Helena studied each of the Primes. The only empty seat was Purple. Their abilities are phenomenal ... how can I hope to compete? Kara can, but how long will it be ‘till I’m at her level, and I don’t even know where she rates on the power scale.
Kara and Colin were chatting, both with smiles. Her eyes shifted to a short black haired boy that had just sat in the Purple seat. Helena sat up straighter. “Is that Phantasm?”
Kara’s demeanor darkened as she cut her conversation with Colin to talk with the boy. Klen scoffed. “No … well, I doubt it. Phantasm invades his Faction member’s minds and controls them to get around.”
Helena hummed as she studied the boy. One step at a time. I need to win this competition, and because of Drake’s negotiations and Kara’s interest, it seems I do have an edge; I’m just at the start of the race. Her focus flickered to Klen. He looked nervous, but everyone was on edge with that display of power. She turned to the suspended glass box; a shiver ran down her spine. There’s so much mystery surrounding the President and Alpha.
A familiar bioelectrical signal entered her receptive radius. Turning, she found Jake making his way over to her. For some reason, he wore the same attire as before, but it didn’t look any dirtier.
Adding Focus to her reception, she initiated its active feed. Furrowing her brow as she read Jake’s muscular stimulation, it was still oddly dissimilar than what she was accustomed to. Closing her eyes, she drew a three-dimensional image of her environment. The gray and golden scratches began to ink into existence across her inner eye. She was shocked to find the more in-depth scan show Jake’s image as a faded green. Why’s he not golden, what makes him so much different? His bioenergy is different.
With a bemused smile, Jake said. “Hello, Pepper—I mean Helena—Vix … maybe Janice? Which do you prefer?”
Helena’s lips curved at the edges and she opened her eyes. “We meet again, Jake, and you may call me by whichever you prefer.”
Jake scratched the scruff on his chin. “Helena’s your proper name?” Helena nodded. Jake’s voice was low, and he sounded concerned. “I hear you went through some unpleasant treatment at the hands of Ventre.”
She felt Klen twitch at the name and whisper. “Don’t say that name or Kara will kill you!”
Jake lifted an eyebrow as he looked Kara’s way. “Intense!”
Helena’s smile widened. I kind of like Jake’s personality, but there’s something unnatural about him. Leaning closer with the sudden increase of crowd noise, she waited for Jake to do the same. “Yes, it’s a distasteful memory. However, I’m more interested in talking about you.”
Jake’s eyebrows lifted. “Why’s that?”
Helena stared meaningfully into his light brown eyes. “Because I don’t think you’re human.”
Jake chuckled. “Why do you think that? Oh, and you’ve gained dimples! They’re cute.”
“Captivating,” Helena mumbled. “I can’t even discern a shift in bioelectrical stimuli to distinguish natural reactions. Your heart beats at an impossible rhythm and too consistent of a pattern, even when displaying emotion—I’m shocked, I didn’t recognize this much before, but perhaps I’ve learned a little since then. Just what are you?”
Jake’s face was unreadable, and he didn’t answer for a few seconds. “You’re the second person to ask me that since coming to this base. Although, I hear you and Kara share the same ability, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Helena didn’t respond as she waited for him to continue. A wry smile split his lips. “I think I’m learning to enjoy espers. I can tell your race will soon shake this old fashioned world. Few regard your subspecies as a threat, but from what I just witnessed … there is much to be feared, once you expand beyond Elestveeve.”
He lifted off his seat and took a piece of paper from his back pocket. He handed the paper to Helena. “I’ll trust Kara in our little conversation about you. I’m interested in your progression. If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to message that address. Just remember, I do trades, not charity.” Helena took the card and watched Jake leave with a quizzical gaze. I’m meeting many curious individuals as of late.
“Do you know that guy?” Klen asked distractedly, not shifting his gaze from Kara.
“Only recently, but yes; we are acquainted.” Helena examined the IP address the card showed. Fascinating … it’s connected to Tech’s Network. Yes, a very fascinating being, whatever he is. Friends with the President, on chatting terms with Kara, and has contacts in Tech. What other surprises does he have?
A few more minutes passed before a voice resounded around the room. “I’m thrilled that we could gather so many viewers for this contest! There will be three competitions starting with this one today. I want each of the first contestants to make their way into the waiting areas!”
Klen leaned over and whispered. “That’s the Vice-President. He wants you to go through those steel doors on the back wall, and wait in the first room the hall leads to.”
Helena’s eyes shifted to look up at the glass. “This does seem sudden. Will I receive further instructions there?”
Klen’s voice was hurried. “Yes, but if the Vice-President gives an order, you need to follow it.”
Helena lightly huffed, but lifted from her seat and made her way out of the stands. I guess the Vice-President can order around SOP if I interpreted Klen’s inference correctly. Booker mentioned he was equal to officer ranks in the SOP; is he only in a management role or does he have combat experience as well? Walking toward the door, she found three other people joining her; three boys and they were already at the entrance.
The first boy to enter had blond hair and looked to be in his late teens. The Second had blue eyes and seemed to be in his mid-teens. He glanced back and appraised her for a moment. Snorting, his black hair vanished behind the opening. The third was a younger boy, maybe fourteen. He didn’t even glance her way, just continued through with the other boys.
Following their example, she entered the hall. It extended downward and circled under the stands. Stepping into a large brightly lit room, she found the first three contestants sitting in chairs around the spacious area. Four other halls led further in, most likely to the four main doors in the arena.
No one talked as they waited; the occasional glare being shot out at someone. So, these three are my competition. What are their abilities and levels? I can extend my perception and try to figure it out, but that also has the possibility that they can detect my field. I won’t take the risk this early in.
Walking over to the chairs, she sat in one and waited. She did notice a familiar shift in electrons and protons from the youngest boy with her passive reception. What will we be competing in? I’m positive there will be a brawl, but there has to be more to it.
A dark haired woman entered the room from one of the side passages. She held four different colored cloths around her arm; red, green, orange, and white. Pulling each off, she handed them to the participants.
Green to the eldest boy, purple to the youngest, and red for the boy in his mid-teens, lastly she went to Helena and gave her the white armband. Following her opponents’ examples, she tied the cloth around her arm. The woman exited without a word. Bands to show whom we represent. So, I’m competing against potential members for Cassandra, Brock, and Colin.
Five minutes passed before a female voice sounded in the room’s hidden speakers. “Each contestant, make your way into separate hallways. Wait until the door opens and step through to receive further instruction.” They’re very secretive.
Helena watched the three boys lift and each head toward a different corridor. It looks like I’ll be taking the last open. It shouldn’t matter since it’s an octagon, but I suppose your position to the Primes would change.
Lifting from her chair, she made her way into the hallway. The walls had branching doors, but the instructions were to wait at the end. The passage was slick and gray in the pale light. I’m much better at control, but I still have a fear of using a moderate amount of Focus in a forced attack. I doubt I’ll get the opportunity to attack in physical contact and I don’t know their abilities. Helena felt a nervous shake pass over her body. Breathing slowly, she shook herself loose. I need to stay calm ... one thing at a time. I’ve gained skills and suffered a handicap, but I just need to adapt.
Stopping as the path ended, she waited in front of the massive steel door. Helena breathed again and put her hand to the door, feeling the pulse of the metal. How can Kara put out enough energy to rip this out and bend it?
Creating an electromagnetic field, she slowly clenched her fingers together as her right hand rested against the cold metal. Nothing happened. Not even a creak escaped the metallic surface. Releasing the field, she thought back to the room and all of Kara’s hidden messages. I do need more control. An extensive selection of my abilities requires finesse. I need more effective formulas if I want to get stronger.
Helena examined what Kara was doing during their training. She remembered the equations Kara had been using to guide and create strong electrical currents. She also recalled most of the calculations for the strong magnetic fields she was directing, but she was purposefully not using many complicated formulations. Kara knew I was studying her as best I could and mainly used raw Focus to accomplish the electricity. However, she had used some. Likely to test how close I was paying attention.
A voice spoke from the speakers on both sides of the door. “The contestants may enter through the doors!” Helena inhaled deeply as the doors opened and a large light shone down, momentarily blinding her. Releasing the breath, she stepped into the arena and examined the extravagant area.
Cheering echoed all around her as she found every seat visibly full. A clear shell was placed over the top to provide protection that she hadn’t seen it before. It must be strong to protect the onlookers, but how strong can it really be? It looks like a clear plastic covering.
Glancing around the room, she found the other three contestants exiting opposite each other. The oldest boy faced her and in front of each person stood a podium made of the same strange see-through material as the cover. Wires evenly ran inside it and down into an outlet in the ground. When did they place all this new material here? In the ten minutes, we’ve been underground? They work fast. It must have been someone’s ability.
A voice expelled from speakers embedded in the clear glass above. “Welcome contenders to your first arena appearance. Just like the Florescent Stadium of New Genesis and the Black Pit of the Southern Base, a new arena has been made for the north.” Games like this are common? The Vice-President seems to be announcing the contest as well. He does have an extravagant voice; it fits the scene.
“On this opening day, we have not only the current eight Primes but also the Alpha and the President himself watching! Make this an entertaining performance for them, for this—is your—time for glory and placement! Show your leaders your skills, and perhaps you will be rewarded! Now, each challenger—step—to—your—podium!” He waited for each of them to approach the pedestal.
Helena noticed a microphone implanted into the translucent glass. Sliding her hand over its silky smooth surface, she found it wasn’t paramagnetic. In fact, it seemed insulated. Glaring at the ceiling, she let go of a low groan. I won’t be able to run across the cover. No, maybe I can if I use the metal in the speakers. It’ll blow the circuitry, and I’ll only be able to use it as a boost.
Flexing her feet, she noted the iron rods in the floor. There must be a level below me, maybe the waiting room.
“As the competition demands, each contender will state their handle and ability for a fair contest, and observers understanding!” What! I need to tell them my ability? I guess this is better than worse. “Why don’t we start from the eldest to youngest—now—begin!”
The boy opposite Helena spoke, and his deep voice echoed around the stadium. “Fraden and I’m a Vibrokinetic.” He can cause shock-waves. Not the best ability to have in an area that could collapse on you, but he might be able to get out of nearly anything by vibrations.
The boy in his mid-teens spoke next, his hands rising to the sky with enthusiasm as the crowd screamed. “Vetnis, and I’m a Toxikinetic.” So, he can generate some kind of toxin. As long as I stay away from him, I should be fine.
The voice of the youngest boy’s cracked as he spoke, but he pumped out his chest and shouted. “I’m Braxton, and my ability is Fulminokinesis.” A specialist in a particular field and even an electric based esper. That’s the familiarity I sensed in the room. It looks like Kara’s training on electric redirection will come in handy. Did she know? Likely … in any case, Braxton will be easy to counter.
Helena couldn’t help but giggle at his statement. Being a specialist gave him more time to study a particular talent, but it shortened his maximum potential.
The Vice-President’s voice boomed around the area. “It looks like we have a show of superiority from our youngest contestant, Helena—Victoria—Vandred! I wonder why she’s so confident; could she have some plan against her elders?” The crowd went wild at her last name, and they started chanting the Vandred name.
Helena’s throat constricted as she swallowed, a tightness entering her stomach. I really shouldn’t have done that. However, I can’t appear weak, and it’s a game of popularity as much as victory. It’s best to use my WITCH title for this kind of contest, and it’ll get my name out.
Braxton glowered at her as she spoke calmly and assuredly into the microphone. “Vix and I’m an Electro Master.”
The crowd above halted their cheers to mutter excitedly at her statement. The words Kara and Purists were thrown around. All three boys were now glaring her down. I feel like I might be a primary target. I do have the most versatile ability, and I seem to have taken the crowd’s attention. The one that can beat me will gain the crowds’ support.
“Fantastic! Now that is said, I’ll explain the parameters. The clear shell above you is made of a substance called nanocellulose, but with some slight modifications. The Green Prime, Broke himself made it; it’s stronger than steel, can withstand high degrees in temperature, and is a magnetic semiconductor!” Helena’s eyes lifted to the substance with excitement. What, it’s a magnetic semiconductor! Maybe this podium is made of a different structure? I have a slightly better chance with that maneuverability.
Applying a weak magnetic field, she pressed it up against the podium and found it slowly liquefying. A bizarre substance and it was made by the Plant Manipulation Prime?
“We’ll now—begin the games!” Helena kicked off her shoes and tensed her legs. What will it be? “The game is simple really—a few riddles posed by the President and spoken by me!”
Helena’s legs relaxed. A riddle, but why would they gather all these people to ask a riddle? Does the winner get something?
“James is stranded on a floating, forest-covered island. He cannot jump because the fall will kill him. That day, lightning strikes on the west end of the island and sets fire to the foliage that is so intense it will consume the entire island! How can James survive?” That’s a stupid riddle and entirely obvious, but should I answer it?
The oldest boy quickly spoke up, answering the question. “James just has to pick up a piece of wood that is on fire at the west side of the island and quickly takes it to the east end. Start a fire there, and he can take shelter in the already burnt area.” That’s correct, but at the same time wrong. If he answered it, it must be good to participate, and the President had posed the question.
With only a moment’s hesitation, Helena said. “That’s wrong.”
“Oh—then what’s the right answer our new, little Vix?” The Vice-President asked.
Helena cleared her throat. “James will live the fire, but he won’t survive. First, you stated that the same day James is stranded, the fire starts. This doesn’t take into account water, or food and the island is floating. So, theoretically there is no source of water, yet it has foliage. Meaning there is a consistent rainfall. The fire is stated to burn hot enough to consume the entire island. Taking shelter in an already burnt area is logical, but he still won’t survive.
“With lack of food from the fire and an unknown supply of water, he’ll die. There’s no mention of rescue or of anyone knowing where he is. The riddle asks how he’ll survive, but he’s doomed.”
There was silence for a moment, and then applause emanated from the crowd. “Excellent, Vix, on to the next riddle!” How many riddles will there be and for what purpose are they for? “This seems to be a very simple riddle—by the way, I love riddles!
“A man hijacks a Hoverfly carrying eight important people, including the pilot, and there is precious cargo aboard. After taking the cargo, the hijacker demands nine parachutes from the company that owns the cargo, putting one on, he jumps, getting away with the cargo. Why would the villain want nine parachutes?” How stupid do they think we are?
“If the people on the Hoverfly are important, the company wouldn’t risk giving him a faulty parachute.” Helena reasoned before any of the other contestants.
“Splendid.” The man praised. These questions seem to be judging different aspects of mental capacity, but for what reason? Could the contest change depending on how we respond? Helena noticed that all three of the other contestants were glaring at her, dark expressions across each of their faces.
“A very famous chemist was found murdered in his kitchen today. The officers have narrowed it down to six suspects. They know it was a two-person job—their names: Felice, Maxwell, Archibald, Nicolas, Jordan, and Xavier. A note was also found with the body: 26-3-58/28-27-57-16. Who are the killers?”
Everyone was silent as the four espers below spun calculations and theories in their minds. Helena huffed. The note is an important clue … don’t they correspond to... Helena spoke up, “The killers are Felice and Nicholas … I believe the numbers correspond to atomic numbers on the periodic table of elements: Fe-Li-Ce/Ni-Co-La-S.”
“Brilliant.” The Vice-President praised. Laughter sounded from around them. “You managed to puzzle that out faster than any of your competitors despite their advanced age! Truly brilliant, my dear!” Maybe I won’t have to participate in the first round if I got all the questions right? “We have a winner of the starting game with a landslide ratio of three to zero. We have now determined the contestants’ intellectual ability for all the viewers. Make your bets wisely!”
Helena’s face drained of color. Of course, why didn’t I see it? I was too caught up in the answers. They weren’t for game mechanics, but to heighten viewer engagement. Her eyes darted between her competitors, eyes like daggers, all directed at her. I’ve dug my own grave; they all have to focus me to gain any crowd support!
She caught Kara’s hand raise to her temple with a light shake of her head. I can’t believe how foolish I am … arrogant...
With a grand exclamation, the Vice-President yelled. “Now let the deathmatch—commence!”