“...and then when you’re done you can turn off the GPS here. Although most people just type in the address of the place they want into the web browser, and then e-maps will show them a route.”
“Are you sure you’ll remember all this next time?”
“Yeeeah... let me just walk you through it again real quick.”
Nicole had been just as surprised that I’d never had a phone as Tim and Mikey, and was giving me an in-depth tour of the phone controls and features. I was glad for it, as certain things about the ‘user interface’ were very unintuitive to me. Why was the camera shortcut accessed by swiping left on the lock screen and the call shortcut right? Why did some features require downloading an app when others didn’t? Why was the map system accessed by clicking an icon of a green/blue sphere instead of just being labeled “Maps?” It probably made sense to a tinker, but to me it was just gibberish that had to be remembered.
“...and that’s how you put new contacts into the address book. You can even edit the ringtone for each person individually.”
And some of these phone features were somewhat useless to me, I could just remember phone numbers and addresses. The music library, the calculator, and the calendar also seemed equally useless.
I might try out the games app though.
“Is that Gribblin’s n’ Ghouls?” I asked.
“No, that’s Gribblin Tamer, it’s a mobile spin-off. You’ve never heard of it before?”
“I have not.”
“Here, let me show you real quick.”
More than the phone features, I was impressed with how adept Nicole was with manipulating a tiny screen with her mandibles. Both the smaller claws at the end of each mandible and the mandibles themselves actually had more joints than was initially apparent, allowing the mandibles to bend like human arms and the smaller claws to “break” into crude, three-fingered hands. They were obviously meant more for combat than fine manipulation, but seeing her tap away at the phone reminded me a lot of how Viper managed a touchscreen with her own sharp claws. Obviously humans valued phones quite highly if they devoted so much practice to using them (humans really put in extra effort when it comes to rectangles).
“...and that’s why its my favorite game,” cough, “So anyways! Did you have any more questions about your phone?”
“I don’t think so, if I have more can I call you later?”
“Oh, um, sure I guess? Or just a text. Anyways it’s really late, and I talked really long, you probably need to get going. I can call a taxi if you need one? Or you can call someone and...”
In fact I had more questions, but they were of the biological nature rather than technological. Between Nicole’s excellent combat design, corrosive spit, and eight eyes (multiple eyes are surprisingly harder to run in parallel than I thought), I was starting to feel rather envious. Plus I knew she still had more secrets, judging by the fact her voice didn’t come from her mandibled mouth and instead echoed out of her den. I somehow doubted she’d be willing to answer these questions though (and I didn’t want to be ‘rude’ and risk her cutting off contact), so instead I decided to change the subject to keep the conversation going. Maybe if I spent enough time around her I’d find a way to politely ask for an acid sample.
“By the way. What’s that thing you were carrying?” I interrupted while pointing to the large object wrapped in brown material she had been carrying.
“Oh that? I found it in the sewer, somebody dumped it. It’s pretty grisly, but I suppose you’ve seen worse,” and she reached over with her large claw and pulled the material away.
Inside was a corpse, but it was… strange. It looked like a fusion of a large rat and one of the silver-scales, but rather than the well-designed organic modifications mutavus made, this was a crude amalgamation of distinct parts from both organisms. In some places I could see pieces of metal, and even… string? Yes, string stitched between the opposing parts. I guess it was artificially created by someone, but like the phone UI’s the logic for it stumped me.
“Poor thing died a little after I found it,” Nicole said, “Probably some Odd Summer jagoff dumping their failed experiment. I hate when people mess with the Nessies.”
“It’s what I call the long-necked animals. They keep the sewer clean, so I like having them around, but the stupid rats and other idiots pick on them. They might look scary, but they’re harmless, if they get bitey you just bonk them on the head and they’ll leave you alone.”
“Ah. What do you think they were trying to accomplish with this one?”
“Who knows, people are always dumping stuff down here. Maybe they were testing their new power, or trying to make a bio-weapon? Either way I’m reporting it. I don’t want some wannabe Dr. Frankenstein dumping bodies down here.”
Oh! This was supposed to be a bio-weapon? Interesting. It was… well…
If this was meant for combat it was functionally useless. It looked like they may have been trying to combine the better features of both organisms, like the rats’ teeth and the silver-scales’ neck and fins, but the result was completely unbalanced. I’d be surprised if it could walk, let alone fight.
But it had still been a bio-weapon, and Nicole seemed to care about its death. Interesting.
“What do you plan to do with it?” I asked.
“I’ll take the body somewhere else and call Central in the morning. They’ll send someone to take my report and get the body,” she paused for a second, “Bleh, I hate having to call them myself.”
“Well…” I heard a sigh come from her den, “They’re always a hassle to deal with. I’m technically squatting, and if they find out I’m living down here they’ll threaten to evict me. As if I have anywhere else to go… and if I’m really unlucky enough it’ll be a rookie they send, who’ll panic and take some shots at me before screaming and running and calling in a cape, and then I’ll get lectured by a hero for not wearing my armbands while a bunch of cops stare at me, again, even though I was wearing armbands and it was his fault for losing his cool and not checking properly, and it’ll be super embarrassing!…” she paused to take a breath, seeming somewhat agitated. Then she continued, “Sorry, I’m rambling. I don’t often have someone to talk to about this.”
“That’s fine. I can empathize."
“Ha, sure you can.”
“No offense Tofu, but how could a shapeshifter empathize with me.”
I noticed the change in her voice. Irritation? I may have said something rude.
“Well, I’ve been mistaken for a monster before as well,” I explained.
For a second her eyes seemed… angry? It was hard to tell since her face didn’t have much in the way of expressions. But then she muttered, “...Touché I guess.”
Maybe she misunderstood? I clarified, “Yeah, the guy shot me in the face with a shotgun.”
She blinked, “WHAT!? I, I thought you meant yesterday when I... Was this how you got knocked into the sewer?”
“No, this was a separate incident.”
“Jesus, how do you get into so much trouble? Did you report him?”
“No reason to.”
“Tofu! You can’t just let people get away with stuff like that! Even if you can regenerate that is NOT an excuse!”
“Well, I, I don’t really like calling Central either. I’ve had a bad experience with a hero as well.”
She went silent for a a few seconds, then said, “Tofu, be honest with me. Are you a cowl?”
“Honest? You’re not a villain?”
“Or a hero in training?”
“No. I’m really not.”
“Okay… heh, dang, would have been kinda cool if you were a sidekick or something.”
“I’m not interested in being a hero. It seems too dangerous.”
She started laughing, “Oh my god Tofu. If you can survive a shotgun to the face, or being ripped in half, I don’t think being a hero would be any more dangerous. At the very least, you could totally be a sidekick.”
“If you say so,” I replied doubtfully. She just laughed harder.
“Anyways,” she said after she composed herself, “I um, guess being a shapeshifter comes with its own problems… sorry. I thought you were pitying me, or making fun of me or something.”
“I know, I should have figured. People who would don’t walk around all night going out of their way to return cell phones. Thanks again by the way, the charger for my laptop is still busted and I don’t know how I would have contacted my usual courier.”
“Yeah, I use him to deliver stuff I order, or sell the gizmos I salvage, he usually gets me a decent return. He’s a bit iffy, but he’s honest enough where it counts, which is all I care about.”
“Anyways, it really is getting late,” Nicole said, “Do you actually have a way home?”
“I was going to walk.”
“Tofu, it’s like,” she checked her phone, “Three in the morning! Jeez, I talked so long, I’m a bit of a night owl so I didn’t notice. Let me call you a taxi.”
Bleh, taxis cost quite a bit more than a bus or subway ticket. Waste of food money.
“Um… actually,” I eyed the dead bio-weapon, “What if I call Central? I could report the corpse and ask the cop who shows up for a ride.”
“Er, I don’t know if that will work Tofu.”
“They won’t be able to just leave me there after curfew, and if I say I found it above they won’t bother you here.”
She considered it, then said, “Alright, I guess you can still call a taxi if it doesn’t work out. Can you carry it up the ladder?”
“Yes, no problem.”
I considered the rat-nessie while I rewrapped it in the brown material. It wasn’t nearly as dangerous as what I had come to expect from a bio-weapon. Indeed, of all the things I had fought so far, the hardest fights had always been the supers, not bio-weapons or mutated organisms. The dozens of other test subjects back at the test chamber couldn’t compare to the majority of supers I had encountered.
I had expected most bio-weapons to be like the yellow-fur, and to be treated in a similar fashion, but Nicole had seemed almost sad at the demise of this specimen. Maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it was?
I finished wrapping the rat-nessie and hoisted the large corpse over a shoulder before facing Nicole.
“Well then,” said Nicole, “I guess this is goodbye.”
“Ha. Until you have more questions with obvious answers I guess? Anything you’d like answered before you go?”
No one had figured out my true nature so far, but a few had come quite close. It was possible someone might in the future, it would do to be prepared for their reaction. Nicole was faction-less, reasonable, unlikely to ‘blab’, and seemed sympathetic to the dead bio-weapon. It was risky to discard my disguise, but if I were to reveal to anyone that I was a bio-weapon, Nicole was the best choice.
I think I’ll tell her.
Human.exe emergency shut-down;
Human.exe displaying behavior harmful to core: analyzing...
Rolling back thought process kernel...
“No, that’s everything Nicole. Thank you for helping me with the phone.”
I walked down the left tunnel and around the bend, heading back the way I came. When I reached the ladder I climbed up slowly, hauling up the rat-nessie corpse with me, but when I reached the top of the tunnel I stopped, and shifted until I had myself and the corpse properly braced. Rather than call the cops and get a ride, I planned to just wait until morning when things were safer and walk home. For now, I had a lot of thinking to do.
And besides, surely a bio-weapon corpse would reveal something useful?
My conversation with Nicole had been informative. Partly because of the things she taught me about the phone, but more so because something she had said gave me an inkling that something was wrong.
“People who would don’t walk around all night going out of their way to return cell phones,” she had said, and indeed, I had gone well out of my way to visit Nicole. More so than might be reasonable. In fact, several decisions I had made over the past few days had been questionable. Nothing absolutely wrong, but something was… odd.
I had tried to act as bait for Magenta to obtain the Kobe beef. But heroes aren’t supposed to kill, so it should have been safe. Logical.
I cut myself in half to escape Magenta, losing a lot of resources, rather than get arrested. But Magenta had proven more violent than previously thought only after I was already engaged in combat. Logical.
I didn’t destroy all the evidence of the ambushers since it would have wasted time. But how could I have predicted a vigilante would track me? He had even said I killed three people, but there were only two bodies, and I was careful about leaving a scent trail. His power had obviously informed him somehow. Logical.
I had chosen to fight the dark-shrieker rather than simply escape. But its sonic attack was the only real threat and it wasn't a lethal one. While it could damage me with its talons it couldn’t have really killed me with its meager physical abilities, and if it was a mutant I might have been able to obtain that weapon myself. Logical.
I had returned Nicole’s phone rather than keep it for myself because… I had my own? But I only bought it because I knew I would return Nicole’s… and I was going to return it anyway because... I wanted to?
Damn. Something really was wrong. It hadn't been apparent at the time, otherwise I would have caught it, but something was throwing my decisions just a tiny bit off, and I couldn't risk the problem growing. I would need to do a full check.
Main thought process kernel: no current errors, two rewrites logged.
Sub kernels: no errors.
NOMem: no errors.
OMem: no errors.
Core: missing Command Receiver, Command Code Bank. Ignored.
Micro Unit Controls 1-118: no errors.
Accessing Human.exe file structure...
Error: Access denied.
Accessing Human.exe file structure...
Error: Access denied.
Accessing Human.exe file structure...
...That shouldn’t have happened. Without the white-coat commands to hinder me it should be impossible to not have access to my own files. This proved something was wrong with Human.exe which was… really, really bad. Human.exe was vital to me now, I could barely problem solve without it. My pathetic attempt at interrogating the vigilante without it proved I needed it to work properly. Without it I was, I was a...
I had thought that Human.exe was a weapon, but it wasn’t just that. It was a tool. It was a translator. It was an eye. One that gave me the insight I needed to survive in the world of humans.
And eyes have blind spots.
Nicole watched Tofu head down the tunnel and around the corner, breathing a small sigh of relief as he finally went out of sight. Having a (relatively) normal conversation had been nice, great even, but she simply wasn’t used to talking to people “in the flesh” anymore, and near the end she had had to restrain herself from anxiously clicking her pincer out of habit. Besides their initial meeting, even her encounters with her courier rarely consisted of more than dropping off money and packages at a preset location.
She settled herself into her den entrance, blocking it off as best she could with her right pincer missing. Then with her real body she began cleaning up the utensils she had used to eat the food Tofu had brought her.
It had been so good! The bag had contained containers of some kind of steak, but there had also been side dishes of vegetables, like asparagus and potatoes. It had been a long time since she had eaten something that wasn’t raw and bloody, or came out of a plastic package. She felt a little bad that she told Tofu she’d eat it later, but her forward mouth didn’t have any taste buds, and her real body… well, she could use a shower, and a new shirt that wasn’t permanently stained by oil and grease...
...and a little more courage. Maybe she should try to save for a new shirt at least…
She shook her head and slapped her face, she needed to save for a new charger cable, not frivolous items. As if she could keep a shirt clean down here. Tofu probably wouldn’t even come back, despite his claims. She’d heard it all before, from old friends, distant relatives, cops, and even a hero or two. The few who kept any contact at all always said they’d “check in” on her, but somehow never found the time. Hell, her courier checked in on her more reliably than anyone else, flake that he was.
She reflexively moved to her laptop before remembering it was out of power. Then out of habit she looked around her “room” just in case the part she needed had decided to magically appear among the broken gizmos and rusty tools. No such luck, and Jasper hadn’t dropped the new one she ordered at their drop point yet either. Thank god Tofu had caught her on the way back from checking it, at least for now she had her phone.
She finished putting stuff away and transferred her phone to her hands, then clicked the web browser which opened to… a web search for circuits? She clicked the back button, which revealed one for electricity. The heck?
She clicked the history and was greeted with a massive page of recent activity. She scanned the long list of searches: mutavus and benedicci (because of course he was going to), various superhero and supervillain names, lots of random words (desk, car, skyscraper, why search these?), a search for “unclothed human female” (ugh, boys!), a search for “human anatomy” (okay...), various searches for human organs and biology (oh, well he’s a shapeshifter, maybe he needs references?), and…
...over a hundred and fifty searches for various kinds of fruit?
Her arachnid eyes swiveled in the direction Tofu had gone.
“What a weirdo.”