Chapter 73

                “Did it just come out of nowhere?”

                Roy shook his head, a vacant look reflecting in his eyes as he stared down at the concrete floor. Finding a private place hadn’t been hard once the trial ended, no one had been feeling particularly exuberant after battling human-shaped Sims, or failing to protect the civilians. Some teams had done better than others, but no one had managed to save every person they encountered. Those losses, fake though they were, were weighing the students down, to say nothing of facing the fact that when they went into the real field it wouldn’t be robots they might be forced to tear apart. Dr. Moran had been waiting for the class when it exited the gym, and the last Mary had seen a line was forming in front of her to book appointments, with Vince leading the charge.

                “I think… I think it’s been building for a while.” Absently, as if he weren’t even aware of the motion, Roy reached up and carefully touched his temple. “For the last few months, I’ve been getting something like hunches, half-formed thoughts that didn’t really seem like stuff I would come up with, but were impossible to pin down. Hershel’s been experiencing the same. I guess maybe we both thought our connection was getting stronger or something. We’ve always been linked, not just by memories; I can actually feel Hershel’s consciousness in my head, and vice-versa. But direct communication, that’s something totally new.”

                “This didn’t happen even when-” Mary faltered, her tongue getting ahead of her mind as she realized that she might be about to blunder into a fear Roy was working hard not to deal with. She was too far along, however, and Roy understood where she was going.

                “No, not even when we were Powereds,” Roy said. “But back then, it was contentious, we were fighting for control. Nowadays it’s a lot more like a partnership. We both found our roles, and felt like we were making progress.”

                The powerful hands wrapped around the grip of his bat tightened, and Mary didn’t need to read Roy’s mind to know he was mentally running through all the possibilities, so many of them awful. Gingerly, she laid one of her own small hands atop his wide ones, and after a few moments the clutching gripped loosened slightly.

                “Mary… what’s happening to me?” Roy whispered.

                “As I see it, there are any number of potential reasons for this, but some are more likely than others. The first one, which I’m sure is at the forefront in both our minds, is that something with the procedure has gone awry and you’re regressing. But that also seems to be the least likely explanation for hearing Hershel’s voice. For one thing, the rest of us haven’t seen any regression in the slightest, if anything everyone’s control has only gotten stronger. For another, direct communication wasn’t an aspect of your Powered condition, which means you’re probably moving forward, not back.”

                “That actually scares me more,” Roy said. “Ever since Owen told me that I was just a projection of Hershel’s wishes, some part of me has been terrified this day would come. Now that he’s getting stronger, what if he doesn’t need me anymore? What if he’s taking over, shifting in body only? What… what if I disappear?”

                Roy Daniels was not a man to cry, not from fear at least. Instead, he merely stared at the ground with a lost, haunted expression that seemed more suited to someone facing a deadly disease than the strapping young Super who wore it. In a lot of ways, Mary would have preferred tears. Those might have been easier to comfort.

                “Roy, I won’t lie to you: it’s a possibility. Your power is unique, and while that’s true for all abilities yours is especially odd. Maybe the two of you are joining; I’m not going to say it can’t happen. But I will say that, given the evidence so far, it seems unlikely.”

                “How do you figure?” There was something almost like the pale ghost of hope that sparked in Roy’s eyes.

                “Several factors, the biggest of which is that it sounds like the communication is going both ways. You said Hershel was getting the same hunch feelings, so that would speak to merging rather than him absorbing you, at the very worst. Looking at it objectively though, it seems far more like a growth of your ability. Hershel is the smarter of you two, but you’re the bolder one with better fighting instincts. Perhaps you’re beginning to hear the other because you’ve been stepping onto each other’s turf; Hershel learning to fight and you needing tactics. All speculation aside though, I do have one very compelling argument against the idea that you’re just some wish-fulfillment of Hershel’s.”

                Mary paused to look around the room they’d ducked into. It was small and sparse, probably a closet at some point in time, and she couldn’t see any sort of monitoring equipment. Still, this was the HCP, and it was best to assume they were being overheard at any given time. Were it just the staff to worry about, Mary wouldn’t have been so concerned, but with the DVA around some topics had to be touched upon delicately.

                “Last year, when I was working on my dream-walking and I did the group dive, you both came along,” Mary said. “Roy and Hershel, side-by-side. Hershel didn’t show up in your body, or alone, because the two of you aren’t one broken person. Maybe you started out that way, I can’t say for sure, but as of now you’re a pair. You’re brothers, each of you your own man. And neither of you are cowards, so we have to face this development head on.”

                “The dean?” Roy asked. He seemed… not upbeat, but less morose than before. She’d managed to assuage his more immediate concerns, now she just had to get him something to focus on. A task, a trial, any method he could use to fight his way forward. Roy didn’t fare well against existential dilemmas, but once he was given a path, something concrete, there was nothing that could knock him off course.

                “To start with. Probably Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport as well, along with Dr. Moran eventually, though I assume her day is going to be pretty booked.” Mary stood from the small bench where she’d been perched, offering a hand to help up Roy, despite the massive difference in their size and musculature. To her surprise, he accepted, taking her fingers and carefully pulling himself to his feet.

                “Then let’s get this started, the sooner I have a handle on it the better I’ll feel.” Roy hesitated, looking at Mary with an almost familial affection. “And thanks for the talk. Really.”

                “My pleasure.”

                “You know, I might be better than Hershel at a lot of things, but even since we were kids there’s one area where he’s whupped me good,” Roy said, yanking open the door and gesturing for Mary to go first. “Damned if my brother doesn’t have much better taste in women than I do.”