Tedium and chaos aren’t concepts that go together if I understand them correctly. Tedium implies repetition of an insignificant task, chaos implies random occurrences; the two don’t make sense when put together. But, I was inclined to trust Pebble’s opinion since he was an experienced minion. It was probably one of those human concepts that made more sense after you had experienced it, like bittersweet. Either way, I was now quite a bit more apprehensive of this upcoming job. My analysis of Pebble’s personality and actions had led me to think that he liked chaos and ‘wild’ henching jobs. A job that gave him pause was cause for concern…
...or maybe he just disliked tedium. He certainly seemed set on destroying the packet of instructions, rolling them up and twisting them like he was.
I looked at and memorized the instructions from several of the other minions. It brought more details into focus, but I was still missing large sections of the overall plan. From what I could make out, most of it seemed to revolve around a planned confrontation with E12’s heroes, robot lemming handling instructions, and escape procedures.
I discussed the upcoming job with a few of the other minions. Gregor had never heard of Trebla before, and Olson had heard of Trebla, but never worked with him. Ifrit fortunately did know some information about him. Apparently he was a villain who did “high profile” jobs almost exclusively, often hiring Hellion’s Henchmen since he tended to make complicated plans that needed a variety of power sets and talents. Looking up Trebla’s info on my phone revealed a lot more was known about him than other villains, at least when it came to his criminal record. Stealing odd items from ‘museums’, attempting to take over an entire sector in a single night, and threatening to take away Wednesdays were all among the random assortment of crimes in his criminal history.
I talked a bit more with Gregor, Olson, and Ifrit about Trebla (Olson at least seemed enthusiastic about working with a “big name”), but eventually excused myself. I was eager to see the bio-weapon Nicole had found.
It took an elevator and a bus to get close enough to Manchineel St. that I could walk the rest of the distance. In comparison to the other places I frequented, the tunnel that led to her den was somewhat out of my way, being both south of and far from Ashwood St, but I didn’t mind. There were several food vendors that were only represented in this area. Like Puzzle’s pretzels.
I stopped at the same one I had before and bought a bag of the cheezy buns. Sandra had advised me to be thrifty with vendor food, but in this case I was buying them to bring some to Nicole. When Mikey came over to my apartment, he had brought a lot of other things besides just the pan, utensils and ‘condiments’ among them. When I asked him why, he had claimed his ‘gran-mama’ would slap him from beyond the grave if he went to eat at a friend’s place and didn’t bring anything to share. This was a terrifyingly strong power. How did someone attack while dead? More importantly, how would you attack them back? I had no idea, so the safest bet was to simply comply with his gran-mama’s rule.
I texted ahead to make sure I didn’t surprise Nicole like last time, and reached the specific manhole cover a few minutes later. Wait a minute for the coast to be clear before entering, go down the ladder, bonk an overeager Nessie on the head (it probably smelled the pretzels), and head around the corner bringing Nicole’s den into sight.
“Hello Nicole!” I yelled down the tunnel, and watched as the two “boulders” that blocked one of the intersection tunnels shifted and moved, revealing themselves to be Nicole’s claws (already fully regenerated). She moved until her forward half was sticking a comfortable distance out of the tunnel where she made her home.
“Hey Tofu. I uh, guess you didn’t get my messages?”
“I missed them because I was in an orientation for my job. Here, I brought pretzels,” and I offered her the bag, “I already ate my share, so you can have the rest.”
“Oh! Thank you. You didn’t have to.”
“If I didn’t Mikey’s gran-mama might attack me.”
She nibbled on one of the pretzels, but soon excused herself to put the rest away for later. I was starting to worry that Nicole only ate raw food, she seemed less than enthusiastic about the “cooked” food I brought with me. Next time I’ll bring something more suitable. She said rats were disgusting, but maybe I could find another dark-shrieker… or maybe sushi?
“Anyways,” she began, “Like I tried to tell you, you didn’t need to come all the way down here.”
“Don’t you need someone to bring the corpse up for the cops?”
“Well, I was gonna ask my courier, I didn’t mean to make trouble for you. It’s gotta be a hassle to come all the way down here. Especially since you were busy with your job, and it’s Odd Summer on top of that.”
“It’s fine Nicole, no trouble at all. I didn’t even see any cars on fire this time.”
“...Cars on fire?”
“Yeah, apparently they light on fire and then start driving themselves around. You didn’t hear about it? It’s become quite common apparently.”
“I don’t really watch the news. The local stuff is usually just who beat up what today, and the news from Central is the paparazzi fluff. If it’s actually important I’ll catch the emergency broadcast.”
“Anyways… since you’re already here I guess you can take the body then. It’s right here,” and she pointed to a wrapped lump which was obviously the dead bio-weapon, seeing as several warped limbs were sticking out of it. I was definitely interested in it, but there was something I wanted to do first.
“Okay, I’ll bring it up when I go, but there was something else I wanted to talk to you about,” I pulled my phone from my pocket, “I noticed that Gribblin Tamer has a two-player mode.”
I finally got past level five in Gribblin Tamer. My solution was to simply click on every single interactable object until something happened. Clicking on a ‘sword’ embedded into a rock finally wound up being the answer, although I’m unsure how I was supposed to figure it out. It didn’t match the other puzzles up until that point.
When I asked Nicole she said it was clearly a ‘King Arthur’ reference, which turned out to be a very old fiction story. Basically a test of strength to select a new leader. It made sense in context to that level of the game, but I wouldn’t have made the connection without knowing the story. Just one of those human things you had to know to make sense of.
“I’ll get the monsters and you set the levers,” said Nicole.
Solving the puzzle had unlocked the ‘multiplayer’ feature in the game, in which you could get different rewards for playing with others. I had been eager to try it, but Mikey didn’t play the game, and Lily refused to play with ‘shrimps’.
“Ack, manticore trap!”
“I see it.”
All in all it was quite interesting, the experience worth more than the promised rewards. The puzzle and maps were modified for two-player gameplay, which meant it served as a cooperation test. I’d never had anything like it back at the lab.
“Uhh, red button or blue button?”
Of course, some of the presented challenges still required good reflexes. Which made it all the more impressive that Nicole was able to play on a small flat screen using a pair of claws. True, it was the smaller pair of mandible claws, the ones with ‘digits’, but when compared to myself, and my ability to modify my hands to fit the phone screen precisely, it made her skill all the more impressive.
“How do you tap the phone so quickly without breaking it?”
“Huh? Oh, I put in a scratch-resistant screen, but I also have a lot of practice with delicate electronics. When I’m scavenging for abandoned gizmos and gadgets sometimes I need to disarm them first.”
“You scavenge for parts? Like the Tinker Tots?”
She looked up from the game for the first time in a while, with a look that I can best describe as a grimace, before going back to it.
“Except I’m actually scavenging, not stealing like those brats.”
“I take it you don’t like them.”
“There’s a reason I’m south of Ashwood and they’re north of it. Besides, they take all the best gizmos, or just break them, nothing good left over in their area. The lot of them need a good spanking, the lousy little…”
Her voice trailed off into inaudible mutters for a bit, which switched to a frantic yell as our gribblins triggered a new trap, one she avoided with ease despite her surprise.
“Well it seems your practice with gizmos paid off.”
“Ha, this is nothing! You should see what I can do with thumbs.”
I waited expectantly. I didn’t realize she had thumbs (maybe her claws can shift?), but if that was the case then I was interested in how much of an improvement they made.
Nicole kept playing for a bit, but when she noticed I had stopped she asked, “What’s up?”
“You were going to show me how well you do with thumbs.”
Her eyes opened wide, all eight of them, and she stammered as she tried to respond. I didn’t quite expect this reaction, but I recognized what it was about. Luckily, Mikey had shown me the proper response.
I raised my hand in a stop gesture, “Say no more. I won’t pry.”
Despite her lack of real facial features, her relief was palpable. She muttered a brief “thanks” before we went back to playing the game. We made it pretty far before I decided it was time to leave; I still had a few things to prepare for tomorrow.
“Thanks for playing with me Nicole.”
“Oh, no prob. I haven’t been able to try those maps myself, so this was fun.”
“I’ll drop by when I have time to play more.”
“Okay. Um, call ahead first though, sometimes I’m out in the tunnels.”
We bid goodbye and I headed for the manhole exit, dead bio-weapon in tow. This one was much like the last one, but definite improvements had been made to the overall design. Nothing of any real interest yet, but if the creator kept improving I hoped these would eventually be quite valuable... although I’d probably have to kill them first if the creator finally got it right. Out of curiosity I tested my slingshot design on one of the tougher portions of the bioweapon.
The results were pleasing.
I woke Saturday morning when my mask beeped, reminding me of the meet up time. There was actually plenty of time until Trebla’s plan was to be put into motion (at noon), but the high complexity of the plan required Hellion’s Henchmen to meet up hours in advance. I made sure my disguise was good and headed for the elevator.
Surprisingly there were two other powered minions on the elevator, both mutants with combat enhancements, and the elevator was somewhat crowded for it. I had talked to both before, if briefly, and we exchanged good mornings before chatting about the upcoming job. They were cautiously optimistic, as Trebla was a “big name client,” and the bonuses for a job well done would be big. Both of them were full-time minions, and “making ends meet” was important to them.
The composition of powered minions in Hellion’s Henchmen is diverse, but could be divided into roughly three groups. Most of them were mutants, often with combat modifications that made getting a civilian job difficult, such as in Gregor’s case. Then there were people with powers who, for a variety of reasons, hadn’t chosen to become a villain or a hero. Maybe they had a previous ‘record’ that prevented hero work, or their power was a ‘glass cannon’ ability unsuited for direct combat, or they were training to eventually be a full villain, or even just they didn’t care for the ‘limelight’. Finally, the last group were both mutants and supers who, despite not having much actual combat power, had decided to take the risk of being a powered minion in order to get a pay increase. Buzzer was one such example: while he could manipulate sound-waves, he was not completely immune to his own power, and couldn’t use it for combat without risking his own health. This last group was decidedly small, for obvious reasons.
The elevator let us off, and I headed for the cafeteria for breakfast. There were more minions about than there usually were this early in the morning, most of them drinking coffee while going over their instruction packets. I went to grab some coffee and bagels for myself.
“Tofu you bottomless pit. Leave some for the rest of us.”
“Good morning Buzzer.”
“Not if you drink all the coffee it won’t be.”
Buzzer grumbled as he made himself a cup of coffee; he appeared quite agitated. Every time he grumbled, I detected a subsonic vibration emanating from him. He did this sometimes when extremely agitated or frustrated.
“Is something wrong Buzzer? Maybe I can help.” It wouldn’t do to have him distracted right before the job.
“Only that I’m working on a Trebla job, which means I get to be a coordinator for this snake-knot of a plan,” he shook the packet of paper in his hand in emphasis. Indeed, his instruction packet was a lot thicker than my own.
“May I see your instructions?”
“Knock yourself out.”
He handed me the packet, and I looked it over as we took seats at a table. The reason for the thickness of the packet was readily apparent, as it included a bunch of notes on where to direct people, or what to listen for and when. I finished reading it and handed it back to Buzzer.
“See? Hurts just to look at don’t it.”
“No, but admittedly it is complex. I still want to know more about phase twenty-four through thirty-two, and I’m not getting why both Spikes and Hedge need to be present in the lobby for back-up plan three dash three B. I need to read either Spike’s, Hedge’s, or Dillo’s packet I think.”
Buzzer stopped moving. Then he very carefully set his coffee down, and opened his packet to a random page.
“Sooo… if I were to ask you what to do if… Hydrox, shows up during a four dash three A, in phase five, the answer would be?”
“I wouldn’t be there, but Kellet and Rusty would hopefully have the hydrophobic barrier up at that point. Then they should skip to their phase eleven starting positions.”
Buzzer closed his packet. “Did you memorize the whole thing just now Tofu?”
“Yes… is that bad?”
“Hell no! Best news I’ve had all week! Guys! GUYS! Give your instructions to Tofu!”
There was a brief flurry of activity as Buzzer explained, and the other powered minions began handing me packets one after the other. I memorized each one before handing it back.
“Congratulations kid,” said Buzzer, “You’ve just been promoted to co-coordinator.”
Well that was good… right?
‘Costume’ choice is important if you work in the “cape scene,” even for minions. Especially for minions. A costume has to serve as both functional equipment, and as an identification system to people who see it. Heroes for instance wear mostly bright colors, and their masks tend to show at least part of their face. This makes them recognizable to allies (so they don’t get hit by friendly fire), villains (to draw fire away from civilians), and to civilians (so that the civilians don’t panic and refuse to follow their instructions).
Minion outfits try to do the opposite. While the goal is to draw some attention (to draw fire away from non-powered minions), in a group the outfits blended into each other, making it harder to pick a single minion out of the crowd. A collection of dull blacks, dark grays, and rusty browns, with only the gleaming bone-white masks to really draw attention. But still, even with a generic feel to them, the suits had small differences between them. Modifications to allow for spikes or bony plates, or just small differences in design to help identify who is who among the minions. My own suit was basically two interlocking pieces, one dull black and one dark gray, that created a distinctive swirling pattern along the limbs. Everywhere the two colors met was actually a hidden seam, and the suit would readily split along said seams to accommodate my shifting limbs. Admittedly the pattern it makes is distinctive, but in a group of powered minions it stands out no more than any of the other minions do. Versatile, durable, subtly camouflaged, and most importantly: bulletproof. My favorite feature.
I finished putting on my suit (newly repaired), and exited the locker room, heading for the garage. There I found the minions hurriedly going about their assigned tasks, lieutenants giving direction and making sure everything went smoothly. Buzzer quickly led me over to where Rattleback was talking with a masked villain I had never seen before. She wore a golden half-face mask (similar to the domino masks, but shinier, and covering more of her face), and a suit much like Sandra’s, although it appeared to be somewhat more stylized. In one hand she held a ‘tablet’ device, and periodically tapped at it as she talked to Rattleback.
“I can assure you we will be ready to go well in advance of the stated time Ms. Lia,” said Rattleback.
“As you say,” replied Lia, “But may I remind you that the goal is to be neither late nor too early. Master Trebla’s plans rely on precision.”
“And we will try to be as precise as possible,” said Rattleback.
“Hey Rattleback, might have found a way to help with that,” interrupted Buzzer. Both Rattleback and Lia turned to us. “Tofu’s been holding out on us. Got himself an eidetic memory; memorized all the plans. Mind giving him administrator privileges so he can help me coordinate?”
“Oh? That would be helpful. I’ll-”
“That wasn’t in his file,” said Lia, cutting Rattleback off, “It’s too late to make changes to the plan now, especially with an untested variable.”
“Aw come on. These instructions might as well be the complete works of Shakespeare, give me a break,” complained Buzzer.
“They are complete instructions!” said Lia with a scowl, “And I was assured that would not be a problem for an organization of Hellion’s Henchmen’s calibre. But if you feel you are not up to the task then I believe there is still time to cancel our request.”
Rattleback sputtered, “Wait! Wait. I’m sure we are quite up to the job-”
“Oh let em cancel, this plan is a clusterfuck anyways.”
“BUZZER! SHUT UP! Ms. Lia, I’m so sorry about-”
“Variation five, on fallback plan fourteen dash seven C, requires that at least three melee combat capable minions, preferably Hedge, Dillo, and Zaps, retreat down corridor twenty-one within a time duration lasting no more than three minutes.”
The three of them stopped arguing, and turned to stare at me.
“If they successfully traverse the hall in three minutes, they should retreat to the getaway vehicle parked in the easternmost alleyway next to the building, which is the optimal outcome. If they take longer, a hero, most likely Hydrox or Ferrosa, will likely be in range to damage the vehicle, and instead they should head to corridor twenty-three, where an escape tunnel was put in place that will allow transit to the tunnel system under sector E12.”
None of them moved for a bit, then Lia began tapping at her tablet.
“That section of instructions wasn’t included in your packet,” she finally said.
“No, it was included in the packets of Hedge, Spikes, Dillo, Gregor, and Zaps. Most likely Maz and Kellet as well, but I haven’t read theirs yet.”
“Mhm. Would coordinating hinder your ability to complete scenarios five, seven, and eight? Those require you to be correctly placed.”
“I should be able to carry out any of the scenarios while communicating, as long as I can use the mask network… and admittedly scenario fourteen might be difficult for me if too many people require instruction at the same time.” Scenario fourteen was a tricky one.
“Mhm,” she tapped at her tablet some more, “Alright, I’ll have a set of updated instructions for you before the departure time. I’m glad to see that someone can appreciate proper planning,” and she glared at Buzzer before turning to Rattleback, “Rattleback, I’ll send you any relevant updates, but there should be no major changes. Please plan to depart as scheduled. If you’ll excuse me.”
Lia walked away while tapping at her tablet, and the three of us watched her go.
“Thank you for that Tofu,” said Rattleback.
Then he smacked the back of Buzzer’s helmet.
Preparations continued quickly after that, despite half the minions sneaking extra peeks at their packets. I myself was already fully prepared. My suit was repaired, helmet was working fine, my core was secure inside my helmet, and my prototype slingshot was ready to use. I had even taken the time to replenish my lost supply of knives, and carve myself some ammo for the slingshot.
Mass at 100% norm.
Energy reserves = 23 cycles continued operation.
All biometrics are green.
I was fully prepped and ready, but Rattleback still had one more surprise for me.
“Tofu, Zaps, Spikes, over here. Finally got those speedster MREs I told you about.”
I wandered over, along with Zaps and Spikes, and Rattleback handed out two packets to each of us. The markings on them declared “U.N.A. Government Property, Commercial Resale Is Unlawful” and “Nutritional Bar: Speedster Formula” and “May Contain Peanuts.” I started unclasping the mouth cover for my mask, intending to eat them.
“Ack! Don’t eat it all at once Tofu! Those are high-grade speedster food. Use them only when you need a pick-me-up.” said Rattleback suddenly.
“They aren’t dangerous are they?” asked Zaps.
“Worse, they’re expensive. Don’t waste them.”
I ate mine the moment Rattleback was out of eyesight. The taste was okay, but the real prize was how many calories they contained.
Energy reserves = 26 cycles continued operation.
They were PACKED with calories. Days worth of energy, and that was from just one of them. While eating the second I paid extra attention to the way the molecules were packaged. The bars had probably been produced using some kind of tinker tech, but there wasn’t anything supernormal about their materials, and I took notes with the intent to replicate the molecular storage method used. I hadn’t been paying much attention to energy storage techniques (sugar and other human foods made meticulous energy conservation unnecessary), but I wouldn’t pass up an efficient energy storage method if it just fell into my lap.
I also made a note that Spikes and Zaps needed speedster fuel. Always good to add potential weaknesses to my list of known information.
Preparations were completed shortly, and we embarked our assigned vehicles. I found myself with Buzzer, Ifrit, Olson, and surprisingly Imp, in a somewhat beaten-up looking, four-door ‘sedan’. Despite its looks, the car hummed to life perfectly when Buzzer started it.
“You kids all strapped in?” asked Imp.
Ifrit groaned, and Imp and Buzzer both chuckled. I needed to work harder on understanding humor; I still wasn’t quite getting jokes.
The convoy of vehicles left in much the same way as the last major job; using the large elevator to reach the surface, and then splitting up as we drew closer to the target location. The bank in question was just over the sector border in E12, which explained why Trebla’s plans focused on countermeasures for E12’s and E13’s heroes the most (although there were a few mentions for heroes from NE12, SE12, SE13, and a note about a ‘nemesis’ from S10 who apparently hated Trebla a lot). As we drew close to the bank, Imp announced we had reached his stop and teleported out the window to a nearby rooftop. Buzzer continued on, and eventually parked the car across the street from the bank's front entrance to wait for the job to start. My helmet crackled with announcements that different minions had reached their assigned positions, and I casually observed our surroundings through the tinted windows while we waited.
The buildings around us were mostly four to five stories tall, and there was a distinct lack of the chaotic bridgework common to E13. The bank itself towered over the surrounding structures at ten stories, and was covered in large glass windows that made the building look like a giant mirror. To be honest, after the labyrinth that was E13, E12 was kind of… boring. All the buildings were near-perfect rectangles, and were evenly spaced to allow for thin roads between buildings. The only interesting feature in the architecture around us was the wide staircase in front of the bank.
The final group radioed in, and we waited for the start time mostly in silence. Buzzer was grumbling about our starting position, and I asked him about it.
“Bah, there’s no reason for us to be in front of the bank,” he said, “He just wants people to show off his ‘perfect’ plan to. Watch, his signal will be on the dot,” and he pointed to a small clock display on the dashboard of the car. The moment the display ticked over to 12:00 a booming voice sounded over the busy street.
“TREMBLE BEFORE TREBLA!”
A humanoid figure suddenly fell from the sky, landing on the front steps of the bank with a bang. He was encased in a golden suit of armor, each movement he made reflecting rays of light in every direction. There was no helmet (which allowed me to see that he wore a trimmed goatee, and slicked back hair), but he wore a gold/silver domino mask that matched his armor, and every now and then the area around his head shimmered, suggesting some kind of barrier. The civilians all around had frozen or ducked at his loud entrance, and most were gaping in his direction or hurriedly rushing away.
He raised one hand in the direction of a parked car, and a beam of light shot from his palm, smashing into the car and causing something in it to explode. That got the civilians moving, and there was a lot more screaming as the crowd hurried to vacate the area.
“See? Complete show-off. Trying to impress the lowly minions,” said Buzzer.
I considered Buzzer’s statement…
Eh, Hellion’s signal was better.