“Veer left.” Mr. Numbers didn’t need to give Mary any more than that, she followed his words without a moment’s hesitation, swinging wide to keep them, and the Hero laying in Mr. Transport’s arms, safe as a huge chunk of rock sailed past.
At first, it had taken more than a mere smattering of words, but the two hadn’t spent every Saturday playing chess over four years without building trust. They knew each other, had faith in one another’s skills, and together they were navigating the battlefield like no one else could. Mary was in top form, using her incredible telepathy range to hunt down the Heroes most in need of healing, those who could still be saved, then plucking them from the chaos with her telekinesis. In another age, she might have made an incredible Valkyrie, save for the fact that she was taking the fallen warriors to a healer, which was essentially the opposite of leading them into an afterlife.
Mr. Numbers had been wondering for some time where his talents would make the most difference in this battle, assuming he would have to torture someone for information or calculate an attack with the fewest number of casualties. In all his predictions, he hadn’t imagined himself sitting on a tree trunk, zipping around the place with Mary, moving Heroes to Hallow as fast as possible. Yet it was impossible to deny that they were making a difference. The renewed Heroes came back with something to prove, and seeing their friends saved was giving heart to the others in costume stuck in this fiasco.
Still, Mr. Numbers knew what he was and where his talents lie. There would be more work after this, more situations where his skills were called for. Just this once, however, it was a pleasant change of pace to make things better by helping people, even if that only meant keeping Mary from getting picked out of the sky.
* * *
Titan peeled away the reinforced wall with no visible effort, getting nicely around the fact that none of them could find a door into or out of this space. No wonder Globe’s team hadn’t noticed it on their run through here, if not for Chad’s hearing they would have walked right by as well. Not wasting a moment, Dean Blaine leapt forward, right into the middle of the room where a half-dozen people’s surprise was quickly turning into fear.
“Your powers are no longer functional,” he announced. “Anyone who would like to go peacefully may lay down on the floor. If you want to express your displeasure physically, I will be happy to put you down. For our more daring contestants, feel free to try and run away through that opening in the wall.”
From the gap, Titan, Ettin, and Intra all waved, some more enthusiastically than others. There was blood on Ettin’s bat, Intra was still covered in spikey bones, and Titan was… Titan. It was no great surprise when every non-costumed person in the hidden room dropped to the ground, hands clasped neatly behind their backs.
With a sigh of relief, Dean Blaine made the report through his communicator. “Dispatch, put the word out. We’ve found and neutralized the anchors. Teleportation is once more possible, so get us some damn backup.”
“I will alert the Heroes,” Dispatch replied, always ready at an instant. “There are few who have been anywhere near that location, however, so it may still take some time for them to reach you.”
“What about my backup?” Titan asked, touching his own ear so the others knew he wasn’t speaking to them.
“Reports indicate they should arrive shortly.”
Titan chuckled, nodding to their new prisoners. “Let’s get these wrapped up fast. I think you’re all going to want to watch this.”
* * *
Seeing the lines of probability wasn’t omnipotence. For one thing, there were too many factors for anyone to keep track of, even an amplified Nick. Another issue was that he could only see how likely certain events were, and push them toward a desired outcome. Those pushes made ripples, though, and changing one event could make things worse down the line. It was a power that required a gentle touch and a cunning mind to wield, a perfect fit for someone trained as a conman and a gambler. Nick didn’t have a communicator, he had no way of monitoring when the anchors were taken out. What he could see, however, was the probability of Shimmerpath being able to open a portal. Since they’d arrived, that chance had been locked at zero percent, there was no way for her to do it against all those anchors. And then, with little warning, suddenly the odds were different; her chances of success were in the high nineties, barring only sudden death or interruption. Teleportation was back on the table, and for a brief moment he was the only one who knew it.
“Now!” Nick’s voice rang out from the trees where he’d been hiding, and Shimmerpath didn’t waste a single moment. She bolted forward, hand already extended. They’d been close enough to hear Charles’s spiel about the bomb, and while Nick wasn’t quite sure he bought it given the probabilities he was looking at, Shimmerpath would obviously prioritize getting Charles out of range. Much as she might love Globe, she was a Hero first and foremost. That made her noble and decent, true, but it also made her predictable.
The portal opened under Charles in less than a second, sending him tumbling unseen out of view. Although Nick didn’t know where she’d sent him, it didn’t matter. He was running as fast as he could, on a direct course for Shimmerpath. She wouldn’t let a villain get away, and sure enough, moments later another portal opened in front of her. This time he could make out the terrain, it was sparse and rocky, maybe up on a mountain somewhere. Nick never slowed down, never gave anyone the chance to react.
Instead, he slammed into Shimmerpath as soon as her portal was up, driving both of them through. For a heartbeat, his face was turned toward Vince and the others. They were probably wondering what the hell was going on. Maybe one day they’d understand. Dire situations called for hard choices. Kindness, goodness, justice, all of these were wonderful things in the right circumstances. Sometimes, though, they were liabilities. Crispin had already proven that point nicely. Heroes even understood that saving one life at the cost of a hundred others wasn’t acceptable, it was built into their response system. The bit they’d failed to realize was that someone didn’t need a dangerous power to be capable of starting Armageddon. He hoped, eventually, they’d understand why he did this, but there was no time to explain it today. So Nick spared just enough time to give a huge theatrical wink, the sort of gesture only his friends would be able to recognize thanks to the sunglasses obscuring part of his face.
Together, Nick and Shimmerpath tumbled through the portal. Before they even landed, Nick attacked, landing a punch to her temple that just so happened to send her head backward, banging against a rock. One-on-one, he could have never stood up to a Hero, but that was the advantage of a surprise attack, especially one with amplified luck backing it up. As soon as she was out, the portal collapsed, just like he’d been hoping it would.
Staggering to his feet, Nick brushed some dust from his pants as he made his way over to the struggling figure of Charles Adair. Apparently Shimmerpath had dropped him from a ways up, as Charles was currently crawling along the rocky terrain with a pair of slightly askew legs dragging behind him. The moment he heard Nick’s approach, Charles whirled around, gun aimed right at him.
“Cute. You sure you don’t want to use something a little more Super as a threat? Turning the ground to pudding so I sink in, or shifting debris into containers of nitro-glycerin you can lob my way? I’ve read up on The Alchemist, you were a pretty scary guy in your day, yet now all you seem to use your power for is business. Come on, if you’re going to threaten me, at least do it like a Super. Assuming those legs aren’t hindering your concentration, I mean.”
“Powers are useful in their own place, but there is much to be said for the reliability of a bullet. Especially for one with your gifts. The less luck can play a part, the safer I think I’ll be, and I’m more than well-trained enough to hit you without the aid of fortune.” Charles kept the gun steady, though his eyes darted about. They both knew regardless what Charles said, his focus was compromised with that kind of injury, making powers riskier to use. “Where are the others?”
“Left them behind. They’ve never had the stomach for this kind of work.” Nick, still keenly aware of the gun, took a seat on the nearest boulder and checked his watch. “Teleportation is back, so the DVA will know it soon. Assuming they track one of us to this spot and send their fastest people, I’d bet we have around five minutes, at most, to see this through.”
The darting eyes stopped as Charles leveled his gaze squarely at Nick. “And what, pray tell is it we’re seeing through?”
“Your death, Charles. This is the place where you die.”