TiredFocusDemand UncertaintyPreparedness. The tingle of Cecelia’s lightning across my skin threatened to become painful. I stepped away, as lightning danced between the three of us. “Okay, guys, if we push it any further, my house might not be there when we’re done. The whole neighborhood could wind up nothing more than a burning crater.”
At least the boosted energy seemed to make my throat feel better after my earlier near death experience. Perhaps our Pairbonds do give me a form of boosted healing. Cecelia regenerates, maybe I’m borrowing some of that. Something to test with a minor scrape sometime.
FearLoveReluctance. Domenic stepped toward me. “I’m just worried that we won’t be there to help you if things go bad.”
“I know. I can feel it.” I fought down tears that were as much happiness as anything. Ah, fuck it. I stepped toward Domenic, then embraced him as hard as I dared for fear of hurting him. His metal oozed through my fingertips and formed an impression of my face, and somehow that thought made me happy. To hell with anyone seeing us.
“Look, he’s still my dad, he won’t do anything to hurt me.” I stepped back, and watched Dom’s armor reform. “Plus, if he tries, I think I’m strong enough to hold out until the cavalry rushes a century old mansion. We still think they’re too weak to threaten us, right?”
DoubtConcern ConfidenceReady. I smiled for Domenic, in hopes that he’d understand I wasn’t in danger. Please, don’t make this into a fight. ReluctantYield. Thank you. “Okay, we’ll be waiting out here for you. We’ll try to rework our armors into something better for stealth, in case we need to sneak in.”
I took a breath, then shot up into the air as with as little light as I could manage. My own armor had also been changed to a stealth mode, in as much as I wore a full body suit which hid most of my glow from sight. I kept a hand over my eyes to block what little light was still visible until I was high above the tree line.
When I was ready, I moved my hand and took in my home from above. It seemed foreign now, sinister as every tree might hide an enemy, and the mansion I once saw as beautiful now reminded me of those gothic horror movies where a vampire or warlock would live. I pushed that out of my mind, and used my power fall sideways toward the building where I stopped above the roof, and drifted down. I considered breaking in through my own bedroom window, knowing that room should be vacant.
A black whirl of mist formed near me, then pulled itself together into a humanoid made of ash, with yellow light radiating from its eyes and mouth. It took me a moment to realize I was looking at my own duplicate, using the costume design I had at the parking garage.
Unlike the prior duplicates, I got to see this one up close, in better light, and in an outfit which showed skin. I decided there was no possibility Myriad’s copy could be mistaken for me, or even as human. In fact, it looked more like a wax figure which had sat in the sun too long. Still, the freakish inhuman creature bore enough resemblance to make my skin crawl.
ConcernAlertReady. No, I don’t need your help yet. They wouldn’t hear the thought, but they’d understand that I didn’t want them to get involved. RelucantWait. I crossed my arms while fighting down an urge to scratch myself. “So, you’re throwing away all sense of subtlety tonight, huh?”
It beckoned me toward it with one gnarled misshapen hand, then turned and flew off toward the right wing of the house. I followed behind, certain I’d just discovered the star of all future nightmares in my life. It stopped and pushed on one of the walls, which slid inward with a series of clicks. I had to admire the skill which went into blending the secret door into the wall panels as I stepped inside the dim passage.
We bypassed the stairs, which looked to have been renovated then abandoned to dust and cobwebs. My duplicate hit the ground floor before me, then drifted off into one of the hallways which was kept so authentic that it didn’t even have electric lights. I recognized it as another path which took us to the hallway where the secret section of the house was built.
I stepped ahead of my funhouse-mirror replica, and opened the passage to the secret tunnel. “I think I can take it from here.” Despite my assertion, the copy followed me in silence. I made my way to the same special secret room Dad took me to before, since my shadow showed no sign of objecting to the path. Before I even finished opening the door, I was struck by the stench of fresh alcohol. I stepped further into the poorly lit room, surrounded by paraphernalia that all once belonged to my mother, to Starfall. More than once, I had to kick a bottle out of the way.
I found my father sitting slumped near the back of the room, several bottles laying about him, including one shattered wine bottle. Behind him stood a pretty, if worried looking brunette I didn’t recognize. She couldn’t have been older than thirty, and then only if she had my unfortunate curse of looking five years younger than her real age. The black mist flowing around her filled in the rest of the story.
Myriad, much like Biohazard, had always been one a bogeymen in the background of Heritage, used for intimidation rather than direct combat. Little was known about her, and she was almost never seen in person, perhaps due to the weaknesses Cecelia guessed at. One of the few bits of confirmed information was that she had a black signature, the second most rare and powerful color. “Michael, she’s here.”
I took a slow breath of the acrid, whiskey soaked air. “You wanted to talk to me?” I was surprised by the anger in my voice, and the storm of electricity which distorted it into something even more inhuman than my duplicate.
Dad’s head tilted up, and for the first time I saw my father look vulnerable and angry. He and my mother both had impeccable, if different, self control that I’d never seen broken, yet here he stood before me damaged. “How dare you!” His voice was as distorted as mine, not by power, but by alcohol and a blend of emotion I could only describe as anguish. “How could you do this to her!”
What. I took a step back, trying to parse what was happening in front of me. “I didn’t-”
“The nigger wasn’t enough?!” Dad climbed to his feet, though it was only thanks to Myriad’s help that he didn’t fall over into the bottles. A crunch alerted me that he’d stepped on what must have been an expensive, and fragile, bottle of wine. “Did you hate her so much-”
Okay, that’s it. I clenched my fist, ready to demonstrate to my father the price of calling the man I loved a slur like that to my face. My duplicate grabbed my arm in a grip strong enough to surprise me. I turned, grabbed its arm, and brought my foot back.
“-that you have to soil her memory by fucking the bitch who murdered her?”
I stopped cold. No. Still tangled with my replicant, I turned to face my father and Myriad. “I’m not-”
“Whore!” For being as inebriated as he was, my father had impressive aim with the bottle he threw. The glass caught me in the face, only to shatter off the metal of my armor. Steam hissed and the liquid flash-boiled off me. “She loved you! And-an- you- betrayed-” He broke down into sobs, while Myriad stood holding him. He turned his head to rest on her shoulder, but she kept her eyes on me.
I stood there, unable to think as I tried to piece together their leaps of logic. My chest hurt from fear of discovery, shame, guilt, and the pain of knowing deep down that he was right. “You’re wrong.”
One of Myriad’s hands came up to stroke Dad’s hair. She was taller than my father, if only by a small margin, which still made her average height for a woman. “I copied her.” That statement carried more questions than answers, not that I was in a position to think of them. “She’s not a Gadgeteer at all. Weak shapeshifter, combat boosts, electric touch.” Myriad’s voice shook with emotion, though she kept it under control.
She looked down at my father’s shoulder. “Micheal said you wouldn’t do such a thing, but he told me to make the calls, anyway.” When Myriad looked back up to me, her eyes were watering. “She’s Slayer’s daughter. Amanda was the nicest, smartest, most genuinely good person I’ve ever known, and her own daughter…” she trailed off, putting her own head on Dad’s shoulder.
Some petty, stupid, angry part of me wanted to yell at her to stop touching my father that way. It was obvious to me she had at least one reason to be glad my mother was gone. More than that, I was running through ways to get us out of this, to save Domenic from my mistakes and weakness. “If you go public, so do I.” I felt what remained of my self respect die like it was a physical thing.
“I know!” Dad’s head snapped up, and he turned on me. “You think I don’t know!?”
I shook, fighting back tears while my armor threatened to melt off of me from the heat. I looked down at it, studying the reddish light where some of the steel Domenic had reached the point where they began to glow. The part of me that wished to be anywhere else wondered if there was a scientific name for that. “W- what do you want from me?”
“I want you to die.” Ouch. “G-God forgive me, I wish you had never been born.” He choked out the words, but they were as clear in my ears as the pain which reached from the deepest part of my stomach up into my throat. “A-Amanda wouldn’t. She loved you, I bet she still loves you, even after you betrayed her. I can almost hear her begging me not to hate you, but I’m not that strong.”
“Shh, it’s okay.” Myriad ran her hand over my father’s face, wiping tears away. “I can finish the message, if you want.”
“No. Thank you, but it has to be me.” His eyes locked on mine. “What will happen, is nothing.”
What. “I don’t understand.”
“You will do nothing,” he said as if it would make sense the second time around. “You, your nigger, and your monster leave me and mine alone. Amanda loved you, she loved your brothers, and she loved what we were creating. I won’t hurt her by going after you, but I will not allow you to destroy everything she helped to build.” Once again, Dad was reduced to incoherence by sobs and alcohol.
“We’ll send you lists.” Myriad evidently decided it was up to her to send the message. “Some are our interests, some belong to other gangs, and some are decoys just to keep you on your toes. You’ll leave them all alone, and you won’t call in some anonymous tips, either. Behave, and we’ll even send you locations for other gangs that you can destroy to keep up your sick lie of being the heroes. You work for us, now.”
I shuddered in rage, and for a moment I considered charging them, to end this farce now.
“I- if you’re thinking about adding patricide to your sins, think again,” Dad said. “I’ve contacted my lawyers, for both identities. You’ll be out of the inheritance by Tuesday morning. And I’ve sent out death tapes. I die, and all our dirty laundry gets aired on the national stage.”
I paused, considering all the possible ways Quash might get himself killed. Earlier tonight, as a prime example. “But if it has nothing to do with us?”
Dad lifted another bottle of whiskey. “A toast to my health, dear daughter.” He tossed his head back and chugged the booze. Myriad steadied his hand, and extracted the bottle from it, while the brown liquid spilled all over both of them.
I bit down my need to scream, and turned to leave before I did something I regretted. My inhuman copy still stood in my way, holding my arm. I slammed my forehead into its face, an act which sent it reeling back, and left a dent in my helmet. Behind me, now, came a gasp of surprise which made me feel a little better.
I grabbed its shoulder, and dug my fingers in. I could feel my power depleting as my own forcefield went to war with the copy’s. It’s the inferior version, and even if it isn’t, I have the benefit of Cecelia’s charge stored in Domenic’s metal to draw upon. It flailed at me in a pathetic attempt to break free, but each blow just served to drain more power from both our shields, in equal measure.
Its shield caved moments before I was forced to tap into my personal reserves. My fingers tore through the copy’s fake flesh and bone as both it and Myriad screamed in agony. With one more series of motions, I crushed its other shoulder while bringing my foot down in its knee. The duplicate collapsed, powerless and bleeding out on the floor.
I didn’t stop to contemplate the irony or horror of what I’d done. I bolted down the hall at full speed, burning through my energy like it was a poison which I needed to purge from my veins. In a movement that threatened to cause motion sickness, I went up the staircase to the secret passage.
Instead of taking the time to stop and open the secret door, I smashed through at full speed. To hell with this house and everything it represents.
FearProtect AideLove. That’s my family, now and forever. I twisted in the air, then allowed my flight to turn off so momentum alone carried me to our hiding place a mile from the family property. I landed hard, taking my frustrations out on the ground beneath my feat.
“C- Plasma? Are you okay?” Domenic ran toward me.
I grabbed on to him, again sinking into his metal. Unable to answer in words, I just cried while he held me.