“Disengage from the Sim fight” was easier said than done. There had been twenty of the damn things, and even after several minutes of fighting Vince and Chad had only halved that. They could have gone faster if they were killing indiscriminately, however since they’d thought their job was to delay both had stuck to non-lethal options. Now, suddenly the fate of the world was back in play, and it was on them to deal with. Partly because they were the closest, but also because it had been their mistake that kept the world in danger. If they’d gone for the kill then this whole thing would have been over with time to spare. Maybe there was a lesson in that, although it wasn’t one Vince felt like dwelling on in the moment.
Not while there was work left to be done.
“Do we run?” Vince yelled over to Chad, who was sliding his bone blades into the pseudo-spine of another Sim.
“They’d chase us, and that would only make the battle we’re running toward harder. Do you have enough electricity to stun all of them? That could buy us enough time to get away.”
Vince would have felt more comfortable if he’d had a little extra juice on hand, but they didn’t really have the time to talk over every option. Better to just try and then figure out something else if it failed. Backing up to get as many targets in sight as possible, Vince took a careful breath, charging up his electricity as fast as he could, and then let fly a torrent of bolts. Using a scatter-shot wasn’t as precise as aiming, it was more akin to what his power did before he learned to control it, but the upside was that he could hit a larger amount of enemies at once. The air crackled as bright blue light seared through it, some bolts hitting only the ground but most smashing into a Sim.
He didn’t get all of them, these units were better than some of the older models they’d fought, but at least seven of the remaining ten fell to the ground, momentarily stunned. Before Vince could speak, Chad had darted over behind one of the three still standing and cleaved its head from its torso. The man was a blur, tearing through the last three Sims like a whirlwind of bone and death. When Chad stopped worrying about striking with mercy, he was a whole other level of terrifying.
“Let’s go,” Chad called as the last Sim’s head crashed to the ground. Go they did, sprinting away from the Sims, some still recovering while others were permanently swept off the battlefield. “Will, do you have a destination for us?”
“Not yet, our target is being moved around,” Will replied. “Just head east for now, and I’ll give you more precise directions when you get closer.”
“How are you holding up over there?” Vince asked. He couldn’t imagine how they’d have done this without Will, and he dearly hoped Shane and Thomas were keeping the team’s most important asset safe.
“We’re fine. Things are little bumpy, but I’ll be here to guide you until the end.”
* * *
While not traditionally a fan of lying, Thomas could see the value in Will’s falsehood. The others had enough on their plate; they didn’t need to split their focus worrying about something they wouldn’t be able to help with. The truth of the matter was that a lot of Sims were heading their way. Somewhere between forty and fifty from what Will’s drone had picked up, with others potentially joining the mob as it moved. The more Sims Shane killed, the more seemed to hear the distress calls and start heading their way. He’d done an incredible job so far, horrifying but still incredible, however this was too much to ask of any one student. When that mass of Sims arrived, not even Shane would be able to hold the line, no matter how much he insisted otherwise.
“Shane, just hang on for a few more minutes,” Will called through the dome. “I’ve reached out to everyone who was nearby and they’re on their way. Selena’s group will be here in about two minutes, with Roy’s people not far behind. If you can last that long, you’ll have help.”
“Tell them to take their time; I don’t really need the assistance. I’ve got this.” Shane sounded confident on the other side of the dome, but Thomas could see the worry in his eyes. This fight had been draining, and no one had taken on more Sims already than Shane. He had to be feeling it, but he was still standing planted in the alleyway, refusing to give an inch. Thomas might be able to help out a little bit when the action started, he could make the dome grow appendages to swing about, however focusing on defense would limit him greatly. Shane was going to need help; it was just a question of if he’d be able to hold out until it arrived.
The clacking of keys was almost melodic as Will directed his remaining drones across the battlefield, trying with all his might to gather a little more information to help the others. Without throwing so much as a single punch, Will had unquestionably proven himself the MVP of this trial, win or lose. They still needed him, though, and would until this was over. Thomas and Shane had to make sure nothing got to Will, or else the whole thing might very well be done.
“Finally!” Will clapped his hands and rubbed them together, reading the data on his screen with a triumphant grin before tapping his earpiece. “Chad and Vince, I’ve got good news. The Sim has stopped running and holed up in a location. Let me zoom in a little closer with my drone and I’ll get you details. It looks like the building is on Twentieth Street, across from a courthouse. You’ll know it because it’s a… oh come on. Haven’t they taken this far enough?”
Thomas couldn’t quite make out Vince or Chad’s reply, but he watched as Will closed his eyes and drew in some deep breaths before responding. “Because it’s cruel. Because it’s unnecessary. And because maybe it’s something that’s really come up before, if I’m honest. It just sucks is all. The building you two are heading toward is an orphanage, complete with what look like Sim-children who are trapped inside with the bad guys. To save the world you have to fight your way through a building full of orphans, because apparently whoever sets these tests up is a little more sadistic than I realized.”
Through the dome, Thomas could see the first of the giant group of Sims step into view, causing Shane’s shadows to stir. As he watched more of them appear, it occurred to Thomas that for someone so smart, Will probably should have caught onto the staff’s sadistic streak much earlier than this.