It was a behemoth… relatively. It was hexagonal, shaped somewhat like a spider with five “legs” coming off the hexagon corners, and with an array of sucrose rods coming off the sixth corner that formed the “abdomen.” All in all, the micro unit was just large enough to wrap its legs around a fat cell if it needed to. It was one of the largest micro unit models available.
It was just finished being assembled, and as the last of the sucrose rods was placed the complicated assemblage of wound-up molecules that made up its center was given a tap, activating it and setting the micro unit into motion. Disengaging from its mount, it was swept into the outgoing flow of micro units and into the bloodstream, along with thousands of its fellow units that had just been completed inside the factory.
It flowed down the bloodstream quickly. This particular model of micro unit had thirty seconds of self-sustained operation time before it self-destructed, seventy seconds if it consumed the sucrose it carried itself, but that would likely be unnecessary. Instead it bounced along the bloodstream, collecting a few errant nutrients out of the blood for itself, and then was shunted into an area of operation well before even half its minimum time was up.
Once it was latched onto the nearest tissue wall, the micro unit began receiving the signal from the core directly through the nerve cells, and its tinker-designed inner mechanisms were able to rewind themselves, halting and restarting the countdown on its self-destruction. Normally at this point it would begin breaking the sucrose rods with its inner mechanism and passing the resulting energy to other micro units that needed the boost with a tap, or it would begin dismantling the cells of whatever organism it was invading and would burn the rods itself for additional operation time or speed. In this particular instance the mission was something a bit outside its normal operating protocols.
It crawled along the mass of tissue, the cells under its “feet” helping to carry it along and speed its journey to its target destination. Upon arrival, it approached a gathering of thousands of other micro units of various models, some much smaller than itself, who were working next to a (relatively) massive wall of inorganic molecules. This molecular wall was part of a foreign object that the micro units were attempting to repair.
The unit stopped in front of a section of wall and waited while a recycler unit assembled the next molecule to add from base atoms. It obtained these atoms from its own internal supply, or had porter units pass it needed materials, all of which were added to the large drum that made up most of its “body.” Completing the molecule, the recycler then unfolded to allow the oversized molecule to exit the drum, and the molecule was passed to several porter units to place in the appropriate spot on the wall.
Now came the difficult part. The oversized molecule had to be threaded into the pattern of other molecules on the wall just so, and then it had to be bonded to a second molecule to complete the pattern and solidify its placement. While a recycler unit performed the bonding process, the large, spider-like tapper unit that had just arrived snapped a sugar molecule, and used the resulting energy to recharge the recycler that oversaw the bonding, as performing a function outside its design was consistently causing the recycler's inner mechanism to wind-down too quickly.
It was a difficult process; the micro units were designed for gathering materials and passing them to each other or to cells, placing said materials into an unaffiliated structure that didn’t receive the core signal was outside of their intended design, and the fact that most of the work was done at an atomic level meant the micro units had to be careful to not accidentally bond themselves to the wall. Nevertheless, despite the massive expenditure of energy, the micro units were making slow but steady progress.
Maybe the energy added to the recycler was timed badly. Maybe the operator modules hadn’t spaced the micro units correctly. Maybe the operation was taking place too close to the layer of skin that separated the cells and micro units from the outside world.
Or maybe the recycler placed a carbon atom a lit~tle too far to the left.
Whatever the cause, a massive bolt of lightning (really just a tiny static zap) lanced through the work area, killing cells and destroying micro units. Normally it wouldn’t have been that bad, happened all the time, but in this instance it caused tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of micro units to accidently bond with the wall they were trying to repair. This damaged the wall, and damaged it again when the fused micro units jammed, failed to receive a signal through any connecting tissue, and then self-destructed, breaking down large pieces of the wall as they destroyed themselves and anything attached to them.
All in all, the tiny little static shock had destroyed most, if not all, of the work done to try and repair the suit Socket had given me.
Estimated time to full repair: 16 days;
What was the proper curse to use in this situation? Damn it all? Goddamnit? Stripped screws and blasted bolts? Infernal machine? All of these and more were phrases Socket yelled when he was frustrated with his tools, but I wasn’t sure if there was a specific one that was meant for just this situation. Probably... goddamnit? Yeah, that seemed right.
I was in the van with the other minions and Jasper. While Olson was recounting our rescue of Jasper (with frequent interruptions from said individual), I had been trying to repair my suit, to little success. The molecules that made it up were too complex, and arranged in a strange, interwoven pattern that increased the suit’s impact absorption properties, but made repairing it terribly difficult for my micro units. Construction at a molecular level is different from normal. You can’t handle atoms and molecules without forming some kind of bond to other atoms and molecules, and the micro units were having difficulty “letting go” of the materials. Not normally a problem when I was just passing materials among my own parts.
And to be honest, even if I had micro unit designs that were better adapted for this type of work, I didn’t have enough of the required base elements to patch up the hole anyways. Frankie’s power hadn’t just cut the suit, it had vaporized a hole through it, which meant I couldn’t just rebond one side of the tear to the other. I’d have to simply hope that Socket was willing to repair the damage.
And I just got it too…
Even worse was that the jacket Frankie had worn turned out to be unusable. I thought it was perfect as it had been baggy enough to fit over my suit, but Jasper had warned me against it as apparently several of the symbols embedded or printed onto it were considered “highly offensive” to mutants. After finding that out, I was just about ready to toss Frankie over the side of the building when Jasper gave me some valuable advice.
“Tofu, we’re in the clear now, don’t bother with him. Just let the police handle that ruffian.”
“Isn’t he a threat? I could get rid of him.”
“Kids shouldn’t trouble themselves with those kinds of thoughts. Besides, even if you killed him there's always another goon willing to take his place.”
Absolutely brilliant. Jasper was right, I had been thinking of threats in the terms of singular opponents. This city was huge, and trying to remove every threat one at a time was a foolish endeavor, if it was even possible. But Frankie was a minor threat. I could easily beat him if I needed to, and if I let him live he would use up resources that other threats might use to grow. Especially from the ‘police’ and hero factions. They loved taking prisoners for whatever reason, and that had to be a large expenditure of resources. Leave it to Jasper to take a concept used for controlling single cell organism populations and apply it to a macro scale. I’d need to “step up my game” as Tim and Mikey sometimes said.
While I pondered Jasper’s advice and micro unit efficiency, Olson wrapped up our side of the event for the other minions.
“Ha. Good work boneheads, what’d I tell ya, piece of cake,” said Pebbles as Olson finished.
“Piece of cake my ass! Sanguine nearly got us!” replied Buzzer.
“Ah Ifrit had it handled, ain’t that right prin- er, Ifrit. Just work on your aim next time, you’ll get a reputation for property damage like your mum if you don’t haha.”
“I was trying not to hit civilians…” muttered Ifrit.
“Well, at least we all got out of that shit-show alive,” grumbled Buzzer.
“Exactly! And that’s all that matters,” said Pebbles, “Come on, I don’t know about you guys, but henching always makes me hungry. Lets go give the guys at a drive-through a scare. How’s Mega-Burger sound? My treat.”
It sounded great to me. For the next few minutes we talked about different things that happened on the mission, and Jasper went into a very long retelling of how he got captured. Because of this, it was when he was standing in the somewhat open space in the back of the van to ‘pantomime’ an “important” part of his tale that the van shook, and Jasper was thrown off his feet.
“Oof, careful with those brakes please Pebbles, I’ve been quite shaken around enough as it is,” said Jasper as he recovered his footing.
“Uh, yeah, see, a bit of bad news that. That wasn’t the brakes. We might have to take a rain check on those burgers.”
The other minions and I looked at each other before crowding at the front of the van so we could see through the windshield. In front of the van were several humans in masks and colorful outfits. One of which was using a tendril of what appeared to be animated water to keep the van from moving.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“Well,” said Buzzer as he pointed from one figure to another (he sounded irritated), “considering that’s Hydrox, that is Ferrosa, and that is god-damned Suprex, we are going to raise our hands, surrender, cooperate with anything they say that isn’t ‘take off your mask’, and hope to high hell that Sandra sends someone to post our bail.”
I wasn’t sure I liked this plan.
“No worries gentlemen, I’m sure this is all just a misunderstanding,” said Jasper as he rubbed his hands together, “Just let ol’ Jasper clear this whole thin-”
Whatever he said next was drowned out in a chorus of “No!”.
Precinct E12-M Police Department:
It was going to be one of those days.
“Please put all items in the bin.”
“But they’re my knives.”
“Yes. I know that. Put them in the bin, and they will be returned to you, when you leave,” said Officer Barget for what felt like the millionth time. God he hated working with supers. The masked minion he was talking to was one of the infamous Hellion’s Henchmen, and just like every other loon to ever put on a mask it seemed like his purpose in life was to piss Barget off. He wished it was the heroes’ job to deal with the aftermath of their escapades, or at least deal with some of the paperwork.
“Can’t I just keep them?”
“Tofu, put the damn knives in the bin before you get shot,” said one of the other masked minions waiting to get processed. The minion Barget was dealing with sullenly placed three knives into the bin, where he had already deposited some loose change, a phone, several pieces of what might have once been a revolver, and seventeen goddamn shivs made from various bits of metal. What was it about the masks who used knives that made them extra crazy? What, did he think he could use them all at once? Where was he even keeping them?
After Barget was finally done with “Tofu” the next minion stepped up in line, this one wearing red metal gauntlets.
“Any items you have on your person in the bin, gloves too.”
“I’m not taking my gloves off, they’re for a medical condition,” she instantly recited.
Barget fought to keep his temper.
Gregor was seated in in a chair that was far too small for his eight-foot frame. He sighed, and would have added his current seating situation to the list of things that irritated him about his mutation, except that “tiny furniture” had already been added long ago. He crossed his arms and tried to pay attention to the detective sitting across the table from him.
“So, you are Mr. Gregory Dyson I presume?”
“No, I am Gregor.” he replied.
“So, you aren’t the Gregory Dyson that was stabbed during a mugging last year and mutated to be eight feet tall with green scales?” asked the detective while he read from a file.
“I have never met this Mr. Gregory Dyson you speak of. My name is Gregor.”
“Okay cut the crap. You’re obviously Gregory Dyson. There aren’t that many mutants who fit that description in E13.”
“Detective, if you are basing your conclusion on my appearance then I must protest this terrible case of profiling.”
“Look here you hissing son of a bi-”
“Detective,” interrupted a man who had opened the door to the interview room. He gestured for the detective to come with him, and the detective left with him after glaring a final time at Gregor.
Gregor sighed again, not bothering to prevent it from fading into a hiss this time. He thought he’d been doing a pretty good job of keeping the hiss out of his voice, but it was always there, a strange undertone to his words that made them sound like he was imitating a snake, of all the stupid things.
He would have added it to the list, but again, it was already on there.
“I’m not saying a damn thing until you tell me what I’m being arrested for and let me call my lawyer!”
“Mr... Buzzer, was it? You haven’t been arrested. You’ve been detained as a person of interest related to the firebombing that took place earlier today.”
“Well in that case, I’m not saying a damn thing until you let me call my lawyer!”
“Sir I doubt that will be necessary.”
“Necessary my foot! I know how this works. I haven’t done nothing and you’ve got nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say nothing, a van full of minions near the scene of a crime is a cause for concern.”
“Minions? Minions!? Who said anything about minions? We were out for lunch!”
“You’re wearing a mask.”
“And? Is that a crime?”
“Well, seems to me most people don’t pile into an unmarked van wearing masks to simply, ‘get lunch’.”
“And it seems to me that I have yet to be able to call my god damned lawyer!”
“There’s no need to shout sir.”
“I’ll yell as much as I want! This is the Americas!”
The detective sent to deal with Buzzer rubbed at his temples, obviously developing a headache, which was partly due to the frustration of dealing with the obnoxious individual in front of him, but was mostly due to the subsonic frequencies Buzzer was pumping into the room. If there was one thing Buzzer knew, it was that a distracted opponent, was an easy opponent. He only hoped the newbies would be able to keep their mouths shut until Sandra could spring them from this mess Pebbles had dragged him into.
“My name is Tofu, my favorite food is tofu burgers, I am definitely eighteen years of age or older, I don’t like rats, or yellow-furred animals that have large claws, or guns that are pointed at me, and I like sugar, and rectangular objects just like everyone else. Can I have the donuts now?"
“Uh, um, sure kid. One sec,” said the detective as he hurried to scribble down what the kid was saying, “I just have a few more questions and then you can have the donuts. Do you have a name I can call you?”
“My name is Tofu, I said that.”
“I mean a real name, not a moniker.”
“...right, um. Do you have any parents I can call? Where are you from?”
“My parents cannot be called, but I am from Fortress City.”
“...kid, this isn’t the time for jokes, this is a very serious situation you’re in. Hellion’s Henchmen are bad people and if you associate with them you’re headed for a hard life. Look, if you work with us here maybe we can cut you a deal. You’re wearing one of their powered masks, we could probably get you into the sidekick program. It’s not too late to join the heroes, be on the right side of the law, what do you say?”
“May I please have the donuts now?”
Ifrit sat with her arms crossed, tapping the tips of her gauntleted fingers one at a time to produce a quiet but steady rhythm where the metal clad fingertips met the material of her suit.
“There’s no reason to be nervous miss.”
She didn’t answer, continuing to tap her fingers.
“I’d like to ask you some questions if you don’t mind.”
Again, no response.
“You put down your name as Ifrit, that’s a moniker I’m assuming? How long have you been associated with Hellion’s Henchmen?”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Seems like an interesting vocation for a young lady to get into so early in life.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“It can’t be easy, working with such dangerous criminals, mutants, monsters.”
The tapping stopped, and was replaced with the sound of screeching metal as Ifrit closed the fingers she had been tapping into a tight fist.
cough “Right, well. I’ll… be right back, forgot a file.”
He didn’t come back. And Ifrit resumed her tapping.
“...and then when my situation seemed most dire, they swooped in and rescued me in my time of need. Delivering me from the clutches of those dastardly ruffians.”
“So, you’re saying you were rescued from the Espada. By Hellion’s Henchmen.”
“I know not who my rescuers were, for they wore masks, but I can assure you that by the caliber of their actions they were heroes one and all. Without them I would surely have perished.”
“They were wearing Hellion’s Henchmen masks. They're still wearing the masks, they refuse to take them off.”
“As they should! By the laws of Fortress City wearing a mask to protect one’s identity is legally allowed. Amendment five, subsection C, clause two is the specific rule you’re looking for I believe.”
“Damnit Jasper, you’re in here every other week with a new accent and a new scheme. I’ve got mountains of paperwork without adding your shenanigans to the pile.”
“Detective Mullaney I assure you that I am entirely on the up and up. Your paranoia speaks to me of stress. Are you overworking yourself? Com’on, you can tell Ol’ Jasper. How are the wife and kids by the way? You told me little Ricky was in the science fair if I remember correctly, how did that turn out?”
Detective Mullaney buried his face in his hands and complained about the science fair.
“So, the infamous ‘Red Shirt’ minion. Never thought I’d get lucky enough to book you.”
“Sorry to disappoint, but my name’s Olson. Easy mistake, lots of people with red shirts out there. Besides, I heard that guy died.”
“Well I’ve heard he walked it off.”
“Couldn’t tell you sir.”
“So you’re telling me if someone shot you right now you wouldn’t just bounce right up, proving that you are one of Hellion’s Henchmen.”
“I sincerely doubt it, but don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and test it. Of course, if you’re wrong…”
The detective couldn’t see the grin on Olson’s face. But he could definitely hear it in his damned smug voice.
“Can you at least confirm whether or not ‘Pebbles’ is your real name or a moniker?”
Pebbles sat unresponding, with his arms crossed, leaning back in his chair, and the detective across from him was starting to lose his patience. Pebbles was a known entity to the E12 police departments. And the E13 police departments. And the police departments of almost a dozen other sectors. Normally that would have been enough to book both him and the other minions he was caught with, but unfortunately this time he hadn’t been caught commiting a crime. Which meant that despite matching the description for one Seth “Pebbles” Kelmet, by the laws of Fortress City unless they got an admittance that he was either Seth Kelmet or the minion known as Pebbles they couldn’t actually arrest him, only hold him temporarily as a person of interest. Once upon a time a physical description might have been enough, but Odd Summer had ruined that reality, and Fortress City had accepted the new reality with accommodating laws and a fanfare of red tape.
The detective kept trying to cajole a response, any response, out of the frustratingly mute minion, but he hadn’t had any luck. Pebbles just sat there, staring from behind his mask and making the detective more and more frustrated. Pebbles and his group hadn’t been operating with a super villain, and this was the perfect opportunity to put away some minions for good if he could just get a sliver of evidence that they were really minions working with Hellion’s Henchmen, and not just idiots in masks out for lunch like they claimed.
Suddenly Pebbles muttered something. The detective stopped mid-word and leaned in to hear what he was saying. He’d take even insults as opposed to silence at this point.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, what did you say?”
Pebbles was silent for a moment before he spoke again, but again it was too quiet for the detective to hear.
“I’m sorry, could you speak up a little?”
Pebbles continued trying to talk, but the detective still couldn’t make out the words. Was something wrong with Pebble’s voice? He stood up from his chair and leaned in, trying to catch whatever it was Pebbles was trying to say.
The son of a bitch was asleep!
“WAKE UP!” yelled the detective as he slammed his fist on the table. Pebbles heard that one at least, and overbalanced in his chair a bit as he woke up, luckily failing to topple over.
“Wuh, what? Did they post bail already?”
The detective grit his teeth and said, “You were never under arrest. You are being detained as a person of interest on the recommendation of an accredited hero.”
“Oh, right right,” said Pebbles as he settled back into his chair, “Mind keeping it down until it’s time to leave?”
The detective was about to lose a gasket before there was a polite knock at the door. In stepped a woman in a nice suit and carrying a briefcase who the detective didn’t recognize, but Pebbles certainly did. Seemed Sandra had personally shown up to extricate them.
“Hello there detective, my name is Sandra Baker, I’m here to speak to my client, would you mind if we had a moment alone?”
“Um, I’m not exactly finished with -”
“No problem at all, it’ll only take a minute or two.”
A flustered detective was somehow convinced that vacating the room was in his best interests. And then Sandra turned to Pebbles, who was suddenly sitting a lot straighter than he had been. She moved to the table and commandeered the detective’s abandoned seat.
“Well, seems you’ve had quite the adventure,” said Sandra cooly, while she put her briefcase up on the table. Inside were some legal documents, but most of the briefcase was taken up by jamming equipment to keep their conversation from being overheard or recorded.
“Um, heh. Not, not really? It seemed pretty normal.”
“Oh that’s right. You signed up for a simple training mission. An easy patrol through the Red Zone to show them the area. Nothing really exciting about that.”
“Well, y’see, there were a few complications…”
“I am well aware. Honestly Pebbles, going in without a cowl? The Espada aren’t heroes, they’re thugs and killers on the best of days. What were you thinking?”
“Jasper’s life was at stake!”
“And while I feel bad for the situation he was in, putting multiple employees at risk, two of them eighteen year olds, was not the way to handle the situation.”
“Sandra they aren’t exactly defenseless teenagers…” Whatever else Pebbles was going to say died under Sandra’s withering glare. He had a really good argument about how risks were inherent to the job, and how they had based their decision to go in on the best information they had available, but apparently that argument would never see the light of day.
“Now then, I’ve mostly got this situation handled here, but there are a few things I need to wrap up first. Luckily the heroes made a few mistakes with jurisdiction that should help speed this process up. As for you, since you like spending so much time in E12, you can help the newbies with our next job. The client was impressed with the footage of the last job and made a special request for the newbies to come. It’ll be this Saturday.”
Pebbles hesitated. He didn’t like the cold smile that Sandra suddenly had. “What kind of job?”
“Oh, just a simple bank robbery.”
“... a bank robbery? Who’s stupid enough to rob a bank in Fortress City… No!”
“He’s already paid in advance.”
“Sandra, anyone but him!”
“Now now, he’s one of our best customers and he pays for all the extras himself. Which reminds me, the hazard pay for this particular stunt is coming out of your paycheck.”
“But, that... okay. That’s fair. But Trebla the Terrible? Really!?”
“Yes really. Now, I’m going to go see if I can’t get Tofu’s knife collection returned, and you’re going to stay here and listen to the rest of the good detective’s questions. I want a full report when you get back to base.”
And with that she left Pebbles to contemplate his life choices. He was really hoping that at least Buzzer wouldn’t get pulled into the upcoming job, otherwise he’d never hear the end of it. Perhaps literally. And shit, if Sandra was this pissed, then he’d better avoid Hellion for the next few days. He shuddered at the thought of his boss actually angry.
“Well? Anything to say for yourself?” said the detective who had entered and picked up his questioning right where he left off.
“Yeah, never piss off the HR department.”