Chapter 246

               The world stretched out before him, expanded and shrunk all at once. It was tinged with gold, a soft light emanating from the lines curving across space and time. He could see them now, could follow the way they bounced about, interconnecting, and yet remaining seemingly unchanged. Some were firm, unyielding, as set as a dead man’s final thoughts. Others were a touch flexible; they could shift paths slightly. Often, this seemed to change nothing, but on occasion, it brought lines into contact with others. And, on precious rare occasion, that interaction could form new lines that bounded forth, children of a collision that was little more than chance, at best.

                He reached out to those lines, the ones that could be wiggled. Breaking them was impossible, as was rerouting them entirely. What he could do was give them a nudge, however. A slight push in the direction he wanted. There would be consequences, of course; even as he caused the lines to shift that became clear. They were connected behind and before him for as far as he could see. Every alteration impacted others. Nothing existed in isolation. Everything was connected.

                Despite knowing this, or perhaps because of it, he pushed onward. This was all he could give them. This was the most he could do.

*             *             *

                A stray gust of wind carried the sound of a choked out sob to Vince’s ear. He turned in place, scouring the area for someone hurt or trapped. Nothing immediately met his eye, but now that his ears were straining, he caught the sound of more muffled crying. Picking a direction, Vince sprinted forward, dashing across the campus. He tried to stretch his energy awareness outward, searching for the warm heat of a human body, and after several moments of effort, he succeeded. Strangely, he felt one as he’d come to recognize it, but another had a fainter signature, and it was only growing weaker the longer he sensed it. As soon as Vince realized the explanation, he ramped up his speed. There was only reason the heat would be fading away . . . that person’s body was slowly growing colder.

                He bounded across the grass, finally coming over a small hill to the side of the sprawling sidewalk. As soon as he crested it, Vince saw what had happened. His heart, previously pumping hard from the strain of running, stopped. When it resumed operation, Vince could feel his blood screaming through him, lighting up every nerve and muscle as they all tensed, trying in vain to physically rebuke the truth of what lay before him.

                Alex looked like hell. His face was busted up, there was a bone sticking out of his left arm, and bruises covered his whole body. Vince had seen people walk away from being hit by cars with less damage, and yet, Alex was not the sight that was forcing Vince to grapple with a hellish sense of déjà vu.

                Sasha was cradled in Alex’s arms. Unlike him, she looked relatively normal, save only for the fist-sized hole in her torso. It was a strange contrast to see the brutal, bloody wound next to the almost peaceful expression on her face. A face with closed eyes that was covered in Alex’s tears.

                “No . . .” Vince stared at his friend, former lover, and classmate. He could almost feel the heat from the explosion as he stared down at the boxcar where his father was supposed to be. Even though he’d later learned his father had survived, the scar of that moment, of being helpless and watching as someone he loved died, had never truly healed. The pain seared Vince to his soul, and he could feel every ache of it as he slowly forced himself to step forward, nearly tumbling down the minor incline toward his friends.

                Alex whipped his head up, ready for battle, but then fell back into grief as he saw Vince approaching. “It’s my fault.” The words were mere whispers from Alex’s bruised lips. “It’s my fault, Vince. I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t stop him. He was trying to kill me, but she got between us . . . .” His voice fell away.

                Vince leaned down and carefully touched Sasha’s cheek. It was lukewarm, held that way only by the spring heat. As night fell further, it would cool down, and Sasha would be cold. She was supposed to be zipping around, making snarky comments, spending her time with her friends. But she wouldn’t. Not anymore. She’d be here, cold, and forever beyond the reach of what even the most powerful Supers could do. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t how things were supposed to be.

                “This isn’t your fault, Alex. The people who came to our school did this. The one who killed her, that’s the person who’s at fault. Tell me what happened.” Vince’s voice didn’t seem particularly hard or resolved, not like the other times when Alex had witnessed Vince backed into a corner. If anything, it sounded hollow, as dead as the woman he was staring down at.

                “One of them has super speed. Beyond what we’ve ever seen before. He’s wearing street clothes, but the w-w-way his eyes blur, you c-c-c-can’t miss him.” Alex realized his teeth were chattering involuntarily, and it struck him for the first time how cold it had gotten. He glanced down and saw frost forming on the grass around them.

                Vince leaned in and hugged Sasha close for a brief moment, the blood of her wound smearing onto his already soot-stained uniform. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in her ear, then pulled away, leaving Sasha fully in Alex’s arms once more.

                “Mary will find my thoughts and send over a healer soon. If I see anyone else along the way, I’ll pass a message that you need help. You’re fairly out of the way here, so you should be safe.” Vince turned, his foot crunching through the newly frosted grass as he moved. He stared down at it in surprise and let out a long sigh.

                “Vince, you can’t go after that guy. He’s too strong. I’m not sure even the professors could stop him. Please, don’t make me lose another friend tonight.”

                “You won’t, Alex. I promise, you won’t. That’s exactly why I’m going to find the man who killed Sasha. No more die tonight.” Vince looked out at the campus, searching as best he could for a bursting bundle of kinetic energy. He’d never tried this trick before, but he was on a roll. And he was very motivated to succeed.

                “No more of us, anyway.”