It’s too bad that the Espada were so anti-mutant. If they had some combat models they might have actually stood a chance. The unmodified human body is pretty amazing in some respects, but not so much in a fight with sharp weapons. Poke one too many holes and they can’t even stop themselves from bleeding out. Take Frankie for instance: three knives to the gut and a severed hamstring, and now he was bleeding out in the middle of the room, while the crowd of Espada minions tried to figure out how to get past me. They had knives, pipes, and some of the braver ones tried to use their fists, but I don’t think their combat training was very good. Terrible footwork, they barely watched their placement, and unlike rats they had no sense of teamwork or using numbers to their advantage. One of them had had a gun, but she had been too hesitant to shoot while I was entangled with her allies. A mistake that allowed me to steal the gun from her without her firing any meaningful shots.
If I were to judge it though, their worst mistake was probably letting me get between them and the only door.
I ripped the throat out of one of the last minions in front of me, and then there were only four. Frankie, a minion that had fainted when I threw one minion’s head into the crowd, and a female who was trying to help a male push his guts back in. Now all that was left was clean-up. I just hoped that I could get it done quickly, before anyone else showed up. There were probably more Espada as perimeter guards or whatever, but I just wanted to get rid of the ones who had seen me.
I stabbed the unconscious minion and any other corpses that looked relatively undamaged. For Frankie I didn’t bother getting close, I just threw knives at him until his power deactivated and he stopped moving, and then a few more for good measure. Then I approached the wounded male. Surprisingly he was doing rather well considering the extent of his wounds, he was almost sitting upright, and was talking with the female.
“You have to! I can feel it already! I’m so hungry…”
“NO! That’s impossible! Your reaction is so strong, it can’t be mutavus! We can figure something out or, or…” her words trailed off, and she recoiled from me as I reached them.
Mutavus? I examined the male’s gut wound for a moment and was pleasantly surprised. The tissues were knitting themselves back together slowly, and his guts were being pulled back into place from the inside. It wasn’t as impressive or quick as the yellow fur had been, but it was far above what a normal human could do. Plus, there were small indicators of other changes beginning to take place. Bone growth, and new tissue formations that were beginning to close the gaping wound in his abdomen. It wasn’t just regeneration, it was also modification.
This must be a mutation in action! I hadn’t gotten to see one so far, and I was eager to get good samples of the virus itself. It had been surprisingly elusive considering how infectious it was supposed to be.
I reached for the mutating male, when the female suddenly shrieked, “DON”T TOUCH HIM YOU FREAK! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT. You MONSTER!”
I ignored the screaming female and reached for the male, when suddenly the female tackled me! I was surprised she would attempt such an ineffective maneuver, and shoved her away immediately.
I noticed the burning a second later.
Damage to epidermis detected.
Estimated threat: High.
Where she had touched me my flesh was burned, some kind of acid. I quickly ejected the affected areas, and retreated from the unexpected threat; if the vector was touch based I needed to create distance. Had she been hiding a weapon? Doubtful. She wouldn’t have waited until all her allies were dead to pull out an effective weapon.
As I watched, a clear liquid started to drip from her rapidly, and pool around her. Everything it touched sizzled and dissolved; furniture, the thin carpet, her own clothes, and the dead bodies around her. She herself ignored the substance, and got to her feet while still yelling obscenities. Apparently she was immune to the substance herself. Then she looked at me and swung an arm.
I dodged the resulting shower of droplets and retreated to the door, the droplets burning sizzling holes into the carpet where I had been standing. Hmm, was this a mutation or a power? Biologically she appeared unchanged, but the amount of liquid coming off of her was physically more than her body could hold… unless she was converting it out of the air somehow?
She swept an arm in my direction again, and this time a thick spray of the clear acid came off her arm, rushing towards me. I dodged again, but noticed she was already gathering more acid to throw, this time in an unnaturally writhing mass around her hand. Definitely a power, she must have triggered just now. She was using it effectively regardless, and her control was growing by the second. This was rapidly becoming too dangerous to continue observations.
I pulled out the handgun I stole earlier in the fight, and shot her multiple times in the head and torso, until I was out of bullets.
She fell forward and slammed into the floor, unmoving, and hopefully dead. Then, surprisingly, her body began to change colors rapidly, right before it lost cohesion and dissolved, becoming the very acid it had been producing. The additional volume of acid created a tiny wave that swept outwards, encompassing the rest of the room (while I retreated outside the door), and all the objects in it.
Including the mutating male.
He screamed briefly, but the aggressively corrosive substance outpaced his regeneration easily, and devoured him completely, along with all the other nearby bodies and furniture.
After the male died, the room was suddenly quite silent. The only sound was the sizzle of acid as it slowly settled over the floor of the room. I dipped a finger into the substance, to try and analyze it, but it was so corrosive that it just destroyed the micro units, and I couldn’t get a reading on the composition. Disappointment.
I scanned the room a final time, noting how the acid ate anything that wasn’t stone or metal (and those still looked somewhat corroded). At the current volume it would probably dissolve most everything before it finally neutralized or evaporated.
Sigh. At least clean-up had been easy.
I sat in the back of the taxi and pondered the last few hours. Luckily, the acid-producing female had stayed dead. The manner in which her body disintegrated had been very odd, but my internet searches for an explanation hadn’t really turned up anything. Closest thing I could find was a reference to bad triggers, but I doubted that applied in this case. Her power had been working fine up until she died. I attributed the strange disintegration to just an oddity of her power.
One thing this brought to the forefront was that I really needed to figure out a viable ranged weapon. Sandra argued against using a gun due to the legal risks, but I was a bit more concerned with the physical risks of not having a ranged option. Luckily the one I stole was in much better condition than the first one I acquired. I didn't have any more bullets, but dismantling the gun gave me a much clearer picture of the subtle details that went into it. Like the barrel rifling to make projectiles spin. I wouldn’t have thought of that myself. Now I just needed a design that worked with bone and muscle. If mechanical guns were no good, then a biological gun would have to do. Surely there would be no arguments if it was produced by my “power.”
I might have to clear it with Sandra anyways though. I was having trouble keeping details from her, and I didn’t think I could win an argument with her. Not that it seemed like arguing with her was a productive idea anyways, she had been right about a lot of things so far. Like when she told Ifrit: “Tofu has things he’s good at, and you have things you’re good at.” Ifrit was better at blowing things up and causing property damage, and I was good at killing. Since we were a ‘team’, it only made sense that I get rid of the threats that Ifrit couldn’t.
Though I was a bit worried that Sandra would find out I killed Sanguine, and after she told me not to go near him. Hopefully if she did find out my success in the endeavor would placate her.
Tracking Sanguine down had been easy enough (he left a bloody scent trail so obvious it might as well have had signs pointing to him), and happily my countermeasures for Sanguine had worked perfectly. Control over blood was quite powerful when your opponents had blood, but I had temporarily replaced mine with a saline solution and micro unit mixture, to replace the functions blood would normally perform. I found it strange that his power required a specific mixture of cells and plasma, but as I was quickly coming to realize, powers rarely seemed to have completely logical rules.
Power thus neutralized, he hadn’t put up much of a fight. Even with his blood power reinforcing his frail body, it hadn’t held up to my assault. I wonder what was wrong with him? Many of his organs showed signs of fatigue, and cell production had been substandard. Eating him hadn’t revealed a direct cause…
...or anything of importance at all for that matter. No physical mechanism to move the blood, no brain anomalies, nothing about the composition of his blood was unusual in any way. I had done a thorough analysis, but there was nothing to copy or steal.
But at the very least it confirmed my theory. Powers were non-replicable. I had been able to consume some of the yellow-fur, and all of the vigilante and Sanguine, and a few bits of Frankie. Nothing learned.
True, the ‘lunch special’ back at the RedFin had given me usable designs, but I suspected this was merely a result of its exotic base anatomy, and not a facet of its power activation. No, if I was going to copy more useful codes and designs, then I would need to target mutants and animals.
I needed to learn more about mutavus.
As for how to go about that… hunting down mutants was probably a bad idea. Far too many risks with that option, and Hellion’s Henchmen seemed to be very mutant friendly besides. I wouldn’t want to become at odds with my own faction.
Poking holes into normal humans would probably fare even worse. All the same risks, plus the added chance of causing a hazardous trigger (as this incident with the acid woman proved). If I decided to try forcing mutations, I would definitely need to wait until after Odd Summer had ended.
So for now, electronic research would have to do.
I used my phone to pull up the ‘wiki’ page for mutavus. While I had read it top to bottom already, I was hoping some of the ‘links’ could bring me to a more detailed description of mutavus’s physical characteristics. The wiki mostly had historical information, and information on prevention and treatment, neither of which I was all that interested in.
Why would one want to prevent a mutation anyways? As far as I had seen, mutations were largely beneficial. True, powers seemed to be much more effective, but despite Odd Summer they were still rare. I considered a mutation an excellent alternative. Just another oddity of humans I guess.
“Hey kid? Sorry, but I won’t drive any farther than this.”
I was pulled from my musings by the taxi driver. He was a short man with a large mustache, wearing a bullet resistant vest and blast helmet similar to those used by Hellion’s Henchmen (except his were in yellow, like his taxi), and he seemed very anxious. He flinched at every sudden movement, held the steering wheel in a vice grip with both hands, and his eyes scanned the areas beyond the windows while he chewed on an unlit ‘cigarette’. Whenever a pedestrian came into view his right hand would flinch towards a ‘shotgun’ he had mounted in his passenger seat. Apparently taxi drivers were allowed to carry guns.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“Up ahead is Hellion territory dead center, I ain’t driving into that this late. You sure this is where you need?”
“Yes, I live a few blocks from here.”
“It’s fine, I can make my own way from here.”
“Your funeral kid.”
The taxi cab had a reinforced barrier between the front seat and the back seats, with a payment device mounted on it. I inserted my chit and paid the man, then exited the vehicle. The taxi sped away the moment the door was closed. I understood his reluctance to enter a verified villain’s territory right now. Originally I had planned to take the bus, but it had zoomed past the bus stop while on fire (but without any passengers...or a driver). On the way back to Ashwood St. I had also spotted other incidents, such as a small rat swarm being contained by police, and a building which had somehow been turned upside-down while staying perfectly connected to the surrounding bridges (that had hurt to look at). It seemed Odd Summer was in full effect.
I started in the direction of the apartment building, and as I walked, quickly noted several humans and mutants who were loitering about, glaring or sneering in my direction. Their attitudes changed entirely when I pulled out my mask and put it on. Groups of loiterers practically melted out of my path, and instead of threatening glances they avoided eye contact, or gave brief nods which were a human sign of recognition, and I was told, respect.
From what had been explained to me, these weren’t official members of Hellion’s Henchmen, but instead were local non-powered gangs, cowl ‘groupies’, or even civilians who held allegiance to Hellion, or simply held hostility for Hellion’s enemies. Wearing a Hellion’s Henchmen mask in this area was basically a free pass.
And if Pebbles was to be believed, my willingness to don my minion mask in public, and in full view of people, was worth ‘street cred’. Hopefully cred was like chits. My funds were low, and the taxi had been expensive.
I made it back to the apartment building without further incident, and I used a side entrance (with a lockable entryway room for taking off masks) to enter the building itself. Then up a few stairs, and swipe my keycard on the door lock, and I was in my apartment.
Felt kinda nice actually. Guess there really was something to this after all. The tunnel had been mine, but only in the sense that I used it to sleep, and no other humans had used it to travel while I was squatting there.
I entered the ‘bedroom’ and sat on the bed, scanning through the websites I had pulled up on my phone. I was having a frustratingly hard time finding anything at all on the physical properties of the mutavus virus. Almost all hard data was concentrated on recorded mutation rates, or symptoms and treatment, or on the history of its spread. But there was only speculation and theory on the actual vector of infection, or the physical makeup of the virus itself. Apparently the only way to know if you were infected was to actually suffer a mortal wound and start mutating. Otherwise the virus was completely dormant, and invisible to attempts to locate it. Once the mutation began to occur samples could be collected from the affected individual, but there were problems with that as well. After the metamorphic process was complete, the virus went back to a state of dormancy, and what samples scientists and doctors collected during were fragile, and broke down quickly. Plus, there seemed to be a wide range of differences between samples based upon the types of physical alterations occurring.
The most interesting article I read detailed samples taken from a rare mutation that had granted extensive regenerative properties to the recipient, but had left their outer characteristics largely unchanged. It was thought by scientists, that if they could cultivate that strand of mutavus, and purposely expose people to it, they could give people a beneficial mutation that didn’t alter appearance, and therefore made them immune to less desirable mutations. The samples were injected into several volunteers...
...most of whom died from ‘cancer’ several months later. Two got away with nothing at all happening. And one volunteer mutated so badly they were forced to euthanize him, his mutation forcing him to attack and eat other humans, or suffer ever more mutation. Obviously the virus was more complicated than the humans understood.
I wonder if that’s why my micro units self destruct without a core signal. Without me directing them I could definitely see them causing problems.
I was a bit disappointed with how little information the humans had. It was somewhat understandable though. Mutavus had first started showing up about sixty years ago or so according to these reports, but only became a worldwide “problem” in the last two decades. Considering even I hadn’t been able to detect dormant mutavus, it was unfair to expect more from the humans in such a short timeframe (they had to focus on real problems like Odd Summer after all). I’d just have to do the research myself, or maybe Jasper would know more on the topic. But that could wait for tomorrow.
I settled in to sleep. It felt good to have accomplished so much in a single twenty-four hour period. A bullet defense acquired, information source secured, the biggest threat to my position in a strong faction eliminated, and a location where I could practice ‘cooking’. Yep, today had been a good day.
I rested my head on the pillow and covered myself with the blanket. Time to give this bed thing a try.
It was too soft… and my weight made me sink too deep into the mattress…and if I had to react fast, the mattress and sheets provided poor traction. This wouldn’t do. I got out of the bed and looked it over again, before deciding to crawl under it.
Ahhh. Much better.
I woke early the next morning, and headed over to the elevator hidden in the apartment building. This one required both a keycard and mask to access. Upon arrival at the base I headed straight to the large main chamber.
To get breakfast.
While Sandra had been lecturing me about groceries and proper nutrition, she had also let this little nugget of information slip past: the Hellion’s Henchmen cafeteria served a complimentary breakfast if you came early.
I wonder why no one told me about it?
I grabbed a few muffins and a pot of coffee, and sat down at a table to eat. A few minions wandered by with their own breakfasts and said good morning, but when I noticed Mikey coming from the elevator hallway, I waved for him to join me. I hadn’t seen him since Monday, and I had a lot of stuff to talk to him about. He wandered over when he noticed me waving.
Yawn “Mornin’ Tofu. Got enough muffins there?”
“No, but I was told you aren’t supposed to ‘hog’ them. Here, have one.”
I graciously handed over a chocolate chip muffin. But not a lemon poppyseed one. Those ones were mine.
We talked about stuff that had happened over the past two days. I let Mikey know, in no uncertain terms, that missing the company dinner had been a mistake (missing good free food was simply irresponsible), and then I gave him a retelling of my activities yesterday (minus my removal of Sanguine). Mikey had apparently been working with other black mask minions yesterday, setting up network devices for Socket, and we discovered that we were both scheduled to go out and set up more network devices. Unfortunately, when I mentioned trying to get to level five in Gribblin Tamer, Mikey revealed that he didn’t play that game, and didn’t know the secret to advance. Darn. We finished up breakfast shortly after, and I returned the empty pot of coffee.
“Tofu, where are you going? Garage is this way,” said Mikey.
“Morning training with Adder. I didn’t get to yesterday.”
“The job starts in like an hour.”
“Which gives us an hour to train. Are you not coming?”
“Come on Mikey. You can’t miss both food and training. They’re important!”
Seriously now. And Sandra complained that I did dangerous things.
I cajoled Mikey to the gym, and for the rest of the hour we trained with Adder and other minions until it was time for the job to start. It was a good thing too, Mikey’s combat training was definitely lacking. Just what exactly were those humans schools doing?
Once done with training, we met up with Rattleback in the garage for instructions. Apparently my main job would simply be to stay in the van, and act as a reserve in case of a situation that required a power user. The non-powered minions would handle setting up the devices that Socket needed for his network.
And then Mikey, Brilla and Fred from team three, Tedic (one of the newbies who hadn’t quit), and I, all piled into the van with a stack of Socket’s devices.
And then the strangest thing happened.
We had a completely relaxing, and uneventful day.
We traveled around the northern section of E13, where most of the building alterations were. Every now and then we stopped, and the minions would take one of the devices and install it somewhere innocuous. Other than that, we met one of the local gangs, dodged a few police, and we got to talk with the superhero Brick, which was neat.
But there wasn’t any fighting, and nothing tried to kill me. It was weird. But nice.
The sliding glass doors opened, and I entered the grocery.
I loved the air in here. It was cool and crisp, and smelled of many different foods. Everywhere were shelves of food, in boxes, bags, and metal cans. Everything was labeled with its own symbols, and the prices were clearly displayed. There were even bags of raw sugar if you wanted to buy them. Food, language, numbers, and little carts that you could use to transport stuff. It was like humans had decided to take all the good things they had created, and put them all in the same place. The only way it could be better would be if they threw in a few arcade training simulators.
I grabbed one of the carts and headed towards the aisles. My main paycheck for the job on Sunday had come in (a happy surprise after today’s work), so I had plenty of money, but I planned to take Sandra’s advice and target only the specific food items I would need. Buns, tofu patties, ‘ketchup’, sugar, cheese substitute, I picked these and other items, and placed them into my cart, slowly making my way down a list of ‘ingredients’ that I would need to make a ‘recipe’ I had downloaded. I was planning to try my hand at making tofu burgers. It undoubtedly would not be the same quality as Maggie’s, but I needed practice, and if I was going to start somewhere, tofu burgers were my prefered option.
I finished gathering my ingredients and headed for the checkout counter. I was third in line behind two other humans, the one in front of me in a large coat. A good thing too, I had scouted the grocery yesterday, but I hadn’t yet used the weird moving counter where you placed the food, so I could use being third to make sure I did this correctly. Take a rubber divider, place it down, start placing food-
“Put the money in the bag and no one gets hurt.”
Estimated threat: low.
I was stunned. After the first customer had walked away with their items, the second human in line had pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the cashier. I couldn’t believe how stupid this human was, didn’t he know where we were? We were in the heart of Hellion’s territory, even the cashier looked dumbfounded at the audacity.
Sigh. Should I… call the police? Probably not right? Ifrit said the stores near the apartments paid Hellion. Did that mean I had to step in? But technically I was a “civilian” right now. I didn’t want to make the wrong choice and make trouble for Sandra again...
While I pondered whether or not I needed to use a mask, the cashier went about opening the register, and then, beep, pressed a button. The floor underneath the robber opened up, and he fell into a black pit, of which I couldn’t see the bottom.
“You like dat you sumbitch!? You like dat!? Come in my store and think you rob me!? Where da hell you think we are!?”
The cashier yelled taunts and curses down the hole at the would be robber, until the opening closed back up. I couldn’t even see a seam where the robber had fallen through.
“Sorry bout dat. Happen sometime. Here, have some gum for trouble,” then he added a small pink packet to my items before ringing up the rest of them. I paid him, and thanked him for the ‘gum’. Then I made my way out of the store (being careful to avoid the spot on the floor that had opened up), and rushed back to my apartment. I was simply not in the mood for more surprises. I had cooking to do.
But it was only after I got back to the apartment, and assembled my ingredients, that I realized I had forgotten something rather important.