Category Archives: Volume Five: Compulsion to Move

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.