Chapter 121

               Chad slipped his way down the fake-alleyway, not bothering to be impressed at the detail that had gone into the set’s construction. His bare feet were soundless as he crept, each step careful and controlled. A blade of bone jutted out from the side of each of his forearms and shins, but otherwise he looked as normal as always. He circled the building once, senses turned up on high in case one of the Sims was guarding the outside this time. The interior of the building would be completely different than when Will had gone, but that hurdle would be easily overcome. Once Chad was certain there were no enemies outside, only then did he carefully ease open a door at the rear access point and slip inside.

                As soon as he was in, Chad moved against a wall to minimize his chances of being spotted. Right now was the point when things could tip, when the whole exam had the possibility to go awry. He needed to be quick, but at the same time he needed to be accurate. Information in situations like these was what kept people alive. Chad might not have had Will’s way of getting data beforehand, but that didn’t make him helpless.

                Eyes wide and alert, Chad kept his breathing silent and concentrated as hard as he could.

*             *             *

                “Why is he barefoot?” Adam asked to no one in particular.

                “Obviously he took off his shoes to move more quietly,” Shane said.

                “I think we all get that,” Violet chimed in. “But I see Adam’s point. Why is Chad bothering with this sneaking around shit at all? He’s a brawler by nature, shouldn’t he be kicking the door down and tearing bitches up?”

                Roy was wondering something similar, but as he stared at the monitor and watched Chad frozen in place, a new thought occurred to him. It came from Hershel’s memories, bubbling up in him unbidden. When Hershel did his role-playing games, there were different character classes with various abilities. Herschel tended to play mages, and if forced Roy would have rolled up a warrior. There were other classes though, other ways to deal with one’s enemies, including a class that dispatched their opponents by moving stealthily and swiftly; ending fights before they even began.

                A grunt of disbelief escaped Roy’s lips as understanding came crashing down on him.

                “That mother fucker… all this time.”

                Thomas, Violet, and Shane all turned around to look at him as Roy continued shaking his head in disbelief.

                “Care to share with the class?” Violet asked.

                “I always thought Chad had it pretty good with these trials. He’s an ass-kicker, that’s his power, and upfront fights work to his benefit.”

                “Given his ranking, that’s a fair assessment,” Shane said.

                “It really ain’t. Chad’s power wasn’t built for straight-up fighting; he’s just so damned good that we never noticed. To steal a term from Hershel: Chad isn’t a warrior, he’s an assassin.”

                Across the room, unseen by any of the students, Dean Blaine allowed himself the smallest of smirks.

*             *             *

                First came the sounds. The gentle whine of servos and gears moving mechanical monsters. The high-pitched whine of light bulbs hanging at irregular intervals throughout the halls. The soft shuffle of Professor Fletcher’s feet standing by behind the scenes.

                Next came the smells. Oil, concrete, metal, copper, and a few whiffs of Will Murray’s sweat that had been missed in the purge.

                Last came the shapes. As the information flooded Chad’s heightened senses he mentally mapped it out, placing the guards throughout the halls even as he learned where the twists and turns were. It took three minutes, but at last he was ready to move. This time there were only three Sims clustered in a single point; the rest were spread out as guards. Even though Chad knew the patterns were randomized between trials, he was still thankful for the stroke of luck. Clusters were easily handled, but lots of enemies across the area would give him a better chance to show his skill.

                He left his hiding spot and darted down the hall, movements as soundless as a shattered piano. Up ahead, there was an intersection in the hallway. Chad darted left as soon as he arrived, easily closing the gap between himself and the yellow-light Sim scanning the other direction. He grabbed its head at the same time he sliced the top of its back with his forearm blade. Assuming these were meant to be stand-ins for humans, he would have paralyzed this Super from the neck down. Just in case it had a mental ability, he popped a quick blow to the skull to render it unconscious.

                With one down, he only had eight left to go. Chad hurried off down the hall toward his next prey.

*             *             *

                “What the fucking shit!” Violet yelped as they watched Chad mercilessly bring down the unsuspecting Sim. “That thing was a yellow and he just fucking iced it!”

                “No, he crippled it,” Shane corrected her. Since he also used slicing techniques, Shane was well acquainted with the tactic Chad had employed, even if it was unexpected to see it used by him. “He tore through the spinal cord and left it unable to do more than blink or breathe.”

                “That is still really fucked up,” Violet continued.

                “Healers exist, and all Hero teams have access to them,” Shane countered. “What Chad did would be overt aggression if the effects were unalterably permanent, but as it stands he neutralized a hostile Super without having to kill it, letting it alert others, or allowing collateral damage. That’s about as good a take-down as a Hero can hope for.”

                On the screen, Chad waited at the turn of a blind corner for a Sim to walk into view. As soon as it did, he took it down at the spine and popped it in the head, perfectly mirroring his first encounter. This time the feat was slightly more impressive though, because his opponent had a glowing red light in its chest.

                “You seem to know a lot about what is and isn’t okay for Heroes to do,” Roy noted.

                “Actually I think the rest of you are just behind the curve,” Shane said. “Yes, they have focused on getting us to use our abilities with restraint and control, but how did you imagine it would go when you tried to tell someone who has spent their life being more powerful than others that there is something they can’t do? Our entire purpose is to step in when those Supers decide they’re going to buck the system. Each of us should be intimately familiar with what lines we are and aren’t willing to cross in order to see that job done.”

                Chad came to a hallway with a pair of Sims, throwing knives already in hand. He threw them with only a glance, taking out the lights and casting the hall in darkness. Instantly the camera flipped over to night-vision allowing the class to see what happened. One Sim managed to get off a wild shot, beams of energy from its hands, before Chad took it down. The other never even located him in time.

                “He is tearing a swath through these things,” Thomas noted, trying to change the subject.

                “I always knew Chad was strong,” Roy said, eyes never wavering from the screen. “But he’s so nice and humble that this is the first time I’m realizing something about him.”

                “What’s that?” Thomas asked.

                “Chad Taylor is one absolutely terrifying son of a bitch.”

                When he severed the spine of the final Sim, Chad’s time from entry was six minutes and nineteen seconds. Of all his opponents, only three had gotten off attacks and he’d killed just a single red-lighted Sim.