Chapter 213

               It was easy to forget that, on top of being precise, strong, and skilled, Chad Taylor was also inhumanely fast. While he would certainly never beat someone like Sasha in a foot race, when it came to pure reaction speed the young Super could easily hold his own with many speedsters. His body couldn’t move as quickly, but that didn’t stop his brain from seeing an attack coming; giving him ample time to slide just out of reach and position himself for a counter. It was easy to forget how fast Chad Taylor was… until one found themselves fighting him, at which point the realization came rushing it, aided by the flurry of blows being applied to one’s body.

                Roy’s fist whistled through the air, missing Chad’s shoulder by only a few hairs, and the taller boy braced for impact. Sure enough, Chad struck his ribs with enough force to send Roy tumbling to the side, where he rolled with the blow and emerged back on his feet. It was the fourth time Chad had drilled him in the exact same spot, and Roy could feel his ribs beginning to ache with each deep breath he took.

                At first, it had seemed like Roy’s enhanced durability would finally even things out between them. Chad’s initial blows had barely registered, and Roy started to feel invincible. While a younger, dumber Roy would have ridden that misimpression right into early defeat, this Roy quickly remembered who his opponent was and shook any such notions from his mind. Chad wasn’t at the top because a little thing like a tough opponent could stop him. Sure enough, the blond young man had almost immediately shifted his strategy to focusing on hitting Roy over and over in the same spot. It was the sort of thing only someone with Chad’s precision and skill could manage, and worse, it was working.

                Roy involuntarily licked his lips as his feet slid carefully into a different position. Chad couldn’t counter him so easily; Hanks’ training had taught Roy how to use his strength to overcome the flips and tosses, but he could dodge like no one’s business. Speed was turning out to be the key in this battle, and would likely be in the next one as well. Roy had to start making contact, or this whole thing would just be a slow ballet of him being picked off one punch at a time.

                “I’m going to ask you something, and I know how it will sound, but please take it as a sincere question,” Roy said, never letting his stare waver from his opponent.

                “I shall do my best,” Chad assured him, staying equally on guard.

                “Thanks. It’s about… when we were planning on this; we said we were coming at each other seriously. I meant it, too, but... the only way I think I’m going to be able to actually fight you is if I don’t hold back at all. Thing is, that means if I connect I might seriously injure you. Maybe, I mean I don’t know for sure. That’s the issue: you never really get hit, so I don’t know how much you can take. But you know yourself better than anyone, that’s why I’m asking: if I come at you full-force, can you handle a worst case scenario where I get a clean hit?”

                Chad took his time in answering, calculating the maximum force he’d seen Roy use thus far and running it against how much damage he knew for certain he could withstand. After several seconds of hard thinking, Chad gave a slow, deliberate nod.

                “I feel quite certain I can, but perhaps you should try and avoid my head, just to be on the safe side.”

                “Sounds fair to me,” Roy said. He tried to put on his usual cocky grin, but found it refused to come to his face. Inside, his stomach churned as he faced the reality of hitting someone besides his father at full power. Even at his most irresponsible, Roy had always understood that at his level such a blow could easily end a life. He’d brought all he had to bear against only a single other living opponent: Coach George, and that had been a lot of training ago. As he was now, Roy had a feeling that fight would be quite different. While he still might not be able to solo the old teacher, he felt certain that his blows wouldn’t be shrugged off so easily.

                He could only hope that Chad had an accurate estimation of both their skills. Otherwise, Camille was going to have to be extra quick with hers.

                “Make sure you’re on point,” Roy warned. “Because here I come.”

*             *             *

                “The professors are spying on us?” Alice found that she wasn’t particularly surprised by this revelation. Curious, certainly, about motive as well as method, but not surprised. Nearly two years in Subtlety had taught her that any information she might be after probably had value to someone else as well.

                “In a manner of speaking,” Abridail said. “Your Professor Stone doesn’t have dream-walking abilities of her own, but she can scan someone’s memory with great precision, especially when they are in a compromised state like this one. She’s periodically popping in and getting up to speed without conversation. Quite stealthily, too. I barely noticed her presence at all.”

                “I don’t mind her eavesdropping if you don’t.” In truth, Alice minded quite greatly being used like this, but even as she suspected he was betraying her Alice could still hear Professor Pendleton’s voice reminding her that she had to keep the conversation going at all costs.

                “Her listening adds a few more limits on what we can talk about, but I’m happy to keep the discussion going. This time, I’d like to ask you a question though: do you believe in destiny?”

                “Please tell me this isn’t the segue to some ridiculous revelation where you tell me my mother had the power to effect fate, and that’s where she’s been all my life.” Alice didn’t actually expect that to be the case, but she had to take every opportunity to remind Abridail that while her mother might be his friend, Alice was an abandoned daughter just looking for closure. Bit by bit she would wear him down.

                “Nothing like that, I promise. This is simply a bit of philosophy I chew upon from time to time. There are days I do believe in fate, and others where the world seems to be to be forged purely from chaos. Although one could say your mother had an ability tied in somewhat closely to destiny. I assume you know what it is?”

                “My mom was a Powered, and sometimes she would have fits where she got vision of the future,” Alice said. Given that her father had founded Shelby’s House, the nation’s largest charity for Powereds, that was one tidbit she’d always been privy to.

                “Yes and no,” Abridail said. “You see, there is no set future. What your mother can see is only the most likely futures, ones that will probably come to pass in some shape or fashion. No one, Super, Powered, or human, knows with certainly lies ahead of us anymore than they can change the past. That’s why I find myself mulling over the destiny bit so often. The existence of abilities like your mothers hint to something of an order to things, yet the fluidity suggests that everything is in temporal freefall. After years of contemplation, I have come to one conclusion that might interest you.”

                “I’m all ears,” Alice said. She meant it, too. Whatever Abridail had to say was clearly closely tied to her mother. No matter how vague he got, every tidbit he revealed could provide the clue she needed.

                “If there is such a thing as destiny, then you, Alice Adair, do not have one.”