I want corrosive spit. That substance Nicole produced ate through the giant rat’s flesh and bone in seconds. The practical applications of such a substance in combat are extensive. Outside of combat I can just use micro units to deconstruct what I want, but inside combat the micro units are simply too slow to use effectively. Plus if the signal gets interrupted (by say a thrashing opponent) then the micro units just self-destruct and it becomes a waste of resources. But a fast acting solution that can be applied at range? Invaluable.
Although storage is a problem. If the storage organ ruptures in a fight then you are just dousing your own insides with acid, which would be.... unpleasant. Nicole obviously stores it somehow, I’ll have to ask her about it when I see her again. Maybe she’d be willing to give me a sample? Either way, I had a lot of information to compile from the night’s activities.
After I left the sewer I answered the message Imp sent . A few seconds later I received instructions to head to a ‘safe house’, along with a small direction indicator that appeared in the corner of my vision. I began following the indicator at a fast walk, making sure to scan the sky for any signs of Magenta. Meeting her twice in one night wouldn’t be pleasant, and I had already had enough potentially lethal events for today. Luckily this late at night the streets were mostly empty, and what few drones I encountered got out of my way in a hurry. The mask really was a good deterrent. Even one of the combat drones, covered in patches of chitin and spikes, crossed the street when it saw me and hurried away.
But it wasn’t really a ‘combat drone’ now was it.
“Are you still human?” Nicole had asked me. Which implied that despite looking like a partially melted and shredded torso at the time, I had still resembled a ‘human’. And since she implied I should be wearing armbands like the drones do it appears that the name of the drone species is ‘human’. So, one mystery solved. Not even that big a secret really, the drones constantly used “hey man” as a generic greeting, obviously a shortened ‘slang’ version of “hello human.”
So it appears humans are not arranged into drones/combat drones/ progenitors, but instead into drones/progenitors, and due to this ‘mutavus’ the drones sometimes go through a metamorphosis of human > mutant > monster. And I wasn’t even that sure about there being progenitors anymore, it was entirely possible they made new drones in a lab similar to the test chambers. After all, most castes seemed to be determined by training and not by any biological markers. A very confusing system to decipher.
I think my confusion was understandable though. Many cycles ago (back before I received Human.exe) I had fought an interesting organism in a combat test. Unlike other organisms that worked singularly or in packs, this one worked as a massive swarm of individual drones that all served the group as a whole. They had six legs, a chitinous exoskeleton, multifaceted eyes, antenna, and were quite tiny. True, I had been small myself back then, but they still had not been a difficult opponent. I ate the first drones en-masse, and when larger, more aggressive soldier drones came I ate them as well. I followed the trail of drones all the way to the progenitor that made new drones, and then the “fight” was over. It had been an easy test, and that organism was only presented to me once, but the uniqueness of the encounter had prompted me to record the details, and when I gained Human.exe my observations of the white-coats prompted me to model them after the tiny chitin-drones. The similarities were there, after all. So, one small mystery solved.
Now the real mystery is why my best weapon, Human.exe, is clearly labeled with the moniker of the most dominant and deadly species I’d come across. True, I’d never seen ‘human’ written before, but I’d spent nearly a week attending ‘school’, and that had been long enough to learn how to match letters with sounds. It couldn’t be more obviously labeled, maybe it was actually a white-coat program? Some kind of puzzle test to see how I would react? But that didn’t make sense, if it was my escape from the test chambers would have been countered in seconds, and the signal that gave me the protocol didn’t match that of the white-coats anyways.
So, now my greatest weapon was a protocol of indeterminate origin, given to me for an unknown purpose, and the entire thing was so clearly labeled a single-celled organism could probably figure out the clues linking it to ’humans’.
Odd, so very odd.
While mulling over this new information I eventually reached the ‘safe house’, which turned out to be an apartment on the second level of a building that opened when I pressed my mask to the door. Inside was a short hallway that ended in a reinforced door.
Approaching the door a panel near the top opened, and I could see a pair of masked eyes looking out from inside.
“Name, passcode,” said the voice.
“Tofu, training team, zero, four, up,” I replied, stating the passcode I had been given before the mission started.
“Wow, you really did survive. Alright, one sec,” and the panel closed before the sound of a heavy bolt sliding was heard. The door opened and a minion with a black mask greeted me, extending his hand to shake mine like many humans did.
“Wow, you look pretty good for a guy that just got torn in half. You can call me Fred by the way.”
“How did you know about that?”
“Oh dude, it’s all over the net. We’ve been watching it on repeat, Magenta’s face when she gets sprayed is priceless. Come on, some of the guys from team three are still up, I’ll introduce you.”
Fred led me into the apartment kitchen, where two more minions in black masks, and one mutant with metallic platelets imbedded in its skin and a powered minion mask, were gathered around the table. They had an assortment of colorful flat rectangles which they appeared to be arranging into specific patterns, human fondness for rectangles on full display.
“Hey guys! Guess who decided to not die!” said Fred.
“No way! For real?” said one of the black masks.
“Ha, knew it! Pay up!” said the mutant. The other minions groaned and threw money over to him. “Heh, since you survived this makes tonight’s job a hundred percent success. All targets hit, no arrests, and no fatalities. For a job this size it’s goddamn amazing. Hey Fred, wake the others. We can’t be sleeping now, we gotta celebrate!” said the mutant.
From there the minions started pulling out food and drinks, as well as rousing the others. Apparently they were part of team three, one of several of Hellion’s teams that had been working tonight. The mutant (who went by Pebbles) handed me a ‘beer’.
“Haha, this makes you an official bonehead Tofu. Drink up!”
“Bonehead?” I asked.
“It’s because of the masks,” answered Pebbles, rapping his knuckles on his own helmet. “They look sorta skullish, and some of the heroes would call us boneheads back in the early days as a joke. Name stuck, and I’ll tell you they don’t laugh at the name anymore.”
The other minions arrived, groggy and tired at first, but once they realized it was a ‘party’ and the reason for it they livened up quickly. Beer was passed out freely, and someone linked their phone to the ‘big screen’ in the apartment so they could play the footage of my fight against Magenta. It was… the only emotion that matches is ‘embarrassing’. Apparently someone had used a recording device to capture my fight with Magenta, if you could call it a fight. More like my mad scramble for freedom, but the minions cheered when I hit her with the manhole cover and laughed at the look on her face when she got sprayed with viscera. Luckily the video didn’t give away my disguise, I wasn’t quite the right shape for a human in the video, but apparently being a ‘regenerator’ gives me a lot of leeway on how I look during a fight.
Or maybe they were just really intoxicated, they don’t seem to handle certain ‘alcohol’ compounds very well. I wonder why they drink them then?
The party went on for a long time (I learned how to play 'cards'), only ending an hour before sunrise. Eventually the only other minion awake was Pebbles, and we were sitting at the kitchen table talking.
“Heh, that’ll teach them to try and outdrink mutants,” Pebbles mumbled past his beer. “Er, wait, rude to assume, sorry. I never did ask, you a mutant? Uh, wait, you don’t gotta answer that. Sorry, pretty drunk.”
“I don’t mind… although, what would the difference be?”
“HA! Yer damn right! It doesn’t make a difference! Not to Hellion at least!”
Several drones who were trying to sleep yelled at Pebbles to shut up, and he quieted, chagrinned. I decided to ask again, I wanted a real answer.
“Um, I was asking seriously.”
“I mean, I’m a regenerator, but lots of mutants and supers have regeneration. Is there really a difference?”
“Ha, that’s a nice way of looking at it Tofu. But reality ain’t so pretty,” he took a sip of beer. “You can’t have both a super power and a mutation, but both give power, and if you can get power either way who would want the option that makes you half lobster or spider or whatever?”
“You can’t have both? Why is that?”
“What, you want to know, like, the actual science of it? Shit I don’t know. I didn’t pass high school you want me to explain meta-physic stuff?” he paused to take another drink, “I’ll let you in on what I do know though. Everyone is always hoping they get a power, and dreading getting the virus, but between you and me mutavus is probably the better outcome.”
Odd, that hadn’t been my observation at all.
“Why is that?”
He took a long swig of his beer and then leaned in towards me, speaking softly.
“My old man, now, he used to be a mean drunk. One night was worse than usual. Beat me into a bloody pulp, eyes swollen shut, face was just one large bruise, I’m sure my ribs were busted and worse. He left me on the floor with my head ringing and went to get another drink. I needed a doctor but wasn’t gonna get one. That’s when this happened.”
At this he gestured to the skin on his arm, it was thick and leathery, with the small metallic platelets interspersed to provide extra armor and reinforce the flesh.
He continued, “Mutavus saved my life. True it hasn’t been all peaches and cream since, but I never got beat half to death by my old man again. Mutavus didn’t give me amazing supernatter- supernature- whatever powers, but it gave me exactly what I needed. That’s the difference between the virus, and whatever cosmic monkey paw it is that hands out powers. Mutavus gives you what you need and not an inch more, the damn monkey gives you what you want, but I’ll tell you, be careful what you wish for. They can both be cruel bastards, but at least Mutavus doesn’t have a sense of humor."
Pebbles fell asleep soon after he finished his (suspect) explanation of Mutavus.
He was really drunk.
I didn’t rest very long, only until the sun rose. I had too many things on my mind and a long list of small chores I wanted to get done today, so I made myself some coffee and a ‘bagel’ to-go before leaving the safe house. Luckily there was one of those hidden elevators so I was able to reach the main base without having to navigate above-ground.
The elevator opened and I exited into the large hallway that housed the elevator doors, hopefully I would be able to find one of the lieutenants. I wanted to pick up my payment for the job, and I wanted to ask most of them a question or two.
I reached the common room where the orientation had taken place. There were a few masked drones about, but it was still pretty empty. Luckily I spotted one of the lieutenants. Sandra was here, sitting and eating breakfast at a table. I approached and greeted her.
“Hello Sandra. I wanted to ask a few questions if you have time.”
Sandra looked at me and blinked a bit before reacting. Then she spoke.
“Tofu? I, I admit I didn’t expect to see you so soon. Imp said you responded, but I saw the footage of the fight. Are, are you feeling alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you for asking.”
Sandra gave me a concerned look.
“Then why are you carrying an empty coffee pot?” she asked.
“I couldn’t find a cup large enough to hold all the coffee,” I answered.
“I, I see,” she responded before giving me another look. Was my disguise incorrect? I checked it before I left.
“Well, I’m glad you’re okay then. What can I help you with this morning?
“I was wondering how to collect payment for the job?”
“Oh, we usually send out the money after everything has been tallied, that takes about a day or two. Is it urgent?”
Oh, right, the money.
“Um, yes, I could use some money. I was also wondering about the Kobe beef? Imp said we would keep some for ourselves?”
She gave me another confused look before breaking into a smile.
“We will be having a company dinner to celebrate tonight, I’ll make sure you get a portion. In the meantime I can set you up with a small cash advance until the paychecks go out. Would a chit be fine?”
“Yes, a chit would be great. Thank you Sandra.” Chits were accepted at Maggie’s.
“You’re welcome. You can pick it up in my office later. Was there anything else I can answer for you?”
“Yes, have you seen Adder or Viper? I wanted to ask them some questions too.”
“Adder is in the training room doing her morning practice. As for Lily she won’t be in for a few more hours, what did you need from her?”
“I wanted her help with a phone, I don’t know how to work it.”
“Oh, well I’m no Lily, but I’m sure I can help you with that.”
I pulled out the phone Nicole had given me. I had formed pockets in the right place just for this scenario.
“Well, I can see why you might have trouble with it, this looks like tinker tech… Tofu, you didn’t pull this off a hero did you?”
“No, it was given to me by someone I met after Magenta injured me, she let me borrow it."
“Alright, but in the future remember not to trust any tech whose source you don’t know. Especially hero tech, they always bug their gadgets.”
Sandra helped me navigate the phone interface. Apparently it wasn’t that different from a normal phone on the inside, it just looked rather patchwork on the outside.
I hit the mat again. This was starting to get rather frustrating.
Attack pattern calculation failed.
I had headed to the training room after talking to Sandra, and there I found Adder going through a training routine. She had seemed surprised that I wanted to practice with her.
We started with ‘stretches’ (some kind of human self-assessment procedure?) and then a light jog, but when I mentioned I wanted some combat practice Adder had been hesitant. Apparently she had seen the video of my fight with Magenta, and was worried that I was pushing myself too hard. I assured her I was fine, and after much convincing where I used most of the testing machines in the room, she agreed to spar with me.
And now I was staring up at the ceiling again. It was very odd, she wasn’t stronger than me, and I was sure my reaction speed was top notch, but consistently she managed to grab and throw me. She kept disappearing right before it happened, maybe if I sped up my reaction to higher levels?... No, that would defeat the purpose of training. I wanted to improve without having to rely on burning resources.
“Giving up there champ?” she asked.
“No, just wondering how to counter your power.”
“Pfft, what? Tofu I don’t have a power.”
“But you disappear right before you grab me? You do it consistently.”
“Ah, good job rookie, you’ve noticed. It’s not some power, I just move into the blindspot before I grab you.”
“Yeah, the eye has a small blindspot from where the optic nerve enters the eye. Your brain filters it out since there isn’t anything you can do about it, but if you know it’s there you can use it.”
Damn it. She was telling the truth. The human eye has a rather obvious blindspot, but I didn’t notice because Human.exe was filtering it out. It was an easy fix, but I’d have to be more careful of quirks like that in the future.
“Can you teach me how to use the blindspot?”
“Sure. But I should warn you it’s more a party trick than anything. Good for making newbies respect their sensei though,” she said with a wink.
We sparred a bit longer, and I did noticeably better, although I wasn’t quite able to knock her down. She was explaining to me the importance of proper footwork and not just being fast, when the door to the room opened and Rattleback walked in.
“Morning Adder, and is that you Tofu? I didn’t think anyone else would be up already, let alone you. Shouldn’t you be recovering?”
“Good morning Rattleback, and no worries, I’ve recovered from last night,” I answered.
“He’s doing fine Rattleback. Not everyone is afraid of the sunrise,” said Adder, grinning.
“Ha! Easy for you to say coach. Some of us actually had to work last night,” he replied.
“You weren’t at last night's job?” I asked.
“No, I don’t do the whole skulking around in dark alleys bit.”
“Well, I don’t really like fighting.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Rattleback laughed. “It’s true Tofu, she’s a terror in the ring, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly, just us poor minions.”
“I’m just trying to toughen you up. Can’t have you goons dying out there,” she said.
“Sure sure Adder. Whatever helps you sleep at night,” he replied.
Adder punched his shoulder, to which he just laughed harder (and rubbed his shoulder).
Then he continued, “Anyways Tofu, since you’re up early mind heading over to the garage? Socket saw that footage of your fight and he’s been up all night on some kind of tinker bender ever since. Let him know you’re okay would you?”
As I left the room Adder and Rattleback started stretching to do their own sparring. I wasn’t sure how much I believed what they said. Would someone who was that good at fighting really not want to fight?
Rattleback and Adder started their spar. It was a much more even trade than any of my spars had been, but Adder still threw Rattleback quickly.
Huh, I guess if you didn’t like fighting, becoming so good your fights were always short was a viable option.
“TOFU! THERE YA ARE! GET OVER HERE!”
As I entered the garage Socket spotted me almost immediately. He was over in a corner of the garage where multiple sturdy benches and tables were set up, most of them laden with equipment of unknown purpose, and a lot of the devices were actively running. There weren’t many other minions in the garage, but what few there were gave the area a wide berth.
“COME COME TIME’S A WASTIN!” he yelled over the noise of the machines.
I wandered over while Socket shutdown enough devices that we could hear each other talk. Then he took a stool and gestured for me to sit before he started rustling through piles of what appeared to be clothes. His eyes appeared to be rather bloodshot.
“Oi, you really put a challenge to me this time boyo! Been thinking up designs that’ll fit yer bendy body all night. Here, try these on fer size,” and he threw several articles of clothing at me, they resembled the suits Imp and Ifrit wore.
“Come come, they’ll fit over yer weirdo skin I guarantee it. Had to spend half an hour finding a video on the net wit enough resolution to see what happened. Nice trick wit the pulling in half bit, but ya got’s ta remember that clothes ain’t supposed ta bleed, BUT DON'T TRY THAT SHITE AGAIN YOU HEAR ME? Just get caught next time, we pay a bloody nickel to tha damn lawyers might as well get our money's worth! Now where did I put me cold iron?”
I was stunned, Socket had just casually announced that he had seen through some of my disguise. But, he was still putting together a suit for me? He didn’t care? Maybe he thought it was a power...
“HURRY IT UP LAD! YA WANT THA SUIT READY FER YER NEXT FIGHT OR NOT?! AND SOMEONE GET ME MY COLD IRON!”
I spent the next hour trying different suits that Socket had made. Multiple times he yelled at a minion to get some gadget or gizmo, or threw a suit he declared a failure into a ‘scrapper’. I was able to squeeze into most of the suits fine, but being full covers they restricted the movement of my limbs rather heavily. When I mentioned this he had me display some common movements, and I showed him some stretches and how I made my arms extend (but didn’t tell him the extent of my shifting, I wasn’t sure how much he actually knew and I wasn’t going to reveal more if it wasn’t necessary), which set off another round of tests. At one point he actually wanted me to put my arm into a ‘saw blade’ so he could test my regeneration, but luckily a minion stopped him. I definitely didn’t want someone with a tinker power getting a good look at the process.
Eventually Socket declared that he had collected enough data, and promptly kicked myself and the other minions he had recruited out of his section of the garage so he could “work in peace.”
I made my way back to the elevators in a daze, planning to just go up to Sandra’s office and collect my cash advance. At the very least I wanted to get some money out of this whole endeavor before I needed to disappear.
Although, Socket didn’t seem too interested in digging deeper into my disguise. He had displayed a startling level of determination in getting enough info to make the suit, but once he had that any interest in my secrets ended abruptly. His obsession with solving a mechanical problem was completely overruling his decision making, and blinded him to possibly important details around him.
I rode the elevator up to the clothing store entrance, and put away my mask before heading next door to Sandra’s office. Inside Viper was at her desk, apparently it was late enough in the morning for her to be up now. Surprisingly she looked up from her phone when I came in.
“Hey Tofu, come here. Sandra left this for you.”
I approached the desk and Viper handed me a small, flat, rectangular chit.
“That’s a thousand there, the rest will be when we send out payments.”
“...a thousand, dollars?”
“No, balloons. Of course dollars shrimp. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
Mikey was dead asleep when his phone rang, the previous night had been long and difficult, and Turbo showing up had practically given him a heart attack. Between that and the news that Tofu had disappeared he had thought he’d never be able to sleep again, but once he was back in his home and his own bed he had promptly conked out.
And now his damn phone kept ringing.
He let it go to voicemail the first two times, but it kept ringing, and finally he admitted defeat. He grabbed his phone off the nightstand and checked the caller I.D. It was someone named Nicole? He answered it.
“H-hello?” Mikey said groggily.
“Mikey? It’s Tofu!”
“Tofu?! Shit, what the hell happened man? The lieutenants said you disappeared! Do you need help?”
“No, Magenta tore me in half and some rats almost killed me, but I’m fine now.”
“Anyways can you meet me at Maggie’s Diner? Bring Tim, and no worries I’m paying. I have money now!”
“Wait, what, what was that about rats?”
“I’ll explain later. Gotta go! Bye!” click, and the line went dead.
“What the fuck?!”