Chapter 132

                Professor Pendleton felt a strange mixture of pride and frustration as he watched the first group of Sims deactivate. Even getting one of the codes was an arduous task, something he’d determined to be a passing grade for his test. He’d suspected maybe the top students would get two of them, and in truth he’d never anticipated any of them to crack the third. Will was turning out to be the quite the gifted student. Part of Professor Pendleton dearly wished Nick were still around, so he could pit the two against one another. Then again, perhaps he’d made the cypher too easy. Alice’s decryption skills were far from spectacular.

                “Three students smart enough to get through the first one,” Dean Blaine said, sidling up the professor. “Not a bad showing for your class.”

                “Yes, but only one of them got all three,” Professor Pendleton pointed out. Alice had appeared on screen, walking toward the building, which meant she was no longer able to input anymore codes.

                “I looked at that sheet,” Dean Blaine said. “Even the first one was ridiculously hard. The others may as well have said ‘genius only’ on the form. You should be proud of the crop you’ve raised.”

                “Somehow, I suspect that when Alice is done no one will even remember that she cleared a Subtlety goal.”

                Dean Blaine wanted to protest, but he’d seen bits of Alice’s skill with her new power when observing Professor Hill’s class. Sean wasn’t wrong, not in the least. “Well, we’ll remember,” he said, half-heartedly trying to comfort his old friend.

                Professor Pendleton said nothing; he merely kept his eyes on the screen as Alice entered the outer door.

*             *             *

                Though she was walking, Alice’s feet rested a good three inches above the ground. She’d learned that it was easier to maintain her normal reactions when she considered herself to be air-walking rather than floating. Plus this permitted her to be silent as breeze while not having to bother removing her shoes.

                Unlike her other friends, she had no hidden skill or gift for locating the Sims in advance. She would have to rely on stealth and speed to overtake a Sim when she spotted it. Had she taken this exam a year ago she would have likely been hoping for a miracle, or that they were easily confused by a woman flying about. As it was now, Alice felt a curious calm throughout her entire being. There was no fretting to do or worrying to waste time on. She was in the battle now, her only options were to succeed or fail. All she could focus on was the doing.

                At a corner, she turned and found herself staring a Sim’s back. A dull yellow color reflected off the walls, so she could easily surmise what color its light was. With a burst of effort she cut its gravity, leaving it float helplessly in the air. Before it could react, she clamped down on its limbs just as she had Nathaniel’s. Alice floated over to it and whispered in the spot where its ear should have been.

                “Surrender now or I will take you down. This is your only chance.”

                The Sims refused to power down, so Alice quickly intensified the localized gravity field around its legs, shattering them in seconds. With a hop backward and a moment to redirect the gravity field, she slammed it down onto the ground, using what she hoped was enough force to knock it unconscious without killing it. It definitely wasn’t moving when she left, and that would have to be enough.

                By her count, she still had five to go.

*             *             *

                “Thor’s tapdancing hammer,” Violet muttered under her breath. “She has gotten a lot better since last year.”

                “She was good enough to defeat you,” Thomas reminded her. Violet had been a bit down since her showing, clearly berating herself for not doing as well as she thought she could.

                “True, but it was a good fight,” Violet said. “She had trouble using that gravity ability on my arms. Now she’s targeting limbs like it ain’t no thing.” As they spoke, Alice encountered a second guard, the last one she would find since the other four Sims were clustered in the central room. Just as with the first, she sent it floating and then whispered in its ear. This one, however, chose to power itself down, preventing another display of robotic limb crushing.

                “She’s strong,” Thomas agreed. “But so far she hasn’t done anything a good telekinetic couldn’t, save for the self-floating.”

                “You’re thinking too small,” Violet chastised him. “Wait until she gets to the room, then you’ll see the difference between her power and telekinesis.”

                “Looks like I won’t have to wait long,” Thomas said, noting that Alice was now headed directly for the room with four waiting Sims. His assessment was correct; he wouldn’t be waiting long at all.

*             *             *

                Alice air-walked gracefully into the room, noting the way the four Sims were distributed through it. Two of them had red-lights and two had yellows. She’d need to be quick about this if she wanted to avoid collateral damage. Her mind took in the area, mentally mapping it out. Her area of effect for big gravity swings was only moderate, but if her estimations were right she should be able to handle a room this size. Fancy things like mini-constraints were off the table, though. Alice would have to rely on the basics. Thankfully, her basics were still pretty damned powerful.

                Each Sim found itself suddenly floating directly upward, unable to control its trajectory. Almost simultaneously, a powerful female voice resonated through the room, reaching them easily despite their newly elevated height.

                “Listen up and listen good. You are all under arrest. Put your hands on your head if you don’t want trouble and do it right the hell now. Anyone who doesn’t is going to be treated as hostile, and I promise you’re not going to like it.”

                Alice paused for a mere smattering of heartbeats, waiting to see if any of the Sims made motions to comply with her orders. The only movement she saw was one of the red-light Sims turning its head to get a good view of her. Assuming that to be a bad thing, she decided that she’d waited long enough.

                “Have it your way.” Alice raised her arms and narrowed her focus, seeing the whole world as nothing but angles, angles that struck through the room in all manner of directions. Since Roy got away with smashing the whole area, she hoped she wouldn’t be docked too much for busting up the walls. Her next words were barely more than a whisper, yet they still carried to every Sim clutched in her gravitational grasp.

                “Timber, bitches.”

                The Sims came crashing down, slamming into the ground at a forty five degree angle. Before they could react they were moving again, this time smashing into a wall nearly halfway to the roof. Then they were hitting the roof, then another wall, then the floor again, light humanoid pinballs with glowing lights in their center. Each impact was enough to damage them, but not enough to destroy them, and the constant shifts made it impossible for any of them to actually formulate a counter-attack.

                It took a full minute of this assault before the final Sim powered down. Alice lowered all four of them gently to the floor, then turned and looked up to where she knew the camera would be staring down her. Unable to help herself, she gave an exaggerated wink and blew a kiss, then turned and walked out of the room with her head held high.