.

A strange object the size of an apple landed in the alleyway. Samantha yelped as it crashed a few feet from her. Her father was undisturbed by the landing, his forehead slick with blood. She fretted over him and at the same time reached to grab the core.

Samantha heard the mechanical horde before she realized how close they were. To her they sounded like an infestation of roaches in the walls of reality. They skittered, hissed, whistled, and shrieked just above her, and she saw too late that with the strange core came the attention of the splintered beasts. They carried hunks of rock, metal carcasses of cars, and their deadly nanobots that would strip her clean of flesh as they had the others.

She clutched her father to her chest and screamed.

At the end of the alley, out on the road, she saw Aethon wrestling with a titanic figure woven of the same horrid splinters. It would be the last thing she saw before she died.

If Aethon did not also happen to turn and see her, as well.

She could not blink before he warped in front of her and her father. He cried out, his face twisted into a snarl, and he stared up at the tide of debris falling upon them.

Aethon shone like a star that had fallen down to the earth. In one hand he held a baseball bat engraved with the word “virtue,” and the other hand he held up above his head. The air seemed to shimmer and freeze in a dome around them, and the onslaught broke against his power as a wave breaks against cliffs.

In a movement too fast for her to follow, Aethon snatched the core from her hands and pinched it between his blazing fingers, and then threw it down the street. She watched it bounce across the street like a baseball, and then wept with joy as the splintered horde above them dissolved into a rain of inert silver.

The monstrous titan entered the alley from the road. Aethon smirked.

Samantha could hardly keep herself from squealing in fear.

The creature striding toward them was taller than a house, and his entire form composed of the silver needles that made up his machines. A human rested inside the titan’s chest, a face peered out from within the helmet. His expression was annoyed.

Aethon called out and his voice washed over the entire alley as it had when he descended, as if he had some hidden amplifier. “Before we do this… what kind of name is Gargantamech?”

The titan had no banter for Aethon. It reached back to the street with one inhumanly long arm, grabbed a hold of a car, and hurled it down the alley at him, instead. Samantha thought that this was the end, surely.

Aethon roared but he did not raise a hand. She thought he intended to just tank the car, but instead the car hit an invisible wall five feet from Aethon’s face and crunched as if it struck a pole. Samantha wondered if Aethon had telekinesis on top of all his other power.

Aethon followed this up by striking the car with his bat. His swing sent the entire car flying back into Gargantamech. The sedan tore apart his arms and revealed a core in each shoulder, much like the one Aethon had already destroyed.

Another lance of lightning ripped one core to shreds, while an arrow of blood pierced the other. A disk of light filed off another hidden core. Gigantamech was crumbling. He made one last desperate charge at Aethon.

Aethon stamped his foot into the ground. He took up a batter’s stance, and his bat sizzled and glowed as if he’d pulled it fresh from the forge. The bat shone brighter and brighter, right up until Gargantamech was right upon Aethon, his nanosplinters bouncing off the man’s skin. In that last moment, Samantha only just heard Aethon’s laughter.

Aethon hit a home run. The light nearly blinded Samantha, and when she could see again, she believed in gods. Except that this god simply set his bat down. He trotted over to her. He knelt down and smiled, and asked her if she was okay.

 

VOLUME FIVE: COMPULSION TO MOVE

ARC 16: SOMETHING OLD

 

To speak of Aethon and his Inheritors is to speak of legend.

– “Did You See That Morning Star” by Lucille Price

 

I love to fly.

There is no feeling that compares to reaching my fingers into the upper atmosphere like a love-struck fool dipping his hand into a pond. There is no feeling that comes close to sitting in orbit and watching the Earth spin on like a celestial toy.

Actually, that is not strictly true. There is one feeling better, but I am not sure what that feeling is called, even as I experience it while watching the workers take Samantha and her father to safety. Before I go to join the New Foundation teams working through the rubble to find survivors, I make sure that she is going to be taken care of.

“Nice shot,” Remise says, landing next to me in a jet of flame.

“I was hoping to leave him alive, but I overestimated the durability of the splinters.” I’d hoped Epione would take his power — standard procedure for us when dealing with cloaks like this — but sometimes the fighting gets a little out of hand. Now we had nothing to turn over to the local authorities but a body.

His unusual splinter nanobots were already decomposing. Super tech never survived beyond the person who made them. Archimedes says that’s because it’s an extension of their Affect, not an actual working piece of equipment. Much like the bullets he used to make that could pierce through super strength. He refuses to make anymore. He says he can’t feel anymore in existence, so I hope that’s the end of that particular thread.

Meltdown joins us while we dig through the rubble with the work crews. She wears a new suit now that she’s an Inheritor, a silver suit of armor that makes her look somewhat like a knight with yellow accent lines that invoke electricity. She removes her helmet and sighs out, looking at the damage.

Celendin, Peru, is not a big town, and really, it’s not much a town anymore. The cloak, named Gigantamech (I know, I know), turned the entire place to rubble. We’ve already estimated that half the population is dead.

Another upstart warlord looking to take advantage of the power vacuum OPI left behind.

“Good grief.” Meltdown sounds like someone in denial about defeat. I get it. It’s hard to feel victorious when the aftermath is a ruined town and a body count over two hundred.

Volition — or rather, Maisa, I should say — surfs above us. She takes off her helmet, too, and waves at us. “Epione and Mr. Gold have rounded up a lot of survivors. Epione said she sensed some people alive on the other side of town.”

I’m really proud of how much Maisa’s developed her power this last year. Archimedes says she’s heavyweight now, and Epione confirmed her Affect is bronzesouled, like mine. Which means, like me, she’ll only get stronger the more she uses it. “I’ll head over there. Good work today.”

Maisa gives me a thumbs up and then zips away on her board of light.

“What color was the cloak’s Affect?” I don’t want to say his name out loud because it was stupid.

“Epione said he was coppersouled,” Remise says. She shrugs. “Fuck if I know about all this, though.”

“Well, come on, then,” I say. “Help me find survivors.”

My comms crackle and Bedevil’s voice fills my ear. I can’t help it; a smile springs to my face. “I’m assuming you’re still alive and our wedding is still on.”

You’d think that this long on the honeymoon phase would be over. That I’d be able to think clearly whenever I heard her voice, that her words wouldn’t quicken my heartbeat. You’d think. “You have life monitors on all of us. You just wanted to bring up the wedding again.” I manage to retain some professionalism. “Epione says the cloak was a coppersouled heavyweight.”

“Yeah, well, I’m excited as fuck. Sorry I annoyed you with my love.” Bedevil pretends to sound hurt but she can’t keep the giggle out of her voice. She gets serious after a few seconds, and asks, “So another cloak that’s a copper. How’s the town?”

“Bad.” I grimace, looking out over the wreckage. I listen for any cries for help but find none. “There was that silver coak we fought a while ago, wasn’t there?”

Archimedes has been refining our knowledge on how the Affect informs superpowers. We’ve come up with a common thread among different colors.

One of those common threads is coppersouled people tend to become cloaks more often than the other colors. They get all of their power upfront, but it usually has a heavy drawback or comes with a lot of negative emotions. Nero and Carnality, for instance. Epione says the color is tied to strength, honor, and ambition, but also hatred, hunger, and pride. A cocktail that leads them to power and cruelty more often than not.

On the other hand, coppersouled people can be great forces for good. For example, Krater is a coppersouled cape.

A bronze power is an adaptive power that will grow in strength the more the user trains with it under duress. Epione tells me that the color is tied to faith and willpower, but can fall into doubt and martyrdom, or be overly judgmental. I’d never felt so called out when she told me that.

Gold is a skill based power, and Archimedes says it’s more like learning to play a guitar than bronze, which is more like working out muscles. Epione says golds are often charismatic and charitable people, but can also be somewhat self-centered or condescending.

Silvers, like Bedevil, Meltdown, Cynic, and Mr. Gold, are about control, whether that means telekinesis, an element, or the flow of information. Epione told me these people find power in love and self-sacrifice, but can be hindered by regrets and self-destruction.

Of course, that’s only heavyweight powers. We’re still working on the wheel for cruiserweight and below. One thing for certain is Remise is only a cruiserweight, and her color is amethyst, which Epione associates with contentment and perception.

That part she puts to good use, pointing out a nearby house as we crawl through the ruined town. “There’s a heartbeat in there.”

I fly over to the ruins and dig until I find a shuddering boy, roughly thirteen years old. He stares up at me, his face caked in blood, and I see bodies behind him. His parents from the looks of things.

There are few feelings that dip as low as this one.

You can’t always save people the way you want to save them.

5.B.2

Epione could not contain her nerves. Soft violet tendrils of Affect wafted out of her. She concentrated, pouring every ounce of her focus so the colors would not overwhelm her. The end result was like squeezing her hand around a faucet — streams of color wriggled out from her in violent sprays. She worried that those emotions would overwhelm someone, but she knew if anyone felt them it would only be a passing echo. Better that than for her to be cripple by them.

Saw Off had no such problems. She stood next to Epione, her core a bright ruby flame that cast off smaller wisps of passionate, seductive red and bright brown tufts of stability. Saw Off felt in her element and she felt horny, that Epione knew for sure.

What Epione did not know was why they were riding this elevator together down to the third basement floor of the Foundation HQ. Saw Off showed up at her apartment and demanded that she’d come along, and so Epione had.

“Um,” Epione started. “What are we doing?”

Saw Off pulled out a cigarette —  a real one — and lit it up with a lighter from her pocket. “We’re bonding.”

“Bonding?” Epione asked.

“Yeah, we’re bonding.” Saw Off took a drag and offered Epione a smoke, but Epione politely declined. “We’ve got something in common, now.”

“We do?” Epione was entirely unsure of what Saw Off and her had in common other than their gender. She searched Saw Off’s colors for some sign of what she meant, since the girl’s expression was steely, and her face turned away. The only indication she got from Saw Off was a ribbon of violet affection and light blue responsibility.

“Yeah. We both lost the same man.”

Ah, she meant Flashfire. Epione couldn’t help but be tickled at that. “I suppose that we do have something in common, then.” The thought of Flashfire cut into her heart, spilling out dark tendrils of pain, even though Saw Off’s candor amused Epione. What an odd cocktail to no longer love him but to hurt over losing him. With a sprinkle of hilarity on top.

Saw Off’s colors shifted to a darker shade. “Maybe this is stupid, trying to pretend we got something to talk about. Christ, what would we talk about? Look at you. You’re all prim and perfect. No wonder he stayed with you so long.”  Green strands drifted from Saw Off’s Affect.

Epione came to a startling realization.  “You’re jealous of me.”

Saw Off side eyed Epione, and from her colors, she was a little taken aback. “Well… yeah.”

Epione couldn’t contain her laughter. She saw that this made Saw Off angry but she couldn’t keep from laughing. She nearly doubled over and let the yellow joy flood from her.

“What’s so funny…” Understanding bloomed in Saw Off’s aspect, in bright colors. “Are you jealous of me?”

Epione could not reply, her laughter choked her. She might’ve used her power to restrain herself but why bother? Soon enough, Saw Off joined in on her laughter, and they laughed until the elevator opened on a dimly lit basement hallway.

Once she’d recovered, Epione asked, “Where are you taking me, anyway?”

“Oh, there’s a little club. We meet down here and drink and shoot the shit. Play cards. Smoke. All that jazz. I thought you might be interested.” Saw Off said all this as if it was matter of fact that she should meet anyone down here. As if it was inevitable one would form. As if dank basements were not complete until a few thugs took up positions in one of the rooms to bet on cards.

“Why did you think I would be interested?” Epione asked.

“Shit, girl, I dunno! Figured you were probably bored hanging around the lovebirds all day.” Saw Off made a gagging noise.

“You’re just mad that Bedevil snagged him before you could.” Epione admitted that she was pressing boundaries a bit with that one, but she wanted to see how Saw Off reacted to a barb.

Saw Off glowered at her, but her colors betrayed a flash of humor. She settled into a grin. “Yeah, well, can you blame me?”

Epione could not. She’d spent many months trying to convince Gabe that he was, well, handsome and muscular and charming, but the poor boy’s Affect was all dark from negative emotions for so long. It wasn’t until recently she saw how bright he’d become. That made her happy.

Saw Off slammed open a door and shouted: “‘Sup bitches!” and strode into the room. Epione trailed behind her, unsure whether the group would take that greeting well or not.

Epione was shocked at the members of this illicit poker group. First and foremost was Archimedes and Linear, a handle of whiskey between them, accompanied by Lugs and Remise who curr, and to Epione’s utter confusion, Mr. Gold.

Saw Off sat in the chair next to him and practically purred. She leaned into his shoulder. “Hey, daddy.”

Mr. Gold leveled a gaze that would wither plant life at Saw Off, but surprisingly, he had nothing to say to her remark.

Saw Off leaned over the chair and beckoned Epione over. “Stop being a scaredy cat!”

Epione sat down next to Saw Off and studied the people gathered in the group. Archimedes seemed a bit pissed she was even here. “You know she can read all of our emotions, right? She’ll know who has a good hand and who doesn’t!”

Linear seemed a little worried that someone was going to find out about his secret all the time, but Epione had always known, so it didn’t matter, and she wasn’t a tattletale. “I’m sure she’ll be fine, I mean, I can detect subtle changes in your expression and I know all of your tics.

Remise grinned as she always did. “And I can hear when your heartbeat changes, so I know when you’re excited.”

Lugs gave that little salute of his. “We’re only betting Monopoly money anyway.”

Mr. Gold seemed preoccupied with getting Saw Off to stop feeling his abs and so did not add to the conversation.

“Deal me in?” Epione asked.

VOLUME FIVE: COMPULSION TO MOVE

March 12th

Volume 5 Art

Artwork by Francesca Lloren – TwitterTumblr

5.B.1

Jason reclined in the beach chair, stirring his feet into the sand and watching Gabe and Bedevil play with their dogs. Pawpaw — that old, wizened looking retriever — struggled to keep up with the peppy Isabelle as she darted between Gabe’s feet. Pawpaw barked and jumped up into Gabe’s chest.

Jason let a small laugh escape, thought it felt more raw than he wanted to admit. How often had he seen Gabe with a frown, with a dour expression, or like he was pinching a turd between his cheeks? Now he felt like he wasn’t staring at the same man. This Gabe was different; he smiled and he laughed all the time. He’d always been a bit funny, a bit witty, but now he couldn’t maintain a serious conversation for longer than a few minutes without sliding a joke in somewhere. And Bedevil, she always looked so happy, and she couldn’t take her eyes off Gabe.

They ran and played together at the edge of the lapping ocean, kicking up water and muddy sand, and the dogs barked and play-fought through the seafoam.

Jason did not expect the pang in his heart. A few months without Epione and he’d thought he would have moved on by now. Seeing Gabe and Ruby, and that ring on her finger, and their dogs, and their smiles… A lump stuck itself right in his throat, choking him up. Never before had the chill of loneliness hit as hard as it did in this warm summer beach in Argentina.

He mused on Saw Off’s advances. It would be easy to fall back into step with her, but they’d broken up for a reason.

Epione would never forgive him. He knew he shouldn’t be making decisions based off her, but Epione was going to live in the same building as him and work in the same organization as him, so he had to at least consider it.

He really hadn’t had the chance to think about his romantic future. He’d been so busy integrating some of the masks around Argentina into New Foundation that he’d spent everyday working from dawn to dusk. It had taken Gabe about two weeks to convince Jason he needed a vacation.

Wild that Gabe was the one convincing him to take a break now. Things really had changed.

Footsteps crunched in the sand next to him. Jason stirred from his thoughts and looked up, shielding his eyes against the afternoon glare.

Meltdown had decided to visit him, it seemed. She’d come along because she thought the sun and sea might be good for her pregnancy, but she’d spent most of the day walking the shore by herself, or chatting with Bedevil, or sitting with Archimedes and Linear (who refused to wear a swimsuit and instead wore shorts and a polo) to talk for a while.

In the first month when Jason was working constantly to help repair the damage to Buenos Aires, she looked completely normal. Even now, looking at her straight on it was difficult to tell that she was pregnant. It wasn’t until she turned that her profile really gave her away, showing how much her belly had swollen up. She wore a two-piece swimsuit, apparently unafraid of showing the world her baby, and Jason saw the beginning signs of stretch marks along her stomach.

Meltdown did not sit down. She folded her hands to her chest and stared at Gabe and Bedevil. Jason thought he recognized the look in her eyes, the familiar ache of lost love staring at new love.

Not wishing to confront that thought for very long, Jason reached down to the cooler at his side and pulled a beer out, hoping it would blunt his angst. He acknowledged Meltdown, and said, “I’d offer you one, but something tells me that’s not a good idea.”

Meltdown gave him a strong side-eye. She smirked. “What makes you say that, Flashfire?”

“Please, call me Jason.” He felt that he was slouching and straightened up. For the first time he felt a little embarrassed about how much muscle he’d lost in captivity. “Do you need help sitting down?”

“What makes you think I was going to sit down, Jason?” Meltdown asked. Her right shoulder lifted up in a coy tilt, as if she could hide her face behind it.

“Seems like a waste to walk all the way over here and not sit down,” Jason said. “Your real name is… Ashley, right?” He didn’t know too much about her, other than she was one of the more prominent OPI capes and she used to be married to Wind Rider. That and she looked like she could have been Bedevil’s sister, outside of her eyes, which were bright blue.

Ashley lifted off the sand and floated down, using her power to ease herself into the vacant chair.

“Do you have a name in mind?” Jason asked, gesturing to her stomach. “Is it a boy or a girl?”

Ashley rubbed her hand on her stomach, her expression fond but tinged with sorrow. “It’s a boy. I’m not sure. I thought… Jamie.”

“That’s a good name.”

Ashley smiled at him for a moment but she didn’t say anything. Jason smiled back, cocked his head, and wondered what she was thinking.

She gave a small squeal and gripped the chair, and leaned forward as if in great pain. Jason felt as if his heart was going to pop out of his mouth. He had no idea what to do if she was going into labor, and guiltily he thought Epione would know what to do.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t labor. Ashley breathed out and smiled again, settling back into her seat. “He’s kicking. Do you want to feel?”

Jason, surprised she’d ask him that, said, “Sure.”

Ashley took his hand and pressed it against her stomach, underneath her belly button. It seemed an intimate act, and it embarrassed Jason further than he already was, but what else was there to do when a mother wanted you to acknowledge her baby?

Jason didn’t feel anything for a moment, but then gasped as the baby kicked against his hand. Jamie was alive in there and apparently upset about something, but the experience brought a grin to Jason’s face. “That’s amazing. Hey little Jamie!”

Ashley’s smile faded a little. Perhaps the moment was over, Jason thought, and so retreated from her and sat back in his chair. He reached down for his beer, but decided to leave it where it was. He thought that he should quit drinking, as well. Everyone close to him had, and while he understood it, it only accentuated his loneliness these days.

Ashley gazed at Gabe and Bedevil. Jason had trouble telling what exactly she was thinking, now. “I’m happy for them.” Though her sentiment was happy, her expression was pinched and curt.

“I am, too. I never thought he’d be happy.” Though he was also trying to be positive, he couldn’t help feeling glum, too. “I’d never even seen him with a girl until he met Bedevil on the streets, and we didn’t even know she was Bedevil back then.”

Ashley looked very amused by that. She didn’t laugh but her eyes crinkled and her lips twisted into a little smirk. “She was a mask?”

Jason chuckled at the memory. “A really drunk mask that couldn’t stop puking everywhere.”

“It’s strange to me that she was ever engaged to my husband.” Ashley’s pinched expression returned.

“It’s strange that she’s engaged to my best friend,” Jason said. “Who is also a clone of her former boss.”

“Yes, very strange.” Ashley’s voice carried no judgement, no puritanical condemnation. How Bedevil and Gabe met was very strange and how they’d forged a relationship out of their mutual trauma was even stranger, but that didn’t make it wrong.

Jason was always one for stability and for patient moves, for long courtships and borderline chaste dates. Epione had been perfect for that, given her requirements.

“I meant to thank you,” Jason said at last, trying to dispel his thoughts. “I heard that you tried to rescue Gabe in the jungle.”

“Oh, that was nothing,” Ashley said. “He needed help.”

“He’s my brother.” Jason smiled at Gabe, though Gabe wasn’t really paying attention to anything but his dogs and his fiancée. “I’ve worried about him so long. It’s a bit weird, but after everything, I don’t feel as close to him as I used to. On the streets he needed me. Now, he doesn’t.”

Ashley looked like she was chewing on that thought. “I know what you mean. It’s weird to have someone in your life… just vanish, I guess.”

That didn’t strike Jason as entirely fair, so he couldn’t help but frown at her. “I’m not gonna pretend we’re on the same level.”

“Well, I heard about you and your girlfriend. The empath.” Ashley shook her head. “What an incredible story.”

Sure, with the new cape org, there had to be rumors slinging every which way about all of them. They were still figuring each other out, so of course he was the subject of gossip. “Yeah, I suppose. Still, I know Ep’s alive and all. It’s… I’m sorry for your loss.”

He was surprised that Ashley came to the verge of tears. Perhaps he’d just grown use to Epione, who’d never shown much emotion at all that wasn’t calculated. “I’m worried. I’m about to be a single mother, and while I’m a cape and I’m going to be an Inheritor once I’ve had my maternity leave, I’ll still have a child to worry about. And I’ll be alone.”

“We’ll all help. It takes a village, or something like that,” Jason said. He put his hand on her arm, and worried for a brief second that he’d overstepped his bounds.

Ashley wiped her eyes. She sniffled and coughed, overcome for a brief second by her emotions. Then she went back to being composed, and she smiled at him and placed her free hand on his. “I’m glad it’s this village, then.”

Jason felt a thrill in his heart. The frost of isolation thawed. “Me, too.”

4.15.6

Megajoule told me to tear it all down. He meant OPI and the way things were run. Break the leg that never set properly so it can reset and heal. I’ve done that, I think. At least the breaking.

He said to build the world anew. People didn’t need to be capes. They needed to be good.

Everyone is afraid, I think. I’m afraid of what that looks like; the long and thorny path that I will have to traverse just to arrive there. But my legs feel like they move without my permission, my will drives me toward that goal even when I want nothing more than a nice, soft bed, and a good night of sleep, and Bedevil nestled into my chest.

I want those things, but I need more.

I need the world I’m chasing.

So, New Foundation. It’s an apt name. Crack the old foundation — OPI — and replace it with something else. Show people how to be good.

Archimedes was most certainly not happy with the deal I made. Oracle and Linear understood, Templar was indifferent. “Had to happen sometime,” she said to me. “Where else were we going to get money?” She scoffed at the idea of accepting donations, even though we’ve already agreed to open a fund people can donate to if they wish.

Cynic was handed off to the US capes without issue, I hear. They sedated her for the hand off, a fact that the capes found funny but didn’t object to when Archimedes told them she’d gone rabid over the decision. As far as I know, the US hasn’t accused New Foundation of anything or set up any sanctions, but President Genz told me that negotiations with them were tense. They knew something happened to her power.

As far as I know, she hasn’t been tried yet. I’ve been paying more attention to the world and the media coming out of the States is quiet.

Krater, despite my best efforts, moved back to Houston before they closed the borders. “Sorry, little man. I’m Houston’s Hero. I’m glad I got to help you and glad I got to help this city, but it’s time I went back home. You’ve got my number, though. You can call anytime,” he told me.

I tried to convince him to become an Inheritor, but he was steadfast. I suppose that’s why I wanted him for the team and why I admire him. Even though we fought and shook the city of Houston, he’s a good man. A great one. I do plan on calling him.

Longinus could not be convinced, either. However, he elected to remain in Buenos Aires as a religious counselor to New Foundation, a prospect that Archimedes thoroughly derided but ultimately allowed. I like the idea, a spiritual guide that can perhaps help capes sort out some of their trauma — even if he has a long way to go on his own.

Flashfire, also, was not interested in becoming an Inheritor. Instead, he joined New Foundation as a sort of rep for masks looking to go legit with us. A place he can leverage his charisma and his past as a mask all at once. Thanks to him, we’ve already gained three new recruits from the streets: Torn, a young man that can slice through any inert material with the tip of his finger; Chase, a woman with super speed and a great sense of acrobatics; and Tremble, a young girl that creates tremors by stomping her feet.

Of course, I’m translating their names from Spanish. I’ve actually had to speak it a lot, now that I live in Argentina. I’m glad I picked it up from my days slinging burgers and working as a cook in random fast food places.

How far I’ve come since Houston. Since Colorado. Since the lab.

I hope he’s proud of me.

Bedevil checks my costume one last time. We’re making the announcement for New Foundation and the Inheritors today. With that came a new look. A white spandex suit that’s a bit too skin-tight for my liking, built from the same material that my old suit had, meaning it can store vibrational energy. To invoke my old mask costume, though, and the idea of Home Run, I wear a red letterman jacket with white sleeves. And my goggles, of course. And a baseball bat, but I’m not gonna lug that to an announcement speech.

I run my hands through my hair. I still dye it brownish red. I could let it grow out blond, like Megajoule, but that just doesn’t feel like me.

Bedevil’s in the outfit Archimedes made, sans her cape. She smiles up at me. “You’re ready?”

I nod. It took weeks of arguing and drafting and bickering and Archimedes reminding me that I’m not actually a leader or on the board, I’m just a ceremonial headpiece. Oracle would then remind him that I’m more than that, and round and round it went.

Until we settled on our organization. Honestly, I’ve not got a head for this, but the basic gist is we’re somewhat of a non-profit, like a charity or something, or Doctors Without Borders (Archimedes was very mean to me when I suggested Capes Without Borders and also said I’d managed to wrangle one around us anyway by agreeing to President Genz’ terms).

That brings us to today. The announcement. I may be a ceremonial leader but I am the spokesperson and so I’m the one making the speech.

There’s a crowd of reporters from all over the world in the New Foundation courtyard, and a small podium set up for me to speak at. Archimedes, Linear, Templar, Oracle, and Flashfire sit at one set of chairs behind the podium, with room for Bedevil, and Maisa, Mr. Gold, Remise, Epione sit in the row behind them, with a chair for me to sit next to them. All of them are in suits that Archimedes designed over the last couple of weeks.

President Genz and a few of the higher up Argentinian officials are also here, to the right side, with another row behind them with UWC officials. Meltdown sits among their number. Her belly shows a lot more, now. I’m not sure how far along she is. I know she’ll become an Inheritor once she’s past her maternity leave, though. We’ve already agreed on it.

I stand before the podium. Bedevil sits at her seat, and I stare out over what feels like a sea of reporters and onlookers. I’d say several hundred stand in the courtyard. Who knows how many are watching across the world at this point?

I clear my throat. I turn the speech that we all wrote together in my head, scared I’ll forget something fundamental.

“I’ve thought for a while now what I wanted to say when I had everyone’s ear,” I start. The words fumble around in my chest so that I speak with a slight stutter, but once I’ve gotten over that, I speak with fluid confidence. “The truth is, I won’t be speaking for just myself, though. I’m speaking for New Foundation.”

“OPI has been laid bare, the leadership revealed as corrupt and broken. For some, this is not a surprise. For others, this shook their world so badly that they’ve elected to leave the United Western Continent.” The United States wasn’t alone in this. Brazil ended up leaving, and so did Mexico. “There are many who wondered about what comes next and what sort of structure would replace OPI. I’m not here to offer a solution to that problem, because OPI doesn’t need a replacement or a substitute. The world doesn’t need another cape organization that will become Orwellian watchdogs or out of control celebrities. It needs public servants that are willing to be accountable. It needs healers and helpers more than it needs heroes.

“I use hero in the old sense, in the sense of mighty men that bent rivers to their end—” Archimedes wrote this bit, it waxes poetic for a while. “—and rode chariots through the skies. I use it in the sense of flawed demi-gods that wounded more than they rescued, that killed more than saved. These make for great stories, true, but they do not make for a safe and better Earth.

“So, our resolution, and mine, as the face of New Foundation, is that we are helpers. The old Foundation was built on this idea. They emblazoned the words above their door and hoped it would be a guiding star, but somewhere along the way we lost sight of that. We lost our guiding star.”

I pause, the weight of those words heavy on my mind. Then, I launch into the announcement.

“New Foundation will be a non-profit organization that is publicly accountable to the world. We’re here to help, not to rule. We’re here to build, not to tear down. We’re here to become better than we were, every day. You will always be able to talk to us through any number of venues, through phone or mail, through the internet, or hell, an old fashioned letter if you want.”

This elicits a few laughs from the crowd. For the first time since I started speaking, I notice their individual faces rather than the mass. I see the trees, not the forest. They are smiling, they have hope in their eyes, and they believe what I am saying.

I am glad, because it’s true.

“We’re here to help build a better world. We’re here to help provide aid to those who need it. We’re here to help.” Now for the final piece, the cherry on top. “Almost everyone knows me as Gabe, now. The Son of Megajoule. I have to confess that wasn’t the truth, when I told the world that. It was a lie I’d told myself for years because it was easier than the truth. Now, everyone seems to know it, so it doesn’t matter. I am a clone of Megajoule.

“Megajoule left behind a legacy, some powerful words, a name, and a team. I’ve been asked if I will take up his mantle, but you can see by my costume that I am not. I am also not going to borrow his slogan, as inspiring as it is.”

“If you need me, my mantle is Aethon. I’m here to help.”

Aethon. It was a name Epione suggested to me repeatedly through our meetings and negotiations with the Argentinians. Aethon. It means blazing, shining, or radiant.

It is a declaration: I am light. I am light. I am light.

Perhaps a touch arrogant to call myself their guiding star, but that’s what I want to become.

“There is one thing he left that I find useful, though, and it is the team he left when he died. I am restarting the Inheritors with the guidance of New Foundation and the UWC.”

Maisa, Mr. Gold, Remise, and Epione stand. Meltdown doesn’t, not yet, since she won’t be a part until all is said and done.

There is applause. That surprises me. I chuckle, an honest expression that starts other people laughing, even as the applause goes on.

I close my eyes and see nothing. There is no one ahead of me. I glance over my shoulder and see a few figures in my mind’s eye. I recognize Home Run in his black mask and leather jacket. Behind him I see a young man unsure of where he is, or who he is. I know I’m not quite what he imagined — he imagined Megajoule standing here in his helmet and his armor — but I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad I’m different.

Still.

I made it.

I am here.

 

 

Later, after the ceremony and Archimedes and the President and endless questions and speeches, we have a party in the command room of New Foundation, using the jagged stone table to host a feast for visitors. It’s actually a gigantic party for the reporters and the visitors, with food vendors all throughout the building and courtyard. We keep the gates open for anyone who wants to come. Part of me is a bit paranoid that someone will attack, but no one does.

I’m sure if they thought about it, Aethon and the Inheritors made them think twice.

I am so happy to see my friends celebrating. I am so proud of how far we’ve all come together. We’re out of our costumes, we’re just people enjoying each other’s company now.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable about the party is the champagne and wine. Bedevil, too, is uncomfortable. I know she is because she winces every time a glass is passed in front of her nose.

I grab her hand and pull her close after we spend an hour at the party. “Come with me.”

“Anywhere,” she replies, and she follows me out of the command room, through the HQ, and to our apartment. She follows me to our balcony, where I pull her up into the sky, thousands of feet above the city and the ocean. We fly until the setting sun crowns back over the horizon to catch a bit more of the fire. I wrap us in an envelop of heat so that she doesn’t freeze this high up, and I cradle her into my chest.

We dance in the night sky, waltz through the clouds. I fly with her up and up, trading kisses and letting her go to soar on her own, and catching her before too long. She smiles and whoops, she laughs and she cries. She is so perfect. I am so in love with her.

I pull her close. “Do you want to fuck?”

Bedevil is scandalized by my sudden offer. “You mean up here?”

“I do,” I say, gripping her waist. “You can say no.”

“We’re in the sky,” she says.

“You’ve never wanted to make love in the sky?” I ask.

Bedevil’s cheeks blush. She gazes into my eyes. “What about our clothes?”

“You can hold them with telekinesis.”

“What if I drop them?”

“We’ll fly back naked, then.”

Bedevil laughs her goofy laugh. It’s not a ladylike titter like Epione, but a full-throated guffaw. I love her laugh, it makes me laugh and it makes me smile.

She stops laughing and puts her left hand on my shoulder, walking her fingers up my neck. “We were having such a romantic moment, too…”

“Sex with me isn’t romantic?”

Bedevil pulls me to her lips.

She doesn’t drop our clothes.

Instead of returning back to our apartment after our flight, we trespass into a closed park in downtown Buenos Aires. It’s a lovely little garden with a pond, perfect for a night time stroll.

Perfect for what I have in mind.

Bedevil skips along the railing and looks over the pond, gawking at the swirl of color reflected on the dark surface. The water stirs up by itself, by her power, and she laughs as the lights dance in the ripples for her. The dark bushes of roses sigh around her with the late night ocean breeze, as if she stepped out of a Van Gogh painting.

My heart pounds as she turns around and smiles at me. My fingers can’t help but find their way into my pocket, to the ring I’ve forged for her.

Bedevil giggles. She folds her hands behind her back, saunters up to me with a grin on her face, and asks, “What?”

I clear my throat and find the courage to speak, but I can barely hear the words over my heartbeat in my ears. “I have something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“And what’s that?” Bedevil asks, grinning at me.

“I… er… well.” My face is burning up and my chest feels like somebody has me in a vice grip. The smooth, confident Gabe from earlier is gone. This is entirely new territory for me. “I know you’re supposed to talk about it first but we haven’t had the chance and we’ve said ‘I love you,’ and I do love you and I know I might be springing this on you and feel free to say no.” I swallow and breathe, unable to say more. Unable to actually ask the damn question.

Bedevil, however, realizes what bush I am beating around. Her grin is gone, replaced with wide-eyed shock and a slack jaw. Within two seconds, the shock starts to change places with her trademark ugly sob. “Yes,” she chokes out between tears. “Yes.”

I’m surprised to find that I have a lump in my throat. “I haven’t even asked you, yet.”

Bedevil wipes her eyes. Her nose is red and sniffling, tears drip off her chin, and she has a huge smile. God, it’s the most perfect smile I have ever seen. “Ask it so I can say yes!”

I drop to one knee and pull the ring out of my pocket. “Would you like to become Ruby Wayland?”

 

ARC 15: NEW FOUNDATION // END


 

Cynic woke from her drug induced slumber to find herself tied to a chair. She took careful stock of her environment. The buzzing of plane engines just outside told her that she was in an aircraft, and the vast cavern she found herself in was obviously the hold of a cargo plane.

The three US capes that interrupted her trial stood before her. Even if she had her power, she wouldn’t have been able to read their minds — they wore their masks. The demon woman, the red bucket man, and the bird man all stared at her, still as trees now that she’d woken.

Cynic struggled to breathe and keep her eyes open. She couldn’t quite summon and words, but the chair clattered as she moved her arms. 

“You’re awake,” the bird man said. “Good. I’m glad, Cynic.”

He strode over, his walk arrogant and mighty. Cynic expected the demon woman would be the one to talk to her, being the leader, so she was taken aback when he took a knee to meet her at eye level.

He reached up and took off his helmet, and revealed that he was Nero. 

Cynic gasped.

Nero grinned at her. His veins coursed with energy, his eyes were alive with light. “Hello, Cynic. It’s been a few weeks.”

“N…ero?” Cynic asked. “You… you went back to the US?”

“I did.” He didn’t look ashamed that he’d run, but rather was proud of his decision. “I ran because I saw the winds changing when Gabe and his crew showed up to fight. I saw the winds changing when the US kicked us out.”

“You’re a coward,” she said.

“No, I’m a survivor. And you got stupid these last years, so I decided to ally myself to someone with a little more sense. I’m not going down with OPI or your ass backwards ship, Cynic, I’m going to live as I always have. I’m going to fuck models in my penthouse and I’m going to take care of my gerbil.” Nero pursed his lips. “And you’re going to give us the data on your drive.”

Cynic scowled. “Argentina and the UWC already took it.”

“Sure, they got copies of the data, but they don’t have the drive, do they?” Nero asked. “It’s in your pacemaker. And not everything you gathered is public knowledge.”

“You don’t want me for my power?” Cynic asked.

“I am very certain that they already took it.” Nero couldn’t have looked more smug. He knew she was entirely at his mercy. “Am I right?”

Cynic stammered. “You’re not… you’re…” She’d planned to use it to leverage the US against New Foundation. She’d planned to spark a conflict and take the heat off her back. Nero’s expression was dashing all the hope of that plan.

“I’d make introductions for my associates, but what’s the point?” Nero stood up. He held out his hand. “For what it’s worth, thank you for making me the man I am today.”

Nero plunged his burning hand into her chest. Shock was her last emotion. Agony her last thought.


 

Kassandra finished making tea. She scooped two sugars in, just as father had asked. There was a moment of hesitation to bringing it to him, a small thought that screamed out to her that she shouldn’t bring it to him, but that thought disappeared with the familiar beat of the swing band over the speakers.

Kassandra shook her head and brought the tea out of the kitchen, to father’s study.

Father sat at his desk and watched the news with a leery grin on his face. He looked much the same as he always did, dressed in a button up Hawaiian t-shirt and jeans. His scraggly beard grew in patches that revealed old scars where hair did not grow. He rapped the desk with his fingers in a halting beat that revealed the missing fingers of his hands — his pinkies, his right middle finger, his left index.

Father smiled at her. “Thank you, Kassie.” His teeth were falsely perfect — shiny and metal.

Kassandra glanced at the TV after setting the tea in front of father. It was the Son of Megajoule making some kind of speech. The scrolling text said, “GABE, THE SON OF MEGAJOULE, ANNOUNCES THE CREATION OF NEW FOUNDATION—”

She shuddered. Why should his face make her shudder? Megajoule’s face never made her shudder, but Gabe’s did. She’d seen him on the news a few times since he’d become famous. And each time, her skin crawled. Was it hate?

Kassandra didn’t know.

“They keep calling him the Son of Megajoule,” father said.

“Yes,” Kassandra said.

Father scoffed, and then he laughed. “It’s just not true, you know.”

“I know,” Kassandra said.

“Really, he’s my son, isn’t he?” father asked.

“Yes,” Kassandra said. “He’s yours.”

Kassandra knew then why she shuddered. For a brief moment it screamed through her head before the swing band rattling over the speakers silenced her thoughts.

It was fear for her brother.

4.15.5

Every cape, every soldier, every officer in the courtroom stands up. The lawyers get between Cynic and the US capes, and I’m reminded that they aren’t just lawyers; they’re soldiers, too.

“You’re interrupting a court martial held by the UWC,” the judge says. “That should be enough to put you in contempt. You don’t have an extradition warrant.”

“Our interruption will last a mere minute,” the woman in the demon mask replies.

“Your interruption is over,” I say, rising to my feet. “You don’t get to just come in here and demand Cynic.”

The woman snaps her gaze at me, though it’s really not her gaze. The demon mask makes her look far more intimidating. “So now that it is in your favor, you want to respect the rule of law, Home Run?”

I don’t sit down or back off. “Yeah, now that it’s not corrupt as hell, I’m for it.”

She continues, her voice amplified over the sudden roar of everyone in attendance trying to shout her down: “We’re simply here to deliver a message to Argentina and New Foundation, whose leaders have conveniently gathered in one room for us to address. Cynic belongs to us. You’ll find that you have a warrant waiting for you on your desk. You’ll also note that Argentina and the United States currently have an extradition agreement that predates our membership in the UWC, and by the wording of that document, is still in place.”

“This is a UWC court martial. You simply can’t barge in here like you own the place,” President Genz says.

The cape is not deterred by this. “You can deliver her to us now or within the week, or else the US will be forced to embargo the nation of Argentina should they choose not to honor our extradition agreement, once we have departed from the UWC.”

The mention of an embargo silences the room. Even I know that’s an executioner’s ax over Argentina.

She swivels around and marches out of the room. Her two lackeys, the one in the bird mask and the red bucket helmet, both spare me a sideways glance as they follow after her.

The threat of retaliation from the U.S. prevents anyone from chasing. Embargo is a serious threat, especially with the U.S. Their sanctions have sunk entire economies, and they’ve used it in the past to secure their position on the top of the UWC.

Except me. These guys can go fuck themselves. I chase them out into the hallway.

“I’m not going to let you take Cynic,” I call after them. “You’re going to go home with nothing, whoever you are.”

There is an electricity to their stop, a tension in all of their bodies as they turn to face me. They do not approach but seem to sway on their heels like they’re contemplating a sudden leap.

“You’re a hypocrite,” the woman says. “Would you like the U.S. government to consider you a terrorist instead of a lost piece of military hardware? That’s your choice. I’m sure you’d also enjoy the economy of Argentina collapsing on your watch, after all the damage your power did to Buenos Aires.”

She ends her statement by turning to leave.

The man in the bird mask cocks his head at me, lingers a moment to keep up his gaze. Once the woman is at the threshold of the building, he shrugs, turns around, and follows after his companions.

Shit.

I return to the courtroom to find the judge maintaining order. “The case will be put recess for the short term.” Soldiers pull Cynic from her seat and escort her out of the room. The politicians and officers scurry out, probably wondering if a missile strike is following shortly.

Bedevil is panicking at Archimedes and Oracle, while Templar chews at her index finger, lost in thought. I shake my head at Meltdown. I know one thing, we’ve got to prevent Cynic from being taken. The U.S. will use her power, it’s the only reason they could want her on such a short timescale.

Epione. I dash out of the room, out of the building, before anyone can stop me. I soar over the city once I’m free. I blast back to Foundation HQ, rush past the giant golden statue, and into the lobby. I warp through the apartments.

I knock on Epione’s door and call out to her. She answers in a flash. “Gabe? What’s wrong?”

“The U.S. is demanding Cynic. I think they’ll get her, but we can’t let them use her power.”

Epione understands what I want immediately. If she takes the power, then we don’t have to worry about the US spying on us all the time. She nods. “Take me to her.”

The soldiers return her to the Foundation HQ holding cells a mere fifteen minutes later, where they’ve held her for the past month. It seemed the safest place for the former director. I doubted they would change their itinerary over this, and I was right. They take her down.

Epione and I rush down to the cells. I don’t care if Archimedes didn’t want us to take her mind-reading, I’d much rather have that ability stuffed inside a ring for Epione to use than the US to have it.

If they get it, every video feed, every recording, every face they can see would expose the world’s thoughts to them. I don’t know how much they’d get Cynic to cooperate, but I can’t allow the chance she’d give them what they wanted.

We wait until the guards have secured her in her cell, but just as they’ve resumed normal watches, Archimedes, Oracle, and Bedevil materialize behind us.

“I had a feeling you were going to pull something,” Archimedes says.

“You said yourself that power is too dangerous in one person’s hands,” I reply. “You told Epione not to take it.”

“Oh, I’m not here to stop you. I’m here to make sure you do it.” Archimedes is a bit lost, from his expression, and that’s an unusual look on him. It does accompany his disheveled suit, but it’s just not something I’m used to seeing in his eyes. “I do think it’s too dangerous to stay in the world, so it’s much worse if the US has it. The only problem is getting Cynic to agree to that. We’re not, strictly speaking, legally allowed to do this.”

“It’d be shaking the boat with Argentina something awful,” Oracle agrees.

“Why don’t I ask the president, then?” I ask.

Archimedes’ snorts. “You think he’d listen to you?”

I shrug. “Worth a shot. Unless you don’t trust me to be your spokesperson. Can you get me to see him today?”

Archimedes nods. He and Oracle head back to the lobby to make arrangements for me to talk to the president. Once they’re gone, I pull Bedevil and Epione into a group huddle. “No matter what the president says, we have to get that power. Why don’t we three go talk to Cynic. Ep, you can use Bedevil’s telekinesis to increase the range of your power, right?”

Epione nods. “Can do.”  

“What about the president?” Bedevil asks.

“Easier to ask forgiveness than permission?” I ask.

This answer frustrates Bedevil to the point of groaning out loud. But, she relents. “You’re right that we can’t let them use Cynic. The best thing to do is render her unusable.”

We break our huddle and stride over to the Cynic’s cell. Bedevil takes the lead, still looking confident — and I have to admit, really hot — in her dress-jacket combo. Her heels clack on the tile and signal her approach, while Epione and I follow like reprimanded children.

“Oracle wants us to talk to her,” Bedevil tells the two guards.

She’s still our prisoner, technically, per the arrangement with Argentina, so the guards don’t refuse us. They let us go in to talk to her.

Cynic is not surprised by our arrival, not at first. Her eyebrows creep higher and higher as she reads our minds while we approach the glass window of her cell.

“You know why we’re here,” I say.

“It’s an insane plan. The US will retaliate. They’ll enforce their embargo.”

“The embargo is over handing you back, not your power.”

Cynic scoffs. “You think they’ll just accept that? They’ll march right around and demand that you give it to them.”

“On what grounds?” I ask. “What right do they have to the power?”

“What right do you have?” Cynic asks, but as she asks that, her eyes snap open. Epione must have just gotten the tendril through. “What?”

I grin. “I have the right of ‘finder’s keepers.’”

Cynic presses her hands against the window. “No, no! You can’t do this! You can’t! They’ll kill me! They’ll murder me.”

My brothers leap to my mind. Megajoule’s broken face in his videos. Drone and Mil-dot, Vaquero and the Bay Biters. The kids in Pandahead’s control. This woman does not deserve mercy from me.

“Then they will murder you,” I say. “And it will still be too quick for everything you’ve done.”

Bedevil is a bit taken aback by my statement, but she softens when she sees my face. I’m not furious or angry. I’m not vindictive. I’m simply stating the fact. Letting Cynic run around like she did would be completely moronic.

“We’re good,” Epione says.

“Good,” I say. “Good luck out there, Cynic.”

“Wait! Gabe! Please!” Cynic cries.

I do not stop. I have no words for her.

Epione returns to her apartment to stow away Cynic’s power in another piece of jewelry, while Bedevil and I return to our apartment. Maisa greets us in the living room. “What’s going on? The news is going berserk about an emergency senate thing.”

“They’re going to hand Cynic back,” Bedevil tells her. “The US demanded her extradition and Argentina can’t afford sanctions.”

“That’s insane! We can’t let them,” Maisa says.

“It’s okay. We can.” I explain our plan to her, and Maisa’s eyes light up with devilish glee.

A little while later, Archimedes knocks on my door. “The president wants to meet with you.”

Lucio Genz is a hawk of a man. He does not sit at his desk so much as perch at it, surveying the documents like they are his prey. Not a man you’d trifle with, normally, but it seems that’s what everyone’s been doing lately. Even me, if I’m being honest. I’m not here to respect his decision.

“Archimedes told me about your plan.” Lucio’s words are brimming with danger. I feel as though I could pluck them out of the air and play chords on them, they are so taught. He gestures at the couches in the middle of the room, and stalks his way over to one of them. He waits for me to seat myself and then sits across from me. He leans back into his sofa and crosses his legs, all the while never taking his gaze from me. “And given that she is kept at the Foundation HQ, would I be safe to assume that you’ve already done your end of things?”

I’m not going to lie to him. I nod.

“You understand that I can’t officially let you do this.”

“What would you want us to do?”

“Exactly what you’ve done,” Lucio says. “I know handing Cynic back to the US to be a surveillance drone means another fifty years of US dominance. Another fifty years of them sticking their nose in every facet of the world. Another fifty years of a political landscape shaped by their whim. I don’t want that, especially now that they are withdrawing in the United Western.”

“Who falls on the sword, then?” I ask.

“I’m going to need a compelling reason for letting you set up New Foundation,” Lucio says. “You’ve just now shown me that you’re willing to eschew the law for your own ends.”

“You’ve just said yourself that Cynic’s power in the US would be a nightmare. I’m not sure the law has much to do with it,” I say.

“Whether or not we like it, the law has to do with everything you and I do.”

“Do you think the US will enforce their embargo over Cynic’s power?” I ask.

“No, but we’ll lose any chance of allying with them. We create a new enemy.”

I understand at last. He’s worried about all these rogue agents running amok in Argentina, doing as they wish. He wants assurance that New Foundation won’t go the same way as OPI did, setting up shop and then letting his city get destroyed. “I’m not your enemy, sir.”

“You’ll have to provide more than your words,” he says. “Why should I let you and New Foundation stay in Argentina. Why should I not throw you under the bus? I’ll admit, if you ran off with Cynic’s power, I’d feel a lot better than the US capes doing so. But that’s still not ideal for me.”

“What if we left it in your hands, then?” I ask. “What if we gave her power to the UWC, and we gave you a seat on the table of New Foundation?” I’m not sure I should be bargaining with Lucio over New Foundation when it’s not even set up yet, but it seems the best chance of this going the way I want it to. We need backing. “They’ve chosen me as their spokesperson. I can sell the idea of tying ourselves more intimately to Argentina than we normally would be, if that smooths things over for you.”

Lucio considers this. He thinks long and hard, and still I get the impression of a hawk watching its future meal. “You allow us to appoint a board member to New Foundation. You also follow our directives on foreign relations.”

I nod. “You’ll have to hammer out those details with Archimedes and the others.”

“No. There will be no hammering out. Those are my terms. You want to take Cynic’s power, you allows us a seat at the table and you follow our rules. You’re a guest in my house, Gabe, and as glad as I am that you stopped the Fear, you’re going to cause me trouble.”

“I guess I don’t have a choice, then.”

“Sell it to the others,” Lucio says. “I imagine this won’t be the last time you and I talk.”

“I imagine not.”

I leave feeling like I’ve gotten the short end of the stick, even though I got exactly what I wanted. Only one thing left to do for today, then.

I fly toward the western mountains using my new knowledge of orbital velocities. The journey takes an hour or so, where I gather my thoughts and throw away my doubts about my plan. Whatever comes, I’ll face it.

I find the air on top of the mountains brisk and refreshing, though I can’t really feel the temperature. There’s just something crisp about it, like biting into a fresh apple, or eating something minty. I can tell the energy is unusually low this high up, though the icy caps are a better indicator of temperature for me.

I dive into the mountain, parting the stone like water as I use my power to guide me way. I dive like a pelican looking for a fish, and when I come back up from the burning scar I leave in the peak, I bring a large chunk of rock with me.

I’ve tried carving out of stone with my power before, but I’ve gotten more practice since then. Through a combination of heat, sound, and kinetic energy, I manage to wrangle the shape I desire out of the stone. The few minutes it takes me are relaxing, as I alternate between working on the rock and staring out over Argentina, feeling like the king of the castle.

I hold up the product of my labor: a ring.