Chapter 206

                There was value in non-violence. Some of Shane’s classmates would have understood that easily, others might have struggled with the concept, but for him it was an ingrained lesson that had been taught since his powers first manifested. He had to absorb that teaching; otherwise he would have turned into a monster. Shane didn’t have a power like Angela’s; versatile and multi-functional, allowing her to fill various roles in a team dynamic. His ability was only good for one thing: cutting. Killing, if he were being truthful with himself. Injuring people with it was a much harder challenge, and the reason he trained as hard as he did. To wound without taking a life demanded exceptional knowledge and control. But killing… killing was easy. So ridiculously easy that it could have become Shane’s instinctual reaction without his grandfather’s guidance.

                Thankfully, Shane knew the value in holding back, in not striking just because a target presented itself. That was why he was able to sneak across the city, avoiding the gangs of Sims roaming the streets who were lighting things on fire and otherwise causing destruction. True, it would have been easy to gut each one as he encountered them, lowering the amount of overall enemies for the others to deal with, but in doing so Shane would have left a trail of corpses to Will’s location. Better to hold back and preserve whatever seclusion Will had managed to find. Something tickled in Shane’s brain, a nugget of intuition that guard duty wouldn’t be an easy task, and the less attention he drew on his way over the better off they’d be.

                The city was, mercifully, a layout they’d fought in before, so it didn’t take long, maybe two minutes tops, for Shane to sneak and sprint his way to Will’s location. Those two minutes still felt like an eternity, representing twenty percent of their total time to stop Armageddon. Shane was glad to see that he wasn’t the first there, at least. Thomas was already present, he and Will had tucked themselves into a back alley surrounded by buildings and Thomas was in the process of throwing a dome over them. It was good thinking, the single point of entry into the alley would minimize the Sims’ numbers advantage. Of course, that assumed there wouldn’t be a Sim capable of smashing in through the rear, but they’d cross that bridge when they came to it.

                Will was hunched over what looked like an old, eighties era desktop, except with all manner of wires and new electronics sticking out. Overhead, Shane could just make out a small device lifting higher into the air, presumably one of Will’s drones. Although his grandfather had never been especially fond of the idea of Subtlety Heroes, feeling that such work was best left to non-Heroes, Shane had gained a deep appreciation for them in his time at Lander. They often came through with unexpectedly useful tools or creative solutions, enough that Shane knew when he ran his own team there would be a place for a Subtlety Hero on it. Maybe even Will, if he was interested. Heaven knew the man had demonstrated his value time and time again.

                “How are we looking?” Shane asked. It was part genuine question, part necessary call to make sure they didn’t attack him as he approached. Thomas paused lowering his dome to let Shane through, but Shane waved him off. He needed to be out here, to see and feel everything, if he was going to be a useful defender.

                “I’ve found a few buildings pumping out abnormal amounts of power; however those could be ‘Supers’ with abilities that condense energy inside themselves. There are more than enough Sims on the streets to allow for that possibility. I think our situation is one where people have accepted the approaching end and gone into full-blown riot mode. Getting around the main areas of the city will require exceptional stealth or a high body count.” Will paused, clacking away on his computer a few times before the orange dome lowered and he vanished from view. When Shane heard him next, it was over the comms. “Alice, I can see you, Amber, and Violet on that rooftop. We’ve got a potential target to the northwest, a red office building on 24th. Head that way and I’ll give you more directions as you get close. Vince and Chad, there’s a high-energy source in that museum you mentioned. Check it out for me. Roy, Alex, and Camille, it looks like you’re all to the south. Head down your street to the right and stop at the trailer park, I’ve got someone in there building up loads of power. Let’s see, the next group… well shit, that didn’t take as long as I hoped. Looks like one of the Sims can either track signals or spotted my drones flying up.”

                Shane didn’t grow tense or anxious; he’d been ready for this since the moment he was dropped into the trial. “How many, Will?”

                “From what I can see, at least five on this first push. They’re moving as a unit, and should be coming around the alley’s corner in twenty seconds. Do you need Thomas for backup?”

                “Thomas is fine where he is. I volunteered for this job because I can handle it. You just worry about coordinating with everyone else. The clock is ticking,” Shane reminded him.

                He’d never told anyone, but Shane could feel it when the sclera of his eyes turned black. It came with the rest of his senses warping as he reached into the shadows and filled them with life, and danger. There was no way to adequately explain what it felt like for part of him to be in those shadows, no existing sense captured the experience, although touch came the closest. Shane felt his sense expand nonetheless as he readied for the impending squad of Sims to try and surprise him. Part of him, a part he wasn’t especially fond of, drifted back to the night in May, when he’d hesitated and nearly died for his mistake. That was the trouble with a power like his, when not using it to the full capability was his default it caused Shane to waver in critical moments. His near-death in May had been a lesson, one Shane knew needed to be taken to heart. If he wasn’t willing to kill when the situation demanded it, then someone with his power would never be a useful Hero. Angela wasn’t here this time; instead it was just Will and Thomas counting on him to hold the line. Failure tonight meant the failure of everyone on the team, and the death of the world if the stakes had been real.

                The Sims moved quietly, albeit not quietly enough to avoid giving Shane a few moments of advanced notice. They darted around the corner, each with fists raised or attacks charged, ready to drop whatever resistance they found. Instead, none of them made it further than three feet into the alley. That was how far in the largest chunk of Sim clattered to the ground. The entrance of the alley was a mess of circuits, metal, and sparks. It looked like someone had dropped five robots through a blender, which wasn’t all too far off from what had happened. Inky, dark, blades slithered back into the shadows, waiting for their next chance to strike.

                “First wave is suppressed,” Shane reported. “Let me know when the next poor group of bastards are heading this way.” There was indeed value in non-violence; Shane would never stop believing that. However, that didn’t mean utter decimation didn’t have its own usefulness as well.