“Did we at least kill the node?” asked Kate in a pained voice as they sped away.
“Yes,” said Jenny, taking her mask off to allow herself to breath easier. “I got a notification for killing it.”
“So did I,” said Blake with audible glee. He had probably gotten the Counteragent Title.
The Support System immediately backed up his words with a series of notifications.
Universal Support System
(1) Recuperate until morning.
(2) Destroy three Spore Tyrant Nodes (1/3)
Universal Support System Database
Tyrant Stalk (F)
A basic defence and method to gather nutrition. Only dangerous if they catch low level Users by surprise. Mature stalks are rarely dangerous but should still be destroyed as they spread infection and can feed the Spore Tyrant network.
Advanced Spore Tyrant infections have been known to mutate mature stalks into more dangerous forms.
Tyrant Sporeling (F)
Mindless drones created by defence nodes. They grow like fruit and remain immobile till deployed as a defence measure. Once loosed, their lifespan is measured in hours as they quickly burn through their stored energy.
They use their strength and stickiness to traverse almost any surface and to rip apart their targets. They infect flesh with their secretions.
Blind, they target prey through vibrations and smell.
Dangerous only in extreme numbers or as a distraction.
You are now level 1.4!
The tenth of a level was nice but he hadn't unlocked a single title. He should have at least gotten Multi Killer if what Blake said was true about the trait. Sporelings must not count for that title. Well, they had two more goes at it. Maybe next time he'd find something bigger to fight.
The sun had just started to set, marking it as around supper time. So, they had the day off? How nice of the System. Things must be going pretty well if it was giving them time off. Honestly he'd expected this to be a last stand scenario, where survivors flee into the wilderness or something. Instead they seemed to be winning.
Weird, he tried to picture the future but couldn't picture anything but parody. Users in suits showing up at work for nine to five Grey Legion fighting. He looked out at the empty streets, how many people were even alive in the city? How was the rest of the world doing?
“What to do,” mused Derrick. His routine was pretty wrecked, and he didn't feel like going to a gym after all that fighting. Not with how that had ended the last time. Being crammed in a car with his team, made him realize a shower might be a good start.
“This is the wrong color. Back to the hospital for me,” sighed Kate, from the seat beside him. He glanced at her, only to quickly look away. She'd taken off her shirt and was inspecting her shoulder.
Hoping he wasn't blushing, he forced himself to look at her calmly. She was still wearing a bra and he could see a dark discoloration around the wound on her bare shoulder..
“Tyrant Spore infection?” Jenny asked as she drove. All of them were pushed back into their seats as she immediately sped up without waiting for an answer. They were going way above the speed limit, but what the hell. It wasn't like they were going to get a ticket.
Kate tested his calm facade by, still shirtless, looking right at him. Looking for weakness no doubt. He returned her look.
“Your turn. Take off your pants,” she told him with a small smile.
He startled despite himself and let out an amused snort. Couldn't help it. She was of course wanting to check on his own wound now that they were safe...ish.
He did unbuckle his belt and squirmed around in his seat until he was left wearing just boxers and a t-shirt. He'd almost forgotten about the wound on his thigh. It didn't hurt, but that area was close enough to his junk that he didn't want to take any chances with freaky space fungus. Thankfully, a quick inspection showed everything to be perfectly normal. Not even any regular infection on the tiny wound.
“I'm good,” he announced. Thank you, Curative Blood, it may not be as cool as Blake's trait but if it kept his junk uneaten by alien mold, he wasn't going to complain.
“Meh, average from what I can see,” added Kate.
He didn't have a snappy comeback to that, so he ignored her. He gave his thigh a squeeze. It seemed harder than he was used to.
Huh. Flexing his thighs showed much more definition than he was used too, and he was no stranger to leg workouts. His new muscles felt different, tougher than what he was used too. It was very strange to feel something so unfamiliar beneath his own skin.
Fascinated, he dug his fingers into his new muscles and ran them up his thigh, then stopped suddenly when he realized he wasn't alone.
“Don't stop on my account,” said Kate. “It was just getting interesting.”
He sat there, frozen like a deer in headlights before he forced himself to relax. He considered the woman who was smirking at him, even while her flesh was being devoured. Was this her way of dealing with fear? She didn't seem scared but considering the situation, she had to be. He was scared and he was almost posotive he was uninfected.
She was brave. That word meant something far different to him now than it had just a few days ago. Here he was, at the end of the world, sitting next to an almost naked woman he respected and who was actually into him.
He carefully, kept the indifferent look on his face but felt his hand curling up so hard he probably drew blood.
He was a coward. He could find a thousand excuses about the end of the world or his past but they would be, undeniably excuses. Fighting came much easier to him than caring did, he reflected.
“Things have been interesting for awhile now,” he said with a sincere smile. “Even the apocalypse seems to have its silver linings.”
“I'm having fun,” interjected Blake. “Going to have even more fun tonight. Who wants to come with?”
“I'll pass,” answered Jenny dryly.
“I assumed,” said Blake easily.
No doubt she would be heading back to the hospital to see her partner again. Or she’d try to help others with her time off. Admirable, but the System was giving him a break and he was going to enjoy it. The problem was he had no idea how.
“I have nothing better to do,” he replied honestly. “No one is answering my texts since the aliens started invading.”
He'd sent out a bunch of updates but only Bruce had answered. He'd keep at it though, he liked to think of it as optimism. Not desperation at all.
“Excellent,” said Blake. “You'll be my wingman. No party like the end of the world party.”
That was... probably true.
He rocked in his seat as the police car made a hard turn and came to a screeching halt. They had reached a roadblock where hazmat suit wearing Users were stopping Spore Tyrant infection from passing.
Two suited Users came up to the car and peered inside. Derrick noticed that they were carrying sidearms. As if the flamethrowers they used on the Tryant Spores weren't enough of a deterrence.
“You'll need to leave the vehicle here,” one of them declared as he took in the various stains and fluids that covered their group. “Full decontamination before you can leave too.”
The other support User glanced at Kate.
“We can disinfect that wound too,” added a muffled female voice. “You'll be back on your feet after a couple hours of rest.”
“Mandatory rest.” she added, no doubt seeing the look of rebellion in Kate's eyes.
“Do I get the car back?” asked Jenny as she stepped out from behind the wheel. The rest of their little team followed her out.
“You can pick it up tomorrow if it doesn't start growing tentacles.” the suited man offered. He waved towards a nearby parking lot. “All those cars have keys in the ignition and full tanks. Take whatever you like.”
Derrick was indifferent, but Blake's eyes lit up as he took in the dozens of choices.
Kate and Jenny were led to a separate tent than him and Blake. It was a yellow square of tough looking canvas about fifteen feet across, large cables ran to it from a new looking shipping container. It seemed like human technology, but he guessed the System must have had them prepared and distributed across the city. No way was West Hills this prepared for a biological disaster.
Ducking through the flap, he saw just a small room that looked like a gym changeroom with three built-in shower stalls. The two of them undressed, threw their normal clothes in a bin and entered the stalls. As soon as he got inside, what seemed like warm scented water began to spray on him from a half dozen nozzles. For a few seconds, he had to hold his breath as the stall was full of spraying water. A second later, the water stopped, and door swung open.
Some exploration revealed that someone had raided the men's section of a department store and filled the lockers with dozens of clean and brand new looking outfits.
It took them both a while to find all the articles of clothing they wanted. Blake walked out of the tent wearing dress pants, black shoes, a colourful open collar dress shirt and sunglasses. His sheathed sword still hung from his hip.
Derrick wore grey pants with a grey dress shirt and a black vest. It was a more expensive version of what he usually wore to work. Unlike Blake he didn't feel the need to carry his axes around in plain sight.
Both of them carried new gym bags with their equipment inside them. Except for his undershirt, which Derrick still wore. Better safe than sorry.
They passed a small group of men waiting to enter as they exited. Derrick exchanged nods with the rough looking group and looked around. He didn't see either Kate or Jenny.
He shrugged and followed Blake. They had each other’s phone numbers, so it wouldn't be hard to meet up later. It was too bad Kate wasn't here. She would probably stop Blake from getting too arrogant.
Blake practically skipped his way to a red and yellow sports car before vaulting over the door and into the driver seat. As soon as Derrick settled into his seat, they were tearing down the street towards the city.
“Where are we going,” asked Derrick. He was preoccupied with his thoughts about the System and Scourges, so didn't mind Blake leading the way. Parties were not his area of expertise anyway. He was more of a small get together kind of person.
“If I know people,” replied Blake. “And I do. There are going to be some epic parties going on tonight.”
“Even though half the city is dead and still being invaded by aliens?”
“Because half the city is dead and being invaded,” Blake replied. “People are going to be blowing off a lot of steam, drinking away their worries. They've been fighting for two days now? No one parties harder than soldiers that know they could die tomorrow. Plus, there is a lot of no one's booze just lying around. I doubt what passes for the authorities at this point are going to be concerned about petty theft.”
There was no peace left to disturb either.
Blake drove them to the better part of town, which surprised Derrick who'd thought they would end up at some abandoned warehouse. Instead as the sun set, Blake drove to the fanciest hotel in town. A huge building of some historical importance that Derrick had never been interested enough to learn.
The building had undergone some very recent renovations. Loud music pulsed out of new holes in the walls and the stone wall at the entrance of the building was bristling with weapons. Dozens of System weapons had been driven into the stone, knives, swords and axes of all sizes.
Two huge men that Derrick presumed were Users were turning people away from the entrance. It seemed like only those that drove a weapon into the wall were allowed to pass. Oh, and beautiful women, which was not much of a surprise.
Derrick grabbed his axes and once Blake had parked their new ride, tried to project confidence as the two of them walked towards the entrance. There were dozens of people around, but they didn't draw much attention. Users were a diverse bunch, Derrick doubted he and Blake were anywhere near the oddest among them.
“Try not to embarrass me,” Blake said as he glanced at Derrick and adjusted his glasses. “Act like you belong, try to impress people. Not your usual nice guy background character attitude.”
Derrick paused mid-step for a second as a sharp smile appeared on his face. Derrick felt a shiver go up his spine. More than just irritation at Blake's casual insult, he didn't really care about that. The feeling settled between his shoulder blades, a little ember of angry energy.
Weird. He guessed he had some stress to work out himself. Well, no time like present. Blake wanted him to stand out?
He moved ahead of Blake and didn't slow down as on of the huge bodyguards moved towards him. When he was still a good thirty feet from the wall, he let his axes fly, moving so quick the bouncers couldn't even react.
One second he was carrying the axes in a loose grip, the next, they were embedded in the fancy stone wall on either side of the bouncer. The bouncers didn't stop him as he walked into the hotel and Derrick didn't spare them a glance as he passed. He'd fought bigger, scarier things than them. Instead, he looked over the hotel. The first thing he noticed was that the hotel no longer had doors on its entrance, just warped hinges hanging from splintered frames.
He stopped once he'd entered the cavernous lobby. He'd never actually been inside of it before, but he was guessing the burn marks, glowing graffiti art and strings of party lights were new.
“I'm guessing Grey Legion,” said Blake as the took in the damage on the floors and walls. “I hope someone recorded it. I never liked this place, or the people I met here.”
Before Derrick could answer another voice added their opinion. The speaker was a short woman with very dark skin and glasses. She was wearing a businesslike ensemble that made her seem like an accountant or secretary. Nothing like someone you'd expect to find at an end of the world party.
“You'd be wrong, Mr Demnol” the woman said with a polite smile. “When the Scourging first started, the building was quickly turned into a fortress. One that only lasted hours, as panicking people attacked the hotel and overwhelmed the guards with the help of a handful of Users. I'm sure among the people they executed, at least a few would be familiar to you.”
Huh, he hadn't seen any of that kind of ugliness. He'd been too busy on the 'front lines' of the fighting with the scourges. Also, apparently Blake and Kate were members of the Westhills elite. That was a bit surprising. Was Blake being threatened? He was detecting a sinister vibe from the unassuming woman. He cast a look around, but the woman was alone and still just smiling at them calmly.
If they were being threatened, Blake didn't seem to care.
“So, the location is like a symbol,” he mused aloud with an idiot grin that Derrick knew was at least half-false. “We are Users! Look upon our work and tremble! Cast down the old order and seize the day! I like it. Where’s the booze?”
The woman slowly blinked and gave Blake an unreadable look before answering.
“Just head towards the music,” she said and quickly walked away.
Derrick watched her leave, heading into a dark doorway that led into the guts of the building.
“What was that and should we be worried,” asked Derrick with a frown.
“Dunno, and I doubt it,” replied Derrick as he gazed at all the exits casually, no doubt trying to guess which led to the best party. “Seemed like political bullshit to me and if there's one advantage to the city getting eaten, it's that I don't have to care about all that shit. If she was trying to get to me through my messe dup family, she doesn't know me at all. I'm pretty sure I've never even seen her before.”
“Well, keep an eye out. I don't think you made a friend there,” said Derrick. Derrick, an orphan, was not a family-oriented person. He was pretty surprised by Blake's calm reaction. From th eoutside, family seemed like it was important to most people.
“You’re being paranoid,” said Blake. “What is she going to do? Spit in my beer? Get me kicked out? Send some toughs to rough me up? I would like to see her fucking try.”
“Thats thinking like things are the same as a few days ago,” answered Derrick. “Everyone is a lot... harder than they were then. You're talking about people who are organizing a party on the scene of a mob lynching they probably were involved with, in what’s basically a fucking warzone, to make a point.”
“Huh,” said Blake thoughtfully. “That... is true. You're forgetting a few things though my good friend.”
Derrick eyed Blake skeptically.
“Oh?” he questioned, almost afraid of the answer. “Like what?”
“I think this is the only decent party in the entire city and after the fucking Grey Legion and the Tyrant Spores, I'm not going to back down from this political drama shit. Neither should you Derrick, I've seen you hunt down and cave in the skull of a superhuman killing machine in its home turf. I'll watch your back, you watch mine. It'll be fine. I'm a badass. You're a badass. We are badasses.”
He was being deadly serious, Derrick realized. He tried to think of something to say to that. Blake was an asshole. He was not however, wrong. Derrick pressed his fingers into his eyes. They should be able to handle a party. It would be wrong, after all they had been through, to run away from whatever this was.
“Just keep one eye open,” sighed Derrick and the two of them walked deeper into the hotel.
They entered the hotel restaurant, which was now mostly full of Users in various stages of drunkenness. It was still early though, so no one had passed out yet. Derrick winced as they strolled past the booths, it was getting loud. The frantic beat of the music was giving him a headache and was makign his pulse race. Part of him was still back in the apartment and it did not like the noise and movement.
Once again, the Users had little in common with each other. Well except maybe a certain aura of danger and cockiness. Unlike the crowds at support stations, the Users in the hotel were overwhelmingly Fighters. They had spent the last days fighting for their lives and it showed. For one, he'd never seen a group this diverse at a party before.
At one booth, a group of middle aged Bikers in leathers laughed uproariously at something the group at the booth next to them had said. That booth was filled by what looked like some university woman's sports team in casual clothes. He turned to look at a group in suits as they shouted and clinked their mugs together before drinking in unison.
Blake made his way to the bar and Derrick followed him casually, until he spotted someone he knew. He stopped and stared. It was... he didn't actually remember her name. Brian's new girlfriend, the wannabe punk chick from when he'd first become a User. Wow, that felt like a long time ago. She looked less punk now, having traded her jacket for a dress.
She was sitting at a booth and flirting with some skinny guy. A quick scan of the booths showed no sign of Brian anywhere.
“I'm going to say hi to a friend,” he told Blake. The blonde User followed his gaze and nodded before sitting down at the bar.
“I'll order you a beer. Don't take too long,” he replied and tried to get the bartender's attention. That might take a while, the apocalypse had been hard on bartenders it seemed. Of the two young men behind the bar, one was clearly flirting with a group of female Users and the other seemed to be scared of the clientele.
Derrick walked over to his acquaintance's booth, he smiled a little as she finally noticed him and a second of shock appeared on her face. The man sitting with her followed her gave and scowled as he saw him approach them.
He was a skinny man in a sleeveless shirt, with short hair and large tattoos on his shoulders. A couple of days ago, Derrick would have considered him tough looking in a wiry way. Now though, a new set of instincts told Derrick that the sitting man was probably one of the least threatening people here.
His instincts were proven right when he easily met the other man's gaze and wasn't the one to flinch. Derrick stood at the and of the table and spoke to the familiar woman.
“Hello again,” Derrick said cheerily. “Mind if I interrupt for a second. I have some questions.”