Amadeus blinked rapidly and got unsteadily to his feet. He tried to breathe in and smoke filled his lungs, forcing him into a coughing fit that doubled him up. The air was filled with smoke. The shelves around him were aflame. He grunted and started to stumble in the direction in which he thought he remembered the exit was.
Out of the swirling air, something huge loomed, blocking the way. Rachel. Amadeus clenched his fist, feeling the power sparking in his eyes.
“Out of the way,” he barked.
Rachel shook her head.
“I am sorry,” was all she said. Amadeus growled and raised one arm. Rachel punched him. He hit the floor. The impact juddered through his whole body and he spat blood, teeth and spit.
“But you don’t…”
“Get up,” Rachel said, “then I will hit you again.”
“I can. I will. I have vowed not to hurt humans. You, however, have made yourself less than human. All I have ever wanted since I became like this was to… be treated as a human again. You were one of the few people in the facility who thought of me as that. But now, you would have me embrace my inhumanity? Against that, I will fight.”
Amadeus had got up, and narrowly avoided another fist which came within inches of his face. He grabbed Rachel by the arm and hauled, exerting all of his strength in one fluid movement. He managed to swing Rachel, who gave a metallic buzz of surprise as she plummeted head first into the ground. Hundreds of tiny pieces of metal shrapnel whizzed into the air. Rachel’s arm jerked and wiggled for a few seconds, then she lay still.
Amadeus brushed himself down and frowned. There would always be casualties on the way to ultimate victory.
“Not so fast sucker!”
From the flames behind him came something made of fire. He couldn’t make out details, the whole thing shivered with its own rippling heat haze. The heat near it was so intense that even with some distance between them Amadeus could almost feel his skin blistering. Through the inferno of the head he could just see Emma’s face, transfigured in a grimace of hatred and anger. She stumbled through the store, arms outstretched to grasp Amadeus.
“You hurt my girlfriend,” Emma growled, “you’re going to pay.”
“No,” Amadeus said. He was wearied, bruised and weakened by that last feat of strength. He didn’t have time for this. Still, he had more power. He would always have more power.
Reaching him, Emma swung an arm wreathed in flames at him. Amadeus grasped it, wincing in pain. Tightening his grip, he pursed his lips and watched as Emma’s eyes widened. There was a sickening crunch and Emma howled.
“Enough,” Amadeus hissed. She met his eyes and narrowed her own with a savage fury.
“It’s never enough,” she replied.
Amadeus pulled her arm sharply, yanking her head into his fist. There was a crack and she fell back, flames extinguished. Amadeus snatched his hands away and nursed his fingers.
Why did it have to be like this? Why did they have to fight him? He had thought this was what they wanted: the betterment of super-humans, the erasure of all hatred. He was right, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?
An image of his father swum briefly before his eyes, so vivid that for a second Amadeus thought that he was right there in front of him. He was followed by a sudden and horribly stark image of the Director of Extra-Normal Relations. The usurper, the thief.
“I will avenge you, father.” He said.
The patter of footsteps made him turn. Lydia was fleeing the burning store, arms pumping desperately, feet flying. Amadeus watched her idly, then set off in pursuit at a slow jog.
He had to admit he could see their strategy and it was working. They were fleeing with the Source, and the others were left behind to distract him and slow him down. Without the Source the intricate collection of contacts he had set up, the underground distribution circuits that had taken so many years to build would be of no use. He could perhaps scrounge a little of the stuff he’d placed in the bottles. Most of them had been broken when Anna had knocked him into them.
Really, he shouldn’t have tried to experiment on her. But… he’d liked her. She reminded him a little of himself. In the ecstasy of his ascendent glory, his first thought had been to pass it on, to make more like himself and allow them to experience the full wonder of it. It had made him irrational. The same mistake wouldn’t happen again.
He kept just enough behind Lydia so that she might not notice his pursuit, but just close enough that he might keep her in sight. She was a very fast runner and he had no doubt that she would catch up with the more slow moving Adelaide soon enough. He presumed she was fleeing to Adelaide anyway. That was the working theory: Lydia was too much of a coward to think rationally at this point, he expected. Her first move would be to flee towards her friends, what she thought of as safety.
“Go on,” he murmured under his breath, “prove me wrong. You won’t. You’re all just so predictable.”
Without warning, a word swam to the front of his mind. Sub-humans. Yes. They were all of them sub-humans. Super-human and human alike. All so much less than what he had become. The thing, so many years before, his father had envisaged. He was more even than that, more than any human would ever be.
“You were wrong, Rachel,” he thought back to the words she had said earlier. He had been wrong about her when he’d said she wasn’t human. She was human. It made her weak. “So, so wrong. I am more than human. That’s the whole thing.”
Fixing his eyes on Lydia’s back, Amadeus smiled and ran on.