Category Archives: Volume Four: The Point of the Knife

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 their 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.

4.15.4

I’ve mixed feelings for Cynic’s court martial.

On the one hand, I’m struggling with the feeling that this is not justice. Justice for her would be death, a slow miserable crawl as she’s hounded by psychopathic capes intent on violence. The same death she gave Megajoule.

On the other, to see her brought low and forced to sit and listen to the horrors she visited on me, that’s a justice of a kind. That others will hear what I have to say about her. They’ll know what she inflicted on me and mine.

The lobby outside the court room looks exactly like every other lobby in every court drama I’ve ever happened to glance at. Wooden walls, an ornate carpet, benches, etc. We’re not doing this at Foundation, unfortunately, but the Argentinians are hosting the trial in their Supreme Court building.

I feel very out of place. I’m not a policy maker or a lawyer. Hell, I’m not used to wearing an actual suit. Not a cape suit or a mask costume, but a real, three piece suit with a tie. Bedevil helped me with that since I’ve never tied one before.

“You look good,” she murmurs, stepping back to look at me after straightening my tie for the hundredth time. “You should dress up more often.”

I’m not the only one dressed up. Bedevil’s hair is in a fancy braid, her make up flawless from Epione’s help, and her red dress and white jacket combo fits her just as well as her cape outfit. “Takes one to know one.”

Bedevil smirks. The ember of amusement goes cold and she sighs. “Are you okay?”

“I just never expected to stand before a court. I never expected to be on the right side of the law.” I’m not going to dress up my time as a mask. It was outside of the law, even if I was just. Always felt like the law was a cudgel for the people in power.

I will admit this. It’s nice that once in a while, the law works as intended.

We’re not the only ones summoned before the UWC court martial. Templar and Longinus are here, too. Longinus stands out from the rest of us in his neat black shirt with a white clerical collar.  He mutters nervous strings of words on repeat as if a broken record. Templar is frigid as usual, lost in her own thoughts.

Meltdown turns down the hall, stumbling on her heels as she hurries toward us. She reaches down to fix the strap of her shoe and then comes the rest of the distance. She shows just a bit of her pregnancy; looking at her dead on I wouldn’t have noticed, but when her profile gives her away.

Again, I am struck by how much she looks like Bedevil’s sister. Now that I have my glasses it’s even more apparent.

“I’m sorry I was late… I just…” Meltdown waves her face. “I know we agreed to meet beforehand.”

“It’s okay,” Bedevil says. “We only just arrived.”

Meltdown smiles, though it’s tempered and sad. I’ve seen her out and about a lot in Foundation’s halls, since she can’t exactly help out in the repairs. The doctors ordered her to take it easy. She does help charge up batteries and such for workers to use but that’s the extent of her aid.

After her comes Mr. Gold, and I’m somewhat relieved and surprised to see him. I only found out he got into town yesterday. I let Bedevil chat with Meltdown and make my way toward him, intercepting him halfway down the hall. “Gold!”

“Gabe, good to see you. I trust you’re doing well.” Mr. Gold’s smile is thin and does not show his teeth.

“Are you here to testify?” I ask.

“Yes. FIS is shaken up over all this. They’re currently being audited by the UWC with their compliance in Pandahead, among other things. For my part, I’m no longer an agent. I tendered my resignation the moment I arrived in Argentina.” Now, his smile does show some teeth. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen him to a grin. “You know, I’m from here. This is my home city. I hate to see what you’ve done to it.”

I cough. “Well, you know. I’m trying to repair the damage.”

“I hear you’ve done a lot. You have my thanks.” Mr. Gold nods. “You have my thanks in tearing open a corrupted wound in the world.”

I’m not quite sure what he means. I tilt my head and wait for him to go on.

“The corruption in OPI and FIS, the way that all the capes and agents and public had their heads in the sand about it. You exposed it by stepping into the light. I still remember watching the news and seeing the media slam Cynic for the fight outside the airport.” Mr. Gold chuckles.

For my part, I don’t remember that. Then again, I was very focused on helping Bedevil get sober at the time. “I wish I’d turned on a TV. I’ve felt so disconnected all this time.”

Mr. Gold shrugs. “You can start now. From what I hear, you have been.”

“Yeah, trying to, anyway. Bedevil’s got more of a mind for that. I can’t keep all the people we talk to straight.” Well, not the politicians and capes and organizations, anyway. I remember the people I’ve worked with and talked to on the streets. Mago, Lucas, Mattie, Alma, Isabelle, Lorenzo, and more and more. “What are you going to do now that you’re not a fish?”

Mr. Gold clicks his tongue. “You’re still using that word?”

I shrug. “Sorry.” I’m not overly sorry.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I’ll apply to the Argentinian capes, or perhaps work for the UWC. If there is one after all this. The US dropped out and Canada might, too. That would leave only South American countries and who knows who will stay then,” Mr. Gold says. “I wonder if OPI will even exist, or if they’ll be dissolved. Bedevil told me that some of the directors are already asking about New Foundation.”

“New Foundation, huh?” I ask. “It probably sounds better than ‘corrupt OPI’ or ‘fish.’”

Mr. Gold chuckles and pats my shoulder. He continues on.

He’s not the last one to arrive, either. That honor belongs to Archimedes, Linear, and Oracle. Archimedes is dressed much like me but without the same care that Bedevil gave in straightening my tie and jacket. Linear is almost the same as he always is. Slacks and a polo that makes him look like some retail employee.

Oracle wears a simple floral dress. She smiles at me as she approaches down the hall. Her eyes don’t carry her power anymore; they are plain and dark, now. Still, I can’t help but imagine them gleaming, anyway.

“This’ll be easy,” Archimedes says. “Not even you can fuck this up, Gabe.”

“Gee, thanks.” I flip him the bird. His barbs are friendlier, now. He’s still an asshole, I’m just used to it.

“We shouldn’t be vulgar in a courthouse,” Linear says. “We could get kicked out.”

“Held in contempt.” Archimedes scratches his beard thoughtfully. “I’m actually not sure how long I’ll last.”

“You’ll last,” Oracle chides him. “She may be our enemy, but…” Oracle pauses. She sighs. “You shouldn’t gloat over your enemies. Cloaks gloat, bad capes gloat.”

I nod. “This isn’t a roast.”

“Right,” Oracle says. “We’re already representing New Foundation, all of us. Assuming, of course, you’re still willing to be its face, Gabe?”

I nod. I think back to all those screens that captured Megajoule’s face, along with his slogan. All the merchandise and the books and the endorsements. “I know for a fact that I’ll look good on a poster.”

Oracle guffaws. “I’m sure you will.”

Behind us there is the painfully loud clacking of an ancient wooden door opening, and a clerk calls, “The court calls Gabriel Wayland to the stand.”

I chew my lip and nod to my friends, and in I go.

There are few things I would say that unnerved me as much as walking into this room as every eye fell upon me. The jury sits in the jury box to my left; they are a collection of uniformed officers, UWC officials, and capes in the Primum under-suits. The gallery is full of more of these types, and I recognize president Lucio Genz among those watching the trial.

The judge, an elderly woman with silver hair and the stern expression of experience, sits behind the bench and beckons me forward to the stand. As I enter the well before her, I glance to my right and make eye contact with Cynic.

I’m not sure what she’s trying to convey, or if she reads my thoughts inside my head, or if she’s given up that. I’m unsure even of how I feel about her right now. There is pain, pain in her eyes and pain in my heart, and I’m not quite sure what to make of that, either.

For now, I decide that she is simply another body in this room and that she will not effect what I have to say.

An officer comes up with a small card and tells me to read from it, and I mumble out the words that swear me to the truth. He guides me to the witness box, opens the door, and lets me stand inside. I hoped there would be a chair but no such luck.

I dig my heels into the carpet and grab a hold of the wooden railing, and wait for the questions to start.

“Please state your name,” the judge asks.

“Gabriel Wayland,” I tell her and the court.

“You may interview the witness,” the judge says to one of the lawyers sitting at the table opposite Cynic.

The one she spoke to is foppish man in a uniform, green with a golden cord around his waist like all the others. He is ginger in his approach to the box. “Would you tell us your relation to Director Miller?”

“I am a clone of Megajoule, created by her orders.” I never thought I’d say those words loud and proud without a twinge of emotion, but I’ve let the hurt and pain fall away from me. I don’t need it right now. “And later, I was her prisoner in the Houston OPI tower.”

“Would you tell us about your experiences in the facility where they made you?”

I lay down my history in the lab. It’s spotty and imperfect, like a file that’s had sections inked out, but there’s enough that I see the jury wincing at some of my testimony. I understand what’s happening; this isn’t what Cynic is on trial for — she’s here for her part in the destruction of Buenos Aires and her complicity to Pandahead’s trafficking ring — but they’re using my past to paint the picture of her character. Even though this is a UWC military court martial, there’s still a jury and a judge.

I tell them everything I know. He asks my questions of my past, my time in Houston as a mask, my ordeal inside the Houston tower, and my time being possessed by the Fear.

The most important and damning question that the asks is this: “Were you at any point able to convey your predicament to anyone while your body was occupied by the Fear?”

I tell him the truth. “I was. I conveyed to one of the OPI capes, Nero, that I was fighting with the Fear. I also later conveyed to Meltdown that I was attempting to regain control of my body, before the Cloak Carnality intervened.”

Cynic’s eyes are closed. I see in her a dying, caged woman, with no escape plan. She is thoroughly defeated. Even with her power and her mind-reading, her ability to manipulate and isolate, she is cast down.

Perhaps I can find justice in that.

I sit down in the gallery after I give my testimony and the lawyers ask me questions. I want to see the outcome of this trial.

They call in Bedevil next, and her testimony is much shorter than mine. It mostly focuses on her relationship with Megajoule and her capture in Houston. After she finishes, she joins me in the gallery. She takes my hand in hers, holding my arm across her lap. She doesn’t smile at me. Instead, she is engrossed by the trial, chewing her glossy-red lips as they call in Templar.

It is a brutally long procession of testimonies against Cynic. Archimedes manages to remain composed, though I can see the spiteful glee in his eyes as he relays the orders that Cynic gave him.

“And, though the UWC and the UN both agreed that the Archimedes Bullets would no longer be developed and used in combat, you claim that Cynic wanted you to continue making them?” the lawyer asks.

“You’re god dam-” He pauses after a withering glare from the judge. “You’re correct.”

Oracle is the last witness called.

The lawyers ask her about her long service to OPI and the UWC, even asking her a few questions about the Sovereigns. They ask her about the drive that she gained access to with all of Cynic’s illicitly gathered blackmail and intel, and they ask her about the memories she rewrote under Cynic’s orders.

Their exchanged glances strike me as agonized. They were best friends, once. It would be like Flashfire testifying against me. I’m reminded of the night he cast me out of the Underground, and strangely, I feel a tiny spark of pity for Cynic. It is snuffed out almost as soon as it appears, but it’s enough.

The trial proceeds on as the lawyers present evidence to the jury, and give their speeches. Cynic’s defense attorney does not have much to say, except a plea that Cynic is dealt with as fairly as possible before the eyes of the law.

And I wonder; was Drone dealt with fairly, dying in a forest alone? Vaquero, beheaded by an overeager OPI cape? Mil-dot, gunned down trying to escape from the deadly trap Cynic laid for us?

Or the children that Pandahead kidnapped and sold off, all to fuel the Fear’s prison.

I am furious.

I acknowledge that fury.

I let it go. I sigh out and squeeze Bedevil’s hand, and let go of my anger. It may not be what I want, but it’s something.

The door behind the bench opens and a clerk rushes up to the judge. The clerk whispers something and I can hear the urgent tone from the gallery. The judge stammers. “…they’re here, now?”

The clerk nods.

“We’ll hear them,” the judge says. “I don’t know if we have a choice.”

“What’s going on?” Bedevil whispers.

I have no clue, but I’ve got a pit in my stomach.

The door to the court opens. Three people stride in like they own the place. They wear suits somewhat like the Primum outfits, except they are camouflage patterned rather than all black like the regular mesh suits. Instead of the white star, their shoulders bear the flag of the United States.

All of them wear helmets of some kind that mask their faces. The one on the right has a helmet that looks like some kind of bird creature. The right is a navy blue half helmet that covers their eyes completely, but leaves their mouth exposed.

The head of the trio wears a helmet that looks like a demon’s face. They are shorter than the other two, and their suit gives them away as a woman. When she speaks, her voice is distorted beyond recognition. “We represent the U.S. Cape Organization. We’re here to extradite Director Cynthia Miller back to the States, to face a federal trial for her crimes against our nation.”

4.15.3

Tim Prince’s smile splits his face like a knife. He scratches at his beard, a bit overgrown since his incarceration. His eyes are dead and dark. “What makes you think that I have a power?”

“I was possessed by the Fear, too. The only way that’s possible is if you have an Affect for it to use. If you don’t have a bright Affect, then you’ll just be one of those puppets. That’s not what happened to you.” I’m sure no matter what his power is I could waltz in there and destroy him, but one, I don’t want to do that, and two, there’s a tiny primordial doubt that maybe I can’t.

Tim rubs his chin, trying to hide his smile. “I got lucky.”

“You’re lying. You lied back then when I asked you about your power, and you’re lying now.” I pet Isabelle for comfort, as if she’s come kind of holy bauble. “You had a power that the Fear wanted. You have to be Cruiserweight at the very least. But it would have been subtle. Something nobody noticed, not even your family.”

“Say I tell you what it is. What do I get out of it?”

“I’ll let you look at Isabelle a little longer instead of handing her to the guard.” I pet her again, just to let that point sink in.

Tim chews his lip. “Yeah, cool. Keep the dog here. Not like I have a choice, anyway, and I like you a lot more than I like that other guy. The fat one with the beard.”

“Archimedes?” I ask.

“Yeah, him,” Tim says.

“So what is it? Your power?”

Tim walks over to the panel window. He stares at me through it and presses his fingers against the glass. “If I could touch you, I could make you suffer.”

I hold Isabelle close to my chest, as if Tim will leap through that glass and try to use his power on her.

“I could also take your suffering away.” Tim pulls his hand away and drops it to his side. “I’m like your girl, Epione, just… smaller scope. I saw all that she could do that night in the Second Ward and I realized I was nowhere close to her.”

I thought Epione would be the only one of her kind, but why wouldn’t there be more? Emotions are the flames of our Affect. It shouldn’t surprise me anymore than there being more than one pyrokinetic or telekinetic. “You’re an empath.”

“Yeah, but only for one color. I can kinda sense the other ones, but it’s like everything is dim except for purple. Darker shades are pain and suffering.” He frowns. “Lighter shades… my sister was light purple a lot. Really she was bronze, like you, but purple was a big color for her. It is for you, too.”

There’s an actual hint of remorse on his face. I didn’t think he’d be like this. I took him for a sociopath… but now I have to wonder if that was the Fear. How much of his evil came from its corruption. “What’s light purple?”

“Compassion.” Tim sighs. “So yeah. I have a power.”

“Is that how you captured the Fear?” Epione could battle with it, and she destroyed the Thermos, which I doubt anyone else could have done.

“Yeah. Trapped it in a prison made of suffering. Kind of like burying it in its own food, I guess. I kept reweaving the prison with new pain, and that kept it down for a while. Until you raided Parlor, and I lost my fuel source. I tried to keep it up with that kid Maisa, but one person wasn’t enough.”

The truth relaxes me. I ease up on petting Isabelle, though she whines for my attention. He might be able to make me feel like I’m in pain, but he can’t bust out of those walls. I suspect that he’s able to project his Affect around like Epione, but I’m not going to say that. I don’t want to isolate him and I can talk to Epione about it.

“You got something on your mind,” Tim says.

“I do. The Fear told me that it created more of itself in the battle for Buenos Aires. You spent a long time with Rorschach.”

Tim retreats from the window. “Yeah, I did. I don’t really know how it grows or makes babies or whatever. I just know that it ate pain. I know that it killed my sister.”

“Then tell me everything you know about it. Doesn’t matter how little,” I say. “I’m going to kill every last one of its kind before it kills us. I promise.”

Tim sits down on the bed again. “Yeah, yeah, the hero routine. But why do you want to work with me, anyway? You hate me. I’m giving you pain just by being here.”

I had a feeling he’d want to address the elephant in the room. “You’re neutralized. You’re not a threat anymore. Make no mistake, I would set this puppy down and smash through that glass the instant I thought you might be again.”

Tim pales. He stuffs whatever banter he had planned.

“You were a coward and people suffered for it.” I set Isabelle down and let her run around the room, yipping like nothing is wrong. “Don’t mistake me for your friend. I’ll be polite but that’s the extent of any grace you’ll get from me.”

“Yeah,” Tim says at last. “Got it.”

“You said you don’t know how it reproduces. Not a single idea, even with all the stuff it showed you?” I ask.

“How do you know what it showed me?”

“It showed me, too. I figure if we put our heads together as former hosts, we can get somewhere.”

Tim considers that. He rubs his chin again, and says, “I dunno if that’s something we can figure out in one night.”

“I know. I want to bring Epione tomorrow,” I say. “Think over it.”

Tim nods. “Sure.”

I stand up, and strangely, give him a bit of a nod myself. He doesn’t really deserve my respect, not after everything he’s done out of cowardice, but I know what it’s like to be corrupted by that monster. He didn’t have to say a damn thing to me.  “Thanks, Tim.”

“Just be sure to bring the dog next time,” he says, as I leave him be.

I don’t return to my apartment right away. Instead, I find myself knocking at Epione, Remise, and Echo’s apartment.

Epione answers the door. She smiles, as usual, but there’s more emotion behind it. More genuine meaning. “Hello, Gabe. You brought your dog! I thought you’d be asleep by now.”

“I couldn’t… I went to talk to Tim.”

Epione nods, but she doesn’t stop smiling. “Come in, then.”

Remise and Echo are playing games together in their living room. Their apartment doesn’t overlook the sea, like mine, but has a wonderful view of downtown Buenos Aires. Despite the destruction, some of the buildings still have their lights on. It’s another hopeful sign to me. People get on with their lives.

The same thought hits me as Remise grins at me. “Oi, Gabe!”

“Reminds me of old times,” I say. I set Isabelle down so she can explore the apartment, which she does with a gusto. “Reminds me of Drone.”

Remise’s grin dies out. “Yeah. I regret not playing with her more. I just always seemed to win.” This is the closest I’ve ever seen Remise to crying, I think. She purses her lips and stares at the floor. “I just thought it wasn’t fun for her to lose all the time.”

Echo grabs Remise’s hand. “She loved all of you. She didn’t feel that you neglected her. I talked with her a lot while she was at the hostel.”

I can’t forget the day I found out. I can’t forget that I wasn’t there to help her. I know it wasn’t my fault, but it’s painful for me to imagine her out of her element, dying in those woods. I’m glad I don’t know the specifics. It would haunt me.

“She was my work wife,” I say. “I’m going to find a way to honor her. Mil-dot, Vaquero, and Asperity, too. The Bay Biters. They all lost their lives doing the right thing, and they deserve to be honored for it.”

I’ve been thinking about the best way to do that, but I’m not sure. If they ask me to speak at a public event, maybe.

For now, I change the topic. “Did you know that Tim had a power?”

Epione’s smile vanishes. “I suspected. Once I knew more about the Fear.”

“He agreed to tell me what he knows. Maybe we can create profile for hosts and start looking for new entities.” They’re out there, somewhere. The Fear made more of itself. “Something that’s more immediate, though. Do you know what his power is?”

“Oh, shit, now I want to know,” Remise says. She leans into Echo. They both look tantalized.

“He’s like me,” Epione said. “Right?”

“How did you know?” I ask.

“I’ve felt someone like me close by since we moved in. Like an echo, I suppose. Someone else who can bend the Affect. He’s weaker, though.”

I whistle at Isabelle, who is trying to teeth on their couch. “He said he can only use one color. Purple. Suffering, but compassion, too.”

“You’re saying he’s an empath, but just for one emotion,” Remise says. “Wild.”

“Yeah. Makes sense, though. Bedevil’s not the only telekinetic in the world. She just happens to be the best,” I say.

Echo drapes her leg across Remise’s lap. The one that used to be broken, I notice. There’s a thin white scar along her ankle. She purrs, and says, “You would say that, Gabe. My Remise here, she’s the fastest person in the world.”

I chuckle. “Sure, sure. But I don’t know a lot of telekinetics that could put Krater down for a ten count.”

“She’s gonna be on your new team, right? The new Underground or whatever?” Remise asks.

That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, actually. If Argentina lets Archimedes and Oracle start up a new cape org, then they’ll want me as the face. They’ll want me to lead a team. They’ll want something symbolic.

“The Inheritors,” I say at last. “We’re going to start up the Inheritors again. Bedevil is going to be on the table with Archimedes, so she can’t be on the team, really. She already said she wanted to learn how to lead, but I’m going to see if she’ll lead us.”

“The Inheritors.” Remise whistles. “You gonna take his slogan, too?”

“Nah,” I say. “They’re good words, but they’re not for that.”

“Well, you have to have good words,” Echo says.

“And a new cape name,” Epione says from behind me. “I have a lot of recommendations. Mostly from Greek myth.”

I laugh and get my back to a wall so I don’t feel so surrounded. “One thing at a time. My first question was to ask you if you wanted to be on the team. Remise and Epione, I mean. No offense, Echo.”

Echo bares her fangs at me. I get a spooky flashback to Carnality, but she turns her snarl into a grin. “It’s fine. I’m not interested in being a big name cape, anyway. I’d rather work on the street level. I was actually thinking of joining Saw Off’s new team—”

“Oh, you are absolutely not gonna do that,” Remise says.

“Why not?” Echo whines and pouts, and slaps her leg on Remise’s lap. “I’ll be good, I promise!”

“Mhm,” Remise says. “You’ll be good by not joining up with Saw Off.”

“Well?” I ask. “Are you two in? Epione, you can steal any power we come up against, and Remise, if you get outfitted with good gear from Archimedes, you could go toe to toe with almost anyone out there.”

“I don’t need gear,” Remise says. “I just need a good sword.”

“Sure, but when someone slams you with super strength that can shatter steel, you’ll want a little more than a sword.”

Remise frowns. She crosses her arms and turns her nose up at me. “Won’t hit me. But aye, I’m for you, Gabe. Always wanted to be an official cape. Almost was once, and this is as good a second chance as I’ll get.”

“And I’ve got more tricks up my sleeve than just borrowing powers.” Epione beckons me to her room. “In fact, I want to show you something, Gabe.”

Well, that’s not ominous. I take a last look at Isabelle, gnawing on their coffee table, and chuckle. I follow Epione.

Once the door is closed, I say, “I heard about you and Flashfire.”

“Yes,” Epione says. Her voice tightens. This Epione is more emotional, more expressive than she used to be. She still does things that are off-kilter, like tapping wood and other little things I’ve come to understand as tics to her autism. Despite that, she seems more open.

“I’m sorry.”

“It was my call. I’ve tried, but I wasn’t able to rekindle it. It’s somewhat like… a bald spot on my Affect. I’m not even able to get more love for him if I tried.” She wipes her eyes. “It sucks, Gabe. I took off my armor and the first feelings I get are sorrow and regret. I feel all these things about him but love, and it’s terrible. I’m jealous of you and Bedevil, of Remise and Echo, and I can’t do anything about it.”

“I’m…” I shut my mouth. I don’t have any words for her. Just like I didn’t have any for Flashfire.

“I’m seething when I see him with Saw Off. I’m hurt just to look at his face. But if I even try to imagine myself with him—” She shudders. Tears dance down her cheeks. It’s like seeing a miracle. “—there’s nothing. There’s nothing there but an empty hole.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I doubt he’ll do anything with Saw Off,” I say. “I can help you with a dating profile, I guess?”

Epione scoffs. “I don’t think that’s for me, Gabe. I don’t know if I can love someone that way at all, anymore.”

I frown. “Either way, I’m here to help.”

“I’m here to help,” Epione parrots. “That should be your slogan.”

That tickles me a bit. The words remind me of the epitaph over the doors to Foundation. Look for the helpers.

“Here’s what I wanted to show you,” Epione says. She grabs my hand and produces a small ruby ring. “A while ago, you asked me if it was possible to put emotions into objects instead of projecting them or holding onto them. You asked me if I could store Affect inside an object, though you didn’t know that’s what you were asking. Tim’s Thermos made me suspect that I could.”

The ring, for some reason, makes my blood run cold. It feels heavier than it should be. “What did you put in it?”

“Carnality,” Epione says. “This is Carnality’s power.”

I gasp and almost drop the ring, but steady myself. “You put her Affect in the ring?”

“I had the idea that if I do become a cape, this will elevate me beyond just being able to fight the Fear. I’ll be able to keep up with everyone. My idea is that if we were to capture cloaks or criminals, and they were sentenced to something like life imprisonment or death by a court, then I could take their powers and use them.” Epione smiles. This time it is chilling.

I can’t fault her, though. This is inspired. I return the ring to her hand. “Would this work on Nero? Cynic?”

“Cynic, yes, but I already asked Archimedes, and he would not allow it. Not before her trial, anyway. He doesn’t think anyone should have Cynic’s power.”

I shrug. “It would be really useful.”

“It might also turn us into her, too. I won’t use Carnality’s power if I don’t have to. I already held onto it for a long time, and sometimes I remember things that she experienced.” Epione grimaces, recalling some unpleasant thought. “Nero, I don’t know. I figured his power out, though. He hasn’t had a real body since he died the first time. Every body he’s made since then is a simulacrum. His real form is just his Affect. I suspect that I might be able to contain him inside an object, like Tim did with the Fear.”

I quote Remise from earlier. “Wild. Now we just need to find Nero.”

“No easy task. Remise and I have both looked for him. I think he’s left town.”

“Yeah, I’ve searched, too.” I don’t like it, not one bit, but until he shows his face I can’t do anything about it. “Mr. Gold arrived, right? Maybe he can help.”

“Maybe.” Epione closes the ring with Carnality’s power inside a lock-box, and hides that inside her closet. “No one else can use that besides me, but it’s better to be safe.”

My phone buzzes. Bedevil sent me a pic of her frowning in bed alone.

“Duty calls,” I say. “I can practice my line on her, too.”

“What line is that?” Epione asks.

“I’m here to help.”

4.15.2

“Surprise!”

My apartment is filled with people: Bedevil front and center; Maisa, Remise, Echo, Epione, Lugs, Krater, Oracle, Linear, and Archimedes. They grin at me, and Remise holds out one of those confetti popper things. Glitter and paper drifts over the coffee table, landing on an assortment of presents.

Pawpaw bounds toward me from their feet, trailed by Bedevil’s five cats. All of her animals are back with us, safe and sound.

“Pawpaw!” I shout, and drop to my knees to meet him.

I am nearly buried in floof as Pawpaw jumps up and slams his paws into my stomach. He whines, wags his tail so hard it might fall off, and tries to lick my face.

Only then do I notice the balloons, the confetti sinking through the air after someone shot it off, and the huge banner that says, “Happy Birthday, Gabe!”

“You threw me a surprise party? This is what Saw Off couldn’t shut up about?”

“It’s a testimony to the density of your skull that Saw Off didn’t spoil the surprise,” Archimedes says. “Also, I didn’t get you anything.”

“But, I don’t even know when my birthday is.” I manage to wrestle free of Pawpaw’s affection, but I don’t stop petting him as I stand up. “The date on my license isn’t real.”

“I know the date of your creation,” Linear says. “The files from Cynic that I thought were purged has the dates of all the clones’ birthdays.”

I stop scratching Pawpaw’s head, unable to voice what I’m feeling. It’s a strange cocktail; gratitude, joy, pain, regret, and love, mostly love. Love for the woman coming up to me, her golden hair tied in a pony tail, her hazel eyes crinkled in joy. “Happy birthday. I love you.” She offers up a small white box tied up by a red ribbon.

I smile at her and open the box.

Inside is a bag of dog treats and a small card. I eye her suspiciously. “Is it Pawpaw’s birthday or mine?”

Bedevil snickers. “I thought you’d want to treat him. But the card, read it later, okay?”

“Okay.” I close the box. I drink in the sight of my friends. Remise and Epione sit together on one of our couches, and Linear, Oracle, and Archimedes sit across from them on the other. Krater stands — stooping so as not to bump his head on the ceiling — by the dining table with Lugs. The balcony doors are open, letting in the soft whisper of waves lapping on the shore. We are bathed in warm, yellow light from Foundation’s lighting.

“Open your presents!” Saw Off demands. She slices her hand through the air in a demanding gesture, pointing to the handful of gifts on the coffee table.

“Wait, what about the cupcakes?” Archimedes asks. “I think we should eat first.”

I chuckle, but Bedevil squeezes my hand. “It’s his birthday. What do you want to do first?”

Honestly, I’m starving from my long day of work. “I never thought I’d agree with Arch, but yeah, I’m hungry.”

Bedevil gets flustered by my request. “Okay, but they’re just cupcakes, they won’t fill you up. We can get food first if you really want.”

“Is there a problem with the cupcakes?” I ask.

“She made them!” Epione says. “Well, I helped. But mostly she made them. It was her idea to make you cupcakes.”

Bedevil is still flustered and trying to hide her face. “Okay, okay. If you don’t like them, it’s okay.” She trudges over to the kitchen like a soldier to her duty, and brings back a tray of cupcakes.

The cupcakes have white icing tinged with red or blue swirls. Captain Crunch cereal tops each cupcake. Bedevil blushes and almost refuses to bring the cupcakes to me. “I… You don’t have to like them, okay?”

I laugh and laugh, which flusters Bedevil. She tries to retreat to the kitchen, but I run over to her, and grab one of the cupcakes. I take a huge bite before she can pull it away from me. It’s delicious. “This is great!”

Bedevil sighs in relief. “You’re sure?”

“Just bring the damn things over here!” Archimedes says. “Or else our tutoring is off!”

Bedevil relents and the party enjoys her cupcakes while I look through the presents everyone got me. To be honest, I’m mostly just happy because I’ve never gotten a real birthday party before. I never told anyone the date on my license so they wouldn’t try to make up a fake one, and Doc never… Doc didn’t want to tell me the date of my cloning. Guess it was too painful for him.

Krater got me some cologne. “It’s actually from a brand I sponsor,” he tells me. “I didn’t know they stocked it this far south but I was damn happy to see it!”

It smells pungent, but I thank him and move on to the next one.

Saw Off got me a little toy grenade that clips onto a key chain. “They wouldn’t let me get you a real one,” she explains.

Flashfire got me a blank military dog tag. “You’re my brother, so I thought it was good.”

“But why is it blank?” I ask.

He shakes his head and tells me to move onto the next one.

There’s one addressed from Oracle, Linear, and Archimedes, though his name looks hastily added, and in the same handwriting as Oracle’s. I purse my lips at her and then chuckle, and she chuckles with me.

They got me a dog collar.

“Okay, I feel like we should just have a birthday for Pawpaw,” I say.

“Keep going!” Epione says.

The next present is from Remise, Echo, and Epione. A dog bed. One that is way too small for Pawpaw.

And the pieces start to come together.

I am sure I look like a wide-eyed dope. Bedevil looks smugger than she’s ever looked.

“Where?” I ask.

“In our bedroom. Be sweet, she doesn’t know who you—”

I jump out of my seat and run to our bedroom.

On our bed there is a tiny, squeaky, yellow Shih Tzu. She barks at me as I approach, kneeling at the edge of the bed, and sticks her tail into the air. She cowers from me at first until Bedevil brings me the dog treats. I tease her over with the treats and hold her close to my chest while she eats. She yips and whines, and licks at my face. I’ve never had a dog of my own. “What’s her name?”

“Whatever you want it to be,” Bedevil says. She offers me the card, and I open it. Adoption papers for the dog, plus a handwritten note from Bedevil herself.

I thought that you had so much love to give, you could spare a little more for another.

I love you to the stars.

Ruby.

My throat catches. I am overwhelmed by all of this. “I love you, too.”

Bedevil runs her good hand through my hair. She kisses me and then smiles at the puppy trying to worm its way between our lips. “So, what are you naming her?”

“Hmmm.” I heft the puppy in my hands and look her in the eyes. She whines. “Isabelle.”

“Why Isabelle?”

I shrug. “She looks like a little bell. So, she Isabelle.”

Bedevil snorts and laughs. “I hate you.”

“Hey, quit making out!” Saw Off shouts. “And get back in here!”

I bring Isabelle out for everyone to meet. The smug bastards all grin at me. They knew. I grin back and hold Isabelle close to my chest, and enjoy the party.

Hours later, after we’ve all shot the shit, traded stories of the last month, and eaten all of Bedevil’s cupcakes, there’s a knock on the door. Bedevil checks it and finds Longinus and Templar standing outside. Templar holds a box of dog treats in her hands. “I got the memo a little late, sorry.”

Longinus carries a bottle of wine with him, and smiles sadly as he enters behind Templar. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t get you anything on such short notice…” He trails off. “Is that… a puppy?”

He sets the bottle of wine down on the kitchen. Bedevil frowns and swerves away from it. She stands behind me and grips my shoulder. I kiss her hand. It’s tough, even still. Addiction… you never stop wanting it. They say it’s a matter of when, not if, you relapse.

I try to make it easier on her. She sits next to me and pets Isabelle, but she stares off into the distance.

“Would anyone like wine?” Longinus asks. “Gabe?”

“Oh, no thank you. I don’t drink,” I tell him.

Bedevil frowns at me. “Since when?” she asks.

“Probably about four months now.” I lock eyes with her.

She understands that as long as she doesn’t drink, I won’t either. Her eyes glisten.

She lays her head against my shoulder while we spend the rest of the night in good company. I am content to watch my friends drink and laugh, and play with Isabelle and Pawpaw, and the cats. I am content to feel the weight of Bedevil against me and feel her humming. My thermal sense maps out her heat for me, shows me her heartbeat rising and her blood racing as she runs her fingers on my chest.

I am happy to see Maisa laughing with Echo and Remise, saddened to see the discontent between Epione and Flashfire, amused to see Saw Off trying to flirt with Krater. Hopeful at Longinus chatting with Templar.

I sigh and smile, and nuzzle into Bedevil’s golden hair.

Later that evening, the party wraps up. Bedevil’s cupcakes are gone, my friends leave aside from Bedevil and Maisa. Bedevil cleans up in the kitchen, while Maisa and I play with Isabelle. The little puppy pounces around the couch and tries to get Pawpaw to play. The old dog does his best but all he can do is lumber after her as she charges around our apartment.

It’s not a bad place. The late night sea breeze is cool and carries a pleasant scent with it. The size is enormous for an apartment. It reminds me of the one Bedevil lived in back in Houston. There are two bedrooms, one for us and one for Maisa. The couches are spacious, wide enough for four people each to sit comfortably. The coffee table is made of mahogany and polished glass. I’m told this room used to belong to one of the former Foundation capes. When Foundation became OPI, they stopped using the HQ and they offered the room up as a special reservation for tourists.

I’m not complaining. I’ve got to live here, now. I only wish Doc could see the opulence. He probably would have flipped out at me.

“She’s rambunctious,” Maisa says, watching Isabelle dart around the room.

“Yeah.” I grin at the puppy. “When did you pull this off?”

“I got her today,” Maisa says. “Bedevil and I picked her out a week ago, though, and we already filled the forms for you. You just need to sign it.”

“And your lessons with Arch?” I ask Bedevil.

“Today I baked you cupcakes and helped set up the apartment,” Bedevil says. “Archimedes made an exception for today.”

I smile at her. “Thank you. Thank you both. This was really special for me.”

We clean up for the night, and while Bedevil showers, I sit in bed and play with Isabelle. I’m trying to get my mind off tomorrow, and the party helped with that for a while. Now that I’m headed for sleep, though, my mind is a jumble. What am I going to say to the court?

I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve kept myself busy helping the city.

Bedevil returns from her shower, towel wrapped around her. “She’s so cute.”

“Why a Shih Tzu, though?” I ask.

“You’re a sucker for cute things,” Bedevil says. She crawls onto the bed and kisses me, and cuddles into my chest. Isabelle plays with her good hand, still not tuckered out just yet.

“You got me there,” I say, and kiss her back, and take Isabelle outside to put her down for the night.

Bedevil and I celebrate my birthday the best way a young couple in love can.

She falls asleep against me, naked, her body vibrating with energy. I stroke her hair until I am certain she’s out. And I sit there for a while longer, breathing her in.

I hear scratching at my door and find Isabelle whining, wanting to be let in.

“You have a dog bed, don’t you?” I ask.

Isabelle whines at me.

“Hmm.” Bedevil also happened to buy a leash, so I clip that onto Isabelle’s collar. I pick her up and carry her to the balcony, where I fly down to the shore that the HQ overlooks. Sure enough, Isabelle does her business, and buries it in sand.

I take her back to the HQ and decide to walk her around the halls. She bounces happily, still not tired. Her claws make a pitter-patter on the tiles as she leads the way back to the lobby.

The grand entry of Foundation is eerie this late at night. There’s no one but a single clerk at the desks, staring at his computer with a frown, and he ignores me. The fountain babbles, the lone voice within the lobby, and Isabelle charges for it until she meets the end of her leash. I follow her there, amused by her limitless energy.

Guess she really is the dog for me.

I sit down on the tile and hold Isabelle over the fountain water. She yips and whines, and her legs start paddling.

I glance at one of the halls. I tell myself I don’t want to go down there, that I should wait until tomorrow to see her.

Then, something else occurs to me. I pick Isabelle up and carry her into the hall, past the sign that says CONTAINMENT. I march down the hall until I make it to an elevator, where I swipe my keycard. The elevator doors open, I step inside, and punch the button for B-3. The elevator lurches.

Isabelle whines in my arms.

I shush her and whisper into her ear. “It’s okay, Izzie, it’s okay.”

Yet, I agree with her. I don’t like where I am going.

The elevator opens on a more spartan hall than all the others, and I walk past doors with dark windows. Each one of these is a cell meant to hold Heavyweight people. Guards wander the hall, Argentinian soldiers now instead of the OPI capes that were stalking the prison the first day we arrived.

I find the one door with the light on in this level. A guard stands by.

“Uh, are you sure you want to bring that dog in?” he asks me.

I nod. “It’ll help open him up, I think.”

“Nothing’s opened him up,” the guard replies. “Archimedes came down here yesterday. I could hear him from outside.”

“Archimedes won’t get anywhere by yelling at him.” I enter the room.

There’s a single chair facing a huge panel window that is currently dark. I sit in that chair and tap the button that will wake Tim Prince up from his slumber.

His room lights up, and I find that he is currently awake, sitting on his bed. There’s not much in there with him, just a bed, a table that is bolted to the wall and a chair bolted to the table, and a toilet. His gaze falls on me and his blank face lights up.

“Nice dog,” Tim says. “Real cutie.”

“Thanks. I just got her.”

“You come down here just to show her off?” he asks.

I shake my head. “No. I came down here to talk to you. There’s something I’ve wanted to know, since I got free of the Fear.”

“What is it?” Tim asks, his eyebrows raised in curiosity.

“You have a power, don’t you?”

In answer, Tim grins at me, and I’m reminded of a tiger snarling from its cage in a zoo.

 

4.15.1

ARC 15: NEW FOUNDATION

A month goes by like the snap of a finger.

At dawn, Bedevil and I walk hand in hand — okay, if I’m being honest, it’s more like I’m dragging her by the hand — into the relief crew tent, as we have every day for the last month. Even this early, workers swarm the tent, waiting for orders and supplies.

Mago, the Argentinian cape in charge of the relief efforts, works at a temporary desk alongside a few other clerks. He’s performed a miracle coordinating the repair and rescue efforts of Buenos Aires. While he’s a stick-thin man, he gives me the impression of an unshakable tower. Unlike most capes, he’s just dressed in a work outfit with large overalls, and he has a bushy beard and long, unkempt hair.

Mago greets me with a big smile that splits his beard, and in Spanish, he says, “If it isn’t the lovebirds! Same time as always.”

“The butt crack of dawn, just like I like it. We’ll probably need an IV of coffee for her.” I pat Bedevil’s head.

Bedevil grumbles at me. “Up too late.”

“Nobody’s fault but yours,” I reply in English. “Besides, I told you to sleep in.”

“Nuuuuhhhh.” Bedevil stuffs her face into my chest and clings to my arm. “Nuuuuhhh.”

I laugh and switch back to Spanish for Mago’s sake. “Coffee?”

“We’ve got a pot brewing,” he says. “While I’ve got you, here’s where we could use your help today.”

Mago tells me where he needs us most while Bedevil gets some coffee. She drinks it with a sour face and even though I’m supposed to be listening to Mago, I can’t help but stare at her. I drink her in; her golden hair and eyes, her sleepy pout at the coffee, and the way she sticks her tongue out at me when she notices me watching.

Fireworks explode inside my chest. I am wild for her.

“Oi, lovebird, you gonna join me anytime soon?” Mago asks.

I chuckle and listen in.

The work is not easy, and we’ve been at it for weeks. I’ve tried to go where I’m needed most; clearing rubble and hauling heavy things around. Bedevil and I work together for the most part, since her telekinesis makes her incredible at construction and cleaning debris.

We take vans out to the disaster sites. We crowd shoulder to shoulder inside. While we ride out, I stare out the window at the scars the Fear left on the city. Huge craters, collapsed buildings, and broken roads. There are still bodies lying around in places. Even though it didn’t destroy the city, the Fear made good on its promise to break the foundation of the world.

Yet, in that destruction, the people of Buenos Aires work day and night to rebuild. The buildings they replace, the roads they repair. The craters they fill with dirt, cement, and rebar skeletons to provide a solid foundation again. From the window of the van I see them smiling and laughing as they work. I smile at their resilience. This is a good city.

Our van pulls up to the site we’re working on, the ruins of one of the collapsed skyscrapers and some of the buildings it crushed. The damage sprawls for nearly a block.

Bedevil stares at the wreckage and frowns. “There’s still so much left to be done.”

“Do you think this counts as me lifting a building like Megajoule?” I ask. “I mean, you’re here, too. It’s technically a whole building at this point.”

Bedevil snorts. “You’re a turd.”

“We’ve reached the phase of our relationship where you’re calling me a turd.” I wrap my arm around her and hold her close, and gesture grandly. “It’s a new stage of us.”

Bedevil sticks her tongue out at me, again. But once she’s done, I can see her smile wistfully. She rubs her left ring finger with her thumb. I know what she’s thinking about. A certain paper that got burnt up in Oracle’s old home, where she’d written her name and mine together over and over again.

A new stage of us. I’ve thought about it, too.

I’ll have to bite my lip a little bit longer. Not until after we’ve settled everything with Cynic and Lucio Genz.

The one big thing I’ve worried about is Nero. No one found him after the fight with the Fear, and Cynic has no idea where he is. He just up and disappeared. I’ve spent a few evenings scanning the city with Remise, but we’ve not been able to find him at all. Linear’s watched cameras but the city’s CCTV is in chaos from the destruction.

I’ll find him and I’ll kill him, though.

I use my power to keep the workers cool and to lift the things they can’t lift. Chunks of stone that each weigh more than a ton are no hurdle for me anymore, so I haul them over to piles for trash compactors or Krater to take care of later.

At around noon, we take a lunch break. The crews are provided with boxed rations which are mostly sandwiches and fruit, and I’m not gonna complain about free food. At the start of the clean-up, the other workers didn’t want to sit near me much less look at me. I think they thought I was a god.

Now?

“Ey, Gabe, did you get an apple? I’ve got some grapes, do you want to trade?” a worker named Lucas asks me.

“Fuck your grapes,” I answer, but I offer him a slice of my apple anyway.

I listen to their stories. Lucas is a shop clerk with a two year old daughter. He hasn’t found his wife since the attack, and the longer the time goes on, the more the spark in his eyes die. I don’t want to lie to him but I don’t want him to give up hope. So, I told him I’d look for her when I could.

Mattie, as he wants me to call him instead of Mateo, is the eldest son of two sixty-somethings that own a mechanic shop on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. They were spared from most of the trouble, and so he’s been using his spare time to volunteer.

A twenty year old girl named Alma that kind of reminds me of Saw Off asks me about Houston, and tells me that she’s dreamed of visiting the U.S. I tell her about Houston but I try not to tell her that with the U.S. closing its borders, she might not get the chance to go.

Isabelle is looking for her dog, and his description reminds me of Pawpaw. I promise to help look for him. Lorenzo has had trouble affording food so I give him my sandwich.

I start to feel a bit like the Giving Tree, but they all want to talk to me, too, so it’s not completely just me being a doormat. I always make them tell me a bit about themselves while I’ve got them for a minute, and being human, they like to give it.

They don’t realize that we’re linking arms as we do so, that our colors entwine together and they’ve given me a piece of themselves to reflect on. I’m not sure it matters, since they get a piece of me, too.

Bedevil sits next to me toward the end of our lunch. She leans into my shoulder, takes my hand in hers, and brings it to her lips for a kiss. The touch of her lips still sends a jolt through my body, even though it’s been almost half a year since we first kissed.

I lean my head on hers as I watch the other workers finish up their lunches. “I’ve been thinking about something.”

“What?” Bedevil asks.

“It’s just that… well, I’m worried about something and I’m afraid you’ll reject me.”

Bedevil pulls back and puts her left hand on my cheek. “I swear that I won’t reject you.”

“When is it okay to fart in front of you?” I ask.

Bedevil slaps my shoulder. “You fuckin’ ass. You had me worked up. I thought it was gonna be something like kinky or… or…”

“Or that I have an extra dimensional demon of pain inside me?” I ask.

“Yeah, that.” Bedevil rubs her forehead against my arm, not unlike a cat. “I’ve been thinking about something, lately, too.”

“Is it a kinky thing?”

“You wish. No. I just…” She pauses, tapping her chin. A piece of me that made it to her. A piece of Megajoule, really, but that’s okay. He got it from somewhere, too. “I can’t express it with words, but do you know that feeling when you lose a bunch of weight?”

“Were you fat at one point?” I ask.

“No!” Bedevil growls. “Like if you take off a heavy backpack or something, and then you stand up straight.”

I nod. “I am light, now.”

“Yeah. It’s good. I’m really happy that you are.”

I smile. “I hated that I borrowed so much from him, you know. I hated myself. But I don’t, anymore.” Not that it’s been completely easy to rid myself of those thoughts. I suspect I’ll have dark days in the future. But I know why, now, and I know what to do about them. “I’ve been thinking about something else, too. What we’re going to do next. I know Oracle and Archimedes have been negotiating with the government to set up Foundation again.”

Bedevil nods. “It’s going well. OPI is a roadblock but once Cynic is tried before the senate I don’t think they will be anymore.”

“Look at what happened to you and me, and Megajoule. Hell, Wind Rider, Meltdown, Templar, Longinus. How many of these people went uncared for after they suffered? Where was OPI’s therapy? Where were the aftercare people?”

“I was assigned a counselor,” Bedevil says. “They didn’t make me go, though, not after the first appointment.”

“That’s what I mean. OPI didn’t take care of people.” I click my tongue. “We should take care of people.”

Bedevil squeezes my arm. “We will. I promise.” She checks her phone after and gasps at the time. “Hey, babe, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tonight when you get back, okay? Arch’s gonna be so pissed at me for being late.”

I kiss her on the cheek. “It’s fine, love, he knows you’re out here helping.”

“He literally said it was a waste of time for me to be out here instead of learning.” Bedevil looks like he’s said a lot of things like that. She snorts, and adds, “He didn’t tell me at all what he and Oracle had planned.”

“Front toward enemy. You were a substitute for me while I was gone,” I say. “He probably didn’t want to mess you up from saving me.”

“That… makes sense…” She furrows her brow. She’s so cute. “Okay. I’ve got to go. I’ll see you.”

With that Bedevil steps up, balances on her feet, bends over to give me a kiss, and then launches into the air with her telekinesis. I watch her fly off, still amazed that she knows how to fly on her own, now.

When I look back down, the workers are grinning at me.

Late that afternoon, Flashfire and Saw Off show up at my work site. Saw Off trots up to me like she always has, like the first day I met her in the firing range. “Gabe Babe! How’s it hanging? Are you ready for your special day?”

“What’s special about today?” I ask.

“She means it’s the day before Cynic’s trial,” Flashfire says. He walks up and pats me on the shoulder. “Hey, brother. How’s it going out here?”

“It goes. The work is slow, but it goes.” I grin at him. “Has Archimedes let you back into the command room, yet?”

Flashfire scowls. It’s not bitter and angry, like it used to be when he would stalk around Epione’s backyard by himself. Lighter, friendlier. Being out of Houston has been good for him. “I don’t want OPI to be replaced by another OPI. If it’s the same business as usual, you can count me out.”

I try my best to reassure him. “Bedevil and Templar are gonna be on the new table of Foundation. You think they’ll let things go the same way this time?”

“No. But still.”

I pull him into a side hug, leveraging my height and a slight boost to strength with kinetic energy so that he can’t worm his way out of it with judo. “It’ll be fiiiine. You’re just paranoid.”

Saw Off has already started flirting with Mattie, so she’s left us alone for the time being.

Flashfire pulls free of the hug. He sighs, and he struggles to speak.

“What’s up?” I ask. Flashfire is the type to be concerned about twenty different things at once and to get really upset about each one.

“It’s about me and Ep, Gabe.”

Oh. “Shit, dude.”

“Yeah. It’s… We called it. Threw in the towel.”

“It’s over,” I murmur. “I’m sorry.” I haven’t been paying attention to my friends since the incident. I’ve been working every day to help clean up the city. To be fair, so have they, and we’ve all been a bit quiet since we’ve started working.

“She told me about what happened.” Flashfire blows a raspberry and sighs. He’s rattled and busted by it, I can see that. “What the hell do you say to that, dude? She literally lost her love for me fighting the Fear. She lost it saving lives. You can’t be mad about it, she didn’t know.”

And then, Flashfire turns on me and I see the pain running all the way down to the core of his heart, a deep well of it in his eyes. “And you didn’t, you fought the Fear and you still love Bedevil, so why did she lose it when she has power over that stuff?”

“I…” Shit, I have no idea what to say. “I don’t really have the right words to say to you.”

He shakes his head and wipes his eyes, and composes himself. “I’ll bounce back.”

“I know, you’re hot,” I say. “Everyone thinks so.”

Laughter cuts through his sorrow, and he kicks a rock while laughing. “I’ve never seen it, myself. I’ve been asked to model, my brothers and sisters called me ‘pretty boy’ back in the army.”

“Maybe you’re just not your type.”

He grins, though his eyes are red and tears trickle down his cheeks. “I’m glad you’re back. I missed you, bro.”

“I missed you, too. I wanted to come rescue you about three different times, but…”

“But sometimes you just can’t,” Flashfire says. “Trust me, I know. Sometimes there’s walls you can’t see between you and the people you want to protect.”

“You two done with your manly tears session?” Saw Off asks, trotting up to us. “We’re gonna be late if we don’t hurry.”

“Late for what?” I ask.

“A little thing. Will you fly us back?” Flashfire asks.

I shrug. I guess I’ll see what they’re up to. “Hey, guys, tell Mago I had to call it a little early today!” I shout to the other workers.

“Sure thing, lovebird!” Mattie shouts back.

I place my arms around both their waists, drink in all of our kinetic energy, and launch us into the air. I’ve gotten better at manipulating gravity since I’ve started helping clean up the city. Easier to fly with others, now.

We return to the Foundation HQ, landing in the courtyard together.

The one thing that I love about this building is the inscription over the walls. It is a vague translation of an old quote from a famous celebrity of the 20th century, named Mr. Rogers. I didn’t realize it at first, until one of the capes explained it to me. Roughly, it means: “Look for the altruistic ones.”

But the quote it is invoking moves me.

Look for the helpers.

The thing I like less about the courtyard is the giant gold statue of one of the first Foundation heroes. Not like there’s much I can do about that. Not like they’d let me melt it.

“Do you think they would let me melt the statue?” I ask Flashfire as I set him and Saw Off down.

“I’d let you do it,” Saw Off says. “When are we doing this? Tonight? As part of the—”

“God, Caileigh, just… shush!” Flashfire says.

Now, I’m curious. “What are you two planning?” I’m worried my plans to propose to Bedevil have been spoiled somehow.

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” Flashfire shakes his head and scowls at Saw Off. “Come on.”

Okaaaaay, then. I follow them into Foundation HQ, where we’ve all been living for the past month. The HQ reminds me of an anvil, a fitting metaphor as we aim to help build a new world in the face of the Fear.

The lobby is, again, far too garish for me. Marble columns, glittering gold, a babbling fountain. Oh, and tons and tons of capes and OPI agents, and now Argentinian officials, too. They watch me enter but no one bars us from heading into the living quarters.

I am suspicious, now. Saw Off is practically buzzing with excitement, and she bounces up and down as we make it back to my apartment. Saw Off stares at me and gestures to the door. “Open it.”

I take out my keycard, squinting at her. I worry I’m about to eat a grenade.

I open the door.

A flash of light and a pop, and a cheer: “Surprise!”

4.14.10

The giant melts away, scattered by the wind. Burning threads of darkness ride the breezes until they disintegrate.

Megajoule’s slogan resounds over the city. The words “Reach, Dream, Strive, Become,” echo off the skyscrapers, carried by my thundering voice. The chant catches with the Primum and the soldiers, with the regular capes fighting for their lives against the puppet. Reach, they shout, dream, strive, become. It becomes a rallying war cry. Triumphantly they cheer as the giant collapses into nothing.

I land in the midst of the puppets, swinging my blood conjured bat. Despite the Fear’s death, they don’t fall. They continue with their relentless onslaught, and only just now that I am in the midst of them do I feel how huge their numbers are.

But I am not alone.  Bedevil swings in to my side, her power whipping bodies and puppets into the air. Krater charges through dozens at a time. Epione uses Carnality’s power to its extent, conjuring blood blades and carving a path through the zombies. Meltdown flies over the horde and rains lightning upon them. She crushes them with gravitational pulses. Longinus, Flashfire, Maisa, and Remise all contribute to the battle. Light and fire. Blood and death.

The tide is not too much for me to bear. The zombie’s feeble attacks bounce off my skin. Neither is it too much for my friends. Bedevil is untouchable, she flies by her own power and pulls apart the horde beneath her. The others are much the same.

It’s the rest of our side I’m worried about. The Primum, the capes, the regular soldiers. I bound over to the line and find that the soldiers are retreating as the horde pushes over the line of tanks. The zombies are whipped into a frenzy by my Fear’s death, and they’re taking it out on the line. “We need help over here!” I call, and raise my hand up. I set it aglow with the energy inside me like a brief flare so that my friends can see where they are needed.

As I do that, a small group of people bound over the tanks and pass the struggling soldiers. There must be about a dozen of them. They aren’t wearing cape outfits but homemade costumes or civilian clothes. They don’t have anything official on them. They’re masks.

A man in a track suit skids over the tanks on a jet of green flame from his heels. He hurls fire bolts into the puppets, each one a different color than the last. He whirls in the air, and I hear him shouting, “Reach! Dream! Strive! Become!” like it’s some kind of religious mantra. “Hold the line! Help Gabe!”

I suppose it is somewhat spiritual. I fall into chanting it again, too, and dive into the fight next to Roman Candle (for lack of a better name). Others join. A woman flies by on ethereal wings. Her feathers fall on the zombies, and where they touch, they burn and destroy. Another mask with super speed blurs over the line with a flurry of kicks. Another, and another. “Protect the line!” I don’t know who shouts that. “Help Gabe!”

“Reach! Dream! Strive! Become!”

And then Bedevil is at my side, summoned by the flare I gave off. There are tears in her eyes and she chants with the others, too, repeating Megajoule’s slogan.

Our slogan, now.

We fight as one. We shout as one.

We beat the horde down as one. The soldiers rally, the capes join us, and we funnel the horde into a firing line so that we can finally bring them down. I grieve for them; it’s partially my fault that they are gone, possessed by the Fear, but there’s nothing left to do but save others from this misery.

I won’t lie. It is an hour or more of bloody, exhausting work. It’s a mess, and by the end of it, I am exhausted. It’s been days since I’ve had a meal and slept in a decent bed. Someone catches me as I collapse to my knees; it’s Bedevil.

“Hey, baby, I’m here,” Bedevil says. Her voice is so lovely. I’ve always loved her voice. “Are you okay?”

We’ve cleared the line and now it’s just the capes hunting the stragglers down. I see people wandering the aftermath, checking the bodies and searching for fallen comrades. I climb to my feet with Bedevil’s help. There’s something I need to make sure of while I’m still here. Before the battle closes, I have to make sure that Carnality is destroyed. “Help me find Carnality.”

Bedevil lifts me up and we float across the highway by her power. I can’t believe the wreckage; thousands of bodies litter the pavement, spread out into the houses and buildings. I can hear screams; I want to help whoever it is but I’m so tired, and other capes have already gone to hunt the rest of the puppets down.

“Here,” Bedevil says, bringing us down near where the Fear died. I find Carnality’s body amid the others.

She still stares up at nothing with blood-red eyes, a trickle of ink spilling from her lips. The ink stains her marble skin like someone ran a sharpie from her mouth to her jaw. There’s no life left in her.

I kneel down next to her and place my hand on her chest.

“Gross,” Bedevil says.

“Hardly the grossest thing I’ve done near you,” I say. I try to manage some humor, but between the solemn environment and my exhaustion, I don’t manage much.

I have a lot of energy stored in the suit, though, and I will that into Carnality’s body. Her body glows and starts to crack apart as I flood her with heat. Over the course of two minutes, she disintegrates into ashes. Those ashes melt dissolve into gray dust that melds with the blood and dirt.

I heave a sigh of relief. Unlike with Nero, her power won’t bring her back. It just made her extremely hard to kill as long as she had blood.

Bedevil helps me stand and we work our way back toward the line. As we start our journey back over there, I see Meltdown huddled over a body. My heart drops into my stomach. “Ruby, wait.” I point to Meltdown’s crouched form and Bedevil takes us over to her.

Meltdown cradles Wind Rider’s head in her lap. He isn’t breathing. There’s a nasty gash on his throat and another in his side, and from my heat sense, his blood isn’t flowing anymore. He’s dead.

Meltdown isn’t crying. She sits there, trembling, and looks at something far away, far far away from a dead husband and a broken city. Bedevil shudders at the sight, and sheds her own tears. I won’t hold that against her; even if it ended badly and he married someone else, at some point she loved him.

We sit down next to Meltdown. I know at times like this, you just don’t say anything. Not until she does, anyway, and she doesn’t. Not for a long time. Not until Longinus finds us all sitting here in the middle of the death, the battle almost over.

He frowns at his former teammate’s body. “Would you like me to pray for him?”

Meltdown wipes her eyes and nods.

Longinus kneels down and closes Wind Rider’s eyes. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.” A simple little recitation, but enough that Meltdown begins to cry.

I try not to, but despite everything, I’m so exhausted that I almost pass out on Bedevil. She doesn’t try to stop me. She holds me close, a little closer than she normally would, I think, and hums a soft song.

Some Primum nearby come and offer to take Wind Rider’s body. Emergency workers are crawling through the field now, searching for survivors, but they also take some of the dead, too. Christ — sorry, Longinus— just looking at it hurts. This will take weeks to clean. The city burns from the where the Fear’s payload landed. This city will be wrecked for months. Maybe years.

“I’ll take care of Meltdown and see to Wind Rider,” Longinus says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I can’t imagine Cynic will just let us walk.”

“I’m surprised we’re not under arrest already.” I climb to my feet. “I think we’ve got more important things to worry about, though. I need to go help find bodies. I can use my heat sense—” I stumble to my knees mid sentence, unable to stand a second longer.

“Love,” Bedevil whispers. “We’ve got to find you some food and somewhere to sleep.”

I support my weight on her and stand. “No. I’ve got to help. The Fear used my power to do all this damage. I’m going to fix it as best as I can.”

“Gabe, you’ve already done enough. You killed the Fear.” Bedevil looks worried for me. “I don’t want to lose you because you’re too stubborn to go take a nap.”

She’s not wrong. I’m exhausted and in danger of burning out after all this fighting. I haven’t eaten in three days, but the water that Longinus gave me sated my thirst. Still, I have strength to go on, and there may be people trapped in the wreckage back in the city.

“Back when I was really burnt out, you told me my power was for when we found the people that needed saving. My power couldn’t help in finding her like Remise or Drone could.” I tap her on the cheek, a gesture that makes her smile, even if just a little.

How far I’ve come, though, from that time. “But I learned that I could use my power for medicine, like when someone here went through detox and needed me to regulate her temperature, or if I needed to sear a wound closed. I can use it to see heat signatures through rubble and feel sound worming through the earth. I can find the people that need saving, and then save them.”

Bedevil has no reply, but her face softens as she sees my determination to go on. She squeezes my arm.

“You also said that Megajoule was the kind who’d catch the falling building and leave the work of finding survivors and repairs to everyone after. He did the heavy lifting and left the details to others. You said that I’d be the first one inside that building if I’d caught it. You were right then, and you still are. I’m strong enough to do both.”

Bedevil sighs and smiles. “I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Yeah.” I grin back at her. “Would you like to help me?”

“Always,” she says.

Not long after, as Bedevil brings me to the line of tanks where emergency services care for soldiers, the others from the Underground catch up with us, along with Krater. They’re all worn out, just as much as I am. And just as I am, they look ready to continue on. The work is not done, yet.

“I’m going into the city to help find survivors,” I tell them.

Remise pats me on the shoulder. “We’re headed that way ourselves. Figured ye would be going. What about Cynic and OPI? Nero?”

“If they want to send someone to stop us, they’re welcome to try,” I say. I am admittedly worried that no one has seen Nero in all this battle. I know he was here, but I haven’t seen him at all in the aftermath.

Bedevil squeezes my arm. “Maybe you shouldn’t be making threats when you’re tired, babe.”

“We don’t need to worry,” Flashfire says, the only one still wearing his helmet from the drop team. “Archimedes says the president arrested Cynic, and that they’re negotiating with him right now. We’re free to help with the rescues.”

Well, that’s a fantastic cherry on top of this entire pie. It’s justice of a sort. Not sure where that leaves Nero, but if I see him, I’ll have Epione take his powers and we’ll figure out what to do with him after.

We split up into two groups. Bedevil, Maisa, Remise, and I go to the southern side of Buenos Aires, where I hit first, while Epione, Krater, and Flashfire go to fish through the northern side.

I’ve been told that the anarchy following the emergence of superpowers was the worst time in history. I’d heard that towns were wiped off the map, that cities were left with festering wounds, and millions were killed across the world. I’ve seen the scars of battle in Houston, on old homes and streets that haven’t been renovated in over thirty years and so still tell the history of a time when the superpowered did as they wished.

I imagine that this is what it was like to live through that time. We walk through the wreckage of smoldering skyscrapers and broken streets. Walls of dust and smoke move like waves in the ocean, swallowing everything in their path and making it difficult to use my heat sense. People wander the streets looking for loved ones in the wreckage.

I pick up a few heat signatures in a crumbling hotel, and Remise confirms heartbeats through the stone. Bedevil and I dig while Maisa throws her flashing lights into the air to signal for rescue workers.

My muscles scream for sleep, my eyes want to close forever, and my heart is pounding like I just ran a marathon. I do not give up. I dig using my power, removing huge pieces of rock and cement by robbing the energy of gravity from them, turning them weightless.

I dig until I hear a single cry for help. A young boy’s voice. I see him staring out through the rubble, and beside him, his mother, bleeding from a head wound but still conscious. She smiles as she sees me and cries tears of relief as I pull her son out.

I scoop her into my arms. In Spanish, I tell her: “It’s okay. My name’s Gabe. I’m here to help.”

The woman weeps and laughs and clings to me. “I know who you are.”

“Good. That’s good.”

 

ARC 14: COLOR ENTWINING // END