Chapter 113

                Vince felt like he was being quartered as the options yanked him in all directions. His initial reaction was that of course he’d work with a team, together he and his friends could accomplish more than on their own. But right on the heels of that thought was the reminder that if he worked with his allies, he’d ultimately have to fight them, whereas that task might fall to someone else if he went solo. Not to mention, was fighting a professor really the best idea? A three-person team could earn two-points each if they managed to win, but that was a gigantic “if”. Then again, with six teachers in the labyrinth they accounted for thirty-six potential points, more than double what could be gained by wiping out the rest of the class single-handedly. That was a lot of points to walk away from without consideration.

                Rubbing his temples to fight back a headache, Vince wished Nick was here. He’d always been the one they leaned on for this stuff, and he’d have seen the optimal path in seconds. But Nick was gone, and even if he were around he’d have been a competitor. That was probably why the test was set-up like this: to force every student to reach the conclusion that was right for them.

                “Elephant in the room,” Alice said, gathering the rest of Melbrook, along with Shane, Camille, and Alex, together. “Do we take on professors or fight one another? And if anyone wants to do the first, who are they teaming with?”

                “I’m going to challenge the professors.” There wasn’t even a sliver of hesitation in Chad’s voice, if anything he almost seemed excited. Well, as excited as Chad got, anyway. “Some of them, at least, I think we might be able to overpower. If they are willing, I would like to take Shane and Alex with me when we’re dropped off.”

                There was a long stretch of silence before Alex’s eyes went wide and he looked over to Chad. “Wait, me? Are you sure you don’t want Mary?”

                “Mary has more raw power than you; however, between Shane and myself we are not short on offense. Fine control will more greatly add to our capabilities, and there are some strategies I have in mind that can only be accomplished with your help.” Chad paused for a moment, his eyes dipping slightly. “However, I would be remiss not to point out that joining our trio means that in the best case scenario, the three of us will be forced to turn on one another at the end. I can understand if you’d prefer a more advantageous match-up.”

                “No, I think I’ll take you up on the offer,” Alex said. “If nothing else, I have a hunch this will be a show worth seeing.”

                “That’s one trio off the table. The rest of you, think fast, we haven’t got very long.” Alice glanced over at Dean Blaine, making sure they weren’t being rounded up yet. “Personally, I’m going to take the solo route. In tightly confined spaces it’s a real pain to only turn up the gravity on enemies without hitting allies, so I think I’m better off working on my own.”

                With a quick look around, Vince realized that left he, Mary, Roy, and Camille unaccounted for. Enough to pair up one more group to be dropped off together, if they wanted to team-up, but inherently leaving one person out.

                “I’m going to work by myself too.” Though the voice was raised to ensure it was heard, there was no mistaking the fact that it had come from Camille, who seemed to be physically braced for people to disagree. It didn’t take long before Roy proved her right.

                “Are you sure about that? With you on a team-”

                “With me on a team, you gain almost nothing,” Camille interrupted. “Dean Blaine laid it out clearly: once someone is eliminated, that’s it. Healing doesn’t help, you’re already done. That takes my support capabilities down to patching people up between bouts, which I wouldn’t do because you being hurt helps me when we have to deal with one another. Yes, I have offense, but an offense that will work much better in dark corridors than it would in a lighted room with a professor keeping an eye on me. This is my best shot at winning.”

                So far as Vince could see, it was a well-considered strategy that was impossible to argue with. As much as he preferred to have her around, Camille did need to be capable on her own, and this was an excellent opportunity to prove that she was. One touch and she could take down almost anyone in the class. The more Vince thought about it, the more he hoped they wouldn’t run into one another until the end. If she got the drop on him, Vince would be down for the count.

                “That just leaves you three.” Alice nodded to Roy, Mary, and Vince, then jerked her head back in the direction of Dean Blaine. “Better decide fast if you want to team up or join the solo fray.”

                “To be honest, I see merit in both strategies, so I’ll defer to you two,” Mary told them. “I can easily work either way.”

                Roy took a little longer responding, brow furrowed as he visibly mulled his options over. “It seems to me the smartest move we could make would be to avoid the professors entirely and just have everyone fight it out amongst the students. But since that’s obviously not happening, I think our scores will hit an early ceiling if we avoid dealing with the teachers. Then again, the professors are probably going to win most of their fights, so that’s less competition, and also less points to grab. As far as I can figure, it’s sort of a wash either way. But the truth is, I don’t really care about any of that stuff. I want to fight a professor. I want to test myself, push my limits, and see where I stack up against living legends. Even if I know deep down that we probably can’t win, I still want to try. Of course, this demands one hell of a trio, so we need Vince on board as well.”

                With that, all eyes turned to Vince and he was stuck in the very predicament he’d hoped to avoid. The final decision of whether to hunt other students or take on the professors fell to him. Since all hope of puzzling out the best strategy had abandoned him, Vince decided to take a cue from the others and simply figure out what he really wanted to get out of this trial. Points, obviously, since he was still battling for a graduation spot, but there was half a year left after this to prove he deserved to be a Hero. This was a unique situation, one he might never be handed again. The chance to test his mettle against the professors who trained them, who were some of the mightiest Heroes he was likely to ever encounter. To meet them head-on, and see if he had what it took to stay standing.

                “Chad, you’ve always got a good sense of this stuff. Is there any chance we can actually win against our teachers?” Vince asked.

                “On our own, no, the odds are so small they’re negligible. But working together, with good cooperation and teamwork, three of us might be able to defeat one of them. It won’t be easy, mind you, and the odds are still well in our professors’ favor.”

                “We’ve got a chance though. That’s good enough for me.” Vince looked to Roy and Mary, unable to keep the nervous half-grin from forming on his face. “Let’s go take on some real Heroes.”