Chapter 31

                Vince and Roy were so close that they could make out the sounds of battle when a new voice echoed in their ears.

                “Everyone heading to the southern battle, get in position but don’t engage yet,” ordered the familiar tones of Britney Ferguson. “I’m nearby, invisible, and I just found Alex. He’s doing his weird… whatever… and figuring out where our civilians are holed up. We can’t proceed until we know how to keep them safe.”

                Roy’s footsteps slowed next to Vince, who matched his pace, though neither stopped completely. Getting the civilians’ location was a good idea, something they should have considered sooner. While the obvious priority was to keep the non-Sims safe, that was about as far as they’d thought the plan through. But Britney hadn’t made it to senior year of the HCP just on her ability; she’d also shown a talent for tactics and leadership, which was why there was no dissent on the comms as they waited for her next orders.

                “Okay, Alex thinks he’s found all of them,” Britney said at last. Vince and Roy were only a block away by this point, and they could see the Sims smashing into one another, to say nothing of the property around them. “The good news here is that the fighting seems to be centered in an open area, what looks like a parking lot. Our civilian bots have taken cover in the buildings that encircle the fight. Now, the bad news is that the battle spreads out around all the areas we need to access to move the civilians to safety, and common sense says that the minute we’re spotted, the Sims are going to prioritize attacking us over fighting amongst themselves.”

                Roy’s voice mumbled softly to Vince’s side. “We need a distr-”

                “We need a distraction,” Britney continued, unaware that Roy was echoing her thoughts across the battlefield. “And it won’t do us any good to put it on the edges. That would just draw attention to the places we need kept clear. The only way to force the Sims’ focus away from the buildings is to drop some people right smack dab in the middle of their brawl. I won’t bullshit you guys, that’s going to be a tight spot. The only ones who should go in are those who can take a hell of a lot of damage and keep on fighting. Everyone else is going to help Alex and I evacuate the civilians. We’ll start in on the outer Sims when that’s done, but until then you’ll be on your own.”

                “I can go.” No one was surprised to hear Chad’s voice volunteer, nor were shocked an instant later when Roy pressed the button on his earpiece and added. “Not without me you won’t.”

                “I’ll go too,” Vince said.

                Roy took his hand away from the earpiece, cutting his words off from the rest of the class, and turned to Vince. “Are you sure? I know we made a lot of headway this summer, but you never perfected your counter.”

                “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough to keep me alive,” Vince replied.

                Roy nodded and said nothing more. It wasn’t his place to tell Vince what he could or couldn’t do; only Vince knew his true limits. It was, however, absolutely Roy’s place to watch his friend’s back and make sure Vince didn’t take too much damage. And, friendship aside, Roy did not want to deal with Camille if Vince got seriously injured while he was nearby.

                “You boys can count on me dropping in,” Violet said.

                “I believe I can lend aid as well,” Thomas volunteered.

                “Sorry Thomas, we can’t spare you,” Britney said. “You’re the only one of us who can shield the civilians with something other than your body. In fact, find Adam so he can mimic you. That orange energy is going to be the key to making sure we keep people safe.”

                “I feel I would be a valuable asset in battle.” They could hear the frustration in Thomas’s voice, this was a chance to stand on a proving ground, to help protect his friends, and he was being shoved off to evacuation duty. Worse, he knew it was the right call, Dean Blaine had even given them their list of priorities: civilians first.

                “You would no doubt be tremendous on the battlefield,” Chad agreed. “But you have the ability to do more than that, to help people in a way that we cannot. That is the true mission, Thomas. What we’ll be doing is nothing more than distraction, opening a way for the real work to be done.”

                There was a long beat of silence before Thomas finally spoke again. “Give me Adam’s direction and I’ll find him.”

                “No need, Alex found you and sent Adam on your way. He’s mimicked me for the moment, so don’t be alarmed if someone invisible pops into view,” Britney said. “As for those going in the middle, does everyone have a way to the center? We need you to drop from nowhere, keep all the attention right in the thick of the fight.”

                “Need a charge?” Roy asked, flexing his biceps.

                Vince shook his head and scanned the block ahead of them. “I came in with plenty. This is a test, after all.”

                “Vince and I are good,” Roy reported.

                “Seeing as I’m the only one airborne, I’m solid,” Violet added.

                “I’ll make my way,” Chad said.

                “Fine, then everyone else contact me as you arrive. We’ll be evacuating and give you targets to find. The robo-civilians are pretty human looking, a little uncanny valley but nothing you’d mistake for a Sim. Distraction team, you’re clear to start as soon as possible,” Britney told them.

                Neither Vince nor Roy needed any more than that. They both took off running in a dead sprint, heading down the block where the Sims were still fighting one another, utterly unaware of the tide of Supers about to wash over them. In the sky above, Roy could make out the floating form of Violet, no doubt getting in position to drop herself like an ultra-dense bomb. She had the easiest way in, but certainly not the only one.

                When they were still some distance away, Roy launched himself, with Vince right behind him. The explosion of force from his legs left cracks in the concrete while pushing his body high into the air. Vince’s take-off was powered by stolen kinetic energy rather than enhanced muscle, but the effects were almost indistinguishable.

                Leaping was a great way to cover distance as a strongman, however, doing it with accuracy took a lot of practice. Luckily, there were few better places to work on that sort of skill than a barren landscape specifically put aside for training. Neither of the two had ever managed the sort of amazing accuracy like what Titan could do, but they had gotten good enough to at least get within ten feet of their target.

                Roy came crashing down first, bat whipped around and catching the nearest Sim in the torso. He kept swinging, creating a wide circle in the center of the chaos where Vince could land. For Roy, coming down was easy, but if Vince didn’t reabsorb the energy of the impact he would shatter his legs, and the fewer obstacles the easier his landing was.

                Seconds later a streak of silver hair whipped by Roy’s face, and Vince came to a sudden stop only inches away. The Sims, taken by surprise initially, were quickly adapting to the intruders in their midst. An eruption of noise and gravel to their north was all they needed to know that Violet had entered the fray. Chad would be along soon, or perhaps he was already there, racing between the Sims and cutting artificial tendons.

                All that mattered was that the Sims were definitely focused on them. Now, they just had to keep it that way.