Chapter 62

The door opened, showing only darkness outside of the well-lit room Nick and Mary had entered only moments before. There was a slight whooshing sound, and then another student was standing in front of them, yellow weapon ready at hand. Small wisps of smoke curled in the air for less than second around the area in which he had appeared. The boy himself wasn’t too impressive: short in stature and excessively lean. He had a wide grin on his face, though, one that left Nick feeling disconcerted, given that he and Mary had the advantage in numbers.

“Who’s this guy?” Nick asked, plucking out his own weapon and standing ready.

“His name is Gilbert and he’s a teleporter,” Mary informed him, her red weapon already drawn.

“He also has perfectly good hearing and doesn’t necessarily like being talked about as though he weren’t in the room,” Gilbert added. “Also, come on, there’s only like forty of us left, you couldn’t be bothered to learn everyone’s name?”

“I’ve got a shitty memory, so sue me,” Nick quipped.

“Better idea,” Gilbert replied, vanishing from his spot and reappearing behind Nick, lunging forward with his weapon. Nick slid to the side as soon he saw Gilbert disappear, though, so Gilbert’s sneak attack cleaved nothing but air. Before Nick could try a thrust of his own, Gilbert was standing on the other side of the room.

“I see how this guy could be problematic,” Nick admitted, reorienting himself to face his opponent’s new position.

“Exactly,” Mary agreed.

*          *          *

“Any time now!” Alex announced, sweat dripping off his forehead in intense concentration.

Vince took one last deep breath and stood up. Everything had worked so far; that in itself was a victory. Now came the hardest part. Vince put his hand into his left pocket and produced his weapon, the red coloring tinted a sickly shade from Thomas’s orange light. Vince felt a rush of adrenaline crash over him, elation not far on its heels. Do or die time. Vince couldn’t stop the grin that crept into the corners of his mouth.

“Clear me a path!” Vince yelled, charging forward without waiting for confirmation. If Alex could still do it then he would; if not then this wasn’t going to work anyway. As Vince pumped his legs, a part of his mind realized that this was only his second real fight since coming to Lander, and once again he was betting heavily on a suicidal charge right at his opponent. He really needed to learn another way to problem solve.

As his heart raced and his feet slapped the concrete floor, Vince noticed he was in Thomas’s range. He hadn’t been snagged yet, though, so that meant Alex was still keeping the energy at bay. There were still several more feet to cover, and as Vince drew closer he realized Thomas’s tendrils were bonding together, striking back with more power. Each attempt seemed to get closer to landing on Vince’s fast-moving form. It was going to be a photo finish.

In the end, Vince very nearly pulled it off. His finger was on the button and his arm almost completely extended when he felt his legs go out from under him. A few inches more and he would have driven his weapon into Thomas’s shoulder. That was simply not the case, though, as Vince was once more jerked into the air, his arms pinned to his torso. Without pause, Thomas lanced a shot of energy over at Alex, easily snaring and capturing him once more. From the way Alex was panting wearily, Vince had a sinking suspicion that he wouldn’t be able to break free again this time.

“Well now,” Thomas said, a little short of breath himself. “That was an impressive move. Marshal all your forces into one all-out attack. Risky, but very nearly effective.”

“Thanks,” Vince said, resisting the temptation to kick his legs futilely. “You were wearing us down the other way, so I figured why not give it a shot.”

“If your partner had been a hair stronger or if you had been just a bit faster... despite all our power, it often seems these fights come down to a very narrow margin of victory,” Thomas said as he lowered Vince to only a few inches off the ground. At the same time an orange tendril emerged and nimbly plucked an object from Thomas’s back pocket. It was his own yellow weapon, and the tendril was soon shaped into a hand holding the device, a finger carefully placed on the button to activate it.

“That really is neat how you can do that,” Vince said, watching the show.

“Thank you, I’ve found it useful. Hands, beams, shields, even needles. My energy takes any form I can think of and stays just as powerful regardless,” Thomas said.

“Very adaptive,” Vince complimented.

“Much appreciated. I am sorry yours was so limiting in this environment,” Thomas said graciously. He maneuvered the weapon upward. There was only a foot or so between himself and Vince, but he was still keeping that buffer, just in case. This silver-haired boy had shown himself occasionally unpredictable.

“I don’t know about that,” Vince said. “I mean, it’s limiting in some senses, but with a little creative risk taking it can actually be pretty useful.”

A “How so?” died on Thomas’s tongue, the victim of a sudden case of shock in multiple senses. Before the innocent words had a chance to be born and greet the world, Vince’s eyes crackled with red lighting, which leapt out and struck Thomas in the chest. The voltage shattered his concentration as well as temporarily disabling his motor skills. It also hurt like hell.

As Thomas felt the twitching in his muscles subside and his vision slowly come back into focus, he noticed his bracelet was now glowing clear with a green arrow. The “How so?” was gone, off to wherever unspoken words go when they are truly forgotten. A new combination was being assembled, though, and this phrase burst into the world unhindered by any outside influences.

“What in the hell was that?”

Vince was standing over him, having been freed when Thomas’s concentration was shattered. He looked vaguely different, and Thomas realized it was because they were being lit only by the meager light from his now clear bracelet.

A clattering sound reach Thomas’s ears, and after bathing the area once more in orange light, he could see that Vince had tossed him his weapon.

“Try it out,” Vince said. “I think you’ll understand then.”

Obediently Thomas picked up the red device and pressed its button. There was nothing, no arc of light from one metal point to the other, no soft hum of electricity, no difference of any kind.

“You drained it,” Thomas mumbled, his tongue still shaking off the after effects of voltage overload. “Shouldn’t that have set off your own bracelet?”

“I thought it might,” Vince admitted. “That’s why I didn’t do it when I first got down here. Once you were hammering away at us, though, it was obvious we were going to lose eventually. So I decided to give it a whirl.”

“You weren’t catching your breath for the charge,” Thomas said, more to himself than to Vince as understanding set in.

“I was drinking the whole battery down to empty. It was a big risk, because they told us the electricity was calibrated to react specifically with the bracelets. I wasn’t sure if my draining it would alter it anyway, so even when I took the shot I didn’t know if it would work,” Vince explained.

“And if it didn’t then you’d be stuck down here with no way to eliminate other students,” Alex concluded, wobbling his way over and joining them.

“Pretty much,” Vince said. “So I just wanted you to know, the only way I was able to beat you was by taking several gambles that very easily could have totally knocked me out commission.”

“I appreciate the attempts to spare my ego,” Thomas said, slowly rising to his feet. “They are unnecessary, though. I lost in fair battle to strong opponents. I feel no shame in this fight.”

“No hard feelings?” Vince asked, extending his hand.

“It is the nature of the exam,” Thomas said, accepting and shaking back. “You might want to get moving, though. This room has been visibly lit up for some time now. Other students are bound to have noticed.”

“Crap,” Vince said, realization slowly dawning on his face. “Good call. Alex, you okay to move?”

“Winded,” Alex admitted. “I should be fine after a few minutes of rest, though.”

“Good luck,” Thomas told them. “Do well today; I would not want the men who were able to defeat me to be taken down easily.”

“Of course,” Vince said, trying to hide the first trembles in his hands as the adrenaline wore off. He and Alex had pushed themselves to their limits to take down one other competent student. Vince wondered how much more they had left in them to deal with the next challenge.