Chapter 256

                It took Chad two test punches before he figured out the correct amount of force. If not for the body armor, the task would have been far easier, but he had to start on the side of caution to make sure he didn’t put Brenda in serious danger. The initial two blows knocked a clone back without unmaking them, however on the third he heard the soft crack of a rib through the armor and suddenly his target had burst into a short flash of light. Although there were still over twenty more to deal with, Chad calculated that his chances of winning had gone up. He had the punch to use, it was just a matter of hitting them all.

                Unfortunately, Brenda wasn’t sitting on her thumbs while Chad punched the clones nearest to him. The rest of the group had formed around him, and just as he’d finished dispatching the first duplicate of the day a clanking noise came from behind. On instinct, Chad leapt up into the air, flipping over so he could see a rapidly spreading net sweep through the area he’d been standing in. How had she gotten a net-gun that was small enough to lug around? It was a sound question, but one that was rendered less important as Chad heard the clanking noise again.

                Standing on either side of him were two more Brendas, each taking aim with net-guns of their own. The first had been intended to make him dodge so that they could catch him with the follow-ups. If not for his enhanced brain and senses, he likely would never have even seen the secondary attacks coming. Both nets fired, one centered on him while another was slightly lower, in case he tried to dive out of the way. With nothing to push off of, he was stuck in the air, a sitting duck. Chad didn’t panic, however. Just because he couldn’t dodge an attack didn’t mean he couldn’t counter it. As the net struck, wrapping around him, Chad focused on shifting the shape of his forearm and shin bones. He didn’t draw them out all the way just yet, only letting the barest of tips press against his white uniform, where he hoped they would blend in.

                Despite being tangled up, Chad still came down on his feet. The five Brendas who were racing forward with stun batons drawn slowed their movements slightly. They’d evidently expected him to be a little more helpless upon landing.

                “Those really are some crazy reflexes. You saw the attacks coming.” One of the Brendas with a stun baton was talking. No, she was stalling. Although she didn’t know he could hear it, Chad was fully aware of another Brenda contingency forming up behind him. They wanted to catch him off-guard. That was fine, though. She wasn’t the only one who could use the element of surprise.

                “Yet I still couldn’t avoid the shots, they were perfectly timed and executed. Your capacity for coordination is truly extraordinary. And your weaponry is quite impressive as well.” Chad’s ears were perked, taking in every sound. There was no doubt they’d attack, the only question was if it would be from a range or up close. His targets would depend on that tactical choice, so it was vital he figured it out before they had a chance to strike.

                “Yeah, well, I may not be one of those genius Supers, but you’d be amazed how much learning and building I can get done with this many hands and eyes. The hardest part was getting enough of that net-material. It’s got so much stretch and durability that most strongmen can’t pull it apart, at least not quickly.”

                While her eyes never left Chad, he knew Brenda was coordinating with the clones behind him. Their footsteps were soft, well-practiced movements that would have blended in seamlessly with the conversation for normal ears. They were picking up in pace and drawing closer as well. She was going with melee, then. That was the more difficult option, but it had the upside of giving him a chance to clear out ample opponents.

                “Pity most mundane weaponry is also useless on those with strongman endurance.” He needed her to think he was still unaware, for just a few seconds more. She didn’t fully grasp the extent of his capabilities yet, and after this it would be difficult to lure a large number of duplicates in all at once again. Chad was going to have to make this one count.

                “Oh, I don’t know about that. Between electricity, gas, and other specialized tools, there are plenty of ways to hurt a strongman.” Brenda allowed a brief moment of triumph to ripple across her face, and her mouth opened to no doubt deliver a well-chosen line as her fellow clones descended on Chad.

                To him, her jaw twitched in slow motion as his brain sped up past its usual amplified speeds. This level of over-clocking was dangerous for prolonged periods of time, but by Chad’s estimates he wouldn’t need more than about ten seconds, at the most. The bone blades in his arms and shins shot out, cleaving through the net around him in no time. Chad spun in place, body doing its best to keep up with his hyper-speed brain and failing. That was tolerable, at least for this fight. He was more than fast enough to get the job done. What mattered here was precision above all else, making every movement count.

                The first punch hit a Brenda with some sort of spray canister in hand, striking with the exact same amount of force he’d used to dissipate the first clone. The next strike took out a Brenda wearing a gas mask and holding a glass vial of something. There were more gas masked ones around her, and Chad made a point of taking them all out in rapid succession. He didn’t want to find out what was in those vials unless it was strictly necessary. Making his way through the hoard that had come for him, Chad had to dodge various stun batons and knuckle tasers as they tried to fight back, but at his perception speed it was hardly a contest.

                At last, Chad let his brain fall back to normal activity levels as he reached the back of the attacking crowd. He hadn’t gotten every single Brenda that came near him, but he’d carved a path of rapid destruction that easily halved her overall number. More than that, he’d done it in such a short span of time that there had been no chance to properly counter, even with her exceptional coordination.

                The remaining Brendas were backing up, forming ranks around one in the center. She was scared, and with good cause, which had led her to make a mistake. If the Brendas were all protecting one version in the center, that had to be the real version. Taking her out would end the rest of them before she had time to repopulate her ranks.

                Chad bolted forward, ready to leap up and over the protective bodies, when a different thought struck him. Perhaps it came from his time fighting Angela, or in the madness of living around the denizens of Melbrook, but it popped into his mind all the same. He didn’t change his pace at all, still racing forward, clearly preparing to leap.

                Only when he reached the point where it was time to jump, Chad instead hunkered down and shoved off forward, cribbing a move from Roy’s playbook and plowing into the frontline of the defending Brendas. The first two popped into light when he struck, but the third let out a coughing gasp as her rib cracked. She tried to backpedal, but there was no escaping Chad in this proximity. Three more carefully controlled blows to the torso and she collapsed, the remainder of the Brendas vanishing like they’d never existed in the first place.

                “Thought I had you with that.” Her voice was strained as she looked up at him, but she refused to break eye contact, not until the match was officially done.

                “You almost did. It was a smart move. Lure me into a center mass that can pile atop me while you generate more clones. The only problem was that it hinged on me believing you were afraid and making a mistake. That didn’t line up with the way you’d fought so far.”

                Brenda wheezed out a breath that had to hurt given the condition of her ribs. “That’s probably the nicest post-match smack talk I’ve heard in a while. I really want to keep going, but I don’t think making clones of me with this kind of injury will do much good. Looks like you win.”

                From above, Victor’s voice crackled through the speakers. “Brenda Sellers is no longer able to fight, which means that this round goes to Chad Taylor of Lander! Now, both of you report for medical examinations and healing right away.”

                The last shot on the screen was of Chad helping Brenda to her feet and leaning her against his shoulder so he could help walk her to the medical facility.