Chapter 128

               His footsteps echoed lightly as he walked down the fake alley, approaching the building’s rear door. Unlike Chad and Roy, Vince had elected to keep his shoes on, since he didn’t possess their immunity to things like broken glass. It meant he wasn’t going to be quit as silent in his approach, but that was okay. Just as Roy had faced the truth about the limits of his power, so had Vince made peace with his. This would be a somewhat stealthy mission only at first. In a situation like this one, chaos was inevitable.

                As he drew near the door, Vince paused. He could already feel them, already sense the electricity coursing through their electronic bodies, but he needed to be certain of their positions. This skill was still raw and unpolished, it was a technique he’d come across when fighting George. After a week or so of always trying to be ready to absorb George’s blows, Vince realized that he could sort of feel the energy in the robotic man. He couldn’t connect to it, with closed off electricity that required physical contact, yet he could still make it out as it powered his metallic opponent. When he had time to mull that fact over, Vince realized it made sense. He’d always been connecting to the energy, which meant he could sense it on some subconscious level. The only difference was that now he was aware of it.

                Vince carefully eased the back door open and slipped inside. There was a Sim somewhere down a nearby hallway, but he didn’t know which way it was facing. He could only get a sense of the energy present, not pick out fine details. With very delicate steps, he emerged from his hiding spot and began moving toward the nearest Sim. In his mind, Vince began gathering some of the electricity stored within him. When he turned to offense it was almost impossible to keep his energy-sense going, but just doing the preparations didn’t cause him to lose it. Ideally he would be able to sneak up on his adversary; however he didn’t want to be caught defenseless if that wasn’t how it played out.

                When he reached a corner, he knew there was a Sim just around the other side of it. All he could do was hope for the best. Vince gently eased his head around to the new hallway, only to find a set of robotic eyes staring back at him. They seemed to glow, but only until he realized they reflecting the yellow light shining off its chest.

                For the span of a single breath, neither of them moved. They merely soaked in the presence of each other, synapses firing as the inescapable conclusion of conflict was reached. If it had been a human opponent, Vince would have hesitated. Even as far as he’d come, it was difficult for him to immediately react with violence to a fellow person. Robots, on the other hand, were a different story. Three months in the miserable desert heat being beaten relentlessly by a mechanical man had ingrained Vince with very forceful reactions, as well as a bit of pent-up frustration.

                The bolt of electricity struck the Sim right in its center of mass, only a few inches below its yellow light. Whatever kind of power it possessed, no aspect of it involved electricity immunity. Despite the speed of the blow, the jolt was short and sweet. It was meant to incapacitate, not to kill. Of course, such things were hardly a precise practice in the field, so when the robotic opponent slumped to the ground, Vince had to resist the urge to make sure it was okay. With a person he could try to shock their heart if something went wrong. On the Sims, he would just have to be as precise as possible with his voltage.

                One Sim down, Vince rose back to his feet and head down the hall, on course to encounter the next.

*              *              *

                “Okay, Alex’s force powers I sort of got, but this one has me stumped,” Roy admitted. On the screen, Vince took down his second opponent in similar fashion to the first. “How does he know where they are? Am I the only person in our whole damned dorm that doesn’t have some sort of ultra-sense?”

                “Alex doesn’t live in our dorm,” Alice pointed out.

                “Just a technicality; the guy’s one of us,” Roy replied, eyes still unmoving from Vince’s exam. He hadn’t realized that Alex was nearby, nor did he see the look of unexpected happiness on the shorter man’s face, all of which was likely for the best. Roy was his most genuine when he didn’t know he was being overheard, which made the sentiment all the more appreciable.

                “Judging from what I know about Vince’s ability, I would guess that he is somehow locating their energy signatures and then using that to estimate their positions,” Chad said.

                “You nailed it,” Mary confirmed. “That’s exactly what he’s doing.”

                “Whoa, wait a minute. That sounds a whole lot like the sort of thing that only works on robots,” Alice said. “You know, the kind of strategy that we were all expressly forbidden from using.”

                “That’s only true if he can’t use it on humans as well,” Mary reminded her.

                “Can he?”

                In response, Mary just smiled and looked back at the screen. She knew Vince was nearly done with the guards and wanted to see how thing went with the cluster room. Alice took the hint and glanced up as well.

                “Sensing them or not, our boy is in for hell of a fight,” Roy said. “Six Sims in one room, three of them red. He’s either going to have to try and nuke the whole thing at once or take them one by one and risk serious collateral damage. Either way, that’s tough.”

                “Don’t be too sure about that,” Chad said. “If there is one thing I’ve learned about Vince Reynolds, it is that he is oddly unpredictable at times. Perhaps he’ll show us something unexpected.

*              *              *

                With the final guard down, Vince headed toward the massive concentration of electrical energy centered in the middle of the building. This would be the hard part, because he wasn’t confident that he could handle that many opponents without going overboard. Three were red-light Sims, he knew that from process of elimination, so killing them wouldn’t take away points. Still, he wasn’t that concerned about the points. He wanted to do this right. Dean Blaine had been right; this was training to be a Hero. Vince wanted to know that he could take down a situation like this his way. Otherwise, he knew in his heart he’d never be able to do the job.

                Vince’s sense expanded as he drew close to the room. He barely even needed to focus anymore; he could hear the Sims in there shifting about. It wasn’t them he was reaching for, though. Instead, Vince focused on the light radiating off the bulbs all around him. Light was like fire, it assaulted him, pressed against him, tried to go inside him. All he had to do was open the doors. And in the desert, reeling under George’s blows, that was exactly what he’d learned to do.

                Vince took one step into the room where all the Sims were gathered and the world went black. Not a single speck of light could be seen, all existence was devoured by a shadow.

                And then, in the miniature world of starless midnight he’d just created, Vince did something truly surprising.