A hand shot out at Derrick before he could react. Bone weary and carrying his ex on his back, his attempt to wave the blow aside was easily caught and... shook?
Yes, the strange bald alien was definitely shaking his hand. Derrick froze mid-dropping Kate off his back.
“Congratulations!” the alien stranger announced enthusiastically. “I take it the binding was a success? I knew It. Just marvellous! And as a bonus, I see you have emerged the dominant partner in your relationship. Ha, takes me back to my own youth. Ah, the looks of jealousy on the faces of my peers.”
Derrick cocked an eyebrow. This reminiscing stranger looked like a twenty-five-year-old Olympic level swimmer, complete with a tight wetsuit. If carnivorous elves competed in the Olympics anyway.
Hmmm, well this alien was probably not a physical threat. His first thought had been that this was some other Homunculi sent to finish what Kate started but that didn't seem to be the case. A new and oddly friendly Crusader?
Race: Velorie Terran Caste
No? Definitely not a Crusader if they were level one. Ok, so now he was really confused. This was the most human looking alien he'd seen so far, but he was still clearly not actually a human. A Velorie Terran Caste? Terran meant Earth right? Unsurprisingly, he'd never heard of Velorie before. If not a Crusader, how did this smiling alien hybrid even get on this planet, nevermind in the Dungeon? It was supposed to be on extreme lock-down.
“I'm sorry. Who are you?” Derrick asked.
“Ah, a complicated question. How to define myself using human mouth words...” The other User mused dramatically, complete with sweeping hand gestures. “I am a refugee, from forces alien and those bound to me by blood. Among the hats I wear, largest are those of the scientist and rebel. My name was title among my people but I have chosen the name Deleterious for my rebirth and have chosen to assist you, oh great warrior scholar of Earth, in your delicious ambitions.”
“My what and how?” Derrick couldn't help but ask.
“Why your scientific ambitions and as your loyal employee of course! You'll find no one else nearly as competent to run this facility when you are called away to your world's defence. Nor, one more dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. While I admit I am almost as ignorant of the galaxy's mysteries as a savage Earthling, I am used to doing much with little. All I ask in return for loyal service is discretion and a corner of your lab for my own small workings. Whereas others might see employment in a Spore Tyrant Dungeon or on a freshly challenged world of unclear fate, as downsides, I consider them as opportunities. Especially the opportunity to work beside such an outstanding example of your race as yourself!”
He was laying the compliments on pretty thick, Derrick noted, even his tone was mildly sycophantic. Also, during that entire speech Derrick's hand was still being enthusiastically shaken. He carefully pulled it free, the other User letting it go without comment.
Honestly, an alien scientist just showing up was an answer to his prayers. He had thought that he'd only ever interact with Crusaders and Authorities. Neither of which impressed him with their technological skills. The things he could learn from even casual conversation with a technically adept mind was tempting. It seemed too good to be true.
If Derrick laid a trap for himself, it would look pretty much like this. Hollow majesties worked with memories, could Noble Virulence have such an accurate read on him?
“And how did you get in here?” Derrick asked casually. “This was supposed to be a secure facility.”
“I was, in fact, 'born' here,” Deleterious answered happily, his long fingers forming quotations. It was the most human gesture he'd seen from an alien. “In the very lab you had created! A great stroke of luck for me that such a facility was created so soon. I specified to the System that I wanted my rebirth to take place in a private location, preferably one where I could pursue my passions for learning and healing. I expected to wait years. Imagine my surprise when in a mere week, a blink of a human eye, I found myself contacted by an Authority, one It That Rewards Savagery. It made an offer, I accepted and found myself awakening in not only a lab, but one already stocked with specimens.”
That... was possible he supposed. This had to be the most private lab on the planet at the moment and he knew Crusaders underwent similar births in other System facilities. It seemed like too elaborate a deception to be just a story. If Deleterious had been hostile, he could have just ambushed them or waited for him to leave and snuck past. At the very least killing him or Scynil and destroying the Dungeon wasn't this alien’s goal, he was here for something else.
Derrick decided to believe his story of being sent by his Patron Authority. It was strange though, It That Rewards Savagery didn't seem like the kind of 'person' to concern themselves with science. He was probably reading too much into the Authorities persona. It was a digital entity.
Wait, Specimens? Oh, this punk had better not have touched any of his 'specimens'.
His thoughts must have been easy to read, because before he could ask, this Deleterious put his fears to rest.
“I admit, with fresh examples of Scourge capability right next to me, I couldn't help but run some non-invasive scans, but it would be rude of me to go further. Now, speaking of manners, how about we see to you and your friend, eh? You look like you could use a hand.” The Velorie said and without bothering to wait for an answer, grabbed Kate off his back and tucked her under his arm in a display of strength and speed that was above a normal human’s. Not anywhere near as strong as Derrick was now, but still impressive considering his low level.
Kate's weight didn't seem to slow him down at all either, he strode through the hall and stopped only when the door with Derrick's name on it refused to open. He rapped it with his knuckles but nothing changed. Deleterious turned to Derrick who was just catching up.
“If you could?”
So, despite his claims of being born in Derrick's lab, he couldn't actually get back in?
Ughh. He didn't want to be making hard choices right now. He wanted to make sure Kate was safely restrained and then get something done about his shoulder. The rest of his wounds would heal with nothing but time, but the zausite worried him.
Deleterious was a Student...maybe he could help. Trust was the issue though. Alien motives and all that.
“I don't suppose you know anything about human medical treatment,” Derrick asked.
“Very little. Only what I've seen on television documentaries. Very messy, quite crude,” Deleterious answered cheerfully.
That was not the answer he'd wanted to or expected to hear. He would ask later how he’d watched TV if he had just been born.
“But if you're asking if I can provide you and your female with System medical treatment, the answer is a resounding yes!” The Velorie proclaimed. “I am very proficient in using Universal Support System medical stations. I've worked wonders with cruder System tech than this. From what I saw of the available facilities. It is all quite advanced and intuitive. Feel free to call me Dr. Deleterious!”
...no, he didn't think he would. So this guy was some kind of underground or blackmarket doctor it seemed. That was less than ideal for his goal of understanding the System and Scourges but probably more useful short term.
“What do you know about Homunculus?” he asked next.
“That depends,” the smiling alien responded. “What's a Homunculus?”
Yes, that would have been too easy he supposed.
“Why do you think I even want to hire someone to run this lab?” he asked.
“It is not really a question of want I'm afraid.” Deleterious said patiently. The Velorie looked him in the eyes and gave him a kind smile. “Despite your accomplishments, the Support system considers you a soldier, not a researcher. You will be forced to leave, and it would be criminal to waste facilities such as these, if the System even lets you. Besides, I have decades of experience in running similarly... discrete facilities. It is a stroke of glorious luck that we have so much to offer each other.”
The carnivorous elf was not wrong, but he still gave off a bad vibe. After a second of contemplation, Derrick decided it was the inhuman but attractive features of the alien combined with his overtly predatory ones. It wasn't just the teeth; his large eyes sometimes contained a glint of what could only be called predatory hunger and there were odd moments where the Velorie stood tense and still. Despite being much weaker than Derrick, the alien exuded charm and danger in equally high amounts. With a little uncanny valley thrown in for good measure.
That left one major question for Deleterious to answer.
“You volunteered to come to Earth?” Derrick asked skeptically. “Like Crusaders do but without any of their innate power? You don't seem focused on beating the Scourges.”
Or a religious fanatic for that matter. It seemed weird that a doctor, even a black-market one, would willingly be sent warzone using such an incredibly dangerous method as Injection. Or that the System would let him for that matter. He was useful, but not as much as say, a manual.
“Oh? You hadn't heard? I really am early. Hmmm.” the Velorie said and scrunched up his face. “It's not just me but thousands of my people that are coming to this planet. Desperate escapees and a smattering of old rebels like myself from a nearby cluster of System supported worlds. The free Velorie castes are taking our chances, buying our way as Janissaries to escape... bad things. I'll keep the details to myself, you're young and humans seem kind of sensitive.”
The alien had probably watched too much daytime TV if he thought humans were sensitive.
Refugees from slavery, huh. He scratched at the scar on the side of his face as he considered that. If this was true, he got the feeling that it was half the reason his Patron had hooked him up with Deleterious. It was also just one more piece of evidence that the universe was a pretty dark place.
What was the point of slaves? It seemed both inefficient and cruel.
With a mental command and an audible sigh, Derrick opened the door. He wasn't in any position to stop this Deleterious character from helping. The risk of losing the lab to some alien plot was worth the chance to work with him.
Even if he was a creepy son of a bitch.
The door slid aside to reveal a long sterile white hallway. Deleterious shot him a beaming smile and the pair made their way through it and emerged into a room with silver and white pods built into two of the walls. There were a dozen such pods in total, but only half weren't empty. Transparent panels revealed tiny human bodies inside them, apparently unconscious and discoloured both by the Spore Tyrant infection inside them and the blue tinted liquid they were floating in.
There was also a trio of beds, one of which Deleterious gently lowered Kate onto. He immediately tapped the bed, causing a tray to pop out of the side. He deftly took out a small cylinder with a cord running from the bed's base to its end and stabbed Kate in the neck with it. The tiny cylinder stayed stuck where he'd jabbed her, either because of the selective stickiness many System items displayed or maybe it just ejected a needle on contact.
“Can you keep her knocked out with that?” Derrick asked, as he sat on one bed himself. “And restrain her,” he added a second later.
Deleterious paused, going perfectly still for a second.
“That seems like unethical behaviour, judging by what the television suggests to me about the human doctor patient relationship.”
“Do it anyway,” Derrick said. “If she wakes up, she will probably try to kill you.”
“Ah. That kind of patient. Very well,” Deleterious said and tapped the side of the bed again. Silver cords shot out of the bed to wrap around Kate's ankles and wrists.
Deleterious moved to the end of the bed began to pull at her boot. It refused to budge.
“Ah, embarrassing. It seems like as a mere guest in your lab, I do not have full medical privileges. I can send you a contract to look over...”
“You're hired,” said Derrick and spun on his ass so that he was laying down on the medical bed. “Provisionally,” he added.
Now that he was off his feet, he was exhausted. He threw his arm over his eyes, to block out the glow coming from the ceiling and passed out quickly.
Derrick woke up. One minute he had been lying on the bed and blissfully embracing unconsciousness, the next he found himself tightly restrained and trapped in a very moist and pitch-black space. He jerked and pulled but couldn't even move a full inch due to the restraints around his wrists and ankles. His panic rose until a thin line of light appeared in front of him and began to quickly expand. As soon as the blackness had retreated fully, he gained the ability to move and the User threw himself towards the light.
In his breathless panic, he stumbled and fell to the ground. Gasping, he tried to figure out what was going on. He didn't seem to have travelled far; he was still in the same lab he'd fallen asleep in. Except now he was naked and slimy.
“What the hell?” he gasped out. Betrayed already? Twice in one day?
The naked User didn't actually expect an answer, but he got one right away.
“Apologies for the surprising circumstances of your awakening.” Deleterious stated as Derrick lay gasping on the floor. “Did you know that you were suffering from zausite poisoning? Nasty stuff, illegal almost everywhere.”
The alien was standing next to him and holding out a white towel.
Derrick shot him a poisonous look but took the towel. While he used it though, he checked himself over for surgical scars or suspiciously new wounds.
His wounds were all familiar and healed but they had healed in an odd way. The scars he could see were red, not pink like flesh, an almost angry blood red. That seemed like it might be bad. Other than that, everything seemed normal. So, he looked for his clothing. He quickly spotted those neatly piled on the bed he'd fallen asleep on though.
He also couldn't help but notice a trio of televisions had grown in the corner of the room, each one displaying varied scenes, one of which he recognized as from The Trial of Predation. He must have been asleep for at least an hour. Even the System couldn't just form a working TV in minutes. Probably.
Derrick immediately moved to dress himself, hurried along by Deleterious' obvious interest in looking him over. Interest he was choosing to interpret as medical. Alien sexuality was still something he wasn't going to touch. His life was complicated enough.
“I had to put you in the medical chamber to make sure the zausite was properly removed,” the alien elaborated. “Did you sleep well? I find System medical chambers quite restful myself, though I admit waking up in one takes some getting used too. Your human military uniform, I had cleaned and sterilized. I took some samples from it and gained a level after studying them and the zausite! There was an amazing variety of interesting biological substances on it. A real who's who of biological Scourge stains. Fascinating, but I recommend decontaminating more often from now on if your going to shower yourself in dangerous alien fluids.”
“Noted,” replied Derrick as he pulled his underwear on. The annoyed human noticed something different. “What is this?” he asked and held his arm for his new friend to see.
“Your arm?” was the answer he got.
This was what he got for skipping the normal hiring process.
“Why are my scars bright red?” Derrick asked with forced patience.
“Is that unusual?” Deleterious asked. “I don't know how human scar tissue normally looks. There's a surprising lack of scars on television shows now that I think about it. Considering the amount of blows to the face the char..”
“Why are my scars red and how long was I out?” Derrick interrupted.
Deleterious informed him that it had been over three hours since he'd fallen asleep. He then kicked a bed, popping a hidden drawer open. The alien than took out a device and in proud sci fi tradition, waved it around in the general direction of his patient.
“Fascinating,” The alien announced dramatically. “It's an effect from trace amounts of aurilin entering the wounds during the scarring process, seeping from a damaged weave of it under your thin human skin. Couldn't guess why you have aurilin there.”
Derrick didn't need to guess. It was the Devil's Brand trait. So, this was a weird side effect of his messing around with auril. At least it seemed benign. It occurred to him though, that red scars would make it even harder to get rid of his nickname, even if they weren't very noticeable.
He sent a wave of regeneration through his body and felt it find little to fix. Reassuring. He also noticed his scars darken for a second, reacting to the aurilin. Feeling with his auril senses, it didn't seem to do anything other than slightly change their color though.
He turned his scrutiny to the alien, Deleterious
Race: Velorie Terran Caste
Proficiency: Advanced Biology, Advanced (Sy) Medicine
Deleterious actually had grown a level already. His tag also confirmed almost everything he'd claimed so far, like his desire to be employed and medical background.
Derrick still had a lot of questions for him. Like so many questions. One was more important than the rest though.
“Where the hell is Kate,” Derrick asked as he took in the fact that he and Deleterious were the only people in the room. “The female User I brought with me. Where is she?”
With a twirl of his fingers and without looking up, Deleterious pointed to another tank. The Velorie seemed preoccupied running his long fingers over everything and rummaging through various cabinets that opened.
“There were trace levels of zausite in her too, absorbed through the skin.” Derrick was informed. “The chamber can keep her unconscious for another six hours and three minutes but there are safety features built into it that stop me from prolonging it further. I can't even use handheld devices on her at that point, the System controls everything in here.”
The tank in question had gone opaque but cleared up when he moved in front of it, the metallic material fading to invisibility. The naked form inside was definitely Kate's. He watched her chest rise and fall for a few seconds.
“Good enough,” Derrick said and made a mental note to order some tools from Gregory. Not for Kate, just in case of emergency.
He should be able to think of something to do with her in six hours. He didn't want to keep her in there longer than that anyway. Considering her trauma of almost this exact situation, it would be cruel. Rather than keeping her indefinitely asleep in liquid, he seriously would consider just killing her.
Huh, a thought occurred to him as he looked at Kate. A bit of poetic Justice?
“Can we safely extract auril or siviril from her,” he asked his new assistant.
“Dangerous, but it is theoretically possible to extract siviril at least, using the same process that removed the zausite from you. Sadly, System built equipment won't do anything so hostile to Users and the chances of your race building such a device is miniscule, despite your technological inclinations.”
Too bad. It seemed like even after their fight, Kate was considered just another User.
As Derrick finished putting on his boots, he noticed Deleterious admiring his mask and other equipment. He left the curious Velorie to it.
Time to look at the notification that had been in the corner of his eye since he woke up.
New unique manna ability created! Would you like to name it?
Yes, he really did. He did not trust the System to name anything. It had a very laughing at you, not with you, sense of humor. He would name his Canvas manna technique himself.
He spent a few seconds trying to come up with a name. Only the obvious seemed to fit.
New ability named, Claws of the Canvas.
And that was everything he got from his fight with Kate. Except for the scars, the zausite poisoning and bachelorhood of course. He'd been expecting something more. He guessed that he was spoiled, expecting every fight to come with a tangible reward from the System. That kind of reinforcement was scarily effective. He almost wanted to go kill something right now.
But how useful was the ability he'd created while fighting Kate? From what he knew, it basically let him disrupt some manna abilities he could touch. It didn't kick in fast enough to stop punches either. He would still feel the full power of any manna empowered blows he blocked. If he managed to grab the enemy or their weapon though, he should be able to do something. At least winning a manna powered wrestling match was on the table. He could totally dominate arm wrestling competitions, so there was that.
Same problem with shields, it might let him break manna shields that would normally repel him if he could maintain contact, but it wasn't letting him punch through them so the gain was limited.
For all he'd given it a martial name, it was more key than sword.
The curious User tried to send a burst of raw manna into his hand. He was surprised to see he actually managed to sheathe his bare hand in manna. The resulting acceleration was pretty weak though. A fraction of what he could do with his gauntlets on. He tried to send manna outside his body but nothing happened at all.
Well, at least he was getting better slowly. Time to try out 'Claws of the Canvas'.
Ignoring Deleterious' stare, he grabbed one gauntlet and gathered manna from the Canvas. For a few seconds the silver sparks danced down the gauntlet to his fingers. When he moved his hand, the silver points of light left trails in the air.
He commanded the lights to dim, so he could see better.
The effect only lasted a few seconds, his manna quickly repulsed by his auril Style. Did he need to spend all his auril to make it last longer, like the fight with Kate? Derrick paused, he got the odd feeling that wasn't true. It was like the technique felt incomplete or disconnected. Some whisper from his gut told him if he could sink his fingers into something sheathed in manna, the technique wouldn't fade.
Which made it just short of useless, instead of just useless. Well, it was cool looking anyway and didn't make his acceleration any weaker. Although, it did seem to be leaving tiny scratches on his gauntlet. He could feel faint whirls all across their metallic surface. Shouldn't the gauntlet be repairing those?
He concentrated and succeeded in channelling the lights to just one finger. He ran that finger across the bed, noting that neither the sheets nor the hard surface beneath it were damaged in any way. They weren't even warm.
With his next pulse of manna, he tried with no success whatsoever to shoot the sparks from his open palm. He supposed the sparks just looked pretty then.
Done with manna for now, the User checked his phone for messages. It had five bars even though he was deep underground. There were a few messages waiting. Most were from Blake. His fellow User wanted to know what was going on and when he was coming up.
He texted that both he and Kate were alive and that he'd return to the surface world in less than an hour.
The other text was one from Anita, surprisingly enough, asking basically the same thing and a thumbs up emoticon from Bruce.
They could all wait.
Derrick turned to look at the 'specimens' that floated in the tanks. Experimenting with manna was fun but it wasn't where his talent lay. It was time to see what he could do with some living subjects.
Name: Derrick, Red
Show Title: Auril Pioneer II
Social Rank: Trusted Landowner
Military Titles: Scrappy III, Emergency Activation II, Auril Pioneer II, Multi Killer II, Resilient II, Force Adept, Fold Survivor, Trailblazer, Auril Cultivator, Counteragent, Ambitious
Social Titles: Trusted Landowner, Blooded Ally of the Orders, Scholar of Exaltation, C/C 1A/1B
Traits: Curative Blood © (Defensive)
Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)
Basic Manna Core (D) (Manna)
Quantum Awareness (D) (Survival)
Advanced Combat Drug Package (D) (Offensive)
Devil's Brand (D) (Defensive)(Auril)
Breathless (E) (Survival)
Heartless (E) (Survival)
Auril Capacity: 17.2/26
Auril Style: Red Law (D)
Auril Skills: Regeneration
Core Capacity: 12.9 / 17
Manna (Raw): 12.2
Manna (Canvas) 4.2
Manna Skills: Sheathing
Claws of Canvas
Successful USS missions: 7
USS Points: 1559