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“You are Derrick the Red,” said the smiling nurse, responding to the question he'd just asked her.

His little auril experiment had not gone unnoticed by the hospital staff. He was pretty sure the atypically attractive nurse been sent to make sure he didn't kill himself in the middle of the hospital, which would be embarrassing for everyone involved.

The young Asian nurse had a disarming cheer to her. Like a personal cheerleader who was just so happy to work with you. She was also enthusiastic and professional in her work, which impressed him. She probably saw more horror in a day than he did.

“It says that on my my file?” he asked cautiously as she installed a white and very minimalist brace on his hand. It only needed to be on a few hours, but keeping the bones in the right place during that time was still just as important.

“No no,” she replied with a wave. “It's what everyone is calling you.”

“Everyone,” repeated Derrick carefully, seeking a hidden meaning in the word. “Define, exactly, what you mean when you say everyone.”

The nurse gave him a confused look.

“It's what they have been calling you on the Trial of Predation,” she answered as she worked. “I don't watch the Trial myself, too violent. Well, a bit of Bhadra. Shes just so stunning. And she never fights anything that looks human. Even if you don't watch much, you can't avoid hearing about every little thing that happens on the show though. From what I hear, you're something of a hometown hero?”

She looked up from his hand and gaze him a scrutinizing look, before breaking into a almost painfuly bright smile.

“I guess you've been too busy to see the show? Well, you're not one of the big names. Not like Bhadra, Bullet Ghost or Solix the Slayer,” she continued.

Ouch. He was being outclassed by someone who called themselves Solix the Slayer. Who, he could only imagine was around twelve years old.

“I'm sure you try very hard,” she added quickly and blushed. Apparently afraid she'd hurt his feelings. 

She hadn't. The only thing he was feeling at the moment was paranoia.

People had been watching him, he thought, unnerved. When exactly? He hadn't seen any cameras. Were they invisible? Were they watching him right now?

“You don't like the nickname?” she asked with smile, apparently misinterpreting the look on his face. “Probably shouldn't have worn all that red then.”

“I didn't choose the colour,” Derrick answered on automatic. “The mask was a gift. I'm more partial to green.”

Green was a good colour, he thought. It blended in well. People who wore green, never got 'The Green' tacked on the end of their names. He gathered his scattered thoughts and tried to organize everything he'd learned into a picture that made sense. Alright, there was a Trial of Predation TV show. One that everyone was watching. While he'd been fighting for his life, the city... the world had been watching him. He vaguely recalled something about the Trial being monitored when he agreed to join it. At the time, he'd thought that meant they were watching for rule breaking. Apparently not.

“How do you deal with the horror?” the woman asked and the more serious tone dragged him back to reality. “Just walking through ruins and over bodies without any idea of what kind of monsters you'll find.”

“You can get used to anything. Fighting monsters is what I do now,” he answered, somewhat bemused. “Then, I get the shit beat out of me and my unconscious body dragged back to this hospital. What about you? How can you work here just waiting for the next ravaged body to be wheeled in?”

“Have you ever just considered stopping?” she asked, ignoring his own question. There was a pause, as Derrick considered that maybe they weren't talking about just him. He considered his words carefully. He'd had... mixed luck with inspirational speeches.

“No,” mused Derrick. “As bad as things are, running away would only make them worse, both in reality and in my head.”

Yes, that was good line for his viewers. The lurking bastards. It sounded a lot better than, no, the System tazes me when I try to run away. Or, no, I give into peer pressure too easily.

His eyes darted around for signs of recording equipment. He almost hoped he was being recorded.

A few more minutes of conversation revealed that his line was probably wasted. Only footage of fighting made it into the show. He also learned that his 'fight' with the feral Artisan hadn't made the cut. Which he wasn't going to complain about. It wasn't exactly an inspiring moment.

Honestly, he would be taking this a lot worse if it had come from anyone other than this nurse. Maybe she'd been trained to deliver bad news?

He considered asking her for her phone number, but realized she's never offered her name to him. He could have gotten it from her User Tag but her not actually giving it to him was probably a clear indication she was just doing her job.

Oh well, she seemed to be dealing with some stuff anyway.

Derrick paused at that thought. The whole conversation had gone oddly smoothly. Playing it back in his head, he noticed he's been more laid back and smooth than he was used to. It was almost as if the conversation hadn't mattered. Meh, whatever.

Soon the pretty nurse was called away and Derrick donned his casual clothes. He was very careful to shove his coat and mask into a backpack where no one could see them.

Next, he stood up and did a few stretches, working the kinks out of his much abused muscles.

It was time for the best part of the end of the world, the shopping.

Derrick made his way to the Support Station hub, thankfully unrecognized by anyone during the walk. Maybe the nurse had been exaggerating his fame? How many people could find his flailing entertaining anyway? He imagined there were hundreds of Users that were doing better than him.

A normal looking guy in a t-shirt and jeans, he waited in line at the fancy plaza that had grown around the Support Stations. While doing so, he noticed someone had taken the time to plant some bushes and flowers around. A weird use of resources. Maybe they wanted to help people relax?

It didn't take long before the people in front of him had gotten what they wanted and it was his turn. He knew what he wanted to look up first.

“Manna stuff,” he commanded and instantly over a dozen items popped up. Two of them jumped out at him, they were by far the most important.

 

Manna Sources

USSP Points: 1304

Basic Manna Gate

(411 USSP) (E)

An Upgrade to the System Implant that adds Siviril and Manna manipulation functions.

A Manna Gate is a shallow contact with the Fold, allowing the User to efficiently receive Manna from System Stations or nearby paired Manna Cores, as well as connecting and charging nearby paired System technology.

(Manna Cores and Gates are incompatible)

Basic Manna Core

(622 USSP) (D)

An Upgrade to the System Implant that adds Siviril and Manna manipulation functions.

A Core is a deep connection to the Fold, allowing the User to pull Manna from the Fold directly and independent of location. Connecting to different layers of the Fold can draw in unique forms of Manna. User must touch System Technology to charge it with Manna.

(Manna Cores and Gates are incompatible)


So, Gates were like wireless routers for Manna? They were great and moving it around and using it at range but couldn't create it, so needed to be in range of a System Station or a generous User with a Core.

This cheaper option seemed to offer a quick boost of power.

Cores, on the other hand, could provide Manna anywhere. Having a deeper connection seemed to mean that they couldn't act as a router though, just as a power source. Probably much weaker than the Cores in a System Station too. Oh, and the Cores seemed to be able to produce special types of Manna as well. If that was useful though, why didn't the System Stations produce it?

Still, the dependability of the Cores and their potential for uniqueness outweighed the Gates more plentiful and longer ranged Manna. He'd always been a sucker for customization. Plus, it was ranked a tier higher.

He purchased the Core and after ordering it and sipped on the lime flavoured Soda the machine dispensed. He browsed through the other Manna related options, noticing a few had disappeared, no doubt from his selection of a Core.

 

Manna Weapons, Weapon Upgrades and Traits Available

USSP Points: 1304

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 a Manna Core.

Can be applied to ammo cartridges and melee weapons.

Manna Focus: Hard Shield

(166 USSP)

A wrist mounted device that when empowered by Manna, creates a weightless shield of adjustable size and shape.

A Hard Shield is a barrier against physical objects. Shield strength is based on Manna spent and shield size.

Focus holds a small amount of Manna.

Shield Breaker Battery

(331 USSP)

 

A single charge battery that empowers a strike with a Fold Destabilization Effect. Designed to destroy or weaken most defensive techniques that use Manna.

Charged at Support Stations or with a Manna Core.

Can be applied to ammo cartridges and melee weapons.

Marching Boots

(95 USSP)

An upgrade to footwear and undergarments that allows them to slightly enhance User movement. Increasing endurance and movement speed slightly.

Dimmer Field Focus

(210 USSP)

A stealth upgrade for a coat. This device, when empowered by Manna, will slightly blur the wearer while reducing sound and the escape of thermal radiation.

Warning: Device is designed to prevent indirect detection at a range. Provides no protection from direct line of sight by common Scourge senses or Earth level vision.

 

Some, like Dimmer Field and the shield were tempting. He'd wanted a defensive ability for awhile now. Something that could be used to block bullets and other, much worse things. Dimmer shield was obviously stealth from a distance, it would compliment his Auril stealth ability nicely.

The rest were pretty meh. He was really hoping to avoid any scenario where Marching Boots might come in handy and the offensive batteries were pretty underwhelming. Pseudo Momentum just seemed like a heavy blow or power strike ability. Okay, but he probably could find better things to spend Manna and points on.

Shield Breaker seemed useless. An ability to pierce shields would be great, if he had a ranged weapon or even a spear. If he had to hit a Manna shield several times with his axes to break it, it had already done its job. The Combat Drone had been able to conjure them from nothing after all.

He decided on buying none of them in the end. Third Striker had said to talk to Aarav about Manna and what to buy. Besides, it would take at least half a day for his Manna Core to grow anyway, if his Auril Heart and other traits were any comparison.

Which led him to his next choice of upgrades. Traits.

 

Traits Available

Curative Blood © (Defensive) 917 USSP

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

 

He was a little disappointed he only had the one option still. Even the low ranked traits were super useful. Even at low levels Curative Blood had cut down a lot on the time he spent wounded and in pain and breathless let him sprint faster. He definitely wanted the upgrade for Curative Blood right now, so it had time to kick in before his next round of abuse from the Scourges. But, there was a problem. He didn't have enough points for both Curative Blood © and the Manna Core (D). Together, they cost fifteen hundred and thirty nine points. He only had thirteen hundred and three, so he needed two hundred and thirty six more points.

Luckily, he had a few things to sell.

 

Items Available for Sale:

Vanguard Heart: 101 USSP / 1.3 Aurilin.

Vanguard Heart: 92 USSP / 1.2 Aurilin.

Combat Drone Heart: 244 USSP / 2.9 Aurilin.

Combat Drone Manna Gate: 46 USSP / 0.9 Siviril

Probe Manna Core: 225 USSP / 4.2 Siviril


Hmmm. Siviril; the source of Manna, was worth less than Aurilin; the source of Auril. The Combat Drone Manna Gate was by far the least valuable thing he had. Value comes from Scarcity so the System must have more of it.

“Can I purchase Siviril?” he asked the gleaming white machine in front of him.

Universal Support System Station

0.5 Siviril: 39 USSP


Huh, so he could. Not that he wanted to at this moment. It was more points he needed at the moment, not less.

Another quick question confirmed that Aurilin was still unavailable due to scarcity.

He decided to just sell the Siviril and break down the Vanguard hearts for Aurilin. He could just find or buy more Siviril later and he was pretty sure it didn't contain unique information like Auril hearts did.

The useful fragments of the Vanguard Style in the hearts had been memorized anyway.

He placed the items in the dispenser of the machine and watched them disappear. He then used those points to order superhuman healing powers and disease resistance. It came in the form of a chocolate bar, the System Station correctly guessing he'd had enough soda for now.

He spent his last thirty five points, replacing the tanglers he'd used. Although annoyingly non lethal, they were still very useful.

Now completely out of points, he let the next User in line take her turn.

While chewing on the bar, he moved towards his next destination but noticed the little stand was empty. Sam Wilst, his tailor didn't seem to be around. He'd have to check in later to get his missing sleeve fixed.

The stand looked abandoned, maybe the Tailor had moved to a real store?

What to do now? It was getting late and he wasn't going to go back out into the Scourge infested parts of the city right before it got dark.

He had night vision in his mask and Auril senses, so he might actually have an advantage at night. He still needed to sleep though. Plus, he had definitely earned a break. According to the experts, there was a good chance he was already insane from his exposure to the Fold.

Having just woken up at the hospital, he wasn't tired. All he would need was a few hours of sleep tonight before he went back out to hunt alien monsters in the morning.

Hmmm. Without a working Manna Core, visiting Aarav was a waste.

He could try to find his old allies? See what they were up too? What would they be up too? Jenny would be doing boring things. Probably helping those in need. Blake would probably be trying to grow stronger or goofing off. Kate was a mystery.

He sent out a bunch of texts and decided to grab a bite to eat. Whatever that white stuff was they pumped into his veins during his hospital stays, it didn't fill his stomach.

Around the hub of System Stations, the few shops he'd seen earlier had grown into a ring all the way around the hub. A strip mall of User owned and operated shops.

The restaurant and pawn shop had multiplied, and some more User run production shops had opened up, selling everything from clothes to bullets. The small mechanics shop had somehow grown a huge five car garage overnight and was offering to upgrade vehicles with System tech. He saw one of the doors open up, revealing an inside more like a mad scientist's workshop than any garage he'd ever been inside. The mechanics even wore protective clothing and dark welding goggles.

Derrick noticed a small parking lot full of cars was in front of the shop, waiting their turn at being remodelled. Almost all of them were pickup trucks and vans. A school bus and a few bikes were also there.

Users wanting to move their teams together safely or the city trying to upgrade their infrastructure? Either way, this was a good thing. The expedition would need the vehicles outside the city for sure and their sources of gasoline had been cut off.

Also, there was a dojo or something? Large signs proclaimed the necessity of weapons training. Offering not only knife fighting lessons but gun and hand to hand as well. Firearm training was practically a must, Derrick mused. The rest seemed iffy. It wasn't like most Scourges were going to duel you or even had hands.

Better than nothing he supposed.

It was nice that people seemed to be finding things to do. Claiming niches using the talents and skills from before the Scourges and the System destroyed everything. Too bad he wasn't one of them.

Talking to Third Striker had left him a little worried that the only role the System really wanted from them was warriors. Seeing so many Users learning to use System technology was relieving. It made them seem less like dependants or servants and more like allies.

It made his cautiously optomistic about the future. 

The restaurant he'd eaten at earlier was still doing good business, it was so busy that no one spared him a second glance as he filled his stomach with pasta.

Full of said pasta, and without a reply to his texts, he decided to just hang for a bit and clear his head. He watched people eat and tried to connect  with the fact he had saved the city. Him. Derrick the orphan and junior network engineer. Or Derrick the Red now, he supposed. Slayer of monsters and saver of cities.

He didn't particularly feel like a hero. He didn't feel like he used to either though. Since the Scourges had arrived he'd gorwn and shaped himself into a new person. Not just metaphorically either. He was pretty sure his experiments with auril had changed him. Maybe that should bother him but it didn't.  

The person he was now had saved the city, he repeated in his head, driving the point home. It was like Jenny had said, they had made a difference.  

He liked that. Watching the Users struggle to rebuild and improve themselves, he realized that mere survival wasn't his goal anymore. He wanted to improve himself, to take every scrap of power the System offered and use it to save not only the city, but the entire world. 

He was still just a single human, an insignificant member of an unimportant race on the verge of extinction. But he'd felt the power of humanity's many enemies and spoken to one of their few allies. He was no longer convinced that neign human wouldn't be enough to win.

 

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Mirrored

  • Canada
  • Font of Dissatisfaction

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