Chapter 32

                The six Sims were fighting on what looked like the remains of what had once been a small grocery store. Under their weight and power it had fallen, though, and was now little more than rubble beneath their rampaging feet. Alice dearly hoped that none of the civilians they were supposed to save had been inside, but if so there was no helping any of them now. All she and Shane could do was stop these things before more buildings were destroyed.

                “Drop me off over there,” Shane directed, pointing to a small alley just out of eyesight for the Sims.

                Alice complied, flying them over and slowly lowering him to the ground. “Going to try and sneak up on them?”

                “Do you have a better idea?”

                “Yes, actually. How precise are you with those shadows?” She watched the Sims fighting as she spoke, noting that one was hurling around balls of fire. At least one of six had range, probably more. She’d need to be careful.

                “I’m as deadly as I want to be,” Shane replied.

                “Well, keep it undeadly if possible. Cripple, not kill.” Alice floated a bit lower, she’d need to try and take the Sims by surprise when she struck. “I’m going to lift them into the air, rendering all the ones without ranged attacks helpless. Since I can’t very well pinball these like I did in last year’s exam, at least without smashing up the neighborhood, I need you to cut them up while they’re floating. If possible, focus on the ones that will be attacking me. Dodging while keeping stuff floating steady is a real pain.”

                “That’s... that’s a really good idea.” Shane checked out the Sims as well, no doubt forming a plan of attack. “Just curious, what would you have done if I weren’t here?”

                “Waited for Rich and Jill, obviously, then probably used gravity to crush the Sims’ limbs,” Alice said. “But that’s an imprecise method, and I might have accidentally killed a few of them. This will be cleaner.”

                “Yes, I suppose it will.” Shane glanced away from the Sims, taking in Alice as if through fresh eyes. “Has anyone told you that sometimes, you are quite terrifying?”

                “I don’t consider it a good week unless I hear that at least three times.” Her altitude increased as she readied herself, eyes locked on the fighting robots. “You ready?”

                “I’ll only be a few steps behind you,” Shane assured her.

                That was all Alice needed to hear, as she rocketed off, racing through the air and quickly closing on the Sims before her. With a minor burst of effort, she momentarily reversed their gravity, then cut it off completely, leaving all six opponents floating in the air, ground at least five feet out of reach. Her pace didn’t slow as they noticed her, keeping a speed brisk enough to be a hard target but slow enough to be watched. The ranged ones needed to focus on her for this to work; otherwise Shane would have a tough time making the precise strikes he needed to.

                The first fireball flew by her, soaring harmless into the false night sky. Already she could see the red glow from its hands as the Sim took aim for a second shot, but her attention was quickly stolen by the assault of small, needle-like blades that swarmed toward her. They were too wide a spread to dodge, so Alice didn’t try. Instead, she created a small focal point ten feet in front of her with enough gravity to pull in everything near it, save for the woman who could render herself immune.

                Every needle suddenly diverted course, all of them collecting into a thick ball centered on her gravitational point. Last year’s attack had reminded Alice that, while armor could fill a lot of gaps, she was far from bullet-proof. This technique had been her solution, a way to divert any number of projectiles without having to try and sustain an increased field all around her.

                As she soared above the needle ball, letting it fall harmlessly to the ground, Alice could see the source of the mini-daggers. One of the Sims was covered from head to toe in the things, probably meant to replicate an ability like spines, and it turned its arms toward her, no doubt intent on letting loose another barrage. That chance never came, as the swipe of a dark object raced behind its neck, and suddenly the whole body went limp. Without meaning to, Alice slowed, her eyes tracking the moving shadow, leading her gaze to the terrifying spectacle that was Shane DeSoto.

                Shadows whipped around him, like a dozen octopi’s arms trying to claw their way up from the ground. Clearly, he hadn’t been kidding about working on dealing with groups. Each shadow ended in a thin blade that sliced through small sections of the necks, back, arms, and legs of every Sim they encountered. Amidst the flurry, Shane stood motionless, his eyes pitch-black. That was nothing new, it had always been a side-effect of using his power, but somehow in the flickering street lights and burning glow of the fire Sim’s building attack, it was terrifying.

                Wait, why was the fire Sim still building up power? The thought jarred Alice out of watching Shane, and she picked up her pace just in time to dodge another fireball. That didn’t make sense, Shane was shredding through the others with incredible precision, but the Sim with fire powers… was cloaked in flames now, casting light in all directions. This time, Alice paid closer attention to the one Sim, noticing how every attack Shane threw seemed to get dissolved before making impact, leaving little more than scratches in the metallic hide.

                “Five out of six? Not too shabby,” Alice said, flying in closer to Shane and the burning Sim. “How about I take this last one?” She dropped lower, near enough that the Sim might be able to hit her, if it got another fireball off in time.

                “Look, your gang is beaten, your friends are down, and you’re clearly outmatched. Why don’t you give up peacefully? Because, if you keep fighting there’s a chance you’ll get hurt.” Alice had no idea if the Sims were still able to surrender, she was sure that information had been left out of the briefing on purpose, but she felt like she ought to at least give it a try. If nothing else, it seemed like the right thing to do.

                “Doesn’t look like he’s biting,” Shane called up. Sure enough, another fireball began to kindle in its hands, eyes locked on the floating form of Alice.

                “Can’t say I didn’t try. But still, that’s enough of that.” She held out her arm, and for a moment the gravity between the Sim’s cupped hands was beyond intense. In an instant, its hands were smashed together, the lingering flames of the fireball dancing across its now misshapen fingers. Seconds later it’s legs were similarly crushed.

                The Sim didn’t let out any yelp of pain, but the fire around its body flickered out as it went limp, into surrender mode. Slowly, Alice lowered it to the ground, then surveyed the damage Shane had done. The other five Sims were all carved in almost the exact same places, areas she felt pretty sure would sever tendons and the spine on a real human. Two of them had much deeper, rougher cuts than the rest; these were probably armored to represent strongmen. Yet he’d still managed to get through them, and in so little time too.

                “You know,” Alice said, taking in the damage. “You’re pretty scary yourself sometimes.”

                “I have my moments,” Shane agreed. “And it certainly helped that last year I learned a valuable lesson about hesitation. Now, let’s head north and see how the fight with the dozen Sims is going.”

                “We can if you really think it’s necessary, but I’d say it’s smarter to wait for Jill and Rich, then start picking off the isolated Sims,” Alice told him. “I mean, you know Mary is at that fight, don’t you?” I’d be shocked if there was anything for us to do but sweep up the Sims’ broken pieces.”