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That could have gone better.

 

Mass: 67% norm.

Energy Reserves: 5 cycles non-continuous.

 

After falling down the sewer tunnel I had played dead for a while, however Magenta didn't decide to come down and confirm if I was dead, so I crawled away soon after. I hadn't bothered to immediately repair my disguise, instead I was regrowing the missing parts as slowly as possible to conserve energy. I had however reconfigured my arms into a better arrangement for walking on. Luckily the sewers were easy terrain to get around in, and empty. Left, right, straight, left again, mostly the sewers followed the streets so telling which way was north wasn't too hard.

 

I wonder why more drones didn't travel here? Sure there was the rats, but they hadn't proven too dangerous.

 

 

My steps echoed down the barren tunnels as I reviewed the night's activities:

 

The extendable arms and traction claws were proving their worth again and again. They stayed.

 

The bullet-resistant jacket Imp gave me hadn't come into play, I'd need to test it later.

 

The speedster defense protocol had worked rather well. It needed fine-tuning for sure, but I had still landed a hit on someone who could dodge bullets.

 

But my decision making versus Magenta had been somewhat flawed. The description the driver gave me had made me think it was like the Guardian, and while their physical abilities seemed comparable, it definitely hadn't acted like the Guardian. It hadn't stopped to check if the drones in the apartment were okay (or at least not stopped for long), nor had Magenta avoided the use of "excessive force" as Tim claimed the Guardian did. Maybe if I had actually bothered to injure the apartment drones that would have halted Magenta? But Imp claimed harming 'innocent bystanders' simply brought down 'more heat' onto you...

 

Bait protocol result: failure.

 

This all came down to my decision to let the driver get away by acting as bait. Next time I wouldn't be bait, I'd just abandon the truck. It was a 'spur of the moment' decision, and logically it was flawed. I guess I put the driver and truck too high in my priorities for some reason.

 

Human.exe shutdown;

Human.exe decision making flawed: calculating.

Lost resources estimate: 73.4%.

Survival estimate with Human.exe: 87.567%.

Survival estimate without Human.exe: 9.284%

...

Human.exe restart;

 

Oh well, mistakes were made, might as well learn from them and move on. I survived and that's what's important.

 

 

I continued down the uniform tunnels. The sewers were pretty great, they were empty, clean, and there was plenty of fresh water flowing through. Supposedly this place was for waste disposal, but I hadn't seen anything beyond a rust stain or two. Too bad, I would have liked to scavenge.

 

Right, left, straight, straight, bloodstain... well what have we here. A thin pool of blood was cooling on the floor near a large open pipe. Cautiously I approached and tested it. No, not rat blood, but when I smelled around I definitely caught the scent of rat.

 

Hmm, probably too risky to follow the trail that led into the large pipe, I didn't recognize the organism this came from. I wanted more mass, but I had enough resources to remake my disguise for now. Better just to find my way back to Ashwood St. before I ran into a bio-weapon, or worse.

 

I left the pool of blood behind me, but as I neared the next intersection I began to hear scraping sounds from the pipe I had just left behind. Ducking around the corner, I then extended an eye tendril to see what might emerge from the pipe.

 

The scraping sounds intensified, becoming a scrabbling thump, thump, thump, as whatever was coming down the pipe seemed in a hurry.

 

And I could hear the chittering of rats.

 

The thumping noise built to a climax, and then a new organism I had never seen before burst from the pipe and splashed into the stream of water that ran down the center of the tunnel.

 

Estimated mass: 3.6 drones equivalent.

 

It had a long body that was low to the ground and obviously amphibious. Four stubby legs propelled it at surprising speed, and the length of its body was covered in a patchwork assortment of green and silver scales. At the end of a very long neck that made up almost a third of its length was placed a head that simply extended from the neck, its eyes a milky white with an almost perfectly spherical mouth that was surrounded by thin tentacles. An equally long tail extended behind it, with an attached membrane that helped catch the water and propelled the creature forward in haste. Several deep wounds in its sides leaked blood into the water as it attempted to swim rapidly away.

 

The reason for the creature's distress soon became apparent when a rat leaped out of the pipe after it. This one was one of the larger specimens I had seen, and it was soon followed by two more of its comrades, they chased after the silver-scale and followed it into the water. Apparently they were decent swimmers, and in the silver-scale's injured state they soon overwhelmed it. They bit it multiple times all over its body, and while it put up a decent fight (it caught one with its tentacles and took a large circular bite out of it) it soon succumbed to its wounds. Soon after the rats dragged the fresh corpse to solid ground and began feasting.

 

An interesting ecosystem, apparently the rats weren't just scavengers after all. I'd have to see about hunting those silver-scales myself, they didn't look too dangerous if their only defense was the mouth and tentacles.

 

But for now the rats were an easy target, and I could use the mass. One was already injured, and all three of them were tired from the chase and swim.

 

Some manner of shifting would be necessary though, having only two limbs wasn't good for a fight. My bottom half would take too long to shift, so instead I went with my head. I stored my mask and core in my torso and lengthened the jaw and tongue, the tongue would act as a prehensile appendage for now.

 

Wrapping my tongue around the handle of my knife, I checked around the corner again. The rats were still there and oblivious to my presence, gorging themselves on the silver-scale's body. I took the opportunity and charged.

 

The rats hadn't expected an attack right after downing their prey, and I was already on the first one when the others tried to chitter a warning. I stabbed the first one's neck with my knife, but only caused a shallow wound. My tongue was not the best for thrusting a weapon.

 

The other rats charged me and soon I had three of them taking small bites out of me. My one good advantage was that most of the muscle in my arms were intact and when I landed a blow I tore shreds of flesh from the rats. They reciprocated with bites and scratches, but unlike them I did not suffer blood loss as badly, my wounds coagulating immediately. The rat I had stabbed in the neck was the first to succumb to blood loss, and rather than continue to fight the two survivors ran, surrendering the silver-scale kill to me. I didn't bother to chase them.

 

The silver-scale was interesting, it was completely adapted to life in the narrow and watery tunnels. Nearly blind due to a lack of light, it probably used the tentacles like whiskers. Strangest of all was its mouth, it had teeth, but if I was analyzing its anatomy correctly it used the mouth more for scraping or scouring. What kind of organism required that kind of structure? Best I could figure it would latch onto something and bite, but wouldn't most things fight back? Odd.

 

Skreeek-ke-ke

 

My head jerked up at the sound, it came from the large pipe and I immediately spotted the two rats I had chased away at the entrance. Both were still bloody from our fight, but behind them were two more rats. Four of them now. Not the worst, at least with two injured, but-

 

Skreek-ke-ke

 

Two more emerged from a smaller pipe farther down the tunnel. Then two more. And another. Each was a large rat.

 

Estimated threat: High.

 

This wasn't good, not at all.

 

SKREEEEEEEEEEKEKE

 

The next screech echoed down the sewers, coming not from a pipe but one of the canal tunnels. Around the corner emerged another rat.

 

If it even was a rat, it was MASSIVE! Easily an equal to the deceased anomalous yellow-fur. Its fur was patchy, and its skin gnarled and scarred from many survived confrontations. Its eyes were the same milky white as the silver-scale's, but with the way it focused them on me I was certain it could still see.

 

Estimated threat: Extreme.

 

SKREEEEEEEEEEEKKK

 

I ran for it, the rats flooding out of tunnels behind me to give chase.

 

Left, right, straight, I was forced to simply run as fast as I could down the canal tunnels. Several times rats jumped from adjacent pipes, or came from side tunnels in attempts to cut me off. I desperately wanted to find an access ladder, but every time I found one the rats had already formed a barricade using their bodies.

 

SKREEEEEEEEEEEKKK-KE-KE

 

And the giant rat was still behind me. Luckily it wasn't as fast as the yellow fur had been, but the normal rats were fast enough to run ahead of it, and every now and then I had to throw one off which allowed the massive one to catch up again.

 

Left, straight, left, punch a rat that jumped from an overhead pipe.

 

Right, straight, straight, grab a rat that caught up and fling it into the water.

 

The rats were herding me, and I was quickly running out of options. While a rough count put the rats at only thirty to forty individuals they knew the tunnels better than me, and were using that knowledge to cut me off from any tunnel that promised to give open running ground or a possible escape hatch.

 

I approached an intersection where the rats had barricaded both the straight and left options, leaving the right path free. I wasn't falling for it. Unlike before I saw light at the end of the straight tunnel, a faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel that pierced the darkness, and the rats had spread themselves just a bit too thin in order to block off both options. I made as if to turn into the right tunnel, but at the last moment charged the rats ahead of me. They had already begun moving to follow me and were now out of position, allowing me to jump past them, one arm actually pressing down onto a rat in order to vault the blockade. The rats quickly realized their error and gave chase, their clacking claws and chittering squeaks making a terrible racket in the tunnel behind me.

 

A few dozen more feet and I managed to reach the light, finding it to be a series of artificial lights that were strung across the ceiling. They seemed crude and somewhat make-shift, but hopefully I was nearing a drone populated area where there would be some kind of defenses from the rats, or at least other targets to distract the rats with.

 

But behind me I heard the screech of the rats die down. The forward runners of the swarm had backed away, refusing to cross the lighted boundary created by the artificial lights. I didn't question my good fortune and kept running. Most likely the rats had learned to avoid drone territory, its not like they would fare any better against guns and bullets. All I needed was to find an exit hatch and fix my disguise, and maybe I'd live through this.

 

SKREEEEEKEKEKEKEKE

 

Or maybe just find an exit hatch. The disguise could wait.

 

The massive gray rat barreled right into the light, and its bravery convinced the smaller rats to continue the hunt. At the very least I had gained some distance.

 

I followed the lights. They continued straight down the tunnel until they split at a T intersection, which might have once been a normal intersection except that the tunnel straight ahead had collapsed, what looked like melted stone boulders filling in the entirety of the canal and tunnel.

 

I was on the right side of the canal in this tunnel, so I aimed for the right pathway. Rounding the corner revealed...

 

A dead end. It continued about twenty feet but ended in a wall of fused and rusted piping.

 

I turned to go back to the left path, but was knocked off my footing by one of the forward runners. It latched to my torso and bit at my face. An unwise decision considering I was still holding the knife in my tongue, and I slashed at it in return. It was surprisingly determined, and took several gashes and a slash across an eye before it finally retreated. I let it go, hoping I wasn't too late.

 

But I was. The forward runners had all crowded the left pathway, and the massive rat was rounding the corner. I was trapped.

 

As a group the rats slowly began to move forward. Some of the smaller rats were probably hesitant (many had injuries inflicted by me during the chase), but the large one was just taking its time, it knew I was trapped.

 

The swarm herded me deeper into the dead end. I wasn't going to be able to break through the mass of rats, and there weren't any pipes big enough to escape into. Transferring my knife into one of my stronger arms I prepared to put my back to a corner and simply defend, already my skin was growing thicker as I sacrificed reflexes and flexibility to try and toughen my skin enough to resist the rats' claws and teeth.

 

I doubted it would do much against the massive one though.

 

I kept backing up. One rat got too close and I swiped at it. It flinched back, but the horde kept advancing. Until the last rat entered the tunnel fully.

 

Then there was motion behind the swarm of rats. The blocked tunnel was shifting, rocks and boulders moving from their positions in concert.

 

Silently.

 

The swarm didn't notice until the first one of them died squealing.

 

Skree-ks-h

 

Heads swiveled as the rats looked to see what had happened, and were greeted by the sight of a rat being torn in half by what appeared to be moving rocks? No, not rocks, but some kind of organism whose carapace blended into the tunnel. The same gray color as the tunnel walls, without the artificial lighting it would have been nearly invisible in the gloomy tunnels. It had two large claws that gripped the halves of the rat it just killed, and from what I could see a long segmented body supported by multiple pairs of multi-jointed, chitin-covered legs. Between the two large claws I could barely make out a multi-eyed head with only a pair of clawed mandibles for a face. It dropped the rat it had killed and swiped out with a claw, grabbing another one, a simple twist and flick had the rat neatly bisected and it reached again for a third one.

 

SKREEEEEEKKEKEKEEE

 

The massive rat screeched and the swarm attacked. They threw themselves at the creature and died in droves, the press of bodies actually working to their disadvantage. The creature's claws were large and bulky, perfect for blocking the tunnel, but they were also fast, and single sweeps would crush, slice, and block multiple rats from reaching it. It had blocked the swarm from the intersection and was using the same tactic they had just tried to use on me, turning the dead end tunnel into a killing floor. A perfect design and strategy for the tunnels it lived in.

 

I would have been more impressed if I wasn't also caught in the trap.

 

It continued to kill the rats, one of its swipes actually killing four rats at once as it simultaneously sliced through one, grabbed a second, and crushed the final two under the weight of the claw. Then the massive rat finally entered the fray.

 

SKREEEEEEKKKEKEKE

 

It waited for the swing of the gray-claw's arm and charged, biting onto the arm behind the claw where a wrist would normally be on a drone. Its grapple allowed for multiple rats to finally break past the gray-claw's defense, although several of them were grabbed and killed by the mandibles.

 

CRUNCH

 

The massive rat's jaws were stronger than I had anticipated, the crunch was the sound of the gray-claw's chitin covered arm shattering as the massive rat's bite managed to shear through the material. The right claw of the gray-claw fell to the floor, and with half of its defenses gone it was soon swarmed by the smaller rats. They attacked its legs, face, and head, but it powered through the onslaught, swinging its remaining claw into the massive rat and pinning it to the floor.

 

Then it spat a green substance from its mouth right into the massive rat's face. A sizzling sound accompanied the massive rat's screams as it thrashed in agony, the substance quickly eating through the rat's face and dissolving its head in seconds.

 

Hearing their leader scream and die must have demoralized the remaining rats, because their assault on the gray-claw suddenly became a mad free-for-all as they scattered to try and make it past the gray-claw to freedom. A few did, but mostly they died as it continued to mop up the few survivors.

 

And then I was alone with it.

 

Its left claw was held high in preparation to swing at any rats that where left, its multiple eyes scanning the tunnel past the pile of dead rats.

 

And then it saw me and froze.

 

We stared at each other for long moments. Me, desperately trying to figure out the best method to survive. It, probably wondering if I was food like the rats.

 

More moments passed until:

 

"Hello?"

 

What!?

 

"Can you speak? Are... are you still human?"

 

The voice was coming from somewhere behind the gray-claw, it sounded like a 'she' drone. Was someone commanding the gray-claw?

 

I flooded my jaw with micro units and hurried to shift my mouth enough to reply.

 

"Y-yesh, Ii em huu-mon," was the best I could say with my tongue still swollen into an appendage.

 

"Ah..." came the voice. "...you should wear your armbands. Almost thought you were a monster."

 

Suddenly the gray-claw moved, not towards me but backwards, its many legs scrabbling to reverse itself back into the tunnel it had come from. It pulled the massive dead rat with it as it did so.

 

There was no one else in the tunnel. Was... was the gray-claw actually the drone I heard?

 

My mind was a list of questions. I hadn't known that drones came in a non-biped design, and this one was a massive divergence from even the other combat drones. Was it made specifically to sweep the sewers? What was its faction? Did it even have a faction? There was a good possibility this was another escaped bio-weapon as well. It hadn't attacked me, maybe I could get more information about the drones from it?

 

I slowly bypassed the heaps of rat corpses and walked back to the intersection. The gray-claw was currently sitting in the entrance to its tunnel, and slowly cutting small chunks off the massive rat corpse before eating them one by one.

 

"Um-"

 

"The exit is that way," it interrupted and pointed down the tunnel I hadn't chosen. "Make a right at the first intersection and the ladder is right there."

 

Useful to know, but I didn't want to leave just yet.

 

"My name is Tofu."

 

"Good for you. Now get going, I'm trying to eat here."

 

"I don't need to go right away," I replied. I really wanted to ask it questions.

 

I heard a sigh, followed by "Yes, you kinda do. Its too dangerous for a small fry like you to be down here."

 

"I'll be fine."

 

"Pfft, you look like you fell out of a wood chipper. You're just lucky I was here to save you."

 

"Well, true, you did save me. But this isn't from the rats, er, most of it isn't. I was in a fight and got knocked into the sewers. It was just unfortunate that I ran into the rats right after."

 

The gray-claw stared at me silently. Then in a much more concerned tone of voice it spoke.

 

"...Wait. You mean all those wounds are recent? Jesus how are you... your legs... and you already have mutations... you need medical assistance. Like, immediately."

 

"No worries, I feel fine. And I'm not bleeding out or anything."

 

"Of course you feel fine idiot! Did you hit you're head? You're mutating!" yelled the gray-claw.

 

I flinched back at its yell. Then I asked, "Mutating?"

 

"Yes! God, maybe you're in shock. I'm sorry for yelling, but you need to reach a doctor before it gets any worse. It's going pretty slowly at least, your benedicci must be strong, you might have time... tell me, do you feel confused and hungry?"

 

"Yes to both of those."

 

"Damn, here."

 

The gray-claw began cutting off smaller chunks of the rat, creating a small pile of meat in front of me.

 

"Here, eat this. I know its disgusting but you need nutrition right now. Eat and wait for me here, I'll be right back," then it withdrew farther into its den.

 

Now I was really confused. At first it had wanted me to leave, but now it wanted me to stay and eat? And it seemed very concerned about this 'mutating'. It was probably related to the 'mutavus' everyone talked about. Maybe I should just ask it directly what mutavus and benedicci are, I was tired of not understanding when drones talked about it. The only reason I hadn't already asked a drone was because every drone already seemed informed, and I didn't want to draw attention to myself for not knowing.

 

I ate my little meat pile (it didn't taste that bad?) while I heard clattering and banging from inside the gray-claw's den. Along with muffled yells of "Where are they?" and "Where did I put them?"

 

I finished my meat pile, and was considering eating more of the rat, when the gray-claw emerged from its den holding a pair of the yellow armbands in its mandible claws. It threw them to me and said,

 

"Here, put these on, do you have a cell-phone by any chance?"

 

"No."

 

"Yeah, I guess that was too much to hope for. Here," It withdrew into its den again and came back out with a 'cell-phone' clutched in a mandible claw. I was a bit apprehensive to get close to it (the images of crushed rats were still vividly in my mind), but it hadn't been hostile so far, so I gingerly took the cell-phone from its outstretched mandible.

 

"When you get to the surface call nine-one-one. Tell them you're mutating rapidly and you need help. Do you think you can climb a ladder without dropping it?"

 

"Yes, no problem."

 

"Alright, get going."

 

"Um, actually I wanted to ask you some questions before I left."

 

"You don't have time for that. You need to get going."

 

"But-"

 

Suddenly it raised its remaining claw and with a thundering crash smashed it into the ground.

 

"YOU DON"T HAVE TIME FOR THAT!" it screamed.

 

I had leapt away when it smashed the floor, but when it didn't follow I turned to look at it again. It was quivering a bit, and I got the impression that it was quite angry with me. Slowly it calmed down, and a few moments of silence passed before it sighed and said,

 

"Look, you need to get going. Before, before..."

 

 

 

"Before what?"

 

 

 

"...before you end up like me," it finished, barely loud enough for me to hear.

 

 

How odd. Why would being an apex predator be bad?

 

"You never told me your name by the way," I said.

 

"Pfft, it's Nicole. Try not to break my phone would you?"

 

"I won't. See you later."

 

"Yeah, sure, later."

 

 

I found the exit hatch easily enough. Fixing up my disguise took a while, but soon I had all my organs and appendages back in place, even if I was over a hundred pounds lighter. I needed to research mutavus and benedicci before I visited Nicole again, I wanted to ask her more questions and I might need to adjust my disguise again to not tip her off. If she wasn't actually a bio-weapon then I couldn't reveal to her that I was.

 

Placing my mask back in place I was greeted by a floating message in my vision:

 

"Yo Tofu, you alive?" -Imp

 

I must have missed the message while I was running from the rats, that's probably one of the reasons they said not to take the mask off.

 

Oops.

 

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