Chapter 39

Team One gathered around their flag, doing a quick scout of the area and getting a sense of the land. They were quick and efficient, simply because they had to be. The other team would be moving soon and time wasted was advantage lost. It would have been easier if they could have tasked someone to carry or bury the triangular shape of cloth, but one of the few rules of the game was that no team could move or touch its own flag. In a matter of minutes the seven students had drawn all the conclusions they could and broken into their assigned units.

The core of Nick’s strategy was delegation into set teams. Vince, Camille, and Alex composed one, while Alice, Roy, and Mary composed the other. This gave each team access to a telepath, a combat-oriented person, and someone with skills useful in the field. Nick was assigned as a free radical, floating between the groups as tasks required. Should a situation call for a greater division, Alex and Mary could go off on their own, as they possessed both field and fighting skills. This was why Nick had chosen the playing card system to explain things to his team. The goal was to make sure that at any given time every unit was equal to an Ace, either by virtue of being one or by pairing people who were respectively each a number and face card.

For this match they came to the consensus that Vince, Camille, and Alex’s unit should defend the flag while the others pursued offense. The main reason was that while Alex would still gain telepathic warning when they were being approached, Mary’s level of detailed hearing would be more useful in gleaning hints at the opponent’s flag’s location. They opted to split into two further teams, Nick and Mary going one route and Alice and Roy taking another to increase chances of finding the flag before the other team could track down theirs. Words were brief, obedience automatic, and tactics well established. The whole strategy had been kept fluid precisely for this reason. People knew their overall unit; all that remained was assigning them specific tasks to complete. It was a methodology Nick was confident his people could execute. All that remained to be seen was if the other team employed a better one.

*    *    *

Roy and Alice skulked along the tree line, the girl floating a few feet off the ground and occasionally lifting herself higher for perspective. Mary and Nick were long out of sight, and Alice was beginning to realize just how large this area truly was. It seemed finding the flag would be more difficult than she’d expected. On the plus side, hopefully that meant their own base would remain undiscovered for some time as well. She bobbed up over the trees once more. The longer they went without encountering anyone, not even the flag but anyone, the more Alice became concerned they were on the wrong path.

“Do you think the others are having more luck?” Alice asked as she lowered her position.

“Don’t know. Doesn’t matter,” Roy shot back simply.

“How can you say that?”

“Because I’m not on the unit with the telepath. Mary was clear: you and I go until we find a flag, an opponent, or a wall. If it’s the first one we’re done, the second we beat them and keep going, and the third we change direction.”

“Doesn’t that bother you, that we’re just sent out and told ‘keep walking’?”

“Not really,” Roy said. “I’m not big on any of that forethought or tactics crap. ‘Charge until you hit something’ is a mentality I can get behind.”

“Of course it is,” Alice sighed. She wasn’t sure she would have preferred to be with Nick right now, but Roy was hardly stimulating conversation. The boy might be charming in the right element, but when offered the prospect of violence, his attention shifted completely. “At least we’ve got a good shot against anyone we encounter. I’d be a lot more worried if it was Chad’s team.”

“If we were facing Chad’s people I wouldn’t be walking toward the other team right now,” Roy replied.

“Oh no? Then what would you be doing?”

Roy gave her a toothy smile, one that made her think of a hyena she’d once seen on the nature channel. “I’d be running toward them.”

Alice opened her mouth to reply, but a sounds like falling glass interrupted her as a bolt of blue flew by and struck Roy’s left leg, freezing it in place.

“That’s very brave talk,” Michael Clark said, stepping out from behind a tree. “But maybe you should be more concerned with the opponents you actually have.”

Before he could say another word, Alice launched herself upward, working to get out of range. A few hunks of ice wouldn’t slow Roy down much, but if she got entangled she was as good as done. The air whipped by her as she bolted higher, then sounds of something tearing through the air registering just below her feet. She glanced down to see a flashing of blue arcing through the sky and landing in the grass below. She’d barely been missed. Alice flipped around to watch the opponent. At this distance she could sway to one side or another and dodge with ease.

Back on the ground, Michael turned to a still frozen in place Roy. “Looks like your partner isn’t going to be much help.”

“What, you think she abandoned me? Don’t be an idiot. She did exactly what she was supposed to do.”

“By running away? You Powereds really are a bunch of cowards.”

“Nah, we just recognize the use of roles. Alice can go up high and spot a flag easy. I can’t do that. I have a whole different purpose.” Roy lifted his foot from the ground and brought it forcefully down, shattering its frozen encasement. “My job is the kick the ass of everyone we meet so she can do hers.”

“How nice for you,” Michael replied calmly. “You really think you can beat someone two ranks higher than you?”

“Beat you? I have no intention of beating you.” Roy took a few steps forward and flexed his hands, a small series of pops emanating from along the knuckles and joints. “I’m going to fucking wreck you.”