Chapter 134

                Adam, with the obvious help of having Thomas’s body, was able to put on a strong showing. It wasn’t quite as good as Thomas had done with his own abilities; however it still put him ahead of the weakest members of the class.

                After he returned, immediately resuming his own form, Selena Wilkins was called to take on the exam. Whatever bouts of hesitation and kindness she might have shown Alex during their matches was entirely absent as she stepped into the building. The sound for her match was muted in advance, meaning the students could only see her mouth hanging open as she flooded the area with an entrancing song. The Sims began powering down, one by one, as she strode confidently through the halls. In the end, only two were able to resist her song of slumber, and both were in the cluster room. Selena’s face grew hard and her melody clearly changed. Instead of falling asleep, the two remaining Sims began to fight one another, delivering blow after blow until both were too broken to continue.

                Selena returned to wide, uncertain eyes gazing at her, along with a bit of dull applause. It was easy to forget how potent an enchantress could really be, when she put her mind to it. This day had put the capabilities of many students into perspective, and the exam still had three students to go.

                “Camille Belden,” Dean Blaine called, the jar having come back around to him. “You’re next.”

                Camille took a deep breath, managing to push away her natural shy tendencies, and stepped forward. Though still clad in her standard grey HCP uniform, the new outfit Will had designed for her was underneath. She knew she’d have to shed the outer layer soon, but she wanted to delay that part for as long as possible.

                “Will there be a place for me to get changed down there?” Camille asked.

                “Yes, you’ll have several moments to yourself while the course is being reset,” Dean Blaine said. “Would you like to get any weaponry before you go?”

                To the surprise of nearly everyone in the room, Camille gave a quick nod and headed over to the weapons rack. She pulled off a sleeve of throwing daggers like the ones Chad had used, as well as a small knife with a sheath and belt. With those resting in her arms, she walked back over to Dean Blaine.

                “I see you’ve already guessed what I was going to tell you.” He gazed down at the diminutive girl, whose eyes showed none of the uncertainty that her body refused to entirely mask.

                “Seemed obvious, if we’re doing real life situations,” Camille said.

                The rest of the class stared at the two of them, and Dean Blaine shot her a questioning look. Camille replied with the softest tilt of her head, permission to explain the part of the trial that would apply only to her.

                “Though the Sims are all robot parts, the criminals they are portraying are not. They would be flesh and blood, and with flesh and blood comes modesty. To that effect, for Ms. Belden’s trial the Sims will be clothed in T-shirts, jeans, and footwear.”

                “Why only clothe them for hers?” Rich asked.

                “Because she is the only one for whom it matters. Just as we told you the Sims will react to your eyes and you saw them taken out by Ms. Wilkins song, they will also be affected by Ms. Belden’s touch. That touch requires specific conditions, and as with all of you we are striving to create a situation that is as realistic as possible.” Dean Blaine turned back to Camille who was waiting patiently. “If you’re ready, we can go down.”

                “I’m ready.” Camille cast one glance over to her friends as she was heading out the door. Thomas and Violet were giving her thumbs-up signs, while Jill and Will were silently smiling. The Melbrook crew was more demonstrative in their affections, Alex and Mary both clapping loudly, while Roy let out a wolf-whistle, which earned him a punch in the arm from Alice. As for Vince, he met her eyes in that brief glance, smiled widely, and mouthed three words just as she passed through the door and into the stairwell.

                She and Dean Blaine walked slowly down as he outlined the rules for her, being just as detailed and careful as he had with Will so many matches ago. Though it was undeniably repetitive, it was also a crucial part of his duty as dean. Each student’s exam was important, just as each student was important. They all deserved the best shot they could get.

                “And then you’ll go through the door. Any questions?”

                “Just one. Professor Stone told you about my new outfit, right?” Camille had taken no chances in the days leading up the exam, going so far as to have her Focus professor verify that she was still able to use her ability through the fabric of her special suit. At the time, she’d felt a bit paranoid, but as soon as she laid eyes on the robots she’d felt a huge wave of relief about the preparation.

                “She did, and we’ve accounted for it in the Sims reaction programming,” Dean Blaine said. “Any touch, even ones on your fabric, will trigger a reaction as if you’d used your ability on them. The same is obviously not true for their clothing, however.”

                “So I gathered. Thank you, that’s all I needed.” Camille walked into the door without any more discussion, taking note of the message on the screen to wait. That was fine by her, as she started the process of removing her outer uniform, revealing the blue material beneath. When that was done, she attached the throwing knives around her left bicep and slung the belt across her hips so that the dagger was resting against her right leg. This way, she hoped, even if one arm was pinned she would still be able to get to a weapon.

                When she was at last dressed down and geared up, the message telling her to wait was still there, meaning she had to sit and stew until it was go time. Her mind went back, unbidden, to that final moment leaving the room. Her friends were cheering for her sincerely, something that still amazed Camille in this environment where one person’s success meant another’s failure. The longer she thought about them, the more she was unable to keep from seeing Vince and his parting words.

                In all her time at Lander, Camille had been holding herself back. For strategy, most of the time, and partly out of fear that Vince would recognize her. This exam was the first time that she had neither excuse to use. The whole class knew about the other side of her abilities, Vince had figured out her identity, and she was going against beings there was no cause to worry about hurting. This was the first exam in her Lander career where her only viable strategy was to go all out, using her offense to its fullest. She’d only realized that earlier in the day, when the trial was announced. Evidently it had struck Vince as well, at least judging what he mouthed to her.

                She’d expected something like “Do your best” or “Believe in yourself” but neither of those were what Vince had said. Instead, he’d given the sort of encouragement that he would only show someone who fighting abilities he truly respected.

                “Kick some ass.”

                Camille hadn’t needed to be told such a thing; she’d already planned on going in and doing exactly that. It did fill her with a bit of pride and excitement though, and she held onto those feelings as the screen changed and her trial began in earnest. No more subterfuge, no more hiding. Today, Camille Belden was going to show the entire class what her powers were fully capable of.