All around him, countless worlds spun. Fragments of possibility sat at the edges of his consciousness, taunting him, tempting him.
He forced himself to focus. Sometimes it was easier. Currently, it was difficult. Too many open doors, too many threads. The worlds around him were ephemeral, insubstantial, but they were hard to ignore completely. Reality was much easier to leave behind.
Far too dangerous for that, the way that things were. He couldn’t afford a single slip. Too much at stake. Too much that could go wrong.
He stared at the monitors in front of him. All of them showed the same room, from different angles. An overlay of messages and sensory data scrolled across them. In the centre of the room, she stood. Trapped. Livid.
It had taken months to set up this trap. Bait seeded far in advance, a cascading sequence of events that had too many opportunities to fail.
Except it didn’t fail. He could see every possibility, every eventuality. There were no flaws in his plan, no gaps for her to slip through. One way or another, it was inevitable that she’d find herself here.
He allowed himself a simple smile. Nobody was around to see it.
He leaned forward, turned on his microphone.
“Hello again, Charlie. I was wondering when we’d get the chance to speak.”
On the monitors, Charlie reacted. The fury slipped away, but he could still see it, simmering beneath the surface, beneath her farcical act of confidence.
“And you’re somewhere far away, I’m sure. You think you’re safe?”
“I know I’m safe,” he replied, with complete surety. “Even you can’t reach me here, Charlie.”
She shrugged, pacing back and forth in the room. There were marks on the walls where she’d tried to fight her way out, but the room had been designed with her considerable strength in mind.
“That seems unlikely, but it hardly matters. I’m not interested in you.”
“Oh, come now, we both know that’s not true,” he replied. Just speaking to her, his legs had begun to throb. It was the only sensation they’d felt in months. He did his best to ignore it. “You’re content to leave me alone for now, but sooner or later you’ll come after me again. Perhaps once you’ve cleared the extradimensional raiders from our city?”
It was dangerous, revealing how much of her plan he knew. If she had a way of contacting anyone on the outside…
But then, she didn’t have anyone on the outside, did she? She was alone, which was only fitting. All she did was use people, lie to them and manipulate them for her own ends. He could almost respect that, but she lacked the ambition to do anything worthwhile with her talents. Instead, she was nothing more than a supremely powerful toddler, throwing a tantrum.
“You are running the most dangerous gang in the city,” she pointed out.
“I’m trying to save this city, just like you,” he argued, wishing he didn’t still rise to her bait so readily. “Only instead of a reckless, one-man crusade, I have a plan. Resources. I can make a difference.”
She grew still, and he knew he’d hit a nerve.
“I think you’ve done enough, don’t you?” she said softly. A chill ran down his spine.
She sighed, running her hand through her shaggy mop of hair. For a moment, her body language seemed to indicate defeat.
“We’re never going to see eye to eye again, are we?”
“Doubtful,” he replied, just to watch her shoulders slump. Instead, she bristled.
“So what’s the plan here? You think you can keep me trapped?”
The idea of keeping her trapped had occurred to him. Actually, it was the first idea that had occurred to him, when he’d begun formulating this plan. But he couldn’t see a way to keep her trapped, not permanently. The solution needed to be permanent. It was the only way.
“No, Charlie. I’m going to kill you.”
She laughed. It was a short, broken sound, almost like a weak imitation of a sound a human might make.
“You know better than that,” she said coldly. “I can’t be killed.”
She was wrong. She thought herself indestructible, but he knew better. She wasn’t immortal. She had limits.
“Do you know what happened to me, Charlie?” he asked. “To us? After our last encounter?”
The memory was burned into his mind, an omnipresent reminder, a private hell he couldn’t escape.
“You lost your legs. She lost her voice.”
No remorse. No pity. Just a harsh statement of fact.
“We didn’t lose them,” he corrected her. “We sacrificed them. Traded them. For greater power.”
“You’d better hope you have something more dangerous than teleportation, then,” she said, an implied threat that shook him more than he’d have liked.
“Considerably. I see the future, Charlie. I see probability and outcomes and chance and fate.”
He didn’t tell her it was almost impossible to control, or that it was slowly driving him out of his mind. She didn’t need to know, and it didn’t matter anyway. He was getting better at controlling it, and thinks would change before it was too late. He had Haylie.
“Is that why you call yourself the Celestial, now?” she asked, a condescending smirk appearing on several monitors.
“That, and it seemed fitting, as the leader of the Stars.”
She shook her head, looking around the room yet again. He knew she was trying to find a way out, a weakness she could exploit, but there was nothing. He’d prepared for every possibility, no matter how small.
“You think you know how this goes, but you don’t,” she said threateningly.
“I’ve seen every possible outcome of this scenario,” he said calmly. “No matter what you do, there isn’t a piece of you left.”
She snarled; a primal, animalistic sound that all but reached through the screens and speakers, wrapping around his throat.
“You’d better be damn sure, Celestial.” She practically spat his name. “Because if you’re wrong, and I do survive this, whatever it is you’re going to do, I am going to destroy you. I’m going to tear apart your worthless empire, and then I’m going to kill you.”
“Trust me,” he said, his finger hovering above the keyboard, hand trembling slightly. “I’m sure.”
He hit the button. Panels in the walls of the room opened, revealing a dozen specialised weapons. All of them activated in the same moment.
He didn’t look away. Charlie screamed and shouted, lashed out, broke a couple of the weapons. It wasn’t enough. As her body was torn away, it tried to regenerate, but it wasn’t fast enough.
He watched until there was nothing left of her. No flesh, no blood, not even dust.
He watched even once she was gone, staring at the monitor, waiting for any trace that he’d failed. After half an hour with no changes, he let himself relax.
The door opened, and Miss Murder walked in. She looked at his face, glanced at the monitors.
“It’s done,” he said. She pulled out her phone, already typing out a response.
“See for yourself,” he said, inviting her to observe the monitors more closely. She stared for several long minutes before typing a response.
Chance of survival?
“None. I saw every possibility. I watched her die.”
You can’t see all the possibilities around her. Or the others.
Her insight bothered him. He hadn’t specifically told her that the others clouded his clairvoyance, especially Charlie. Whatever mysterious force powered his ability to see the future, or possible futures, it seemingly couldn’t keep up with the supernatural.
“I can see enough,” he insisted. “Look, the room is empty. She’s not recovering.”
What if she can teleport?
“She can’t,” he said, trying to refrain from snapping at her. He knew caution and skepticism was the appropriate attitude, especially when it came to Charlie. It still frustrated him. He wanted to feel victorious, and he didn’t. “She got one power, just like us. She stole another one, but she couldn’t steal teleportation.”
Invisibility? Illusion? A fake?
Sometimes, she was more clever than he typically credited her. It was an unfortunate flaw of his, and he knew she resented it.
“All accounted for, along with several dozen other impossible ideas. Why is this so hard for you to believe?”
You failed before.
His fingers curled into a fist.
“You’re talking about Zoe and Sabrina. That wasn’t a failure. All I needed to do was delay them. It worked.”
You never told me.
“You didn’t need to know. Besides, Sabrina has Ami’s powers, remember? What if she read your mind?”
That hadn’t ever been a concern, but it was better than the truth. He couldn’t tell her that he just didn’t trust her, that he expected her to turn on him at any moment. Just because it didn’t happen in any of his visions, didn’t mean it was impossible. She, like the others, had a way of clouding his ability.
It doesn’t work like that.
How could she be so sure? So far as he knew, he was her primary source for information about them all. Did she know more than she was telling him? He made a mental note to keep a closer eye on her.
“Couldn’t take the risk. Anyway, that’s not what this is about. You haven’t lost faith in me, so just say what you want to say.”
She hesitated before typing her response to that. He watched the expression she wore with great interest.
I don’t want it to be true.
Neither did he, loathe as he was to admit it. But it was for the best.
“We talked about this. We agreed, it was the only option. Sooner or later, she was going to come after us, and she’s too dangerous to keep trapped. This was the only way.”
That doesn’t mean I like it.
“No. Me either.” He sighed. “It’s going to make things a lot harder in the short term, too. Without her getting in the way, everyone else is going to move that much more freely, but I-” he stopped mid-sentence as new visions burst forth around him. New futures, possibilities and certainties all danced around his head. Something had changed. The future was starting to catch up.
Except, impossibly, Charlie was in them. All of them.
“No. No, that’s not possible.”
Miss Murder shoved her phone in his face.
He shook in his chair, petrified. That wasn’t possible. That wasn’t fair.
“She’s- I can see her. Not now, but in the future. A possible outcome. And another. She’s showing up again. Or she will.”
He was babbling, but it didn’t matter. Most of his mind was focussed on the future. The present didn’t matter. He needed answers, and they wouldn’t be found with his present company.
“I don’t know,” he said, distantly. “I don’t understand. The trap was perfect. There was nothing left. I destroyed every cell. There’s nothing in that room but dust. She can’t still be alive.”
He looked up at her. She didn’t look afraid. If anything, she looked almost relieved. Alleviated guilt, maybe? If only he could feel that, but the twisting feeling in the pit of his stomach had only worsened.
“No. She still can’t hurt us. We just need to hold on for a little longer. I’m close, so close.”
His instinct was to disagree with her, but she was right. He was obsessed. He had to be. Haylie was the key to everything. Haylie would change everything. She was the only future that mattered.
“Yes. Because I can see everything, and I know. I know. If I can wake her up, we win. We’re unstoppable.”
And if Charlie finds us first?
The Celestial sighed. He fought to keep those visions at bay. He would do everything in his power to avoid that future.
“If I can’t wake her up in time, Charlie wins. She destroys us, destroys the Stars. Then she destroys all the others, one by one. I even know the order. First Zoe, then Gabriel, Ami, Sabrina. Rachel lasts until the end, but even she can’t outlast Charlie. Then, when they’re all dead, when there’s nobody left to fight her? That’s when she destroys the world.”