Fireproof is not heatproof. Something to keep in mind in the future.
To compensate for not having a frying pan, I tried to encase my hands in the fireproof chemical I found in my suit and Ifrit’s sweat, but the stove uses a heat-coil to transfer heat into the pans. Flesh doesn’t transfer heat very well at all, and when my hands reached a high enough temperature to start chemical reactions, they fell apart from micro-units self-destructing. This in turn dumped a bunch of dust and flesh onto the heat coils, which started a small fire. Especially the oils and grease in the tofu patty, those took a while to burn out. The next attempt was to hold the patty over the coils with a knife, but the coils seem to only transfer heat through solid objects, and placing the patty on the coils directly just started another fire. I gave up and called Mikey after a ‘neighbor’ came to see if everything was fine.
Admittedly, I may have been a bit hasty in trying to cook the burgers without a pan. The tofu patties were kept frozen at the store, and I was worried that they would go bad before I could acquire a pan of my own (the bag says to keep refrigerated until used). I needn’t have worried, one of the kitchen devices was a cold storage box called a ‘refrigerator’, a fact that a confused Mikey pointed out when I explained what happened and why. I need a good backstory to explain why I’m so ignorant of common human objects and terms. I’ll think about it.
At least Mikey’s attention was somewhat diverted from my ignorance when I told him the address. He insisted on using the elevators to get to me, as my current dwelling was apparently in a ‘rough neighborhood’. I met him back at the base, in the elevator corridor, since he would need a keycard to use the apartment elevator. He stepped off his normal elevator with a bag that I presumed held the pan I would need.
“Hey Tofu. From your description I expected you to be extra crispy.”
“I already regenerated the damage.”
“Oof, I was joking. So you actually fried yourself? Musta hurt.”
Mikey stopped moving and blinked at me.
“Whyyy... would you do that then?” he asked.
“Because I wanted to make a tofu burger.”
Long moments passed in silence as we waited for the elevator, Mikey staring at me the whole time. It started to get a little uncomfortable actually. Fortunately the elevator arrived, and snapped Mikey out of it. Unfortunately, it prompted him to start asking more questions.
On one hand, I like Mikey’s questions because they tend to point out flaws in my disguise that I need to account for. On the other hand, Mikey is too perceptive sometimes, and he often comes dangerously close to asking questions I never want to have to answer. It’s good that I’ve been getting so much practice at diverting attention from the main topic of conversation. I’d hate to have to kill him.
Finishing our elevator ride (during which I let him know that yes I can turn off my pain receptors, and no I’m not a ‘masochist’), I led him down the halls to my apartment. We pass other residents and dodge playing children, while I explain to him that pain receptors are an important combat tool, and that turning them off is a bad idea.
“True enough I guess, but if you aren’t fighting anyone, and your hands are already on fire, wouldn’t that be a good time to turn them off?” pointed out Mikey.
“Uh…” Admittedly I couldn’t think of a counter argument to that logic. It just hadn’t occurred to me to turn them off. Pain was just another sense before I got Human.exe, and afterwards… well I guess I was just used to it by then. There were a lot of tests back at the lab. And besides, I wasn’t going to let some pain get between me and learning to cook tofu burgers.
We arrived at my apartment, and I let us in. I was glad to find that the annoying alarm had finally shut itself off, although the apartment still smelled a bit like smoke.
“Whoa dude. Crack a window or something.”
Okay, maybe a lot like smoke.
Mikey headed to the kitchen corner as I opened the window again. Then he pulled out a pan from the bag he brought, and surprisingly a lot of other items. A stack of paper plates, plastic sporks like the ones at the school cafeteria, and some napkins.
“Man, I’m glad I brought plates. You said you moved in recently, but its pretty bare bones in here. Haven’t moved your stuff in yet?”
“I didn’t have anything to move. I keep all my stuff with me.”
Mikey gave me the same type of look that Sandra did when she found out I was homeless. Then he turned back to the supplies and busied himself organizing them.
“Sooo… did you know some of the other minions have a betting pool about you?” asked Mikey.
“On where you’re from.”
I tried to divert the question; “...They want to know the sector?”
“Pft, no dude. They’re betting on how you joined the masked life. It’s kinda obvious you’re used to this kind of thing, no one is this casual about hanging around so many supers and criminals. Like, if you were trying to hide it you weren’t doing a very good job,” he finished putting the ingredients and supplies in order, then turned to me, “Right now the top bet is that you’re a villain’s kid.”
Relief. They were quite a bit off in their guess. “That’s a poor bet. Powers aren’t hereditary as far as I’m aware.”
“That’s what I said, although Tedic is convinced. Mind giving me the insider info? The pool’s pretty high now.”
Mikey smirked and raised his hand in a stop gesture, “Say no more. Anyways here, let me show you how to make a burger sans self-immolation.”
Mikey proceeded to cook two tofu patties from start to finish. It seemed rather simple, although I found it somewhat distressing that he didn’t follow a recipe. He even added some ingredients that weren’t mentioned in any of the recipes I found. He asserted that cooking was an art form, and it takes practice to find your own style. This part I understood completely, it was similar to martial arts, and developing a combat style that suited your abilities.
Mikey’s burgers were not like Maggie’s, however they were still tasty. I cooked the rest of the patties I had bought, some with Mikey’s method, some with the recipe, and some with a few modifications I thought might be nice (Mikey hypocritically criticising my use of extra sugar on these patties). We sat and ate once I was done, and for once Mikey actually put down a decent amount, eating at least a third of what I did.
Mikey finished his last burger, burped, and leaned against the kitchen counter. “Man, didn’t really realize how hungry I was until the smell hit me.”
“Well you didn’t eat any lunch after all. You should really eat more.”
“You sound like my grandma,” Mikey chuckled.
“I’m serious. You never know when something is going to happen. You wouldn’t want to be low on energy when it does.”
“Pft, if I stuffed myself like you do I’d be too bloated to run. Although I will admit that I didn’t expect just how much crap happens while on the job. Can’t believe it’s only Wednesday. That job with the explosion was barely on Sunday, but it feels like it happened last year or something.”
“Maybe your internal timescale is faulty?”
“No you doof. It’s just so much crazy stuff,” he sighed and let his head fall back, “I’m starting to think this job might be a bit more than I can chew.”
“Uh, take smaller bites?”
Mikey rolls his eyes, “I mean this job might be more than I can handle. I’m really grateful you helped me get it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve been thinking about quitting.”
“Have you been at risk of dying?”
“What? No. But we’ve had quite a few close calls with the heroes dude. Turbo was Sunday, Brick today, and you’ve even had it out with Magenta. You’ve basically had run-ins with all three of E13’s heroes in a four day span! That’s nuts!”
“I’ve also met three of E12’s heroes.”
“See? I figured heroes would show up eventually, but this often is just ridiculous! We’ll never make it through Odd Summer without being arrested.”
“It didn’t seem that bad when they brought me to the station in E12 though. We were only there a few hours and I even got to eat donuts.”
“Dude, that barely even counts, that wasn’t a real arrest. And no offense, but you have powers and I don’t. I doubt Hellion’s lawyers will be quite as prompt when they are just trying to get some grunts released. If I get pinched I’m basically on my own.”
“I’ll try to help you.”
He rolled his eyes, but muttered, “Thanks.”
I considered his concerns. We had indeed been running into supers on a regular basis, but I had thought this was the norm, especially considering the job description. It matched my experiences after escaping the lab at least. Plus the heroes wouldn’t even try to kill you, only villains, vigilantes, and monsters tried to do that. Other villains were mostly intimidated by Hellion, vigilantes were rare, and monsters were a risk no matter what you did.
To be fair, getting arrested was probably a much larger concern for Mikey than for myself. I had no social position to defend, and my own abilities would likely facilitate an escape even without outside help. Hellion’s Henchmen didn’t strike me as the type of organization to go back on it’s word, but if they did indeed withdraw lawyer support Mikey would be at far more risk than myself.
“You have a point. It might be smart to quit now.”
Mikey seemed a bit surprised by my sudden proclamation, “You think so? I sorta thought you were rather gung-ho about this.”
“Well, for me this job is perfect. It’s proven quite profitable, and the benefits counteract my biggest concerns, but your situation is different. You have to measure the risk versus reward.”
He grit his teeth, “Yeah, that’s probably why I’m so torn on this. The pay is good. A few more jobs like the last one and I’ll have the entire first year paid for, not just a single semester. But if I get pinned even once...”
Hmm, a possibility for great return, but with a chance of complete disaster. Personally I would never take such a gamble, but I didn’t know many jobs that would give the necessary payout for this college advancement Mikey was set on.
“Would a job with the heroes be a better fit for you perhaps?”
Mikey scoffed, “Central only takes people with powers dude, and the non-hero positions are basically fought over tooth-and-nail. I’d be laughed at for trying.”
Hmm, that was indeed a problem. Mikey had little in the way of combat skills. Maybe if he trained with Adder more often he would be able to fight ‘tooth-and-nail’ before summer ends. I’d have to make sure he doesn’t miss any sessions though.
We cleaned up the kitchen supplies (Mikey letting me keep the utensils and pan), and were getting ready to go to the elevator, when the ‘doorbell’ rang.
“Expecting anyone?” asked Mikey.
“No, but it might be one of the neighbors again.”
And a threat wouldn’t use the doorbell anyway. I checked through the ‘peephole’ (a clever little device, I was glad they were standard), but it was only Cindy. I opened the door to see what she wanted.
“Hello Cindy,” I greeted.
She blinked as the air from my apartment hit her, and took a few sniffs. Admittedly it still smelled quite smokey despite the open window. Surprisingly, when she spoke, her voice was not nearly as raspy as I was accustomed to.
“Tofu. You having fire trouble?”
“No, just trying to learn cooking. Some of the results got burnt.”
“Mhm.” Her piercing gaze drifted between Mikey and I for a bit, then she said, “Well don’t burn the place down,” and handed me a small red device, basically a cylinder with some kind of nozzle/handle at the top. Then without another word she abruptly turned and left.
I went to go place the device in the kitchen (a ‘fire extinguisher’ if I was reading the label right), when Mikey spoke up. He seemed a bit… stunned?
“Hey Tofu? Who was that?”
“That was Cindy,” I replied, using her civilian name as she hadn’t been wearing a mask.
“Oh, uh, where do you know her from? She a neighbor?”
“Yes, but I know her from work.”
“Oh. Oh! So she works for HH huh? Haven’t seen her around.”
“Well we do wear masks.”
“Heh, true enough. Still, I think I’d remember a hottie like that, mask or no mask.”
Mikey continued to act a bit odd, muttering to himself about quitting or not quitting. We reached the elevator and both got on, donning our masks before we did so.
“You’re heading to the base too Tofu? What for?” asked Mikey.
“I want to ask one of the lieutenants if they have a place for ranged target practice.”
“Like a gun range?”
“Perhaps, but not for a gun. Sandra says minions shouldn’t use guns, for several reasons.”
I pulled out the weapon I had taken from the four-armed Tinker Tot.
“I was thinking slingshots.”
As it turned out, there was not a dedicated ‘gun range’, but there was a very large room with a lot of durable targets placed at the far end of it. Seems it was mostly used by powered minions for target practice; the walls and targets were pitted and scarred with various blast marks.
Mikey had followed me down to the target practice room despite the late hour, apparently curious what I was going to do with a “flimsy slingshot.” Truthfully it wasn’t the slingshot itself I cared about so much as the concept of it. Between guns, throwing knives, and a few other weapons I had researched such as a ‘bow’ and ‘crossbow’, the problem with all of them was that they required a specialized ammo. Guns were the worst offenders of this, requiring metal carved in a specific shape with explosive powder set correctly. My few attempts to create a working bullet launcher had either fizzled or nearly blown my arms off. The micro units unfortunately clung to the powder I produced, and made it rather unstable in comparison to the real thing. Outright buying the bullets was a possibility, but it was expensive! According to Rattleback a single box of fifty bullets could cost over a thousand dollars, not because of production cost, but because they were labeled as highly illegal contraband by Central.
Bows were a much better bet, but once again the ammo was a problem. Bone spikes of the correct size and weight for ‘arrows’ were easily produced, but once launched the micro units quickly self-destructed, rendering the arrows to powder. My best result was up to twenty feet or so, after which the resulting shards and powder were unlikely to result in fatal wounds. Good for suppressing normal humans perhaps, not so much for mutants or supers.
But a slingshot requires no specific ammo. The concept was similar to the bow, but the power was in the elasticity of the band, and not in the shape of the ammo. This meant I would never be at a lack of ammo. If I ran out I could just take small chunks from my environment (cement, glass, metal, anything!) and launch them as is. No major shifting, no paying money, and easily prepared on the fly. Versatile. The only requirement was an elastic band that could handle the forces I planned to use, and luckily this task my micro units could handle easily.
I tested the slingshot a few times with some rocks I saved, and had Mikey try it a few times just to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious. Nothing really to it, just an elastic band and some aiming required. The next step was to begin testing different organic material. I began shifting along one arm, intending to pull out a tendon to start with, when suddenly Mikey protested.
“Agh dude, warn me the next time you do that. Don’t wanna lose my dinner.”
“That thing you’re doing with your arm, that’s your power right? No offense but it looks pretty disgusting. Like a scene from The Thing.”
I had no clue what he was talking about, although his reaction was surprisingly strong. Thinking back, I realized the only humans who had really seen my shifting up close were Magenta, and humans I had killed. Had they also been averse to the nature of my shifting? Perhaps, but I couldn’t be sure if there reactions were disgust or fear due to the circumstances. If humans reacted adversely to my shifting I’d have to account for it in the future.
“Is it really that bad?”
“Well… yeah kinda. Hate to say it, but it looks kinda like mutavus on fast forward. We had to watch a video of it once in Health Ed.”
Not too surprising. If mutavus worked as described it had to be doing cellular reconstruction in a manner similar to my micro units. The results would look quite similar to someone who wasn’t aware of the specific mechanics. Still, better to distance myself from the idea of mutation, humans were very skittish when it came to mutavus.
“I can assure you it isn’t mutavus, it’s just a result of my power. You don’t have to stay if it makes you uncomfortable though.”
“I’m not worried about that, it’s just kinda hard to watch on a full stomach. You gonna be doing it a lot?”
“Yes, I need to do all the design testing manually.”
“Then I think I’ll bow out for now, it’s been a long day anyways.”
“Alright. Will I see you tomorrow? Or have you decided to resign?”
“Oh. Um. I’ll see you tomorrow, gonna think about it a bit more for now.”
“Okay. Later Mikey, and thanks for the pan.”
“Ha, no prob man. Laters.”
The next day, Mikey and I helped distribute the last of the devices Socket had for us. It went even smoother than last time. The only interesting event was when we met with what was apparently a Tinker Tot lieutenant. He was was wearing a mask much like Socket’s, with lots of extra devices attached, as well as a plethora of other makeshift devices strapped around his person. What I found odd was that I estimated his age at thirteen to fifteen years old, and despite appearing to be a tinker he was also a mutant. Throughout the conversation he twisted small devices together, small bits of wire and metal that he flexed into new shapes before storing in his many pockets. I had thought being a tinker was a power, and therefore inaccessible to mutants.
Fred finished up his conversation with the Tinker Tot (basically an apology from both sides for the ‘scuffle’ from yesterday), and when we were far enough away I broached the subject of a tinker/mutant with him.
“I thought mutants couldn’t be tinkers.”
“What’s that Tofu?”
“The Tinker Tot. He was assembling devices as well as wearing them, but Pebbles said mutants can’t get powers.”
“Oh, umm…” he looked back the way we had come, “...maybe he’s just practiced? The Tots do a lot of work with gizmos and junk. Or maybe his benedicci reaction carried over after he mutated?”
“Benedicci reactions can do that?”
“Sure, wouldn’t be the first time benedicci made someone smarter. Mutavus wouldn’t throw that away.”
“Hmm…” I wasn’t so sure. The way the Tinker Tot assembled those gizmos had been… like a trance, like he wasn’t aware he was doing it. It reminded me a lot of Socket at his workstation.
“Hey, don’t take my word for it man. I’m no expert,” said Fred, “Weirder stuff than a mutant with powers has happened. It’s called Odd Summer for a reason.”
Nothing else happened on Thursday, and I spent the rest of the day testing slingshot designs. My hope was to make the launcher compact and versatile. If I could get it right, it should be able to handle multiple ammo types in addition to whatever I picked up. I hadn’t completely given up on arrows.
And I wonder what the policy on grenades is?...
Friday morning was a bit different from normal. While I didn’t have a “job” to do, I was still required to attend a small orientation for the upcoming job on Saturday.
On my way to the orientation I received a text message from Nicole, an unusual occurrence. While she often responded to my texts (I messaged her about Gribblin Tamer often), she had yet to initiate one herself, although I immediately understood why she did in this instance.
Nicole: Hey Tofu? By any chance did you hear anything back from the police? Another monster body turned up.
Oh! Another bio-weapon body. Maybe this one would reveal more valuable information.
Tofu: I have to go to an orientation for my job, but I’ll come over when it’s done.
I sent the message and headed for the orientation room. She sent several messages back saying I didn’t need to come in person, but I pretended to not be watching for messages and ignored them. I wanted an excuse to get my hands on the bio-weapon.
At the orientation room I met up with several other powered minions, Ifrit, Gregor, Olson, Pebbles, and several others who I hadn’t met before, most of whom were combat model mutants. Imp was there too, his red villain mask standing out starkly, and it seemed he would be leading the meeting.
Once the last minions to arrive were settled (all minions in powered masks surprisingly), Imp started to outline the upcoming job. This one would be a robbery like the last one, but in this case it would be during the day, at a busy location, and civilians would be a big concern. This “bank robbery” was apparently meant to be high-profile on purpose, and the villain who had hired Hellion’s Henchmen had a detailed list of requirements that had to be adhered to. Imp passed out packets of paper with specific details.
The instructions were… excessive. Most of it was details on where to be and when, but it also contained specifics on conduct, and what we needed to accomplish in different phases of the plan. Multiple backup plans were provided based on the situation, and there was a confusing section that detailed what to do if… the “robot lemmings” escaped early? Normally I would have approved of such a detailed plan, but the discovery that each minion had a different set of instructions specific to them seemed utterly impractical. Surely this “Trebla the Terrific” understood such a complicated plan would never survive application?
Imp finished up the meeting, leaving the minions scratching their heads in confusion and frustration as they puzzled over their own specific instructions. I quickly memorized my packet, before heading over to where the other newbies had gathered. Maybe if I looked at their instructions as well the plan would make more sense?
The reactions to the plans were varied. Gregor seemed as confused as I was, Ifrit seemed focused on memorizing the plans precisely, Olson was surprisingly laughing as he read through the robot lemming section, and Pebbles just sat in his chair with his head in his hands, grumbling about eccentric villains. I decided to ask Pebbles about Trebla, since he seemed to have encountered him before.
“Hey Pebbles? Would you happen to be able to tell me more about the client?”
The other newbies turned at my question, also curious about what Pebbles had to say about the villain. Pebbles raised his head, and sighed before answering.
“Well, as you might have guessed he’s the eccentric type,” he flicked his already crinkled packet, “everything you need to know is probably in these stupid packets. But if it’s advice you want all I can tell you is to brace yourselves for tedium and chaos. You’re about to hench for Trebla the Terrible.”