Finn expected a Falklands War at most, or possibly a Normandy. What he got instead was the Crimean.
From the instant he emerged from his cell, the Lambert Acres battle plan went to hell. Alley’s scream almost made him stumble but by the time she finished her orders, he’d already sped up his pace to charge into the middle. On his left, a girl conjured fire out of thin air and sent it speeding directly at him. Real sweat broke out across his spine as he hurled himself beneath it. As always, Alley was spot on; the other students played for keeps.
So Finn narrowed his eyes, concentrated…and ruptured hers.
The pyrokinetic fell away, clawing at her face and screaming. He had other problems, though. An instant ache swept over him, a symptom he recognized. Sure enough, Emmanuel Ramierz was the student closest on his right. Ranked second and a fellow member of the High Five Club, Emmanuel’s ability was water manipulation. And, as their private competitions had borne out, that included all the liquid in the human body. Emmanuel had finally mastered the trick of dehydrating an opponent badly enough to cripple them in seconds.
There was no doubt the Dominated Emmanuel wouldn’t stop with crippling. Finn couldn’t afford to take a chance on the eyes alone this time. If his adversary held his concentration for only a few seconds longer, Emmanuel would be the one crippled but Finn would be the one dead.
No time for a sigh, a groan or a regret. Finn’s telekinesis felt through the human body, found the spine and the precious cord nestled inside. With a thought, he snapped it.
Instantly Emmanuel collapsed. Cursing, Finn crawled to his feet and pushed himself back into a run despite the pounding in his head. Ahead, he saw Alley holding the center, pivoting on one heel and hitting James Leland with the other just as the teleporter appeared behind her. Her vicious backwards hook spun James to the floor.
A rush of wind buffeted him as Jia Sun raced by. She punched Kim Nolan so hard that the HCP’s resident indestructible girl flipped five times before impacting the wall. Nicole Cassidy leaped out of the darkness then, caught Jia by the throat and slammed her headfirst through the flooring, caving in the concrete. Finn grimaced, well aware his telekinesis simply lacked the strength needed to substantially slow the strong girl down. So he dropped a telekinetic bubble directly into her lungs, locking out her ability to breathe.
Then he focused on the person he was most worried about. Sure enough, Nate was in trouble, pierced through both shoulders by Natasha Adler’s shifted steel-feathered angel form’s wings. Finn dropped a telekinetic bubble directly into her throat next, unable to appreciably hurt the metallic Shifter any other obvious way. He heaved a sigh of relief when Alley came barreling in out of nowhere, landing on Natasha’s back. If the blonde genius thought she could stop the Shifter, more power to her.
Finn turned. And came face to face with Amara.
He swallowed hard as he saw the blank look in her eyes. One thought could cripple her, even kill her. But he couldn’t. Finn almost laughed. All these years, all the things he’d done and here in the moment, he couldn’t bring himself to hurt a woman he’d actually come to love.
Amara lifted a hand but the laser-beam that sprang from her fingertips went wide when a steel shafted feather flew over his shoulder and caught her in hers. Alley to the rescue again.
Finn concentrated and depressed the internal carotids in Amara’s neck, grunting with the effort. It wasn’t a lot of pressure but it was incredibly delicate…and the need to maintain the blockages in Nicole and Natasha’s lungs taxed him to the limit.
“No, Jia, don’t!” Alley screamed out of nowhere.
Turning, Finn saw his Chinese roommate hefting the indestructible Kim Nolan over her head, ready to throw her at Amara. At that instant, the whole room lit up as Amara went speed-of-light, converting herself into a laser beam. Weirdly, she reappeared directly in front of Finn just in time for Alley to leap off of Natasha Adler and come down with a single punch driven by all of Alley’s slim weight. Finn’s girlfriend went down so hard her feet flipped up over her head, finally landing on the concrete floor in 3/4ths of a backwards flip.
“Hold yourself together, Finn,” Alley said, her voice sharp as a pistol shot as she raced past him. “And leave Steve Dukes alone!”
Glancing down, Finn realized how Amara had gotten in front of him. By going through him. Stupidly, he put his hands to his front, as if that would stem the flow of blood. Of course, she’d cauterized his flesh on her way through. The bigger issue came from toppling forward, as he no longer had a spine to keep himself erect or keep his legs standing.
Finn hit the floor hard, bloodying his nose. Releasing the displaced pressure he no longer needed for Amara, he instead spread telekinetic force across the whole interior of the massive wound through his middle. It’d probably kill him if he didn’t get healing in the next hour. But he had more important things to do in the meantime if he and anyone he cared about were going to make it through this fight.
Like save Nate from himself. The redhead had been their earliest casualty, pinned as he was to the wall. He showed signs of regaining consciousness, though, which meant he was about to make himself a target.
Natasha Adler and Nicole Cassidy toppled over at the same time, freeing up more telekinetic resource. He burst Flynn Smith’s eyes before Flynn did the same to Alley. Of course, the first ranked boy in the Freshman class could regenerate them, already was, but it bought Alley time to close with Flynn. She snagged him by the shirt, spun him about and put him directly in the path of Irene Norman, just as the Advanced Mind let out her patented Psionic Scream.
Flynn’s eyes healed just in time to roll upwards into his skull as he passed out.
Chuckling with grim humor as he crawled across the floor, Finn winced appreciatively as Jia took on some lightning-wielding guy by wielding Kim Nolan like her own personal club. Hurling the indestructible girl into the boy absorbed the lightning and promptly took the guy who made it out of action at the same time.
“Finn, get Amara!”
He glanced back the way he’d come just in time to see an Iron Man-style Shifter getting knocked airborne by Jia as she circle-strafed him from an ambush on Alley. It didn’t take a genius like Amherst to figure out where the Shifter would land. Finn gathered his strength, caught his girlfriend’s body and pulled for all his worth.
Funny. He’d never managed much more than about a hundred pounds with his power but stress, and Amara’s slender frame, was enough to scoot her all the way across the increasingly shattered flooring right to his side. She lay there, blood trailing from her mouth, barely breathing. Fear he rarely allowed himself to feel bloomed to life in his stomach. That was odd. Could you have phantom limb sensation for an organ had had been incinerated? Or was it…
Damnit. God Damnit. He’d enjoyed the courtship, the slow gradual dance of intimacy between them, but it wasn’t supposed to lead to this. Not so fast. Next year maybe. After all the women he’d been with, why’d he have to fall for this one so quickly? Was it her vulnerability? Or was it her strength despite those soul-deep flaws?
Across the room, Finn saw Alley fighting her way towards him, trading blows with a freshman who could generate and manipulate plasma while trying to avoid Joe Shaw, the kinetic absorber she couldn’t possibly hurt. There was a look on her face that made him swallow his heart. He’d seen many emotions in Alley; fury and playfulness, confidence and excitement. Even fear. But never the enraged hopelessness he saw.
Something bad was about to happen. He knew it then, knew that she knew something that she didn’t have the breath or space to shout to him. Was she about to go down?
Finn tried to drop a telekinetic bubble into Joe’s lungs, the same tactic he’d used against him in the other boy’s challenge months earlier. But it was too far. Or he was too weak. Black spots fizzled in his vision. Was he losing blood? A quick look said no. Maybe shock.
“Finn?” He looked up in time to see Nate groan. Impaled through both shoulders by steel feathers left behind by Natasha, the redhead gingerly touched the metal and groaned again.
“That’s right, mate, stay right there. You’ll do yourself a mischief if you’re not careful. Alley and Jia have it in hand, alright?”
“W-Where are the Professors? Why haven’t they stopped this?”
“Oh you haven’t guessed?” Finn smiled bitterly up at his roommate. “Here we are, having spent all semester poking into a potential conspiracy surrounding the Ringmaster. And you’re surprised we provoked a response? Whoever planned this doesn’t believe in half measures. We’ve no rescue coming, mate.”
“…I can’t believe my Mom would try to kill us!”
“Assuming it’s your Mum doing this. What, you haven’t noticed?” Finn grinned at Nate’s bewilderment. “C’mon, my beamish boy, we have every reason to believe the Ringmaster’s known we were here the whole semester to investigate her. She even ordered Julie to keep you safe, didn’t she. Compelling the whole HCP Freshman class to kill us and Dominating the supervising Professors to not intervene doesn’t strike you as a touch strange?”
Nate looked wild-eyed as he hung on the wall, bleeding and panting. “What are you saying?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Finn pushed himself up a little and deliberately enunciated the truth he’d long known. “There’s two Dominators in play.”
“Three,” Nate said, his sweating features suddenly growing composed. “Stop!”
Finn felt the power in that command, an almost physical sensation that raised the hair on his arms. The power of Nate’s Domination washed throughout the arena, stumbling all participants. But then they all turned as one towards him. Despite the undeniable potency of the ability, the dozen remaining combatants came on driven by commands too potent to override.
Except for Jia, Alley and Finn himself.
Cursing at his inability to move, Finn was helpless to watch Marie Yates join hands with Aaron Capshaw. The Enhancer’s ability instantly amplified his forcefields, locking the girls away behind now-imperishable barriers. A dozen people remained, Nate’s ability was useless and he was their target.
“So it’s up to me then. Right.” Finn chuckled. “Nate, if you please? It’s time to get to work.”
Nate didn’t answer him directly but the compulsion to stop vanished at once. And Finn concentrated for all he was worth. No point in hiding his telepathy under these near-fatal conditions now. He had to pull out all the stops.
Aaron Capsaw, a shapeshifter he didn’t really know and a telekinetic girl he also didn’t know each fell against his patented carotid artery trick. He slipped inside of Irene Norman’s mind next and swapped her perception of Nate for Kim Nolan. Finally, the indestructible girl was felled by the one attack she couldn’t withstand; scrambled synapses. Likewise, Finn coopted Joe Shaw and got him to take on the Iron Man Shifter while telekinetically choking the plasma-wielder into unconsciousness.
That’s when it all fell into place. Steve Dukes stepped up and locked hands with Marie Yates. Finn reached out with his telekinesis and nearly went blind with pain. He’d pushed too hard, too far, especially with that earlier stunt dragging Amara to safety beside him.
Finn’s eyes flicked past the last two standing and spotted Jia battering at the force field still holding her. Capshaw found a way to keep them up despite being knocked out, it seemed. It was failing, though, flickering with each blow of the gigantically strong Jia Sun. She’d be through it in seconds.
His gaze flicked over to Alley. As soon as their eyes met, she closed her eyes as if struck with a deep, abiding pain. Here it was then. What she’d told him to avoid. The only problem was avoiding Steve’s attention meant letting him hit Nate with…
“Blimey, I don’t even know what he does,” Finn said, chuckling despite himself. Then he cupped Amara’s face with his hand. “Love you, babe.”
Jia’s fist caved through the forcefield. Steve’s eyes flickered as his ability activated. And Finn did the only thing he could and reached for the Freshman’s eyes. Lacking the strength for anything truly spectacular like eruption, he did what he did best; focus on the small details.
Steve’s orbs rotated up. Nothing happened seemed to happen as whatever he did went into the ceiling. Jia exploded out of the shattered remnants of the forcefield, each step covering a dozen feet.
Then Steve glared at Finn for interrupting. And Finn’s whole world collapsed into a single pinpoint of pure pain. A moment later, it went out.