Chapter 68

There are certain things a person is programmed to expect when falling to their death. Fear, of course. Also a bit of nausea as your stomach rises up. Some of the more metaphysically-inclined believers tell us to expect our lives to flash before our lives. The one thing no one is ever really expecting, though, is what happened Nick. To be more precise, a pink-clad missile dropped from the heavens and sacked him in the gut.

"Ooof," Nick grunted as he was swung upward onto the same thin shoulder that had just lodged itself in his intestines.

"Not exactly a picnic for me either," Alice replied, slowing her decent gently.

"Good hit," Nick cracked out, trying to right his perceptions in the blitz of snow and wind assaulting his senses.

"Not going to lie, I enjoyed the hell out of it," Alice chuckled. "Now give me your sunglasses."

"Why?"

"Why? Because I can't see shit and I'm the one driving. Oh, and you aren't getting any lighter, if you were wondering." Their progress downward had come to a stop and Alice was now pushing them upward with increasing momentum.

"Excellent point," Nick agreed, whipping off his shades and placing them in her hand. He would have been more contrary in different circumstances, but being fireman-carried in mid-air was enough to make even him agreeable.

"You might want to hold on," Alice cautioned him. "I've never tried to fly with two people before."

"What's wrong with slow, safe rise?"

"I can't hold you that long. My grip is already slipping," Alice admitted.

Nick reached down and grabbed her belt firmly without another word.

"Watch the hands," Alice snapped and then they were off. Nick might have described the feeling as exhilarating had his life not been in jeopardy. Instead the only words that came to mind were "hellish," "wild," and "horrifying." It turned out Alice didn't just float like an abandoned balloon; she cut through the air with shocking speed and hurtled toward her objective. An objective that was difficult to see even with eye protection, primarily due to her cargo severely compromising her maneuverability. Her grip was steadily deteriorating, but she didn't even dream of readjusting. This was all she had; if she couldn't find a place to land then Nick was going to fall.

Then, mercifully, something pierced the white world surrounding them. A bright burst of flame from thirty feet up and to their left. Alice never hesitated, adjusting her course and barreling toward it. She had no hope of sticking a safe landing with both herself and Nick, so she slowed down as much as she could before arriving, then yelled at the top of her lungs.

"CATCH!"

"What!" Nick shrieked as she flipped him over her shoulder and left him falling through the air once more. This drop was shorter as he felt an invisible force wrap around him and control his descent. Despite the wind and his naked eyes, he saw Alice pull up short a few feet away, plowing into the snow-covered ground with her feet but managing to stop before she hit the mountain’s side. As his own feet finally made contact with the sweet, sweet ground, he turned to face his second savior.

"I thought you couldn't lift people."

"I said it's hard, not impossible," Mary corrected.

"Holy crap, are you okay?" Vince asked, fumbling over to check on his friend. He paused when he arrived, then cocked his head quizzically.

"Huh. I never knew you had brown eyes."

*          *          *

"I am going to cut those two into pieces while they sleep," Nick grumbled as they huddled around the heat provided by a small can of Sterno.

"Good to see that Ethics class really paying off," Vince quipped.

"At least they gave us tents," Hershel said optimistically. Roy had turned back into Hershel a few minutes after Nick and Alice's spectacular air show. They'd taken the time to pull out the pop tents, anchor them down, and then break into jerky and gather by the small can of heat.

"I don't think they'll let us die out here," Alice said.

"Because they're such awesome guys?" Nick asked.

"No, because my dad has more money and political influence than some countries and I'm his only child," Alice explained.

"You never mentioned that before," Vince said.

"It was never a comforting thought before," Alice pointed out. "If I'd said it at a different time it would just sound bitchy."

"It still sounded a little bitchy," Nick said.

Alice punched him in the arm in response. "Next time I'm letting you fall."

"Yeesh, okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Thought a little levity could lighten the mood."

"Well, it is making me laugh," Mary said, giggling softly. "Bodily harm to Nick is always good humor."

"Huzzah, I've finally found my role in the group," Nick said.

"I thought you had smart-ass pretty much on lock down since day one," Hershel told him.

"Seconded," Vince agreed.

"That went without saying," Nick added. "Anyway, enough about me. Let's get back to Alice being a secret millionaire."

"It wasn't really a secret," Alice defended. "I told you about him a little when we did our project. It just isn't something I wanted to bring up. I mean, come on, except for Nick, I don't know anything about your families either. Maybe you’re secret millionaires, too."

"My parents are optometrists," Mary said. "They're well off, but hardly millionaires."

"So neither of them had any abilities?" Hershel asked.

"Only a talent for asking people to read off charts. Me being a Powered was a total shocker for them."

"How'd they take it?" Vince asked.

"Not bad. Better than when I decided to live in the woods by myself," Mary said.

"My mom rolled with it really well," Hershel said. "She took to it like she found out she had another son. She never batted an eye about the fact that I couldn't control when I changed."

"How about your dad?" Nick probed.

"He... well, he left a few years ago, but it wasn't because of me or Roy. Hell, he's the one who taught Roy how to fight. Roy got a lot more unruly after Dad was gone, though. He used to be kind of nice." Hershel cleared his throat and Vince took the cue to pull attention away from his friend.

"What about you, Nick? Alice said she knew about your family, but we don't."

"My parents died when I was a baby. I was raised by my mom's sister, Ms. Pips. Not much else to tell. You?"

"I never met my biological parents," Vince said. "I was given up for adoption at birth. Things went okay for a little while, then my power showed up and... well, there aren't a lot of foster families out there who can cope with someone as ‘special needs’ as I was. So when I was six I gave up and ran away."

"Wait, I've heard you talk about your dad before," Hershel said skeptically.

Vince nodded. "I call him my dad, because he was. Just not biologically. He found me that first week. I doubt I would have made it without his help. He was a vagrant, too, so he took me in and showed me the ropes. For some reason my power never flared out of control around him. I wondered if he had an ability of his own, but he always denied it. He taught me about life, taught me how to fight even though he only had his right arm, and helped me learn to live on the rails. He died in an explosion when I was thirteen."

"I'm so sorry," Alice said.

"It's okay; it was five years ago. I've made peace with it," Vince assured her.

"But... wait, that was when you were thirteen. You joined us when you were eighteen; what did you do in between?" Hershel asked.

"I kept wandering. Dad taught me how, and it seemed safer than staying in one place or getting too close to people. With him gone it was too dangerous," Vince explained.

"So you've been alone for five years?" Alice asked, hoping to be corrected.

"I wouldn't say alone. I met people, even made friends here and there. But in the way you mean it, yeah, I guess I was," Vince told her.

"Okay, I think the rough childhood award definitely goes to Vince," Nick said, breaking the dark mood that had slipped over them.

Alice rewarded him with another punch for his efforts. "Be sensitive, you dick."

"It’s fine," Vince said, waving her off. "Ancient history. Besides, I think it's safe to say we all went through our tough spots."

"I'm inclined to count this as one of them," Mary noted.

"Agreed," Vince said. "We should get some sleep now that it's dark, though. No sense in wasting any daylight tomorrow. Does anyone know how to turn off the fire?"

"More trouble than it's worth to try and relight it," Mary said. "Just absorb it so we can use the heat later."

"Can do," Vince said, draining the can of the remaining fire. "See you guys in the morning."