I feel Abe die as he flies into the room, his consciousness winking out in an instant, body tumbling from the air like its strings were cut. But before he’s even hit the floor he’s alive again, catching himself. His resurrection isn’t because of the immortality field.
“Neat trick,” he calls out. “My turn.” A dozen lives throughout the room flash out. This time it is the immortality field that brings them back. But, by the time they’ve revived, Abe’s hit them with metal darts. They slump over, except for one woman who must be immune to sedative. I’m not sure she’s better off for it as Abe hits her with a blast of energy I’m certain could level a building. Her body goes flying through the wall of the tower.
“How, how can you have beaten all of my security?” Lady Hope asks from a throne in the center of the room. Her feelings hit me like a sock to the gut. After the extremes of dealing with Olivia’s power for so long hers feel muted, but now that there are only a couple of people in the room there is no denying a subtle wrongness to her.
I’ve been close to Hope before, during Youth League tournaments and celebrations. I never felt anything like this during those times, albeit it was usually in situations with crowds. What little I felt was always a sort of benevolent magnificence that left a positive impression. Has she always been like this? She sits on her throne, angry at the intruders. There is no concern for her citizens though. And the anger isn’t… normal. She doesn’t just want to stop them, or even kill them. She wants to skin their faces while they still breathe.
Abe knows. He doesn’t have empathic powers, but I can feel that he knows what she is, roughly what she wants for him. His anger towards her is distant and cool though, an absolute hatred that has nothing to do with his actions. “I beat your security because they sucked. Honestly, that’s a large part of the problem, Lady Hope,” he says mockingly as he rolls a small metal ball across the room towards her throne. “You have many more sins than the public is aware, but chief among them is your sheer incompetence.”
Above the ball a blue portal forms and two figures step out next to Hope, one of them carrying a third. The first to emerge is a bent over old woman. I can feel she has no control over her body and is in an incredible amount of pain, the same as Bone and Chain before the end. The second carries an unconscious May Butler in his arms. He is shorter than average, but covered in a metallic armor than gives him slightly more girth than he normally would have.
Krieg Mirkoff, come to finish what he started. The old woman grabs Hope by the hand and places her other hand upon the unconscious form of May. The air shimmers and The Butler, the real one, is standing next to the old woman. Her head explodes.
Then it reforms and Krieg smiles. “It’s done.” The pieces fall together, what these people have been trying to do from the beginning. They just took away Lady Hope’s power and gave it to May Butler, the duplicator. If the power spreads through May’s ability… all I can do is stare in shock as I consider the implications.
The Butler roars in anger, split between everyone before him except his wife. He turns first to Hope. “The only person on the planet who can move your powers to another and you bring her back to life while she’s touching you?!”
Hope realizes what just happened and for the first time she feels fear at the situation. “I…I didn’t mean to. She hadn’t hurt anyone so the default…she…I didn’t think.”
“That’s because you’re an idiot,” Jared Butler sneers. He turns to the old woman and blows off her head again. This time her body slumps to the floor and stays there. Beneath his current rage he feels a slight bit of satisfaction. He knew the old woman, and hated her long before now. Neither Abe nor Krieg are surprised or perturbed by this. Both of them expected this outcome.
The Butler snatches May away from Krieg, sweeps her gently to the floor, then rises back up and spears Krieg through the chest. The metallic suit snaps as Jared’s fist crushes through. Krieg is in a great deal of pain, but he sweeps that fact aside as easily as a normal person might a mild cold. He stares Jared calmly in the eyes.
“You’ve risked my wife’s life, forced on her a power that will force her to kill people and might drive her insane, knocked out my son. You’ve allied with some of my greatest enemies. You nearly tricked me into killing hundreds of thousands of people. You’re apparently harboring a clone of me that could kill millions. If you’d screwed up, you could have easily offed a power that might prevent human extinction. Even ignoring the fact that I just don’t like you, why in the hell shouldn’t I kill you right now Krieg? Both of you?” Jared asks, hand thrust through Krieg’s chest, a quick glance at Abe making clear who is included in that ‘both’.
“Because I did all of those things competently,” Krieg says, undaunted in the slightest. “Hope was far worse than you have any inkling about, but it has nothing to do with her power and we have precautions we can share with you to prevent the issue even if that does play a role in any manner. We just served one of the people you hate most, far more than me, up to you on a silver platter. And we can provide plenty of other contacts you might be interested in dealing with. I’ve already received word that no one was seriously harmed as part of my distraction for you thanks to the hard work I put in choosing the appropriate allies and working through the necessary details. And that clone of yours is a result of you losing half your head in the battle of Petrarch. I found him, taught him, and made sure he stayed out of trouble until he could be of great use to the world. Which I believe was demonstrated by his assistance in handing over one of the most powerful guardian style abilities to someone of much greater intelligence than its original owner, who can also multiply it a couple dozen times, at a minimum, assuming no additional synergies between her existing power or your boosting thereof.”
Jared stares at Krieg, amazement almost surpassing his anger. “Are you seriously telling me that the reason I shouldn’t end your life is because when you were fucking around with my family and the fate of the world, you did a good job of it?”
“Yes. Ignoring that this current scheme vastly decreases our species’ odds of dying a swift and violent death, it was more so to demonstrate our skills since, in the future, you’ll still need us to keep humanity from suffering a slow and lingering extinction,” Krieg forces out. I realize the machines are creating the vibrations needed for his speech, as his lungs are more or less caput. Their lack does not appear to be life-threatening, the man made up almost as much by technology as flesh.
“How the hell do you figure?” Jared asks him, anger ebbing slightly into genuine curiosity at what possible justification could excuse this madness. Abe watches with eagerness. He’s concerned about the precariousness of Krieg’s position and would prefer a peaceful resolution. But there’s a small part of him that is curious how much stronger he could get fighting his original. He’s curious if he could survive long enough to become his equal, or if he’d be put down the way less cognizant abominations end up.
“Because you’re decent. You’re the determined type, the type who doesn’t view himself as a hero because you’ll soak your hands in blood if you have to. But at the end of the day, there’s a limit, a hesitance caused by your humanity. It’s why groups like the executioners even have to exist. You’ll take out an infestation with a scalpel if pushed, but if the time comes that humanity needs some god-damn chemo-therapy? Because I assure you there will be decisions to be made that aren’t decent, aren’t good. They’ll be dirty, fucked up, evil things. Then you’ll have a few choices, trust the devil’s you know, the devil’s you don’t, or kill all of us and do it yourself. And can you do that? Can you drown yourself in an ocean of blood if the need arises? Maybe. I believe you could. But it would destroy you. And there’s no reason for it when you have us to make those calls for you. So you can kill me now, or you can wait a while and see if what we did here works. I certainly couldn’t blame you for hunting me down if your concerns about May holding this ability turn out justified. But if they don’t, you’ll have use for monsters like us.”
“You’re a pain the ass, Mirkoff,” May says from the ground, sitting up and stretching. She immediately splits into more than one body, then does it again. “So this is what you’ve been planning all this time? Why does everything you come up with have to be at least as annoying as it is clever? No matter, this was well played. Come on dear, I don’t want all of these bodies in one place.”
Jared stares a moment at Krieg in consideration, then slowly withdraws his arm, allowing Krieg’s nanites to repair the worst of the damage as he exits. I can feel how excruciating the process is.
“Pray that May turns out okay,” Jared says. “Or I’ll find some new devils to know.” The fierce anger ebbs away, replaced with only concern for his wife. He spares a glance towards the unconscious Blue and me. “Tell my son he’d better be home for the holidays,” he says, nodding to me like the world didn’t just change and no one in the room was nearly killed in the last ten minutes. He grabs two of May’s bodies and teleports away.
May stands up, glaring at Krieg but making no move of aggression. “I can’t say I disagree with you. But I do want to know, what was the real reason you did this? Don’t try and convince me this was for purely altruistic motives. Or even generically selfish ones like long-term survival, given how high the risk was.”
Krieg cocks his head. “In a minute or two, I think the main reason will be joining us,” he says, looking at the ceiling. “Though testing out new toys and taking advantage of the property valuation increase you’ll be assisting with is certainly nice. Also, I believe when the success of this venture shows itself you and Jared will support our desires to be declared Untouchables. As I said, saving our species will require dirty work. I may not have you or governments on my back as a Crime Lord but I’m getting tired of Heroes harassing me. And my more immediate associates have it far worse.”
May raises an eyebrow as Olivia Adaliah comes crashing back through the ceiling and pulls to a halt next to Krieg.