The golden lines wove through the air, the space, the world around him. It was strange; even though he’d only had this power for brief intervals, when he looked through his memories Nick could still see them. The paths of chance, fate, destiny, probability, whatever mythology one wanted to ascribe to the machinations of fortune. Lines that had led him to Lander, to Vince, to Alice, to his friends, to his expulsion, to his return; all of it was there, easy to see and trace. Even the one he’d been unconsciously following all the way to this very moment. Part of him wondered if he’d be able to remember this properly when the amplification passed. It was a small part, though, barely audible over the crashing waves of possibility roaring in his ears. The power was intoxicating, yet he could still see its limits. Nothing existed in isolation. For every change he invoked, every probability he shifted, there would be ripples outward. It wasn’t as simple as shaping the future to his will, rather it was like sorting through a massive puzzle. Every action, each selection locked into place, impacted the pieces around it. Often in terrible, deadly ways.
Quentin was panting slightly, the last of the purple energy vanishing from him as it coursed into Nick. Finally done, he pulled his hand away and looked up, letting out a sharp gasp seconds later and quickly backing away. “Your eyes… what happened to them?”
This was why Nick had taken great pains to keep his night-vision goggles on last time. A single glance in a mirror made it obvious that most people would be unsettled by his current appearance. Unlike when Nick normally activated his power, it wasn’t just his irises that were glowing gold. His whole eyeballs were blazing with the light, but that was only a small part of it. To stare into them was to see bits and pieces of what he was controlling, shadows of an unseen fundamental force within the universe. A mortal mind wasn’t made to fathom such concepts. Perhaps that was why Nick’s memory turned so terrible when the amplification was over, not even a brain like his could handle properly recalling this experience.
Reaching into his pocket, Nick produced a pair of sunglasses and slipped them smoothly onto his face, pausing to give Quentin a quick smile. “It’s fine. My eyes always change when I use my power. You did a great job, kid.” Nick looked again at the golden lines, seeing all the possibilities of the day stretched out in the time still to come. “I think you just saved a lot of lives, maybe even the whole world. Although that’s well past the distance I can make out, so take it as optimism more than anything else.”
“Let’s hope so. That’s the last Mobius enhancement we’re going to be able to manage. Adam should still be in Quentin’s form and able to pass his on to one of the others, but it’s a world of difference between this charge and what he can manage on his own after its spent.” Shimmerpath was watching him carefully, and in turn Nick paid her a greater amount of attention. She had an interesting path ahead, plenty of room for twists in the road and lucky breaks. If she could make it through the rough patch directly in front of her, that was.
“Then I suppose the first order of business is to make sure we don’t come up short in the arms race.” Nick rolled his shoulders twice and cracked his neck, forcing himself to loosen up after the effort of hiding the tremendous pain from Quentin’s enhancement. It was a distant memory now, but his body knew it had suffered and wanted to stay tense. That wasn’t permissible just yet, however. Nick needed to be clear-headed and focused. There was a lot to do, and relatively little time to work with. “Someone grab me a glass of water. By the time you get back, I should have the first part in motion.”
Adjusting his glasses slightly, Nick shifted his attention to the paths of probability that dwelled elsewhere in the world. Specifically, over a school in California where loads of Heroes and the best fighters every HCP in the country had to offer were all gathered. Probability was well and good, but in Nick’s experience conflict often came down to a simple game of numbers.
* * *
In the moment, it seemed like nothing more than chance. With Dean Blaine off to meet Graham DeSoto, Victor was escorting everyone from the viewing room through the HCP halls to a special banquet. It was a post-Intramurals tradition, a time for all the competitors to eat, talk, and connect with one another in ways other than fighting. They would chat with the Heroes, perhaps getting advice on their missteps or locking down prestigious internships. The mood of the crowd was relaxed, and why wouldn’t it be? Intramurals was over, the fighting done, and nothing had been permanently injured except for a few students’ pride, and even that would eventually heal. Looking back, it would seem so obvious that there had been interference, especially with Ralph Chapman scanning the area for Nick constantly, muttering under his breath. However, in that moment, with no idea what was going on or what had happened to the man with the power of luck, it was forgivable that most took the incident as coincidental.
Vince and Alice were near the front of the crowd, with Angela, Shane, and Chad nested more deeply in the center. Thanks to a sudden break in the mass of people, though, all of them were able to see Mr. Numbers running down the hall only seconds before Mr. Transport turned a corner and the two nearly collided, saved only by Mr. Numbers’ speedy reflexes. Without taking a second to pause, Mr. Numbers grabbed Mr. Transport by the arm and began to quickly lead him away from the crowd.
“I guess they don’t know Lander won yet,” Vince said. “Mr. Transport is usually big on encouragement, I think he would have congratulated us.”
“He must know. Why be down here if he wasn’t waiting for results?” Alice’s eyes narrowed, as this new development added fuel to the fire of her already burning suspicions. “And why did the head of the DVA feel the sudden need to call a meeting of the deans? You didn’t see it, but the DVA agents came storming in like something was on fire.”
“Hero work does come with unexpected emergencies,” Vince reminded her.
“Yeah, but it happened literally seconds after Nick offered a half-assed excuse and slipped out of the room.” Alice shot Vince a look from the side of her eyes. “Think that’s not related?”
“It could be.” Even Vince couldn’t hold onto such a delusion for more than a few seconds. “But it probably isn’t. Do you think Nick is in trouble?”
A long, tired sigh escaped Alice’s lips. “Almost always. I doubt he’s made enough of a splash to get the DVA that flustered though. This feels different. Bigger. Like something huge is going down.”
Neither said it, but both had the same question on their mind. Had it finally happened? Had the stalemate broken at last? The odds were slim, there were any number of potential reasons that the DVA might suddenly need Graham’s leadership. Still, it was the sort of idea that was impossible to shake, once it had taken hold.
“Let’s go see what’s so important.” Without breaking stride, Alice turned to the nearest, tallest, authority figure she knew. Her voice was raised slightly, just loud enough for others to hear so they wouldn’t be suspicious about she and Vince leaving the group. “Hey Titan, we’re going to break off for a few minutes and swing by the gym. Roy and Hershel will both kill us if we don’t tell them the good news in person.” Without waiting for permission, Alice dragged Vince off down a hall before anyone could object. It was a simple, quick charade that passed by fast enough to fool most of the people there.
Most, but not all.