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In the silence created by its appearance, Derrick considered the axe. It was, he thought, not a good sign. It was in fact as terrible an omen as he could imagine.

When life gave you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you mysterious killing tools, you....?

“What is this,” he asked the machine.

Small Ethisium Axe: A hand weapon made out of the smart material Esthisium. It has safety, anti theft and self repair features.


So, while it looked like a normal axe, it was in fact slightly more impressive than that.

While he considered the deep philosophical meaning of the space axe, Clara brought up a more practical point.

“You can't just carry that thing around,” she pointed out.

It wasn't like he could tuck it into his pant waist either, it was sharp. The thing cut air and sang when he gave it a few tentative swings and a trash bin failed to even slow its blade as he cut pieces off them with morbid fascination.

A few minutes later, the three of them left the alley. Clara and Brain had tried to purchase a pistol but been turned down. Even though they knew the machines had let others buy guns, it didn't seem to want to sell firearms to them. The Station recommended a pair of Ethisium knives for the two others but they didn't buy them.

Derrick had the axe hidden inside a colourful bouquet of flowers from the shop the next to the Universal Support Station.

Derrick had bugged the two of them until they had agreed to meet up before the beginning of Phase One, but Derrick wasn't sure how sincere they were being. He had known Brian for only a few weeks since he moved to Westhills but his assurances had seemed to lack weight. All three of them were nervous and off balance, they could easily change their minds later, and the two of them were closer to each other than him.

Derrick considered his next move. How did a natural loner in South Eastern Canada with no nearby relatives or real friends deal with the probably violent end of life as humanity knew it in less than twelve hours? He had no idea, but it was depressing and that led him to do what he always did when he wanted to escape the voices in his head.

He went to the gym.

He smiled at the fit brunette chick at the front counter, ignored the looks he got for carrying a bouquet into a gym, stashed it in his locker and hit the treadmills for a warm up.

The gym was almost empty except for a few hardcore fitness fanatics, none of which he could name, though he'd seen them a few times here before. He nodded at them and they nodded back. Social rituals complete, he claimed a treadmill where he couldn't see a TV and began his pre-workout warm up.

After five minutes of running with his headphones on, he had almost forgotten about the end of the world. The rhythm of his run and the music blended together into a mindless bliss.

Then a blue object appeared right in front of his face and tore him out of his trance, he panicked and tried to dodge it. Forgetting he was on a treadmill, he broke his stride and was sent sprawling. He smashed his face into a handle bar and a moment later his shoulder hit the ground hard.

Derrick lay on the ground blinking. Both because he was in a lot of pain and because of the weird box in his vision that had to be some sort of hallucination. After a second, he calmed down and concentrated on what he was seeing. There were words in the box.

 

Universal Support System Implant

Emergency Implant Activation

Warning! Injection shield failure. Hostile Injection Detected! Warning!

Connecting to USS Network...

Gathering intel from local Users...

Generating Mission...

New Mission Chain: Clear the building of hostiles.

Obedience Protocols Activated. Please obey instructions for your own safety. We regret the loss of control.

 

As soon as he read the last line of text, it disappeared and his vision was clear. He wanted to just lay down on the ground for a second more, but his headphones had been torn off when he fell and he could hear the muted sounds of anger and fear from downstairs. That was a pretty clear sign that the box should be taken seriously. 

Afraid of 'hostiles', he picked himself off the ground and pocketed his phone, a little pissed that no one had even checked up on him. A middle-aged woman on the other side of the aisle was still jogging away. His first instinct was to just leave her to avoid embarrassment in case the commotion was nothing. He was pretty sure something dangerous was going on though, so he tapped her on the shoulder.

The brunette woman gave a small jump before looking at him.

“I'm a lawyer not a doctor,” she said, apparently offended to be bothered by him.

Derrick was confused for a second before he remembered he’d hit his head. A casual wipe of his face came back with traces of blood.

“It's not that,” he said. “I think something is happening, listen.”

He waved in the direction of the static filled TV's to further his point and moved away to check things out. The treadmills were located on the second floor, so he moved down the stairs and entered the lobby.

A petite and dark skinned young woman and a buff middle aged man were arguing with the lady at the front desk.

“Listen, young woman,” the bald and buff man in a black sleeveless shirt ordered loudly. “You need to get on the P.A and get everyone to leave the building.”

“No, you listen. I need a better reason than some kinda shared...” the woman started but stopped when she caught sight of him. The other two turned to look at him as well.

“Do as they say,” Derrick said, feigning a limp as he approached. “Some guy attacked me and ran off upstairs. He was totally out of his mind.”

He eyed the buff Caucasian man in a black tank top and the petite woman with Indian features in her tight yoga outfit. Apparently, these two had gotten the warning as well. Which probably meant they were USS Users and had implants. At least he wasn't alone. 

Telling the truth hadn't been working for them so he just gave a lie that sounded much more believable. He'd forgive himself if it saved lives. He believed the USS's warning or at least was willing to give it the benefit of a doubt. Whatever was behind everything that was happening over the last 8 hours, he doubted it went to all this trouble to troll people.

The staff woman believed him and eyes wide, got to work evacuating the building. Meanwhile, the older man gave him a knowing look. Derrick allowed himself to be dragged away by the larger man while the two women talked.

“How did you really get hurt,” asked the bald man once they were out of earshot. Apparently, he could easily see Derrick's wounds were not from being attacked.

“I was on the treadmill when the I got the message,” he replied with an embarrassed smile. “Caught me off guard.”

The older man gave him a sympathetic wince.

“I was mid set of a 300lb bench press,” he said. “Was one bad reflex away from dropping that on my face or neck. Was a devil of a time trying to get the bar back on the bench when I couldn't see. Name's Bruce by the way.”

“Derrick,” he returned and shook the friendly man's hand.

“Anita, was even more unlucky” the man continued with a nod at the Young Indian woman. “She was just leaving when we got the message. Fair warning, you can't leave the building without getting zapped like a wandering dog.”

“We have been conscripted it seems,” Anita said with deep distaste after moving up to them. “We should wait until most people have left the building and check out the building together.”

Anita was a tiny woman, especially compared to Bruce, but despite being young and petite, she had a severity to her that gave her natural authority.

Derrick was perfectly happy to follow her plan. The last thing he wanted was to be in charge of... whatever this was. Bruce just gave a shrug and rolled his shoulders as he watched people leave the building in a hurry. Derrick saw his gaze linger on various pieces of female anatomy. He seemed so completely carefree in their weird situation, Derrick had to wonder if he was on drugs. Even he showed fear for a second though, when the lights cut out and the emergency lighting kicked in.

“We should head to the men's locker room,” Derrick said.

“Why,” Anita asked warily. Clearly she was not impressed with that suggestion.

“That's where I put my axe.”

Anita shot him another look.

“Why do we need body spray,” asked Bruce with narrowed eyes.


 

The three of them with Bruce leading the way, made it to the locker room without incident. Bruce had picked up a straight bar and was using the five foot long metal pole to poke doors open and peek inside.

While Bruce and Anita watched his back he opened his locker and took out the bouquet.

“That's not an axe,” said Anita. The weapon couldn't be seen from below and she was.. well, short.

“It's hidden inside.” he replied defensively.

“Why,” she said deadpan.

“Because I thought it safer to look like a romantic idiot than an axe murderer?” he said. “And I didn't have a carpet to roll it up in.”

Derrick roughly pulled the axe out of the bouquet and placed the bouquet on the bench that ran between the rows of lockers.

He made sure no one was in range and gave the axe a few swings. When he felt somewhat comfortable swinging it around, he brought it down on the bench. He'd only expected it to bite into the wood, but the blade buried itself halfway into it, going clean through the bench. He was worried that it might be stuck, but it came out suspiciously easy. Almost as easily as it went in.

“Nice axe,” Bruce said with a goofy grin.

“Thanks,” said Derrick. “The Support Station recommended it when I asked what I should buy.”

Bruce hit his open hand with his fist.

“Dang.” He said. “I guess it's important to axe the right questions, eh? Oh, well. I got some sick muscle juice out of it.”

Did he just... No ignore that.

“Muscle juice?” Derrick asked skeptically.

“Ya, man. A Myostatin blocker with sick extras.” He flexed his arms. “Bigger and stronger than ever, but I've lost eight pounds in the last four hours. Power to weight ratio, through the roof.”

Huh, that was also a good idea. He wondered if he could get some of that later. He was no feather weight but muscles seemed like a solid investment.

“We done here?” Asked Anita deadpan. “I don't want to be punished again because you two are chatty.”

“Just gotta use the washroom quickly,” Derrick said. Some things could not be ignored even in a horror movie setting.

Bruce used his bar to push the door open and Derrick pressed himself to the floor to check under the stalls.

“All clear” he said and entered the washroom alone. He made his way to a urinal, placed his axe on top of it and began to relieve himself.

When he was done and zipping up his fly, he turned around to make his way to a sink but found the way blocked.

A man in workout clothes was calmly standing between the exit and him, seemingly fascinated by him.

Behaviour, that even before the first steps into Apocalypse would send up warning flags. The situation was not helped by how the man's skin was an unnatural grey colour.

Derrick raised his axe.

“I have an axe,” he said unnecessarily with as much bravado as he could manage. As threats went it was... true.

The man was the same size as him, but had a very bad vibe to him. Derrick cursed in his head. The man must have been standing on a toilet in one of the stalls so Derrick hadn't seen him when he checked a minute ago.

The man just smiled at him, his teeth the same unnatural grey as his skin.

Derrick considered yelling for help but didn't want to escalate things when help could arrive any moment even if he did nothing.

Maybe it wasn't as bad as it seemed.

“I see you.” The man said in a calming singsong voice. “Submission is Salvation”

A chill swept down his spine. Never mind, it was as bad as it seemed. Maybe worse.

He quickly yelled for help and took a step back, trying to keep the axe between the man and himself. His only fighting training was a little bit of kick boxing from years ago, so he settled into a comfortable stance and turned to the side to present a smaller target.

Just when he thought the man was going remain still, he launched himself forward, one arm raised to intercept the axe. Derrick tried to control the distance by stepping back and to the side, unfortunately his back was to a wall of urinals so space was limited. His attacker was fast and fearless, but Derrick must have done something right because much to the amateur axe fighters surprise, his weapon hit and sunk into the man's shoulder from the side. Unfortunately, that didn't stop what he was now considering to be his inhuman attacker. His arm hung limply at his side and oozed grey fluid, but his other hand shot out at Derrick's throat.

Derrick tucked his chin and protected his throat, the man continued forward and body checked him into the washroom wall. The grey skinned thing tried to pin him up against the wall, while his good hand crept towards Derrick's mouth.

Oh fuck no. He grabbed the man's hand but was unable to stop him from inching it closer to his lips. The grey thing that looked like a man was stronger than it appeared. He sent the axe in for a second wild blow and felt it dig into shoulder flesh again. Nothing changed, so he tried again. This time the axe bite into the thing's neck. With it's fingers now touching his lower lip and its face only inches from his, the thing smiled at him. Derrick panicked and tried to push it away, but it refused to move. It was like a grey statue had grabbed him.

It seemed like his heart was firing off like a machine gun as inhuman and empty eyes stared into his. Then, a second later it fell to the floor like a puppet whose strings were cut and convulsed for a few seconds before lying still. Panting and sweating, Derrick wasted no time putting distance between himself and... it.

Universal Support System

Grey Legion Agent

Disabled

Mission Update

 

 

Threat identified as Grey Legion Injection

1) Destroy disabled Grey Legion Agents

2) Find and destroy Injection Drone before it spreads infection further


That was just as weird the second time. So, this was a Grey Agent, eh? He felt a little sick as he took in its gaping wounds and knew he'd done that with an axe. It helped a lot though that the grey thing didn't really seem all that human to him. Was it an alien disguised as a human... or something worse? The USS used the word infection... He was staring at it so intently that he almost jumped out of his skin when the door was thrown open and Bruce, covered in grey splatter burst into the washroom while twirling a 20 pound bar above his bald head.

The larger man took in the scene and immediately shifted from looking fierce to looking apologetic. Anita followed him in without comment, as indifferent as ever. Derrick noticed she was completely clean but had a small switchblade with traces of grey on the blade.

“Sorry, little buddy,” Bruce said, “We got attacked by three of them coming out of the women's locker room.”

“They seem to have been coordinated,” Anita added as she took in the scene. “Picked their timing perfectly.”

She moved towards the agent and readied her knife. Derrick moved to block her instinctively and she raised an eyebrow at him.

“Let me,” he said and considered the unmoving body and she graciously backed off without a word.

Thanks to the strange sensation of adrenaline surging through his veins, he had a million thoughts going through his head. He was glad for it though, he was an IT guy not a... hero, or soldier, or whatever. It didn't seem like the universe cared about his opinion on the matter though.

The grey body was still but he noticed the bleeding had stopped and the wounds looked smaller. It was going to get back up soon. His fight had been messy, partly because he'd hesitated to strike a lethal blow when it started. He flashed back to the thing's eyes as it smiled from mere inches away and he scowled while wiping his lip with his sleeve where it had touched him.

He organized his thoughts. Things were different now. For example, he could and probably was going to die violently relatively soon. He didn't want to die with a passion that honestly surprised him. But he probably would anyway unless he took steps. Steps like getting better at surviving and fighting.

Anita cleared her throat.

No more hesitating. If brutality would keep him alive than he'd be brutal. It was just a little change really, squeamishness had never been a virtue, just pretending to be. Derrick took a deep breathe, then another and brought the axe down in one full body movement. The secret, some forgotten memory from childhood martial arts lessons told him, was the transfer of power from the ground, through his body to his wrists.

Once again the axe came out easily. Derrick wondered what it said about him as a person that he'd found it so easy to do that. Well he didn't really think of the Grey Agent as a person to begin with, it had been obviously inhuman in the end there.

Grey Agent destroyed, unlocking database.

Universal Support System Implant

Grey Legion Agent (F)

Created from living natives by Drones Injected onto newly revealed worlds, Grey Agents are larval members of the Legion. No matter who they were before, they will serve the Grey Legion, gathering and defending resources that will allow Legion bases to produce Legionnaires; the soldiers of the Grey Legion.

Part of a unified collective. It takes only hours for Grey Agents to display regenerative abilities and toughness far greater than their original hosts. Their direct threat is somewhat diminished by the fact they rarely ever fight to kill, instead seeking to capture and turn living natives by delivering them to Drones.

As time goes by, Legion  Drones will further adapt and enhance Agents. 


“He was axing for it eh?” Bruce said with a dopey smile. “Well, its good you proved you’re the better man by being the one to bury the hatchet.”

A long silence.

“We need to kill this Drone thing and be done with all this,” Anita said, obviously ignoring Bruce's abomination of a joke.

“Yes,” Derrick agreed easily. “Any ideas where it might be? If it's smart enough to pull off a coordinated ambush like you said, it's probably smart enough to hide from us now.”

There was a loud sound like a water balloon bursting.

“Found it,” said Bruce cheerfully from the doorway to a bathroom stall.

Derrick moved to look inside and almost vomited. Bruce had crushed a huge and fat spider looking creature the size of a soccer ball that was attached to the neck of what he hoped was a corpse. The grey body was attached by a few grey threads to the side of the stall and toilet. Derrick stared, morbidly fascinated by the scene. Some threads were thicker and ran from the toilets tank and a hole in the wall into the Drone. Was it using water and electricity?

Anita moved with speed and grace to plunge her knife into the corpse's eye. Then, finding another body hanging in another stall, stabbed it as well, then cut its throat for good measure.

At this point, the floor of the washroom was covered in flowing grey fluid that was carriying tiny chunks of white flesh to the floor drain. It was a battle to keep the contents of his stomach from joining the rest.

Universal Support System Implant

Mission Complete

60 points earned for emergency activation.

390 points earned for successfully repelling Grey Legion Injection.

Return to Support Station to spend points for vital rewards.

Implant will remain active.

9:07:21 until Phase One


“So, should we exchange phone numbers?” Asked Derrick hopefully. This seemed like an ideal time to make some competent friends. Definitely more useful than either claire of Brian.

Anita snorted and turned to leave. Derrick considered stopping her but really it wasn't like he had anything that would change her mind. Part of him felt they should like team up, or something, but that was ridiculous, they were still strangers and most people would have things to do, like check on family and friends.

“Don't worry, buddy. She just has a lot on her mind.” Bruce said and slapped him on the back hard enough to unbalance him. “You did good.”

“Err, thanks.” Said the younger man. It felt weird to be complimented for his messy kill, but not in a bad way? “I was mostly just trying to keep from freaking out.”

“Fake it till you make it,” replied the older man with a smile. “No one is born a hero.”

“... Where do you know Anita from?” Asked Derrick as he considered the unlikely pair. How were they so good at this? Were they police, criminals or army?

“We do yoga together sometimes,” Bruce said with a shrug, grey fluids dripping off him. “Now, I think we should steal some clothes and take a shower before the police come arrest us or we start turning grey.”

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Mirrored

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