My watch read midnight when I made it back to the Underground. The club was open with ladies’ night specials flashing on the signs out front, but I wouldn’t be let in, I already knew that. So instead I turned down the side alley, hoping against hope, and finding it granted.
Pace looked up at me and grinned, but didn’t move from where he leaned against the side of the brick building. Except for the darkness around us, he looked little different than he had earlier.
“Thought you’d come back,” he said. “At least, I hoped you would.”
He shrugged. His nonchalance made me angry again like it had when he’d saved me from that stupid super, but this time, knowing what my anger could do, I shoved it aside as best as I could, crossed my arms and just waited for his answer.
“It’s loud here,” he said, jerking his head toward the club. “Let’s go somewhere softer.”
I raised my eyebrows, signaling him to lead the way, and he took me further into the maze of downtown alleyways before we came back to the city park I’d been at before. It was different now: A breeze, the streetlamps. Company. He sat on a bench. I followed. He spread his arms out, his left behind my back, and stared skywards. I stayed still, my arms to my chest.
Moonlight sifted through the passing clouds. I ignored the green glow of the display on my watch. And I watched him, studying his calmness, his sanctuary. He was right, when he’d said this was someplace softer; he looked cloudlike almost, as if the moonlight merely accentuated his perfection, not made it visible in the first place.
“So you’re super,” he said, not looking at me, eyes still to the sky.
I swallowed. “Did you know it then, when you saved me?”
“I had a hunch.” He shrugged, all things an odd gesture with his arms back, but here, with just us, it seemed as natural as the heavens above. “But I figured you hadn’t come to your full yet.”
I looked over the park again, the silver-hued trees, the sparkling grass in the streetlamps’ glow.
“Your full realization. We all have to get there to get anywhere. Most of us don’t. We go insane first. Like Dr. Fondlebrain.” He chuckled at the name, or maybe he chuckled to keep an air of lightness, to calm the sudden rush I felt at the memory. “Turned out his neural connections were more electrically charged than most, but by the time he came to his full, he’d fried his circuits too far to recover. He removed his skull and replaced it with a fishbowl.” He shook his head. “Then he augmented his body with guns to harness the electricity inside and used it as a weapon. He could’ve done some great things, Keith, but it got the best of him. He wasn’t the first one to meet that fate, certainly won’t be the last.”
I reimagined the man I’d battled with unsuccessfully, saw him less with anger now and more with pity. I looked at Pace, stunned in his silence, his unchanged demeanor, his untouched attitude.
“You’re a senior,” I said. It came out like a question.
“So are you.”
“Then why do you sound so much wiser than me?”
“‘Cause I am.” He looked at me and grinned. “It’s not ‘cause I’m super, I’m sure, but I’ve a touch higher IQ than most do. Then again, when you spin everything around inside your head till you’re dizzy of it, you learn to gain perspective on some things.” He smiled again, this time a genuine smile, friendly and warm, then looked back at the moon.
I let my eyes wander with his, saw the silver halo, the all-seeing night’s eye.
“It’s slowing, you know,” he said. “The moon, I mean. Its spin in orbit pulls on the earth, and the earth on it. So the moon speeds away and the earth slows down. Seventeen microseconds a year. It’s not a lot, I know, but when I concentrate, I can feel the energy slipping away. It’s humbling, feeling so small in such a massive system. It makes a guy think about things.”
I laughed. “What kinda things?”
“The end. It might take a billion years, longer probably, but the moon will drift so far away, and the earth will slow so much, that life won’t exist as it does now. Long before that, they say, the sun will explode and engulf us anyway. We all die in the end. Makes me question why we’re so intent to make life worth something in the meantime.”
Pace looked at me then, solemn yet serene. “What do you do, Keith?”
I thought of what happened across the park, back at the Underground, in my room when I’d changed the channel on the TV just by thinking about it. Then I thought a little deeper, tried to translate the sensations into thoughts, into words. “I… I don’t know. I burst.”
Pace gave a hearty chuckle. “No, I mean, what do you when it’s all gonna end eventually?”
I shrugged, but I didn’t have an answer. Something about something had my attention, though; that first time—no orange light, no discharge.
“Why didn’t I burst the first time?” I asked and then explained what happened each time.
Pace shrugged again.
“Sometimes we manifest differently early on before we reach our full. The first thing I did was keep a top spinning just by rolling my eyes at it. Can barely do that now.” He hummed for a moment. “I mean, in some ways we never lose what we can do, we just do it differently. I don’t roll my eyes to move things anymore, because I’ve learned more effective ways to do it. Easier, more comfortable ways. What else is there to do?”
Again, I didn’t have an answer.
“Where a tree falls, there it is.”
I looked up. “Huh?”
Another pause. The wind blew, the moon skirted behind a cloud. Pace looked at me, and not just in my direction, but truly at me, into my eyes. I got goosebumps.
“Listen, Keith, we’re super, but that doesn’t hold us to any higher standard than anyone else. Don’t let the media get in your head, okay? We are who we are, no more, no less. Just try to be that. And whatever comes of it, you’re still you.”
The moon came back, shining off Pace’s face like light off a god made of diamonds.
“There are two kinds of people, Keith: those who choose where to land, and those who stay where they fall.”
With that he gripped my shoulder a minute, a fleeting moment when his eyes struck mine and the moonlight in his irises was like fire in a man’s heart, and then he stood up, gave me another of his signature smiles, then turned from me and went on his way.
I rushed after him. “Wait,” I said, confused, irritated. “Which are you?”
He paused for a moment, and although he kept looking away, I could see the grin on his face even from here. “I’m still falling, but the question is, Keith, which are you?”
PART 10: The Fall