Mikey got signed up to be a minion without any problems, even though he was hesitant at first. He had tried to explain to me how the super heroes were the 'good guys' and the super villains were the 'bad guys', but I hadn't really understood the reasoning. I had thought maybe that meant the super heroes won engagements more often, but even Mikey admitted that it was probably more like half and half, if not in the villains favor. I think it was that fact that made him finally follow me to the recruiting office on Ashwood St.
That and the money. Sandra assured the both of us that as long as a job was completed to satisfaction the reward was well worth the effort. Once she heard about Mikey's situation she estimated that he could easily make up the money by the end of the summer with a few big jobs, or just a bunch of little ones. Technically Hellion also paid a 'living wage' but that was only for permanent employees and we had to get past the 'trial phase' before that was 'on the table'. Either way, she assured Mikey that he could 'hench' for the summer and leave afterwards no questions asked if that was what he wanted.
Once we were done we left for Mikey's home again, Mikey with his new black face-mask in his possession. Unlike mine which protected the entire head, his mask only covered the upper portion of his face, and was just for protecting his 'identity', a concept that I found... humorous, once I understood it. Apparently the masks were more a form of social protection than physical, both for villains and heroes. It surprised me to know that all of them were doing the exact same thing I was, albeit for a slightly different reason. I was starting to understand what Jasper meant by 'guarding our secrets more than our lives.'
Mikey also warned me not to tell Tim about the henching job. Apparently Tim was a 'super hero fanboy' and 'dreamed' about getting a power so he could become a superhero. I found that very strange, especially since Tim was always quoting odds and statistics. He should understand that being a hero was the more dangerous option.
The next few days settled into a steady rhythm. Wake up and explore the city in the morning. Go to the school for lunch and Mr. Kimber's informative lectures. In the afternoon 'hang out' with Mikey and Tim, and finally hunt rats until it was time to hibernate for the night.
It was... relatively peaceful, and I learned a lot of new things (the ordering of the days being among them).
But eventually things came to an end when Friday 'rolled around'. I ate lunch with Mikey and Tim in the cafeteria, thanked Mr. Kimber for his teachings after sixth period, and walked home with Mikey and Tim once school let out. I didn't go rat hunting this time, instead doing a general systems check.
I was currently about a little over twice as dense as a normal drone my size. I had traction claws hidden in my 'shoes', and my arm bones and muscles were modified to allow for rapid extension, both for surprise attacks and for mobility. My core was hidden in a protective shell made from scraps of metal. I still had my knife, kept sharp with micro unit repairs. I had various bits of loose change hidden in different spots, and finally my mask.
Mass: 135% norm.
Energy reserves: 10 cycles continuous.
Yup, I was ready for tomorrow.
I woke up a little before dawn. The mask had beeped which had triggered my awakening, and I checked the display.
:514 Ashwood St. 9:00am. Bring Mask. Wear Something To Move In.
I left the tunnel, and headed towards Ashwood St. Technically I still had time, but I also didn't have anything else to do. I hadn't gathered enough money to get breakfast at Maggie's and I didn't want to get caught up in rat hunting right now.
The areas near Ashwood St became active quickly as the sun rose. I wandered around the 'store' windows looking inside them. Figuring out that they weren't all food dispensaries had been a big disappointment the first time I came here. The worst was when a place selling 'candles' had smelled delicious, but hadn't had anything of nutritional value when I went in to check.
By my count it was eight thirty, and I decided to just head for the designated location. Being a bit early was better than a bit late, and the message had only said nine a.m.
514 Ashwood St. turned out to be a... clothing store? It was right next to 512 as well, not the most subtle considering this was supposed to be a secret location.
I entered the store and looked around. All of the coverings on display were large, padded jackets meant for cold weather. Odd.
"There are changing rooms in the back if you want to try something on," said a bored looking drone behind the counter. Then it went back to reading its 'magazine'.
My mask was currently in a torso pouch, and I checked the message displayed on it again. Yup, 514 Ashwood St. This was the correct location, maybe the orientation just hadn't started yet?
I browsed the store for a while, it really did just sell jackets. I was beginning to worry when another drone walked in. This one wore blue leg coverings and had a red shirt on its torso.
"There are changing rooms in the back if you want to try something on," said the drone behind the counter.
In the exact same tone it had used before.
The new drone ignored it completely and headed straight for the changing rooms. It entered one (without bringing a jacket to try) and then stayed there.
And stayed even longer. It never came back out.
Something was suspicious with these changing rooms. I tried to ask the drone by the counter if the orientation was taking place here, but it just repeated the same phrase again.
Well, this was getting pretty obvious. I entered one of the changing rooms in the back, and the moment I closed the door behind me the mask beeped with a new message.
Put On The Mask.
I did, and when it was in place it beeped again before the back of the changing room opened up, revealing a corridor into the darkness.
Ah ha. It had been some kind of puzzle test.
I entered the corridor and the door closed behind me. There were dim guiding lights along the floor, and they led to something I recognized. It was one of those metal moving rooms that transported drones from one layer to the next. This one only had one button next to it, and I pressed it. The doors opened immediately.
I entered the small room and found there were no buttons on the inside, only a metal bar to hold onto along the sides, and a single red lever next to the door labeled "Emergency Stop." Luckily I recognized the symbols thanks to my time at the school, and I knew enough not to pull it.
I'd had my fill of 'fire alarms' already.
The doors closed on their own and I was on my way. Unlike the room back at the test chamber that went up and down, this room went in multiple directions. During transit I detected the room changing directions more than once. If my guess was correct, I was somewhere in the underground tunnel layer by this point. Jasper was right about super villains and underground lairs it seems.
The room finally came to a stop and opened into a brightly lit corridor, lined with lots of frames for multiple metal moving rooms, above each was the location where that moving room came from. Seems like you could get to almost anywhere on Ashwood St. using this place.
I followed the corridor until it exited into a large empty room. Tables and chairs were scattered around and there was a small box-like device on a table in the corner, along with a 'coffee maker'. Several other doors and corridors were spaced out along the walls, making me think of the test chambers again.
A multitude of masked drones were milling about the room. Some talked in small groups, however most of them seemed to be keeping to themselves. Almost all of them were wearing the black face masks, and I only spotted three other drones wearing the full cover shells. One was the drone with the red shirt from earlier, another was a bit smaller than me and wore red metal hand coverings, and the last was an obvious combat model drone, standing at about eight feet high with its skin covered completely in thick green scales. These three stood alone in their own little pockets of space.
The last drone in the room was somewhat different than the others. This one wore a red mask that was physically identical to the white masks except for the color and two stubby horns that poked out from the forehead. Its body coverings were different as well, made of a black, flexible material that appeared armored and covered it from its neck to its feet. The only other items it possessed were a pair of projectile weapons it kept in holsters under its shoulders. The red mask drone was talking to three other drones with black face masks, one of which was the Lily drone from the recruiting office. It was unmistakable with its scales and claws.
Nobody in the room gave instructions, so I just found an empty seat and sat down to wait. I did see Mikey in the crowd, standing awkwardly near some of the other drones that appeared to be younger. Most of them appeared nervous. Mikey didn't recognize me with the white mask on, and I realized I hadn't told him I signed up as a powered minion.
Eh, I would tell him later.
We waited until about nine thirty before the red mask drone cleared its throat and addressed the room.
"Alright, looks like anyone who's coming is here, anyone showing up later than this is fired anyways. Come closer and grab a seat if you want. My name's Imp, and I work for Hellion. Welcome to orientation, we've got some announcements to make before we proceed with the physical portion of the job interview, and before you ask, yes this is still part of the interview."
Most of the drones shuffled and took seats, a few choosing to stand around the edges of the room.
"First of all just to make sure no one is still confused, this is a henching job for the Super Villain known as Hellion. It involves doing criminal activities which may or may not result in injury, incarceration, or death. If any of these sound bad to you feel free to leave, just do me a favor and leave your mask in the changing room on your way out. This goes for all of you at any time during this orientation. If you don't want to be here, we don't want you here. Oh, and don't bother trying to inform police or heroes about this meeting, nothing we do at this orientation is illegal and I can guarantee they probably already know about it anyways."
Surprisingly after this announcement quite a few of the drones did in fact leave. Mostly the young nervous looking ones, but a few of the older drones left as well, one was even a combat model. I noted that Mikey chose to stay.
"Speaking of heroes there are some things you should know. We hold these orientations every Saturday and sometimes the heroes do like to crash the party. If they do, calmly head for any of the exits marked in green, even if they catch you we aren't doing anything illegal. The other lieutenants and I will have to jam, but you can just say you were coerced into being here, one of our lawyers will contact you either way."
Again a few drones left at this.
"Next, if you actually aren't supposed to be here. Say you're a hero who snuck in, or a rival gang spy, know that we almost always find out. We aren't a bunch of rookies here, Hellion's Henchmen has been around for over a decade, and you don't last that long if a single mole would bring you down. This goes double if you're just some dumb punk who thought they'd sneak in to topple us from inside, or turn us into the police and heroes later. If you aren't working directly for a legal agency any crimes you commit while working for us are real crimes and you will most likely be prosecuted for them. Without our lawyers to help you. If any of this applies to you you don't have to rush out right this second, just sneak out sometime today or just don't come back."
None of the drones left this time. But I noted that a few looked like they wanted to.
"Now about your masks. Make sure you keep them on while on the job and use your call-signs. We regulars tend to be a bit loosey-goosey with our identities since we have great lawyers and the capes tend to know who we are already anyway. But if you're only with us temporarily you'll want to keep your identity as secret as possible, especially if you plan to work for Central later on. We've had some people come through who went on to have really respectable jobs, even a hero or two who needed the money bad enough. I'll mention that if any of you guys in the helmets plan to do hero work later I recommend you switch to a face mask if your power is too recognizable."
That was an interesting bit of information. I was surprised by how casually Imp treated the possibility of encountering someone here as an enemy later. And how he didn't seem to hold any anger for the possible spies and enemies who might show up. Maybe this was those 'unspoken rules' at play, everything seemed to be almost friendly the way Imp spoke about it.
But I had seen the Merc blow up a bus full of civilians, and the Guardian risk its life to save me. I doubted everything was quite as... 'civil' as Imp made it out to be.
Imp continued to the next part of the orientation. "Okay everyone, I think that's mostly everything. If I haven't scared you off yet, next is the physical part of the orientation. This is meant to both give us an idea of what you can do and to give you an idea of what being a minion takes. If you would all follow me please.
'Imp' left through a large double door in the side of the room, followed by Lily and the other masked drones he had been talking to earlier. The crowd of potential minions got up to shuffle through after him.
The double door led into a corridor, at the end of which was another set of doors that led into a massive empty room. The walls, ceiling, and floor were all made out of the same stone material they used back in the test chambers. Lighting was provided by large lit panels in the ceiling, and white lines were inscribed in concentric ovals on the floor.
Imp waited for the crowd of drones to finish entering before addressing them again. "Alright, there aren't a lot of requirements to be a minion. You do what I and the other lieutenants say, the job gets done, you go home paid. But every now and then cops and capes will show up to stop the party and that's when you have to make a choice: do you surrender or do you run for it? For now start running laps about the room."
Hmm, seemed simple enough. I started running in the direction he indicated and several drones followed me. Curiously most of the drones looked confused and hadn't started running, did they really not understand what they had to do? Only a couple of the drones had followed after me, and only the drone with the white mask and red hand coverings had been as quick to follow the order.
Instantly I swiveled my head in the direction of the sound and took a combat stance. Imp had taken one of his weapons and fired it at the ceiling. Once I observed he didn't intend any hostile actions I went back to running, although I kept my senses trained on him.
"That wasn't a suggestion rookies. Either get running or leave, the door is right behind you," yelled Imp to the room. Most of the drones started running, but a few left out the door.
"The thing about being a minion is that its actually pretty easy work. The super villains you work for will be doing all the hard parts, making the plan, getting the essential components for whatever machinery they need, fighting the heroes, all that good jazz. Most of what you'll be doing is moving boxes around, standing guard, maybe driving a car, and running. Lots and lots of running. See the thing is, while you're wearing that mask you are an anonymous person, no one cares about who you are, only what you're doing and who you're working for. In the eyes of the law you are an accessory to the super villain's crime, a tool in the same way a death ray or a robot is. Anything you do is their fault, they made the plan, they did the crime, and when the police ask why you were working for them you just plead that they forced you. Not like you could stand up to a super villain, they threatened you, your job, your family, and boom, instant excuse.
Now, that all sounds pretty good on paper. Just surrender and theoretically the law can't touch you. But that's not always they way things go in real life. What if a rival gang makes a surprise attack on the warehouse you're guarding? What if some random Joe-schmo with powers decides to take the bank robbery personally? Or a mutant animal thinks you look like a snack? What if some overactive hero throws a bus at the villain? Why, in all of the above cases you run like a bat out of hell ladies and gentlemen. You can't get paid if you're dead."
For the next hour we kept running around the room, Imp sometimes commenting with a random fact or observation about the job. Most of the drones couldn't run for the full hour (I was surprised when some couldn't run even ten minutes), but stopping didn't mean they were sent home. Instead they were instructed to get their breath back and then keep going. I managed to gather quite a bit of data on average drone physical abilities. The majority seemed unable to run past the fifteen minute mark, but a few outliers were able to keep the pace set by those in front, mostly the combat models among the black masks.
Finally Imp stopped the runners, warning them to walk a cool down lap.
"Alright everyone, good job persevering. Now that I've got you good and tired out it's time to show you the next part of the workout."
Several groans rose up from the crowd upon hearing that. I was almost a bit disturbed by how bad most of them seemed at physical activity. Not what I had expected from organisms that ate such nutrient dense food.
"Okay, everyone in the black masks please follow Viper to the small gym," At this he gestured to the drone I knew as 'Lily'. "And you guys in the white masks follow me."
The four of us in the white masks stepped forward and followed Imp into a side room that was almost as large as the room we were just in, but this one contained large devices everywhere.
"So, I know some of you, Ifrit, Olson. Nice to have you back with us by the way Olson," He nodded to the small one with red metal hand covers and then the one with the red shirt. Olson nodded back at him.
"Good to be back Imp," replied the red shirt drone.
"And for you new guys what's your call signs?" asked Imp.
"You can call me Gregor," replied the green scaled drone.
"My name is Tofu," I replied.
"Nice to meet you both. Now, as you might imagine the physical side of the job is a bit more intense for you guys in the white masks. What we're gonna do is some physical tests to see what your limits are. Like you heard in the interview process you don't have to state how your power works, but I need to know a little about your capabilities if we're gonna work together in the field. Do you mind giving me a brief rundown?"
"That's fine with me," replied Gregor. "I've got enhanced strength and stamina. I've blocked knives and stuff with my scales, most stuff bounces off, but I can't stop high caliber bullets."
Then Imp turned to me. Luckily I had been talking to Tim a lot about super powers, and I had planned ahead of time for what I would reveal of my abilities.
"I've got regeneration and a few physical modifications. A bullet won't kill me unless it hits a bad spot."
According to Tim regeneration was a rather common power, and as I had seen everywhere physical modifications were quite abundant.
"Good to know, we'll be getting all of you suits eventually to help with the bullet problem," said Imp. "Theoretically you shouldn't need them since you will be doing minion work just like everyone else, but the honest truth is you're gonna have some stuff aimed your way. Now, to tell you a little about myself, as said before my name is Imp, I've worked for Hellion about fifteen years now, and my power is teleportation of myself and small objects."
Suddenly his projectile weapons were out of his holsters and in his hands, they hadn't moved, they just appeared there as if they had been there the whole time.
Estimated threat: Very High.
If he could move objects around instantly like that fighting him could be tricky. Who knows what weapon could appear in his hands, and he said he can move like that himself?
"Now then," said Imp, "Time for the fun part."
We spent the next hour using the different machines in the room to test for strength, reflexes, and stamina. I tried to intentionally lower my results, no reason to reveal my limits to them, but I did keep myself in line with the other two modified drones. Gregor was of course obviously modified, but it turned out Ifrit was as well, some kind of internal variant if my guess was correct, as she had extra strength and her reflexes were quite fast. Her size and movements were in line with my own so I attempted to model my results mostly after hers.
The strangest one was Olson, who as far as I could tell was a completely normal drone. Perhaps he had one of the anomalous powers then. I really wanted to figure out how to get one of those, but so far drones had been rather secretive on the subject, never saying the actual mechanism behind it and instead referring to it as 'trigger' or 'awakening' or 'quirked', or any number of other things. As far as I could tell all of the terms meant the same thing: you now had super powers.
We were finishing up a weight lifting test when a drone wearing a black mask came in through the door. This was one of the ones that had been talking to Imp and Lily (or perhaps I should say Viper while she's masked) back in the room with tables and chairs.
Imp turned to it and said, "Hey Adder, you guys finished up already with the others?"
"Almost, Viper is still pounding the stuffing out of the last few, and Rattleback is handing out the band-aids and stuff. You about ready for me in here?"
"Yeah I think so," then he turned to us, "Let me introduce you to Adder folks, she, Viper, and Rattleback are our primary combat trainers for the minions. If you need hand to hand combat training, you come to Adder here."
"Pleased to meet you all," replied Adder.
After introductions Imp led the way to a section of padded floor in one corner of the room.
"So then," said Imp, "Lets see what you guys got."