Chapter 136

               It didn’t take a brilliant mind to figure out that if there were only three Sims in the halls then there had to be six waiting in the central room, even Vince could have done it. Camille possessed more than enough intelligence to make that deduction, and as she surveyed the familiar hallway for the third time she arrived at that inescapable conclusion. She’d actually found the entrance to the main room already, but rather than going in she’d double-checked all the hallways first. Once the brawl began, her worst enemy was a Sim attacking from a distance. Plus, deep in her heart, she’d been hoping to encounter at least one more so that her cluster number would be five. That hope was slowly wasted away as hall after hall met her with felled opponents and empty space. In the end, there was no denying it: she was going up against six Sims simultaneously.

                By her count, four would be yellow-light Sims and two would be red-light. Since her ability could harmlessly take down any of these opponents without registering a kill, that meant the lights would only affect her prioritization of targets. She pulled the dagger into her left hand and took a throwing knife in her right. The reds had to go first. If she could manage that, she should at least be able to post a decent score.

                Camille crept up to the room’s entrance and peeked around the corner. The Sims were spread out, but not overly so. There was a small group of three not too far from the door, one red and two yellows. If she could get to them first, taking out half the threats in the room, it would make handling the rest far easier. The trick would be to close the gap. Her same bluff wouldn’t work, they’d all dodge in different directions, making them harder to hit. No, for this one she was going to have to lean on a classic.

                Clutching the throwing knife loosely in her hand, Camille leaned through the doorway and whipped it across the room. It landed in the far corner, pinging off the wall and making a modest ruckus. The Sims eyes all instinctively turned toward the sound and Camille took off, running toward the group and quickly as she could. As she sprinted, it occurred to her for the first time why running seemed to be such a sizable fundamental of the HCP regime. In each of their exams, every student ended up doing a hell of a lot of it. She was grateful for all that training as her legs pumped, speeding her across the rough concrete floor. Camille was a flurry of bare-footsteps and whipping short hair. She was as fast as she could hope to be.

                She just wasn’t fast enough.

                As she neared the group, the red-light Sim turned around and noticed her. If it had struck visibly then she might have had time to dodge it. Unfortunately, this one replicated the abilities of an earth elementalist, and it activated remote machines beneath her feet. The concrete shattered as she was flung skyward, a large chunk of rock jutting up from where she’d been standing. Camille came down hard, fracturing her hip bone so badly it nearly took away her breath. Before she could recover, the red-light Sims was staring down at her, large robotic hands raised high overhead as it prepared to crush her delicate body. The knife was gone, sent careening into who-knew-where when she was tripped, and the Sim had on thick boots and dark pants. Without any way to touch its outer shell, she was as helpless as a human.

*             *             *

                “Get out of there lil girl,” Roy said, fists clenched tight as he stared at the screen. “Roll, jump, do something.”

                “They won’t actually let that thing hurt her, right?” Alice asked.

                “Terrance got beaten half-senseless before they called his exam,” Mary reminded her. “They want to give us the chance to recover before they say we’re out.”

                “She’s going to be fine.” Vince was watching the screen so intently he may as well have been trying to light it on fire. “Camille can do this. I know she can.”

                He’d barely gotten the words out when the Sim finally struck, bringing down a pair of hands so large that when they hit Camille they obscured her completely. There was a THUD, a muffled scream, and then silence.

*             *             *

                Broken sternum. Bruised spine. Ribs too shattered to account for. Hip was still fractured. God only knew what kind of damage to her organs. The pain, oh fucking hell, the pain. She nearly blacked out, then had to push down the blood-filled vomit that was clawing its way up her throat. Camille was a crushed, broken, bloody mess.

                But she was smiling.

                Her red-toothed grin came not from any sort of sadomasochism, but because she’d managed to grab that big, dumb, powerful red-light Sim’s fist with her hand when it came down. It’s bare, unclothed hand. She didn’t have long until the other Sims realized something was wrong, and she needed to be back in fighting shape. Beneath the unexpected protection and concealment of its massive metallic hands, Camille began absorbing the damage out of her body, and into whatever strange space her ability kept it in. There wasn’t nearly enough time for complete recovery, but the bones reformed as if they’d never been pulverized and her organs slid back into their proper places.

                Around her, she heard the soft scuff of feet moving toward her. The others were coming to see what had happened. That was an unexpected to bonus, a silver-lining to the cloud of horror she’d just suffered. For the briefest of moments her head swam, and suddenly she felt like she was eight years old curled up on the ground again. She was small, she was scared, and she was surrounded, but she wouldn’t let today end like all those days of her childhood. Now, things were different; she understood that some evil won’t back down until it’s stood up too. And this time she wasn’t waiting for some mysterious young boy to come along and save her. This time, Camille would be the one standing up.

                The sounds of movement finally came to a stop, and Camille struck.

                In one motion Camille rolled out from under the frozen fist, pushed off with her arms putting her into a runner’s stance, and vaulted up from the ground at the nearest Sim she could see. It was a yellow-light, one that clearly hadn’t been expecting a downed opponent to suddenly jump at it. Arms raised in defense, beautiful bare metallic arms that Camille grabbed onto as if she were snatching a life-raft while stuck at sea. The Sim immediately powered down, and Camille realized there was another right by it. Without pausing to think, and still hanging off the first Sims’s arms, she delivered a quick kick directly to its temple. Only as it was powering down did Camille realize that this one had been letting off the glow of a red-light.

                She dropped to the ground, spinning on her heel and facing down the remaining three yellow-light Sims. For the first time since she was under the large Sims fists, she allowed herself to breath. This fight was far from over, but three yellows was a damn sight better than six total.

                “Alright boys, who’s up for a little tag?”