Chapter – VII
During Coach Alex’s introduction, Max decided that he was going to take the offensive in this match. He saw Tom defy physics the day before, and who knew what would happen if one of those black orbs hit him. Max certainly wasn’t about to wind up in New York, or Abu Dhabi, or somewhere.
So, as the buzzer sounded, Max launched into a head-first charge at his roommate. It was clumsy, unbalanced, and left him completely defenseless. Of course, Max was counting on his force field for defense if his charge missed, or if it turned out Tom could fight.
Max didn’t get to find out if Tom could fight, but he quickly found out that his compact roommate could dodge. As Max’s charge brought him almost within tackling range of Tom, the shorter combatant slipped to the side and smoothly executed a back handspring. As Max stumbled past where he expected Tom to be, he tried to stop and find his opponent. Unfortunately for Max, where Tom proved quick-footed and nimble, his own feet only got in a dispute over which would occupy a single foot-sized space. The result was a fall on his face a few feet past Tom’s original starting spot. Max quickly scrambled up off the floor.
“How did you do that? I thought I had you there.” Max said, equal parts chagrined and impressed.
“My mom had me in gymnastics since I was a little kid. I might not be able to dunk, but I’m pretty quick. How’s your face?”
“Oh I’m fine. Force field, remember?”
“Right. Well, catch me if you can!”
Max chuckled and advanced towards his roommate again, but this time much more cautiously. As he closed on Tom, he dove to the side. He rolled to the side and launched himself into another couple back handsprings. Max’s good humor began to turn to frustration as he began to realize that he just couldn’t get his hands on the nimble young man. And while Tom was bouncing about the cell, he was using his momentum well and wasn’t wearing down nearly as quickly as Max expected. In fact, Max was starting to get winded himself. Chasing Tom around the cell and trying to hit him with wild, unpracticed swings was like trying to fight smoke. Max knew that if he didn’t get a hit soon, he was going to have to take a rest, and he didn’t want to give Tom a chance to go on the offensive.
All of a sudden Tom sprung backward a couple times and put about ten feet between himself and Max, and held up his hand like a crossing guard. Max stopped, frustrated at himself to be grateful for the rest. Tom was breathing quickly, but didn’t lose the half smile that had been on his face all fight hadn’t wavered.
“Hey Max, Guess what?” he said “Gotcha.”
Without waiting for Max to respond, Tom snapped his fingers with both hands, and suddenly Max was falling. In a surge of panic and adrenalin, Max looked around wildly and saw the ground rushing up at him. He braced for impact only to have the ground retreat in an instant.
“Max!” Tom shouted. “I’ve got you in an infinite loop. You’re just going to keep falling unless I close the portals. And that’s not going to happen until you tap out, so you might want to do that soon.”
The falling young man was too panicked to respond, though he very much wanted the falling to stop, even with the sudden stop at the end.
Up in the faculty observation room, Dean Smith blinked when Max disappeared through the floor, only to instantly reappear, falling from the cell’s ceiling.
“Holy shit!” coach Alex said. “I saw him plant the portal on the floor at the start, but I never saw him throw one up to the ceiling.”
“He was subtle about it. The flips proved to be an excellent distraction for that bit of slight of hand.” The dean replied.
“I guess it should be over soon. We were right, it was interesting.”
“Indeed” the dean said, suddenly distracted. He leaned in on the video monitor as the ever-falling young man began to turn into a blur. “Damn! I should have seen it coming.”
“What?” coach Alex asked “That he’d try to trap Max? I figured he’d give it a try. I’ll admit I didn’t see the infinite loop thing coming. That’s pretty slick.”
“Not that. Air friction should have stopped his acceleration ten seconds ago. Max is panicking and his field is deflecting air friction around him. If he doesn’t close the portals soon, Max will be a 160 pound, hyper-sonic penetrator, or Tom won’t have the reflexes to close them when Max is falling. Stop the match, Porter wins. I’ve got to get down there.” With that the dean turned and left the room.
With nothing else to do, Coach Alex addressed the cell in question and announced the decision, instructing Tom to not act until the Dean arrived.
Down in the cell, a terrified looking Tom Porter was frozen in place as his roommate, and new friend, quickly became a blur in front of him. He was just about to close the portals himself when coach Alex’s voice announced he was the winner and to do nothing but get to the door while the dean made his way down. During the announcement, the cell was shook by a sharp crack, which Tom later realized was Max breaking the sound barrier.
He jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. Looking up, he saw the dean next to him. Eyes wide he tried to address the dean “I swear, I didn’t know this would happen! I can’t even follow him anymore. I don’t think think I can get them closed…”
“I know you didn’t mean for this to happen.” The dean said. “Now, I want you to focus on the space between the two portals where Max is falling. This is important. Focus on that space and nothing else.”
Tom tried to narrow his focus on the column of air Max was falling through when heard the dean take a deep breath. Amazingly, the blur that was Max began to shrink, becoming more human shaped.
“I can see him again!” Tom exclaimed. “I can see… I can see… Everything! I can see how they connect. Good God!” Tom’s eyes grew wider and he started to gag as his stomach rebelled at what his senses were telling him.
“NO!” the dean shouted “Ignore it. For Max’s sake, focus on him and him alone!”
The young man’s voice became a wail, but both portals closed simultaneously, and an instant later the cell was shook by a massive explosion.
When the world returned to normal, and the contents of his stomach stopped trying to explosively gain their freedom, Tom found himself looking through a now cracked window into the combat cell. Where the floor used to be was only a crater, with Max’s still form at the center. Massive exhaust fans in the cell’s ceiling were pulling the concrete dust out of the air as a healer in a white uniform rushed down into the crater.
“Wha? …What happened?” Tom’s voice was a small and hollow thing.
“If you are referring to your current circumstances, you are standing safe and sound in the faculty observation room, and you have been declared the winner of the match. If you are wondering what happened in the match, that is a bit more complicated.”
Looking around, Tom now saw that the room was set up like a long hallway with windows down both sides. Had he been in a more perceptive frame of mind, he might have realized that the observation room ran between the combat cells.
No, Tom was still coming to grips with what he had been a party of, and what he had seen… felt? words didn’t quite capture it, when the dean laid his hand on Tom’s shoulder.
“When you activated the trap you maneuvered Mr. Hall into, he panicked and turned his protections up to their maximum. That had the unfortunate side effect of canceling the effect of air friction on his body. Without air resistance to balance out the pull of gravity, he simply kept accelerating. If we hadn’t slowed him down, he would have eventually approached the speed of light. I’m sorry you had to experience what you did. I had to take you out of your normal perception of space-time so you close the portals while Mr. Hall was between them.”
“You did what to me?” Tom asked. Things were still sinking in, and probably would be for some time. Down in the cell, the healer had called in some help in getting Max’s limp body out of the crater.
“I’m sorry, I’ve told all I can. I won’t divulge any more of how my power works. what I just told you already puts you in some very exclusive company. Now, hurry down to the locker room to get your next opponent.” The dean gestured toward a door at the end of the hall toward the locker rooms. Though his words were stern, but his demeanor was almost uncharacteristically comforting. He remembered the first time he experienced what Tom just had, and he didn’t have anybody to reassure him that he hadn’t gone insane.
“Yes, sir. Will Max be okay?” Tom asked before heading for the door.
“I should think so. His force field will have protected him from any serious harm. Though I suspect the sudden stop would have given him a significant concussion. Nothing our healers won’t be able to deal with, though. Now get going, you don’t want to keep your opponent waiting.”