It was the same place as they had been, geographically, but that was about the only resemblance that two spots bore. This one wasn’t deserted; crowds of people went about their day, ignoring Abridail, Mary, and Alice as though they weren’t even present. Some were stopping to sit and eat lunch in the park that was no longer a makeshift graveyard. They basked in the warm glow of the sun, which was also reflecting off a statue of a cloaked Hero in the center of the park square.
“Is this supposed to be some sort of utopia?” Mary asked.
“Far from it. This place still has crime, and hatred, and all of the dirty little bits that make humans so very human. But it’s not a war zone. So in that regard, yes, it’s a utopia compared to what lays on the other side of the crossroads.” Abridail seemed to be watching both of them closely as he spoke, as if he were waiting for some clue or reaction.
“In this world that big fight you talked about never happened, right? The one where the lines were drawn in the sand?” Alice asked.
“It started to, but this time cooler heads prevailed. The people who were able to see our similarities rather than our differences gained more power than the extremists, and slowly the three different species worked to try and find a way to live with one another,” Abridail explained.
“Who’s the guy in the statue?” Alice walked across the now well-maintained grounds, marveling at what a difference there was from the place she’d been only moments prior.
“An incredibly strong former Powered who stopped that first fight, opening the chance for discussion to win out over violence. He is one piece of what makes this world different, but only a part of it. I’ve seen futures without him where violence still doesn’t win out, but far fewer. Guiding humanity to this path is more than one person can do.”
“So then what is it you need from us?” Alice turned away from the park and met Abridail’s watchful stare. “I assume you went to the trouble of showing us all of this because we need to do something to fix it, right? Some important thing we have to stop or make sure happens so that Supers and Powereds and humans don’t go to war with each other.”
“I deeply, dearly, wish that were the case.” Abridail’s shoulders fell slightly, and for the first time Alice could see the man behind the dream-conjured projection of confidence and knowledge. “Your mother’s power is imprecise, at best. She keeps seeing variations of these futures, but never what causes each of them to come to fruition. The truth is I don’t know how to prevent one or cause the other. I only know that these two paths are what most likely lie before us.”
“I don’t understand.” Mary had been in the park, watching two sets of parents play with their children. She rose from her perch slowly and turned back to their guide. “If you don’t know how to stop this from happening, then what’s the point of bringing us here at all? To torture us? To make us doubt and question every choice we make for the rest of our lives, never knowing if we’ll cause some awful war decades down the line?”
“No.” It was Alice who spoke, her mind whirring as she began putting the last piece of Abridail’s puzzle into the pile he’d provided. A shape began to quickly form, and at last Alice understood this strange man’s agenda. “No. He’s bringing us here because he doesn’t know what to do. He needs help. And while this sort of information is incredibly dangerous in the hands of anyone who wants to see that conflict happen, he’s trusting us to try and work toward the side of peace.”
Abridail nodded his head slowly, and Alice thought she caught the slightest glimpse of shame in his eyes. “I have spent years combing through the dreams your mother sees, and I have only gained the barest of hints as to what creates this world. But I have seen so very much of you, Alice Adair. Your mother has precious little control of what she sees, and every ounce of power she has goes toward looking for you, making sure her daughter’s future is safe. I have witnessed from her visions how powerful you can become, and what kind of woman you might turn out to be. I’ve realized that it is beyond me to choose what future comes to pass on my own, so I decided to put my trust in you. Perhaps you can do what I’ve been unable to. Or, at the very least, you’ll be forewarned.”
He paused and glanced at Mary. This time, Alice was certain she caught the shame in his eyes. “And Mary, this is not decades after your lifetime. The exact timeframe fluctuates, but in most of them that great first battle occurs thirty years from now.”
Mary’s eyes widened and Alice felt a stone form in her gut. So soon. So quickly society could spiral down into chaos and blood. For a moment she couldn’t believe it, but Alice was a smart girl. She’d read her history books when given the assignments. Mankind had been down that road before. It could certainly go there again.
“I want to bring us to this better future,” Abridail continued. “I don’t know if it’s perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. As you mother herself once told me: ‘This world has hope. It has a chance.’ For me, that’s enough to make it worth working toward.”
* * *
Chips of concrete and bone littered their feet, with smears of blood dropped in at irregular intervals. Roy’s bat had several new dents, as well as a sizable gash in the side. He looked far worse, bruises stretched across much of his visible skin, and he winced with every breath. Still, his eyes never wavered, they stayed locked on Chad as the pale white bone armor moved, getting into position.
Chad, unlike Roy, looked almost fresh in the fight. It was only if one had keen eyes they could spot the subtle breaks in his armor or weariness in his steps. Though he could heal his injuries and patch his armor, doing so still required energy. To keep up his healing with the speed of Roy dishing out damage had taken a toll on him, and it was starting to visibly show.
Professor Cole watched the battle patiently, marveling at the determination in these two young men. It was hard to remember back to her HCP days, before lives had been at stake when she donned her mask. Had she fought this hard for the simple matter of pride? Possibly so, but her ego was not so great that she took it for granted. Moments like this reminded her why she’d taken up a professorship after her Hero career had come to a close. Every now and then, she got to see beyond the children in her care, catching a glimpse of the Heroes they would become. As Professor Cole saw Roy and Chad charge at each other one last time, she could picture their futures, and she felt a pang of pity in her heart for the poor sons of bitches to come up against these monsters.
The exchange was brief and brutal. Roy swung hard, but the injury in his shoulder weakened the attack, allowing Chad to dodge rather than use his armor. He closed the gap between them, catching a punch to the armor around his chest for the trouble, but pushing on and snagging Roy around the neck. Rearing back, Chad slammed the cone-shaped spiked bones on the end of his fist into Roy’s back. Once. Twice. On the third blow Roy buckled, his body failing to keep up with his willpower.
“Halt!” Chad’s hand stopped halfway toward delivering another punch, and he stood frozen as the professor hurried over to check on Roy. He was okay, or as okay as someone could be after that kind of beating, but he was too far gone to keep fighting. “Roy Daniels has lost this match. Chad Taylor in the winner. Camille, please hurry ov-”
The professor’s words were cut off by the sound of Chad Taylor, having attained his victory, collapsing onto the ground next to her in an unconscious heap.