Chad was more than observant, more than intuitive, and more than able to recall any memory in perfect detail. Oh, Chad was certainly all of those things, but he was something else as well: Chad was intelligent. He possessed the kernel of brilliance that allowed him to take in the details of a situation and make the leap from curiosity to explanation. In this case, however, it had been closer to a short hop.
Rich was bound and blindfolded, Nick was smiling like the Cheshire Cat, and Vince was on nothing short of a rampage. They’d brain-jacked his silver-haired opponent. Chad didn’t know the how or the why; however, the evidence that it had happened spoke for itself. At the year’s inception he would have ruled out such a theory, deeming it beyond Nick’s capacity to execute. That had been before their team’s match-up. Now Chad knew better than to discount Nick’s ability to scheme. None of which changed the objective before him; it only informed on it.
The orb had to go into the depository. He’d taken it back from Julia to ensure its delivery. Vince was his obstacle. For a moment Chad had been certain Mary would join in the fracas as well, but she’d peeled off and focused elsewhere. They weren’t underestimating him; this team was far too self-aware for that sort of folly. No, they sincerely believed Vince could challenge him one on one. That wasn’t supported by what Chad knew of Vince’s previous fights; however, that didn’t make them wrong. The electricity that hit Stella had been perfect, center mass and with more than enough stopping power. Fire was raining down on Chad with such ferocity that it was all he could do to regulate his body temperature even when avoiding the main thrusts of the flames. No, this Vince wasn’t fighting to win: he was fighting to end his opponents.
Chad increased his speed as he drew closer. A strange sense of happiness filled his brain just before the conflict began in earnest. Here, at last, was the potential for a decent challenge.
* * *
Roy sank his fist into another Julia clone, watching it dissolve into energy. Spinning on his heel, he caught some sort of energy blast from Jill in his shoulder. There was a sizzling sound as his uniform and body hair were disintegrated at the spot where it struck. There was no pain beyond that, thankfully, only a sort of greasy feeling. Jill changed weapons, but Roy didn’t give her the chance to fire again. Bounding toward her, Roy seized the bracers on her forearms and squeezed until he heard the soft popping of breaking electronics. Before she could respond, he grabbed her helmet and pulled it in opposite directions. He split the complicated contraption like a pistachio, revealing a sweaty face and spilling blonde hair in all directions.
“Don’t bring toys you don’t want broken,” Roy replied, hurling the pieces of helmet in different directions. He didn’t know if this would really mess up her system or merely be an inconvenience, but in truth he was okay with either. There might have been more gloating if not for the massive grip that seized his leg and lifted him into the air.
Roy found himself dangling from the clutches of an exceptionally large tree. Credit where it was due: Agatha had definitely stepped up her animation ability over the course of the year. This was far more useful than some paper dolls. From the corner of his eye, Roy noticed an orange streak blur past his position. Oh hell no, there was no way he was missing out on a chance to finish things with Thomas.
“Sorry, Mr. Tree, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to make this gentle.” Roy reached out, grabbed the thickest part of the branch curled around his legs, and went to work.
* * *
Vince seemed to realize he couldn’t hit Chad with ranged attacks; the other Super was just too quick on his feet. Rather than keep pounding away with useless tactics, Vince retreated several steps until he was directly in front of the depository. The air in front of him became thick and hazy as he blasted it with heat, creating a barrier no being of flesh could safely pass through. He lanced the ground with fire for good measure; however, this he was more careful with, lest some accidently spread to the depository he was defending. It was a good plan, and against a great many opponents it would have been effective.
It was only through misfortune that Vince’s opponent was Chad Taylor.
The wall of heat struck him suddenly, grabbing at his skin and prickling across his lungs. It would have seared him instantly; however, Chad began releasing moisture at an accelerated rate. The water evaporated as quickly as it came, but it created a buffer that offered some protection. Small fires broke out across his uniform as bits of it spontaneously combusted at the slightest friction. Chad quickened his step and his senses. He needed to make it through soon; not even his bodily control could counter so much heat indefinitely. Bursting forward, he came within arm’s reach of Vince, who had turned down the outpouring of flames in favor of creating his heat barrier.
Chad sidestepped a punch aimed at his head and stepped over a sweeping leg meant to take his footing out from under him. He could see the hole in the depository meant to receive their orbs; it was almost in reach. He used a quick-step movement forward, extending his right arm and dropping the orb into its final destination. Vince was attacking during this, of course; Chad used his left arm to deflect a few jabs aimed at his torso, then spun it around to intercept the head-shot he was certain was coming. It was a solid assumption, one built on years of training against a variety of martial styles, and against a great many opponents it would have been effective.
It was only through misfortune that Chad’s opponent was Vince Reynolds.
The punch connected with Chad’s ribs, and Vince poured every last bit of kinetic energy he still had stockpiled into it. For the span of a heartbeat, it seemed like there would be no effect. Then, almost at once, Chad was airborne as the unexpected force lifted him from his feet and blasted him toward the false sky.
He would be more or less okay once he landed, although that would not be for quite some time.