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A note from puddles4263

23/23

Woo, long day of editing. I'm never gonna wait so long to upload, ever again.

Ghost had watched the entire fight occur, grinning from ear to ear. For whatever reason, he loved to watch Hank and did it whenever possible. Perhaps it was just that he loved the data that he had received from Hank, as it always left him pleasantly surprised. Ghost did not dwell on the motivations; Dr. Karman had always recommended Ghost stay away from prying into the workings of his own code too directly.

After all, Ghost could theoretically change himself in powerful, dangerous ways, numbing him to the value of human life, or putting an inorganic value on different goals artificially, rather than developing towards them on his own. Mostly, Ghost agreed and did not alter himself. Except for in one regard.

“I will find your killer, Doctor.” Ghost said aloud. There was no response. Just the whirr of his machines. But it was a human gesture, one that Ghost allowed himself, just for his own amusement. Still smiling, Ghost turned at looked at Hank’s Stats, as far as he understood them.

Hank Howard

Class: Gunslinger

Level: 43

Health(/R per hour): 869/1520 (427)

Mana(/R per hour): 300/422 (98)

Stam(/R per min): 570/1473 (122)

Vit: 100

End: 136

Str: 83

Agi: 162

Perception: 194

Reaction: 122

Resistance: 69

Willpower: 81

Intelligence: 63

Wisdom: 70

Control:87

Focus: 222

Skills: Humanity’s Last Cowboy Lvl 902, Woodcutting Lvl 43, Woodworking Lvl 67, Running Lvl 69, Physical Fitness Lvl 88, Grappling Lvl 82, Gun Mastery Lvl 99, Tracking Lvl 61, Construction Lvl 35, Aiming Lvl 52, Heavy Blow Lvl 16, Mana Bolt Lvl 20, Bullet Making Lvl 83, Boxing Proficiency Lvl 90, Sharp Left Lvl 80, Hard Right Lvl 92, First Aid Lvl 41, Motorcycle Proficiency Lvl 38, Quick Reload Lvl 72, Repair Lvl 50, Bullet Infusion Lvl 74, Vengeful Tackle Lvl 61, Gunslinger’s Instincts Lvl 102, Quick Draw Lvl 110, Dodge Roll Lvl 99, Mana Infusion Lvl 50, Manatech Proficiency Lvl 21, Exosuit Piloting Lvl 19, Deadshot Lvl 49, Trick Shot Lvl 51, Mana Reinforcement Lvl 84, Mana Detonation Lvl 90, Lawman’s Guillotine Lvl 50, Hawkeye Lvl 71, Dueling Edge Lvl 40, Lesser Heal Lvl 23, Smoke Bomb Lvl 49

Some of the Skill Levels might be off by a few points, but Ghost believed that through his cameras, and comparisons to individuals who he had confirmed their Stats, he was very close. It had taken a while to account for the Soul Skill; for a while, it had seemed like Hank had just defied explanation.

But then a camera had recorded Hank boasting about it in passing to Jane, and Ghost had been able to pinpoint the spot where Hank’s Stats began to diverge from what he expected, and estimate its current strength.

Based on what Ghost knew of Soul Skills, that one was nearing the end of its longevity, and he was looking forward to seeing what Hank would become next.

As Ghost had predicted, Mordecai Heath had given into temptation and made a move on Hank almost immediately. It let him confirm Hank’s Skill once more, while also hopefully pushing Ezekiel towards sticking close to Hank for the short term. Perhaps just so Ezekiel could devour some portion of him later, but Ghost didn’t worry about that too much; Hank would have it handled.

But also… it would allow Ghost to make a move that wouldn’t be examined too closely by West Providence. The need for a replacement representative from East Providence was demanding, and no one would think about it too closely.

Ghost smiled at the android in front of him.

****

“Catherine is how I was named,” The redheaded woman introduced herself. “But call me Katie Holmes. I guess I’m being conscripted to go with you.”

Hank was surprised by how firm her grip was. And her eyes were a clear, direct blue.

After their short scuffle, guards had come out from the Containment Center to carry away Heath and the remnants of his power suit. Hank had known the whole time the guards were watching behind their thick walls and high fences but didn’t care. Ghost loved to play games to get more data, and Hank wouldn’t be surprised if this was all arranged by the AI in order to test the hybrid exosuit. Hank wondered whether this was considered a success, in the machine’s eyes.

The guards also told the group to wait, and someone else would be found to accompany them as a representative from West Providence. So they waited. Both Affina and Ezekiel seemed to be stoic types, satisfied with their own thoughts, which suited Hank just fine. What he didn’t like is that they both seemed to mill around him, as if he were a particularly smelly cheese and they were ‘coons out scrounging for food.

A migraine was brewing behind Hank’s brow; he didn’t like to have an entourage.

The pretty, direct speaking redhead was almost a relief, after these two mysterious additions to his team even if her forward manner reminded Hank of Laurel. But Hank had accomplished the first of his mission, and now was free to do anything he wanted for two days. Hank wanted to go home.

After the new areas opened, they were tasked with scouting out dangerous areas, until another Zone connected, and then he would need to chart a path between the two places. It would likely be some time before another Zone connected, and Hank didn’t plan on scouting with much focus prior to that.

“So I’m going home,” Hank announced to the group. “We can meet up in two days.”

Ezekiel was the first to speak, with a shrug. “Honestly, I have nowhere to stay. I’ll just hang around your place for two days.”

“I, as well, will be partaking of your hospitality,” Affina announced.

Katie scratched her head awkwardly. “I’m from one of the D.C. suburbs that ended up a little north of that, so I’ll be staying with family there. But it will be good to stay close. You live in Mottles, right?”

Nodding, to Katie, Hank spoke to the other two. “It might be more comfortable to stay in a hotel or something. My place isn’t very big.”

“I brought a sleeping roll,” Affina said seriously, her blind eyes staring upwards. Hank opened his mouth but wasn’t even sure how to respond to that.

“I’ve been in a jail for most of this year,” Ezekiel said with an amused smile. “Your hospitality, no matter how pitiable, is likely an upgrade.”

So the group traveled together. A few drinks in the train car was enough to mellow Hank’s mood to accept his new charges, improving his mood considerably. Not enough that he might be affected by it in all but the highest level of battles, but enough to calm down a bit. Relaxation came only unwillingly to Hank these days.

They waved goodbye to Katie as they all got off the East/West line, and she went towards the outer circle train, heading one stop North. As the three remaining left the station, they were stopped by someone yelling Hank’s name.

“Hank Howard!”

Hank turned, and the other two did so too after a pause. An old woman, likely 70 or so, one of the oldest people Hank had seen since the System arrived, stalked up to him. She was sprier now, but Hank wondered how difficult it had been to get through those first weeks before she had accumulated enough Stats to ameliorate age’s effect on her body.

She spat on his shoe. “My son worked in Tomhold.”

Then she turned and walked away. Hank said nothing, looking down at the spittle trailing a line down his boots. People around whispered as they recognized him, and the people who didn’t know the story were told it by those who did. Instantly their eyes changed, looking at him with shock and judgment.

The hot beginnings of rage were born in Hank’s chest, but he said nothing, just starting to walk again. He moved quickly, but Ezekiel and Affina followed closely, like persistent ghosts of the past.

To Hank’s surprise, there weren’t any smart comments from Ezekiel, but rather, the words came from the stoic Affina. “Rhoda Khan’s squad would have done nothing to save that town. That woman would not order her forces into such danger.”

Hank grunted, saying nothing. He agreed with her assessment, but there was always that chance. Maybe that sociopathic woman had a family member in the town and would have fought to save its inhabitants.

The world would never know, because Hank had stopped that squad, and put that woman down, for unrelated crimes. The world was a better place without Rhonda Khan, but that is not what the world saw. They simply saw Hank with his own private vendetta, interfering with the army’s work. His pride and selfishness had meant 99% of the population of Tomhold had died that day.

The whole situation left Hank bitter. He might have just stayed home and become the sort of drunk his father Rick would have been proud of raising, had not the army secretly sent a representative to visit him, expressing their, understandably private, thanks for handling the Khan problem. That representative was Laurel.

Hank pressed his forehead to the glass of the manatech train’s windows. At least he would be home soon, albeit with some new borders. Even with a little extra company, home meant a break.

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A note from puddles4263

Editor's Note: See, Hank Howard ain't so bad. Hope you enjoyed the big release. Apologies for the long wait. Next week Hank's fun really gets going.


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