Jason stood in the field. Other than the small white mouse in his hand, he was alone. He stroked it with his thumb, enjoyed the feeling of warmth that radiated from its little body and the sense of comfort he felt as its trembling ceased, calmed. The little creature was helpless before his greater strength but a simple gesture of reassurance was enough to make it trust him.
If he were a different type of person, there was much Jason could have learned from that.
Instead, Jason closed his eyes and concentrated. He began to use his power, could feel a part of himself reaching out to grasp at the lives that surrounded him, then he stopped. There had been no sensation of increasing strength, nothing had been added to his- currently- tiny pool of lives. Rather, Jason could feel the living things around him.
It wasn’t quite on the same scale as having an extra sense. He could not have pointed at any of them or navigated by the sensation. But… there was definitely something. Jason could… could tell their number and their… perhaps their flavor? Almost entirely plants with a few of the tiny animal lives that had the feel he had come to associate with insects. Also, a single animal that was slightly more complex, the little mouse in his hand.
The effort of almost taking those lives was like trying to clench his fist and leave an open space the size of a pencil. Simple enough to do, for a brief time, but increasingly difficult the longer he tried. Eventually, just before he would have had to cease or convulsively seize everything within range, Jason made a selection and let his power act.
He could feel his store of stolen lives increase to approximately half his capacity, about what he had been attempting. That particular trick had taken him more than a week of practice. Jason could not limit the area effect version of his power by range, at least not with his eyes closed, but he could do it by number. It grew less precise the larger his effort but he could do it. Taking exactly three or twelve was simple. Three hundred and nine was not.
With his eyes closed like this, or with a blindfold or anything that kept him from aiming the effect visually, the deaths he caused were distributed randomly throughout his maximum range, one point one miles in diameter. If he could see his targets he could be more precise, taking them in a localized region or in a pattern, usually a cone. Not surprising, he must have been doing something like that without realizing it the entire time. Otherwise he would have to have been targeting each of the hundreds of flies he routinely killed on an individual basis. In retrospect, it was actually a little embarrassing that he had not realized he could do this on his own.
That was not what he had been attempting this time, or at least not all of what he had been attempting.
The mouse wriggled in his hand, biting his index finger and scratching at his palm. The damage, minor though it was, healed immediately. Even so, the brief pain was enough to cause Jason to reflexively squeeze his hand, causing the mouse to struggle harder. He smiled and dropped it to the ground, letting it run free.
Bob Farmer might not thank him for releasing a pest into his field, though it probably would not matter. If the mouse survived the day and stayed in the area, Jason would likely end up killing it tomorrow or the next day. Regardless, he found it highly unlikely that there were no other rodents in the area.
“I have succeeded.” he announced over his com. “I took only the lives of plants, ignoring all the animals within range.”
“You’re sure?” Hectors’ voice came back.
He nodded, uncaring that his friend could not see it. “Yes. I can feel the increased healing capacity but my strength remains at its base level.”
“Good job!” Jason smiled at the praise. “Next on the list is selective taking of animal life. Wanna give it a shot today or let it wait till tomorrow?”
Jason considered. He was reasonably confident that he could accomplish the goal… eventually. When he let his ability hover on the edge, as he had earlier, he could feel the difference between insects and mammals with sharp clarity. Taking one but not the other should be relatively easy. However, recent experience had taught him that such thoughts could be misleading.
Using his power in a novel way was akin to using a muscle after it had lain dormant for a time. Even if its strength was undiminished, his control was likely to be flawed. His power’s equivalent of pins and needles might cause him to unintentionally spare a dozen or so flies when he meant to take them all or, just as easily, take the mouse when he intended to target only the insects. The mouse whose warmth he could still feel in his palm.
Even if it had bitten him, for a moment he had felt as if the small creature had trusted him, had needed him.
“No, I believe I would prefer to end the day’s practice at this point. I will resume after my shift tomorrow.”
If Jason had been a different sort of person, he might have learned a great deal about himself in that moment. Instead, he simply began the walk to the rendezvous point where his helicopter pilot would meet him and take him back to Phoenix.