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A note from Mirrored

Due to a numbering error I have one more chaper to release than I thought!

So here, Enjoy

When a blue box pooped into his vision, Derrick slid down the wall beside the window he'd been looking out a second ago. He ignored the crunch of broken glass and closed his eyes, he was still unused to reading the system messages and found it easier with his eyes closed.

Universal Support System

Mission Update

(0) Seek medical attention before continuing mission.

(1) Clear apartment building of Grey Legion

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

(3) Prevent Legion drones (1/2) from escaping

 

He'd honestly forgotten there were two drones in this building. If only one had tried to escape, the other must still be above them. Well ,not an immediate problem, he was more than happy to follow command zero and retreat for now.

No one spoke for awhile, so he just sat and took the opportunity to relax. The moment didn't last nearly long enough.

“My partner needs medical attention,” Derrick heard Jenny say. “We got to keep moving.”

He sighed loudly but stood up and opened his eyes. He wasn't the most empathetic person but if he was going to kill someone, it would be on purpose at least, not because he was too lazy to save them. Neither Kate or Blake offered to help, Kate seemed lost in thought and Blake kept stretching the fingers on his wounded hand. He seemed worried, no doubt that the wound would slow him down. 

Derrick held out his hand towards Jenny.

“Gun,” he said resigned.

“It doesn't even have any bullets,” Jenny returned. “Can't you just get your...”

“Gun,” interrupted Derrick slightly louder. The police officer hand him the gun, probably too tired to argue. Together the two of them once again picked up her partner and this time managed to haul him down the stairs all the way to the lobby without anymore bombs being dropped or waves of zombies appearing.

“We were pretty sure you were dead,” a masked User at the bottom of the stairs told them as he let them pass. Derrick wasn't sure if they were talking about their group of Users or the police officers.

“Fuck you,” said Blake, speaking for all of them as he led the way into the lobby.

“First aid, where?” managed Jenny between bursts of heavy breathing.

“You’re in luck,” the User said. “Some Users just set up a first aid area by the Pandora Machine. They have some real doctors and everything.”

It seemed Users were a varied bunch, not just drivers and fighters. The group made their way out of the apartment building and found the first aid station easily enough. There were people erecting professional looking signs to point sick and injured people to it. It seemed like they were trying to channel people for miles around to it.

The first aid zone took up an entire intersection with tents made of thick  white and clear plastic, they were right out of a movie about a virus outbreak.

It was all very organized, with concrete barriers, signs redirecting traffic and dozens of creepily masked doctors and nurses running around and seeing to people's needs. Most intriguing was tall poles of a white ceramic material that sprouted from the ground around the camp, they were clearly of non-human origin. Judging by their white motif and everyone's lack of concern, they were no doubt tools of the Universal Support System.

Most of their patients seemed to be unconscious or coughing. Just dust and smoke from the bombing or something more serious? He'd make sure to ask before he left.

As the group took in the sights, Jenny tried to flag down a doctor but the look of sheer venom she got in return before the blood spattered doctor ran off caused her to think twice about it. Kate pointed out that people were claiming beds and no one was stopping them. So the group decided to just do that. They quickly entered an empty first aid tent, gently dropping the unconscious policeman onto a empty bed. Blake and Derrick collapsed onto the beds beside him. Derrick wasn't sure if he actually needed a Doctor. He'd recovered from the brute's blow by now and if he didn't collapse on the way down the stairs he was probably fine. He was really tired though and his bruised and cut face might let him sneak in a nap.

“I'm done till someone fixes my hand,” Blake said with a hint of regret as he nursed his crushed fingers.

“We'll wait with you,” Kate said.

Derrick was little annoyed she was speaking for him but she wasn't wrong, so he just nodded.

Jenny shot them all a disbelieving look. A dozen emotions flickered across her face and Derrick thought she might have blown a fuse.

“You’re going back up there? It's hell up there!”

“No,” mused Kate. “Hell is... less interesting than this.”

Derrick smiled as Jenny's jaw dropped. Blake's reaction was the most interesting though, he looked pained before his face went neutral.

He was already looking at Blake when his eyes suddenly darted around, no doubt reading words only he could see.

“System says someone will be here in a few minutes,” he informed them.

“Did Users do this all themselves?” Jenny asked.

Blake let out bitter laugh from his prone position.

“You thought Users were some dysfunctional backwoods militia or something?” He accused sardonically. “We work for something fucking capable of interstellar travel and fucking replacing the economy literally overnight and you're surprised they can manage first-aid?”

“In her mind she thought the government would handle things,” Kate said with cold amusement. “Like whoever our mayor is and NORAD or whatever, are somehow capable organizing a defence against aliens invading the planet at a few thousand places at the same time with no warning. We've been under attack for like six hours now and we would already have lost without the Universal Support System. It took the Grey Legion about five hours to start turning people into super soldiers.”

“It's been longer than that,” added Derrick, thinking about the attack at the gym. “Remember the shield? The System was stopping most of the attacks for the first twenty-four hours after it arrived and quietly using Users to remove the ones that slipped through.”

“And it doesn't bug any of you that civilization is collapsing, and millions of people are dying?”

“Ha,” said Blake. “Worrying about the fate of the world is stupid. Save yourself first, little miss hero. Then if you're lucky you can help the people you actually care about.”

“Dying is what people do,” said Kate dismissively with cleaning her fingernails with an advanced alien weapon. “No one cares unless it affects them, or things get all dramatic.”

They're was a familiar bitterness in her voice, one that caused Derick to crack open an eye and look at her. He then looked to Jenny and watched her face go through several expressions before looking to him.

“What about you?” Jenny asked Derrick hopefully.

Before he could answer Blake let out a short burst of laughter.

“You think he's a nice guy, don't you? He didn't save you to be a hero. He thought you'd be useful and saving people was what he was told to do.” he snorted. “Our friend Derrick here is like most people, polite and nice because it costs him nothing. He doesn't really care about strangers or even people in general.”

Derrick felt a little bubble of anger grow inside him. Blake might be the leader of their little group, but he had no right to talk about him like that. Insulting him to his face like he thought he would just take it. Like he knew everything about him.

“Hey now,” Derrick said with forced calm and smiled at Blake, causing the blonde man's grin to fade. “I don't pretend to know why you're such an asshole, but you don't know me, why I do things, or even what I'll do.”

He held the others gaze until Blake looked away. Apparently, even he realized he had crossed a line there. He turned to Jenny.

“It's all a little much for me,” he apologized. “I mean most of the world weren't places I would like to live in anyway. Even the nicer ones were just meh. I guess I'm with Kate but also weirdly optimistic about the future? Things will be interesting anyway.”

“Fine you’re right, humanity is fucked,” she said before dropping into a sitting position on a bed. “Doesn't mean selling ourselves to the Pandora Machines is the best choice. They use people like slaves. Can't they fight their own battles?”

“This isn't their battle, though,” Derrick pointed out. “It's just, you know.. supporting us. I think it wants the same thing you do.”

“Being a condescending bitch?” asked Blake. “Feels about right.”

“To protect not only humans as a race, but our... agency,” continued Derrick before a fight could break out.

“It's brutal and doesn't care about individuals much for sure,” he said thinking of the training mission and the awful punishment it dished out. “But if the USS just swooped in with an army of robots and reduced all of humanity to victims, dependants and prizes to be fought over, what would that do to humanity?”

“Assuming they could do without Users. What happens after they win? To the dependents from a broken civilization they leave behind,” interrupted Kate.

“School of hard knocks. This is our planet, we should be fighting, we should be dying,” Blake added, catching onto the line of thought. He looked to Jenny, mocking look on his face. “You seem to think the universe owes you something.”

“I don't love or trust the USS anymore than you do, but being coddled or goign it alone kills us one way or another. Using the System is really the only hope of surviving as a person or a species. There are no perfect or safe solutions here.”

An Asian man wearing a lab coat entered the room and cast a disapproving look across their group.

“Sergeant Kenith Roler and Blake Demnol can stay, the rest if you need to leave. I have been granted permission to engage obedience protocols, so no arguing please.”

Universal Support System

Mission Update

(0) Rest and resupply (15:00)

(1) Clear apartment building of Grey Legion

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

(3) Prevent Legion drones (1/2) from escaping


That was disappointing. All that and they only got a fifteen-minute break?

Kate and Derrick silently turned and exited the tent. Even if the doctor was bluffing, arguing certainly wasn't worth the risk. The timing on that System announcement was unlikely to be a coincidence. Jenny however was defiant. Probably because as a police officer, she was unused to being told what to do by mere civilians.

“I'm not a User, I am an officer of the law and you need to explain exactly what you are...”

The doctor looked at her like she was something he'd stepped in.

“Shut up. You think you've had a bad day? I've been carving out people’s eyes all morning because they've been eaten by alien mushrooms. Five minutes ago, we got a dozen dog bite victims, at least one of which is going to need a face transplant. All of this, spiced up by an endless parade of idiots shooting each other,” he stated loudly and pointed at Kate's and Derricks retreating backs. “You two, remove your... associate from this tent and let me get back to work... or else.”

Jenny left the tent without needing to be told again, which was good. It would have been awkward to drag her. Derrick was a little worried about her though, she seemed to be on the edge of something. Considering the day she'd had, it was probably a full meltdown. Good thing she no longer had a gun. 

Once outside, the group naturally gravitated back towards the Support Stations near the apartment. Jennymoved to her police cruiser and the others had left stuff below it. Derick saw her use the cruiser's radio, then after a minute, he saw her curse and throw the speaker away. The cop hesitated a second before joining Kate and Derrick. The two of them had moved to the pile of knapsacks where he'd stashed his stuff. He found his easily and it seemed untouched.

Things had changed at the station itself though. Now there were two fully functional Pandora Machines, side by side. Another must have... grown out of the ground. One of the few things they knew about Pandora machines was that they were like icebergs. Most of them were below the surface.

Hmmmmm. Iceberg would make a cool nickname in that context.

“No one is answering, all I get is static. What the hell am I supposed to do now?” Jenny asked distraught. Derrick was a little off put by how her voice was actually cracking a little. The only time he'd heard anything like it was a particularly bad breakup. Which did not bode well for him. 

The reluctant User waited a moment for Kate to offer advice. This seemed like a useful time for girl talk or whatever. The skinny blonde just silently watched them both and the surroundings however. She was probably thinking about guns or something.

“I'm sure they're just busy,” he said when Kate's wisdom was not forthcoming. “Now that you saved your partner, I'm sure you'll get a medal or something. You certainly deserve one.”

“Don't patronize me,” Jenny said and seemed to rally. He frowned. So, he guessed that worked even though she took his compliment as an insult? He was being sincere when he'd complimented her though, just surviving what she did was probably worth a medal, never mind everything she did to save her partner.

“A shiny gold medal,” said a smiling Blake, wearing a sports cast on his wrist a she rejoined them. “For expert bargaining with police property and effectivily retreating with 50% casualties and without actually accomplishing anything.”

Derrick sighed as he watched the policewoman's hand drop to her hip, instinctively seeking her gun. They should give out medals for dealing with Blake.

Kate at least seemed amused. She was doing that half smile thing she did; amused but too busy for more than a corner of her mouth to twitch.

“Spare us the drama,” Kate said. “Become a User or leave right now. Your fence sitting is wasting precious time.”

The two of them locked gazes for a second. Then, Jenny walked up to the front of the support station.

“How exactly does this work,” she asked warily. 

“Ambition if you're dumb enough to fight. Safety if you want to find another corner to hide in,” supplied Kate helpfully as she rifled through her bag.

“What about love?” asked Jenny and Derrick sneezed to hide a chuckle. What about love, though? He'd never figured out what that did.

“Forget love,” insisted Kate harshly. “It's not worth it.”

There was real venom in her voice, Derrick could tell this was more than an academic opinion.

Derrick heard a sigh from Blake.

“It can be,” he said with rare seriousness. “But if you have too ask, than don't bother.”

There was a pause as Jenny considered this. Derick could tell she wanted to ask what they were talking about, because he wanted the same thing probably. Ultimately, she dropped it though.

“Why does it want to know my greatest strength?”

“Oh thats... a customized perk it gives to people.” Derrick replied, happy to add something to the conversation. “I said health and got a little bonus to healing. A little invasive but definitely helpful.”

“Reflexes,” said Blake. “It did the obvious.”

“Wait.. what?” spouted Jenny. “It actually makes you better at things? How does that work? What are the limits.”

Wasn't she supposed 

“I don't know how it works exactly,” replied Derrick. “But I imagine the limits are around what it takes to make us competitive against hordes of super advanced alien monstrosities.”

His new friends gave him skeptical looks.

“My trait isn't anywhere near that useful.” Blake replied and flipped a dagger. “It's rated F.”

Derrick blinked. How did he not... He kept forgetting how new this all was and how helpful his emergency activation was for boosting him ahead.

Interesting that his trait started rank E not F. Was that because it was more useful for him or just rarer?

“When I asked the station for a recommendation on what to spend my points on, it suggested upgrading my trait up a rank. I think because it gives the same protection the upgraded masks do. It was 310 points.”

“Lucky you,” said Kate as she chewed on a sick of dried meat. “There's some straight up horror movie junk in the air around here it seems.” She brought a finger to the corner of her eye and mimed scooping it out.

Derrick couldn't help but wince at the thought of something growing in his eyes like the doctor had complained about. He noticed Jenny pale a little as well.

“Does that mean I should go for health?” The woman asked.

“Don't lie,” said Kate said sternly. “It seems to reward honesty, or at least truth. Health seems useful but part of that is probably because it really is his greatest strength, or at least close to it. Remember that he didn't know what the machine did when he picked his, so he wasn't picking strategically.”

Jenny shot Derrick a look.

“Health, really?” She said with a curious look.

Derrick shrugged and carefully examined suddenly interesting writing on the juice can he was drinking.

“Unbreakable is my favourite movie,” he deflected.

He really didn't want to explain the thoughts behind that decision. He was mediocre but at least he was healthy?

Jenny didn't seem to buy his excuse. He was saved from another question by Kate, whose dispassionate voice carried hints of her own scorn.

“Healthy people overlook how important health is,” she said with an iron certainty. “Life can become hell at the flick of an invisible switch.”

Derrick felt his gaze pulled to her and connected some dots. Her worn looks and thin frame, her obvious skills but lack of muscle to support them...

She hid it partially with competence and sheer intensity, but she was not a healthy woman. Or at least she hadn't been up until the last little while. The timing of that was beyond suspicious.

“I didn't think the system accepted weak people as Users,” he said without thinking and immediately froze. He turned a frightened eye to Kate and prepared to try to dodge a knife strike.

Luckily he was spared. Instead of being angry she wore a Stygian grin.

“It doesn't usually. I couldn't have even tried, but my idiot cousin roped me in with him using the Love choice.” She answered non-nonchalantly and gave Blake a mocking smile. “Rather than Love though, I would say it was more like guilt.”

“Good thing I didn't do it for gratitude,” Blake said with a smile that mirrored her own. This was clearly a complicated relationship. Oddly effective though, the two of them were strangely competent.

From the corner of his eye, Derrick saw Jenny determinedly chewing on a chocolate bar in a white wrapper. Apparently, she'd made her choice while they'd been distracted.

 

Universal Support System

Mission Update

(1) Clear apartment building of Grey Legion

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

(3) Prevent Legion drones (1/2) from escaping

 

Derrick sighed and rose to his still sore feet. Break time was over.

“How do you want to do this?” Blake asked the group.

“Let’s not fuck around,” said Kate coldly. “The grey bastards should be spent. The more time we give them the worse it will get and I think it can get pretty fucking bad.”

“One big push with everyone we can round up?” asked Derrick and ran the scenario through his mind. It should work. Unless they can into anything as tough as that last bastard. Anything resistant to bullets would be a serious problem, especially if at some point the Grey Legion could give its agents speed and skill beyond a normal humans. Just one agent like that could tear through a dozen people.

“Does anyone have any points they can spend?” He asked. “We need something for things we can’t easily shoot or stab.”

“Hmmm,” mused Blake. “I think I saw something cheap that could help.”

He quickly moved to the Pandora Machine and a few seconds of humming later, two round objects were pulled from it.

He tossed the baseball sized egg to derrick. It was light and smooth like an egg. It seemed to mould itself to his hand, making it easier to grip.

 

Tangler Grenade

A single use non lethal grenade that automatically binds enemies with super strong fibres. Activates by throw followed by coming within a two-foot distance to target. Can release tangled targets at a touch.

 

Derrick gave the Tangler and Pandora machine an annoyed look. This was a toy. He was very tired of everything the System gave him being safety first. Even the blades came idiot proof.

He was fighting invading aliens! Not capturing truant kids.

“You couldn't get a real grenade?”

“Not cheaply,” Blake replied. “And even if I could, I wouldn't give them to you.”

Derrick opened his mouth to retort but closed it immediately. That was actually fair. He definitely wouldn't trust other people with explosives either.

“How much?” He asked instead.

“Nine points,” Blake answered.

Well he could afford that. He tossed the grenade to Kate and went to order another for himself.

“Display available grenades,” he commanded.

 

 

Universal Support System Shop

 

Explosives

No Proficiency

 

Tangler Grenade 9 USSP

Sterilization Grenade 9 USSP

Sticky Breaching Charge 16 USSP

Flash Bang 5 USSP

Current USSP: 11

 

He was surprised to see so many options and that one was an actual explosive. He would guess that the breaching charge was purposefully designed to be safe for beginners to use. Those same safety features probably meant it was a terrible weapon and only good for actually breaching.

He didn't want a flash bang, he was too likely to blind his own allies or himself. What about the Sterilization Grenade though?

 

Sterilization Grenade

A single use method of killing off the primitive forms of biological Scourges, such as the Spore Tyrants. Can be used to flush out Grey Drones and Agents. Only effective in enclosed spaces.

Mask strongly recommended.

 

Not really what he needed then. Good too know about though, if he had some money to spare he might have bought a few in case of emergency. Both of those things were around after all. 

He bought the Tangler and returned to the group. He saw that both Blake and Kate had somehow attached their Tanglers to themselves without anyobvious physical means. He tried pressing his to his waist and felt it attach itself to his clothing.

“Ready,” he said.

“Hold up,” said Jenny with determination in her voice. “I'll help.”

“Do we need your help?” asked Blake. “You’re not even a user yet.”

“I'm trained police officer. Other than 'Killer' Kate here, I'm the only one who can use a firearm.”

“You don't even have a firearm,” said Blake. “You traded it to us to be rescued from your own idiocy by us.”

“Yes, I do,” she said and expertly unclipped a gun from her waist and displayed it. “I may not be a full User yet put I had enough points for this.”

It was a gun grey, boxy and weird looking hand gun with a long barrel a thick magazine.

 

Scavengers Sidearm

A cheap but dependable firearm of mild power that is accurate up to 1000 meters in the hands of a skilled shooter. It's most sophisticated system is its Forge Magazine; a device that can process metals and turn them into 11mm ammunition in seconds, ensuring it's owner never runs out of ammo.

More advanced metals such as Esthisium can be processed to create bullets with higher penetrating power that can be used on advanced threats at short ranges.


This was the first alien ranged weapon he'd seen and he was honestly a little disappointed. It was handy but only marginally more powerful than a human weapon of equal size. Like the Esthisium hand weapons the System Stations liked to hand out, it seemed to be purposefully limited. The System seemed more concerned with giving Users robust weapons than dangerous ones. 

“She gets my vote,” says Derrick. “We know she’s dependable in a crisis.” He wanted to see what his new gun was capable of, if only to see if handgun proficiency was worth training. He was worried about the future. That the enemies he'd be called to fight would evolve to be much stronger than himself soon.

Blake gave Derrick an unreadable look. If he had to guess, he was questioning his motivation. Which was fair because Derrick was totally plotting.

He liked working with Blake, the man was confident and competent, if a bit of a jackass. He had no illusions that Blake cared much for him though. Kate seemed to like him, but even if that was true, he wasn't sure how much that counted for. She was odd enough he wouldn't gamble on her behaviour. Jenny would be his ally more than Blake or Kate.

Also, she was kind of hot. The police vest and uniform hid her figure, but she wore it well.

“Yes, if she wants to risk her life to help, just fucking let her.” said Kate with a role of her eyes. “Your position as brave leader is untouchable.”

The skinny blonde pulled an Ethisium knife from some hidden pocket and tossed it to Jenny. Apparently, that was how she welcomed people to the team.

“Err,” said Jenny, catching the knife after a short fumble. “I've still got the one Derrick gave me.”

Kate just cocked her head to the side, clearly not understanding her point. One could never have enough weapons.

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About the author

Mirrored

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