Chapter 309

                Every breath was a struggle to draw, his lungs burned for air yet the act of taking it in was hellish. All of his body ached, his head was swimming, and even his very bones seemed to be somehow exhausted. Yet Globe kept on, halting bullets and a sonic blast meant to knock him from his platform. He wasn’t fighting for his life, that was an asset he’d expected to lose in return for what he gained this day. No, Globe was still hanging on for the simple fact that every shot aimed at him was one not sent toward the Heroes or his team. They were all coming so fast there was no time to counter-attack, and even if he could Globe doubted he still had the strength. This was all he could still give them, the last of his life spent as a giant target. Tracking his people was impossible, the chaos was thick and Globe’s attention was set on defense. All he could do was hope that they were smart enough to escape while they could. When the truth came out, when everything was laid bare, they might still have lives. Pardons could be issued, reputations redeemed. If they died on the battlefield, however, that was as far as their stories went.

                At least Clarissa was gone, that was a comfort. Never had Globe dared imagine that she would be convinced to leave early, but Clarissa herself had kept reminding him that the mission came first. It would have been nice, in another life, to see where things went between them without all the Hero work, betrayal, and secrecy. Globe tried to picture that world, a life he could have, maybe should have, lived. It was a lovely picture, but there was one glaring flaw. For as much as Globe loathed all the things that had happened to him, the series of events had led to one shining piece of goodness: his son. Without Charles tricking Globe into killing Intra, the fallen Hero and starving child would never have met in that alley. Vince would likely be long dead, and Globe’s life would be poorer for the absence, even if he didn’t know it. That was the other place Globe could find comfort as his stamina dwindled and the attacks grew steadily closer to landing: Vince was safe. Safe, back at Lander, and hopefully celebrating a successful Intramurals with his friends. It pained Globe that he couldn’t be there to cheer for him, but Vince would go onto great things even without his adopted father in the wings. He was a good boy who had grown into a good man, and if Globe had one regret in these final moments, it was that he wouldn’t be around to see the kind of Hero Vince would become.

                A nearby explosion drew Globe’s attention, ready to knock back any debris sent his way. Instead, only dirt was tumbling through the air, the consequence of someone in the battle punching another person into the ground, hard.  He started to turn away, but a flash of silver made his heart drop. It couldn’t be. Plenty of Supers had unusual hair or eye colors, and even more people faked it. Just because it was that particular shade didn’t mean it was Vince. The self-delusion lasted briefly, only until the cloud of dirt settled. There, standing amidst the fight, being surrounded by guards who clearly didn’t appreciate the recent attack, stood Vince. He’d grown a little taller and widened in the shoulders, but there was no mistaking that stubborn, willful expression.

                How? How had this happened? Sean wouldn’t… no, it was silly to waste time wondering. That boy and his friends had an almost supernatural knack for getting into trouble. What mattered wasn’t how Vince arrived, only that he managed to escape safely. Even as Globe had that thought, he realized that the guards were surrounding Vince, preparing to attack with multiple methods simultaneously. Whether they knew he was an absorber or had just decided to be cautious was up for debate; the impact such a strike would have, however, wasn’t.

                At the sight of his son in danger, Globe found he didn’t care so much about the pain in his lungs or the aches in his bones. For some causes, there was always more to give.

*             *             *

                “Joan, you should go now.” Nick was still calm as he watched the madness, still peaceful. People were dying, some of them good people, but that was inevitable. The paths of fortune were not infinite, there was no version of today’s events that ended without bloodshed. At most, Nick could nudge probability to protect the people he loved first, and the other Heroes second. It was a cold, calculated decision, but even back in his proper mind he wouldn’t feel guilt for it. This was the burden he’d chosen to bear, watching from the shadows, doing the things Heroes never could. If the fight continued going this way, then Nick would have to fill that role again before the day was done, and he would do so without hesitation. “Go north through the woods so you don’t give away our position, then start knocking out as many of the guards firing on Globe as you can. He’ll probably need room to maneuver soon.”

                She was gone before his words died, racing through and then out of the trees, weaving between the fights as fast as she dared. Clarissa looked to Nick expectantly. “And me?”

                “You don’t need a head start. You can teleport as soon as the anchors are down, and I don’t expect them to last much longer. A pair of friends luckily found one another, and with their mentors guiding them they are preparing to make a true assault on the bunker. Charles must still be keeping the anchors stashed inside, otherwise at least one would have fallen by now. As soon as they’re found, you’ll be able to use your gift again. Of course, so will every other teleporter waiting to join the fray.”

                “I’ll have to move fast to get Globe out before he’s captured, that’s what you’re saying.”

                “If that’s your goal, then yes, you would indeed need to be quite fast. But the harder task might be convincing him to go. Assuming his son is any indication, I’m guessing Globe can be tiringly hard-headed, especially when it comes to self-sacrifice.”

                The sigh from Clarissa’s lips spoke volumes. “You have no idea.”

                “Oh, I think I have a pretty damn good idea. But we won’t get to talk about it. You need to move. Head up to where Joan made her exit, and then wait for my signal. I’ll let you know the instant your power can work again. As soon as it does… well, we’ll see how the situation at hand looks when that moment comes. I trust you’ll know what the best move is. It’s your life, your team, make the choices that feel right to you.”

                Clarissa crooked an eyebrow. “You said before that I didn’t need to move ahead of time.”

                “And at the time, you didn’t. But one person’s fortune just took a turn early than expected, so I need you to not be here. Something is going to happen, and it’s not for you.” Nick finally turned to look Clarissa in the eyes, or do as good of a job as possible through his sunglasses. “I’ve got my own people to take care of, after all.”

                Although she briefly hesitated, Clarissa didn’t bother protesting. They’d already bet a tremendous amount on Nick and his amplified power, there was no point in not trusting him now. Besides, so far none of her people were dead. How much of that was due to Nick’s power was impossible to quantify, but given the amount of fighting going on it was downright miraculous.  As long as his way kept resulting in their people staying alive, she’d go along with it. Once her friends started dying, on the other hand, all bets were off.

                Clarissa jogged off through the trees, following the trail Joan had left behind. She was barely gone for three minutes when a figure stumbled out of the fray, one without armor or weapons, a tired man who was clearly fleeing for his life. Nick’s vicious grin was meant for no one to see, it was an expression he’d have never shown to an audience. Yet he still clung to the shadows, waiting.

                Twisting the fortune of so many had led to someone taking notice of Crispin’s escaping body, someone with a dangerous grudge. Not far behind Crispin, trailing him carefully, another figure emerged. Even through the gray mask, Nick could easily recognize Alex, although this was his first time seeing the supposed-Jedi with murder in his eyes.