Chapter 248

               The speedster whipped across campus, eyes peeled for any of the professors he was supposed to eliminate. Screeching wind had dried the blood on his hand, and it was time to wet it once more. Still, he knew he had to be careful. That little telekinetic shit had nearly managed to take him out of the fight without so much as throwing a punch. Crispin’s gift had made him nearly unbeatable, but against HCP staff, he’d still need to bring his A-game. No more playing around or taunting them. When he caught sight of a gray mask or costume, he would strike without hesitation. They’d never even see it coming.

                He noticed a small blast of flame from behind a nearby building and reoriented himself. Maybe it was one of the lower-level Supers they’d put with the mercenary teams, but on the off chance it was a student—or better yet, a professor—he had to check it out. Just to be safe, he swung wide to see what was happening before rushing blindly around the building’s corner. Sure enough, there was a kid in a gray mask and uniform with three mercenaries lying at his feet. An elemental of fire, it seemed. Not a bad power at all, but it wouldn’t make a difference against a foe moving too fast to fight.

                Zipping forward, he readied a blow to smash through the kid’s stomach, just like the one he’d used to put down the other speedster. The young Super turned to face his impending death, crisp blue eyes barely able to track the blur of an approaching reaper. It struck the man that this kid didn’t actually seem afraid the moment before impact. There was nothing in those eyes; not fear, not surprise, not even anger. Had he been more battle-seasoned, or even a bit smart, he might have rethought his tactic of rushing in. Sadly, for him, the amplified Super was neither of those things, and he slammed his fist into Vince Reynolds without bothering to hold back.

                His blow landed, that much was clear from the feeling of the soft material against his knuckles, but something was wrong. Not only was his opponent unhurt, there was no feedback from the punch either. It was as though he’d just rested his hand against the kid, instead of punching through him at several hundred miles per hour. It confused him, and he hesitated. Only for a moment, but for a trained opponent, that was more than enough to capitalize on.

                Vince’s hand closed around the man’s neck, tight enough to hold him firmly, but not so powerfully as to choke him. He immediately began to struggle, slapping Vince’s hands with his speedy arms and running to pull himself away. Everything was utterly ineffective. It was as though he was running on perfectly smooth ice, and his blows may as well have been butterflies landing on a statue, for as much as the kid seemed to feel them.

                “You’re all kinetic,” Vince said. His grip was firm, unwavering. Carefully, he tilted the man’s face upward, so that they were looking each other in the eyes. “I can’t do more than one at a time, but I’ve been getting really good at whichever one I’m doing. As long as I’m touching you, I can take all of your kinetic energy. And I mean all of it.”

                In that moment, the man felt a sensation he’d never experienced before. It was like going down stairs one had tread a thousand times, only to find the last step missing. His heart was thundering in his chest due to the combination of excitement, movement, and now a touch of fear. For one of the beats, however, something strange happened. His heart beat . . . and none of his blood moved. It wasn’t a feeling he ever could have imagined, but as soon as he felt it, there was no denying what had occurred. His eyes went wide, and he redoubled his efforts, struggling against the young man with the icy blue eyes.

                “I’m not that smart, and I’ve had to struggle a lot with math and science throughout college. But even I know that your blood moves oxygen throughout your body. What happens if your blood just stops, I wonder? Do you think it will feel like suffocating, even as your lungs are full of air? Maybe you’ll just pass out first, going peacefully. I have to imagine the time before you lose consciousness is going to be rough, though.”

                None of the heartbeats were working anymore, despite the organ’s valiant attempts to force the blood to move. Somehow, this kid, this monster, was stealing the force away. He clawed at the arm holding him, tried to run his nails across the masked face. Nothing worked. This child was going to kill him. Not like a warrior on the battlefield, but like a fish trapped on land, flopping about until he died.

                “You don’t deserve a peaceful death. You don’t know how badly I want to cut you loose and beat you senseless. I want you to suffer for what you’ve done. Like Alex is going to suffer for the rest of his life. Like her friends are going to suffer. Like everyone who knew and loved the girl you killed is going to suffer. I want to make you feel every bit of that pain, but I can’t. If I gave into that anger, you might get away and kill someone else, and I promised that no more of us would die tonight. So, lucky you. Looks like you get a peaceful death after all.”

                It didn’t feel peaceful in the slightest. It felt wrong, and awful. His muscles seemed heavy and slow, and his vision was blurring. Everything was wrong. Everything was sickening. His blood was rotting away in his very veins. When Crispin gave him his mission, he’d been willing to die, but now, staring into the eyes of his killer, that conviction waned.

                “You can’t do this.” A short girl in a gray mask and uniform came around the corner of a building.

                “How did you find me?”

                “I was sent to heal Obi; he told me about how you’d left. I had Short Brain track you down as soon as I heard, because I was afraid you’d do something . . . like this. It’s time to stop. You’ve subdued him. He’s beaten. That’s what Heroes do, remember? Killing is supposed to be a last resort.”

                “Maybe so, but I’m not a Hero yet, am I?” His grip tightened slightly, and the man’s head began to spin.

                “But you’re also not a murderer.” She came over, only a few feet away from the man who was drowning in a sea of air. “And that’s what this will be. Murder. Don’t let him do that to you. Don’t give this piece of shit the satisfaction of making you worse. It’s not what Sasha would want.”

                “Sasha’s dead.” For a moment, the detached demeanor slipped away, revealing the scarred, raw emotional landscape that was boiling under the blue-eyed boy’s surface.

                “Then, how about the fact that it’s not what I want? Or what any of your friends want? Or how about the fact that it’s not what you—the you not so lost in grief that he can’t think straight— would want? This isn’t killing in the line of duty. This is something you can never undo. Someday, you’ll make peace with losing your friend. This? This, I can’t see the man I love ever forgiving himself for. So please, don’t do that to the real you. Please.” She leaned against him, wrapping her arms around his wide torso.

                For a moment, it seemed to have no effect, but then a single heartbeat managed to make his blood move. It was so little, but after the oxygen drought his body had endured, it felt like a great lungful of air.

                “I don’t . . . he killed her. I wasn’t there to save her. I’m supposed to be able to save everyone. That’s why I’m . . .” His voice cracked and tears began to flow as the calm shell splintered away at last.

                “No one can save everyone. That’s why there’s so many of us. That’s why we work in teams.” The girl let go of him and reached over, laying her bare hand on the man’s forehead. She leaned closer and whispered in his ear.

                “Unlike him, I can make you suffer.”

                That was the last thing he was able to make out before the sound of snapping bones filled his ears, which were quickly pooling with blood. He wasn’t dead as he fell away from the grip on his throat, but the pain made it seem like a close possibility.

                Above the twisted and broken body, the young man fell into the small girl’s shoulder, weeping as the last of his self-control was finally broken.