This was the first time I ever had so much energy stockpiled. The 'pink lemonade' had turned out to basically be pure 'sugar' with a little flavoring. Once I realized this I began adding as many of the packets to my drink as I could; 'Cola', 'Orange Pop', 'Citrus Surge', and one particularly sugar rich packet called 'Nectar'. Maggie got a little angry with me when she realized how many packets I had added (and a little worried that I had drunk the whole thing), but when I offered to pay her the rest of my money she looked at the few coins I had and said she'd just add it to Jasper's 'tab'. I decided not to test my good fortune and left soon after.
Mass at 47% norm.
Energy reserves = 6 cycles continued operation.
And that was continuous operation, with no hibernating and no rationing. I had fallen to about one and a half cycles of energy after fighting the blade-drone, and this single meal had given me over four cycles worth of energy by itself. Six cycles continuous was double my record maximum.
Of course, I was going to have to factor in fights against impossible anomalous drones into any future calculations. I had been shot at by high explosives and nearly stabbed to death so far, and the cycle wasn't over yet, it was still only three hours after the midpoint. So far escaping the test chambers hadn't increased my survival odds by as much as I had hoped, but at least the food was definitely worth it.
For now I wandered around the section of the city around Maggie's diner. My plan was to scout out the location Jasper had mentioned and then head to the sewer for the night. All I had to figure out was how to use the symbols Jasper had drawn to navigate. I could read them but I didn't know how to use them. Oh well, if I couldn't figure it out I'd go ask Maggie. For now I wanted to explore my new home.
I had decided to stay in this section of the city. An easy decision, any physical alterations I made wouldn't stand out and overall security seemed far laxer here. Plus, places to hide were in surplus supply. I noticed many a building that seemed in disuse, not to mention the possibilities of the tunnel system. If I mastered moving using the tunnel system, like Jasper seemed to imply was possible, keeping a hidden den was a definite option.
I started to focus on the symbols on the buildings around me. Many buildings had signs or just plaques displaying 'letters' and 'numbers'. Open and Closed signs were the predominate symbols used, which made sense if these were all dispensaries. Some symbols seemed to be rather useless, if colorful, inscribed onto the sides of buildings and any other open surface. Often pictures accompanied the symbols, although if these were meant to convey meaning there seemed to be a lot of random static in the message. I quickly focused only on the symbols that seemed to be mechanically manufactured.
Navigation system detected: plaques on buildings and symbols on posted signs correlate to 'address'.
Ah, that made sense. A few symbols to label a specific street and a number to narrow down which building on the street. I started to walk from intersection to intersection reading the signs, but a quick calculation on the size of this hive made me realize this was truly inefficient. I could wander for days before finding it. I decided to ask a passing drone for directions.
"Excuse me, do you know where I can find this address?" and I showed it the paper. It looked at the symbols, but once it read the address their brow furrowed and it looked me over worriedly.
"Um, you sure this is where you want to go?"
"Yes, I need to go here."
"Well alright I guess, you just head south from here and make a left when you hit Ashwood St."
"Okay, thank you."
Now if only I knew what 'south' was.
The next couple drones I asked all gave me similar answers, from which I was able to triangulate the general direction of south. The reaction of the drones was widely varied once they realized where it was I wanted to get to. Some became friendlier, others warned me that it was a 'rough neighborhood', and one in particular refused to speak to me any further.
I started heading towards Ashwood St. and slowly the general design of the buildings started to change the farther I went 'south'. Now they had five to six floors each, with more structured walkways both bypassing the street and connecting them to each other, in some places this created large dark areas where enough walkways together blocked the sun. Bright lighting devices attempted to light these areas where they weren't broken. The somewhat disused look continued to be prevalent despite the increase in drone traffic here.
I walked up some steps to get to the third floor walkways. Sunlight lit this level and it was easier to see potential threats coming. The nearly dark ground level had looked increasingly dangerous, with a noticeable increase in combat model drones just sort of loitering around.
Multiple blocks went by without me having to descend back to the ground floor, passing by what appeared to be dispensaries, although I neither saw nor smelled food, and the signs left something to be desired in informing me what the purpose of these places was. Maybe the signs were in disrepair as well?
Eventually I reached an intersection with a street sign declaring "Ashwood St." To both my left and right the walkways had become simply a solid surface, and except for small fenced-off breaks here and there I could no longer see the ground floor. It seems this street was not intended to be available to transport devices, instead requiring you walk along the enlarged pathway while any transport devices had to pass underneath. A space saving measure I suppose.
I went left, scanning the numbers along the buildings until I reached the one that matched the address Jasper had given me. The building it belonged to was rather unremarkable, like the others it had an entrance at walkway level, but it had no visible dispensary or sign displaying its purpose. I wasn't at the wrong place, the number on the wall by the door was indeed 512, and the address Jasper had given me was 512 Ashwood St.
Annoying, I didn't like knowing so little about what I was getting into, but I didn't want to linger in the area. I hadn't modified my disguise yet, and I still wasn't exactly sure how Jasper knew I had followed him from the subway. If he could notice me so could others, so for now I would leave and work on making my disguise better. It seems that while my disguise looking young was good for interactions with most drones, like with Maggie and Jasper, it wasn't very good at dissuading would be predators.
Because I was being followed.
I had picked up my stalker on the way to the job site, so at least I knew it wasn't someone from the job itself. Not really sure what they wanted, but that didn't really matter. I knew I currently appeared weak, and weakness attracted predators. Or at least, those who thought they were predators.
I knew it was following me from their footsteps, even and constant ever since I traveled through a shadowed overhang on my way to Ashwood St. When I turned around to head back I noted three drones that might belong to the footsteps. One normal drone looking into a dispensary window. Another normal drone appearing to loiter, and gazing out over one of the gaps in the walkway. And one combat drone with scales and long claws on its fingers, strolling up the path more slowly than its leg length suggested it needed to. These drones hadn't been here when I first walked by, so one of them had to be my stalker.
I headed back to where Jasper and I had exited the tunnel system. The whole way there I listened for the footsteps, sometimes lost among small crowds, sometimes obscured by passing transport devices, but when things quieted down there they were again. They hadn't tried to close on me yet, there were too many other drones around, but eventually the amount of drones would thin as we strayed farther from Ashwood. The sun was also getting lower in the 'sky' and many of the drones were heading home for the 'night'.
I waited until I passed a larger cluster of drones, hiding myself from view among them. Before I passed the crowd completely I ducked around the next corner into an alley and started running. Right, left, right, straight, I burned some of my extra energy to put some speed into it, and sped through the alleys behind the buildings to try and lose my pursuer. I had heard the footsteps behind me at first picking up speed, but I had plenty of energy and just stayed at top speed until I finally lost them. I ran an extra few blocks just to be safe.
From here navigation was easy, the buildings around Maggie's diner were more organized then near Ashwood, arranged into perfectly square blocks, and eventually I turned into the alley where the tunnel entrance was. I walked over to the barrier, and checked my surroundings one last time before I twisted the handle open and entered the tunnel, closing the barrier behind me.
It was dark of course, but I simply adjusted my eyes into a lower spectrum until I could see. I was still disappointed I hadn't thought to disguise this ability from Jasper, but he had walked into the dark first and I had thought it was normal for drones. Jasper's eyes had looked normal enough to me, despite having four of them.
Now then, the next order of business was to acquire mass. The meal and sugar had filled my energy reserves, but I was still really low on mass and I would likely need more for whatever this job was. From context it was easy to understand that a job was a task, and doing said task would earn me a reward, in this case money. In that way it was basically a puzzle test like back in the test chambers.
I began exploring the tunnels in earnest, looking for any signs of biological life. Quickly I started encountering things like scratch marks in the stone, or stains from long ago kills and waste disposal. Apparently Jasper really did know these tunnels well, because he had threaded us through all the areas that saw biological traffic.
I was walking through a stone corridor when I heard noise coming from around the next corner. Slowly I stalked up to it and extended one of my eyes on a tendril to peek around the bend. The corridor continued a ways until it terminated in a wall with several broken pipes sticking out of it. Piles of trash had been gathered up in the corners and formed into some kind of nests, and occupying these nests were a type of organism that was surprisingly familiar to me.
Gray-furs! Or 'rats' which I assume is the drone designation for them. I hadn't seen these in a long time. In the early days of combat testing they had been a frequent opponent, but as I grew stronger and smarter they had been replaced with stronger organisms until I no longer saw them. True, these ones here were quite a bit larger than the ones in the test chambers, but they still weren't comparable with say, a yellow-fur. They only came up to around my knees. There were five big ones that I could see, and numerous tiny ones milling around.
Estimated combat potential: negligible to moderate.
If all the rats attacked as one then I might be in a little trouble, but I doubted they would be that coordinated. Just in case I did a few modifications to myself. First I changed my feet to be clawed instead of the 'shoes' that drones favored to increase traction. Then I increased the length of my arms so I wouldn't have to bend so far to attack them, plus I could use my arms to assist in running. I looked somewhat skeletal now, having used even more of my torso flesh to reinforce my limbs. Lastly I attached the blade I stole from the Espada to my wrist so I could use it to stab without holding it.
Checking around the corner again, I waited until one of the closest rats was looking away before I charged. My plan was to take as many of them by surprise as I could before they tried to swarm me.
I reached the first rat and struck, stabbing my blade briefly into the base of it's skull. It shuddered and collapsed as I ran for the next one. It saw me coming and tried to lash out, but it was too slow and I had better reach, allowing me to stab my blade into its eye. This didn't kill it immediately and I was forced to hold it down with one hand while I ground the blade around to destroy its brain.
I finished and prepared to defend myself from the swarm... which hadn't made to attack me? They were all running away! I had expected them to take advantage of their numbers and try to overwhelm me, but instead they were scrambling for the broken pipes at the end of the tunnel. If I didn't hurry they would all get away!
I ran after them and killed whatever I caught up to. Unfortunately this meant I killed just five of the tiny rats. The other three large rats all managed to find a big enough pipe to escape into. Quickly I found myself alone in the corridor.
I had made a slight miscalculation. I had expected the rat's behavior to match what those in the test chambers had done, namely try to swarm all at once and hope for the best. But out here where we weren't stuck in a cage the obvious strategy was to run when an unknown predator attacked. I had done the exact same thing barely two hours ago after all.
Oh well. Learn and adapt.
I collected the corpses and began to eat. They were... disappointing, the corpses were mostly fur, skin, and bone, the muscles stringy, and fat content almost non-existent. To say nothing of the taste, bleh. I just let the micro units absorb them after I tried the first bite.
Come to think of it what did the rats eat down here? Beyond the odd organic stain I hadn't detected anything that even hinted at a food supply down here. Maybe they raided the surface for food?
Mass at 62% norm.
Better, if not quite where I wanted to be. Looking around I decided to check the nests for anything the rats might have left behind. If they were living here they might have stashed something edible.
Shredded paper, bags labeled "Recyclable Plastic", dirt, old fur, all of it was caked into the crevices of chewed metal and stone to make soft resting spots. All of it basically useless to me. I tore some of the nest apart to see if I could at least get some useful material.
And a coin rolled out from under the pile. I grabbed it.
Yep, it was a real Dime piece. I started to thoroughly tear the nest apart and a cascade of shiny objects fell out. Not all of it was coins, I noticed a few small pieces of bent metal with shiny rocks embedded into them, and some pieces of colored glass, but there was easily over five dollars in coins here. I excitedly gathered up all the coins, even if this hunt hadn't gone too well I might still be able to afford another burger which to me was an even better prize.
They tasted so good.
I finished checking the nests and started to head back to the tunnel entrance. All together with the coins I already had, I had gathered seven dollars and thirty four cents.
I reached the round barrier and started shifting back to my disguise, but I changed the arm design this time. Rather than return them to normal I would just change the bone structure a bit and compress them. This way I could extend them to max range quickly without having to spend resources shifting them every time I came down here to hunt. Luckily drones often wore coverings that encased their arms, and I changed my torso covering to do just that, along with changing the color to black. Hopefully this would fit in better with the styles I had seen.
Once done I climbed up the bars to the entrance, spinning the handle to open it. Hopefully Maggie's diner would still be open by the time I got there.
I had barely stuck my torso out of the entrance when it spoke. It was the drone who had been loitering, as well as a different drone I didn't recognize.
And the new one was holding one of those projectile weapons. It was smaller and fit into a single hand, but the design was too similar to be anything else.
"Get out of the tunnel and drop whatever you have. No sudden moves."
Hmm, it was just the two of them here, and only one of them had a weapon. The main concern of the projectile weapons was that they punched a hole through flesh easily, but it was just one gun this time. It couldn't do much damage to me by itself, and the chances of it hitting my shielded core from this position were rather low.
"Move it you-"
"Have you both just been waiting here the past two hours? That seems like poor risk/return calculation." I interrupted.
"Shut it! You went back and forth between Ashwood and the tunnels, don't even think of lying. You've found something down there or you're doing a cowl delivery. Now hand it over or tell us where it is!"
"Can I ask how you tracked me here at least?"
Both my arms snapped out and I grabbed each of them by the throat. Then I let myself drop into the tunnel, gripping the bars with my feet to give me extra leverage. They struggled and battered at my arms, but my grip was too strong and they didn't have a way of severing the limbs before I pulled them into the tunnel head first.
Then I let them drop.
I looked around briefly for witnesses before descending back into the tunnel, making sure to close the top barrier behind me and sealing the tunnel into darkness again.
Looks like this was a successful hunt after all.