Rich was waiting patiently when Roy entered the cell; a confident smile rested just above his dark goatee. The taller combatant moved across the room slowly, eyes watching his opponent for any signs of aggression as he took his starting position.
“Just like old times, huh?”
Roy nodded curtly. “Looks like it.”
“You folks really did an impressive job. More than any of us expected. I think we have a whole new level of respect for you all.”
“Uh huh. But you still plan on winning.”
“Is everyone ready to begin?” Professor Fletcher asked for the final time that day.
Roy looked over at the small holes where sound entered the room. “I’m ready.”
“I was born ready,” Rich raised.
“Then this match has begun.”
Roy whipped his head back in Rich’s direction and took off at a dead sprint. He reared up his arm in a clothesline that would have taken off Rich’s head, along with a healthy portion of his torso. The aggressive attack took Rich by surprise, leaving him no time to counter. His only bit of fortune was that Roy had telegraphed the charge so blatantly that he was able to throw himself to the side and roll back to his feet in a single motion. Roy’s charge kept right on going; the tall warrior never even stopped until he struck the concrete wall and bounced back. It was only after seeing this collision that Rich grasped exactly what was happening.
“You’re fighting with your eyes closed.”
“Bingo bucko.” Roy wasted not a single moment; he came running at Rich once more. This time Rich was more careful in his motions, moving to the side as quietly as possible but staying standing the entire time. Roy bounced off another wall and came to a stop. He didn’t merely stand in place after the impact; his entire body grew still as he worked to perceive the world around him without the benefit of vision.
“This is idiotic; you can’t really expect to win with just running after me blindly,” Rich pointed out. Since he was powerful and quick, his own overwhelming ability hadn’t provided much practice with thinking in terms of strategy. Or in knowing the importance of silence when an opponent is tracking by sound.
“Actually, I can’t lose,” Roy disagreed.
“How do you figure?”
“Simple math. No time limit plus my endless endurance minus your very human ability to get tired equal an eventual hit.”
“No, it... that’s crazy. You’re just imitating Nick’s antics.”
“Important difference: I’m not Nick and you’re not Chad. For him it was a way to stay in the game; for me it neutralizes your ability completely. Sooner or later I’ll connect, and once is all it takes.” With that, Roy rocketed toward Rich once more, powerful legs pounding quickly across the concrete. He missed by a healthy margin, running even faster as he passed Rich’s now slightly-panicked form. When he struck the wall he didn’t pause, he merely reoriented himself and dashed forward again, bounding forth like a well-muscled ping-pong ball. Rich was able to duck this charge too, but as he moved onto safer ground he found himself taking a deeper breath than normal.
He watched the madman smack into concrete and take off again and a slow realization began to sink through Rich’s brain. Roy was right. He didn’t get tired, hitting the wall didn’t hurt him, and there was no clock running that would end things for them. Eventually he’d get lucky or Rich would get worn out. It was a useless strategy in a real fight, but under only these circumstances it was a bit of insane brilliance.
Rich’s respect for his opponent rose right along with his fear of the situation he’d put himself in.
* * *
“Oooh, nearly got him that time,” Nick said cheerfully as the group watched Rich flail out of the way against yet another of Roy’s assaults.
“He’s getting pretty worn out,” Mary said, narrating the battle with the aid of mental eavesdropping. “He’s already beginning to wonder how many more dodges he has left in him.”
“Doesn’t help that Roy seems to be getting more accurate,” Alex pointed out.
“It’s a vicious cycle that works in our favor,” Nick explained. “The more tired Rich gets, the harder he breathes, the harder he breathes, the easier he is to locate by sound, the easier he is to locate by sound, the more accurate Roy gets, which leads to more dodging and more exhaustion.”
“I can’t believe beating someone like Rich is this simple,” Alex said.
“It isn’t. There are ridiculously few situations where you can close your eyes and just swing ‘til you miss. The cell, the rules, and the pairing all worked together to make this viable. Plus, of us all, Roy is the only one more or less immune to a normal human’s capacity for physical damage. That means Rich has no venue for counterattack. If it was anyone else on this team he probably would have come up with and launched some sort of assault. Might not have worked, but he would have had a shot.”
“This was your goal all along, wasn’t it? Literally, this specific match,” Mary asked.
Nick nodded. “Most of the others would shake out more or less the same if we did them a hundred times. This was a bad team for us to fight: they had two people that used techniques we had no immunity to, and one of our best fighters was stuck on the bench due to circumstance.”
“Vince. The only person on Team Two with physical abilities is Chad, who would crush Vince. The others are either girls, opponents who lack any enhanced abilities regarding their body, or those who are able to nullify an opponent through sound or sight. That knack of his for taking it to another level when protecting people cuts both ways. He holds back too much when he feels like his opponent is significantly weaker. In trying not to be a bully, he would underestimate them and get caught by surprise. I thought seeing Camille go down might give him an extra push, but I guess putting him against a girl just made him determined not to see a repeat of what happened to her.”
“Hey, he almost beat Selena,” Alex countered.
“That he did, in the most non-combative way possible. Haven’t you wondered why he didn’t just blast her with electricity before he fell too deep under her spell?”
“I thought he was focusing on the heat.”
“Which would have been unnecessary with the application of a ranged tasering. No, he didn’t want to hurt her. It would have played like that in pretty much any match. The only variable here was Rich. I knew he could beat any one of us in an open situation; however, in one like this... oh look, I think Roy’s about to prove my point for me.”
* * *
It had been a matter of inches. Rich almost wished it had been more of a margin so that he couldn’t look back and chide himself for not moving just that little bit faster. He could visualize it perfectly. Not that it made any difference in his current situation. He winced as he felt the grip around his forearm tighten.
“Hmm, feels pretty thin. I’ll have to be careful with this,” Roy said, a note of malicious glee almost palpable in his voice.
“This doesn’t mean anything,” Rich replied. “You can’t just crush my head. You can’t use lethal force.”
“True. However, the other option is just to make you forfeit. And last I checked, nobody has ever died from repeated breaks to the arms. At least, not immediately.”
“You’re bluffing. That’s torture.”
Roy tightened his grip several degrees more. “Maybe I am. But I bet I’m willing to go further to win this than you want to find out.”
Rich looked at the calm determination etched on his opponent’s face, and all at once he found himself believing Roy implicitly. “I give up!”
“This match’s winner is Roy Daniels,” Professor Fletcher announced.
“You’re damn right it is,” Roy agreed.