The bus arrived and I hung up on Mikey to concentrate on what I was doing. The fact that a bus ride cost as much as a subway ticket meant I hadn’t bothered ever using one before, I hadn’t wanted to waste money on something that wasn’t food, and normally I could just walk since the distances were usually quite manageable. But, with a thousand dollars now in my possession I decided to splurge, if only for the experience of riding the public bus.
Besides, I wanted to get there faster.
It was interesting. The interior was designed to be easy to stand in when the seats were full, much like the subway on a smaller scale. Several seats were reserved for humans that needed more room, such as mutants, or caretakers with ‘children’. I got to see a ‘child’ up close for the first time when a caretaker sat in the seat in front of me. Infant humans are… unimpressive. It gazed around uncomprehendingly, made incomprehensible noises, and drooled an inordinate amount of liquid onto its surroundings. Perhaps it wasn’t truly sentient yet? If that was the case then maybe in a sense it actually was impressive. Sandra’s requirement for being a minion had been eighteen cycles, which meant that in just about three weeks this drooling larva would be a fully functioning human, if inexperienced. I myself had been alive much longer and I still needed Human.exe to get anywhere close to what could be considered a passable human.
The bus let me out about a block from Maggie’s, and I hurried over. If I was right then it should be just before the lunch rush. Pushing open the door the little alarm rang, and the smells of cooking food magnified. The waitress from last time approached me and I asked for a booth since I was expecting Mikey and Tim to arrive eventually. Then she asked if I wanted anything to start with.
Yes. Yes I did.
I started with a number one (tofu burger), number two (pancakes with hashbrowns), a number three (grilled cheese with fried tomato slices), and a number four (blueberry biscuits with butter and a side of fruit). My plan was to work my way down as much of the menu as possible before Mikey brought Tim over. The waitress gave me a suspicious look and asked if I had a chit, which I passed over for her to use on the machine before she gave it back to me. Apparently large orders needed to be paid in advance, which makes sense to me.
I finished the first four items and began ordering more. It was interesting to see that the cost of each dish was not in direct proportion to the resources I obtained from them. Instead the cost seemed to be in proportion to what the dish was made from, with ‘fresh fruit' being more expensive than items like pancakes, and meat being the most expensive of all. The only two items on the menu that contained real meat (number twelve: two eggs with a choice of two bacon strips or sausage links, and number thirteen: chili and beans) were easily twice the cost of anything else on the menu. It was strange, but it made sense. Since literally everything the drones ate was either nutrient or energy rich, prices probably reflected the difficulty of obtaining the ingredients rather than the value of the finished product. Meat was self-explanatory, nothing liked being eaten, and if the rats and yellow-fur were any indication obtaining meat was likely a very risky proposition.
What really confused me was the fresh fruit. It was also meat from an organism of some kind, but unlike what I was used to it seemed… grown to be eaten? My biggest clue came from a small, green piece of organic tissue attached to a ‘strawberry’. I deconstructed it carefully and found it was a respiratory organ. From what I could tell it used a process nearly the opposite of the human respiratory cycle, so at least now I knew what filtered the air and kept it at a stable mixture.
The process would pull mass from the air and stockpile energy in an efficient way (much more efficient than it would be to use micro units to pull mass from the air), but it was slow, and didn’t provide a lot of energy. It was useful to know I guess, but not worth doing when food was so readily available. Maybe the fruit was some kind of lure in order to attract prey and allow the organism to not move? I hadn’t seen any organisms that might match such a description yet… oh well, another mystery to be solved later. I was accumulating a lot of those.
Mikey walked into the diner while I was eating another number twelve (bacon and eggs is delicious), and I waved at him to catch his attention. Today he was wearing a black jacket and had his long hair tied back. He looked a bit frazzled, and Tim wasn’t with him.
“Hey Tofu,” he greeted me.
“Hello Mikey, are you alright? And where is Tim?”
“Oh, yeah I’m fine man, it was just a later night than I’m used to. I told Tim to meet us here a bit later, wanted to talk to you about the job first. You can’t just drop bombs like that Magenta comment and leave me hanging man! Spill, what happened out there?”
Over the next half hour I explained what had happened after Turbo attacked the truck. Mikey ordered a burger while he listened, and when I described my fight with Magenta he pulled out his phone to find the video in question. I might need to get myself a permanent phone later, they seemed like excellent communication tools if the humans were sharing the fight footage so quickly.
“So. Split in half. Chased by rats. Scorpion chick. That about sum things up?” Mikey asked when I finished retelling events.
“Do scorpions have large claws and chitin exoskeletons?”
“Yeah, and well, lobsters and crabs and stuff as well I guess.”
“I’ll ask her which one next time I see her.”
“Ack! Don’t do that! I dunno about her, but the mutant kids at school always got pissed off if you asked what they were.”
“Oh.” I definitely wasn’t doing that then.
“Anyways…” Mikey fell silent, before saying, “So like, you actually do have a real power right? I’ve never heard of a mutation that lets you do all that stuff. At least, not while still letting you look normal.”
…Mikey is too perceptive sometimes.
“I mean, it’s cool man. I get that you wouldn’t wanna blab about it to everyone. I won’t tell, promise.”
“...Thank you Mikey.”
We sat in silence for a bit, just nibbling on our food. Then Mikey spoke again, “Sooooo… what is your power then?”
“Come on, we're friends, you can tell me. Or wait! Don’t tell me, let me try to guess it,” said Mikey with grin.
“Mikey I’d rather n-”
“Let’s see, you can regen.”
“Lots of C’s can-”
“You can stretch your arms.”
“That’s just a quirk of-”
“You held the knife with your tongue you said?”
“I shouldn’t have mentioned th-”
“Soooooo I’m gonna guess shapeshifter?”
Shapeshifter is an actual power humans can have? This whole time I could have just said “Shapeshifter” and no one would have questioned further? How, how....
“Yo, earth to Tofu, you there? Did I like, actually guess it?” asked Mikey.
“Oh shit, really?”
“Heh, sorry man I was just trying to tease you a bit. But a shapeshifter power! That’s really cool.”
“Yeah man, being able to be whatever you want sounds amazing,” then he leaned in and grinned at me again, “Is that why you’re so defensive? You’re actually an old neckbeard under there?”
“No, this is how I normally look.”
“Uh huh, sure it is.”
"Methinks that thou protests too much."
We talked a bit more, Mikey mostly ‘teasing’ that I was different human types, such as an ‘old man’ or ‘little girl’, but he also promised to "stay mum" about my power to others.
Not me though. I was going to leak the “fact” that I was a shapeshifter to anyone who would listen. I should have suspected there was a power that could replicate my abilities much earlier (it even had a name!). It explained why Socket hadn’t cared that much when he noticed.
Finally Mikey interrupted the teasing and looked over at the entrance to the diner.
“There’s Tim, about time… oh god, this again.”
Tim entered the diner, he was wearing blue ‘jeans’ and a shirt that had the Guardian's emblem on it, as well as carrying a really large canvas bag that appeared to be quite heavy. We waved to direct him over to our table, and he wandered over before he dropped his bag on the floor with a thump and took a seat.
“Hey guys,” said Tim.
“Hello Tim,” I replied.
“Hey Tim, you still trying then?” asked Mikey.
“Damn right I am, who knows when the next one will happen?”
“Trying what?” I asked.
“Getting a power man! Duh,” answered Tim.
“Tim’s been trying to get a power every Odd Summer since we were ten years old,” Mikey explained. “Although his methods are somewhat questionable.”
Wait, tens years old?
Main growth phase of human estimated at 18-22 years.
Age requirement to be a minion: 18 cycles years.
Somewhat annoying. I find out I don’t have to hide my ability, and discover I need to hide my age.
“Hey, the car battery thing was a fluke,” continued Tim, while he pulled out several different devices from the bag, along with what I recognized from Socket’s garage to be a ‘screwdriver’. I leaned in, interested in his process.
“And these devices will help you gain a power?” I asked.
“Or get him killed,” Mikey interjected.
“Don’t listen to this Gloomy Gus,” Tim said as he started to unscrew the casing on an unidentified device. “Statistics show that what you are doing when you trigger matters. If you’re fighting some monster you get a physical power like super strength, if you are in a stressy mental situation like being lost in the tunnels you’ll probably get a mental power. I’m trying to get a tinker power, so I’m trying to assemble as many devices as I can while Odd Summer is in effect. It’s a matter of probability.”
“Don’t encourage him Tofu," said Mikey. "Tim, has it occured to you that powers might be completely random, and it’s just that the guy in a monster fight who gets a tinker power doesn’t live to tell about it?”
“Details, details,” said Tim, as he continued to disassemble the device and began to switch out pieces.
Mikey just rolled his eyes. After ‘hanging out’ with Tim and Mikey multiple times over the past week I was rather used to their bickering. Tim was always enthusiastic about heroes and powers, and Mikey tended to focus more on “the reality of the situation” as he put it. Despite this it seemed they were good ‘friends’.
Tim ordered a burger (after I told him I was paying since his hero information had helped me win a ‘bet’ at work) and showed me some of the devices he was working on. They were “simple things” (his words) such as a small ‘flashlight’, a ‘calculator’, and a ‘clock’. I showed him Nicole’s phone while we were on the topic of devices, and he got really excited to see someone else’s handmade work, although I had to explain that it was borrowed from a co-worker, and he couldn’t look “under the hood.” Then Tim told me that he knew a place that sold phones for cheap if I wanted one myself, and I told him I’d think about it (phones were apparently expensive, I could buy so much more food). We decided to head to the arcade after lunch, and I went to the counter to pay the rest of the bill, while Tim and Mikey packed up Tim’s devices.
I went to the ‘cash register’ and rang the little bell to get service like I had seen other humans do. To my surprise instead of the waitress, Maggie popped out of the back room and approached the register.
“Hello Maggie, I’d like to pay the bill.”
“Of course, cash or chit… wait, weren’t you the boy who came in with Jasper?”
“Yes. That was me.”
“Well I’ll be, you’re still around then? How’ve you been hun? Jasper didn’t lead you down the wrong hole somewhere did he?”
“No, his information was quite accurate. It got me a job.”
She gave me a concerned look before leaning in and whispering. “Is it a legitimate job? Everything, y’know, legal?”
“I had to sign legal papers to get it?” She looked very relieved at my statement.
“Well, that’s a relief. And I guess it pays well huh? You boys ate enough for ten people,” she said with a smile.
“Yes, it pays quite well.”
Maggie used my chit on the register before telling me to wait a sec. Then she went over to a ‘pastry’ display and took some items out before putting them in a bag and bringing it to me.
“Here, there’s always some room for dessert, on the house.”
“Um, isn’t it in a bag?”
She laughed, “I’m glad things worked out for you. You just stay out of trouble y’hear?” then she handed me the bag.
Ah! She was giving them to me!
“Yes Maggie. And thank you for dessert.”
I liked dessert.
We went to the arcade again, I was growing to like this place. The reflex testers were rather useless for me, but I enjoyed the hypothetical situations some machines displayed. Being presented with dangerous scenarios in a safe environment was great for thinking up countermeasures.
It was while Mikey was having trouble with a game named “Gribblins n’ Ghouls” that it happened. He got stuck on the ‘third level’ and Tim pulled out his phone, typing into it a bit before saying, “Alright, looks like the entrance is behind the staircase, but it needs the red key.” Sure enough, Mikey was able to continue once he obtained the red key from a ‘mini-boss’.
I had to ask, “It gave you the answer that quickly?”
“Yeah, it was the first thing when I searched it, didn’t even need to visit the website. Guess lots of people get stuck there.”
Now I was really curious. I pulled out Nicole’s phone and went to the ‘homescreen’. Sandra had shown me how to make calls and ‘text’, but I hadn’t been interested in all the other little icons. I clicked one and found it to be a ‘calculator’. The next was a list of things I didn’t understand. Finally the next one pulled up a blank page, and a section was designated for text.
I hesitantly typed in “mutavus” and clicked the confirm button.
A loading symbol displayed, and then a list of items appeared. At the top was:
an infectious disease that causes rapid mutation in those it infects. No known cure, vector of infection unknown.
see: mutation prevention, mutavus hotline, reporting mutant animals, history of (mutavus).
...it wasn’t just a communication device.
I typed in “benedicci.”
a symbiotic bacteria that boosts its host's immune system. Can cause additional beneficial effects if the host has high compatibility. Famous for being the only known preventative measure for Mutavus.
see: mutation prevention, inoculations, medical resources in your area, history of (benedicci).
It was an information depository! Hurriedly I stored the phone in my "pocket" to hide what I was doing. Pretending to watch Mikey play Gribblins n’ Ghouls on the outside, on the inside I shifted a bit and was typing in all the things I wanted to know about, but couldn’t ask others because it would seem suspicious that I didn’t already know about them. Mutavus, supers, human anatomy, fruit, it was all here! It gave definitions, sources, even pronunciation instructions! I had spent hours listening in on conversations and trying to decipher the links between spoken words and their spelling, and now it was just handed to me. It was unbelievable. Information on any topic I wanted, as much as I wanted, for free, and humans walked around with these devices. In. Their. Pockets!
I wanted one.
“Hey, Tim? I changed my mind, would you be able to show me the store you were talking about?”
“Yeah, sure. We can go when Mikey loses.”
“Yeah right! I’m going for the gold!” Mikey replied.
Mikey didn’t complete the game, but he managed to get really far before he “died,” and we headed out to get myself a cell phone.
Tim led us to a store closer to Ashwood St. named simply, “Cedric’s Hardware.” Inside it was messier than I had thought it would be, with shelves of haphazardly placed parts and devices making up the majority of the store. I asked if this store was related to tinkers and Tim said no, the owner was an engineer, and the store was just a place to buy and trade parts.
The human managing the store (not the owner apparently) asked what I was looking for in a phone. I wasn’t sure, and both Tim and Mikey were surprised to find I had never owned a cell phone before. The manager pulled out several different phones for me to see, and I quickly realized that I wanted a sturdy one like Nicole’s. Hers had extra reinforcement of the case and screen in comparison to the others, and Tim helped me pick one out given that information.
Ninety dollars, one hundred and five including the prepaid ‘timecard’ (apparently access to the information database was not entirely free). It felt like a large amount to me, but Tim assured me it was a great deal. I had to agree.
We hung out a little longer, but eventually Tim had to head home, and Mikey headed off as well. Crazily, Mikey wasn’t planning to attend the company dinner, claiming to be too “drained” from last night’s job. He should try to eat more, he probably doesn’t keep a big enough reserve.
I wandered around until dinner time, fiddling with my new phone, and eventually the time for the dinner to start came close. I headed for the nearest elevator, rushing a bit. All my excitement today had given me an appetite.
It was crowded when I entered the main room. Tables had been rearranged to provide maximum seating, and I was reminded of the school cafeteria. Masks were everywhere, and not all of them were minion masks. Most of the unique masks were at a table at the back of the room, but others were spread out in the crowd. I spotted Imp and most of the other newbies, and went to sit at their table.
“Hey there Tofu, glad to see you didn’t bite the big one. You know you could have just surrendered right?” said Imp.
“So I’ve been told.”
“Ha, well maybe next time you’ll remember.”
I remembered the first time, I just hadn’t trusted it. Magenta didn’t inspire confidence with her bone-breaking punches.
I sat at the table, it was set up so that the food platters would go in the center, and you could just take from the platters instead of getting up to visit a buffet (probably to reduce traffic with such a large gathering). Currently there were 'chips' and various sauces to dip them in, and I began to sample them.
As the party continued I talked with everyone around me, a few of which were minions from other teams, and I got their stories of the job, apparently things had gone much better for them. The only other team to face trouble was team three, and Pebbles had given me their account of the vigilante back at the safehouse. Looking up “vigilante” on my phone I vowed to avoid them. Attacking villains without a support network! They must be either highly dangerous individuals or dangerously unstable, neither of which I wanted to deal with.
I found out that Ifrit knew about most of the villains in the room, and she pointed them out to both Gregor and myself. Mostly I was interested in the details I couldn’t get from my phone, such as alliances and personality traits. Unsurprisingly there was little public knowledge about most of them, my phone searches turning up only names and assumed powers in most cases. Hellion was one of the unique masks Ifrit pointed out since Gregor and I hadn’t met our boss yet. I took special note of her.
And, once again, someone put up the footage of my fight on a big screen. Luckily the main focus was actually footage of Hellion and several other villains attacking an Espada stronghold, taken from a ‘news channel’, but my fight was tacked on at the end. It was just as embarrassing as the first time, especially with Pebbles standing up and shouting in my direction (he may have been drunk already).
But, finally (finally) the food was brought out. Sandra was true to her word, and a platter of the Kobe beef made its way to my table. I took two pieces to start and a few side dishes before I started eating it as slowly as possible, savoring it.
Partway through the meal Hellion got up and delivered a ‘speech’, but, to be honest, I was too focused on not gobbling up the Kobe beef to hear it.
It was delicious.
There was one more thing I had to do for the day. Luckily I was able to restrain myself from eating all the beef, and I got a bag to take some with me.
The safehouse elevators turned out to be for jobs and emergencies, not for casual traveling, so I decided to just navigate my way south from Ashwood St. to find Nicole’s sewer entrance. I needed to map this area anyways. With this I would be able to cross off both Tim and Nicole from the list of people I owed lunch.
Unfortunately, walking through alleyways with an unmarked bag at night was probably a poor tactical choice on my part.
“Hand over the bag and no one gets hurt,” said a human as it stepped out in front of me, brandishing a knife. I heard footsteps behind me, and when I checked two other humans had blocked off the alley behind me, with a knife and a length of pipe respectively.
Estimated threat: low;
I didn’t really want to bother with this right now, I was busy, and after eating all day I actually wasn’t hungry for once.
“Um, is there any chance we could do this later?”
It didn’t bother responding, instead just silently closing in. Oh well.
There’s always room for dessert.