Chapter 205

                In defiance of the adrenaline coursing through his veins, Vince forced himself to stay calm. Tempting as it was to go tearing off through the fake-city, scouring every inch of it for his target, that sort of action would only feel good, it wouldn’t be the best use of his time. He had to work smart, and the first step was to take stock of his surroundings and tools.

                The randomized drop-off system had put him in an alleyway he was unfamiliar with, although whether that meant this was a new course or he was simply in a strange part of an old one remained to be seen. All he had was a communicator in his ear to coordinate with the others, a sturdy-looking digital-watch, and a rough idea of what the target could do. While they’d been given time to grab some of their weapons and equipment before entering the battlefield, Vince made do with the standard materials since he didn’t use any special tools or tech. Just those meager resources, and an entire city to search within ten minutes. The whole thing had a very “needle in a haystack” vibe to it, but Vince couldn’t see how it would be any easier if they were taking on the task in real life.

                A slight scuff of feet came from behind Vince, who whirled around to find that someone else had been jogging up to his location. “Chad?”

                “I am indeed. Glad to see you, Vince.” Chad stepped out of the shadows, appearing as calm as always despite the high stakes situation they were in. “I’m surprised you’re still here. Action tends to be your first recourse.”

                “Yeah, but I can’t start punching someone until I know how to find them, so I was trying to come up with ideas.” Vince wondered if this was really coincidence or not. The son of Globe and the son of Intra being dropped off so near each other for what was, apparently, the year’s most intense exam. It smelled like the sort of situation cooked up to put people at ease with his connection to a famous villain.

                “Smart. Forgive me for overstepping if this is the case, but can’t you sense energy? Dean Blaine indicated that the chain reaction would be building for ten minutes, so I have to imagine it will be putting out enough power to track,” Chad suggested.

                That was a good idea. Pity it wouldn’t work. “I have to know what I’m sensing to find it. I can do fire, electricity, and kinetic because I’ve gotten familiar with all of them. Never had occasion to take in nuclear power, and given that I was a Powered most of my life that’s probably a good thing.”

                 “I see. Just as well, I can only assume they’re using some sort of faux-nuclear power anyway, hardly seems worth the risk to use the real stuff just for authenticity. That means our best tracking options are myself and Amber.” Chad reached up to his ear and turned on his communicator, which reminded Vince he needed to do the same. As it turned out, they weren’t the first to have this idea, as they entered a conversation mid-sentence.

                “-to the east. The only downside is that running all those drones is going to leave me highly vulnerable, so I need some defense until the search is complete.” The voice, to Vince’s surprise, belonged to Will. He wasn’t usually one to speak up a lot during these tests, which must mean he’d felt he had something serious to contribute.

                “Hey guys, Vince and Chad here just hopping on,” Vince said. “Did we miss something?”

                “I’ll say you did. Will brought a new toy along for this trip, one that might end up saving our collective ass,” Violet informed him.

                “After we had the test with the help of that woman calling herself Dispatch, I was inspired by how much easier things were when the team had access to active information. So, I created a fleet of small, airborne surveillance drones. Didn’t expect I’d have a chance to test them so soon though.” Will was doing a masterful job of hiding what had to be annoyance at using their precious time to re-explain the plan. “They have a myriad of camera functions, meaning they’ll be able to map the battlefield, including building interiors, as they explore it. And if someone is pooling enough energy for a nuclear chain reaction, I should be able to see it. I need a line of defense around me to coordinate them though, then I can guide the rest of you. I’m near a supermarket on Baker Street on the east side of the city.”

                Vince glanced to Chad. “We could get across the city fast, and I’m sure we could hold the line if needed.”

                “You, perhaps, although your powers are better suited to self-defense than protecting someone else. As for me, I’m a poor fit for that job. Infiltration and assassination are among my best skills, so I’d serve the team best by joining the offense. Give it a few seconds. We have a strong team, the right people will take up the right jobs.”

                Just as Chad finished speaking, the comms crackled to life once more and Shane’s voice came through them. “Will, I’ll be your front line of protection. I’m near the east side and can be there soon. We need someone to defend against ranged strikes though, anything from an enemy too far out for me to hit.”

                “If there’s ever going to be a cue for me, I’d say that’s it,” Thomas volunteered. “I’ll join Shane and Will.”

                “Perfect. The rest of you, start moving.” Will didn’t slow down, passing out new orders as soon as the last situation was resolved. “Based on previous fights they’ll have put us all on the outskirts of the city and the action will be toward the center. You need to be somewhere you can move once I start piling up information. Alice, you’re the most mobile member of the group, who do you have with you?”

                “Me, Violet, and Amber all got dumped off at the same place,” Alice’s voice replied. “So we’ve got the makings of one hell of an offense.”

                “Excellent. And Vince, where are you?” Will asked.

                “Me?” Vince was taken off-guard, eyes sweeping his surroundings for some sort of context. “I’m with Chad down a small alley. There’s a museum across the street, if that helps.”

                “I’ll find you once the cameras are up.” Will hesitated for a moment, Vince could almost hear him taking a breath and mulling things over from across the comms. “Vince, if time gets low and the situation turns dire, you are the most immediately destructive member of our class. I may have to call upon you to unleash a significant amount of energy against our target, ignoring everything else around him. Can I count on you for that, or should I conceive of another contingency plan?”

                Saying yes felt like it should be easy. They were all robots, after all. But while that was true today, it wouldn’t be in the future, when he was in this situation for real. Would he be able to do it then? Would he be able to kill innocent people to save the world as a whole? Truthfully, Vince didn’t know. He wouldn’t, not truly, until he was in that moment, faced with that choice. Still, this was probably as good a dry run as he’d ever get.

                “Count on me, Will. I’ll make it happen if I’m needed. Let’s just try not to get to that point.”

                Chad’s hand fell lightly on his shoulder, and Vince glanced over to see a rare smirk on his face. “See, I told you the right people would step up for the right jobs.”