Chapter 138

               For most of Rich’s match, it seemed his ability was going to work out exactly as he’d predicted. He walked briskly through the halls, clearing his throat when he encountered a Sim to make it look his way. Each one immediately shut down as their mechanical eyes made contact with his Super ones. As he made his way into the room with five Sims clustered, he seemed like a lock for easiest take-down since Will. Rich stepped in, saw the various opponents, and struck the ground with his staff to draw their attention.

                Rich did manage to get three of Sims with this technique; however two of them didn’t bother to look in his eyes. That was because they were targeting his center of mass. He managed to dodge the jolt of green electricity, but the blast of compressed air took him by surprise and sent him sprawling. Rich scrambled to his feet as quickly as he could, making it up just in time to see another strike of electricity coming his way. This time, he wasn’t able to get away, and he slammed into the nearby wall as his consciousness faded away. As he crumpled to the floor the Sims protocols kicked in and they retreated.

                There was no need to bother with a downed opponent.

                While Rich was taken to the infirmary after some quick on-the-spot healing to make sure he was stable, the rest of the students in the room began to turn and look at Mary. With only one slip of paper left in the jar, it didn’t take a giant leap to figure out who the next examinee would be.

                “Mary Smith,” Dean Blaine said, looking over at her. “By process of elimination, you are the last remaining student. Do you require any weaponry before we begin?”

                “No, thank you,” Mary replied. “I feel comfortable going in with just my abilities.” She gave her friends a hurried smile as she walked over to the dean. They didn’t even look slightly worried, most were eager at best. She’d been number one among the girls in the first year and number two ever since the ranks were combined, so it wasn’t as though anyone expected Mary to be easily overcome. In fact, they were expecting a hell of a good show out of her.

                “Follow me,” Dean Blaine said, leading his final student of the day down the stairwell. He laid out the rules for her as they walked, carefully covering each aspect of the trial in the same detail he’d used with the others. For her, however, there an additional addendum, the same one he’d had to give to Alex.

                “As a telepath, I’m certain you were able to dredge up the code words from the Subtlety students. The system, however, will not recognize them from you. It is keyed to only allow such entries from students enrolled in the Subtlety program.”

                “I sort of figured as much,” Mary said. “Plus that would be cheating, and I get the feeling that using any kind of tricks in this exam only really cheats me out of experience.”

                “You always have been one of the more perceptive members of your class,” Dean Blaine complimented.

                “But, that leads me to a question. People can’t use abilities that work on technology, because we’re supposed to treat these Sims like humans. That leaves me at a significant disadvantage since my ability won’t work on robots. If they really were human, I could read their minds and find their positions.” Mary wasn’t accusatory with her words, in fact she was smiling and had a bit of a gleam to her eye.

                “Mr. Griffen managed to make it work.”

                “We both know Alex and I have different abilities,” Mary said. “Just so we’re clear though, there’s nothing wrong with going outside the box?”

                “Mary, you’ve been in this program for two and half years now. If you haven’t realized that out of the box is where you should be spending most of your time, then nothing I say is going to help you.” Dean Blaine gave her a slight grin of his own. “Any more questions?”

                “No, that pretty much takes care of it.”

                “Then proceed forward, and I wish you the best of luck.”

*                             *                             *

                “Pretty sure luck isn’t going to get us out of this,” Nicholas said, jerking on the ice chain and trying to find an angle with better leverage.

                “If you have a better idea, I’d love to hear it,” Nick replied. His eyes glowed beneath the sunglasses calling up all the positive luck he could manage. As he worked, he also kept an eye on the growing ice around them. It was moving slowly, but steadily. He’d have tried to gauge how long they had left, but time was meaningless in this place.

                “Try and break these damn chains. With the two of us-”

                “With the two of us we’ll accomplish nothing,” Nick snapped. “Those things would be tough for Roy to break; you and I aren’t going to do crap.”

                Nicholas gave up struggling for a moment, pausing to reassess his best angle of attack. “Do you think she really meant it?”

                Nick needed no clarification. After her announcement that they’d failed the test, the image of Professor Stone had informed them in no uncertain terms what that meant. Even as he watched the ice grow, her words echoed in his head.

                “You will both be sealed here, as will all recovered memories from your time at Lander. A full-wipe is occurring, and when it is done it will be as if Nicholas Campbell never set foot on the Lander campus. All memories of time in the Hero Certification Program that are here will be forever sealed.”

                “I don’t think she locked us up down here with a bluff,” Nick said. “But I also don’t think it’s as cut and dry as she made it seem. If she was just going to finish the wipe she started, then why all the theatrics? No, we probably didn’t do what she wanted in the memories, but I’m pretty sure it’s not over quite yet.”

                “Then why aren’t you helping me try to break free?”

                “Why should we double down on the same method? There are two of us but we’re nearly identical in most ways. Odds are slim one of us will figure out a trick the other doesn’t, so it makes more sense to try different tactics.”

                “You don’t even know if you’re really using our powers,” Nicholas pointed out. “We’re in a dream. It’s possible that the real body isn’t calling up any luck at all.”

                “I know,” Nick said.

                “Then why are you still bothering to try?”

                “Come on, since when have we minded taking a long-shot?” Nick ran his fingers through his hair as he fought back the growing headache from constant power-use. Even if he was actually doing nothing, he still refused to let himself give up. Nick Campbell might go down, but it would not be softly or gently. He’d go down fighting until the end. It was what any of the others would have done.

                “Even if it’s working, how is luck going to pull us out of this?”

                “I haven’t the foggiest of ideas,” Nick admitted. “But we’ve never been able to control the luck beyond deciding if it’s good or bad. Just because I don’t see a way doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”

                “When did you get so stupidly optimistic?”

                Nick smiled and continued his work. His doppelganger didn’t know it, but he’d just paid Nick an oddly endearing compliment.