Chapter 125

               Violet’s showing was impressive, but she made the mistake of attacking a lone Sim while another was in earshot, alerting them to her presence. She managed to bring them all down, however by the time she did they’d caused significant collateral damage and two red-light Sims had been allowed to run wild. Her face was solemn as she stepped back into the observation room, politely acknowledging the applause without accepting it. It wasn’t that the effort had been bad; she just knew she could do better, and failing to achieve that nagged at her dearly.

                Amber was next, the last of those volunteering to go first. In a way her performance was the opposite of Violet’s. She strolled down the hallways silently; every step inaudible thanks to her sound manipulation abilities. When she came across some poor Sim barring her way she executed a few quick snaps and their robotic limbs exploded. One or two managed to get off a shot, but even these were impossible for the others to hear. It might have been a perfect score, had she not gotten overzealous when dealing with a cluster of five Sims. Before they could even react, Amber carpeted them in blasting sound waves. This resulted in neutralizing all the threats, but it also ended with two yellow-lighted Sims registering as dead. Since they’d never taken aggressive actions against her, this was a serious penalty.

                With Amber done, Dean Blaine waited to see if anyone else would be volunteering. Sometimes people would get impulsive at the last moment; however this time it was not the case. The remaining students stood in place, waiting to be called.

                Dean Blaine looked over to Professor Stone, who produced a small, clear box filled with strips of paper. It wasn’t very hard to figure out what the next selection method would be.

                “A special thanks and congratulations to those who have already taken their exam,” Dean Blaine announced. “Now, we will begin the random selection part of this trial. Volunteers are no longer accepted, regardless of circumstances. You will have to wait until one of us draws your name from the box. We even went to the trouble of making sure it was clear, lest anyone think we were using our abilities to play favorites.”

                This part of the speech wasn’t meant for his students, who would have neither suspected that nor cared if it were happening. These words were for Ralph Chapman and his cronies, watching via feed from a different observation room.

                “We’re all taking the same test,” Adam said. “How could there even be favorites?”

                “Some students would rather go after someone who has a weak showing, hoping to be seen more favorably in comparison. This is, of course, a ludicrous notion, but one that has persisted enough that we find it easier to keep our process transparent,” Dean Blaine replied. “With that said, Professor Stone, would you be so kind as to pull the first name?”

                Her hand combed through the slips of paper until she seized on in her finger. Pulling it out carefully, she glanced down at the name written on it.

                “Thomas Castillo. No, you don’t have to go again; we just didn’t know who will volunteer so everyone’s name is in here. Looks like I have to redraw.” Professor Stone carefully set the slip of paper to the side, pointedly ignoring the look of shock on Thomas’s face at having a question that had only flitted through his mind be answered by the professor. Her hand plunged back into the box, emerging with a new slip.

                “Well well, Alex Griffen, it is your time to shine.”

                Alex broke into a wide grin, then turned to give Will and Vince high fives as he made his way over to the door. “I’ve ready to do this!”

                “Glad to see you so enthusiastic,” Dean Blaine said. His voice didn’t show it, but he really was happy to see Alex raring to go. Though the young man had a curious way of looking at his power, he also had the sort of assurance, kindness, and loyalty that marked him as a great Hero candidate. His ability had been falling behind in the sophomore year, and if he couldn’t manage some good showings soon then he wouldn’t make it to the senior class. Blaine hoped this exuberance was the mark of earned confidence that would manifest in a high score.

                “Why shouldn’t I be, I’ve been waiting for a chance like this.” Alex turned and flashed his friends a big thumbs-up before following Dean Blaine through the door and down to the exam area.

                “Is he bluffing, or does he really think he can score well on this?” Alice asked, looking to Mary. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m pulling for him with all I’ve got, I just want to know if I should brace for amazement or horror.”

                “He has a strategy,” Mary replied. “I don’t know if it will work or not. If it does, then he does have a solid chance of making this work. If it doesn’t... I think Roy will need to let Herschel have the night so he can do some friend comforting.”

                “Not a problem,” Roy said. “Strange as he might be, that little nerd has grown on me. I hope he whips some robots ass.”

                “Tell us this,” Vince said. “If you were to use his strategy, would it work?”

                Mary shook her head. “Not a chance in hell. I’m going to have to go in that thing like a miniature Roy, kicking ass and asking questions later. Alex is trying a more subtle approach, closer to what Chad did.”

                “But if it wouldn’t work for you… oh no, don’t tell me we’re to this again,” Alice sighed.

                “He did manage to knock away Thomas’s energy and Will’s sound taser, both of which should be impossible for a telekinetic,” Vince reminded her.

                “And, much as it pains to admit it, even after all my training his level of precise control is still league above my own,” Mary added.

                “So, basically Alex is pinning his plans for winning on the hope that his powers really work like a Jedi’s instead of a telekinetic’s?” Alice asked.

                “Looks that way,” Mary confirmed.

                Alice let out a long breath and stared up at the dark screens, waiting for them to light up and their friend to appear. Alex might not technically be one of them, but he might as well be. Weird, different from the others, and constantly underestimated; Alex was already halfway toward pariah before he sided with them last year. He needed to make some magic happen, because she would be damned if she watched another member of her strange little team get taken away.

                “May the force be with you, you crazy bastard.”