Chapter 60

“Not even a little bit,” Nick replied. “Thanks for the offer, though. Try not to give away my position on your way out of here.”

“Really? Just kicking me out? Where’s that legendary Nick wit and chatty nature?” Mary asked.

“Seen any good movies lately? How’s the folks? Cold enough for you these days? Get the hell out of here.”

“Now that wasn’t so hard,” Mary said, walking fully into the room. The door swooshed shut automatically as she left its proximity.

“Yet you’re still coming in. For a telepath you sure can’t take a hint,” Nick sighed, rising to his feet. “Or maybe you’re thinking of zapping me and upping your stats.”

“Or, and this is just a crazy idea, I want us to help each other so we can do better in this trial,” Mary said.

“Who needs help here? I had a perfectly good plan and you’re the number one rank on the girls’ side. Pretty sure we’ll be just fine on our own,” Nick said.

“You know Nick, the word ‘us’ can mean more than just the two people currently standing in a room together,” Mary pointed out.

“So let me get this straight: you want me to abandon my safe little hidey hole so that I can go with you, charging through a labyrinth, all in the name of helping our dorm mates?” Nick asked.

“Everyone except Roy. He’s already out of the game,” Mary confirmed.

“Oh, well, that changes everything,” Nick said, throwing his hands up dramatically. “They’ll be fine. I mean, they’ll lose, and quickly, but they’ll be fine in the long run.”

“Are you sure about that? You know this test is going to determine who moves on to next semester. What if they do so badly they get cut from the program?” Mary asked.

“Then we buy them a conciliatory fruit basket and move on with our lives,” Nick said.

“You can act as blasé as you want about this, Nick, but don’t forget I peek inside your head more than occasionally. You and I both know that you’ve put in a ton of time working this group, creating just the right persona and positioning yourself precisely where you want to be in the group dynamic.”

“And your point here is?” Nick asked.

“You aren’t the kind of guy who will let all that hard work go down the drain if it’s avoidable. The best way to make sure your efforts bear fruit is to keep the group the way it is, and that means everyone advancing to next semester,” Mary explained.

“See, this... this is why I hate telepaths,” Nick all but swore. “Fine. Lead on, oh champion of the misfit Supers.”

“I think I’ll do just that,” Mary said with a smile, opening the door once more and stepping out into the unknown.

*          *          *

Alice’s strategy was panning out well so far. She’d heard more than a couple of fellow students padding beneath her, but thus far none of them had discerned the floating blonde over their heads. Once or twice she’d briefly entertained the idea of dropping on top of them in surprise and trying to shock them out of the game. Common sense and awareness that her weapon was only effective on a select few had ultimately prevailed and helped her adhere to her hiding strategy.

As time ticked away, Alice noticed fewer and fewer students passing beneath her. Of course some were being eliminated, but it seemed to be happening with alarming frequency. It began to occur to her that she might just have a shot at being one of the last people standing, as long as she kept herself hidden, of course. It was this need that kept her moving, carefully crossing doorways only when she was positive there was no one else waiting on the other side. She could have stayed still in one room, and in fact tried to at one point, but standing alone in utter darkness and silence is far more terrifying than moving through it with a purpose.

Alice tried to keep her method of movement simple. She alternated left and right turns, not really caring about tracking her own movements, only wanting to avoid back-tracking if possible. She also noticed occasionally that when she was in a room, the door she entered through would close and two others would open. If she’d been hoping to get a sense of where she was, this might have been discouraging. As it was, being lost suited her just fine.

As she navigated through the catacombs of darkness she ultimately came upon a room with something unique in it: a door that required being physical opened. If there had been another way out of the room, she likely would have taken it, but the curiosity was her only option for pressing forward, so Alice groped around until her hand struck a small switch.

 The first thing that struck Alice was the overwhelming brightness of the light that assaulted her eyes as the door slid open. The second was the ridiculous amount of wind that smashed against her. For a few brief and very confusing seconds Alice truly believed she had somehow opened up a door leading into a hurricane. Then her eyes adjusted and things made both more and less sense.

Dashing around the room in combat was Sasha, recognizable only when she slowed down enough to change direction or when she clashed with her enemy. The enemy Sasha was fighting was... also Sasha. The duo were duking it out, fighting at insane speeds that were generating the winds Alice had felt.

Alice blinked her eyes to make sure she was seeing things correctly, then very seriously considered flipping that switch again to see if it would make the door close. Unfortunately, before her thoughts could solidify into actions, the pair of Sashas noticed her and shouted in unison.

“Alice! Give me a hand with this imposter!”

*          *          *

At first Vince was convinced he was hallucinating, but then Alex’s question confirmed what he was seeing.

“Is someone using an orange flashlight?”

Both of them had noticed an orange beam glowing lightly from a few rooms down. It was sweeping erratically, as if wielded by someone trying desperately to make sense of their surroundings.

“Looks that way,” Vince whispered.

“So, do we run away?” Alex asked.

Vince shook his head, then realized Alex could no more see him than vice versa. “No,” Vince said. “There are other people who are too good at moving with stealth for us to have a chance at being the last two standing. Our best chance is to start taking down others when we can find them.”

“Best defense is a good offense,” Alex echoed.

“More or less, though to be honest, I’d feel better if I had a red bracelet to go with my red weapon. Equal out the offense and defense,” Vince whispered back.

“Hey, at least you have one red item. I’m yellow on both accounts,” Alex complained.

“That doesn’t seem right. I mean, I saw them give Mary a red weapon,” Vince said.

“Hey Vince, I think we’re kind of stalling here,” Alex pointed out.

“Oh... yeah, you’re right. We should get moving,” Vince said.

“You should also realize that in total silence the sound of a whisper carries far,” said a familiar voice from one room over. While Vince and Alex had been talking the orange light had gone out and its owner had made his way much closer to the duo. He now stepped through the doorway and reignited his light source, which turned out to be his left hand.

“Thomas!” Vince said happily. “I thought that shade of orange looked familiar. I didn’t know you could use your energy like a light.”

“I can do a lot of things with it,” Thomas replied.

“Man, Nick must have put a whammy of good luck on me before we came down because I keep running into friends,” Vince said, relief evident in his voice. He hadn’t been looking forward to trying to take down another student, no matter how necessary it was.

“I don’t know that I would go that far,” Thomas said, and without another word his right hand burst into orange light as well. Instead of a dim glow, this light arced out and spilt into two beams, one each slamming into Vince and Alex and wrapping around their torso. Their arms were pinned to their sides immediately, and as soon as they were encased they felt themselves lift several feet in the air.

“It’s nothing personal,” Thomas said as he used his left hand to pluck out his own red weapon. The flashlight-like glow vanished, but the pulsating energy emitting from his right hand kept the room amply lit. “It’s as you said, some of us are lacking in the skills to succeed at the stealth portion of this exam. That only leaves bringing down other students.”

“A little warning might have been appreciated,” Vince said, struggling to push against the orange energy enveloping him.

“Appreciated and ill-advised,” Thomas replied. “You are both strong opponents. Without surprise I doubt I could have taken you both. Such tactics would never be acceptable in a man-to-man fight; however, the environment here seems to suggest it is well within the rules, if not expected.”

“Surprising us was the right idea,” Alex said, an odd smile dancing on his face in the orange light. “Explaining why you did it and giving us time was wrong.”

“My apologies if I gave you hope, but I did so because my abilities have already been tested against telepaths. Your kind deal in moving only solid matter with your minds, and energy is far less dense than that,” Thomas said.

“I’m only going to say this one more time,” Alex said, taking in a deep breath. A vein in his forehead bulged and sweat materialized on his forehead.

“I am not a fucking telepath!”