SS Chapter 34

Labyrinthine Final
(part one)

 

“Alright, so it doesn’t look like I can convince Collin that this is a bad idea for his team.  Anyone have any other points I can try and throw at him?”  The telepath looked back and forth between her two teammates, an expression of extreme annoyance painted on her face.

“We could try to convince Tasha to withhold any ‘girlfriend bonuses’ and use that to convince him?”  Team 7’s captain wore a perfectly deadpan expression as she made her recommendation.  An expression that lasted less than a second before she broke down giggling at the withering look her team’s healer responded with.

“Yeah, no.  I’m not punishing myself to try and give your plan a better chance of working, and I’m pretty sure my boy is smart enough to know that.”

“There has to be SOMETHING we can do to convince them not to go through with it!”

“The problem there, Cat, is that it’s actually a REALLY good plan, tactically.”  Alex’s expression returned to a normal level of serious as she turned toward Catalina.  “Team 1 and 2 together can almost take on the rest of us COMBINED.  And since Susan decided she wants to do the renegade thing…”

“Someone’s phone is beeping.”  Tasha pointed towards the room’s small lockers as a muffled ringtone became faintly audible.

“That’s mine, I can check it after the final.”

“Wait, that sounds like an actual song playing.”  Almost as if to spite Alexandra’s words, the soft music cut-out in the middle of her sentence.  “I know that one, I have it on my phone.  You use a premium ringtone app?”

“Can we please focus on tactics?”

“We still have twelve minutes before we start, and I think we’ve tactic’d all the tactics that can be tactical’d.  I want to know why YOU have a premium ringtone app.”

Catalina turned to look at her roommate for support, but the healer simply shrugged.  “I wondered the same thing, but she never told me either.”

The telepath sighed as the realization that she wasn’t going to get her wish regarding the direction of conversation sank in.  Then she perked up slightly as her phone began playing its musical alert again.  “All right, let’s see what’s so damned important that it can’t wait til after the finals.”

“See?  She came up with an excuse to change the subject the last time I brought it up too.”  Tasha and Alexandra shared a brief giggle when they saw Catalina flushing in response.  The telepath ripped open the locker and yanked her bag out, before rounding on her teammates with an irritated expression.

“Yes, I get it, I’m deaf, why would I care about music?  Never mind that I actually get to hear as much or MORE than all of you COMBINED.”

“Actually, I was never curious about that part.”  Two sets of eyes fixed on the heavily muscled woman as she leaned back in her chair and smiled at both of them.  “I just always wondered why people pay that much for a premium app when you can get the exact same songs for free with, like, ten minutes of extra effort.”

Catalina started giggling as she saw the amused expression on her captain’s face shift to confusion, indignation, and then embarrassment as the blonde tried to come up with a rebuttal.  “Anyways, let’s see what’s so importa-…”  The auburn-haired girl trailed off in mid-thought as she stared at the screen on her phone.

“God dammit.  If he lives through this, he is going to be INSUFFERABLE.”  A strong undercurrent of fear could easily be detected in the attempted flippant statement.

“What’s going on?”  Tasha sat fully upright, her expression suddenly completely businesslike.  The petite girl next to her similarly straightened up and looked questioningly towards the telepath.

“Well, I let everyone know that there’s the big ‘attack on Overton’ thing going on today, right?  And you all know how I kinda recruited Ben to try and help track down any outside intel that the bigger nets might miss?”  Catalina’s words started coming so fast that they would have been completely unintelligible if they were actually spoken.  “Well Ben managed to somehow get recruited and ON a bus full of a bunch of Super gang members that are driving into Overton right now on the 135 and apparently there’s also a couple of other legit SFC guys and the bad guys just figured out that he’s not really on their side because they were already wondering about the weird luchador costume and they caught him sending the first text so his second text just says ‘Send Help’ and WHERE THE HELL IS THE DEAN I can’t find her anywhere!”

“CAT!”  Tasha’s shout echoed sharply in the small room, loudly enough to cause a twinge of pain in both her own and her team captain’s ears.  Which had the desired effect of snapping the telepath out of her spiraling train of thought.

“I can’t find the Dean, she’s not in range, she’s not here!”

“Tell Elena what’s going on.”  Alexandra offered a solution so simple that Catalina blushed in deep embarrassment for a second before her eyes unfocused momentarily.

“Okay, and done.  And…”  The telepath began tapping rapidly on her phone, quickly forwarding the two messages.  “Elena says the heads up is a good thing, it’ll let the Heroes here for the cleanup know that there are some non-hostiles on that bus.”

“Okay then, so we’ve done all we can do, we need to put it out of our heads and let the professionals do their work.  Let’s get back to focusing on the final, shall we?”  Alexandra spoke sincerely, and received nods of agreement from both her teammates.

Several seconds of silence later, Tasha was the first to speak up.  “He really is going to be insufferable if he lives through this.”  Catalina giggled in response, and Alexandra groaned in frustration at the impossibility of NOT thinking about something like that.

The irritated team captain noticed the telepath’s eyes going unfocused again, and raised an eyebrow questioningly.  “What now?”

“I’m letting everyone else know about the mess that Ben just got himself into.  I asked everyone to say a quick prayer for luck, and now they’re all as distracted as we are!”

Tasha and Alexandra exchanged a brief, incredulous, look; then all three girls broke down giggling.

 

***

 

The access door opened as the buzzer to begin the final sounded, and Team 3 darted through as a group.  Then stopped to stare at their surroundings for a moment.

“So… did anyone guess ‘cubicle farm’ for our starting room?”  Erin Casse asked the question with a smirk and a sarcastic tone, effectively dragging her teammates’ focus back from where it had wandered at the unexpected start point.

“It even has phones ringing.”  Zach sounded a little awed still, but he was moving and paying attention again, which Erin saw as a plus.

“That’s… actually that’s really annoying.”  Team 3’s shortest member stomped forward and picked up one of the ringing phones, only to sigh as it just kept ringing in response.

“Come on, we’ve got to move.  This room is too small for us to fight in.”  The team captain followed her own instructions as she moved forward and gracefully leapt up to run along the top of the cubicle dividers.

“I really don’t see how this is a realistic environment for a Hero to fight in.  Office building or not.”  Zach fell in behind his leader, though he stuck to the floor as he progressed through the office at a jog.

“Seriously?  Office buildings like this one probably make up twenty percent of all the used space in most major city downtown areas.”  Scott went to the opposite side that Zach had selected, resulting in him having to speak loudly for his voice to carry over the ringing phones and dividing wall.

“How about both of you keeping quiet and focusing on the exam?”  There was little bite in Erin’s tone, but both boys immediately quieted when they noticed the accompanying glare.  “Better.  Now, I think the fire exit over here is our path to the next room.”

The trio made for the indicated door, and entered the concrete stairwell behind it together.

“Up or down?”  Scott’s question broke the silence, and Erin hesitated as she carefully scanned both directions before answering.

“Down.  There’s another team approaching the entrance above us, and everything I said about not wanting to fight in cubicle land goes double for fighting in a stairwell.  Go quick.”

Zach let out a sigh at the last instruction, and immediately moved to begin running down the heavy steps three at a time.  Nowhere near fast enough to  keep up with Scott, who simply jumped the rail and descended smoothly down the middle, a metal ring clutched in each hand to control his descent.  A smile almost made its way onto the dark-haired youth’s face as Erin didn’t immediately pass him, but that fled when he saw that his captain was following Scott’s lead and descending through the central gap.  In Erin’s case, by casually dropping from one rail to the one beneath it, skipping an entire floor at a time.

Erin and Scott waited patiently at the bottom for Zach, who paused to flip the pair off as they smirked at his lack of breath before looking around and speaking.  “Dead… end?”

“Nope.”  Erin’s answer to the question was accompanied by the metal grate near Scott’s feet lifting out of the floor and sliding to one side.

“After you.”  Scott offered Zach the lead with a courteous posture, and the taller boy shrugged before accepting.

A quick slide down the hidden ladder found Team 3 standing carefully on a narrow walkway that was the only thing keeping them out of a river of what appeared to be, very convincingly, raw sewage.

“Dear Lord that reeks.  I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“No throwing up right now, keep moving and we can get the hell out of here.  Before we have to FIGHT Someone down here.”  The first sentence did little to motivate her teammates, but the imagery conjured by the second saw both Scott and Zach moving quickly in the direction Erin indicated.

Thankfully the sewage tunnel appeared NOT to be one of the overly large rooms, and another exit was located within a few hundred yards.

“Holy shit, this is Professor Nguyen’s original Control course.  The one she started us on at the beginning of the year.”  Zach stared at the familiar course for a moment, before cursing and pointing up a large shelving rack near the group.  “Everyone up, now!”

Scott and Erin followed Zach’s lead without question, both ascending much faster than the dark-haired boy could manage and waiting for him at the top with puzzled expressions.  The team captain’s expression shifted to realization before Zach could speak, and she pointed down to the recently vacated floor as an answer to Scott’s unasked question.  “Look.”

The paneled floor slid open, almost exactly in time with Erin’s command, and a small wheeled robot rolled up out of the hidden cubby that was revealed.  The bot, little more than a camera on wheels, spun in place a few times, then cruised off away from the trio on a patrol route.

“That damned thing must have tagged me a dozen times with it’s ‘coming out of the floor’ trick.”  Zach turned to his teammates, and was surprised to see a non-comprehending look on his captain’s face.  This time it was Scott who supplied an answer.

“The little cam-bots have a super whistle thing.  Like, damage your eardrums super-whistle.  I HATED those things.”  Erin nodded in understanding now, and Zach flushed for a moment as he realized that he’d forgotten the female member of the team was the only one NOT in the Control discipline.

“Come on, we can get out pretty quickly this way.”  Scott began to move along the top of the shelving rack, but stopped suddenly as a set of numbers suddenly displayed on the ceiling a few feet to his left.

All three sophomores assumed fighting stances for a moment, then relaxed as the memory hit all three simultaneously as to what the numbers must be.

“Look, there they are over there, and there too.”  Erin pointed as she spoke, noting two countdowns that should be clearly visible to her teammates from their current position, and more than a dozen others that she could detect with her more enhanced vision.

“288… 287…”  Scott counted along with the displays for a moment.  “A little under five minutes until the goal opens.  What do you say, Erin?  Do we try to get an early point or keep moving?”

Erin was already carefully scanning the surrounding room when Scott asked the question, but she didn’t answer until she finished her examination.  “No one’s here, and I can’t detect anyone in the adjoining rooms.  Cat will obviously know what we’re up to, but this is actually a pretty good room for us to make a stand in.  Let’s get some points!”

Zach and Scott nodded enthusiastically in agreement, and the three of them scurried off towards the goalpost that Erin had located.  The two boys found themselves shocked at how simple the room seemed, compared to the challenge it had presented them the first few weeks of the year.  They also managed to exchange a long suffering look as they noted Erin breezing her way past the automated defenses, nearly all of which were based off of standard cameras of one kind or another.

The trio reached their destination, and spread out along pre-determined ranges.  Scott had overwatch, Zach was in position to move to support either teammate, and Erin was almost right on top of the goal.  Team 3 commenced the waiting game, all of them keeping one eye on the constantly ticking displays as they surveyed their surroundings intently, and tried to keep their minds from playing tricks on them with the waiting.

We really should have gotten some kind of coms so we can talk to each other in here.  Too bad they aren’t…  Erin’s train of thought derailed itself, as she found herself remembering the words of advice given to the Focus class in lieu of a final.  God dammit.  We didn’t ask.  NONE of us asked.  Oh well, next time.

A few minutes later, a slightly disbelieving Erin broke cover to dash to the now-open post, and dropped her metal ball into the tube.  A green light flashed from somewhere inside the goal, and the lid snapped swiftly shut.

A few seconds later, the team was regrouped and heading towards one of the exits.

“Well THAT was anti-climactic.”

“Zach, please don’t taunt the Lord like that.”

“Both of you, QUIET.”

 

***

 

“SHIT!”  Teresa barely got a hold of both of her teammates as she shouted the curse word and blinked them all away from the flash of light she’d seen from the corner of her eye.

“CHARGE!”  The ever-enthusiastic voice of Louise Garcia greeted Team 8 as they landed, and the tiny hispanic girl burst from her hiding spot in close proximity to the startled trio.

Ramòn’s heightened reflexes were the only thing that saved Teresa’s team from a full-wipe as they’d blundered into Team 5’s trap, and the physically enhanced Super lunged to meet Louise’s flailing charge with a low shoulder-check.  Team 8’s captain caught the gritted teeth and clenched eyes on her large teammate’s face, an instant before one of the largest members of the class collided with the smallest.

The crackling sound was nearly deafening, though still not quite loud enough to drown out Louise’s combined cry of victory and pain as she was blasted away by Ramòn’s powerful hit.  The muscular hispanic male simply collapsed in place, the scent of ozone and burnt flesh heavy in the air.

Teresa snapped her attention away from the piece-trade she’d just witnessed, and allowed instinct to guide her as she grabbed a nearby rock off the ground and teleported it to be flying as hard as she could on a path almost directly behind herself.  A startled yelp told the teleporter that she’d guessed correctly, but not quite accurately enough to connect with her counterpart.  To her left, Barry had produced a metal disc from his pocket that was now grown to the size of a large truck, just in time to absorb a round of impacts from Team 5’s captain.

“I’ve got Rorie, you take Be!”  Teresa’s expression conveyed her shock for just a moment, but Barry wasn’t paying attention as he shrank his cover back down and charged, extending a baton in front of him like a massive, and very improbably, battering ram as he went.

Team 8’s captain stopped hesitating and blinked out of existence, reappearing high enough up that she could survey most of the odd ‘greenhouse’ room the two teams were currently battling in.  A gasp from behind her was all the warning Teresa had, and she managed to blink away and reorient herself in time to see Beulah occupying the space that she had just vacated, wearing a dejected look and holding up a stungun.

“Almost got you, T!”

Teresa frowned in response – Why is everyone here so obsessed with shortening names to one syllable? – and reached into her pocket for a handful of ball bearings.  The hispanic girl blinked out an instant after her Israeli counterpart, but her landing point this time did NOT remain in the aerial battle.  Rorie had just enough time to realize that Teresa had landed in his line of sight before he was peppered across the face and throat by a handful of fast moving steel pellets, causing the heavily built youth to stagger away from his onslaught that had Barry pinned down.

Barry took full advantage of the opening, and Rorie’s angry cursing vanished in a pained groan as he was smashed away by another battering ram attack with the tactical baton.  Teresa blinked forward again, though this time not before a burning pain shot through her arm.  From her new position, she saw Beulah glaring at her, but a smirk also played across the taller girl’s lips as she saw Teresa’s arm hanging limply at her side.

The smirk promptly vanished when Beulah had to blink away to avoid an attack from Barry, and then immediately again as she was stung by a flurry of pellets from Teresa the moment she appeared in her new location.  The last standing pair from Team 8 kept up their onslaught, launching whatever they could at the teleporter wherever she appeared, fighting back to back as they spun around a constantly size-shifting disc that kept their opponent from risking a close range assault.  A scream of frustration echoed through the greenhouse, and a moment later Teresa and Barry found themselves unable to track their opponent further.

“Rorie’s gone too.”  Teresa glanced in the direction that the large man had been catapulted, and saw no sign to contradict her teammate.  “Come on, let’s grab Ramòn and get out of here, I think we’re calling this one a win for now.”

Hands were quickly clasped together, and a quick hop later saw Team 8 reunited, even if one member was still down for the count.

“Do we find one of the healers, you think?”  Teresa asked the question in a whisper after relocating all three of them to a shed she had spotted in the corner of the large labyrinth room.

“Your call, captain.  I think we should keep mobile for now and see if he shakes it off though.  Ramòn is tough as hell.”

Teresa considered the point for a moment, then nodded.  “Come on, I’m gonna get us out of here.”

Barry’s eyes widened at that.  “Seriously?  Remember what the Instructors said?”

“Yep.  Now come on, I think I have a new plan.”  Teresa didn’t give her teammate in further chances to object, and the three of them vanished from the room a moment later.

 

***

 

Eloise looked around cautiously as she ghosted through the broken buildings, clutching unconsciously at the rifle she had fought so hard to be allowed to finally bring with her.  So far, so good.  Everything is going to plan.

The room her team had entered was laid out almost exactly like the ‘town’ area of simulation room 1.  The tiny white-haired girl was even fairly certain she recognized several of the fake business signs.  The main difference being, THIS simulated city looked like it had just been through a few dozen airstrikes.

A flicker of movement off to her left saw the ghostly Super dropping into a crouch and bringing her weapon to bear, only to relax as she recognized the brown-haired youth making his way through the next row of buildings over.  Eloise turned her attention back to the pair of sophomores in the middle of the street, strolling along together as if they had not a single care in the world.  The two top-ranked students in the sophomore class, Collin and Amelia were to be a combination of ‘bait’ and ‘hard place’ for the other teams.  And the rest of us get to be the ‘rock.’

Another flicker of motion made Eloise flinch, but a quick examination spotted nothing, so she relaxed again.  Then the wall next to her exploded outward in a shower of rubble, and a voice in her head started screaming curse words.

“DAMMIT!”  Eloise dashed away as she realized what was happening, and also new that this was an opponent best dealt with by the 1-2 Alliance’s own telepath.

“Can’t hide completely from Michael I see, huh Cat?”  Eloise smirked as the fleeing Catalina responded with some physically improbably imagery, and the white-haired girl drew a handgun loaded with taser rounds to fire in the general direction where she spotted the continued telekinetic impacts.

The smirk fell away as the shots were intercepted by the sudden appearance of a glowing, yellow-white wall.  Eloise turned and sprinted away herself, fully expecting the kinetic barrier that came next and smashed a huge gout of broken building in the general direction she’d been firing from.

Invisible, and nearly intangible, Eloise was away long before any of the debris landed, and it was only the work of a few moments to get her to the top of another broken building where she had line of sight on two members of ‘Team Blond.’

Rifle in hand again, Eloise took her shots carefully, trying to hit extremities where hands or feet might be poking out past the angle of the barriers thrown up by Jon and Gerard, but the duo quickly recognized the direction the rifle fire was coming from and reoriented to completely block her firing lines.  Eloise continued firing, pinging round after round uselessly against the combined shields of Team 4, smirking again as she noted the approach of the two powerhouses that were unlikely to be stopped by such barriers.

“El, MOVE!”  The sniper obeyed the warning shout the instant her brain recognized the voice as Tara’s, and barely in time to avoid a blast of frigid air that swept up from beneath her perch and coated the stone with a thick layer of frost.

Shit, 9 is here too?  Eloise’s train of thought paused as she continued her erratic scramble to avoid the tiny Chinese girl she knew was beneath her, as she saw the duo of Gerard and Jon suddenly wobble and stagger off out of the corner of her eye.  Wait, 9’s attacking 4 too?  That means… free for all?

The white-haired girl’s train of thought was interrupted again as the building beneath her was suddenly full of rapidly growing branches and vines, and a girl screaming a long string of profanity as she was suddenly trapped by the unexpected botanical attack.  Eloise leapt onto one of the larger branches that ran towards the street level, and used it to make her way back down.  Her pistol was in her hand again and she snapped off a couple of quick shots as she spotted a blurry form moving off to her right.  That’s Ty in his camo-suit.  One of the shots struck cleanly, but the tech-Super had apparently armored his suit enough that the taser was ineffective, and Eloise found herself fleeing again as Ty retaliated with a stream of rapidly expanding containment foam.

Eloise hesitated for a minute at the sight of the foam, then made up her mind and switched direction.  A second later, she smiled hugely as her gamble paid off.  In her nearly intangible mode, the foam was too porous to ‘grab’ her, and it barely slowed her down as she ran through it.  The white-haired girl emerged on the other side with her other pistol up, and got Ty into her sights.  She noted absently that he was firing off a different color foam in the direction she’d last seen Sean, and that the new stuff was eating away at the plant life at an impressive rate – don’t get the green foam on me, got it.

This time it wasn’t taser rounds that were fired, and the high-impact non-lethal riot rounds sent her target stumbling to the ground, cursing loudly.  Eloise kept up her barrage through the first thirteen of fifteen shots, making all of her shots for center mass, then snapped her aim a little higher and put the last two rounds into the side of the staggering Ty’s head.  The tech-Super dropped immediately, but Eloise noted that he continued to groan and move feebly as she ejected the magazine and slotted in a replacement.  Good, he’ll live.  Now-…

A massive blast of concussive air sent the white-haired girl spinning away mid-thought, and she barely kept enough presence of mind to curse at herself as she skidded across the street.  Green foam eats the plants, eating the plants gets Lisa free.  Stupid stupid El, you got tunnel visioned.

The battered girl picked herself up, and cursed under her breath as she noted that her pistol had been separated from her sometime during the bouncing.  A massive crash behind her sent her diving for cover and drove all thoughts of the missing weapon from her mind for a moment.  Eloise came up from behind the burnt out car in time to witness the source of a second thunderous crash, as Susan had finally made her presence known in the battle and was attempting to take on Collin and Amelia at the same time.

Eloise sighed and pulled her rifle free to check it for damage.  This wasn’t a fight she would be able to influence directly, but she was willing to bet that she could find SOMEONE to shoot if she hung around the periphery of the three clashing titans for long enough.

 


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Like this story?  It’s a fan inspired work based in the world created by Drew Hayes.  Click this text to go check out his work!
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3 thoughts on “SS Chapter 34

  1. “DAMMIT!” Eloise dashed away as she realized what was happening, and also new that this was an opponent best dealt with by the 1-2 Alliance’s own telepath.

    ‘new’ should be ‘knew’

    I’m re-reading the final so I can put it all into perspective with the epilogue. I don’t know how you can write 3 stories at the same time.

    Like

  2. Eloise continued firing, pinging round after round uselessly against the combined shields of Team 4, smirking again as she noted the approach of the tow powerhouses that were unlikely to be stopped by such barriers.

    tow should be two

    Like

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