Chapter 173

                Vince was on his way toward Alice when he felt a strong hand grab his shoulder. He turned to find Roy looking at him, a stern expression on his normally cheerful face.

                “Where do you think you’re going?”

                “Over to the side.” Vince tilted his head in the direction of Alice, in case Roy hadn’t taken the meaning.

                “Oh hell no. You think you can beat the shit out of me like that and then just walk away from the big show? Vince, if nothing else you proved during that trial that you’re one of our top fighters, someone not to be fucked with lightly. You belong on that line, next to me, up for consideration.”

                Vince glanced over to where Shane, Amber, and Thomas were already grouped up. “My power is dangerous, Roy. Probably not the best for sparring.”

                “Ain’t that why you spent all winter working on control?” Roy released his grip on Vince’s shoulder and put his hand down. “Listen, whatever is waiting for us out there, it’s not going to be easier that anything we face in here. You want to wait until the stakes are real, or do you want to use every last training and practice opportunity the HCP provides? You were careful in our fight; I think you can handle this. But it ain’t my place to force you if you don’t believe that.”

                Roy headed over to the line, falling in next to Thomas. A few seconds later, Vince came over and stood next to him, leaning in to whisper a brief “Thanks” before everyone had settled into place. It was only after Vince arrived that Roy noticed Violet was on the other side, instead of in the line. That was unexpected, she tended to throw herself into any fight she could. Then again, she was also more pragmatic than people gave her credit for. Perhaps she was too aware of her own rank and record when weighed against the people already in line.

                “Anyone else?” Alice asked, stepping out again. With virtually no effort, she’d slipped into the leadership role; the woman had a talent for dealing with people. A talent that her Subtlety training was clearly improving upon. “Selena, your songs are powerful, you sure you want to be here? Adam, no one you want to mimic? Violet?”

                All of them shook their heads, though Violet spoke up to add “I’m proud of what I can do, but that doesn’t mean I’m blinded by pride. This is about putting forth our best, and I’m not one of those. Yet.”

                “A fair, if perhaps debatable as someone who’s fought you, point.” Alice smiled briefly at Violet before turning her attention to everyone else clustered nearby. “That means up for Intramurals we have Amber, Shane, Thomas, Roy, and Vince. It’s been over three years fighting each other, so I doubt we need to rehash what everyone is capable of. Let’s make this a discussion instead. Who has a person they really think should be in Intramurals, and why?”

                “Amber’s got power and versatility,” Britney said. “She can handle herself against nearly any opponent, be they ranged or melee, with or without enhanced endurance. Since we’re sending our class against mystery opponents, I say it makes sense to pick the people who can deal with the greatest number of threats, and Amber definitely falls into that category.”

                It was a strong argument, tempered somewhat by everyone’s knowledge that the two women were best friends. Amber was strong, no one could deny that much, however she hadn’t always shown the sharpest judgement during trials. Among them all, she’d racked up more accidental Sim kills than anyone else, and while that was somewhat expected due to the destructive nature of her power, it was still a factor that sat heavily on their minds when they thought about sending her against another person.

                “I don’t know if it is proper for me to speak, having already been nominated, however if we are discussing Lander’s representation then I feel it pertinent to voice myself on Shane’s behalf.” All eyes turned to Chad, despite his tone being even and balanced as always. “While you all spoke of your constant experiences losing to me, very few of you have ever scored a victory over Shane. His ability is not one with a lot of flash that draws attention to itself, but he is one of the soundest, most dedicated fighters I have ever known. Were I not in this class, I believe he would have occupied the top position instead. Now, he and I are also good friends, so you may feel free to take that into consideration with my argument, but here me well on this: friendship or not, I would never recommend someone who I felt would bring embarrassment upon this school.”

                Little was said in response to that, a few whispers here and there. Still, as the eyes turned back to the Intramural candidates, it was plain to all of them that the number of slots open had just shrunk by one. When Chad spoke, especially on the subjects of fighting and Lander, people tended to listen.

                “Thomas is a tough son of a bitch himself,” Violet tossed out. “And if you haven’t fought him lately, trust me, that energy of his is pretty damn dangerous.” It was a noble effort, clearly motivated by friendship, but the resigned look on Thomas’s face made it plain that he’d known his chances from the beginning. The odds of victory were slim, yet he’d pressed on regardless, because that was the sort of man he was. It might make him a great Hero one day; however it didn’t change his position in terms of combat-ranking in the class.

                “And that leaves us with Vince and Roy,” Alice said. With Mary and Nick out of the program, she was the only one of the original core five who could speak on their behalf. “We’ve all seen the kind of damage Roy can take, to say nothing of what he can dish out. I pity the poor bastard put in a combat cell against him, they’d have an easier time knocking out a mountain. As for Vince… what do I even say? He’s got a great power that’s only increased over the years, his martial skills are top notch, and, above all the rest, he’s determined. I think we’ll see the sun burn out before we see the day when Vince Reynolds gives up on a fight.”

                She paused, looking back at the crowd, waiting to see who else would speak. No one took the opportunity. There wasn’t much to say, in the end. They knew these five well, they’d traded blows with them, trusted them, fought alongside and against them. The words were just that, words. In their bones, the class knew who they feared and respected, who they believed would show the best Lander could offer on the stage of Intramurals. After several moments of silence, Alice resumed.

                “Unless I’m reading the room wrong, I think we have one we can knock out early. Everyone in favor of Shane DeSoto taking one of the spots?”

                As with Chad before him, every student hand went up to approve of Shane, save of course for those standing next to him on the line. Alice took a brief scan, then looked to Shane. “I think you can come over here now, that’s more than enough to get you in.”

                “And now you are down to your final spot.” Dean Blaine had been silent through the discussion, allowing his students to reach their own conclusions. He fell silent after the announcement, content to wait on the sidelines and watch as it all unfolded.

                “Last spot,” Alice echoed. “This is our bonus position, the one nobody else is going to have. I’ll go through the names, put your hand up for the person you think should get it. The Super who you believe in your heart that, when the chips are down, could show up and turn everything around. Vote for the one who can give us a win in the clutch, because that’s what they may have to do.”

                One by one, Alice cycled through the names. Amber got a couple of votes, though from her sour expression it was clear she’d expected more. Thomas got only one, and he looked at Violet with plain gratitude for it. Roy and Vince turned out to be the split. It was close, very close really, but in the end, one of them triumphed by a single vote’s margin.

                “And our last competitor for Intramurals will be… Vince Reynolds.”