“I can’t believe you ate the entire chunk.”
“If you wanted some you should have grabbed it before we left.”
“No I did not want your disgusting floor sushi!”
Buzzer seemed to have a real problem with me eating the tentacle piece. I was a bit worried about it at first, but Pebbles just laughed when he found out, and Ifrit didn’t have any real reaction that I could detect. She was silent as usual and with her facial features hidden by the mask it was rather difficult to tell what she might be thinking.
I wish humans used pheromones, it would simplify things. Sure they produced smells, but only two or three seemed to mean anything, and they tended to be redundant. Like broadcasting fear while they died. Of course dying is scary, what was the point of broadcasting it to the organism killing you? It would kind of make sense if other humans could pick up the scent and avoid the area afterwards, but so far the only human with the proper equipment had been the tracker human. So odd.
Either way, eating the tentacle had been worth Buzzer’s complaints. Both the design and codes were unique in comparison to other organisms I had eaten, and I already had several ideas on how to utilize what I learned from it. Shame I couldn’t eat the entire corpse, but as far as I could discern the creature’s size was due to a trigger event, not a random product of mutavus, and I should be able to acquire fresh samples of the original organism later.
Gregor and Olson met up with us, and Pebbles led us back to the van. Apparently Buzzer’s contact had given him the location of an Espada safehouse, and Pebbles wanted to “scope the place out.” We piled in the van and headed out.
Pebbles drove a few blocks south of Ashwood St, and then west again, into what my map said was E12.
“Just so you guys know, if you get lost your masks won’t be able to help you here,” said Pebbles. “They only have map functions in E13. You’ll have to get at least within three blocks of the border.”
“I was under the impression we would not be seeking trouble,” replied Gregor.
“Course not, but you never know right? We’re just gonna take a looksie, and if we see anything juicy we’ll call in a cowl,” Pebbles replied.
“Um, I thought the map function had to be approved by a lieutenant?” I interjected.
“Eh? What gave you that idea?”
“Imp said so. He had to give me the directions to the safehouse on the last job.”
“Kid, that’s just for sending important info over the network, you never know when a technopath is listening in,” said Buzzer. “If you want to use the map function just give your mask the address and it’ll lead you there.”
…I wish I’d known that sooner.
“So, it uses GPS?”
“God no!” cried Buzzer. “The map’s inbuilt to the mask. Uses GPS! Can you imagine? Might as well paint a target on your back and shoot off flares for any passing hero to follow.”
I clicked the GPS feature on my phone off.
“Ah don’t mind him Tofu, we haven’t had a technopath in this sector in years, Buzzer’s just paranoid,” said Pebbles.
“It’s my job to be paranoid! We’ll see how you feel when the heroes show up on your doorstep!” grumbled Buzzer.
We didn’t go very far into E12. Buzzer directed Pebbles for a few blocks, and then Pebbles pulled into an alley about a block from our destination; a seven story apartment building. Buzzer rolled down a window before saying, “Alright chumps, quiet down for a bit,” and he stuck his hand out the window.
We waited in silence for a few minutes, until Pebbles asked, “Anything?”
“I’m hearing fifteen or so distinct heartbeats in the building,” answered Buzzer, “Most are concentrated on the third floor, talking about random crap, kinda odd for a workday but… ah! One of them cocked a gun, seems we’re on the money.”
This was interesting, Buzzer could hear all that from a block away?
“Alright. I’ll send in confirmation and see how the brass wanna handle this,” said Pebbles.
Pebbles used his mask to send a message, then after a minute turned to us and said, “Okay, seems most of our cowls are tied up right now, so we gotta wait and watch till one can come round.”
“Wonderful, just how I wanted to spend my day,” said Buzzer.
“Ah, stuff a sock in it and keep your ears open.”
To pass the time I decided to try playing Gribblin Tamer on my phone with the sound off. I fiddled with the opening options and managed to get my Gribblin to level two before I was interrupted.
“Ah shit,” said Buzzer suddenly.
“What is it?” asked Pebbles.
“Car just pulled up outside the apartment and I recognize the voices, one of em is Frankie, and it looks like they’ve got Jasper in the car.”
“What?! Are you sure?”
“Yeah, heartbeat is a mutant, and I can hear Jasper’s stupid fake accent even through whatever’s gagging him.”
“Well shit, that’s not good. Let me send a message to base.”
“What’s not good? Mind filling us in?” asked Gregor.
“It’s Jasper, an information broker who works in E13,” answered Buzzer. “He works with us all the time, helped set up the barbeque on Sunday in fact. I don’t know how the Espada caught him, but they hate his guts. They’ll make him talk and then they’ll kill him regardless of what he says.”
No, I couldn’t have that. Jasper’s information was too valuable, and he was my back-up plan in case I ever needed to disappear and get a new job.
“Then we should go help him,” I said.
“Easier said than done,” said Buzzer, “Pebbles did they reply yet?”
“Yeah, seems the closest cowl is about an hour out.”
A whole hour? From what I remembered of Jasper’s previous encounter with Frankie, I wasn’t sure he’d last the whole hour in the condition I wanted him in. Frankie hadn’t seemed like the patient type.
“I don’t think Jasper will last a whole hour.”
“...yeah, probably not,” said Pebbles, and he started to drum his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Pebbles… you aren’t actually thinking of going in without a cowl are you?” asked Buzzer.
“Welllll, the way I see it we’re up against twenty or so goons and Frankie. Any two of us could handle most of the goons, the only problem is Frankie.”
“What’s Frankie’s power?” asked Gregor.
I answered, “He makes blades appear over his forearms, they can cut through metal easily.”
“Oh? You’ve seen him before?” asked Pebbles.
“And fought him, I helped Jasper on the subway when Frankie found him. He won’t be a problem for me.”
“HA! You sure get around Tofu. Alright, that means between Tofu and Olson we got two people who can take him without losing an arm.”
Buzzer spoke, “Pebbles, even if we can storm the place they’ll just slit Jasper’s throat to spite us the moment we show our faces. Unless we can get to Jasper quietly there’s no point to this.”
The van fell into silence at that. Apparently none of them were good at stealth?
“I think I can get to him. I’m a shapeshifter.”
Five minion masks turned to me. Ugh, I really didn’t like when groups looked at me all at once like that.
“What’s your plan?”
“I jump to the roof from the next door apartment, and come in from the top. If Buzzer can guide me I’m reasonably sure I can get to Jasper.”
“Wellll, that might work, but if I send you in alone Sandra will tear me a new one.”
“I could bring someone? It’s not a hard jump.”
There was silence for a moment as they considered my plan. Then Olson spoke up, “I can go with him Pebbles. If shit hits the fan it’s not like I’ll die.”
“Ha. Alright then, how about this: Tofu and Olson come in from the top, grab Jasper, and we’ll make a ruckus to cover their escape?”
“What if they have any hidden supers, or if the heroes show up?” asked Gregor.
“And the civilians in the building…” said Ifrit, almost whispering.
“Those would all be problems even with a cowl. Right now the biggest problem is how long Jasper can last with Frankie and a bunch of pissed off gangers,” replied Pebbles.
Gregor and Ifrit took a moment to consider, then Gregor shrugged.
“As long as Frankie gets handled, getting paid to beat up a bunch of mutant haters is fine with me.”
“Ditto,” said Ifrit simply.
“HA! One of the perks of the job for sure. Alright, looks like we are a go.”
Buzzer sighed before saying, “Make sure your masks are set to channel three,” and went back to sticking his hand out the window.
Olson and I exited the van, and walked further down the alley until we reached the “fire escape.” I reached up and pulled down the ladder for Olson, then we made our way up to the roof. We moved to the edge carefully, trying to stay out of line-of-sight of the windows in the apartment across from us.
“You sure you can jump us to the other side?” asked Olson.
“Yes, I’ve done this before. No worries, I won’t drop you.”
“Not me I’m worried about. If we plummet to the street I somehow doubt we’ll get a second chance.”
I went about locking my legs into the jumping position, then I had him climb onto my back and hold on. Once he was settled I took a few running steps and launched us across the alley to the neighboring roof.
I landed easily, my practice the night before paying off. I let Olson down, snapped my legs back to normal, and we walked over to the maintenance door that would lead us down.
“Can you two hear me?” came Buzzer’s voice suddenly. This must be the shortwave?
“Yeah we can hear you Buzzer,” said Olson.
“Good, there’s no one on the top floor near as I can tell. There’s a couple people in apartments, but I think most of the Espada are on the third floor, that’s where they took Jasper.”
The roof door was locked, but it was flimsy, and it was easy to carve around the door handle.
“Neat trick,” mentioned Olson.
It was, but it would be better if I could pick the locks without damaging them, another reason I would like Jasper undamaged. Maybe if we saved him he would teach me how he did it.
“Say, how thick of a wall could you carve through?”
“Um, I haven’t really tested it. Why?”
“Heh, if you can get through at least a foot or so I might have an idea.”
We made our way down a few flights of stairs, slowly and quietly, but stopped when we got to the fourth floor. Then Olson ‘radioed’ Buzzer again, and asked him to lead us to a spot above the room where they were keeping Jasper. Down a few halls we came to the apartment Buzzer specified, a room 4F. Buzzer confirmed that it was empty and I opened the door by carving around the lock again.
Inside was a lot like what I had seen the time I busted through apartments trying to get away from Magenta, filled with furniture and other various knick-knacks that humans collected, although this one was better organized than the examples I had seen thus far. Olson led us to a room where one piece of furniture dominated the space, a rectangular contraption holding an equally large rectangular cushion and covered in rectangular sheets, with a rectangular pillow near the wall. From the indent in the cushion it was obvious that the owner of the apartment spent a lot of time here, probably sleeping during its rest cycle.
Seriously now, I know humans like rectangles, but this was just taking it too far.
“We above Jasper, Buzzer?” asked Olson.
“Yeah, just about. There’s two people in the room with him, Frankie’s outside the room bitching and moaning right now.”
Olson turned to me, “Well Tofu? Think you can carve through the floor in here?”
I bent down and placed my hand on the floor, and set my micro units towards burrowing a test run. The floor was covered in carpet, and below that it was made of the same concrete that made up most of the city, along with a few miscellaneous support materials. The spike of micro units I sent into the floor descended steadily, until it broke into the room below, I was careful to not let any dust fall from the small hole I made. I couldn’t make a true eye since I didn’t want them to notice, but a simple light detector was easy enough, and I used it to get a general layout of the room. Sure enough, I made out the shape of a green humanoid in a chair that must be Jasper, and two other humanoid shapes that must be the gangers Buzzer mentioned.
“It looks like I can tunnel through the floor just fine. Is there a spot you want me to open the hole?” I asked Olson.
“Close to the door so we can try to block it. Bonus points if you can nail one of the guards with the rubble.”
I plugged the tiny hole I bored, and had Olson help me move the ‘bed’ quietly away from the wall since it was in the way. Then I went about carving the hole, it was slower going than the glass wall had been back at the test chamber. The materials of the floor weren’t uniform, and concrete itself was a blend of different materials, which forced me to use a variety of different micro unit structures to deal with it. Not to mention I had to maintain structural integrity while I did this, it would be disastrous if the section of floor fell before it was big enough to let us through. Deconstructing inorganic materials was simple enough, but reconstructing them? Painfully difficult. The micro units attached to anything I tried to make and if I didn’t keep them connected to my core they would self-destruct. I wound up just brute forcing it by holding parts of the section together with temporary fleshy constructs.
Despite the difficulties I was making decent time. Right up until-
I cut through a metal piece that was apparently a wire charged with electricity! The electric current carried along a large section of micro units and fried them, the ones that weren’t destroyed instantly self-destructed a second later. I rushed to repair the damage before anything fell.
“Uh, guys?” came Buzzer’s voice over the radio. “Something just happened, the Espada in Jasper’s room are complaining that their lights went out? Did something happen?”
“I hit a wire,” I replied.
“Well hurry it up then. They think it’s the bulb for now, but not all of em are stupid.”
Olson turned to me, “How close are you?”
“About three fourths of the way.”
“Any way to speed this up?”
“Sugar. If you can find it.”
Olson nodded and walked out of the room to find me more fuel, and I sped up my deconstruction of the floor, no longer bothering to properly exchange micro units and instead just discarding them along with the floor material. I burned fuel to keep micro unit production and transportation at a maximum.
Olson came back then with several food items, but one of them turned out to be a bag of raw sugar! With my free hand I grabbed it and started to pour the contents into my mouth.
“Jesus dude, I hope you’re immune to diabetes.”
… humans have too many hang-ups about food.
“Guys! I hate to break up the party but Frankie is sending chumps out to check the building and he’s talking about moving Jasper. It’s now or never,” said Buzzer.
I burned fuel fast, and dumped some sugar straight into the crevice I had carved just to get it to the micro units faster.
“Almost done, get ready to jump in.”
“Alright, I’ll go in first to draw their attention, you get to Jasper and untie him.”
Oh, I wish he had said that before I triggered the micro units.
The fleshy constructs I had made self-destructed, and the circular section of floor I was standing on fell through into the room below, with me on it. One human was crushed under the rubble, and once my footing was stable I lashed out my arm and slammed a knife into the neck of the other guard, making sure to open an artery. I heard multiple shouts from outside the room as they heard the crash, and a quick glance at the door showed that luckily it was the kind that swung inward, which meant the rubble was blocking it. The only light in the room was from a dirty window.
Olson jumped down after me and started piling more rubble and furniture by the door, which multiple Espada were pounding on. I moved to Jasper to untie him.
“Well, could have done with a bit more warning, but hey! At least you got the bonus points,” said Olson.
I moved to Jasper. They had put a blindfold and a heavy gag on him, and I pulled them off.
“PLEASE DON’T KILL ME! I’LL TELL YOU ANYTHING YOU WANT!” yelled Jasper the moment I had the gag off him.
“Glad to see you haven’t changed Jasper,” said Olson.
Jasper gazed around blearily before his eyes focused on us. I could understand his confusion, two of his eyes were closed and appeared to be somewhat swollen, with the chitin around a third one cracked and leaking.
“Well I’ll be, is that you Olson? I heard you were back in the game. And Hellion’s Henchmen came to save me, why, I knew I could count on Hellion to look out for a friend. Did you know me and her go way back, all the way to-”
“Save the spiel Jasper. It’s nice to see you too, but this isn’t the right location for reminiscing.”
“Er, right, quite right. Ah! Thank you my good man.” Jasper said as I released the last of the ropes binding him.
“I met you on the subway, my name’s Tofu. Thank you for the job information, it worked out quite well.”
“On the subway… OH! The kid! And here you are saving me again! Such a small world.”
“GUYS! Focus! Get Jasper up through the hol-”
Olson didn’t get to finish his sentence, because just then a glowing green blade punctured right through the door, propped up furniture, and Olson’s chest, killing him instantly.
Then Olson grabbed a nearby chair and tried to prop it over the door, but a second green blade slashed through and took off his head, killing him instantly.
After that failed, Olson resorted to just hucking pieces of rubble through the opening Frankie was making in the barricade.
“Now’s a good time to start moving guys!” said Olson.
I pulled my gaze away from Olson and started helping Jasper to the hole we had made in the ceiling. Every time Olson did… whatever he was doing… it threw my calculations out of order. It was very confusing, and I really wanted to know how he was doing that!
I locked my legs for jumping, then used them and my arms to boost Jasper up and out of the hole I had made. Then once I was through myself I reached down to pull Olson out as well.
“Um, Olson? How did you do that?”
“It’s my power. Escape now, explain later.”
We exited the apartment and hurried down the hallway heading towards the stairway, but before we got there a large group of humans rounded the corner, saw us, and one immediately pulled out a gun and started firing. Olson and I stepped in front of Jasper to provide cover. Several bullets hit me, but none of them penetrated the suit! It really worked!
“Back down the hall! There should be a second stairwell! Yo Buzzer, how’s that distractionary ruckus coming along?” yelled Olson.
We started running back down the hallway and after a few seconds Buzzer responded, “Yeaahhh, about that. A second car showed up, did you know Sanguine is still alive? I didn’t.”
“Buzzer if you’re joking I swear to God-”
“I’m not. I don’t know how that fossil survived the barbeque, but he’s outside the building. Ifrit is throwing fireballs at him, but she’ll be out of juice soon and the rest of us can’t get close.”
“Who is Sanguine?” I asked.
“He’s one of the Espada’s leaders and he can control blood. All he has to do is cut you, and if you’re in range he bleeds you dry,” explained Olson as we ran, “Unfortunately that means I’m a liability now. If I get cut he’ll just have an infinite blood supply.”
Well that wasn’t good.
We rounded a corner and came into sight of the second stairwell. Unfortunately we heard more humans coming up this one as well.
“The roof. As long as you can get Jasper safely over to the next building we should be fine,” said Olson.
We started running up the stairs, but Jasper started to lag behind from his injuries, and I had to carry him ‘piggyback’ like I did with Olson, using the jumping configuration of my legs to make climbing the stairs with him easier. We made better time this way, and we got to the seventh floor when Olson rounded the next bend and a glowing green blade took him in the gut.
Olson staggered, and Frankie kicked him, knocking him back down the stairs towards me. I caught Olson, and backed down the stairs so I could drop both Olson and Jasper on the landing. Olson was wheezing and bleeding badly, why wasn’t his power working?
“Well well, seems I get to bag three cockroaches instead of one today,” said Frankie, smiling. He stood at the top of the stairs, and a small group of Espada were behind him. None of these ones had guns luckily.
“How’d you get ahead of us?”
Frankie laughed, and some of the goons chuckled. “It’s called an elevator idiot. If you’re not gonna use your brain how about I get rid of it for you? Just hold still and try not to bleed on my jacket.”
Of course! A building this size would undoubtedly have an elevator somewhere. I felt a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it myself.
Frankie started to descend the stairs with his blades out. He probably should have waited until the goons behind us caught up and surrounded us however. Stairs aren’t very good footing for a fight.
Increasing reaction speed to 200%, 60 second burn.
When he got close enough I snapped an arm out and grabbed his foot, yanking it out from under him. He cursed and tried to swing at me as he fell, but with my other hand I grabbed his wrist away from the blade, and when he swung with the other arm I released his foot and grabbed that arm too. Then I pressed a foot into his chest to knock some of the air out of him and get him to stop struggling. This was so much easier when I wasn’t half starved.
“Back up or he dies,” I said to his approaching goons, and I slid a knife out of my foot to poke Frankie in the neck.
They stopped and hesitated, unsure whether it was worth charging me anyways.
“Back -cough- back up you morons!” yelled Frankie, and this time they did.
Now what to do about Olson? Whatever Jasper was doing looked like it was only making it worse, and Olson was struggling and trying to say something unsuccessfully with his injured diaphragm. I clicked the switch in my mask and radioed Buzzer.
“Hey Buzzer? Do you know why Olson’s power would stop working?”
“WHAT!? Is he dead dead?”
“No, but he’s bleeding out and I don’t know how to help him.”
“Satan’s icy tits, this is why I hate training runs. Just kill him, he can’t reset if he doesn’t die. And hurry up! Ifrit ran out of juice and we need to leave.”
Oh. I guess that made sense with what I had seen.
I dragged Frankie over to Olson and stabbed him with one of the blades Frankie had yet to disperse. Instantly Olson was back on his feet and completely okay.
Damn that was hard to watch, even when I knew it was coming.
“Ugh, finally! Jasper what the hell? You know how this works,” complained Olson.
“I was trying! Not everyone is good at violence. I’m a businessman, not some common thug.”
“Jesus, come on. We need to hurry.”
The rest of the Espada caught up, but using Frankie as a hostage we were able to make our way to the top floor, Frankie muttering curses the entire way while I poked at him with the knife. As we reached the final landing before the roof access, we heard an almost innocuous ding.
Down the hallway opposite the stairwell, an elevator I hadn’t noticed when we first came through opened up. Inside was a human, and it was… shriveled. It was hunched over and using a stick to help move. Its skin was wrinkled and what little hair it had was gray and stringy. Maybe it was sick? But the glare it gave us was very much alive.
And the small floating cloud of red liquid around it meant this must be Sanguine.
Estimated threat: High.
“Stay back! Or I’ll kill Frankie!”
Sanguine just sneered and shuffled forward. Apparently he didn’t value Frankie as much as his underlings did.
“Hey Tofu,” said Olson, “Since Sanguine is up here I’m gonna go jump off the roof, I don’t want to risk him catching me. Will you be fine?”
“Yeah, I can toss Frankie and then jump Jasper over.” I replied.
Unfortunately I couldn’t just gut Frankie and run, I didn’t want to give Sanguine more ammo, so I had to drag a suddenly struggling Frankie along with me. Fortunately I was stronger than him, and Sanguine was rather slow himself, so I was able to get out onto the roof with Jasper. Olson having already jumped over the edge.
I leaned over for Jasper to get on my back again, and he clambered on. Of course, Frankie chose the moment I was off balance from Jasper to lash at me with a blade, cutting a gash in my arm (and my suit! I just got it!). I felt the drain of blood instantly, a stream of it leaving my arm towards Sanguine, and suddenly I found myself struggling with both Frankie and blood loss. I sealed off the injury and brought Frankie under control, but Sanguine now had a much larger cloud of blood surrounding him.
Which worked out in my favor when the micro units in the blood self-destructed, showering Sanguine in a dust cloud and sending him into a coughing fit. Time to go.
I ran for the edge of the roof and jumped. Both Jasper and Frankie screamed as I launched the three of us over the edge and to the opposite roof. Admittedly the landing was a bit awkward, considering I was carrying two of them and was suffering blood loss. Once we landed I secured Frankie and let Jasper down, before checking to make sure that Sanguine wasn't following us somehow. No, he seemed to be stuck on the opposite roof, and since I heard sirens in the background I doubted he'd be concerned with us for much longer. We had to hurry ourselves to meet up with Pebbles and the others.
“Well, that was quite the heart pounder,” said Jasper when he finally stopped gasping. “Not that I’m ungrateful mind you, but why did you drag Frankie along?”
“He cut my suit, so I wanted him to pay me back.”
Jasper gave me a funny look before saying, “Er, i don’t think Frankie is much inclined to do that…”
“Oh I know, I just didn’t want to drop him and get blood on his jacket.”
Well, my jacket now.