Derrick woke to one of the last things he wanted to see.
Universal Support System Implant
100 points for successful documentation of Auril Echo
Return to Support Station to spend points for vital rewards!
Fucking United Support System.
Now it was invading his dreams. There was a lot he would put up with in the name of survival but there had to be lines somewhere. He tried to remember what he had dreamed, it seemed like it had been something important. Something about flying to visit someone?
He failed, it'd faded like... well, a dream. Probably nothing important then.
“Bad dreams?” a voice asked him and he flinched. It took him a second to realize it was Kate who has spoken. The blonde woman was giving him a crooked smile from a hospital bed next to his own.
“Maybe, don't remember. Why am I restrained?” asked Derrick, noticing the leather straps on his wrists. And why were his wrists so sore? Where did his clothes go? Both he and Kate were wearing hospital gowns. It was a very unflattering look for her, emphasizing her thin arms and pale skin.
He was somewhat reassured to see his axes, phone and undershirt on a bed stand bedside him. They were pretty much the only important things he owned. He was less reassured too see a tube inserted under the flesh of his armpit, filled with a milky white substance. He saw that Kate had one too.
She gave him a cold smile.
“I'd guess it's because you've been thrashing in your sleep since I woke,” she answered. “You've made for a shitty neighbour, let me tell you. You’re not even as pretty as you used to be.”
“What do you mean and where are the others?” He frowned and looked around without seeing another familiar face. “How long was I out?”
“I am doing fine thanks for asking,” Kate said with manic cheer. “Everything is great.”
Good to know he was as smooth as always. He felt a tiny pulse of panic that faded as he noticed she was restrained as well. Thank heaven for small favours. The blonde User had always seemed unstable to him. He didn't see a knife on her but with Kate, that meant less than nothing. Huh, he was feelign a little paranoid. Myabe leftover emotion from the dream?
“If they restrained me because I thrashed around, why are you restrained?”
“Stabbed a nurse,” she replied indifferently, and then a second later with a frown, “I have issues with hospitals. They make me.... edgy. ”
“Well you look great,” he said and aimed for a charming smile. It was even true, kinda, if you ignored her clothes, she seemed to have put on a little weight. It made her look healthier. While, she was still skinny, she came off a little less pale and skeletal. The added flesh also made her face a hiar more feminine.
“You don't, your face melted,” she said, smiling back at him with off putting sincerity.
Derrick opened his mouth but no words came out. His face did feel odd... He tried to touch his face, only to be reminded of his restraints. He scanned the hospital room they were in but found no reflective surfaces. It wasn't even a real hospital, just a sturdy tent filled with beds and medical equipment that he didn't recognize. Not that he would. He decided to ignore his face situation for now.
“How did we get here?”
“Helicopter,” she answered wistfully. “Sent by the System to rescue us. Users blew the windows, swung in and air evaced us. Apparently, we’re not quite as expendable as thought. That was nine hours ago.”
Dammit, he would have liked to be awake for that. He'd never been flying before... he blinked feeling something on the edge of memory. A planet hanging in the void, ripe for the... He tried to grasp it but a sharp headache drove it away.
“Whatever exploded out of that wall was some nasty nasty shit,” the female User continued. “Jenny was the worst off, she was barely even a User so it dropped her instantly, even with her mask. They had to cut her out of her uniform I'm told. As for us, they had to remove all our clothing before letting us in the sterilized zone.”
Derrick winced and felt a wave of guilt. He had pushed the woman to join their attack, putting her in harms for his own personal gain. He'd told himself that she was tough but what had that meant against the Grey Legion?
“What about Beth?” he asked. She'd taken a pretty bad hit there at the end.
“Dunno,” Kate replied without much interest. “Blake is fine though. He woke up first from his 'adaption coma.' He's out stretching or something.”
She mimed the quotation marks at the bedsides where her wrists were restrained.
“The sleep and this white stuff is supposed to help us deal with the 'changes our bodies are going through.' ” She smiled. “The nurse made it sound like we were going through puberty again.”
“That would be one way to make this situation worse for sure,” Derrick joked and the two of them shared a smile.
It quickly devolved into an awkward silence.
“Sooo, why don't you like hospitals.” he asked. “Did you have some kind of disease?”
Kate gave him a pensive look.
“I don't really want to talk about my sob story to Mr Healthy,” she replied curtly.
Hmm. He did want to know, if only because it would probably help him understand her relationship with Blake more. He decided to offer his own sob story, one he hadn't told anyone since he moved to Westhills. He hated mentioning it, but fair is fair. Besides, it was different world these day. His issues seemed less important.
“I'm an orphan,” he said with false ease. “My parents died in a car crash when I was young. I came out unharmed though.” A pause. “A truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel.”
“This was my second coma,” replied Kate, accepting the offering. “First one was a lot longer.”
She paused for a long while, lost in thought. Derrick just listened.
“I drowned,” she added and continued after a pause. “For a very long time.”
He wasn't sure what to say to that. Nothing was probably the safe bet but hey, she was being talkative and more importantly was restrained.
“Until Blake brought you back.”
“Until my cousin Blake got the United Support System to bring me back,” she corrected. “Before that, I was just rotting away in a bed too like this one. I was brought back just in time for the Apocalypse. Lucky me.”
He honestly couldn't tell if that last bit was sarcasm.
“So, my face melted?” he asked.
“Yes, the top half that your mask didn't cover. You don't seem that upset about it,” she said.
“Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer my face to be unmelted but I can still see and smell just fine. Everything else is kind of a luxury really at the momen,” he replied honestly. “Besides, I think I'm going too be too busy to worry about it.”
It was only a few minutes until a nurse arrived to remove his restraints. After a couple of minutes of persuasion, he even got her to take off Kate's. The two of them got dressed in provided clothes, equipped their stuff and found Blake outside playing with a new weapon, a sword.
The cocky User gave them a shit eating grin and saluted them with his blade, Derrick saw his gaze linger on his face for a second. He didn't say anythign though. The blade was a functional looking thing, but the System didn't make ugly tools so it had an elegance to it. The usual silver of an Esthisium weapon showed a blue tint to its edges.
Not the longest sword, it was about fourty seven inches from the point of the blade to the pommel.
Reinforced Ethisium Sword
A hand weapon made out of the smart material Esthisium and Admantium. It has safety, anti theft and self repair features. It is much sturdier and sharper than an unreinforced weapon. Does not have a training mode.
Weak Auril medium. and Can be upgraded with a small Manna battery
“Unlocked it with Expert Melee Proficiency,” bragged Blake.
“Was it recommended, or did you just really want a sword?” asked Derrick.
Blake effortlessly launched into a complicated sword routine, his blade moving faster than Derrick could follow. He ended it by burying it into a sheathe on his hip, one the other User would swear was only half the size it needed to be to hold the blade.
“Recommended,” answered Blake.
“You've improved a lot,” said Kate. “You must have got really into it. I remember you only being average two years ago.”
Blake's smile faded for a second but only for a second.
“Being a User helps a lot,” said Blake with a shrug. “My upgraded reflex trait seems to make it a little easier to memorize actions and I'm stronger and faster than I was yesterday. I'll bet you two are as well now that we have some levels. Who wants to spar?”
Derrick wanted to jump right into finding out what he was now capable of. Sadly, he had something else to take care of.
“Maybe later,” he said. “Where’s Jenny and how's she doing.”
“Oh, shes fine. Full recovery and all that. Currently, she is talking to her partner that just woke up.” said Blake. “Physically fine anyway. Honestly, I think her uselessness is her biggest problem.”
That was harsh, even for Blake.
“I phrased that wrong.” he amended “Feeling useless is her biggest problem. Too much of a bleeding heart. Upset that she couldn't save more people and that she was taken out by that goo blast. I think all this is harder on her than people like us.”
“People like us?” questioned Derrick with a hint of warning in voice. He did not like people thinking they knew him.
“I'm a bitter asshole with narcissistic tendencies,” Blake said blithely. “Kate has a lot of issues I'm not going to get into.” Kate snorted, but Blake ignored her. “And you...”
“Are genuinely empathetic,” interrupted Kate. “But callous. You don't let things bother you because you expect so very little.”
He frowned at Kate. He should never have told her about his parents, it just encouraged the amateur psychoanalysis he so hated. She sensed his disapproval but just gave him a smile.
“It gives you this sort of mentor vibe,” she added. “But your actually shit at pretty much everything.”
Haha. That was hardly his fault, these two were just strangely competent. Blake was a bloody expert sword fighter? Why? Kate on the other hand woke up from a coma as a crack shot with a rifle and a decent knife fighter.
“I excel at database,” he said. He paused for a second, but they didn't get the joke. “Fine, enough. You guys are what? Level 1.2 Fighters?”
They both nodded. Good, he'd need every advantage if they were to spar. He wasn't sure what one tenth of a level was worth in a fight, but he'd take it.
“No,” a female voice said from behind him. “I'm a level 1.2 Guard.”
He of course immediately recognized the voice as Jenny and failed to hide his wince. He'd been hoping to get his thoughts in order before talking to her.
“How's your partner doing,” he asked. It was the obvious and safe question.
“Better than a lot of other people,” was her curt reply. She looked different in civilian clothes, more vulnerable. Derrick had a hard time reading her, her face was still. She seemed upset though, in some way he couldn't quite pin down.
“I'm glad,” Derrick said honestly. It would have been a waste of effort if he died after he carried the man down twelve flights of stairs. Not to mention Jenny would be even more upset, which would be a pain to deal with.
“What's a Guard do?” interjected Kate.
Kate's face went even blanker as she answered.
“Nothing yet, just says I'm a trained to stand between humanity and threats.”
“What about Fighters?”
“We have fighting spirit,” said Blake as he cut the air with a series of fancy flourishes. “Other than that, nothing.”
“We do drugs,” he said reluctantly and drew everyone's attention. “I'm level 1.3 and got the ability to pump alien drugs into my brain.”
“How are you a level above us?” asked Blake and the blond User pointed his sword at him. Not in a threatening way, he was just being dramatic. Maybe he'd been given something by the doctors?
“I've completed more missions,” he answered with a shrug. “The first one was a little easier than the one we did together.” Considering it had involved him fighting a single Gray Agent, that was a bit of an understatement. He wasn't going to explain that though. Let them assume the best.
“Stop waving that stupid sword around,” said Jenny. “Why would you waste points on a sword of all things?”
“Because it's like a knife but bigger,” Blake replied matter of fact. “Also, I'm trained to use it whereas I've never fired a gun in my life. When I looked into ranged weapons, the fucking System offered me a bow. A Bow.” He hissed out that last part and Derrick felt his pain. “Were lucky these weird ass aliens don't have real weapons either.
“They will,” said Derrick with rock hard certainty. “We have seen the barest fraction of what the Grey legion is capable of. If any of the Scourges get a real foothold on this planet they will crush us. That Vanguard barely qualified as a fighter to them, just the best they can make in a few hours and access to a human body and a washroom.”
“Since when are you an expert,” asked Kate.
“Just reading between the lines of what the System told me,” he answered. “I've killed three different types now and gotten the database entries and a title; counter-agent.”
“So, what do we do?” asked Jenny intensely.
Wait, what was going on. Were they looking to him for advice... leadership? He found that very off putting. Pre-nap, Blake had been the leader and Jenny had the most actual qualifications for the role.
“The System is handling strategy better than any human could I think,” and was amused as the others nodded along with this obvious fact. Apparently, their dramatic air rescue had bought the System some respect. Too bad he'd missed it.
“If we want to make a difference and survive doing it, we need to train and share info. For example, there's a title that unlocks a trait. You get it for killing an 'advanced' enemy like a vanguard with just a melee weapon before level 2.0. Also, a title for killing a drone, or any 'Injection source'. Anyone got any useful facts of their own?”
Blake looked bitter at having thrown away his chance at getting those titles. Too bad for him.
“Multi Killer I,” he said. “Fifty points for killing three enemies in under twelve seconds. It probably scales like that,” he offered.
“Markswomen I,” Kate added laconically. “Hit three different enemies in a row without missing once in under nine seconds. Just plus fifty points.”
“I have nothing,” said Jenny bitterly. Still worried about her, Derrick watched out of the corner of his eye as the dark-skinned woman frowned intensely.
He didn't try to reassure her, the last people he'd tried that with had immediately threatened him, and then been hunted down and murdered one by one.
She'd no doubt be fine. Really, as a cop, she should be reassuring him.
No doubt like the rest of them, she was wondering how feasible it was to unlock these titles in combat. Almost got a Multikill, would be a terrible epitaph.
They compared proficiencies next, but other than Jenny having a First Aid proficiency, there were no surprises and they agreed to pair up and train their proficiencies.
They wandered away from the medical facility for their training. Jenny led them to an underpass where they had some privacy and a solid wall to practice firing against.
It took Derrick just twenty minutes to unlock basic proficiency with handguns. Instructions from a trained shooter like Jenny really helped. Turns out guns were not that hard to use. Another twenty minutes of target shooting failed to unlock advanced handguns, Derrick guessed that only basic proficiencies could be unlocked out of combat. That was just a theory though.
Next came melee training. Blake, armed with his sword, was way out of Derrick's league, so with training mode initiated, he and Kate squared off while Blake taught Jenny how to knife fight. Her police training actually hurt her when it came to melees, as she was trained to focus on disabling rather than killing.
Carefully watching Kate, he took a solid but light stance and raised his axe to a defensive position. Kate casually walked towards him, dodged his feint and stabbed him in the shoulder.
It was the first time he was on the losing side of a training fight and he didn't love it. Blunted through the blades were, they still hurt and Kate was not shy about hitting hard enough that she drew blood or left bruises. Why couldn't he hit her?
On an intellectual level he knew that there was no reason he should get angry over getting stabbed repetitively by Kate. He was a complete amateur at this, having never hit another person in anger his whole life. No matter what he did though, she weaved between his strikes, mocking him with how easy she seemed to find it. As he became angrier he felt the pain from his wounds fading and he pushed forward. His axe strikes grew more and more wild. Eventually, if only because he had greater stamina and reach, he began to press her back.
She was slowing and eventually she tried to block instead of dodge, dropping her centre of gravity and widening her stance. Through half forgotten instinct, Derrick stepped right through her and swept her foot.
The foot sweep itself was a thing of beauty, as was the look on her face as she fell. Less great was how she stabbed him in the foot right before she hit the ground. He jumped back, wincing and swearing. That one had hurt the worst yet.
She paid for it, she was too busy stabbing him to break her fall and hit the concrete ground hard and awkwardly. She lay there on her back, not moving and eyes closed. Her head didn't hit, so at worst she gained some scrapes and had the air driven out of her lungs.
After a second of stillness she opened her eyes and spoke.
“That was decent,” she said with a pained smile. “You hold back too much, play it too safe. You need to take some risks, be less predictable. ”
He cocked an eyebrow on his pained face.
“I lack Fighting Spirit?”
She smiled, and her hand shot up into the air.
Derrick eyed it warily for a moment before grabbing it and pulling her to her feet. She didn't stop once she was standing, she stepped into his guard and Derrick flinched as she grabbed him by the collar and... kissed him?
He was too surprised to resist and after a second realized he didn't want too.
“Your back too being cute again,” she sad as she pulled away.
Derick ran a hand over his face, feeling the new wrinkles and bumps on his skin.
“I think that's the head blow talking,” he replied frankly. He definitely respected Kate, but wasn't sure exactly what his feelings for her were otherwise. Her skinny frame was far from conventionally attractive but she had a certain wicked charm to her.
A cold part of him knew he should encourage her out of self preservation, to cement her as an ally.
He stamped the life out of that thought.
Insofar as he had a style, playing with people's hearts was not a part of it. Besides, he had no illusions that he was charming enough to fake interest and the most likely outcome of that was being stabbed for real.
So... was he interested?
Kate rolled her eyes at his silent introspection.
“Your really not a people person are you,” she answered mockingly and turned away.
Their little scuffle had taken them away from Blake and Jenny. So, Kate walked to rejoin them. There was really nothing for him to do but follow. More worried now than when he'd found out the world was ending.
Show Title: Scrappy
Titles: Ambitious, Emergency Activation, Scrappy, Counteragent
Traits: Curative Blood (E) (Upgrading) (Defensive)
Successful USS combat missions: 2
USS Points: 692
Curative Blood (E) (Upgrading)
Defensive Trait. Modified blood cells and plasma give increased resistance and healing speed.
Has Advanced skills with melee weapons. Capable of holding his own against multiple human level opponents.
Has Basic skills in battlefield awareness and scouting. Won't need to stop and ask for directions.
Has basic skills with handguns. Probably not going to shoot himself or his allies.
Small Ethisium Axe
A hand weapon made out of the smart material Esthisium. It has safety, anti theft and self repair features.
Light Protective Undershirt
An undershirt made of thin scales of Admantium coated Esthisium. It hardens on impact and has limited self repair.