Chapter 16 – Villain and Savior

“Ngh…”

Austin gradually came to, his eyelids slowly opening to reveal somewhat blurred vision. He groggily lifted his head, allowing his vision to return to normal before investigating his surroundings: a twin-sized bed shoved against the wall, covered in navy blue sheets; a computer desk across the room, blanketed in dust; a powered-down fan near the room’s window; posters of all kinds on the walls, depicting a variety of video games and anime…

This is… my room back home… Austin’s heart skipped a beat as a wave of unease crashed over him. What am I doing here? How did I get here? He attempted to stand, but stumbled when his arms refused to move. What the—? My hands are bound? The hell—?

“Oh, you’re finally up.”

Austin’s attention jumped to his closet, where he met eyes with a mirror image of himself. The fog that previously obscured his mind immediately cleared, with the events of the day jumping to the forefront of his mind — particularly, when he was attacked with a scythe. He immediately looked down at his torso, but there was no blood or injury to be seen or felt.

“It’s called Subspatial Storage. Neat, huh?”

“…What…?” Austin responded cluelessly.

“How I got you here,” the impostor stated, and then summoned the gold and black scythe from before. Austin reflexively winced away, prompting a chuckle from the impostor. “Yeah, pretty cool, huh?”

Despite not wanting to, Austin couldn’t help but agree. Summoning weapons out of thin air? That’d be way more useful than these stupid powers that I have. Simulator something or other? Fuckin’ stupid… “…What’s that got to do with this… ‘Subspatial Storage,’ though?”

“If I attack something with this scythe, then instead of slicin’ it up, I can store the object in Subspace,” the impostor explained, “then, I can pull it out later, exactly as it was when I stored it. Pretty fuckin’ convenient, if I do say so myself.”

“But… I wasn’t tied up when you attacked me.”

“That’s right, but when I unstored you here I just knocked you out immediately. Probably why you don’t remember it.”

“…So you’re sayin’ you gave me a concussion?”

“Bah, I know what I’m doin’. You’re perfectly fine.”

“Knowin’ me, and since you’re supposedly me, I’m not too confident in that assessment.”

“Heh. Can’t really fault you there.”

“So, uh…” Austin tugged at his bonds. “…Why am I tied up?”

“’Cause you’re a hostage.” The impostor shrugged. “Why the hell else?”

Austin scowled. “What the hell are you planning?”

“Should be obvious enough…” He gestured toward Austin. “Notice anythin’ different about your outfit?”

Looking down again, Austin noticed that his clothes had been changed. The SERRCom jumpsuit uniform he had been provided for training was replaced with a gray t-shirt, jeans, and a navy blue vest — prompting Austin to immediately snap his attention back to the impostor. Not only was he wearing Austin’s uniform, but his left arm — which previously had a metallic sheen — now looked like a normal, flesh-and-blood appendage.

The impostor smirked. “Finally noticed, huh?”

Austin began struggling in an attempt to free himself from his bounds; unfortunately, the impostor seemed to have tied his wrists together rather securely. “…Damn it, you can’t replace me…!”

“I beg to differ,” the impostor replied as he took a seat at the computer chair next to Austin’s desk. “There’s nothin’ different between the two of us, physically. Long as I come out first, with you tied up, they’ll believe that I’m you.”

“That’s ridiculous…” Austin scowled. “What about your arm? And— and your lack of powers?”

The impostor snorted. “I can hide my prosthetic well enough with a hologram. As for my powers, well…” He shrugged. “I’m no Psychotechnic, but that shouldn’t matter. With how useless you’ve been over the past few days, I should be able to get along fine. Better, even. I doubt SERRCom will question anything once they realize how much more useful superintelligence is than anything you’ve done.”

“You… you can’t be serious.”

“Oh, I am, believe me. You’re me, after all; you should know how I think.”

“Bullshit! I wouldn’t do somethin’ like this, I wouldn’t— I wouldn’t doom someone else to, to, to who knows what fate just so I could fit in!”

“Isn’t that what you’re doin’ now, by rejecting me? Isn’t that what Spike and Twy did?”

“…That’s not the same. You, you’ve already done bad stuff. You’ve already proved that you aren’t the real me!”

“Mmm, kinda. Sure, I’ve pretty heavily damaged the persona I put up. But if I trade places with you, then you’re that persona, and I’m just regular ol’ Austin Travis. Then you’ll be the fake Austin, Fakie. Heh… ‘Fakie.’ I kinda like that.”

“Fuck…” Austin tugged at his bounds again, to no avail. “…Fuck. The General really was right, huh? Right to call you EA…”

The impostor cocked his head in confusion. “EA?”

“Evil Austin.”

“…Bit on the nose, don’t you think?”

“It’s startin’ to sound awfully accurate about now.”

“Oh please. Takin’ the identity that rightfully belongs to me is hardly evil.”

“It is when you doom someone else by doing so!”

“Maybe. But why do you deserve your life any more than I do? We’re the same person, after all. Same memories, same personality…”

“I’ve yet to see any actual proof of that.”

The impostor pursed his lips. “…This all started when we went to that one museum a couple weeks ago. I remember Sky comin’ over, piling into the car with her and Spike, runnin’ into Twy at the exhibit… I remember talkin’ with her about the Chaos Energy Quake… and then, I remember seein’ a silver sphere on the ground. I thought it was the Master Ayas replica, but when I touched it, I saw, well… visions.” He raised an eyebrow. “Sound familiar?”

Austin scowled. “That— you could’ve just hacked the security cameras, or somethin’. And I told the EIIC Director that I had a vision, if she wrote that down somewhere then— then you could’ve hacked it or somethin’, I dunno.”

“Maybe, maybe. But you didn’t tell anyone about what was in those visions, did you? About the insane blond guy, or the army of metallic bugs? Or the dark-skinned monsters with no mouths? Or the fact that you saw Earth burning, and then some weird, mysterious sphere of blue energy? And that’s not even everything, is it?”

Austin’s scowl transformed into an uneasy frown as he continued to stare at the impostor. He couldn’t come up with many explanations for how the impostor knew about the contents of his vision several weeks ago; he certainly didn’t remember telling anyone about the full contents, at least. Is he… is he really telling the truth, then? He has my memories, and my face… is he really me…?

“Seems like I’m finally gettin’ through to you,” the impostor remarked. “It does feel pretty bad to be throwin’ someone under the bus like this, especially when that person is me. But in the grand scheme of things, I’ll be able to do far more good as ‘Austin Travis’ than you could. I mean, c’mon, Fakie, just think—”

“You are not goin’ to start callin’ me that stupid nickname,” Austin snarled.

The impostor smirked. “Ha! Well you’ve just cemented it now, Fakie!”

“And here I was just startin’ to sympathize with you.” Austin’s frown turned back into an irritated scowl. “Fuck you, EA.”

“Now that one ain’t so bad. ‘EA.’ I kinda like it, actually. Just tweak it a little bit, make it…” He spread his arms out, as though beholding a new art masterpiece. “…’Elite Austin.’” He clapped his hands triumphantly and pumped his fists. “Bam! EA! That’s great! I’ll be takin’ that, thanks.”

Austin’s scowl simply deepened. As angry as he was at the whole situation… he couldn’t help but agree on this one instance. EA had certainly made out with the better nickname. …Maybe we actually are the same person, he mused, but quickly rid himself of the thought.

“That said, if this gambit goes accordin’ to plan…” EA glanced up at the clock on the wall. “…I won’t be needin’ that moniker. I’ll just be ‘Austin,’ and a far more useful one than you could be, at that. I mean, as I was sayin’ — you’ve done absolutely nothing of value so far. In fact, you’re so useless, it hurts! Yesterday, you failed that obstacle course… how many times? Ten? More? I dunno, I stopped keepin’ count after a while. Even Twy managed to finish after a go or two. C’mon, man, that’s just pathetic.”

“Were…” Austin’s eyes narrowed. “…Were you watching…? How?!”

“Heh heh,” EA chuckled. “That’s a secret. By the way, I was watchin’ today, too. I mean, you had to’ve known that that flying robot was mine, right?”

Austin simply growled in response.

“Figured. But even today, you were fuckin’ useless. Twy figured out that water bubble trick, and saved y’all not once, but twice! And Sky figured out the basics of Pyrotechnic flight, and she was the one who did most of the damage to my robot. And then Spike, of course, thought fast enough to both save you and get in some shots on his own. But you? You did nothing! Absolutely nothing! How fuckin’ useless can you be?!”

“I—I— I mean…” Austin stuttered out, “…c’mon, I haven’t had any practice at all! Like… my power is to fucking copy other people, how the hell do I even do that?!”

“The hell do you mean, ‘how do I do that?’ God damn, Fakie, I mean, I knew we were bad at this whole independence thing, but can you really not think for yourself? Did you really never think to just try and fucking copy your friends?!”

“W-well… you know… suddenly appearing in the sky and bein’ attacked by a robot can be pretty stressful…”

“Bullshit. Everyone else reacted just fine! You’re the only one who did nothing!”

“Well what was I supposed to do?!”

Anything! Literally anything! Hell, you aren’t even considerin’ your second Chaotic type, here! Don’t tell me you forgot!”

“…Uh…” Austin stared blankly at EA. “…No…?”

“God damn.” EA facepalmed. “Imperator Psychotechnism! Didn’t that scientist chick tell you that? Do you not remember that?!”

“…Vaguely…”

“Even without your Simulator powers, you can still do lots of shit with your Imperator ones! I mean c’mon, it’s the power to seize direct control of literally anything you touch. That’s OP as fuck, dude!”

“Direct control of anything I touch…?”

“Doesn’t even have to be with your hands. Long as your skin touches some object, bam, you get to control it. Damn, SERRCom ain’t told you shit, have they?”

“Not really…”

“Hmm. Maybe I can help change that. I’m guessin’ that they weren’t takin’ you and your friends seriously before; I should be able to change that…”

Austin gave EA a confused stare. “…Just what the hell is your plan? Did you plan this from the start?”

“Mmm…” EA shrugged. “Yes and no.”

“If you wanna help SERRCom that bad, then why the hell did you attack them? Did you do all this just to take my place in SERRCom? Well you’re still fuckin’ conscripted, so now what? And even then, you can’t honestly expect to keep up the charade for long! They’ll figure this all out eventually!”

“Eh, maybe, maybe not. But even so, there’s more than one way to help.”

Austin rolled his eyes. “Yeah, like attacking them?”

“Exactly.”

Austin stared at EA with a mixture of disbelief and confusion. “You can’t be serious. I was joking!”

“And I’m not.” EA clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “…Well, admittedly, this ain’t completely out of a desire to help. I could, potentially, straight-up take over the Earthian Territories myself. Then we wouldn’t need SERRCom in the first place.”

“One man, running the entire Territories?” Austin glared at EA. “Don’t tell me you’ve turned into some generic supervillain.”

“Ha!” EA snorted. “My motives are a little more nuanced than that. See, I’m at least willin’ to give SERRCom a chance. Hence why I’m tryin’ to replace you, instead of just bombin’ their headquarters to kingdom come. Well…” He glanced aside uneasily, before shaking his head and regaining his arrogant demeanor. “Anyways, I’m willing to give SERRCom a chance, but only so much of one. If they don’t get their shit together soon, then… well, I’m not a very patient man. You know that; you’re me.”

“So… what? If SERRCom doesn’t achieve some undefined goal within an indeterminate period of time… you’ll just attack and take over?”

“Mmm… more or less.”

“You… are fucking stupid.”

“Hey, I’m you, and you’re me. If I’m stupid…”

“Cut the shit,” Austin spat, “we may look the same, but we ain’t the same person. I’m the real Austin. You’re just some… deranged lunatic who happens to have my face!”

“You couldn’t be further from the truth.” EA got up from his chair and approached one of the room’s windows, at which point he peeked out of the blinds. “…But all this arguin’ between us is pretty pointless, wouldn’t you say? Why don’t we let everyone else decide who the real Austin is.”

“Yeah, after you’ve stacked the deck against me?”

“Heh…” EA approached Austin as he produced another piece of rope from his pocket. “…Just consider it SERRCom’s first test. Now open up!”

“Wha—!” Austin drew back reflexively, but EA moved swiftly and pressed the rope across his mouth. He quickly tied it off behind Austin’s head, gagging him.

“Agh! Gah! Ugh!…” Austin began thrashing, attempting to throw EA off of him and make some distance — but his clone simply kicked him in the stomach, sending him reeling in pain.

“Don’t make this hard.” EA grabbed Austin by the cuff of his shirt and yanked him to his feet. “I really don’t wanna hurt you more than this, but if you force my hand, I will.”

“…Ngh…”

“Good. Now get goin’. This is our house after all, you should know the way to the front door. Lead on!”

Shit… Austin began shuffling toward his room’s exit. Shit… how do I get out of this…? …How did I even get into this? I guess Mom and Dad are at work, and Madison’s at school… but still, how the hell did EA get in here? And why here? He glanced back at his impostor, who was following him through the house at arm’s length. He’s keeping his distance?… …Oh! Of course!

Austin stopped in the middle of the living room and thrust himself backward. Caught by surprise, EA was barely able to dodge out of the way, and stumbled into the nearby entertainment center. Not to be deterred, Austin charged into EA, knocking him flat and then attempting to body-slam him, his exposed arms directed downward. EA quickly rolled out of the way, jumped to his feet, and summoned a massive scythe — the same one that he had used to store Austin. He swung it through the air, producing a small mass of blue particles that rapidly coalesced into a pistol that EA grabbed. He then aimed directly at Austin’s chest as he dismissed the scythe.

“…Not bad, Fakie,” he panted out, “…tryin’ to actually use that Imperator ability, huh?”

Austin glared at EA. He had been completely seen through, and now found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.

“Like I said, I don’t wanna hurt you…” EA gestured toward the front door, which was now in sight. “…But if you try somethin’ like that again, I will shoot you.”

“Ngghhh…” Austin growled, but timidly backed away. Shit… damn it, Austin, why can’t you pull off even the smallest thing… he mentally berated himself as he approached the door. EA carefully walked around him to open it, and then gestured for him to walk through. …Fuck. I can’t believe this! Fuck! I am not about to get outplayed by some fake god-damned evil twin!

He reflexively winced as he stepped outside, the bright summer sun temporarily blinding him. As his eyes slowly adjusted, he caught sight of a number of military vehicles all along the street. At least five soldiers stood on the sidewalk in front of Austin’s house, their guns trained on the front door as Colonel Saito tentatively stepped forward.

“…Travis…?” he called out, uncertain.

“Right here!” EA responded, carefully stepping around Austin and holding his hands up. “Whoa, what’s goin’ on?!”

“You tell me,” Saito replied, his hands on his hips. “You’re the one who called in the report on your impostor.” He glanced over at Austin. “Can’t say I expected you to actually capture him…”

“Yeah… he tried to pull some shit on me, but I won out in the end. Fake can’t beat the real deal and all that.”

As EA and Saito continued conversing, Austin’s attention drifted to beyond the imminent danger of the soldiers in front of him. Several of the military vehicles had mounted machine guns, and most of them were manned. SERRCom’s not takin’ any chances, huh… He glanced to the left, and then the right; he couldn’t see any of his neighbors, or any other civilians, for that matter. The only exception were his friends — Spike, Twy, and Sky stood across the street, barred from approaching any further by Mote and Danielle. …Damn. They’re here, too? This is the worst…! Damn it, how do I get out of this? Think, Austin, think! I could try to control someone with my Impera-whatever, maybe that’d prove that I’m me? Or maybe they’d just think that EA has the same powers as me? Shit. If only I could talk, say something, anything, but the longer I wait, the less likely they are to believe me! I gotta do something now! But how the hell do I get this gag off me? If EA’s right, then I just need to touch something, and then I can control it… so what around here can I touch to cut the gag, or my wrist bind? His eyes widened as a realization dawned on his mind:

The binds themselves were in contact with his skin.

After a furtive glance toward EA and the Colonel to make sure they weren’t paying attention to him, Austin began focusing on his wrist binding. He had used his Imperator ability once before, when he immobilized Mote during his arrest several days ago. At the time, it wasn’t intentional, but it was enough for him to know that he was capable of it. But as he attempted to manipulate his binds, he realized just how difficult a task he had just embarked on. The binding’s knot was tight; he couldn’t simply slide it off of his wrist. He would have to somehow undo the knot, which was a practically impossible task given that his wrists were tied behind him — and thus the knot was impossible for him to see. Damn. If only I knew what kind of knot it was, maybe I’d be able to undo it. But I don’t even know how to tie knots in the first place! Except for shoelaces, I guess… He glanced toward EA again. …Well… worth a shot…

As he began attempting to free himself, he could hear EA and Saito’s conversation coming to a resolution.

“…So… yeah.” EA shrugged. “I captured my impostor.”

“I see.” Saito stared at EA for a moment, glancing briefly at Austin before returning his attention to EA.

“…Somethin’ wrong?” EA questioned as he looked back at the soldiers flanking Saito. They had yet to lower their guns. “…I got EA right here. What’s goin’ on?”

“It’s nothing.” Saito shook his head. “…This is just my first time seeing your impostor in person. Can’t say I expected him to look so similar. Identical, even. Don’t suppose you got his origin story out of him?”

“Unfortunately, no…” EA sighed. “He was pretty uptight about that stuff. Didn’t have much time to ask him, anyways.”

“Mm.” Saito grunted. He then raised his right hand and made a gesturing motion, at which point Spike, Sky, and Twy rushed across the street to his side. The Colonel lowered his arm and initiated a quiet conversation with the three; Austin could see them glance his way occasionally, accompanied by a rather significant amount of nodding and head shaking. They must be trying to figure out which one of us is the real me… Austin glanced over at EA, briefly meeting eyes with him. Good. They’ll see through EA in no time—!

“Alright, Austin, c’mon over. We’ll take care of the rest from here.”

“Finally.” EA sighed in relief as he began approaching the Colonel. “’Bout time!”

Oh for fuck’s sake! Austin glared at EA, and then at Twy, when he realized that she was glaring back at him. They honestly think I’m EA?! Bah, fuck this! Just one more second…! There! His wrist binding fell to the ground behind him, its knot undone. Sure enough, EA had used a simple double shoelace knot — the only knot Austin had any amount of familiarity with. Guess we might actually be the same person, Austin mused as he reached up and quickly undid his gag with his hands. As the piece of rope fell from his mouth, he began shouting after EA and the Colonel. “Oi! You’ve got the wrong one—?!”

He stopped halfway through his sentence as Saito’s attention snapped to him, and the soldiers to his side renewed their focus. But a second later their sights were drawn elsewhere, as EA spun around on his heel, summoned his scythe again, and lunged toward Austin. Startled and caught off guard, Austin had no time to dodge out of the way of the blade — so he did the next best thing, instead.

Focusing on EA, Austin held out his hands and tried his best to use his Simulator powers to copy EA’s weapon. For a brief moment, as the scythe’s blade inched ever closer, nothing happened… and then, with a flash of light, a claymore materialized in his hands. Austin was momentarily distracted by the perfect blade, blue and golden crossguard, and a small pale blue glowing orb seated in the middle of the intersection of the blade, crossguard, and black hilt. He hadn’t expected to summon a sword when trying to copy a scythe, but he spent no further time contemplating the matter as he tightly grasped the claymore’s hilt with both hands and snapped the blade downward to intercept EA’s scythe. The two blades clashed with a metallic shriek as Austin’s sword slid down the inside of the scythe’s blade; the moment the claymore caught against the scythe’s shaft, Austin yanked the blade up, moving his weapon like a lever to throw EA’s scythe up and over his head. EA himself immediately jumped back and brandished his weapon defensively.

“Well, well…” EA smirked, but for a fleeting moment, Austin thought he spotted a flash of forlorn resignation in his impostor’s eyes. “…That’s all the proof I need. Well done, Fakie!”

“The hell—?!” Saito exclaimed as he glanced between EA and Austin in surprise. “…Damn it, capture them—!”

Mid-sentence, the Colonel was engulfed in a brief flash of light and disappeared. As did the soldiers beside him, and Austin’s friends, and Mote and Danielle across the street — every single person on the block spontaneously vanished, leaving behind only empty vehicles.

“What the…?” Austin glanced about himself frantically. “…What happened? Where’d they go—aggghh!?”

A massive object smashed into the street from above, crushing all of the cars beneath it and launching dirt, concrete, and debris in every direction. Austin reflexively flinched away, crouching to try and make himself a smaller target. By the time he looked back toward the street, EA had dismissed his scythe and vaulted into the pilot seat of the giant four-legged yellow and blue mech that had just slammed into the ground. Austin felt his jaw drop as the canopy closed after EA, at which point the mech roared to life, stomping the ground underneath with its bug-like legs and swishing its tail behind it.

“Well done, indeed!” EA continued, his voice being projected over some kind of loudspeaker. “I didn’t expect you to grow a spine so quickly. So how ‘bout I test its strength?”

“…You’re the one who made everyone disappear, aren’t you?!” Austin shouted back, “where’d they go? What’d you do with ‘em?!”

“Relax, Fakie, they’re perfectly fine,” EA responded smugly, “albeit… a bit scattered across the city. I’m sure they’ll rush back to help you out. But can you last that long?” The metallic pincers attached to the mech’s cockpit unit gnashed eagerly. “Meet my first manned creation: the Bug Crawler! I’m sure you’ll probably recognize the design from some LEGOs you threw together as a kid. Except now it’s real! And very, very deadly!”

Austin scowled, his grip tightening on his claymore. It was just as EA said: the large, bug-like mech was incredibly reminiscent of some LEGO creations he had built as a kid. And if the mech before him possessed even a fraction of the power his child self had imagined… he shuddered. How was he supposed to fight against a mech all by himself? If EA was telling the truth about scattering the SERRCom forces across the city, then Austin only needed to last until his friends arrived to back him up, but even then… …Or maybe… He glanced side to side, taking note of the empty vehicles lining the street. …Maybe… I can do this myself…

“Alright, enough grandstanding!” EA whooped as he sent the Bug Crawler into a lunge. “Show me what you can do, Fakie!!”

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