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Bruce's number was an alright consolation prize, Derrick supposed. The large man had proven himself a good guy to have around when... aliens attacked. Or whatever.

It was unsatisfying compared to the number of an... interesting woman like Anita on an emotional level though.

So, sore from a very different workout than he'd expected, hair wet from his shower and wearing stolen clothes that didn't quite fit, he made his way home. His trusty axe was hidden in a pilfered sports bag, so he wasn't worried about anyone finding it.

Every once in a while, he would hear sirens in the distance. He was sure the cops had better things to do than search his bag at this point. He hoped they could step up and deal with 'Injections', after all they had the training and the guns.

He guessed the USS had only conscripted them because they were at the scene of the Injection, which seemed like a massive stroke of either good or bad luck for him. The Grey Legion had obviously been spreading and the system had wanted to stop them? If they weren't allies though, then why did they both show up at the same time? Somethign must have happened or changed to allow... something else? He had nowhere near enough informsation to even guess what was going on. 

Well, he was thankful it wasn't his job to figure this all out. He'd just keep his head down while looking for opportunities and see what happened.

Stealing some internet access from a coffeehouse on his way back home, he looked up the latest developments. There was nothing on alien invasions whatsoever. Just electrical failures and increasingly brutal police and military action worldwide. He wondered how many riots were Grey Legion related. Probably none of them he'd guess. It didn't seem like their style to blend in and incite riots. They seemed more interested in creepy leering and aggressively violating personal space.

One news site had video of a 'Pandora Machine' regrowing itself in a crater after some military had bombed it. The site went on to say they were considering filling it with water to see what happened. Derrick guessed they'd poke it with a stick after. For Science, no doubt. Sometimes he was embarrased to be human. No that the other options were looking good either. 

Another site had a 'panel of experts' debating the timer displayed on the machines and what could happen when it ran to zero. Some people were afraid they were bombs, which Derrick found hilarious.

 Step one: Create super advanced vending machines that defy all scientific and economic rules

Step two: Blow them up

Step three: ???

Step Four: Profit

 He surfed for awhile but if the denizens of the internet had any useful info that he didn't, they were keeping to themselves. So he left the shop and walked the short distance to his apartment. The whole apartment building was quiet when he arrived, and he made it inside his apartment without incident. He wasn't going to be going to work tomorrow after everything that had happened. So, he decided to prepare himself for anything dangerous that might happen tomorrow.

Apparently surprise alien zombie attacks were a thing now.

He texted Clara and Brian to leave a vague warning about going out unarmed. He was little annoyed neither had contacted him. Not surprised however. The timing of this alien invasion was just bad. He'd just moved to a new city to find work, so he had no one to watch his back. Well, even if he could get back to his old town in under eight hours, it wasn't like he had any family there. No, it seemed like he was going solo.

He turned his TV to the news and searched for videos on axe fighting with his phone. They were basically non-existent but he did find a number of videos on axe throwing as well as learn that his weapon was balanced for throwing. He gleefully chopped a cheap chair apart and mounted the seat on the wall as a target. He quickly ran into a problem, though it kinda solved itself. His axe went right through the wood, the drywall behind it and embedded itself into the concrete wall.

Meh, it came out easily so he just practised like that. It was surprisingly relaxing and after a few hours he managed to almost always strike with the blade when he threw from less than twenty feet. Maybe he was talented at this? It was recommended to him by the USS but how would it know?

Universal Support System Implant

New Training Mission

You have been paired with another nearby User and your locations revealed to each other through mental beacons.

Kill them with an approved weapon (Small Ethisium Axe).

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

 ...

...

What? He felt a presence below him, probably on the floor below him. That and the fact it wasn't moving was all he could tell about it.

He made no move towards it. The System couldn't really want him to kill some random could it? No, he wouldn't even if it did. He was a modern person, raised understanding the importance of morality and virtue. It couldn't make...

“Herbagerb,” he said as his violently spasming muscles threw him into the wall of his apartment with a dull thud. He landed in a heap and writhed for a few seconds. After a few seconds of that, the pain stopped and a message appeared.

Obedience protocols activated. We apologize for the inconvenience. Ten seconds of idleness till reactivation.

Fuck No.

He quickly stood up, grabbed his axe and bolted for the door.

Here was a fundamental truth of his existence. When the going got tough, he got going. Which wasn't to say he ran away. The modern world left no place to run to. It was just that action was easier than thought sometimes. Half of what people thought about was really just being anxious about things.

That had been really really unpleasant. Like the worst thing he could remember having ever experienced. Worse than taking a kick to the head or sticking pliers in an electric socket by orders of magnitude. Even as he ran, he had to suppress twitches caused by phantom pain. First extreme danger, and now extreme pain. It seemed like it was a day for horrible firsts.

The USS was not fucking around it seemed. Nor was it a benevolent as it had seemed when it was just offering free stuff. Could he kill some person even if it essentially forced him to? His target was still a floor below him. Elevator or stairs? Stairs. Elevator was slow and predictable.

Was he a killer? Could he get away with murder? He was basically on his way to becoming a literal axe murderer. It would take the police maybe two minutes to figure out what went down. What about witnesses?

His wild thoughts and plans came to an abrupt end when after bouncing off the walls of the stairwell and flying through the stairwell door, he found himself face to face with a combat knife wielding young man whose face full of pure surprise was no doubt a mirror of his own.

They were practically in each others arms before either could react to Derrick's high speed entrance. Old kickboxing instincts kicked in and he grabbed at the other's head for leverage and drove a knee at the other's gut. His strike was surprisingly well executed but diminished somewhat by the elbow to the head he received.

Blood flying from his nose and his opponent gasping to recapture the breath driven from his lungs, they both stumbled backwards. Today was not a great day for his face.

They both collected their wits and eyed each other warily. Derrick adopted the classic kickboxing stance, it had sort of worked against the Grey Agent earlier. His opponent stood more normally, he didn't seem to have any kind of martial training, more concerned with looking tough than freedom of movement or balance. In fact, the pasty kid didn't seem to be in shape at all. He looked a few years younger than Derrick with a round face and a bit of a gut. Derrick doubted the kid even had his own apartment, he probably lived with his parents.

The kid was gripping his knife so hard his fingers had changed color. The only thing he could do to make his grip worse was holding the knife upside down. Now that the panic and surprise were gone, neither were willing to make the next move.

“This is not how I pictured my day going,” Derrick said, mostly to himself.

“Fuck you,” Derrick's opponent said, breath still ragged. “I'm not going to die here! This is my chance to prove myself, to be a hero!”

Tensing up, the pudgy young man shot at him as if he was going to football tackle him. Was this stupid or smart of him? Derrick, with his limited fighting experience couldn't tell. He circled away from the others charge, and swung his axe almost lazily at an unprotected shoulder. He was unable to keep a wince off his face as he did.

His axe tore through the others t-shirt and drew blood. First blood was his, whatever that was worth. His opponent caught him off guard, for some reason Derrick thought he would flinch away but instead he leaped at him with his knife in front of him. Derrick responded by having his free hand shoot out and use a classic karate block to push the knife hand away and grab the others wrist.

They stood like that for a second, until a subtle change in stance telegraphed the others intention to knee him in the balls. Derrick's fighting experience was limited but that was a lesson you never forgot, so Derrick turned his hips to protect himself and using followed through by punching the younger man in the jaw with a quick jab. He was suddenly less inclined to mercy. The opponent's knife fell to the ground and his legs failed.

“That was not a very heroic thing to try.” Derrick said dryly, finding the idea of murder growing on him.

He let his opponent fall to the ground, delivering a quick kick to his ribs as he did. The kid caught his ankle the second time and hugged it, rolling onto his side as he did to give him an angle to attack Derrick's caught leg with his knife. Derrick pulled back to slow the strike and stomped down towards the others arm that was wrapped around his ankle. The pudgy kid saw it coming though and rolled away, rising to his feet quickly.

Honestly, Derrick could have ended the fight right there, but he hesitated. Turned out it was hard to knowingly end another human's life.

“Heroes do what it takes to win,” the other said.

“I'm pretty sure that's villains,” he replied as he waited for a sign of weakness. “Not that I'm judging you. Would be a bit hypocritical really.”

“I've seen the future,” was the answer he got, which caused him to raise an eyebrow. “And you’re not in it.”

It was getting harder to take this fight seriously, which in turn made it harder to work up his murderous impulses. At least until the kid launched himself forward again, guarding his head and neck.

Derrick tried a new strategy this time. He stepped forward and swung the axe up from below. When the charging kid dropped his guard, Derrick stepped forward again and palm striked him in the face. He wasn't confident in a clean chin blow and barehanded punching people in the skull is a bad idea.

Derrick's opponent dropped hard and lay gasping on the ground. It seemed like he had won. Yay him.

“Sorry about this,” Derrick said. This was Canada, so while he may be an axe murderer, he at least would be a polite one, gosh darn it.

He really didn't want to kill this guy, but he knew delaying it would only make it go one of two ways. Either he would be zapped till he murdered the younger man or he was zapped till the younger man recovered and murdered him. No part of him found the idea of dying here acceptable.

“If this had happened a few hours earlier, I probably wouldn't have been able to go through with this.”

He raised his axe and brought it down. It impacted the others neck with soft thump, as if he had hit the pudgy young man with a foam axe instead of some super advanced alien alloy.

Universal Support System Implant

Training Mission Complete

Paired opponent defeated.

Obedience Protocols Deactivated!

Training mode unlocked


“Huh.” Well fuck. This was obviously better than becoming a murderer but now he felt really stupid. It had been called a training exercise but really who could apply logic in a situation like this?

The killing blow had probably been the point of all this. The USS was conscripting regular people as soldiers from what he'd seen at the gym. If it was going to use them, it would need to drive home the seriousness of the situation so they wouldn't flinch when it sent them on missions against enemies like the Grey Legion that looked human.

He considered the man groaning on the floor in front of him. Now that he had a second to look, the cut on his shoulder was way too shallow, it was barely bleeding. It seemed like their weapons had safety modes.

“You want some ice or something,” he asked the wheezing adolescent on the floor.

“Fuck the fuck off,” the other man groaned from the ground.

“Fair,” said Derrick and slunk away to his apartment. He was grateful no one saw that.

Once there, he decided the best plan was to go to sleep. He was unbelievably tired now that the adrenaline was gone. As a security precaution he moved his couch in front of his apartment door with some plates perched on its armrest. Then, he set his alarm for an hour before Phase One and was asleep seconds after falling on his bed.


 

Derrick woke up early, his internal clock waking him before the alarm.

He rolled out of bed. Checked his messages. Showered. Got dressed. Did a couple of axe tosses. Had a bowl of cereal and left the house with his stolen sports bag crammed with supplies a full hour before Phase One.

On the streets people seemed to be going about their lives like normal. Some looked nervous, but he didn't see any weapons or police barricades. About half of the businesses were closed but the other half were happy for the extra business it seemed.

He considered stopping for a coffee, but every Timmy's was mobbed by people. Whatever was going to happen, people were determined to face it heavily caffeinated.

It took him twenty minutes to reach his destination, the alley where the Universal Support Station was at. Despite everything that had happened yesterday, no one was responding to his texts. Well except Bruce, who was apparently on the other side of town with his sister's family. Neither of them mentioned the training exercise. Derrick couldn't imagine that the older man would have lost his though. The USS would have had to make him fight an entire city block to make it a challenge. In his head, he could see Bruce grinning and swatting down a horde of attackers with a street sign he'd ripped out of the ground.

Anita might be smaller but she'd dealt with the Grey Legion ruthlessly and competently. He doubted she would hesistate, which might be more of an advantage than muscles. 

Seems like he was facing Phase Two alone. All the other Users he knew were either indifferent to him or openly hostile now.

He sighed. It was honestly depressing.

The sum total of his plan was to hang out by the Station, see what happened and buy stuff to improve his chances of survival.

There was no place to sit in the alley and the flower shop was closed, so he made himself comfortable on the front steps of the shop. He dropped his bag beside him and seeing that the street was empty he put his headphones on to pass the time. Soon he'd closed his eyes and was lost in the music.

When Phase One began he didn't even open his eyes, in fact it was easier to read System notifications with his eyes closed.

Universal Support System Implant

Phase One

Warning: Injection denial shield full failure

All User Implants fully activated

All local Users +373 Points

Generating User Profiles


If the implant in his head could be believed, it seemed like the USS' had been trying to stop Injections. He knew Injections were a special kind of bad if the Grey Legion was from one. Did this mean more Grey Legion Drones would show up now? Was the city soon to be full of zombies? The world?

More points were nice but what good was a profile?

Universal Support System Implant

Retrieving data....

Generating Titles....

Ambitious

Has chosen to be ambitious. Will receive greater rewards and face greater risks during Phase One.

Emergency Activation

Was activated early to deal with a local Injection crisis.

 

User Profile

Name: Derrick

Show Title: Ambitious

Role: Fighter

Lv 1.1

Titles: Ambitious, Emergency Activation

Traits: Curative Blood (E) (Defensive)

Successful USS combat missions: 1

USS Points: 833

 

Traits

Curative Blood (E)

Defensive Trait. Modified blood cells and plasma give increased resistance and healing speed.

 

Proficiencies

Basic Melee

Has basic skills with melee weapons


Huh, he'd honestly forgotten about that that little questionnaire at the start of all this. Seems those choices had consequences. One of those consequences was apparently allowing a glorified vending machine the ability to alter his mind and body as it willed.

Was level 1.1 the start or did he gain a level from his “Emergency Activation.”

How did the implants work? Was there a chip in his head now?

Universal Support System Implant

Nano machines are ingested or injected and make their way to the host's brain. There, they catalyze and encourage the brain to grow new specialized nodes. Once done, the nano machines break down, leaving no foreign matter within the brains of the native host.


Huh, that was actually a lot weirder than what he'd been thinking. So instead of a microchip in his head he now had new pieces added on to his brain?

He reached deep down inside himself for how he felt about this. It seemed like the kind of thing that should offend him to the very core of his being but all he felt was a mental shrug.

Role: Fighter (F)

Fighter is a simple role for those that lack specialized skills but posses fighting spirit. As your level increases your body will be modified to help fulfill the role of one who stands on the front line with weapon in hand.

Small improvements to muscle and bone density, reaction time and muscle endurance each level.

Prerequisites: Ambitious Trait


... Fighting spirit? That wasn't even fucking true... It seemed more like it was just trying to lazily avoid calling him useless fodder... Fuck, this wasn't good. 

“How do I change Roles?”

Unlock Roles by gaining titles, traits and proficiencies. You can change to an unlocked higher-grade Role but not the same grade or lower.

 So, he was stuck as a fighter for the foreseeable future. Urghhh.

He'd never been in love with his body. It was fine, as bodies went but he long ago accepted he would never be anything but mediocre no matter what he did.

The fact that this may no longer be true was.... interesting. He felt an almost forgotten part of himself stir. Hadn't Bruce mentioned something about muscle juice? Maybe this wasn't the best time to get distracted by theory building or soul searching. He didn't know how much time he had. On to practical concerns then.

He was more than fine with Curative Blood, which he assumed came from the System boosting his health; aka, his greatest strength. But Ambitious? He'd chosen that on a whim, not because he wanted to be fighting off alien invasions with an axe.

Universal Support System Implant

Multiple Local Injections Detected (Grey Legion, Spore Tyrants, Nano Ark, Feral Artisans)

Generating new Mission

New Mission Chain: Repel First Wave

1)Prepare to Clear Grey Legion Injection

2)Await pickup

Item Granted: Basic breather mask.

Would you like to upgrade mask for 112 USSP?


Wow, a lot to worry about here. Why did he need a breather mask now and not before? Was it unrelated to the Grey Legion? Spore Tyrants sounded like the kind of thing you'd want a mask to be around. Well, the axe it had recommended was handy so he was willing to give the station the benefit of a doubt. It was free anyway.

“Hold that thought,” he said. “Display recommendations.”

Universal Support System Shop

Small Balanced Ethisium Axe 290 USSP

Light Protective Underwear 212 USSP

Curative Blood (D) 311 USSP

Total: 813

Current USSP: 833


This seemed good to him and he confirmed the order with a thought. A spare axe was a great idea, especially if he was going to start throwing them around. He liked the idea of making himself harder to kill as well, especially a permanent buff. It was stupid but he liked the idea of upgrading himself. For the first time today, he found a sincere smile on his face.

What was the limit to that sort of thing? Were the survivors of this going to end up straight up superhuman? Would the USS take the stuff back when it was over? Was it going to ever be over?

“Display Buffs.” he said.

Browsing locked. Please make specific requests.


Why would they lock browsing? Maybe he'd used the wrong terminology?

“Display available traits.”

Universal Support System Shop

Traits available:

Curative Blood (D) (Defensive) 311 USSP


Huh.

“How do I unlock more traits?”

Increase Level, Titles or Proficiencies


He opened his mouth to ask the obvious question but the Support Station pre-empted him.

Increase Level by completing missions

Gain Titles by accomplishing notable feats

Gain Proficiencies by displaying competence


That last part was a little hurtful considering his one basic proficiency. Apparently, he was insufficiently prepared for alien invasions. No point wasting time questioning the Station, getting useful info from it was like squeezing water from a stone. He purchased the recommendations and extracted the items as the machine finished them. A hard  black mask that covered the bottom of his face, a familiar axe and a pure white t-shirt made of something that looked like scales so small he could barely see them. Lastly a can of Soda of the Curative Blood (D) flavour. That was actually a little reassuring. Knowing that the System couldn't change his body or blood remotely. Or that it at least needed to pretend.

He put the underwear on under his clothes and stuffed the other things in his bag. All done with the USS, he moved back to the steps in front of the flower shop.

He sat there for a long time, watching cars pass by. Even with everything happening there were just as many cars on the road. Pretty much zero pedestrians though. Did people just feel safer driving than walking?

It was over an hour later that his ride showed up. It was not as he had hoped, an alien craft or even a military vehicle. Just an actual pickup truck. It was red and had two guys in it.

Derrick felt cheated, why was this straight from science fiction invasion so low budget? Vending machines and axes? Where were the lasers and jet-packs?

...He really should have asked the machine how much a jet pack would set him back. Or a lightsaber. He sighed and climbed in the back seat, taking the last seat that wasn't filled by bags or people. As soon as he'd buckled in, a hand was thrust out at him. He took and shook it.

“Welcome to my humble ride,” the driver said before turning forward and putting the pedal to the metal. Derrick felt himself fall into the seat behind him as the truck accelerated. “I hope you know what the fuck is going on, because I sure don't.”

Ah, that was right, he was actually more experienced than most other people. Derrick considered the question as storefronts blurred past. He was pretty sure they just ran a red light. It would be all kinds of messed up if he died in a car accident on his way to fight aliens.

“Kinda,” he replied to the man's question, earning the attention of the other passenger for the first time. He was an Asian teenager who seemed to have adapted poorly to the last twenty-four hours. He was clutching something in his hand so tightly it was shaking.

“You're both Users?” He asked and received two nods. “Well it seems like a bunch of aliens are all invading the earth at the same time using something called Injections. The vend... Pandora Machines or USS or whatever belongs to something that seems to be trying help us out by creating a militia to put out small fires before they get bigger?”

It sounded really dumb when he said it out loud like that. His fellow passengers just nodded like they believed every word he'd said though.

“You can ask the machines for recommendations to use your points,” he added. “I've found it helpful.”

Silence.

“So were we going?” he asked.

“I'm dropping you both off at an apartment downtown,” the driver said. “I'm just transportation.”

“Safety,” Derrick said.

“Damn straight,” the man replied. “Best choice I ever made. Except of course buying Nashell here.”

The driver gave the top of the dashboard a loving pat.

“Can't say I don't agree,” said Derrick the Fighter with a sigh. “What about you?” he asked the young Asian man riding shotgun.

“Ambition,” the kid said and Derrick saw a sad smile take up his face. “I didn't understand... Who could, until they experienced it for themselves?”

Another long pause before Derick decided to fill the silence.

“Saw what?” He asked cautiously. He liked to think that the Grey Legion was close to as bad as things could get, but something in the others voice said otherwise.

“The System called it an Embryonic Feral Artisan and told us to kill it,” the other explained. “A dozen men and women walked into a dinky little park. A few hundred trees and a kid's jungle gym. We organized ourselves into groups like it was gym class... We found it easily enough... it wasn't even trying to hide, didn't even seem to notice us surround it as it played with rocks and trees. Only three people walked out of that stupid little park.. I'm pretty sure it didn't stop playing right up till we finally killed it.”

A short pause.

“I don't think I can survive another. The things it could do... were wrong.” the Asian teen continued before shuddering and turning away.

Derrick was more a loner than a leader. He struggled to find something to say and came up blank. What would Anita say? Probably she'd just look unimpressed.

Bruce? He couldn't think of a bad pun... That was the complete list of bad asses he knew.

His only other experience with “leaders” was middle managers from work.

Here at United Support, we Users are a family! Now suicide rush alien horrors or we'll zap you.

He immediately discarded the idea of emulating them.

“You're going to have to,” he said, surprising even himself. “Get over yourself and your angst. The truth is that this is nothing people haven't dealt with before.”

“What?” the driver asked, turning away from the road and giving Derrick a incredulous look.

“Not the specifics, with the aliens and stuff,” he hastily added. “Chaos, violence, the ever-present shadow of fucking horrible death. Despite having a stylist and a cellphone, you're exactly still the same breed of animal that climbed down out of the trees and took control of the world through the liberal use of sharp objects. This isn't something new, it's something old, just across a wider horizon.”

Somehow, without realizing it he'd become passionate. He found he actually meant what he'd said to, weird. 

Silence reigned after his speech.

Honestly, he felt like apologizing for his rant and might have if he didn't feel so tired, his chest rose and fell frantically as he sat in the back seat of a stranger's pickup. He wasn't used to being emotional... it was exhausting.

“This is your stop,” the driver said as the truck came to a stop in front of a convenience store at the corner of commercial intersection.

As he left the truck, he saw a dozen people standing round with various weapons. Men, women, old and young, a grab bag of Users eyed him with mild interest. He noticed a lot of grey fluid on clothes and weapons.

There was a squeal of tires as his ride escaped the scene. No doubt trying to get away from the crazies like him.

He took in the scenery.

In front of the store, a familiar white vending machine was standing, trampled police tape was under the feet of the crowd and two empty police cars sat half on the sidewalk.

From nearby, he heard a gunshot and flinched.

He eyed his fellow Users but none of them seemed to have noticed or cared.

“... zombies with guns,” someone said.

“... better here than at the zoo.” replied someone else.

Worrying, that. He didn't want to fight zombie zoo animals. Or zoo animal with lasers strapped to their heads being ridden by alien zombies...

“... all over the world,” said still another.

Ahhh. For some reason thinking about the shit that must be going down around the world caused his mental defences to fail. He felt a wave of despair overtake him. The world was so big... and he was so small.

Derick reached into his bag and felt the warm shafts of his axes. Reassuring if somewhat useless against guns. Things seemed to be escalating fast. He took out his phone and looked for a WiFi to surf the net. The only unsecured network was one titled “Universal Support System Network.” ... was that a joke or was the Pandora Machine actually a wireless hub?

Universal Support System Implant

New Mission

(1) Clear apartment building of Grey Legion

(2) Rescue civilians and escort them from the building.

(3) Prevent Legion Drones (0/2) from escaping


Derrick stood and shoved his phone in his pocket. He took out a protein bar and devoured it as the others stirred to action. He took his mask out and hung it over his neck. He threw his bag onto a pile of them. He was unsure if it was a safe place for his things, but faced with he task ahead, was unable to care much.

Across the street a high-rise apartment stood silent, it's lights dark on all two dozen floors. Around it, cars had been used to make to make barriers that people with rifles seemed to be manning. As he walked closer to the building, it loomed overhead, a monolith of grey and black. Four hundred? At least two hundred people must live in this building. How many had been... taken by the legion? How many would he have to kill? How was he going to do this?

He idly flipped his axes as he thought.

Where were the police and army? Did the USS really think a bunch of amateurs could handle something like this. He frowned, he didn't know much about warfare but he knew urban warfare was a bad starting point. Keep it from spreading sure, it needed to be done. But an assault on a building this big?

He made it to the front door without incident and once there was greeted by a young but rough looking blonde man in what he would guess was military surplus fatigues. Neither handsome or ugly, he was the kind of guy you ignored a dozen of every day.

“Welcome to the party” the man said with a forced smile. He seemed to have been expecting Derrick, which he guesses was normal considering the all-knowing force he was working for.

A small group of four people stood silently behind him.

“Here's the cliff notes,” the man continued as he looked Derrick over. “Floors up to eleven have been totally cleared. Above that we got groups going in and breaking down doors. Escorting any non-Users we find back down here and killing anything the wrong shade of grey.”

It sounded like he had given this speech before.

“You look reasonably competent at least. Not a flincher or a whiner anyway. At least the USS isn't dumping hopeless cases on us. The last thing we need is to feed this tumour.” the man said and gestured at the building above them. When Derrick didn't immediately reply, he continued. “The only other options are joining the perimeter if you've got a gun and going in solo. There were a couple of idiots that did that at the start, but I haven't seen them in awhile.”

His tone made it clear what he thought had happened to those idiots. Derrick agreed with him. Back at the gym he'd killed one unarmed Grey Agent by what was mostly desperation and adrenaline fuelled strength.

“Sure, I'll join you guys.” Derrick replied. “You also seem reasonably competent.”

The blonde man smiled at him. It wasn't a kind smile. Honestly, he looked like kind of a dick, but only in the way confident people usually were. Well, it wasn't like he had a better option.

“Good. My name is Blake,” he said and offered Derrick his hand. Derrick shook it as he examined Blake's group. Two other guys and a woman, all serious and silent. Each of them held a bladed weapon at the ready. The only visible gun was an old rifle hung over the shoulder of the woman of the group.

“Derrick,” he replied and then asked the question on his mind. “Why are most of the guns outside?”

Blake gave a humourless laugh.

“Every clearing group has one gun and one gun only, cuts down on the number of civilians and teammates shot. A lot more people with guns floating around now than people who should have guns,” he replied. “Most people skilled with them are outside to prevent any escapees,” he said and shrugged. “The Grey Agents are hard to kill with bullets anyway. When we first got here a group of Users got swamped and their guns stolen. Grey Agents with guns are a bitch and a half to fight. Now we make sure to keep guns away from them.”

“The USS set this all up?” Derrick asked.

“None of us are volunteers if that's what you're asking. The USS seems pretty hands off though. Just gave a bunch of us the mission and had us sort ourselves out.” Answered Blake. “We had some regular cops enter the building and try to warn us off. We just ignored them and now they're gone.”

“Their ignorance was amazing. The guy had a cute butt though,” the skinny blond woman said and gave a little laugh, almosta giggle. She was plain, with straw yellow hair and lines on her face. She wouldn't have looked like a fighter at all if not for a certain confidence to her. More than any of the other people he had met recently, she seemed calm and at ease. Like she knew what was going on and was fine with it.

“They threatened to jail us,” she continued, one corner of her mouth turned up. 

A chuckle ran through the group at that.

Derrick didn't laugh but he found a smile stretching his face. A nice safe cell? Sounded great, at least until the inevitable horror movie ending. He grimaced. It was a sure thing that that exact scenario had played itself out a hundred times around the world since this morning. Even the roughest of treatment in an interrogation room couldn't compare to how the USS punished people. He shuddered just from remembering the feeling. Like his blood had been replaced with super heated hot sauce mixed with battery acid.

A voice rang out from the nearby staircase. A small group, like the one he had just joined, herded an older couple and two wild eyed teenagers out of the staircase and the building.

“Eleven clear. We need eyes on the stairs,” one of the new arrivals said. No sooner had he said it than the women from his group moved into the staircase. Derrick and the rest followed her and soon the group was climbing the stairs. He nervously took in a number of red and grey stains on the cement stairwell walls.

Derrick was breathing very heavy by the time they reached floor twelve and Blake, combat knife in hand peaked through the doorway into the hall.

“We see you,” multiple voices said at the same time and his intrusion was met with a single gunshot from a group of three Grey Agents. They had dragged furniture from several homes and made a barricade in the hall. Two of them had knives and the third had the revolver that had fired the shot.

“Do they all say that?” Derrick asked.

“Yes, it gets old fast.” Blake replied with a scowl.

Huh, weird. Though weirdness was to be expected he supposed.

Peaking around the corner, Derrick saw them make no move to attack or even fire again. Probably they had limited ammo. Blake must have agreed.

“They're stalling,” the blonde User said as he motioned the rifle wielding women forward. “Probably turning people in the apartments. Disable the gunner and we'll rush them.”

Blake looked at Derrick, a leer on his face.

“Careful, the Agents that have been around for awhile heal really fast. If you knock-em down, make sure they will stay down. Hit something vital”

Derrick moved away from the doorway.

Kate, the woman with the gun, moved into his spot and after taking a long breath, spun into the doorway and fired off three shots in rapid sucession.  Then she made a small gesture with her hand and the group charged into the hallway. Derrick took up the rear with only the gun wielding Kate behind him.

It was a good position to see the enemies trap unfold.

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Mirrored

  • Canada
  • Font of Dissatisfaction

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