Chapter 188

              The first bolt to come at Thomas’s head wasn’t from Vince, much to the surprise of many of the onlookers. That honor went to Jill Murray, who fired off a shot from a device on her forearm as soon as Professor Fletcher started the match. While it might have been unexpected to those watching, Thomas knew his housemate far too well to underestimate her. He dodged to the side, simultaneously wrapping himself in the bright orange energy that his body exuded. While his armor wouldn’t stop more powerful blows, it would be enough to handle minor attacks like that. As soon as he regained his footing, Thomas took stock of the ring.

                Jill’s forearm blaster had retracted, now her hands were beginning to crackle with a white glow. That was a new one for Thomas, and he had no desire to see what this trick did. Vince had his arms out and seemed to be taking aim, which meant Thomas could expect either fire or lightning coming at him in seconds. Adam was on the defensive, clearly waiting until he either had the chance to grab Thomas and mimic him or chose one of his teammates to emulate. Violet was… nowhere to be seen, Thomas suddenly realized. With a confined space to work in, that only left one option for her location, and Thomas didn’t bother looking to confirm it. He darted forward, moving the energy encasing his body far more quickly than his legs would have been able to manage.

                As fast as he was, Thomas still felt the wave of force and the debris hit him in the back. He already knew what trick Violet had used; hell, he’d helped her train it on a few occasions. She’d made herself feather light, leapt up into the air, then rapidly increased her density until she came smashing down with several tons of force. It was a hell of surprise technique, and it had very nearly taken him down.

                Since he was already running, Thomas decided not to waste a perfectly good opportunity. Altering his course slightly, he veered toward Adam, whose eyes went wide at the realization that Thomas’s defensive move had just become an offensive one. He tried to backpedal, but the choice to try and mimic his target quickly backfired as he found himself with nothing at his disposal aside from human strength and reflexes. Adam made a valiant effort, but Thomas extended several orange tendrils, grabbing his opponent and tossing him through the air. Knocking Adam out of the circle wouldn’t eliminate him, he was only disqualified if he left on his own, but the force of the impact would likely make it a moot point.

                Searing pain brought Thomas’s attention back to the other three, one of whom still had tiny spark of electricity dancing across his hands. Vince had hit him with a strong jolt, enough to pierce the energy armor and still do damage, but Thomas was under no illusions that such attack were the limits of Vince’s power. He was testing Thomas, seeing how much he could take then ratcheting up the amperage. The next attack might very well be enough to stun him, which meant Thomas had to try and make sure another didn’t come.

                His train of thought was derailed by a flurry of attempted strikes by Jill. Her hands were still crackling with the white glow, and as Thomas ducked and dodged he realized that the longer this frantic scramble went on the easier of a target he became for the others. He couldn’t risk punching back, not without knowing what effect those glowing hands might have when she blocked with them, but he also couldn’t keep shuffling around. A rogue, wild idea entered his head, and beneath the bright orange glow masking his face, Thomas smiled. In all the training, and fear, and effort, he’d nearly forgotten the exhilaration of battle; of finding solutions in a moment that years of thinking would never bring to mind.

                From Thomas’s torso, a massive hand extended out of his energy armor, bright orange and big enough to palm a person. It grabbed Jill around her own midsection, taking her completely by surprise. True to training, she tried to refocus her attack, but the moment of confusion had given Thomas the chance he needed to grab her forearms with his hands. For a moment, it seemed they were locked in a stalemate. Then the crunching of electronics filled the air as Thomas’s stomach hand tightened, crushing Jill’s suit and the hardware contained within. He stopped as soon he saw sparks and smoke flying, then tossed her away for good measure.

                Violet slammed into him with what felt like the force of a large truck, sending Thomas hurtling to the ground. Rather than letting himself land, Thomas kept on rolling, willing the armor to move even as his own body was too slow. It was a good call, too, as he could see bright bolts of electricity striking the area he had been only moments before. They didn’t let up and he kept moving; Vince was raining lighting down like an angry Zeus. Of the two remaining opponents, he was the bigger threat. He could use range, but if Thomas tried he’d get his power drained.

                To his surprise, Thomas realized that this thought, while scary, didn’t cause his mind to freeze up. It was just a fact, the same as the knowledge that he’d be taken out if Violet landed one of the drop blows on him. Certainly it would be painful and unpleasant, but Thomas wasn’t losing control at the idea of it. His smile grew wide and wild. At long last, he was truly back in the fight. Thomas could think of no better way to celebrate than by achieving victory.

                Violet charged again, coming from the other direction as Vince’s electrical strikes. With a moment of sudden clarity, Thomas knew how he could attack Vince. Waiting until his house mate was only a few feet away, Thomas struck. A hand shaped tendril of orange energy as thick a tree trunk surged outward, grabbed Violet by the shoulder, and tossed her into the air. It took everything Thomas had to keep her suspended, she weighed so much it felt like he was trying to lift the ground beneath his feet, but he refused to let go. As her mid-air arc came to an end, Thomas took careful aim, and finally released. All in all it was an unconventional toss, but it had sent the ultra-dense girl careening through the air.

                Careening… directly into Vince Reynolds. Vince’s eyes went wide as he saw his temporary teammate on a crash course with him. Without time to dodge, Vince merely held up his hands. Violet hit his palms and abruptly stopped, dropping the ground at his feet with a mighty crash. Vince let out a deep breath, no doubt thankful that he’d managed to absorb the kinetic energy. It was in that brief moment of relief that Thomas struck, slamming a powerful blow into Vince’s leg. The snap echoed through the concrete room as Vince dropped, grabbing his shattered shin in pain.

                Thomas paused for a moment to re-assess the situation. Violet was getting up, ready for another go, but Adam, Jill, and Vince were down for the count. In a purely physical fight, he had the advantage, which meant he had it in the bag. Thomas was thinking exactly that thought when a hand glowing with crackling white energy slammed into the base of his head, piercing his energy armor and knocking him out instantly.

                “Just ‘cause the suit is down, doesn’t mean I am,” Jill muttered. The light faded from her hands as the last of her backup power ran dry.

                “Thomas Castillo was taken down in five minutes, eleven seconds,” Professor Fletcher announced. It was too bad, if not for underestimating one opponent Thomas likely would have managed to pull out a victory. Still, as he watched the orange energy fade from the tan young man’s body and caught sight of the smile lingering on his unconscious face, Professor Fletcher had a feeling that no one, least of all Thomas, would count this fight as a loss.