Chapter 259

                Apparently, Alice’s fight had drawn a field. It looked like a smaller version of the open landscape where they’d had their team bouts as sophomores. Simulated blue sky above them, a few trees dotting the landscape, and lots of lush grass along the ground. It was less than ideal, as far as she was concerned. Alice would have preferred a setting with places to take cover, or at least clearly defined ceilings and walls she could bounce an opponent off of. This was going to be harder. Not by a lot, but she was already working under the assumption that there wouldn’t be much of leeway in these fights. A small advantage could add up to a big difference in the right student’s hands. She’d just have to hope her first opponent was as put-out by the room they’d drawn as she was.

                He was a burly fellow, with a close-cut hairdo and wily eyes that darted around the battlefield as Victor called for them to introduce themselves. Without pause, he piped up the moment Victor’s voice had faded from the unseen speakers. “Nelson Galloway, Close Combat major. Codename: Big Boom.”

                “Alice Adair, Subtlety major. Codename: Legacy.”

                “A Subtlety major? Well, that’s interesting.” Whatever reasons Nelson had for thinking so went unsaid as Victor called out a start to the match.

                To her surprise, Alice saw Nelson bolt out of sight, running behind the one of the few trees, if could call the slender sapling by such a term. For a Close Combat student not to charge right in was strange, so the immediate assumption had to be that he was up to something. She wasn’t sure what, but Alice had a hunch her job would be easier if Nelson was caught off-guard. While uprooting the tree would be a bit too showy, small or not, creating dual gravity pulls on opposite sides of a single point was much easier, and, more importantly, the sort of thing a telekinetic could easily manage. Just she had with Thomas’s knees, Alice pulled the tree’s trunk in opposite directions, snapping it half and sending the top part tumbling away through the air. She’d been quick, but Nelson was no slouch either. In the brief window he’d had, the student had changed out of human form. What stared back at Alice was a seven-foot tall gray creature with swollen limbs and strange patterns all along its skin.

                “Shifter,” she muttered, taking a careful step back.

                “Advanced mind.” Nelson didn’t sound like the same person; there was something shrill to his voice now, just those two words made Alice wince slightly. At least he’d taken the bait, though. If her luck held, Alice was hoping she’d be able to bluff her way through the whole event as someone using telekinesis. The less her opponents knew, the better her chances at making it to the final bout.

                Nelson, apparently done changing, ripped the rest of the tree casually aside and bolted forward. Holy shit, he was strong in that form. One punch from limbs that could uproot a sapling and Alice would be down for the count. Still, she didn’t lift herself up just yet. Instead, she backpedaled, making it seem like she was trying to get a lock on him as Nelson came steadily closer. He kept jerking to the side, running in an erratic pattern no doubt meant to make him harder to mentally get a grip on. Against someone using telekinesis, it would have been a sound strategy. Too bad for Nelson, Alice didn’t actually need to focus on him. She was just waiting for her enemy to get close enough that she couldn’t miss.

                With a half-leap, Nelson closed most of the gap between, unknowingly stepping into an area Alice had been eyeing. No sooner did his feet touch the ground than Nelson went blasting off, whipping through the air until he came to a dead stop thirty feet up.

                “You’re quick.” Again his voice stung, there was just something awful about it, and the wide grin on his face didn’t help matters.

                “And you’re strong. Let’s see if you’re tough, too.” With a thought, Alice slammed Nelson down, dropping him slightly faster than normal gravity would. True, someone with that form and strength would probably have enhanced endurance, but she didn’t want to risk disqualification on the chance that he bucked the odds. Sure enough, the first impact didn’t even seem to register with Nelson. So Alice slammed him again, harder this time. Then another. And another. Each time she upped the force, and each time he slammed into the ground with a loud thud only to rise still smiling once more. Theoretically she could keep this up until she found the level of force that hurt him without risking death, but something told Alice to stay on guard. He was taking this assault far too well for her to think she had the upper hand.

                On the rise after the fifth slam, Nelson started talking again. “Not bad. Fast reaction time, good tactics, and care in how much force is used. I can see how you might have made the cut for Intramurals, although I have to say your class must not be all that special for you to be here. Too bad you’re a one-trick pony. Because I’m not.”

                That was more than enough giveaway that Nelson was about to attack, so Alice tried another slam to the ground, this time turning up the power by a few more degrees. It still wasn’t enough though, and as she lifted him into the air once more Nelson’s whole body seemed to move. What she’d taken to be strange patterns on his skin all opened simultaneously, revealing themselves to be small mouth-like orifices. They gulped in breath as Nelson’s main mouth stretched wide.

                Alice had, in training, dealt with Will’s sonic taser before. What hit her in that moment made his invention seem like a toy hand-buzzer compared to a military-grade taser. The sound slammed into her, through her, making her brain feel as though it had been hit from the inside with a concrete hammer. Her focus shattered as she tried to hang onto her vision, which was steadily filling with spots and static. She’d thought fighting her way through the half-year test with broken limbs would be the worst pain of her HCP career, but it wasn’t even a contest.

                The sound ebbed away, and she looked up to realize that Nelson was once more standing upright under his own power. Alice’s gravity field had been as destroyed as her concentration, the only reason she could think clearly enough to make him out now was that he’d taken a break.

                “Bad luck for you, I guess. That telekinetic holding shit might work well against most brawler types, but you lost this fight when you drew me as an opponent. My wails can turn your whole brain against itself. But that’s not why I picked the codename Big Boom.” Nelson casually lifted one of his malformed hands and cracked the knuckles. “Let me show you the punch that earned me that name. Or a non-lethal version of it, anyway.”

                With that, he bolted toward Alice, who was doing all she could to try and stagger to her feet.