Chapter 63

The last five minutes had unveiled some unfortunate truths. The first was that Gilbert could teleport faster than Mary was able to read his mind and anticipate the movement. The second was that while she could grab him, he could easily teleport out of her telekinetic grip. The last was that Gilbert clearly had some gymnastics experience.

“Were your parents monkeys or something?” Nick yelled as he ducked away from one of Gilbert’s attacks. Without missing a beat, Gilbert vanished, reappearing at the other end of the room, doing a flip off the wall and landing perfectly.

“My parents put me in tumbling at an early age. Turns out short guys have an advantage in that field,” Gilbert explained.

“Good for you,” Nick grumbled, pulling himself to his feet, but keeping his eyes trained on Gilbert. “I don’t suppose you’ve thought of a plan yet,” he said to Mary out of the side of his mouth.

“Right now all I’m hoping for is that all that jumping around wears him down faster than dodging winds us,” she replied. Her breath was a little short, and Nick had noticed her movements were slowing ever so slightly. Gilbert, on the other hand, was getting faster if anything. He was clearly in better shape than they were, not to mention he was able to conserve energy by using only the most necessary movements. Running out the clock clearly wasn’t going to work.

“Incoming,” Nick announced as Gilbert disappeared. Trusting his instincts, Nick tumbled to the side, popping up with his weapon at the ready. This time Gilbert had gone for Mary, though; fortunately, she had ducked down in time and smacked him away with a mental punch. He flew back, vanishing from sight then reappearing for a few wall rebounds before coming to rest delicately on his nimble feet.

They were going to lose soon, Nick realized. His own body was beginning to show the first symptoms of wear; from this point it was a steady downhill slide. Gilbert had them in endurance and mobility, so the only chance left was strategy. Unlike Vince, though, Nick wasn’t a fan of all or nothing tactics.

Mary! Nick though forcefully. He needed to talk to her, but giving Gilbert any more information than he had was too risky. Hopefully the girl was still listening to minds around her and would pick up his call.

Hope panned out as Mary jerked her head in Nick’s direction and angled her head curiously. Good, she was listening.

Mary, I need your help to beat this guy. Take both of our weapons with your mind and start attacking with them using the patterns I’ll be thinking of. Dodge as necessary, but make sure to follow my patterns perfectly.

Mary gave a small, almost imperceptible nod, and Nick released his weapon. It dropped by maybe three inches before jerking to a stop and zipping away into the air. Nick barely had time to think of the first pattern before Gilbert was on them again. They managed to avoid him, but neither weapon struck during his brief tenure in their vicinity. This time when he reappeared across the room, though, there was no temporary ceasefire. Nick directed Mary to press the attack, making minor alterations on the pattern’s trajectories but continuing without pause. Gilbert had to teleport away, and Nick felt a thin smile appear on his face. They were finally making him reactive instead of proactive, and that was exactly where Nick needed him to be.

It wasn’t a perfect system. Gilbert began attacking more frequently, avoiding their weapons and coming at them with a single jump. He stayed longer, too, until Mary knocked him back or the weapons flew over. With each disappearance, Nick saw a little bit more. Finally, just when he was growing sincerely worried about his own stamina, Nick found the opportunity he had been waiting for.

Nick concentrated on a new pattern for Mary to attack with and simultaneously began edging away from her. The margin for error on the timing of what he was about to do would be razor thin. As he’d anticipated, Gilbert ducked and flipped away from the weapons buzzing and circling him. He was clearly about to teleport, merely picking his destination. Just before he made the jump, though, his dodging forced him to turn his back on Nick and Mary for half a second. Nick took off from his spot, dashing with all the speed his storky legs could afford him.

Mid-run it occurred to him that moments like this were probably why so much of the time in gym class was spent conditioning their capacity to run. Gilbert had already teleported out of range of the weapons, but Nick didn’t see that. He didn’t need to. Nick had been watching and analyzing Gilbert’s movements with each jump out of danger. The good thing about using the same pattern when evading was that it made such movements second nature, allowing for faster reaction time. The bad thing was that if your opponent was observant enough, they could use those same habits to predict your movements before you made them. Nick was exceptionally observant.

There was a very small lag between Gilbert disappearing and reappearing, but there was one, and that coupled with the half second he was turned away proved to be just enough for Nick’s run. Gilbert appeared directly in front of Nick, his eyes widening in surprise at another person being in a spot he’d clearly anticipated as being empty. Before he could react any more than that, Nick reared back and punched him directly in the side of his head. Gilbert dropped like a politician’s approval when raising taxes, smacking the ground and twitching slightly.

Without looking Nick held out his left hand and felt a small smack as his weapon landed in it. The press of a button and a flick of the wrist later found Gilbert with a bracelet that had become clear save only for a small green arrow.

“Think he’ll be okay?” Mary asked.

“Nope. But that’s why we’ve got healers,” Nick replied, taking a deep breath and getting his bearings.

“You throw a hell of a punch,” Mary complimented as she ambled over to him.

“That’s the problem with the overly combative types like you and him. You guys forget that just because I wield a metaphysical thing like luck it doesn’t mean I can’t clean a clock on occasion,” Nick said.

“I suppose there’s some truth to that,” Mary admitted. “You know, if I wasn’t in your head, I would have never believed you pulled that off without using any luck.”

“Then things are exactly as they should be,” Nick said. “I suppose you still want to keep looking for our dorm mates.”

“You could have said our friends,” Mary pointed out.

“Yes, that was also a verbal option. Not the one I elected to use, though.”

“Nick, Nick, Nick,” Mary said with a shake of her head. “You still have so far to come.”

“Emotional growth can wait for later. Right now let’s just get this test over with,” Nick said.  

*          *          *

"Do you hear something?" Alex whispered as he and Vince crept through the dark.

"Kind of," Vince whispered back. He wasn't quite sure what was reaching his ears. It wasn't the scrape of shoes against the concrete beneath them, or the hurried hustle of a fellow student moving to a new location. It was softer and slightly harmonic. As he and Alex stepped into a new room, the sound bounced off a nearby wall and magnified significantly. Only then did the two finally realizing what they were hearing.

"Someone is singing," Alex said, his voice not as hushed as it should have been.

"Mmhmm," Vince replied. He should have been more worried about Alex not hiding his voice, or more curious about what would cause someone to be giving away their position by singing. These were thoughts that might have been scrambling around in his mind, but if such thoughts existed, they were lost in a fog growing thick within his brain. Without wondering why, Vince began moving toward the sound of the song. A part of him dimly registered Alex coming as well. It was noted, in a very abstract sort of fashion, and then promptly forgotten.

The two students moved more swiftly through the dark halls, the song bouncing off the walls and guiding them clearly. At last they came to a halt in a dark room like any other, save for the fact that in this one dwelled the singer who had brought them here. Vince raised his hand and a small flame burned in the center, illuminating the room around them.

It was a bare concrete room with only one other person. Sitting cross-legged in the center of the floor was a girl Vince barely recognized from class. She had long, dark hair and olive skin. He remembered at one point thinking she was pretty looking. Now he was transfixed by her beauty, amazed he had ever found the strength to tear his eyes from her. He kneeled down in front of her, bringing out more fire so he could see her better. This time he didn't even notice that Alex was following suit. There was no room in his mind for anything else. The test, the program, the world all paled in comparison. There was only her. Her and the song.

She never stopped singing, not as she reached into her pocket and produced an oddly familiar yellow device, not as she pressed it to Alex's temple and he collapsed to the ground, not even as she held against Vince's eager skin.

It was only when Vince came back around that the song had stopped, and by then his bracelet was clear and it was far too late to matter.