“Welcome to my home, Mr. Butler. What’s left of it anyways,” Alan said. He sat calmly behind a table laden with food. “Please, you must be hungry. Help yourself to the food. You’re immune to poison, so it’s not like it’ll hurt you to try some.” Other than his bright cerulean eyes, he looked like a perfectly average person to Jared. Nothing about him screamed out mass murderer.
“Oh, but I am,” Alan said pleasantly, responding to Jared’s unspoken thought. “More than you can possibly know given your unfortunate lack of functioning radio equipment. In fact, about an hour ago, I killed around a billion people. And with your help, I bet I can get at least a few hundred million more.” He took a bite out of a biscuit, crumbs falling onto the bathrobe he was lazing about in. Jared’s heart skipped a beat, certain he didn’t hear Alan right. “I’m sorry, I think I misheard you. Did you just say you killed a billion people. With a B?” Alan nodded solemnly. The world swam around Jared and he grabbed a chair to steady himself.
“I know it’s a bit of a shock. But I assure you, there’s nothing you could have done. I’ve known exactly when you would get here since you were eight years old.”
“Why?” Jared asked weakly. He couldn’t believe it. How could Alan have killed that many people? He had to be lying, just to throw Jared off. But the way Alan said it, with total conviction, made Jared feel it was true. If Alan was lying then he deserved an acting award. Of course, psychopaths were very good liars and someone willing to kill that many people was certainly a psychopath. Wasn’t he? Jared realized his thoughts were spinning out of control and reined them in so he could pay attention to any answer Alan gave.
“Because I could,” Alan said, smiling, not the slightest hint of regret. Jared lost it and threw himself across the table at Alan, who continued to smile. Jared realized his mistake almost immediately, but it was too late. The woman hiding behind Alan’s chair stepped out from behind it and grabbed Jared’s fist. Power drained out of him. Shit, she’s stealing my abilities!
The power drain stopped almost immediately and he realized he’d become immune. But he sensed nothing when he reached for Patrick’s strength or flames. Then he saw her other hand was on Alan’s arm. Why do I get the feeling that’s a bad sign?
“Oops,” said Alan. “Look at that, you broke my table.” With that he drove a fist down onto Jared’s head, driving his awkwardly positioned body down through the heavy oaken table. Wood splinters shredded Jared’s skin as the table snapped apart around him. “Which got it worse, my table or your bones?”
Definitely my bones. Oh God, he’s got Patrick’s power now? Shit. A foot slammed into his chest and he went flying across the room into a wall. He coughed up blood and wondered just how much internal damage he had. He fought to stay conscious as his insides shifted around while his wounds healed.
“I’m sorry, Jared, I lied. I didn’t kill those people just because I could. I only said that to get you close enough to level the playing field a bit. I killed them to make the world a better place for my daughter to live in. I eradicated all those who hate our kind just for being different. No, to put it more accurately, I’ve eradicated almost everyone even capable of that kind of hate. Because for years I’ve orchestrated and publicized atrocities. From the genocidal purges by the likes of Dirkland’s Red Fire Squads to the destructive endeavors of organizations like Black Rain. I created the sort of events that will happen naturally given enough of our kind to accelerate the kindling of people’s natural prejudices. Then I wiped out those whose fear and hate was of our entire kind rather than just the individuals responsible.”
“What… in… the hell?!” Jared shouted, forcing the words out through damaged lungs. “You gave them reasons to hate us then killed them for it? Why? Maybe they were weak, or ignorant, or even just fucking dicks, but why does that mean they deserve to die?” He thought of Steve, undoubtedly flawed for his prejudices, but he’d never harmed anyone. There was no one who benefited from his friend’s passing. Jared couldn’t grasp how what Alan was saying could possibly be true, but if it was, how many people like Steve had the man murdered?
He dragged himself up against the wall, glaring at Alan, who was standing halfway between Jared and the table he’d crushed apart with Jared’s body.
“Maybe they didn’t. But does anyone? Besides myself of course. Anyways, not all of them died. * The survivors have all received abilities. Maybe not ones they wanted or asked for, but they will change the world *nonetheless.”
“You forced abilities on them? I’d ask how this could get worse but I can already imagine how many innocent people are falling out of the sky right now because their pilots just happened to be racist pricks. Do you have any idea how much killing a billion people screws up everything for everyone left? How many people are going to die as collateral because you didn’t want to get hate mail?”
Alan tilted his head to the left and the woman who’d stolen Patrick’s powers was sitting calmly on the wreckage of the table. The smile was gone from his face.
“The rate of those receiving gifts is increasing. And contrary to Marco’s earlier research, it is not a linear increase. He can’t be blamed for getting it wrong, there simply wasn’t enough data to confirm the truth. Too many people with gifts were in hiding, too many who rejected their gifts were miscarriages of children who would have had them from birth. He’s come to suspect what’s happening, but it will be some time before he can conclusively prove it. However, I can see possible futures of those with gifts, or those who might receive gifts. And the thing of it is, the rate is increasing exponentially. Within another ten years, roughly one child in twenty will receive a gift or die. Within twenty years, it will be one in five. Another forty years and in most possible futures it will be everyone who will go through the process. So what happens, do you think, if the rate of those surviving that process does not change?”
Jared’s blood chilled as he realized what Alan was saying. If he’s right, and if the rate doesn’t change… one in a hundred. Maybe a little more, but only one in a hundred people would survive childhood.
“Ah, starting to understand the implications, aren’t you? Do you know what changes the rate of survival, Jared? It’s the percent of the local population that has abilities. The greater the percentage, the more people that survive, further increasing the percentage and so forth and so on. But if large chunks of the population are old hateful fucks who would persecute and actively stamp out our kind, what happens then?” Then everyone dies. “But if that segment were wiped away, not only does the current percentage of individuals with gifts increase dramatically, it also helps ensure those who would harm the gifted are no longer a threat. In the long run, my actions may well save our entire species. Though honestly, I would have done this even if that weren’t true.”
“Then why?” Jared asked. “If you’re not standing by the megalomaniacal ‘I’m saving the world’ excuse, why would you do this?”
“I already told you Jared, to make the world a better place for my daughter. If you want to know any more than that, you’re going to have to beat it out of me. You think you’re up to that?”
Jared certainly wanted to, but Alan had taken Patrick’s powers. Mirkov had given him the specialized equipment he’d used to take Patrick down with May during training, but he was on his own and didn’t have a clue what Alan’s skill level was. Or how many powers he has. That woman could have helped him steal any number of abilities. But still, I think I have Kevin’s. I can feel it. If I can just touch him, even once, I might be able to win.
He struck at Alan quickly, moving in a blur. But Alan was faster, moving ever so slightly out of the way. Jared’s strike missed, his hand sailing past Alan harmlessly, and a stone knee shattered his solar plexus. A back fist crashed into the back of his head and he was once again sailing across the room. God, I’m being beaten half to death by a lunatic in a bathrobe. This is fucking ridiculous.
“Your power fascinates me Jared. Adaptive resistance and immunity to offensive abilities and the ability to copy them to whatever extent someone uses one directly on you. But it’s especially useful against an ability like Patrick’s fire, since you can spread it through your body yourself. If I attacked with even the slightest flicker of flame then you could engulf yourself and get both the fire and his secondary gift of strength back in moments.”
“I’m so glad you’re fascinated,” Jared spat out. “You should show your appreciation by standing still.” Jared pulled out the pistol hiding beneath his waist band and unloaded the clip at Alan. But every bullet missed. When he aimed at Alan, the man moved out of the way. When he tried to hit where Alan was heading towards, Alan just jerked to a stop and the bullet whizzed by in front. Jared tried to use Reacher’s abilities to jerk him into a bullet but found he couldn’t access it. Crap, did that woman get Reacher’s power too? Dammit it all.
The gun empty, he rushed Alan again, but checked his speed before he got into Alan’s range. Deftly removing his shoe he rapidly fired off a roundhouse kick, hoping to brush Alan with a toe. But Alan dodged again with ease. Jared used several more techniques with blinding speed, but Alan was always just out of range. They passed through the air he was standing in a moment before and no matter how hard Jared tried he couldn’t get a sense of where Alan would be next.
He knows where I’ll attack. That’s pretty obvious, but how is he fast enough to react to all of them? I can’t even touch him, much less land a solid hit. And I don’t even know if I still have Kevin’s power. If that woman took it from me then wouldn’t he have it now? There’d be no point in avoiding me touching him when he could just counterattack.
“I think it’s especially interesting to the degree to which you have to be aware* for your absorbed abilities to work,” Alan said with a calm tone, not even slightly out of breath, despite Jared’s barrage. “It’s quite different from mine. From the moment I received my gift, I’ve seen tens of thousands of possible futures, but I’ve always known exactly which one I would choose to pursue. There is scarcely any conscious thought at all on my part. I simply know. I suppose the healing and resistance aspects of your power work similarly.”
Jared wasn’t sure where Alan was going with this speech of his, but he didn’t appreciate Alan making his point by shattering Jared’s arm with a brutal joint lock. He cursed the fact that he was wearing long sleeves, unable to try and use Kevin’s power on Alan even though the man had grabbed him. His flesh was already healing though, forcing the bone sticking out of his shirt to retract and mend. Alan was right about him not needing to think about it.
“But your secondary abilities require at least a rudimentary awareness of having them in order to activate. For instance, if you’d known that you’d absorbed Shelly Rhinefield’s powers, Patrick would have vaporized you both the first time you ever sparred together.” Jared’s blood ran cold and he found himself backing off, waiting to hear the rest of what Alan had to say. That can’t be right. How would I have –
“The only reason you gained Patrick’s full powers was because your body was starting to adapt his secondary ones as a defense mechanism,” Alan said. “You put the cart before the horse and brought out the fire as well. If you hadn’t made the erroneous connection, you never would have been able to use your ability to nearly its full extent. But it never even occurred to you that you might have absorbed Shelly’s powers as well when they disintegrated part of your shoulder, so they’ve lain dormant inside you this entire time.”
“Bullshit,” Jared said. Alan smiled an infuriating smile that just screamed ‘I know more than you do’. Jared wanted to wipe the smirk off of Alan’s face, but it was becoming quite clear Alan was outmatching him. If I still had Patrick’s power, or even Reacher’s. A quick jerk to put him off balance is all I’d need. His frustration turned to fear as Alan dropped his bath robe and he saw the energy projector hidden underneath. Jared froze, possible tactics racing through his head. But none of the remaining tools at his disposal beat out an energy projector.
“Your power really is incredible. It started clouding my vision years ago, long before you’d even gained it, resisting my own from a future that hadn’t yet materialized. Even from the start, there’s a point past which all I could ever see were the barest threads of possible futures. And now past that point I can see nothing at all. But this fight? Even though here and now I can’t see what happens, I remember it from when I could. I remember every move you made, every slip up I could make, and every response you would have. I trained for this fight for months on end, performing katas for every possible variation, over and over again. This fight, I remember winning. But you know the funny thing? I always win the same way in the end, no matter the permutation. I just remind you that you have Shelly’s power and then I shoot you with this.”
Alan fired the project and the energy arced instantly into Jared’s shoulder. Time seemed to slow down as the cells in his shoulder sparked with the energy. No! The energy spread outwards. Some of his cells were resisting it, becoming immune to the blast of energy traveling through his body. But other cells were absorbing the power and then exploding themselves, furthering the chain reaction. His body was at war with itself as it self-destructed. He put all of his will into trying to control the power and it started to give in, the speed of the reaction diminishing. But it was too little too late, half of his body already gone. He disappeared in a blast, too little of himself left to regenerate.
His consciousness found itself back in limbo, a door wide open in front of him, white light pouring out of it. God dammit, I’m really dead this time. He sighed. May’s so going to kill me for up and dying on her. He could feel the door pulling him towards it and it was already getting hard to resist.