Broken pavement crunched beneath Alice’s HCP uniform boots as she turned around slowly, taking in the scene before her. Graffiti littered the buildings, those that were still standing, and nary a sign of life could be found. She didn’t recognize the place where they were, it could have been a block in any metropolitan area in the world or one she’d visited a thousand times, but the devastation had ravaged it so thoroughly that whatever it had been was virtually unrecognizable.
In the center of the block, in what had once been a small park, was a sea of shoddily constructed wooden crosses. Some had flowers laid on them, while others had been smeared with painted slurs. In the distance, Alice heard someone scream, only for the sound to cut off without warning. A shiver ran down her spine and she forced herself to remember that this was all just a dream. For now.
“This is where one of the first confrontations goes from verbal to physical.” Abridail’s voice carried through the broken landscape, rebounding off the battered buildings and shattered streets. “There are many, many more place like this in the world...” The area of around them shifted, showing another destroyed block, then another, and another, until they were bouncing through wreckage so fast Alice thought she would be sick. Then, as quickly as it started, it came to end and they were back in the initial block. “…but this was the first. Here was where Supers, Powereds, and humans officially drew lines in the sand against each other.”
“I don’t understand.” Alice stepped into the park and noticed for the first time that some of the crosses had names etched in them. None were familiar, and she prayed it would stay that way. “How did we… our existence, cause all of this?”
“Powereds are second class citizens, on a good day,” Mary said. “I’m sure that when some of them gain control of their abilities, there will be people they want to payback for how they were treated. Supers are prideful; I doubt they would take discovering that Powereds were actually the stronger species very well. And humans… they aren’t stomaching being in second place as it is. Bumping them to the third is going to piss a lot of people off.”
“Mary has it quite right,” Abridail agreed. “Alone, none of those components are enough to ignite this powder keg, but with all of them mixed together and a few radicals claiming to speak for the masses it can happen. Not many people actually want to start this conflict, but once it begins all that anger and vitriol finds an outlet. Things snowball, and well… this happens.”
“All because we’re a little more powerful than Supers?” Alice couldn’t wrap her head around so much destruction all stemming from something so stupid.
“Humans have hated us for a long time.” Mary joined Alice in the park-turned-graveyard, though she refused to try and read the names on the crosses. Mary knew far too well the dangers of knowing things she’d rather not. “You can’t show a regular person that there are others who can defy gravity, or lift cars, or shrug off bullets, and not expect them to be angry about the unfairness of it. For a lot of them, more than you’d want to believe, all they need is an excuse.”
“And Supers are, at their core, human as well. They have similar feelings to discovering that they are lesser beings compared to the converted Powereds,” Abridail said. “It doesn’t help matters that Powereds have both been looked down on by, and outnumber, Supers.”
“I guess I thought we were better than this.” Alice paused at a row of the crosses and knelt down. The flowers set before one of them were fresh. She’d brought enough roses to her mother’s headstone to recognize ones that had been recently cut. Even in the hellscape like this one, there was a person bringing fresh flowers to honor someone they’d lost.
“And perhaps we are,” Abridail said. “I believe I told you, there is a crossroads coming, a point at which most probable futures resemble this, or another. Now that we’ve seen this one, I think it’s time for the second.”
Mary placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder, and the taller woman slowly rose from the ground. “Let’s go,” Alice said. “Show me a better future.”
* * *
Concrete flew upward as Roy was slammed into the wall. The back of his head throbbed and for a moment the world seemed to spin, but Roy bit the inside of his lip and forced his mind to focus. If he lost consciousness now, the fight would be over. He couldn’t let that happen. Not now. Not when he was so close to something. He didn’t know what, but something.
Across the room Chad rubbed his wrist as he finished healing the damage Roy had done by clipping it. The bones had held, they were the toughest part of Chad and could likely stand up to anything short of a direct hit, but the flesh and muscles around them had been pulped by the blow. Not there that was any sign of the injury now, Chad’s wrist looked as pristine as it had before Roy’s bat made contact with it. But it had still happened, and they both knew it.
Roy rushed forward, since he knew Chad would expect him to take a moment and recover. It wouldn’t buy him much, maybe a half of a half of a second if he was lucky. Still, it was an edge, and as Roy felt his own injuries accumulating he knew he had to reach for every advantage he could get. His heavy, pounding steps left small cracks in the concrete that escaped his notice. Every second mattered. Every half of a half of an inch. Every heartbeat closer to getting stronger.
Then they were in range of each other, and all of Roy’s other thoughts fell away. He forgot about the decision he was trying to make, about how many times Chad had wounded his pride, even about why he’d called the match in the first place. All that existed in Roy’s mind was Chad, and he swung his bat around with every ounce of power he could muster. Chad slid to the side, but Roy had seen that coming, and pivoted so that he could keep the blow moving. With escape impossible, Chad went for a counter. His hand stretched out, on a course to take Roy’s shoulder. Only in the last instant did Chad realize that he was going to be too slow. Not by much at all, a mere half a second at most. But it was enough.
The crack of his forearm filled the air, even as Chad leapt in the direction of the blow and got clear of Roy. He came down and quickly put distance between himself and his adversary as Roy spun around and planned his next charge.
“Good hit.” Chad didn’t let himself feel the pain as his cracked bones knit themselves back together, but he knew the damage had been extensive.
“I was due.” The world spun a bit once more, though this time Roy didn’t have to hurt himself to keep from passing out. The adrenaline and excitement pounding through his veins was doing the job just fine.
“Perhaps you were; I barely avoided those last few attacks. It was folly for me to assume I’d be able to dodge all of your blows.” A new cracking sound filled the air, and a familiar armor breached Chad’s skin and wove itself around his body.
Roy nodded, he’d been waiting for this to come into play. “Why not go with the bone armor since we started? You had to know my bat could hurt.”
“It slows me down,” Chad replied. “I gain defense at the expense of maneuverability. When I was able to dodge, that made more sense, but you’ve clearly shown that I need a different strategy to win this match.”
“Guess you do.” Roy swung the bat around once, and prepared to charge. He’d done more in this bout that he had in any of the previous ones. Chad had not only been forced to take him seriously, he’d had to change tactics to deal with Roy’s assault. It was a pair of firsts for Roy, and he knew the bat in his hand was responsible for the difference. What major he’d pursue was no longer in question, but he still intended to see this fight through to the end.
After all, he’d gotten two firsts in this fight with Chad, why not go for the hat trick? Roy was going to try and win.