The Bad Guy Wins in This One - Chapter Fifty Seven (Jared)

“Hello again, Jared. Nice of you to drop in. Are you here to try again to beat the answer out of me? You still want to know why I killed all those people? Or are you here to save your sister?” Alan asked him.

Jared froze in mid-air, the energy pulsing inside of him keeping him suspended. He wondered how likely it was he’d accidentally fry his new clothes. He’d gotten fairly good at not torching them entirely with Patrick’s power, but he didn’t need Patrick’s fire flowing through every one of his cells. He knew it was a stupid concern. Lilly was most likely more concerned with the knife at her throat than the possibility of seeing her brother naked.

“Let her go!” Jared screamed. Lilly struggled against Alan’s grip, trying to tell Jared something. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he tried to assess how accurate his aim was. Could he blast off Alan’s head before Alan slit Lilly’s throat? Maybe, but if he was off by even an inch it could blow off Lilly’s head as well. Can’t risk it. How do I convince him to let her go? “Please, let her go. I’ll do whatever you want, just let her go.”

“The interesting thing is that, for a change, I can’t tell for sure if you’re lying or not. Your power is now even erasing the memories I have of future timelines. But I’m pretty sure I recollect you trying to kill me in most of the timelines where I let her go. Not that it matters, given the only outcome of consequence is the one where I do this.”

He slit his knife across Lilly’s throat and her blood spilled out in front of them. Then he tossed her body casually aside.

“No!” screamed Jared. “Why?!” He flew at Alan and tried to slam an energized fist into him. Alan, sidestepped and swung his fist towards Jared’s face, but this time Jared saw it coming and checked his momentum. He thrust his body backwards using the energy in him. Alan released a beam of flame from his hand. To Jared’s surprise it hit him hard in the face and he slammed backwards into the ground. “You keep asking the wrong question, Jared,” Alan said calmly, not the slightest change in emotion after killing a helpless girl. “You want to know why I’ve done things, but shouldn’t you first ask how? How did I kill a billion people? How did I bring your sister back to life? How am I going to use you to kill so many more?”

“And are you going to answer me if I ask that?” Jared asked angrily.

“Perhaps. I’ll tell you the first one at least. I killed all those people using your sister’s powers.” “Her powers?” Jared asked. He remembered the way she’d died. Rejecting a gift. She was becoming a special and died. “You brought her back for her gift. Using the woman who tried to take my power?” He looked for an opening. *How do I beat him? There has to be a way to stop him. * There was a tingling in his mind, but he couldn’t quite figure out what.

“Yes. A truly incredible one, especially when boosted. You’d be surprised how rare powers like yours and your sister’s are, given the company you keep,” said Alan. “Considering I engineered your creation and circumstances, that shouldn’t be surprising. But most people who survive do not get nearly such incredible gifts. A clockmaker whose watches never lose the right time. An artist who never needs paint. A swimmer who needs no air. Special and unique in their own ways, but worth the hundreds of lives lost to gain them? But people like you and your sister can change the entire world, one way or another.”

“And now that you’re done with her you discard her like trash?” Jared asked. Jared released energy in a wide beam from his hands. He can’t dodge this. But Alan didn’t have to. A thin wall of flame sprung up between them and the beam hit it then dissipated.

“You really didn’t expect that, did you?” Alan said. “I know Shelly Rhinefield’s powers a lot better than you. They have a hard time getting through plasma, which Patrick’s powers can generate when properly used. Perhaps you noticed the floor wasn’t obliterated out from under you when I triggered the chain reaction? That was me.”

“Fuck you, you arrogant prick,” Jared said. “I will find a way to end you, I swear to God.” “You shouldn’t swear things you might not be able to follow through on,” Alan told him. “I helped you unlock so much power, and you still can’t touch me.”

Jared struck at him again and again, but every blow was blocked no matter how quickly he moved. He tried to push through a plasma barrier with his energy but was repelled and slammed into a wall. He wouldn’t give up though, striking again and again, trying to throw Alan off with pure speed.

His barriers are getting wider, less concentrated. Either he’s not confident he can keep up or he’s having a harder time predicting where I’ll strike next.

“You can’t keep this up forever,” Jared said, shifting behind Alan in the blink of an eye. A barrier was already up by the time Jared could fire but Jared was on Alan’s other side an instant later, then firing from above Alan’s head. I can’t get below him. Is this why he’s fighting in the basement? If it were on another floor I could pull his damn feet out from under him.

“Who says I need to?” Alan asked. “In fact, I think I only need to last another couple of minutes.” “And then what happens?” Jared asked him.

“Then I’ll show you how you are going to help me kill millions of more people, Jared.”

A chill went up Jared’s spine. “I’d rather die than help you kill anyone,” Jared said. He fired at Alan with everything he had, but it stopped harmlessly when it hit another wall of plasma. Rock burned beneath them as the energy’s path redirected away from Alan. Now there’s a thought. If I destroy the environment it might….

“I’m sure you would. But dying wouldn’t help you.” Alan said. He cocked his head for a second then aimed his hand upwards and fired off a large blast of fire. The roof above him disintegrated. Alan’s blast blew away a sizable portion of the mansion above their heads, leaving open sky shining down on them. Dammit, well there goes that idea.

“Jared?” said a feeble voice. Jared’s heart skipped a beat. It can’t be. “Jared, is that you?” Lilly was struggling to sit up at the edge of the room where Alan cast her body aside. She’s alive? How can she be alive?*

“And there, Jared, is my how,” Alan was suddenly whispering in his ear. Jared tried to make himself move to strike Alan, but he stood transfixed, staring at Lilly as she sat back against the wall. Her head suddenly snapped back and Jared rushed towards her side. She convulsed, a faint glow surrounding her, and then was still. But she was still breathing this time, something that definitely was not occurring a few minutes ago.

“What did you do to her?” Jared whispered. Alan stood there smirking, and Jared was sorry he didn’t attack him while he was in range. As always, Alan knew he’d be safe.

“I didn’t give her just one life, I gave her many. But here’s the thing, I’ve made sure that every time she comes back, her powers trigger along the same criteria that I had her use before. An associate also hijacked almost every radio and satellite frequency on Earth and I’ve been broadcasting these fights, as well as varying confessions to my involvement in the atrocities that I’ve orchestrated. By now the world rightly hates me. The question is, how many millions couldn’t see past the individual and blame our entire kind for what’s happened? Because as of a second ago, they too have almost all perished.”

Jared cradled his sister, hugging her close. He could scarcely believe what he was hearing. “You’re a monster,” he whispered hoarsely, struggling to breath. “She didn’t deserve this.”

“I’m a father,” Alan said solemnly. “My daughter was suffering, more than you can imagine and unable to even die. So many thousands of futures, she suffered forever, and I bore witness to them all. Every torment, all at once, every time I used my ability. I could have helped humanity escape near extinction another way, dedicated my life to promoting tolerance and structured population shifts to increase survival rates for receiving the gift, if only I’d left my daughter in a corner to rot. With a little more effort, there were futures where I could have even given her the sweet release of death.

“But I never would have seen her smile again. She didn’t deserve that. She deserves to live and experience joy, experience even the slightest measure of happiness. But even in most of the futures where I could save her from her affliction, hateful bastards like the one who cursed her screw everything up. Their cruelty warp her recovering mind, drive her back into despair, into hating the world itself, assuming they don’t find a way to kill her for good first. You think what I’ve done is bad? You have no idea what my daughter is capable of if she’s abused instead of protected. So to give her even a chance at happiness I’ve killed a large portion of the world. So the question now is, will you not do the same?”

*That bastard. That fucking bastard. * “I see. If my sister kills every time she comes back to life, then the only way to keep people from dying is to kill her right now. To kill her over and over again until she doesn’t come back. Because the longer she lives, the more time new hatred has time to fester in people’s hearts, and the more will die if her abilities activate.”

“Bingo. I used Booster’s abilities to help your sister connect to everyone on Earth, but she won’t need another boost to reach anyone currently living. Reacher set the template and I’ve already erased everyone I’ve ever seen who might have ever been able to cure her,” Alan said. “The only way you stop me is to murder your own sister, again and again, whereas my choice was also between others or watching my daughter die, in one fashion or another, whether it would be her body or soul.” Alan’s face contorted with the memory of it.

“Even if you could kill your sister once, could you do it another time?” Alan asked. “And another, and another, watching her blood spill out or her skull cave in or her bones burn to ash? I certainly couldn’t. After seeing my daughter eternally suffer or die in over a hundred thousand possible futures, I finally found one where she smiled, where the factors that brought her down in so many others are gone, and where I can’t see what ultimately happens. This is the future where she has even a chance of happiness and I have worked ever since to make it happen. So will you choose any differently than I did? Will you make the noble sacrifice and do what other people need to be done?”

Tears poured down his face. He looked at his sister’s unconscious face, far too similar to when she was in a coma. All those people. All those people who will die. If I don’t…if she gets killed later, and it won’t just be the bigots. How many totally innocent people died already as collateral? Immediate car accidents, plane crashes, train wrecks. And then sick patients who had the wrong doctor, starving children with the wrong parents. But I… can’t. I can’t kill her. She’s my little sister and I’m supposed to protect her.

Jared’s sight blurred from tears, but he knew that wasn’t all that was blurring it. Something was happening to his vision. Suddenly the scene resolved itself more clearly than it had during the entire fight. I can see it. What he expects me to do. No, what he was expecting me to do, the most likely possibilities, what is left of his recollection. Jared saw himself setting Lilly aside and attacking in a blind rage from one of several angles, and he knew that he would have. But his powers were reacting to Alan’s more strongly than ever and he could see what Alan once had.

He paused, getting a grip on his emotions, and then jetted up. Alan was already forming plasma barriers to defend against the possible attacks. Jared could see the look of surprise on Alan’s face when Jared chose to completely ignore him, taking Lilly through the hole in the ceiling. He flew up into the air and looked around. He spotted Patrick, sitting on the ground, watching someone on the ground who was clearly in a lot of pain.

He flew over, gaining confidence in his ability to contain the energy in him. “Hey, glad to see you won. But if you’re going to just sit here, then I have a favor to ask you.”

“Sure bro, get that bastard Alan yet?” Patrick asked. “Seems like you have a new trick.”

“Not yet, but I’m working on it. Can you watch Lilly for me?” Jared asked, setting his sister down gently in front of him.

“Wait, thought you said she died,” Patrick said.

“She got better. Twice,” said Jared. “Go figure.”

“She ain’t a zombie o somethin’?” Patrick asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, she’s not a zombie,” said Jared.

“Ok, cool. I’ll look after her then, no problem. I was already babysitting,” he said, pointing a finger at Tasha’s prone form. Tasha was alive, but doing nothing but grumbling in agony.

“Careful, she’s the type to fake it, even if she recovers,” said Jared. “Make sure if folks come to arrest her they tranq her or something before they get too close. Bet they’ll get a razor claw through the throat if they don’t.”

“Yeah, yeah, will do. I learned my lesson the last time. Now go beat up the bad guy,” Patrick said. Jared nodded at him and flew back over the mansion. He stared down at it, wondering if it made more sense just to obliterate the entire thing. He knew he could do it now. One little blast and it would be over. But if I did that…

“Ok, I’ll bite. What made you so sure, after telling me everything you did, that I wouldn’t just kill both you and your daughter? You’ve implied she’s nearly impossible to kill, but I’m betting even she might die if I put everything I had into destroying the entire area.”

Jared had descended back to the basement, though the sun was now shining through the hole where the rest of the house used to be. Alan stood in front of Jared with a grin on his face, clearly unperturbed by his inability to even guess where Jared would strike at him next. And Jared knew he didn’t know because his powers now showed nothing about where Alan thought he might strike, not even the memories of it.

“Because you have character, Jared,” said Alan. “You don’t think of yourself as the good guy, but you want to be. In your heart, you don’t want to be a monster. And only monsters kill little girls out of spite. The good guys protect them.”

“And how many died as collateral today?” Jared asked.

“I don’t know. Quite a few though. And quite a few more might if you don’t kill your sister for good right now. A hard choice, I know. And I’m a monster for forcing you to make it. But my daughter is innocent of that. You won’t hurt her. I may not be able to see your next move anymore, but I’m sure of that.”

Jared contemplated Alan’s words, and then slowly worked towards him. “You’re right Alan, I won’t kill a child for her father’s sins. You’re wrong about me being a monster, but I’m not so far gone as that. You though, I have no problem killing, and I don’t think you can stop me anymore.”

Alan laughed. “You might be right. I have no idea how to stop you now. The wrong defensive pattern and you’ll either blow straight through the plasma or absorb its power again. Then you’ll be able to walk right through and fight me hand to hand. Without having at least some idea of what you’ll do, you are beyond my abilities to handle. I don’t know what to do! What a gift you have given me, even now in the end.”

“Gift?” Jared asked.

“You take it for granted, not knowing every move you’ll make,” said Alan. “The illusion of free will, God’s greatest gift to man, taken from me long ago. I’ve known since gaining my gift what path I would take, every action, every reaction, with the scarcest of differentiation based on my performance. But thanks to you, I have that illusion again, if only for a few moments. I cannot see at all right now what will happen next, and so I feel free. I am not reading from a script, acting out my play like a puppet, performing every motion with precision. Uncertainty, it is such a glorious thing.”

God dammit, he’s even happy about this? Jackass. Jared walked forward, making no move to use his new energy. Alan cocked his head, but even without being able to see the future, he could tell what Jared’s new strategy was.

“If I use fire directly on you, you’ll absorb it. Close quarters I’m a lot stronger physically right now, but you can hit me with an energy burst that can probably break through at that range. Assuming I could even block in time without having a clue what direction you will hit me from.”

“Yep,” Jared said, taking another couple of slow steps forward.

“Guessing if I randomly surrendered right now, you wouldn’t accept?” Alan asked, his perpetual grin never leaving his face.

“Nope,” Jared said, continuing forward.

“Well, I’ll admit improvisation is not my forte, but it would be a waste not to have some final fun,” Alan said, raising his hand. Jared was only a couple of feet from him and couldn’t avoid the bright flash from Alan’s hands, momentarily blinding him. A stone fist slammed into his stomach and he doubled over. He lashed out and upwards to where the fist had been and caught empty air. Clever, he thought as his vision cleared just enough to see the back fist come in from his side, smashing him across the face. He was flung across the room, but halted himself halfway, energy checking his momentum and allowing him to put himself upright.

Then he shot a blast towards Alan, who blocked it. But Alan’s shield obstructed his vision and now he couldn’t accurately guess what direction Jared would come from. Jared hurled himself across the floor, slipping beneath Alan’s plasma shield, reaching a hand up into it, and kicked upward into Alan’s crotch. He unleashed a full blast of energy.

To Alan’s credit, he saw it coming at the last second and managed to block a good portion of the energy and force with a plasma shield. He caught at least some of it though, doubling over in agony.

But even between the groans, Alan was chuckling. “I…didn’t…see…that coming,” he wheezed out. “Guess it’s good I can get hard, huh? Sorry, I’ll stop there. I shouldn’t make a stream of dirty jokes with the mass murder thing and all. I just feel so young again!”

“Well bully for you. If you enjoy not being able to see things coming, I think I have just the fix for you,” said Jared, pulling himself onto his knees. Patrick’s powers returned to his cells, the flame spreading slowly through him, giving him back the strength as well. Not that he needed it anymore. Alan might somehow be enjoying himself, but he didn’t seem to have any fight left in him. No, Patrick’s power isn’t what he deserves.

“Will you finish me off now?” Alan asked him curiously. Before Jared could answer, he was ripped in half. His intestines spilled out of his stomach as he looked on in shock. Jared whirled around in pain and confusion.

“Stop hurting my daddy,” said a girl. She looked about six, then for an instant there was a flash and she looked twice that, then another flash and she was Jared’s age. Jared stared at her in disbelief as his organs pulled themselves back inside his body. I can feel her power. She just…imagined me in pieces. Specifically me. If I tried to use that power on anyone else I would end up in pieces again myself. If she’d imagined me dead, I don’t think my body would have adapted fast enough.

The girl was pretty, brown hair and her father’s stunning eyes, but with golden flecks in them. The look on her face was determined, not particularly malicious. But if Jared weren’t able to heal, he’d be dead for sure.

“No Alysa!” Alan barked. “It’s ok, do not hurt Jared my dearest,” his voice becoming gentle. “And can you imagine daddy has new pants?” His tattered rags instantly became a pair of dress suit pants. He struggled up and moved over to his daughter, wrapping her in a hug. “Honey, I know you won’t always be able to control what you’re imagining, but you have to promise me you won’t ever try to hurt someone on purpose. Ok? And that you’ll imagine they’re fine as hard as you can if you hurt them by accident. Can you do that for me Alysa?”

She looked up at him with troubled eyes. “Even if they’re hurting you?”

“Daddy did a lot of bad things, my precious. He has to face the consequences. Now can you promise me you’ll do what I asked you to?” She nodded her head and Alan’s smile widened. She smiled weakly in response. He kissed her on the forehead. “That’s a good girl. You might not see me for a while again, but I want you to know that I love you with all of my heart. No matter what happens, I will always love you Alysa. Now please go back to your room and don’t come out again until Jared comes and gets you. It’s very important you don’t come out, no matter what. Go back to sleep if you can. Can you do that for me too?”

She nodded. “Do you really have to go away?” she asked. “Can’t you stay with me?”

“I wish I could, but I told you, I’ve done a lot of really bad things. And if you do bad things, someday you have to answer for them. But it’s ok, because I got to see you smile again. That made me so happy. Can you smile for me just once more?”

Alysa plastered a grin on her face that Jared was certain was forced, but Alan’s smile in response reached his eyes. He gave her a gentle push back towards the metal door that stood open at the corner of the room and she left towards it. He limped over, still in a great deal of pain, and closed it behind her. He turned towards Jared and slumped downwards against the wall.

“My apologies for the interruption, Jared. I believe you were about to say whether you were going to finish me off,” said Alan.

“And I was about to tell you that you don’t deserve such mercy,” Jared told him. “In case no hell exists, I know another place for you.”

“One I undoubtedly deserve to go to,” said Alan. “I remember this possibility. It’s distant now, as if a barely remembered dream. You win the fight one way or another and instead of killing me, you plan to take away my sight and confine me to a chair in The Locker …. But Hargrave would assess that it is likely I could have planned to be broken out of it in all of five minutes like you were. There is not a prison that can be built which would secure someone with my contacts. So he would put a bullet in my brain to prevent my eventual escape.”

Jared wanted to deny it, but he realized Alan was probably right. He reconsidered his own decision not to vaporize Alan now after all. He just, doesn’t deserve to get off that easy. It would have been different if I’d killed him while we were fighting, but I failed to and now… executing someone while they lie there on the floor, especially someone who deserves to rot for their crimes, it doesn’t feel right.

“Hargrave would murder me because he would think it is right, even if it’s against the rules. But it’d kill his political chances for him to wind up in jail, no matter how much of the world would agree with his decision. And the futures where I’ve seen him stay a leader are all much brighter than ones where he is not. I could potentially mitigate that by attacking him when he comes to make the arrest. Then it would be self-defense. But that might reflect poorly on you to have not properly restrained or incapacitated me by the time they get here. And Hargrave’s good opinion of you is rather important for your continued freedom, which is rather important to me since you’ll be taking care of my daughter.”

“I’ll be doing what now?” Jared asked. Shit, he fucking did it again! He knows I’m the only one who might develop immunity to her power, which means I’ll end up one of the only ones she can’t for sure kill if she has a friggin tantrum. And I can’t just leave a little girl to end up in a psych ward if I might be able to help her, even if she is a little psycho…

Alan smiled again, seeing the understanding dawn on Jared’s face. “Life would be so much easier for you if you were a total jackass, Jared. But I’m glad you’re not or I wouldn’t have won to nearly the degree I have. I’m afraid though, as much as I deserve to atrophy in one of those horrid metal chairs, we will have to settle for hoping there really is a hell past those doors. But even if Lucifer himself deigned to torture me, it would be unable to erase my daughter’s smile from my heart. Since you have given so much to me, I will give you the only gift I really can.”

With that Alan drew out a gun from behind his back, stuck it in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Jared reacted the instant he saw the gun, shooting off a jolt of energy to try and knock it out of Alan’s hand, but he was too slow.

He stared at Alan’s body and thought about trying to bring him back. But Alan was probably right. No matter how much he deserved to rot in a cell, there was no way they could guard him well enough when he still had so many comrades still out there.

Even this could be a set up. That woman brought Lilly back to life. What if he’s planning the same? He put a hand out in front of him and atomized Alan’s body, leaving nothing but ash. “Well, if she can bring him back to life from that I don’t think there’s anything else I could do to stop her.”

He looked towards Alysa’s room and considered leaving her for the authorities to find. Except she’s so powerful. They can’t contain her if she goes off the rails. And if people know she’s Alan’s daughter…

He walked to the door and opened it. “Hey,” he called out. “You there?”

Alysa was suddenly standing in front of him as if she’d popped out of thin air. He took a started step back. She looked at him with an expression he couldn’t quite interpret.

“Are you going to try and kill me too?” she asked him. Jared just shook his head. She looked at him intently. “I just imagined I know everything you do… I, I didn’t know daddy could do all that.” Tears started pouring from her eyes.

Jared wasn’t sure how to respond to a crying little girl. Even one that could apparently read his thoughts out of his head or tear people apart on a whim. He knelt down to her level and wrapped his arms around her, hoping this wouldn’t get him another dose of his guts spilling out. Hopefully he’d already be mostly immune after the first hit.

“I’m not going to hurt you. But we should get out of here. Are you afraid of heights?”

She shook her head. “Ok, try and be brave for me then. We’re going to fly out of here,” he said to her. He led her out of the room and then lifted up, carrying Alysa gently in his arms. He was happy when he spotted that Krieg and May had found Patrick. He was still staring intently at Tasha, maybe afraid she’d try and turn into a fly and escape if he let her.

She looked utterly beaten, just lying there without even groaning in pain anymore. When he landed next to May and set Alysa carefully down on the ground, Tasha didn’t even lift her head. Jared ran to May and hugged her. She raised an eyebrow in Alysa’s direction.

“I’ll explain later, he whispered.” He turned toward where his sister was still lying on the ground and was happily surprised to find her eyes were open. Tears welled up in them.

“I think I did something bad, Jared,” she said quietly when he knelt down next to her. “Something really bad.” He shook his head furiously and kissed her on the forehead.

“No sis’, it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself for what Alan did, you understand me?” he waited for her to nod then turned to address Patrick and May. “Alan’s dead and I have to get Lilly and Alysa out of here before the military arrives, assuming Alistair left any of them alive. And I guess I need to get Krieg to Mirkov to hold up our end of the agreement. After that… I don’t know how many people may pursue us, and I don’t know that you’d be any safer with me than you would be on your own. But I’d like your company, if you’ll give it.”

“You know you have mine,” May said, grabbing his hand. “If you come get my real body at least.” She winked at him and he smiled.

Patrick kept looking at Tasha. “What about her?” he asked. “We leave her here and homegirl’s just gonna bounce as soon as our backs are turned.”

“Just kill me,” Tasha said. “Like you clearly did my brother.”

“He got off a lot easier than he deserved,” said Jared. “But I don’t see how they’re going to keep someone like you in lockdown. So unless they shoot you now, I’m sure you won’t be spending nearly as long as you should in prison.”

“You’d be surprised what they can do to keep people like us in lockdown. At least when they know what your powers are,” she said in a monotone. “It doesn’t really matter anyways. My brother is dead and I lost to a human matchbook. Alan knew it would happen, which meant he sold us out. And Alan doesn’t do things halfway, so I somehow doubt I’m still a millionaire. Even if I broke out, what would be the point? I have nothing left.”

“Not quite,” Jared said. He went over to his sister and whispered in her ear. “Can you take away her abilities? Alan implied you might be able to.” Lilly nodded her head in surprise.

“I think so,” she whispered.

“Then please do so. We got to get out of here but we can’t just leave her here alone.”

Lilly looked at Tasha’s prone form for a moment then turned back to Jared. “Done.”

“Well, now you’re getting there Tasha,” said Jared. “My sister just took away your powers. I’d feel sorry for you, but you’re a mass murdering psychopath and I’m halfway convinced you were just acting to try and attack us with our backs turned. But I’ll try and send word to Hargrave that he can put you in a normal prison instead of in one of those chairs.”

“Cold, man, really cold,” said Patrick. Then he shrugged. “But you might be right. She cray cray as fuckin’ fruitloops.”

“I know my grasp of idioms in your language isn’t the best, but some of the things you say are just total nonsense, right?” Krieg asked him.

“Damn straight dawg, now let’s jet,” said Patrick. With that he shot jets of fire out of his hands and flew upwards. Jared looked at Krieg and the girls.

“Definitely no way I can carry all of you,” he told them. “So guess we’ll be taking the long way.” “You have no imagination,” Alysa told him. Jared suddenly found himself floating in the air without use of his powers. Everyone around him was doing the same, except Tasha, who was still lying on the ground. She wasn’t even acknowledging that she understood she’d had her powers stripped from her. Maybe her despair really wasn’t just a trick.

As he soared over the land with his companions he had to admit that, whatever else happened now, life was certainly interesting. Right now he was satisfied his friends were safe and his sister alive. He would have to do everything he could to keep her that way until he found a way to undo whatever it was Alan had done, no matter what Alan claimed about eliminating any possible cures. Not that there was a good way to test it, but he suspected Alan might have overlooked the fact his rather imaginative daughter might have a few tricks up her sleeve that could help. Things would never be the same, but maybe someday they’d be ok.