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 Westhills felt different today. The usually busy street were deserted. He saw a lot of windows boarded up as he walked down the street, which confused him. He was doubtful that anything but a military bunker would slow down any Scourge that noticed you. It seemed like most people disagreed, duck tape and plywood obviously reassured most people in the face of cosmic horror.

The safest plan, in his humble opinion, was to make sure that you stamped out the Scourges before they could grow. Yet a lot of people thought the best plan was cowering in isolation, as afraid of Users and each other as they were of the Scourges. 

Being around Users and informed of the danger would no doubt be safer than cowering somewhere wearing a dust mask from Home Hardware. Instead, like Jenny had originally been, many people seemed to blame the Users for the Scourges and avoided them due to hate or fear. It was pure selfish idiocy and likely to kill them. Or maybe they just refused to believe what they were told was going on. 

Well whatever, he didn't particularly care. He felt a small spark of empathy but found no easy outlet for it. It was a shame that so many children would suffer due to their parents idiocy and fear. That was par for the course though. 

After a somewhat surreal meal at a Chinese restaurant that was still running, their little group of four returned to the United Support Station hub by the medical tents. Where they'd gotten medical help and Jenny's partner was still being patched up.

The place was packed with Users of all ages, sexes and races. All of them standing in line like it was Christmas shopping season. Waiting for his turn at one of the four machines, Derrick couldn't see any obvious pattern to who became a User. The only rule seemed to be anarchy. Some were more interesting than others though. He watched with interest as a skinny young man wearing jeans and t-shirt pulled a strange device out of the Support Station with a wild look in his eyes.

The size of a cooler, it was clearly not a weapon, it was a cube made of folded metal rods. A portable shelter or some kind of large tool? Before he could get a better look at it, the excited User ran off.

Huh, that guy hadn't looked like a fighter. Maybe some kind of support? It made sense to Derrick that the Support Station's weren't just making humanity into better fighters. If they were going to match the invaders, they needed to upgrade everything from manufacturing to agriculture. Every facet of human civilization was simply inadequate in the face of what they now fought against.

Maybe he was just overthinking this. It could have been some kind of portable murder cage

All in all, it took him fifteen minutes before he got to a Support Station and explored his new options. He tried weapons first. The biggest problem he had was how hard it was to hurt some enemies and he was curious what basic handguns and advanced melee weapons unlocked.

 

Weapons and Weapon Upgrades Available

Scavengers Sidearm

(220 USSP)

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.

Small Esthisium Weapon

(190-290 USSP)

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

Esthisium Barbs Upgrade

(125 USSP)

Adds a reserve of weaponized Esthisium to a weapon. When an enemy is cut, Esthisium enters the wound and tears nearby flesh apart from the inside, preventing healing.

Can be applied to ammo cartridges and melee weapons.

Pseudo Momentum Battery (235 USSP)

A single charge battery that empowers a strike with Pseudo Momentum. Increasing the penetrating power and damage done on hit.

Charged at Support Stations or with Manna Core.

Can be applied to ammo cartridges and melee weapons.

Minor Auril Stun Battery

(160 USSP)

Adds a Auril battery that stores and converts Users Auril energy into a single charge stun attack. Requires physical contact. Effects vary. May be resisted by Auril using enemies.

Requires Auril Heart

Can be applied to melee weapons.


Basic Handguns seemed to just unlock the scavengers sidearm. He'd expected that. The System seemed determined to keep any actual sci-fi weapons out of his hands. Was that because of his Role or poor proficiencies? Maybe some other hidden prerequisite. 

More interestingly, Advanced Melee weapons unlocked the ability to buy weapon upgrades. Would more options unlock with Advanced Handguns, or was this all of them at the advanced level?

Those upgrades were very interesting and possibly very useful. They all seemed to have drawbacks though. Like having a single charge or needing a trait.

No point in thinking about it too hard before checking out what else was available.

“Lets see some traits,” Derrick said aloud.

Traits Available

Basic Combat Drug Package (F)

(Offensive) 200 USSP

A gland in the spinal column that allows controlled release of powerful drugs. Drugs available:

Spur: Grants near limitless endurance for a 1.1 hours. User will crash after drug loses effectiveness.

Lash: Grants 4.7 seconds of increased mental and muscle speed.

Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril) 300 USSP

An organ that greatly increases the amount of Auril energy in the Users body and allows limited control over it.

Unfocused Auril energy increases vitality in Users and allows the use of Auril Battery devices.

Requires Lv 2.0

Curative Blood © (Defensive) 917 USSP

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

 

Derrick winced when he read the price to upgrade Curative Blood again. Oh well, it wasn't what he wanted anyway. It was his ability to deal damage he needed to upgrade, not his ability to take it. He was pretty sure no matter how much he buffed Curative Blood, he would lose a slugging match with a Grey Legion Vanguard.

Only the Lash drug seemed to help with dealing damage directly. Even a tiny boost to speed and perception could make the difference between life and death.

Auril Heart was even more tempting however. It was far more mysterious and Auril Energy seemed very important and elite. Value comes from rarity and he doubted many Users had earned the Scrappy title. Even he had gotten it though pure luck, fighting against an opponent as strong as a Vanguard with just a melee weapon was pretty much suicide.

What Auril Devices were available though?

Auril Devices (All items require a Auril Heart to use)

Minor Auril Pulse Battery (70 USSP)

A small device that stores and converts Users Auril energy into a detection wave capable of revealing the location of nearby living things and Auril devices.

Will reveal your position to Auril users.

Minor Auril Stun Battery Upgrade

(160 USSP)

Adds an Auril battery that stores and converts Users Auril energy into a single charge stun attack. Requires physical contact. Effects vary. May be resisted by advanced enemies.

Can be applied to melee weapons.

Minor Auril Shield (210 USSP)

A small wrist accessory that stores a charge of Auril energy. It activates automatically when the User comes under attack from malignant Auril Energy, providing limited protection for a few seconds.

 

Versatile. And this was no doubt just the tip of the iceberg.

Auril energy, whatever it really was, seemed to interact mostly with living things. Increasing the amount of it in your body made you healthy but at the same time you could use it to damage and stun other living things. It was the Pulse ability that really called to him though.

His expression grew dark as he remembered being hunted through the apartment building by the Vanguard. Avoiding something like that happening again was top priority. He was far from the best fighter in his little group anyway. Branching off to scouting made sense.

It would be great if he could unlock a Role that wasn't frontline fodder and scouting seemed like the only option at this point.

“Scouting related stuff,” he commanded.

 

Scouting “Stuff”

Sensor Web Hub (35 USSP)

Four small passive sensors and a signal hub. Capable of identifying Scourge units and Natives and reporting location through mental beacon.

Buddy Bracelet (40 USSP)

When activated, reveals location to allies through mental beacon. Allows vocal communication. Three mile range.

Minor Auril Pulse Battery (70 USSP)

A small device that stores and converts Users Auril energy into a detection wave capable of revealing the location of nearby living things and Auril devices.

Will reveal your position to Auril users.

 

Mental beacon eh? That was that weird feeling he'd gotten during the training mission. While really offputting, it would be useful to be able to 'feel' the locations of his allies. He already had a phone for that though. A smart phone had pretty similiar features. 

Auril Heart and Drug Package were essentials. Traits were important and took time to kick in, better to get them first. Followed by the Auril Pulse Battery so he could get some training in with it. He would outfit himself more later depending on what his next mission mission was like.

“Ill take Auril heart, the drug package and an Auril Pulse Battery.”

The Support Station immediately began to hum and a dozen seconds later, two small objects fell into its dispenser.

The first was a wristwatch shaped device that was no doubt the pulser. The second was a clear bottle of liquid with dozens of tiny balls floating in it. What happened to his powerup soda? He liked the System soda. Oh well.

He downed it and shuddered. It was like drinking syrup with grains of rice in it. He finished it and took stock of himself. Meh. He felt the same. Weird that he was probably growing a couple new organs. Best not to think about it. Who kept track of their organs anyway?

“Are you done?” An irritated voice from behind him asked. “There is a line you know.”

Derrick turned to see a middle aged biker chick behind him with a shotgun strapped to her back.

“No,” he said nonchalantly and strapped the wrist device on. It seemed to be made of Esthisium because it moulded itself to his wrist in seconds.

He heard the sound of teeth grinding but ignored it.

A blue screen popped up.

 

Universal Support System

New Mission

(1) Prepare to exterminate Spore Tyrant Infection (Sterilization Grenades, Full Breather Mask.)

(2) Travel to Western Westhills

(3) Destroy three Spore Tyrant Nodes

Item Granted: Tyrant Spore Antidote Injector

 

He could scrounge up the mask, there were piles of them around, taken from the bodies of dead Users. What is a Tyrant Spore Antidote Injector though?

 

Universal Support System

Tyrant Spore Antidote Injector

Contains two doses of a drug designed to help human Users resist Tyrant Spore infection. Administer immediately after serious exposure or signs of infection.

May cause headache, indigestion and rashes.

 

Good to have if you were fighting killer mushrooms.

He bought two sterilization grenades and a breacher, leaving him with just 174 points. He almost bought two breachers, just to avoid having to break down any more doors. He decided against it in the end. It seemed like things would quickly start getting expensive. Best to save up points for now. Once he'd finished attaching his new acquisitions to himself, he stepped away from the Pandora Machine and looked around. Seeing that Blake was the only other member of their group done, he walked over to him.

“You got the go west and kill fungus mission?” the other User asked.

“Ya,” replied Derrick. “Seems like were an official team.”

“Good,” Blake said. “I'd hate to have to train replacements.”

“Something tells me this is going to be very different from the Grey Legion,” Derrick answered. “I don't think you're qualified to train anyone to fight fungus.”

Blake tapped his sword's grip, shrugged and grinned.

“Nothing likes getting stabbed,” he replied cockily.

“Enough about your sex life,” Kate interrupted casually as she and Jenny joined them.

“Can we at least try to act professional?” asked Jenny without much hope.

“No” said Blake immediately.

“Are we professionals and what type?” mused Derrick. “We are getting paid in alien currency to complete missions. Doesn't that make us interstellar bounty hunters? ”

“More like mercenaries you nerd,” said Blake.

“Try amateur exterminators you nerds,” replied Kate with a role of her eyes. “I'd be careful about calling people nerds Blake, I remember what got you so into sword fighting.”

“Speaking of extermination,” Blake quickly changing the subject. “What do we know about Tyrant Spores?”

“Nothing,” said Jenny. “I've tried asking the System but for something supposedly trying to help us, it's awfully unhelpful.”

“We know not to breathe in spores,” said Kate. “Or to let them grow in your eyes.”

“Hmmm,” said Blake and tapped his sword against his leg. “I'd like to know a little more than that.”

He was quiet for a second before turning to the Users waiting in line to use the Support Stations.

“What do you guys know about Tyrant Spores?” He shouted to the crowd.

That was an obvious strategy that for some reason hadn't occurred to Derrick. It took only a moment before someone answered.

“Don't breathe in the Spores,” a helpful person shouted back.

“Anything else?” continued Blake.

“Don't eat them,” another good samaritan answered.

They waited to see if anyone else would add to this sage advice. No one did. Ya, this sort of thing was exactly why he didn't ask.

“Knowledge is power,” said Kate drily, filling the silence.

“We should head out,” Jenny offered. “We've all stocked up and these things only get worse as time goes by.”

This was true, but Derrick detected a grim eagerness to her. He guessed she was trying to prove something. Still, it was the best plan so he agreed and the group headed out. Jenny joining their team came with unexpected perks, she was the only one of them who drove herself here. She offered them a ride in her police cruiser and the group agreed unanimously. Someone had broken one of the windows but other than that, it was a safer ride than most people had.

Sadly, Blake immediately called shotgun, so he and Kate had to ride in the back. That didn't really bother Derrick though. The roads were almost empty, and he spent the short ride chatting with Kate and even got her to smile in a non threatening way before they reached their destination.

West West Hills.

At first, it seemed almost normal, commercial buildings and big box stores with empty parking lots and dark windows. The first oddity he saw was silver obelisks stretching above the rooftops ahead of them. No doubt System tools of some kind, sensors or air purifiers? Then they turned a corner and found a group blocking the street with a barricade of cars and cement roadblocks. Users were doing sewer maintenance with flamethrowers while wearing hazmat suits.

Derrick did not like where this was going.

A nearby Support Station had thick cables running from it to the group, a few more generic Users could be seen warily resting and chatting nearby. As they pulled over and approached the hazmat wearign Users, one separated from the others to meet them while the others filled the sewer accesses with green flame.

“Mission to kill Nodes?” he asked, his voice slightly muffled by his bulky suit.

“Yes,” said Jenny. The group had decided to use her as their spokesperson. She had an aura of authority the rest of them lacked. “Are you doing it as well?”

“No,” the User replied. “That sort of thing is for fighters, were support. We're just stopping the Tyrant Spores from spreading through the sewers. It's your job to take out the Nodes.”

“Are the Nodes down in the sewers?” Jenny asked with unconcealed horror. Even Kate was giving the flaming sewer entrance a skeptical look.

The User gave a little chuckle at their plight.

“No idea. This isn't New York though,” he replied. “Other than a few drainage tunnels, West Hills doesn't have a sewer system you could travel through, even if it wasn't currently full of murderous mold.”

Even through his hazmat suit, Derrick could feel this User's' smug superiority over their lack of sewer system knowledge.

“No, you need to find areas where the stuff has found food and spread to the surface. Every surface outbreak will eventually grow a 'Node' to defend itself. Destroying it won't kill the stuff but without a Node, it's just dumb mold and we can burn it out without having to worry about defences.

“Defences?” asked Kate. “How does Mold defend itself?”

“Never seen it myself,” the man replied. “But I've heard all kinds of crazy things from you ambitious folks that have come through here. Spikes from the walls, giant spiders, land mines and one guy ran out of here screaming that his team just evaporated for no reason.”

Lovely. Sewers, spikes, spiders and sudden sublimation. He missed the Grey legion already.

He saw Jenny gazing down down the street with quiet intensity.

“Any civilian survivors?” she asked.

“Probably not,” the man answered solemnly. “Damned stuff spread through the sewers like fire and through non-Users just a little slower than that. Unless they locked themselves in an airtight space, they're compost by now. We haven't pulled anyone out this way for six hours and those poor bastards probably didn't survive long.”

“Well, good luck.” the man said and turned to rejoin his own group. “You're going to need it where you're going. You dumb bastards.”

Derrick watched the man walk away and found he couldn't argue. He just sighed and prepared for the worst. 

 

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Mirrored

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