Chapter 71

                It was only a glance. One swift movement of the eyes to scout the battlefield and be sure he wasn’t getting snuck up on. Roy could see Alice hovering above, already pinning down the nearest cluster of Sims, and Vince letting out repeated shocks to one off on its own, though why he wasn’t just knocking it clean out was a mystery. Maybe the thing had electrical resistance. Behind him, Alex was focusing so hard that a thin film of sweat was on his forehead, somehow keeping the fog at bay in spite of how impossible that seemed like it should be. And Mary was near Alex, eyes trained on the group Alice had downed, hands raised as she readied some manner of telekinetic blast. In that fleeting moment, Roy’s eyes caught a slight ripple in the shadows of the alley behind Mary, but he didn’t have time to process the anomaly as he turned to help Vince.

                However, somewhere in his brain, another, more analytical part also took notice of the shadow, and it was better than Roy at math. Good enough to realize one of their opponents was still unaccounted for.

                There’s a Sim sneaking up on Mary!

                Roy’s eyes widened, even as he swung back around. Sure enough, just a few feet away from their tiny telepath was the Sim with acid hands, skulking up on her in a surprise attack. It saw him as he saw it, and suddenly there was no more time for thought. Bursting off the ground so hard that he broke the pavement, Roy leapt through the air, swinging his bat with a fury he didn’t recognize as his own directly into the Sim’s center of mass.

                The Sim didn’t break so much as explode into shrapnel, had it actually been made of flesh then there would have been a streak of red stretching out behind it, along with a fine bloody mist drifting to the ground. Disconcerting as it was to see the effect of his strength on things not built with enhanced endurance, the broken bot before him was nowhere near the top of Roy’s list of concerns. Slowly, he turned around and met Mary’s eyes, which were stretched in shock. That alone might have answered his question normally, but since she’d nearly just been attacked by a sneaking Sim, there was more than one potential cause for her surprise. Roy needed to know if they were on the same page, and it wasn’t something he could wait around to find out.

                “Tell me you heard that too.”

                An inch at a time, Mary began to nod her head and a wave of relief crashed through Roy. He wasn’t crazy, at least. No matter what might be going on, if nothing else then he didn’t have to waste time debating with himself about what he’d heard. Because the voice in Roy’s mind hadn’t been his own. He hadn’t seen the Sim, not consciously, and it wasn’t some intruding telepath either.

                Though he’d never actually gotten to hear it in person, there was no mistaking whose voice that was. The one who’d warned him to save Mary was none other than her boyfriend, Roy’s brother, and someone who absolutely shouldn’t have been able to speak.

                The voice had belonged to Hershel.

*             *             *

                Will was fuming, he was beyond furious at the sight of his sister’s collapsed form. Worse than the rage though, so much worse, was the feeling of complete impotency at being able to vent his anger. Will’s technique, his battle skill, all of it was built around playing smart. Working the edges, finding the angles, using wits over brawn to make a difference. No amount of rage made it possible for him to charge in and start knocking down Supers, not even if they were just Sims with fake powers. Furious or not, they’d make short work of him in straight-out combat. Which meant Will had to swallow the white-hot cinder of anger trying to claw its way from his heart to his brain back down. He couldn’t afford to lose his head, and more importantly, Jill couldn’t afford it either.

                “Thomas! Make Jill some fucking cover. Camille, get over to her, I’m going to pop a hatch on her suit to give you access to her skin. Violet, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to buy us some time by fighting the entire group. Thomas, help her if you can, but the priority is keeping Jill shielded until she’s out of danger. Now move!”

                Whatever fugue seeing human-like opponents had put the others in, watching one of their own get dropped proved to be far more compelling. With a guttural scream that sent shivers down Will’s spine, Violet leapt into the fray, swinging that spiked chain like the blades of a helicopter and trying to chop the head off every Sim she could get near. Camille was already running, and Will hurried to join her. No sooner had they arrived at Jill’s body than a glowing orange dome formed around them, an energy barrier extended from Thomas’s right hand even as his left was forming energy tendrils to strike at the Sims.

                Dropping his staff, Will carefully flipped his sister over. There was a chance he was doing spinal damage by moving her at all, but Camille should be able to heal that with the rest, so it was a necessary risk. As he reached for the panel on the back of her neck, Will noticed his hands were shaking. The anger tried to bubble up again, but this time it wasn’t directed at the Sim who threw her. No, this time Will was angry at himself. For getting in a position where Jill had to try and save him. For not making a suit strong enough to protect her. And now for his cowardly fingers trembling instead of getting the goddamned job done.

                Camille’s hand was resting on his shoulder for several seconds before Will noticed it, and even then she had to give him a squeeze. “Will, just focus on what’s right in front of you. Jill is tough; it’s going to take more than that to stop her. All she needs now is a quick patch-up.”

                Taking a deep breath, Will gave a curt nod and put every bit of focus he had into stopping those traitorous shaking fingers. Mercifully, they calmed down, not entirely stopping, but giving him enough control to work the delicate mechanism where Jill’s suit joined to the helmet. Pulling aside a small panel, he revealed a rectangle of exposed skin, wide enough for Camille to rest three of her slender fingers on. As soon as contact was made, a soft white light began to glow on Jill’s skin, and had he not already been crouched Will’s knees would have given out in relief.

                “It’s not too bad,” Camille reported. “Broken bones, a concussion, and slight internal damage. I’ll have her fixed in less than a minute, though she’s going to be pretty worn out.”

                “Thank you,” Will said, voice barely higher than a whisper. “We just have to hope Thomas and Violet can hold out that long.”

                Camille chuckled, though there was nothing mirthful about the dark noise that rose from her chest. “They just watched their friend get seriously hurt, and neither of them know that she’s going to be okay yet. The more relevant concern here is whether or not the Sims can hold out for the next thirty seconds.”

                As it turned out, when the bubble over them vanished a short while later, the answer had been no. The broken rubble of utterly crushed Sims scattered around a panting Violet and dour Thomas made that outcome abundantly clear.