As it turns out, sometimes there isn’t room for dessert. Five hundred or so pounds of meat simply doesn’t compress into the body of an eighteen year old human. I harvested what I could, even increasing my height by two more inches and making my fake clothes extra baggy, but in the end I had to throw two half-eaten corpses into the nearest dumpster. Such a waste.
Even worse was that all three of them were non-mutated males, which meant I wasn’t getting any new genetic or anatomical information out of this. Searching the net for information on human anatomy was insightful, but images don’t compare to the real thing, especially since I don't know many of the words for concepts I want to know about. For now I’m simply plugging words I do know in, and using the definitions it provides to search for more words. Having two phones for most of the afternoon helped with that.
As for the fight itself I did get some good practice in. I restricted myself to using human fighting methods and just the one arm (I wasn’t going to risk putting down the food) in order to keep it challenging. Got stabbed twice in the ribs because of it, but it showed my practice with Adder was worthwhile, I didn’t need to burn any extra resources to improve reflexes like I had when fighting the Espada minions on the subway. The biggest problem was actually keeping them from running when they realized they couldn’t win. I’d learned my lesson from the rats, no letting them gather reinforcements.
Pocketing the knives (they didn’t have wallets on them) I went back to searching for the street nearest Nicole’s den. It would have been nice if I could use my mask again, but map directions had to be approved by a lieutenant, something about a security risk. The minion masks had a lot of strange restrictions, and Socket said I could get a real mask if I decided to “don the cowl.”
Absolutely not. My life was dangerous enough as is, and I was quite satisfied with my rewards as a minion.
I wandered a few more blocks checking street signs, but I didn’t recognize any of them. Then I tried asking for help from what few humans passed by on the street. The responses were… disappointing, if they responded at all. The two humans who didn’t just ignore me or yell at me didn’t know the address I was searching for. Seems I’d just have to look for it myself.
The design of Fortress City actually worked against me in this regard. Since everything was arranged into equal blocks of similar buildings everything tended to look the same, the only real identifiers being where buildings had been modified or damaged, or where a non-housing structure was placed. I knew the general direction of where I needed to go though, and I headed south-west while keeping a lookout for any landmarks I recognized from my brief time south of Ashwood.
I strolled along, clicking words into the phones, and observing the few drones that were still out and about. Ever since Odd Summer was announced the streets cleared quickly after sunset, but there was still some activity until it hit the later hours. Some of which were the security soldier caste, or “cops” as the humans called them.
Ahead of me, on the other side of the street, two such cops were speaking with a mutant with horns outside of an apartment building. The mutant’s face was bloody, and every now and then it gestured up at the apartment while it talked to them. It was getting harder and harder to avoid cops lately, these incidents were becoming more and more commonplace. Tonight especially seemed somewhat bad, this was the third such patrol I had noted. It was a concern for me since there was a curfew in effect. Normally the curfew was ignored, but with this many cops around it was possible one might stop me.
After spotting the fifth patrol (this one currently unoccupied with a prior activity) I ducked into an alley.This was taking longer than I thought it would with all the obstacles, I needed a better method of travel. Streets were no good with the cops everywhere, and alleys were no good with the risk of ambushes. I considered the manhole cover farther down the alley but discarded the idea, if I couldn’t find my way aboveground I definitely wouldn’t find my way below in the tunnels. I needed to go higher, not lower.
The buildings on either side of me had metal staircases attached to their sides. I checked to make sure no one was around and then stretched an arm out to grab the bottom rung of a ladder, pulling myself up. From there I climbed up the metal stairs all the way to the roof. I spied the silhouettes of the larger buildings around Ashwood St. and was able to compare them with my internal map, so at least I knew I was heading in the right general direction. As for a route…
I measured the distance between the building I was on and the one next to it. It was only about sixteen feet, not a difficult distance to jump. I checked for humans again just in case, but I didn’t think this would stand out too much even if I was seen.
Now for the first test. I took a running start and jumped to the next roof. It wasn’t very difficult, but the extra density I currently carried meant I stumbled upon landing, and only cleared the gap with three feet to spare. I made some minor modifications and jumped the next gap, and the next, making minor modifications after each jump. Using the cement bridges that spanned major streets I made it seventeen blocks before I had to go back to the ground floor to cross to the next building.
This was working out much better, I could avoid the more problematic humans and practice designs at the same time. Now all I had to do was figure out how to fold the reversed knee and extra leg length into my normal disguise, maybe if the tibia sockets with the femur-
I stepped in something.
My foot had landed on a round organic object that had been nestled in a bed of shredded paper, crushing its shell. I hadn’t seen it before I jumped because of the waist high barrier around this roof, causing me to land on it unknowingly. On the inside it was filled with nutrients, and a small, half-formed organism floated within. Some kind of incubation vessel?
I tested the composition and felt relief, it was just an egg, similar to those served at breakfast, and not a human egg. The definitions from my phone said humans have live young, but with so many mutant variations I wasn’t going to discount the possibility that some laid eggs. I was still getting used to the idea that all women doubled as progenitors. It seemed like an inferior system when compared to having a dedicated progenitor at first, but when I calculated the numbers I realized that they could effectively double their population count within three to four years or so at maximum production, and the death of a single progenitor wouldn’t put a scratch in those numbers. Obviously some kind of countermeasure towards all the dangerous predators around. Speaking of which…
I scanned the rooftop. There was an access door to the next level down, and a few ventilation pipes sticking out of the ceiling, but I saw no signs of life. Whatever had made the eggs wasn’t here right now, so I absorbed the rest of the broken egg and crossed the roof to leap to the next building.
I almost made it.
Error: balance decalibrated.
I stumbled and fell to my side right before I could jump, my limbs and balance both malfunctioning. That sound! The warbling cry had thrown my balance completely off. I scanned the vicinity and found what had to be the source. A large unknown organism was perched next to the nest I stepped on. It stood on two thin legs with taloned feet, its head had a strange claw-like mouth with two yellow eyes, and its body was covered in dark...scales? Or maybe fur? They seemed flimsy. At its feet was a dead human, a fresh kill from the looks of it, but currently the kill was ignored in favor of glaring at me. I tried to stand back up but-
Another warbling cry pierced the air, and again my balance failed me. I tried to avoid falling on my bag of food containers this time.
Estimated threat: High.
The cry ended and this time the dark-shrieker spread two limbs covered in scale/fur to its sides and flapped them, rising into the air! It dove for me, and I was forced to try and lamely fend it off from my prone position at the edge of the roof. Its talons were sharp, but the organism itself was quite light, which allowed me to bat it away temporarily.
I needed to get off the roof and down to the ground level, if this creature could fly then the flat roof of a building was a bad place to fight it. Peering over the side I saw there was a metal bar staircase, and I hefted myself over the small barrier to jump down.
I fell down, my malfunctioning limbs barely able to cradle the bag of food as I went tumbling, past the staircase and five floors down to the bottom of the alley. My modified legs might have been able to take a fall like this, but my malfunctioning joints couldn’t position properly, and I hit the ground with a crunch breaking one leg and parts of my spine.
This was one annoying organism. Physically it was inferior, but that cry turned my limbs into limp appendages every time.
“It came from over here! Quickly, someone's on the ground!”
I turned my head to the alley entrance, where two humans in security uniforms were running over to me.
Wait, cops! Great! I could use them as a distraction!
“Sir! Sir are you alright?!” said one of the cops. Both had their guns drawn, and they were scanning both myself and the surrounding alley for danger.
“There was a large, flying, monster,” I said, being careful to wheeze my answer as if critically injured.
“Don’t try to move… don’t worry, we’ll get you help soon,” said one cop, covering the alley while the other started speaking rapidly into a handheld communication device.
I was already healing, bone fractures weren’t a difficult fix, what I needed now was to finish recalibrating my balance to rely on vision instead of motion. Around me the world went silent as I destroyed my own sound sensory organs, hopefully if I couldn’t hear it the sonic attack wouldn’t affect me as much.
The two cops spotted the dark-shrieker first and started to fire upon it, but I could tell the moment when it used its sonic attack again. Both cops fell over in a limp heap, and while it didn’t throw my balance off as much, I could still feel the vibration of its cry in my bones, weakening my limbs. I would need to maintain a good distance.
Shakily I rose to my feet, the dark-shrieker passing overhead as it tried to attack the cops that shot at it. I lunged for the downed cops’ position myself and managed to land a good punch on the dark-shrieker before it could slash into the first cop with its talons, sending it off-course. It almost slammed into a dumpster, but managed to correct its course and gain altitude for another pass.
I dived for the guns the cops had dropped, both of them were still twitching on the floor and couldn’t use them anyway. The designs were a bit different for these guns, they appeared to be more advanced versions of the one I had disassembled, but the basics were the same. Grabbing one, I lined it up with the dark-shrieker and clicked the trigger.
I grabbed the second gun and tried again. Nothing. A small panel had lit up when I tried to fire the guns and I checked the displayed symbols.
The dark-shrieker passed overhead, and my limbs weakened as it strafed me with its sonic attack. When it circled and dived at me again I chucked the guns at it. Both hit its face, and in its surprise it forgot to scream as it passed overhead and out of the alley into the street. I needed something heavier I could throw.
I lurched to the dumpster nearby and opened the lid, grabbing the first large piece of garbage I saw. Out in the street the dark-shrieker circled and came in for another pass. I took aim as it got closer and-
A purple blur rammed into the side of the dark-shrieker, slamming it so hard some of its dark black scale/fur dislodged as they went out of sight around the corner of the building.
Time for me to leave.
I dropped the garbage and ran to the back of the alley, turned a corner, and then ran until I found a manhole. Pulling it up in a hurry I dived into the tunnel and slammed the cover closed behind me. Pausing to make sure I wasn’t followed, I regenerated the damage from the fight, and slowed down to do some important calculations.
Did I owe Magenta lunch?
I followed the sewers for a while before going back up to the surface, I didn’t want to risk getting lost or running into any more rats. True there was the risk of Magenta and cops, but changing my coverings and face should keep them from recognizing me as the person the dark-shrieker was targeting. The surface had its risks, but so far the ground floor and especially the alleys had proven to be the least dangerous of my options. I should have stuck with them from the beginning.
I alternated between the sidewalks and alleys as necessary, trying not to attract notice, and just observing the night time activities of humans. Through one apartment window I saw a group of males around a screen that showed some sort of training exercise. Over at a street corner was a “Tex’s Taco Stand,” a mobile dispensary where humans were occasionally stopping and getting food (I bought one, tacos are tasty). One large building had a line of interestingly dressed humans waiting to get inside, where loud noises were creating a rhythmic pattern. All of these different places and people I had never seen before told me one thing:
I was kinda lost.
The taco vendor had told me I was going in the right general direction, but I still hadn’t seen any street signs I recognized. I decided to climb to the roof of a building (carefully) and check the skyline of Ashwood St. again.
Yep, I was going in the right general direction. Maybe… thirty to forty more blocks before I crossed the route I took to the safehouse? That wasn’t so bad, as long as this really was the right direction and I wasn’t more turned around than I thought I was.
I climbed down the metal staircase slowly, being careful to not spill the contents of my bag. After all the night’s activities it had started to develop a few holes and seemed a bit fragile. I started to gather mass to make a temporary pouch while I climbed down.
As I dropped from the bottom rung of the last ladder a small metal canister flew out from behind a dumpster. It landed right in front of me and exploded, creating a flash of light and noise so loud they damaged my sensory organs.
I fell into a crouch, and tried to run towards where I remembered some cover being.
But a spray of shrapnel pellets caught me in the head.
Error: Human.exe has crashed, hardware destroyed.
Estimated threat: Extreme.
The creature collapsed, the bag it carried dropping to the floor of the alley as it flopped forwards onto the ground. It twitched a bit as blood spurted from the crater of its face, propelled by the last few beats of its hearts.
A man rose up from behind the dumpster, dressed in dark clothing, with a red bandana hiding the lower half of his face. But his eyes glowed as they centered in on the creature he had been tracking all night. It wasn’t wearing armbands, but even if it had the half-eaten bodies he came across in a dumpster sealed its fate. Monster or cannibal, a maneater couldn’t be suffered to live. Not in his sector. Not by him.
He raised his pump-action shotgun and emptied the rest of his ammo into its torso. Never a good idea to hold back on Odd Summer horrors.
He maintained a distance from the corpse, reloading his shotgun. Its torso looked like hamburger meat now, but sometimes these monsters regenerated on you. He waited ten minutes for the blood to stop flowing and confirm it wasn’t regenerating.
Finally satisfied, he relaxed his posture and turned to head back to his bike. He needed to call this in so the C’s wouldn’t waste time investigating a monster corpse.
The moment he turned fully, tendons and muscles that had been regenerating and tensing under a dense layer of protective flesh snapped into motion, propelling the “corpse” of the monster forward. While its outer layers were pulverised, its innermost skeletal and muscle systems had been largely protected by its stockpiled mass. Its arms snapped forward, embedding two knives deep into the shoulders of the human.
He screamed and tried to turn his shotgun, but his arms no longer listened to him. The monster tore the shotgun from his hands and flung it into the same dumpster the human had hidden behind, then it turned him around and slammed him into the wall of the building next to them. He tried to kick at it, but it just took a third knife and stabbed it into his leg above the knee, eliciting another scream.
The monsters broken head scanned the alley, then it turned the crater of its face towards the human and he wished it hadn’t, inside the crater was a tiny cluster of eyes that stared back at him. Seconds passed.
“Well? The fuck you waitin’ for freak?!” the human asked.
The sound had come from the creature, but its vocal apparatuses were still too damaged to form real sounds. It waited a few moments for the micro units to work, then tried again.
“Their’s a fuckin’ million of us, you’re screwed.”
The creature made another scan of the alley and after a minute determined this was most likely a ‘lie’. It wasn’t used to dealing with humans without the filter of Human.exe, but the hardware for it would take a while to fix. At least the helmet/mask had protected its core perfectly.
“Why attack?” it asked the human.
“Why? WHY!? You killed three people you psycho zombie!”
The creature took another minute to analyze the statement while the human gasped for breath. Yes, the death of other humans seemed to concern humans. This matched its knowledge base.
It scanned the alley again while it tried to decipher the confusing response. Until its gaze landed on the spilled bag of food. Its head turned back to the human slowly, with regained purpose.
“You spilled my food.”
“Oh, so you can actually make a complete sentence! Well, why don’t you take those two brain cells, and shove them right up your a-ffflghr,” his words were cut off by the creature’s hand covering his mouth. It leaned in to make sure the troublesome human understood its next words fully.
“Pay me back.”
I was in a really bad mood.
All night I had been attacked over and over.
I almost ran into Magenta again.
Apparently the vigilante had tracked me using a power, because eating his eyes hadn’t revealed any usable structures or genetic code. Attacking people with just a tracking power, and it called me a 'psycho'!
I accidently broke the shotgun when I hurled it into the dumpster.
I was still lost.
And, worst of all, one of the shotgun pellets had punctured the container that held the sauce for the beef! It had leaked into a sewer grate before I realized what had happened! If it had at least spilled on the ground I could have tried to filter it!
I trudged down the sidewalk.
It was getting really late. I hadn’t seen other walking humans in a while now, and I was desperate enough to ask a cop for directions at this point, if I could find one. Finally one of the buildings I passed was open, a “Darkside Bar n’ Grill.” Outside the building were many two-wheeled transport devices, and from inside I could hear lots of laughter and more rhythmic sound patterns. I approached it and entered.
Inside the bar were lots of humans and combat model mutants. They were drinking, playing cards, and in one corner two males were having a contest of strength with their right arms while others cheered them on. They wore lots of interesting clothes too, but I noticed a theme of ‘leather jackets’, ‘jeans’, ‘bandanas’, lots of ‘tattoos’ (having a way to look up words is great), and most of their jackets had the name “Darksiders” printed on them somewhere. Maybe these were minions of a different super villain? Surely they could help me.
“Um, excuse me. Excuse me! I’m really lost, would any of you be able to give me directions to Manchineel St?”
The bar quieted quickly as the humans turned to me. The closest one replied.
“Yeah, you’re definitely in the wrong neighborhood buddy.”
The two ‘motorcycles’ came to a stop next to the sidewalk, and I hopped off the back of the one I was riding. Then I clicked the strap of my borrowed helmet and handed it back to the ‘biker’ who had driven me to the street I needed.
“Thank you for transporting me Teddy.”
“No problem amigo. Can’t believe you were thinking of walking, streets are crazy right now.”
“Yes, that was probably a bad idea on my part.”
The two bikers said their goodbyes and left, and I headed for the manhole cover that would lead to Nicole’s den. I would definitely have to visit that bar again.
I descended into the sewer and headed to the lighted section that marked Nicole’s den, making sure to change my face to the way it normally looked on the way. Looking ahead down the tunnel I didn’t see Nicole, but I heard some familiar clacking noises coming from the tunnel I had originally used to reach her intersection. Sure enough, Nicole’s claw appeared from around the corner, slowly followed by the rest of her front half. She appeared to be carrying something, and I was glad to see that her missing claw was regenerating slowly.
“Hello Nicole!” I yelled down the tunnel.
She halted in surprise before she could completely exit the passage, then yelled out, “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Tofu!” I replied.
“Tofu?! You’re back?! And you look fine?!” she paused for a second, “T-turn around!”
“Cause I said so! And don’t peek.”
I didn’t understand, but I did what she asked.
From behind me I heard scuttling and scraping as she hurriedly returned to her den tunnel. Now it made sense, she was an ambush predator designed for narrow tunnels, and I had caught her outside her den. She probably felt vulnerable.
“Alright, you can turn around,” she said.
I turned and approached her.
“Hi Nicole, you’re looking much better.”
“Look who’s talking, did an actual super help you?” she asked.
“I got some help, but not for the injuries, I regenerated those. I’m a shapeshifter.”
“...Oh… so why didn’t you say that last time?”
“I was confused from blood loss, but here, I brought back your phone and armbands. Thank you for loaning them to me, they were quite helpful,” I replied as I handed her items back to her, “I also brought some food as thanks for saving me from the rats, here,” and I handed her the bag of food (the bikers had given me a new bag since mine was falling apart, such nice people).
She held the items and stared at the bag of food strangely before saying, “Um, thank you. Let me just put these away real quick,” and withdrew into her den, emerging soon after empty handed.
“Did you already eat it?” That was really fast.
“Oh, no, I stored it away for later. I’ve already eaten dinner. Thank you though, I’m sure it’s delicious,” she replied.
Oh right, she had the rat corpses to eat, and I took so long getting here.
“Yeah, sorry I’m intruding so late. I had a really hard time finding this place again.”
“Oh, did my phone run out of batteries?” she asked.
“No,” what did batteries have to do with it? “It was just difficult to locate.”
“Like, you couldn’t remember the address?”
“I remembered it.”
“So, why didn’t you look up a map?” she asked.
“I did, or tried to. But all it did was give me the definition of what a map was when I typed it in.”
There was a very long pause before she spoke again.
“Tofu, I mean GPS. Was it completely down or something? Why not use that?”