Chapter 30

                Alice hung in the air, careful to keep distance between herself and the ceiling twinkling with artificial stars, since the rest of the class was now using it for guidance. From her vantage point, carefully concealed by the bulk of a nearby building, she could see the others scattering, heading toward whichever altercation they thought they’d be the most useful at. Personally, Alice felt her own ability would be an asset in any of the three battles, which was precisely why she was waiting and watching before making a move.

                Freshman Alice would have already zipped across the battlefield, arriving to be mostly useless and maybe haul a civilian or two out of harm’s way. She’d been impulsive, and worse, lacked a real sense of what her abilities could accomplish. But a lot had changed since then, the comprehension of her power only a small part of it. Now, she understood the value in waiting, analyzing, and thinking things through. While part of her gut still screamed that any minutes not moving were time lost, the calmer piece of her judgement reminded her that it was better to strike once, and well, than to slap about ineffectually. She would see where the class was the weakest, and that’s where she would go lend her aid.

                So far, it seemed like the fight to the east was the biggest contender for her presence. While the bulk of the class was heading toward the largest brawl, Allen, Amber, Mary, and Selena were making a line right for the northeast battle with a dozen Sims. That left the smallest one on the eastern part of the city, which Chad had asked for people to contain, with only Rich and Jill slowly making their way toward it. Rich might be able to bring a few down, and Jill was certainly upgraded, but they were going to need a helping hand to keep a lid on six Sims letting loose.

                “This is poor resource allocation.” The voice came from a nearby roof, nearly sending Alice into a dive for cover before she realized it belonged to Shane. He stepped out from an alcove of a closed door, one she was positive she hadn’t heard open, and got in better sight. “Chad’s a great fighter and a powerful leader, but he’s lacking as a tactician. Can’t blame the guy, he’s spent his whole life training to fight solo. Moving around troops is a whole other skillset.”

                “If you have a better plan, you could have said something.” Alice floated over, landing softly on the roof’s edge.

                “The only thing worse that bad leadership is broken leadership,” Shane replied. “Something my grandfather used to say. Chad’s plan isn’t a great one, but it isn’t terrible. What would have been much worse was if we spent ten minutes arguing about how to proceed while the mock city got destroyed.”

                “So what would you have done?” Alice asked.

                “Split everyone into coordinated teams rather than let them assign themselves randomly. Chad has perfect understanding of his own abilities and where they’re best applied, but he sometimes forgets that not everyone else sees themselves so accurately. They make misassessments, both on what they can do, and where they’re best used.” Shane peeked over the edge of the building, watching his classmates scramble below. “Of course, suddenly barking out orders like the ones I’d have to give takes a certain level of trust and respect, the kind that Chad has built up, and I haven’t. But, as it stands now, we’ve got too much force on one fight, about the right amount on another, and far too little on the third. I decided to even things out and fix Chad’s plan, then I saw you floating up here and thought you might be interested as well.”

                “Plus, you wanted a ride,” Alice threw out.

                Shane smiled, an unusual sight, Alice realized. “That too. But honestly, when I saw you, it occurred to me that circumstance had just presented the two of us with a very rare opportunity. You and I have something in common, Alice. We’re both hungry to prove ourselves. Me for a menagerie of reasons, and you because of your weak power in earlier years. How about the two of us work together and start the year off by putting on a hell of a show?”

                “You want to go help with the half-dozen to the east?”

                “No. I want us to get there first and handle it ourselves. I want to sweep the entire fight with just the two of us,” Shane replied.

                “Way too risky, forget it.” Alice said the words before she’d even noticed she was speaking, but the moment they left her lips she knew they were true. “Even if it’s only six Sims, just the two of us is too dangerous. We’d risk aggravating the fight and then losing control, costing nearby civilians their lives and tearing up a shitload of property.”

                “Yes, but it’s not just the two of us. Rich and Jill are en route, but with your power we can beat them there. Maybe not by a lot, but enough to level their forces. With a quick, well-placed first strike we can take down the majority of our opponents, and even if that failed and we only brought down two, that leaves us with a Sim apiece once Rich and Jill arrive. We can clear the fight from the battlefield, get the civilians to safety, and then pitch in with the other battles as needed.” Shane stepped away from the edge, his eyes now trained on Alice.

                “This isn’t just my ego speaking, making a plan purely out of pride. I think I know the best way to handle the situation before me, and I want to test that idea. If I’m wrong, then we made a bad call, but isn’t this the time to learn and make mistakes?”

                He had her there. If ever they had an occasion to test their limits and see how training stacked up against what they might fight in the real world, this was probably it. Slowly, Alice nodded, and as she did she also raised Shane up from the roof.

                “We move fast and hard. Take down as many as we can in the initial confusion, killing only if its unavoidable,” she instructed. “Are you sure you can handle that? Usually you fight one on one.”

                “Trust me; I put a lot of effort into practicing and improving group tactics after last May.” Shane’s face darkened for a moment, though Alice didn’t try to find out why. They’d all seen things that night that would haunt them, she certainly wasn’t going to pry about someone else’s demons.

                “Just be careful.” Alice lifted the two of them higher into the sky, then took off like a shot to the east.