Chapter 216

               “The five of us...” Alice let the words slosh around in her head, distilling as much meaning as possible from Abridail’s statement. The implication was obvious: the only unique group of five she was a part of was the Powereds who’d been turned into Supers. And while it certainly possible that they’d have an impact on the future, in fact that was what they were training to do, Alice couldn’t see any of her friends intentionally taking things down a bad path. Well… maybe Nick, but he’d have been equally capable of that with or without his abilities. It was possible that time would change them, though possible wasn’t the same as likely. Looking at the fact as they were, the most likely conclusion was that it wouldn’t be their actions that caused some sort of timeline uproar at all.

                “You mean the procedure, right? Once our test group shows that Powerds can be changed with no negative side-effects, that’s going to cause an issue?”

                Abridail nodded even as the winding ride they were on slowed, letting them take in a full view of the bridges that ran like threads between the seemingly infinite number of dreams. Idly, Alice wondered if these bridges existed naturally, or if Abridail conjured them specifically for his journeys. If it were the former, some interesting metaphysical possibilities were opened up, though she strongly suspected it to be the latter.

                “You five have made too much of an impact, the secret is out even if powerful people are keeping a lid on it for now. There’s almost no future where what happened to you doesn’t become common knowledge, and once Powereds know what they can become there’s no way to stop them, short of genocide. The lines between Powered and Super blur, and the ranks of variant homo sapiens swell.”

                “And not everyone is happy about it,” Mary concluded. No one knew better than a telepath about the simmering resentment in the hearts of humans. Powereds they could pity, find a sense of superiority against, but Supers… discovering one’s species had gone from the top of the heap to the number two spot was a bitter pill for many to swallow. Envy burned in them, and all too often that slowly morphed into hatred for the people whose whole worlds worked on a different set of rules.

                “No, they aren’t,” Abridail confirmed. “Humans begin to feel like they’re getting choked out, the societal power they’ve wielded since Supers were discovered starts to erode, and even more violent militant groups emerge against the idea of Supers. At the same time, Supers feel their sense of superiority seep away as the Powereds lose their status as ‘lesser beings’.”

                “Wait, why do the Supers care?” Alice asked. “It’s not like us getting control of our abilities takes away theirs. The humans I can kind of see, but other Supers hating us makes no sense.”

                “You haven’t noticed, have you?” Abridail said. Suddenly Alice realized that the star world was beginning to fade out, turning to fog as Abridail began the true start of what they were meant to see.

                “I did.” Mary’s voice was quiet, one of the few times it matched her size, yet Alice could still hear each word perfectly. “I’d just hoped it was a fluke.”

                “It’s not,” Abridail told her. He looked back at Alice, who met his eyes with uncertainty. “Five of you were turned and thrown in the same HCP class. Of that five, only one of you was kicked out, and it was based on moral grounds. Around you, dozens of Supers who’d had their abilities for their entire lives were cut, and yet your lot stayed. You really never put it together?”

                Alice swallowed hard, trying to push the revelation through her throat where it could be probably digested in her gut. “I guess… I guess I tried not to think about it.”

                “Others are not so willing to overlook the coincidence, and in most futures I’ve seen the next groups bear out the theory,” Abridail said. “Powereds who are turned to Supers are, on average, more powerful than naturally born Supers. Some scientists even propose that your increased abilities are why you were Powered in the first place: they were more than your bodies could handle. At least, handle without artificial assistance.”

                “Do you know what they did to us?” Mary was staring at Abridail with more intensity than Alice had seen in her friend’s face since she was kidnapped. “I listened to every thought the doctors and nurses had, I combed through their heads looking for a clue, and I’ve skimmed the thoughts of everyone I met who had even a loose affiliation with the program, but no one I’ve encountered actually knew what they were doing. Even the doctors only had compartmentalized tasks. You’ve gotten to look into these futures that Alice’s mom can see; surely you know something about what they did to us.”

                “Yes, I know what they did.” Abridail met Mary’s intensity with a somber peace, an armor of calm again the weapon of her ferocity. “But I cannot tell you that today.”

                “Why the hell not? Don’t we deserve to know?”

                “You do, and you will, but not today,” Abridail told her. “Today is about a different piece of your puzzle. What’s been done to you is in the past, nothing you can do will change it. I have to prioritize stones that are not yet cast.”

                “Then what’s the harm in telling us?” Alice said, stepping forward. “Why not just answer her question so we can focus on the things you want us to see?”

                “Because our time is limited, and this,” Abridail gestured to the world forming around them, “is more important. We could afford the moments it would cost to answer your question, but not the unstoppable sea of new questions that would come afterward. I’m sorry that I can’t provide all the answers that you want. All I can ask is for you to trust me that you will get them someday, and that what lies before you is worth the sacrifice.”

                “I don’t know that I do trust you at all.” Alice walked over to Mary, who’d managed to calm her unexpected swell of emotion. “But if these are really my mother’s visions, then I want to see them.”

                Mary reached out and took Alice hand in her own, giving it a firm squeeze. “And I can’t just let have some stranger putting about in your head all alone. I’d be the worst surrogate dorm mom ever if I did.”

                “Thank you for your understanding,” Abridail said. “And now, please prepare yourselves. What you are about to experience is not for the faint of heart.”