Chapter 117

Julia and Jill stared at Mary and Alice from across the room. Unlike the previous fights, this one wasn’t beginning with anything more than a cursory greeting as they waited for permission to start. All four girls were on pleasant enough terms, though Mary and Alice tended to see more of Jill than Julia, especially after the cessation of her and Roy’s carnal acrobatics. They liked each other and in a pinch would probably sit at the same table in a lunch room should they spot an open seat. It wasn’t devout friendship, only amiable enjoyment. And now they had to beat the hell out of one another. No one knew exactly what to say in that sort of situation, so they’d defaulted to nothing. It was what worked best for everyone.

“Are you ready to begin?” All four girls visibly relaxed at the sound of Professor Fletcher’s voice. Horrible as battle might be, it was still preferable to standing around anticipating the carnage.

“We’re ready,” Mary replied confidently.

“As are we,” Julia added.

“Then this match has begun.”

The sound had barely subsided from the loudspeaker when everyone leapt into action. Julia produced four clones in the span of a second, all of them charging at Alice. Jill activated an electrical blaster bracer worn around her forearm and lined up a shot on Mary. Mary slammed a blast of telekinetic force into the stampeding Julias, scattering them like blonde bowling pins back toward their creator. Alice hopped into the air and tried to look like she were merely terrified while in truth she was focusing on increasing the gravity around her opponents. She managed to pull it off and only barely in time. The sudden increase of force dropped Julia to the ground but only took Jill to her knees. It was enough to make her shot go wild; a crackling ball of energy crashed to the concrete only a few feet away from Mary’s vulnerable form.

“Damn,” Jill swore from under her helmet as she struggled to pull herself up. The only thing keeping her in this fight was her patchwork suit’s muscle enhancers valiantly straining to stop her from becoming effectively pinned. She said a mental prayer of thanks to Will; if he hadn’t augmented them last month, there was no way she could have handled this level of strain. Julia was useless in this situation: any clones she produced were just as powerless as her original form. What Jill, mistakenly, believed to be Mary’s technique was exceptionally effective. She’d known battling the small girl would be tough but had hoped Alice’s uselessness would give them a two on one advantage.

“You’re beaten,” Mary said in a matter-of-fact tone. She wasn’t trying to taunt or goad her opponents; she was only conveying what she saw as the truth of the matter. Jill was having a hard time disagreeing with her, too. The girl in the gizmo suit slowly raised her right arm, trying to line it up for another shot. If Mary was using her power to push them down, then she might not be able to dodge, at least not without letting up on the assault some.

Jill succeeded in getting her arm halfway up before the intensity of the force knocking her downward increased. Suddenly it was too much, and the delicate balance she’d managed to retain was shattered. Jill tumbled to the floor, and no amount of straining would allow her to lift a limb. The most she could hope for was to fire off a few rounds and pray one ricocheted into Mary. For a brief moment she contemplated it then decided otherwise. No one in the other teams knew that Will had found a way to make her blasts bounce off inanimate objects yet. She didn’t want to squander a surprise like that on a battle that was pretty much already lost anyway. Years later, when looking back at this particular match and understanding what had truly been going on, Jill would appreciate the humor of that train of thought. In the actual moment, there was only one thing she could really do.

“I give up,” Jill acknowledged.

“Guess that means I do too,” Julia huffed out from the floor. She had merely been holding out in case Jill came up with a way to turn things around. The clones dissolved back into formless energy, leaving only the two real girls still stuck on the floor.

“The winners of this match are Mary Smith and Alice Adair.”

Alice floated down and grabbed Mary in a big hug. Jill and Julia felt the force binding them vanish, and both slowly rose to their feet.

“I’d say good fight, but it would feel like a lie,” Jill admitted to the victors. “We went down without much of a showing at all. Nice technique, by the way.”

“If Alex hadn’t given me the idea, this might have been a very different outcome,” Mary lied graciously. “Striking first was the only way we had a shot. That blaster of yours seems pretty nasty.”

“It gets the job done. I have to say, your team has done surprisingly well today.”

“You’ve also done well, but it’s not really a surprise.”

“Tell me about it,” Julia mumbled. “I’m just annoyed I had to be on the sacrificial team.”

“The what?” Alice asked.

“She means we were picked because Chad knew we would lose,” Jill explained.

“I see; he took Nick’s lesson to heart then,” Mary noted.

“That he did. So, like I said, good job so far today. It’s almost too bad you’ve got no way to win the next two matches.” Jill headed out the door after making sure Julia was close by.

Mary and Alice waited a few moments before following suit, taking a different path once they’d left the cell, one that led back to their own observation room.

“Do you think she’s right?”

“There are two people left on Chad’s team: Selena and Rich. Both use an ability that renders their opponent unable to fight back. What we’ve got left is Vince and Roy, both of whom rely on physical abilities to defeat anyone they face,” Mary surmised.

“So, we’re screwed?”

“It sure looks that way.”

“Good,” Alice said, a wicked smile curving across her pleasant face. “If it looks like we’ve got no chance of winning that just means we’re exactly where Nick wants us to be.”

“Unquestionably. Now we just have to hope he’s as smart as he thinks he is.”

“Oooooh. If we’re banking on that then we really might be screwed.”

The girls were still laughing about that little joke by the time they made it back to the room.