Chapter 255

                Her equipment was the first thing that caught Chad’s eye. She was loaded down with the stuff: body armor, guns (presumably with rubber bullets), tasers, knives, and a few gadgets Chad didn’t recognize. Brenda had covered herself in so much equipment that it was hard to even see her uniform. That much weight should slow her down, but the mere fact that her class had sent her to this event meant it was an erroneous assumption. She likely either had a Super trait that gave her the strength to handle such weight or had trained hard enough to negate the issue. There was certainly confidence and grace in her motions as she carefully readjusted her stance.

                “Brenda Sellers, Weapons major. My codename will be Militia.”

                Interesting. The major was no surprise given her gear; however the name had many possible interpretations. It could be a reference to her weaponry, or her tactical preferences, or a myriad of other things. Chad put the speculation out of his head. Soon the fight would start and he’d have real evidence to work with. Filling his mind with pointless guessing offered no advantage.

                “Chad Taylor, Close Combat major. Upon graduation, I will take the name Intra.”

                Brenda’s eyes widened, just a hair, in surprise. Chad imagined there were similar reactions going on amidst many of the watching staff. That name carried a lot of baggage in the Hero world, a dark reminder of a horrible stain on their reputation. Such would not always be the case, though. The rehabilitation of his father’s name started today, with this match. When it was done, there would be a new reason to talk about the name Intra.

                From the hidden speakers all over the cell, static crackled just before Victor’s voice slipped out. “Your match begins… now!”

                Chad sprinted forward, hoping to catch Brenda off-guard. Most people who relied on tools needed an extra few seconds to get them ready, and he planned to use that moment of vulnerability to its fullest. If he was quick and fortunate, he might be able to finish this bout in record time. To his surprise, Brenda wasn’t reaching for any of her gear, however. Instead, she’d taken a deep breath and tensed briefly.

                The copies began appearing so quickly that even his amplified mind could barely see them form into existence. When Julia had been around, Chad could watch as she released and shaped the energy, but Brenda was worlds faster at it. For a normal person, the whole endeavor would have been less than a blink. That was how quickly Chad went from one opponent, to what seemed north of two dozen.

                “Impressive,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve fought a duplicator before.”

                “If you think my power is all that defines me, then you’ve already lost this fight.” This came from three of the Brendas near the front, just before each and every one of them sprang into action. They scattered out, spreading like a net to ensnare Chad. Solid group tactics, certainly, but it wouldn’t be enough to stop him.

                Then, just as he was drawing near the original Brenda, the assault began. Rubber bullets bounced off his back, stinging but otherwise not bothersome. The bolo that encircled his legs was a momentary distraction, though with his increased strength he was able to rip it apart rather than be tripped by it. However, in the brief moment of distraction of dealing with the bolo, four Brendas were able to get close enough to strike with electrified metal batons. Annoyance, again, but Chad still had to waste time breaking away. They retreated the moment he drew close, scurrying away without a second thought. Just as Chad turned back to his target, he found himself staring at a metal canister drifting down, clearly thrown by another Brenda. If he’d been a human, it would have been disastrous, but Chad’s reaction speeds were not to be underestimated. His eyes snapped shut and pupils narrowed down to pinholes for good measure, all before the flash grenade detonated. Chad didn’t even bother to retreat; he could hear the footsteps giving him a wide berth. When the light finally cleared, he opened his eyes once more. Only then did his mistake become clear.

                All of that, every bit of the attack, had been designed for one purpose: to make him lose track of the original Brenda. The clones were scattered about, all lowering dark goggles from their eyes they’d used as shielding. This complicated things greatly. Popping a duplicate back into energy was not an issue; however Chad had to be careful. Too much force against the real Brenda and he could get himself disqualified. His attacks would have to be perfectly balanced: strong enough to dissipate a clone without being so potent as to put Brenda herself in real danger. In truth, it was an inconvenience more than anything, but Chad was beginning to see how enough of those lumped together could turn into serious problems.

                “I see. The duplication is merely an aspect of your strategy, what you truly rely on is the coordination between selves. Having a hive mind permits you to use wordless, perfect teamwork.”

                The nearest Brenda flashed him a quick smirk, even as she holstered her gun. “Smart, most people don’t put that together so quickly. And you’re clearly working with physical enhancements, given the way you ripped up my bolo and the fact that they didn’t end the match when my mock-bullets landed. I’d say standard strongman type, if you didn’t move and react so quickly.”

                She was observant too, which made her all the more dangerous. Chad needed to decide whether he valued defense or agility more. The bone armor made for a good show, and it would increase how much damage he could take, but lowering his speed might be folly. Against this many opponents, reaction time mattered a lot. Part of him wanted to be doubtful that she even had a tool that would be able to hurt him in the first place, but Chad shoved that idiocy away. Roy’s punch freshman year, Nick’s lucky dodges when they were sophomores, even Professor Pendleton’s trickery during the mid-terms; he’d been given plenty of lessons in the dangers of underestimating opponents just because they seemed weaker. Brenda had a plan, probably a few, to deal with a strongman.

                Ultimately, Chad opted to keep his speed for the moment, until he understood her capabilities better. It was a risk, true, but it would also be one to reveal all of his tricks to the strangers watching too early in the competition. Besides, until he knew what she was planning he preferred speed and versatility over raw defense. The bone armor could always come later, if need be.

                All of these thoughts blazed through his mind in less than a few seconds. The ability to stay calm and evaluate a situation carefully was one of Chad’s dearest gifts, one he didn’t plan to squander. With a slight shift of his feet, Chad picked a target and raced forward once again.

                It was time to start clearing out some clones.