Paradox – Chapter 43

The number of shanties increased as they approached downtown Muncie, or what was left of it. The constant fighting in the city leveled most of the original structures and remaining buildings were either partially collapsed or precariously close to catastrophic failure.

The increased number of shanties also meant an increased number of people and more importantly, mundane guards carrying various firearms . Most of the weapons appeared to be in poor condition, a result of prolonged combat and the lack of supplies to maintain the weapons. This was not an army with a supply officer waiting to fulfill any request, but a poorly organized militia using whatever supplies they had available or could steal.

The trio approached quietly to Fireball’s headquarters, the former Worthen Arena, a decrepit stadium that held Ball State basketball and volleyball games. Archangel hovered off the ground a few yards to Michael’s left to minimize any noise and maintain stealth. Michael reduced the mass his body exerted on the ground until each step was a light breeze across the concrete and earth. Maze immediately disappeared when they reached the first sentry, hiding beneath his invisibility cloak. Michael expected this tactic, it was Maze’s signature strategy that infuriated his partners, especially Orbital Strike who preferred a holistic team tactic to the lone-wolf.

Michael waved to Archangel to join him when he found a location out of sight of the immediate guards behind a K rail stacked up as a barrier around the arena.

“So, what’s the plan?” Michael asked as she glanced around. “I counted at least a dozen children playing nearby. If Fireball decides to go toe-to-toe with us, a lot of people are going to get hurt. A lot of mundanes are going to fight to protect him if he’s the only thing keeping the other Enhanced out.”

“We can’t just leave him here, but I don’t want all these mundanes hurt either. If we had a team like in Crawfordville, a quick assault on this arena would end it quick. Unless they have a death wish, most Enhanced give up at the first sight of a JTF Osprey.”

“So what do you suggest, Maze?” Michael asked looking over Archangel’s shoulder.

“What? Where?” Archangel asked startled as she turned around to see the old Enhanced appear out of thin air, his cloak hood pulled back from his graying hair.

“I was wondering if you could see me,” Maze said without any hint of surprise.

Michael nodded and smiled beneath the layer concern. “Once I thought about how the cloak worked, the light wrapping around you, I knew what to look for. It’s not much different from stars bending light due to their mass.”

“That’s what I thought. It also answers another riddle that has plagued me for some time,” Maze said with obvious reluctance.

“What is that?” Archangel said recovering from his sudden reemergence. “That you’re creepy and psychotic? We all know that.”

“I could live with those labels, Archangel, but I’m afraid this riddle is far more serious. I’m rapidly losing my abilities.”

Michael gasped. “You’re telling us this now? What the hell, Maze?”

Maze leaned back against the K rail, his face appearing to age in the flickering torchlight surrounding the arena. “My specialty is time. I can see patterns and I can use those patterns to determine the future with great accuracy, but with you, son, your power interrupts mine. You’re creating ripples that I cannot anticipate. And the closer I remain to you, the less I can reliably see when I can use my powers at all.” Maze thought of the vision of Michael destroying the city. Was that a ripple? No, it was still accurate; the ripples were not subtle and his eyes opened with a roaring headache afterwards.

It only took a moment for Michael to remember his physics class. “I can control mass, and thanks to Mister Einstein, we know space and time are intricately related. I manipulate the space of objects…”

“…and time is also changed,” Maze finished. “If this was a comic book, we’d be destined as mortal enemies.”

“You still have the cloak and you sword,” Archangel asked, “and you can still fight?”

“That I can, Archangel. My goals and resolve have not changed. But I’m afraid they may not be enough against Fireball. When I said he explodes into flame, I mean that literally.”

Archangel looked confused. “Like a human torch or something? It’s not an easy task, but nothing we haven’t trained for.”

“You don’t understand, he’s not a man on fire when he builds up to full power. He becomes fire and near impossible to stop unless you have another elementalist powerful enough to force him back into his human form.”

Alaina growled in anger. “You are well aware of my powers. I’m also an elementalist.”

“My apologies.” Maze sounded sincere. “But lightning will not do much to contain fire. If Orbital Strike was here to manipulate the fire, or even better, Valkyrie to pull it out, we could attack Fireball directly. But you are neither your father or your aunt. If we are going to take him down, it will need to be quick before he ignites his whole body. Once he does, he will incinerate everything in the area including all these people to kill us.”

“Then we’ll just make sure that won’t happen,” Archangel replied as a woman sure of herself. “But his guards and these mundanes are going to be a problem. They fear him more than they fear three rogue agents.”

Michael was not sure if she was putting up a front because she was confidant, or if the bravado was determination to finish what her father and the JTF failed to do. But what would they do about the mundanes still living here? How do they save them from the next Enhanced from terrorizing the population if they can eliminate Fireball?

“Alaina, you’re a genius,” Michael answered, “but you’re not going to like your answer to our little problem.”

Archangel frowned and Maze hinted a smile as they stared at him.