Chapter 69

                It was a curious, unexpected sight. Perhaps if they’d been facing a normal Sim, the wielding of a streetlight as a makeshift club wouldn’t have come across as quite so odd, but with its human camouflage in place the scene became somewhat surreal, even as it swung toward Chad in an attempt to crack open his skull. Nimbly, he darted to the side, sparing a single glance for the rest of his team and the six Sims they were going up against. Between Amber and Shane, crowd-control was something they should easily have in hand, but the Sims new appearance seemed to have momentarily rattled both of them.

                The human-like skins were quite impressive, although Chad’s careful eyes could easily pick out the small details that marked them as unnatural. For most people, he knew the illusions would be near-perfect, which was no doubt the point. This was why Dean Blaine had looked so worried before sending them in, not just because the scenario itself was dangerous or due to the orders to deprioritize civilians, but because he was moving the class closer toward facing the truth. Killing a giant, inhuman robot was one thing. Killing something that seemed human, even if they rationally knew it wasn’t, presented a much greater obstacle. Right now, many of his classmates were facing up to that harsh reality, and there would likely be some who realized it wasn’t in them to take life, even in situations like these.

                Chad, however, suffered from no such faltering of conscience. He’d known from the very beginning what he was signing up for. Killing wasn’t pretty, or easy, but if he didn’t do it then innocent lives would be lost instead. That was not an exchange he was willing to make. Dashing around another clumsy swing of the light pole, Chad took a blade from his arm band and jabbed it into the spinal column of the attacking Sim. Ideally, it would paralyze the faux-man until a healer, and more jailers, could get to the scene. Just because Chad could take life didn’t mean he would do so needlessly. That too was part of what made a Hero.

                Turning around, prepared to aid the rest of his team, Chad was surprised to find that the remainder of the criminal Sims had been effectively neutralized. Amber was staring in shock at Shane, whose eyes were just beginning to fade back to normal as the sclera lost its inky coloration. Taking a quick glance at the nearby area, Chad noted that most of the Sims had been cut in the spine, although one was in pieces and one looked as though it had taken too deep a blow to survive. From near Shane, Britney shimmered into view.

                “Holy shit,” she said, surveying the wreckage. “You took those things apart.”

                “I hesitated once before, and it nearly cost me my life,” Shane said, his tone far from apologetic. “I was determined not to make the same mistake again.”

                “Looks like you did a good job.” Chad walked over, eyes still trained on the fallen opponents, just in case they had any fight left in them. “Though the one in bits is sloppier than your usual work.”

                “That was actually me.” Amber raised her hand, perhaps a touch sheepishly as she fully took in her handy work. At least when broken the Sims were nothing more than scattered parts. If they’d been stuffed with fake blood and organs, Chad had a feeling some classmates might not have recovered from their first “kill”. “Shane couldn’t cut that one, and it started to charge us, so I panicked at hit it with a powerful sound bomb. Though I might have overdone it.”

                “Absolutely not,” Chad told her. “If it was able to withstand attacks from Shane, using high-levels of force was unquestionably necessary. While this Sim may have shown some restraint, a real opponent wouldn’t have. They will kill you, if you don’t stop them first. Never forget that, and try not to burden yourself with guilt over surviving.”

                He turned from his team, looking out into the city, the sounds of combat drifting in from far away. Elsewhere, the others had probably already learned what they were facing, though he would still relay the information over the comms just in case. It was all he could do to help them, for now.

*             *             *

                As Will drove his staff into the sternum of the Sim with lifelike green eyes that fluttered shut before collapsing to the floor, he realized that perhaps he should have hesitated. The rest of his team had, surprised by the human-like opponents, but Will had expected this for a long while. It was inevitable, so when the moment arrived he’d raced forward to deal with a Sim on the sidelines, away from the other four. If his team had acted in concert, it would have been a tactically sound decision. Violet, Thomas, and Jill could have attacked the central mass of opponents while Camille alternated between healing and damage as needed. That hadn’t happened, though. In the heat of battle, Will made a miscalculation and over-extended himself.

                Now, while the others still struggled to kick into gear, the rest of the Sims advanced on him. Only one of them, aside from the downed Sim at Will’s feet, wore a prison jumpsuit, which meant the others were part of the team that stopped the transport. That in itself wouldn’t have mattered, except that the Dispatch woman had been unable to give them any information on their abilities.

                The biggest of the lot, a woman nearly seven feet tall with wide shoulders and broad arms, led the charge toward him. If the physical clues could be trusted, which wasn’t always the case, she’d be some manner of strongman. Will flipped the staff over in his hands; the electrical end he’d used to bring down his first opponent wouldn’t be as much use if this one had enhanced endurance. From the corner of his eye, Will saw movement in his team, but it was too little too late. He’d have to withstand the initial assault on his own before they’d be in position to lend aid.

                As it turned out, however, Will underestimated his bloodline, and his own technology. Jill bolted forward, the augmented suit around her body pushing her speed well beyond its normal limits, and leapt atop the back of the giant Sim advancing on Will. Without a moment of delay, she pressed the palms of her hands against the Sim’s ears, and just like that the attacker’s steps began to falter.

                “Sonic Taser Version Three,” Jill announced, pushing her hands as hard into the synthetic ears as she could. “Even the tough ones have eardrums, and this’ll make them bleed. That’s what you get for messing-”

                The Sim, in a desperate, fierce motion, whipped it’s arm around. Though just barely, it managed to get a hand on Jill’s shoulder. That was, unfortunately, all it took, as the Sim ripped her off it’s back, hurling Jill through the air until she slammed into a nearby building with a crack that dropped the bottom out of Will’s stomach.

                She slid limply to the ground and laid there. No cursing. No yelling. Jill had gone completely still.


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