Everyone started to disappear as the wormhole machine powered down. Ignoring the persistent heroes, Feral drank in all the people from all the other realities who had come running when she roared.
That was not her David. She knew that before she saw his tail, or felt his generally chirpy outlook: he had no empathic sense to meld with hers, no implanted psychic ability at all. Besides, he did not hate her. Puma hated her, at least a little, even on days when tolerance and amusement were strong enough to create affection. This must be a David Ironhorse that I never betrayed, she guessed. Feral studied his cheerful face as his universe separated from hers.
Her own hostile eyes stared back at Feral, a silent warning that these are mine and you SHALL NOT touch them. Feral looked past her doppelganger at the light wolf and the dark, at the bat, at the creepy gray-skinned Indian woman, at the barest hint of a swordsman in black leather. A happy life with friends and love and snowball fights and good-natured ribbing — what a miracle, what a precious bejeweled soap bubble that was! Feral would never try to take that away from her other self. She watched them fade until they might as well have never been there.
She’d been happy, once. Family and friends and the occasional snowball fight. Feral balled her paws at her sides so she would not look at Mister Sinister. This moment was not about him, not yet.
A blue-skinned man with purple eyes glanced around, confused. He had not really come to her call for aid, he had followed the energy of the crowd. Feral was not sure if he had looked directly at her, even once. He thought he recognized someone – not a feline person – and stepped forward, teleporting, and never appeared again. Feral glanced toward his probable destination: a silver-skinned man, a winged woman, and another Jarissa, familiar and not at all touch-averse. The one with the wings was checking her Alpha for hidden injuries.
Lady Jessica, Feral’s clone who had been rescued by some European team of animal-men, stepped up to Feral’s side suddenly. “Everything really is all right, dear sister!” The woman sounded distressed. She sounds like Princess Adora of Eternos, Feral thought, annoyed. But she was going to let it be until Jessica threw her arms around Feral in a supposedly reassuring embrace. Without thinking, without taking her eyes off the vanishing people, Feral twisted the clone’s arm for leverage and then threw her sideways, into the wall. She heard Jessica yipe in startled pain. Ask before touching, Feral thought angrily, I paid in blood and screaming for that lesson and you should damned well know better.
Blue eyes flashed up from that trio to check on the pain sound. They faded away as he satisfied himself that the other cat needed no rescue. His gaze had no time to turn to Feral. She was not sure if she would have wanted it to.
Feral rotated a little. She was not putting her back to Jessica, she was getting a better view of Timber Wolf. This one might be the one she knew. She did not remember him looking so much like his namesake, but the way he moved was right. His hooded eyes were right. You abandoned us, she thought at him, and then you did it again. You went off to find your own happy life. Good for you. I hope it worked. Now you are going to abandon me yet again. One last time. The fact that you came at all is more than I ever expected. He looked so uncomfortable around all these other people, his nose twitching and his shoulders hunched. Feral saw the start of relief in John’s body language as, from his point of view, everyone else disappeared into the thinning fog.
Somewhere she noticed that Doctor Reynolds was calling out to his father, upset and urgent. Maybe he would follow that one into the mist, disappear too. Feral never had much chance to get to know Steven but he was a pleasant man, he deserved that connection with his own family. She was sure Steven could go where his father led, in these few seconds, if he willed it hard enough. It meant abandoning his team. If they were anything like her Wyldfire had been, the people Sinister had murdered, they would understand. They would wish him well.
There was only one multi-universal fragment left, from all the happy alternate lives she might have led. Feral let her gaze settle straight on the Silverwing who looked so much like her own Thomas. Maybe they are from the closest parallel world. Is he in love with Shadowstar or Plastique? Feral could so easily believe this was the one she knew, her best friend, the one who had followed her and found her many times. The one who had only walked away once, for three years, but decided he was happier with her friendship than without it. The one who knew her, almost as well as her husband; who never flinched when she snarled, who witnessed her capacity to murder but still felt completely safe in her worst moods. The one she was designed and programmed to protect. The one for whom she gave up killing, learned to create safety without lethal defenses. The one who heard what she said without her voice.
The one she had told, so hoarse with weakness that most humans would not have understood the words, that she would not survive watching him walk out of her life a second time.
The one Mister Sinister murdered in a missile barrage.
He put her in a cage and made her watch on his monitors while he adjusted the missiles’ trajectories. He kept firing until the lowest sublevel was exposed, on fire, no current of wind moving against the weather pattern to hint at a superspeedster’s passage, no energy beams smashing the nose cone so it would explode too soon, no shimmering bubble of telekinetic wall to deflect the rubble. At the end of it, when all was quiet, when the bodies were smoldering and still, Sinister turned to glance at her coolly and said, “I still have two missiles left.” He was pleased that his calculations worked better than required to wipe off the planet that entire school and everyone inside it.
Feral was going to kill Mister Sinister, oh yes; she would die in the attempt, he would kill her right back. That was the best part. Jarissa could have had all these different happy lives, but none of them were an option for her. Maybe God really did hate her as much as Granny said? Now she had seen most of her dead team one last time, in their alternate realities where they were safe and well and sometimes happy. She would watch this last one go away. She drank him in like a woman dying of thirst in a savanna mirage, knowing he was not real — or not her real anyway. Her real died while she did nothing to protect them. Sky-blue eyes came around to look at her, looking at him. She would not look away, would not blink, until the mirage left her.
And then … only then … once he was gone: she would murder Nathaniel Essex.