Chapter 218

                As a general rule, Vince liked to think that anything was possible. It was a philosophy of hope, one that he considered important, especially in a job like Hero work. However, he found that optimism tested as Will handed down the order to abandon the fight he’d picked and take off after a pair of fleeing Sims. Maybe if he still had enough light for another flash, but he’d burned out his whole supply and taking time to gather more was too risky, especially with his target getting further away with every step. Still, turning his back on a bunch of pissed off Sims wasn’t really an option; it was taking all his skill to dodge their attacks as things stood.

                Most of the Sims had come pouring out from the orphanage once the light cleared from their eyes, trying to take Vince on in close proximity. At the time, he’d been glad to see them charge, it meant less Sims for Chad to sneak past. Now, however, it was an issue, as anywhere he ran they’d be able to follow. Not to mention that several Sims were still in the orphanage, peppering him with ranged attacks when he showed an opening. Surviving this was hard enough, escaping it skirted the lines of impossible. But if he didn’t succeed, then the world ended, or it would if this were real. So Vince asked himself, if it was a probable death for him or a certain doom for the world, which would he pick?

                Summoning as much fire as he dared next to an orphanage, Vince released a blast of flame that went out in all directions from his body. Several Sims got scorched, others darted back in time, but the bottom line was that they all gave him a few feet of breathing room, and that was all he’d really wanted. Vince took off in a dead sprint, following Will’s directions to where the escaped Sims had gone. He grit his teeth, preparing for the barrage of ranged attacks to rain down on him. Surprisingly, the few that came were wild and half-aimed.

                Vince risked a glance over his shoulder to see what was going on. It was hard to make-out precisely, but from the chaos inside the building it looked like Chad was tearing his way through the Sims that had been shooting, a blur of bone and circuitry as he felled Sim after Sim. It was a heartening sight, which Vince dearly needed in light of the other development he noticed. All of the outside Sims had recovered from his bout of flame and were on his tail, gaining ground faster than he was comfortable with. He could throw more fire to stall them, but that would slow him as well as take away his ability to absorb any shots they fired, and he was already fighting to catch-up. Speed was the best option, so he pumped his legs for all they were worth.

                It was a valiant effort, however the pounding footsteps made it clear that the Sims were gaining ground. He was going to have to do something, or they’d overtake him. Vince scoured his mind, and hit upon a thought. The only way to get clear and catch up with his target would be a strongman-leap, but between higher buildings and longer blocks he'd have to go higher than he'd ever dared try before. Usually he risked a broken leg or ankle from a botched landing; if he messed this one up he'd be out of the fight for sure. An all-or-nothing situation probably wasn’t the best time to test something else new, then again, this way he’d go out trying. That beat accepting failure by a wide margin.

                Just as he was gathering his concentration, Vince heard a familiar yelp of excitement fill the air. It wasn’t coming from the Sims, though, nor was it from the orphanage, or even the street. That noise had come from above, and Vince temporarily shelved his plan in favor of running as hard as he could for the next several seconds. He was going to need some distance on this one.

                “Violeeeeeeet Bomb!” That was all the warning the Sims got as Violet, her density cranked up to incredible levels, came plummeting from the sky like an avenging comet. She slammed into the center of their group, crushing several and sending the rest flying through the air from the force of her landing. Violet herself was unharmed, hopping to her feet and wrapping those dense hands around the nearest Sim that was still moving.

                “You couldn’t have told me Violet was coming?” Vince asked.

                “She must have been flying over my drones. If I’d know she was so near I’d have sent her after the targets instead of you,” Will replied.

                That still might have been a good idea, except that now all the Sims were focused on her. Violet didn’t look particularly worried, if anything there was a touch of glee on her face at the fight she’d picked, but it would take too long to explain things and get her airborne.

                With a deep breath, Vince took aim and steeled his nerves. He could do this. He’d proven the concept with the long fall that night in May; it was all a matter of execution. Of course, if he failed his legs would be utterly shattered and the Sims would definitely escape. But they were so far ahead by now, that would happen anyway. Better to roll the dice, a slim chance at victory beat none at all.

                Vince dropped into a squat, gathered up as much kinetic energy as he dared, then sent all of it through the bottoms of his feet. He blasted off from the ground, mimicking the leap-technique that so many strongmen favored. As he whipped through the air, torn between feeling exhilarated and terrified, he noticed his toes were cold. One look told him why: he’d blown the boots clean off his feet. Well, hopefully that wouldn’t hurt the landing. After all, launch had been the easy part.

                Vince’s momentum began to slow, and his rise gave way to the inevitable fall as he readied himself for the next part. As he came hurtling down to the ground, Vince pointed his feet forward and concentrated for all he was worth. He struck the pavement, absorbing the kinetic energy of the landing that should have turned him into squashed student. With as little pause as he could manage, Vince took that energy and put it right back into his feet, blasting off again to cover more ground. Risking his limbs, possibly his life, on every jump wasn’t an ideal situation, but he was covering a lot more ground than he could by running.

                Within four leaps, he’d caught sight of the targets. By the time he landed from the fifth jump, he was close enough to make out their faces. Sure enough, the one being carried was the guy from the museum, clutched in the arms of a strongman-type Sim that was running without pause even as Vince gave chase.

                Rather than go high again, Vince opted to take a page from Roy’s playbook. He launched himself forward in a nearly horizontal leap, whipping across the street and slamming into the pair of Sims. Vince absorbed the energy of the impact for safety, but now that he was in striking distance running was no longer an option. A huge blast of fire scorched over both Sims, forcing the woman to set down her ally and face Vince as a threat. Understandable though the tactic was, it didn’t change the fact that Vince had more than enough kinetic energy left to take her out of the fight. One firm punch to the torso sent her careening through the wall of a nearby building, stunning her at the least. With the guard gone, that just left Vince facing off with the Armageddon-Sim.

                This time, there was no pretense of false surrender. The Sim stood in place; hands still clasped together, the energy between them glowing brighter and brighter. Vince realized with a shock that the Sim wasn’t trying to fight him; it was trying to finish the chain reaction. How close was the ten minute mark? There was no way to know, and Vince couldn’t take any chances.

                Just as the light started growing brighter, Vince closed the gap between them. There was no time for being gentle; he simply punched the Sim’s head with enough force to knock out anyone short of Roy. As it turned out, that was more than plenty. The mechanical skull burst into pieces from the blow, flying all over the road. The Sim’s body fell backward, hands still together, energy pulsing between them.

                Was he fast enough? Was it done? He didn’t like that the light hadn’t faded. Maybe he’d missed the deadline, and the reaction would happen no matter what. Unless… he stopped it. Vince put his hand forward, trying to feel this new energy, to find a way to steal it. Before he had a chance, it began to flicker and wane, until fading out completely.

                “With ten seconds to spare, you all have successfully stopped the threat of Armageddon.” Dean Blaine’s voice echoed through Vince’s earpiece, a welcome intrusion as he announced their victory. “Congratulations to everyone. When you’re finished changing and showering, there are a lot of impressed Heroes out here anxious to congratulate each one of you.”

Edit Note: So for those who saw the first version tonight, apparently I didn't do a good job of making it clear that Vince's big gamble was the scope of his leap rather than the leap itself. Hopefully this tweak clear that up, and thanks for the feedback!