Chapter 129

               “Everyone stop what you’re doing! You are all suspected of various crimes and the intention of committing more. To those of you who are innocent, please lay down on the ground right now and put your hands over your heads. I promise to do all I can to ensure you aren’t falsely charged. To anyone who stays standing: I will be forced to interpret that as a sign of aggression and respond to it with force. Make your choice now, before the lights come back on.”

*             *             *

                If Vince had conjured a dolphin out of his ass and hurled it at the largest Sim, he couldn’t have shocked the room of fellow students more than he had by demanding the Sims surrender. In fact, they would have handled the ass-dolphin better, because they were at least accustomed to that particular brand of unexpected action.

                “What a fucking moron,” Allen said, still in shock from how Vince had blown his element of surprise. “What the hell did he think would happen?”

                “Perhaps we should wait and see how his gamble pays off before we pass judgment on it,” Thomas said. He kept his voice calm, but the slight puffing of his chest and widening of his eyes left no doubt at how he felt about someone insulting his friend.

                Even the Melbrook group was fairly flabbergasted, though not all for the same reason. As Roy and Alice gaped with open mouths at the dark screen, waiting to see what came of Vince’s ultimatum, Chad gently nudged Mary on the shoulder.

                “Mary, I am new to this group and as such haven’t seen the full range of all of your abilities, so perhaps this is something inconsequential. Still, I must ask, when did Vince learn to use area techniques?”

                “Huh?” Roy snapped out of his fugue at the words and looked over. “What are you talking about?”

                Chad pointed to one of the cameras that was looking down on a hallway near the center room. “See how the light abruptly stops halfway down, turning to darkness? That implies that Vince is absorbing all the light in a targeted area, not merely draining every bit of it that he can.”

                Roy felt a whole new wave of surprise wash over him, this one far more cutting than the one that came from Vince’s speech. If Chad was right, then it meant Vince was on a whole new level than they’d realized. Before he could thoroughly register the implications, Roy’s thoughts were cut off by Vince’s voice from the screen.

                “Time’s up.”

*             *             *

                The hardest part about Vince’s plan was switching gears with near-instant speed. He had to go from absorbing the light to throwing out energy in as much time as it took for his opponents to find him. Again he found himself begrudgingly thankful for his time with George. Hand-to-hand combat had sharpened his absorption reflexes daily as he struggled to hurt George while defending himself. As a result, when the light finally filled the room again the Sims barely had time to register the change before Vince attacked.

                A bolt of electricity struck two of the red-light Sims. The shots weren’t as precise as the ones Vince had gotten on the guards at close range, but they still found their targets. One dropped instantly, but the other stayed on its feet, turning toward Vince as green sparks ran down its arms.

                Recognizing the flaw in his plan, Vince ceased the attack and re-assessed the room. He had two yellow-light Sims closing in on him, one large enough to be a strongman unit and the other unknown. One red-light was down; the other obviously had electrical abilities. Most shocking of all though, was the fact that one yellow-light and one red-light were actually on the ground with their hands over their heads. Seeing them there, knowing he’d avoided hurting innocents, filled Vince with a rare glow of pride. He’d reminded the class that they shouldn’t assume everyone was guilty at the outset, but that message wouldn’t mean much if it cost him the exam. He would have to get aggressive with these last three.

                Vince ran toward the yellow-light Sims. Though the red constituted a larger threat overall, he was confident he could absorb its attacks before any damage landed. Taking it would require concentration, which meant he needed to get these other two dealt with. As he got closer to the yellows, Vince let another twin shot of electricity loose. The smaller of the two went down, but the armored one shook it off. From his left, Vince felt the familiar crackle of energy as the red-light Sim let loose its own jolts. Contained electricity was hard for Vince to access, but once the stuff ran wild he could grab it as easily as fire. With a mere thought he absorbed every bit of energy that the Sim has sent his way.

                He probably only had a few moments before it recharged, which meant now was the time to handle the last yellow. The big bulky thing launched from its position, heading towards Vince with thundering steps. Since he’d already been running toward it, it seemed they were going to forcibly collide. When they were only ten feet away from one another, Vince jerked himself to a sudden stop. From his hands came glowing orange tendrils of energy, a familiar sight to the students who were gasping in the observation room. Though he’d gotten a stockpile of Thomas’s energy from their training, Vince wasn’t nearly as good with it as its owner. Thankfully he had enough skill to manifest a large orange hand that wrapped around the arm of the charging Sim, spinning it slightly and using its own momentum and mass to send it tumbling across the room.

                Tumbling right into the red-light Sim that was charging up for another blast. The area was filled with the sound of crackling electricity and crunching metal as they collided. Large chunks of the floor shattered and dust filled the air. For a moment, it seemed both had been incapacitated, then the burning scarlet of a red Sim light could be seen as it pulled itself up from the rubble.

                This time, Vince didn’t run. He walked over calmly, eyes unwavering from his final opponent.

                “You’re under arrest. If you stop resisting now, you can plead your case to a judge and lawyer. But if you keep fighting, I’m going to have to stop you. Please, just give up. I don’t want to hurt you, I really don’t.”

                Green sparks flew off its arms as the Sim readied itself for another attack.

                “I don’t want to hurt you,” Vince repeated, voice low and soft as the sorrow at what he was doing, what he was training to do, filled him. “But I can’t let you hurt anyone else.”

                This time he didn’t use electricity, or fire, or even Thomas’s borrowed energy. Instead, Vince went with what he considered the most basic and useful technique he’d acquired so far. He punched the Sim, avoiding it’s clumsy attempts at blocking, right in the center of its body. As soon as he made contact, he released some of the kinetic energy he’d been holding in reserve. He only meant to use enough to dent the thing and knock it unconscious.

                Instead, it flew backward, slamming violently into a concrete wall and nearly shattering on impact. As it slid to the floor, last flickers of green electricity already dying away, Vince had no doubt that he’d just registered a “kill” on his opponent.

                “I wish you’d just surrendered.”