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Deleting memory #4f7563687468617468757274 data.sense;

Restarting Human.exe;

 

 

Yup, that felt better.

 

Poena’s power is truly unpleasant. It somehow caused pain to the human ‘psyche’ directly, bypassing the physical medium entirely as long as she fulfilled the requirement of hitting her opponent (I had to look up the word psyche. Humans have a word for everything). The result was that it caused damage to the mind while leaving the physical body intact. Still, an injury was an injury. A search on the internet for “pain damages human mind?” pulled up all sorts of results, the most notable of which was something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had no idea how one healed that, so I decided to play it safe, and just deleted the sensory data from the memory.

 

As for countering Poena’s power in the future… difficult. The early stages of her power hadn’t bothered me overmuch, but the last one had crashed Human.exe. Ifrit had been knocked out by the green ‘javelin’ Poena materialized, and Buzzer, Maz, and even Pebbles had all been knocked out by her power as well according to Maz. That meant Poena’s power had a very high success rate, so I would need to be aware that she could theoretically remove targets from a critical scenario at will, and for an extended period of time. Even now, Ifrit and Maz slumped against the walls of the elevator we were riding in for support, not completely recovered.

 

Normally I would just remove Poena, but both Ifrit and Trebla had warned me against killing or even permanently damaging the sidekicks. Maybe it was because they were young? Humans of all factions seemed to get overly defensive of offspring. Or maybe it was just the sidekick status; I’d need to ask Sandra what the ‘unwritten rules’ were concerning them. I didn’t like having someone around who could disable Human.exe, but it looked like I would just need to work around Poena for now...

 

… unless she had an “accident” in the near future. The sidekicks definitely weren’t as experienced as the heroes; mistakes happened, our fight with the sidekicks was proof of that. One more inexperienced mistake at a critical moment, and our fight could have easily turned deadly. It was practically more dangerous than a fight with a hero. I hadn’t appreciated the effort heroes put into not critically injuring people during a fight. Things like shoving instead of outright hitting, or aiming for armored or muscled areas when they could have easily smashed a temple or other critical weak point. Removing Poena would have to be carefully done; I didn’t want to escalate confrontations with the heroes any farther.

 

And maybe I should stop aiming at their eyes so often. They didn’t seem to like that.



As for the other sidekick Morph… not a major threat like Poena potentially was, despite his instantaneous shifting... that worked with no regard for chemistry… or physics. His combat designs had been sloppy and amateurish as well, so he obviously hadn’t done very well in whatever “training” he’d completed. If I had his shifter power I could use it seventy-two... no, eighty-nine percent more efficiently than he could. Shifting his skin into stone, and metal! What, he couldn’t use chitin like any sensible organism? Probably just showing off. I doubted he even knew how to align his nucleotides for rapid mitosis. A medium-level threat, at best.

 

...Maybe he should have an accident too.

 

Cough “By the way, thanks for grabbing me back there you two,” said Maz, breaking the silence in the elevator.

“Oh, no worries Maz, no problem at all,” replied Ifrit.

“Yes it was. It was tactically unsound… Ifrit you’re stepping on my foot.”

 

Maz laughed, “Well thank you anyways Tofu. I have little ones at home, and I hate leaving them with my nan.”

“Yes, that was why Ifrit wanted to retrieve you… Ifrit my foot.”

“Aww, did she now? Thank you sweetheart, I owe you both one.”

 

Oh right! She owes me lunch now!

 
“Um, it’s fine Maz. Just part of the job,” said Ifrit, “How are the twins doing lately anyways?”

 

Aww, it’s part of the job? Oh well...

 

Ifrit and Maz talked about the twins for a bit. Maz was indeed the ‘mother’ of the two twin mutants I met at the apartment. I found this curious, as all three of them had the same mutation of brown scales. Searching on my phone for “Can humans have the same mutation?” and “Offspring have similar mutations?” brought up a lot of conflicting results. Some claimed that once mutavus affected someone it was easier for the virus to transfer to family members, citing the ‘Donnar Family’ case. Others said that similar mutations came about only from similar injuries, and that similarities were superficial, but there was evidence both for and against that theory. Frustrating. Humans had good records of other subjects, but the moment it came to mutavus information became muddled. I decided to just ask Maz.

 

“Maz, I have a question.”

“What’s up?”

“I wanted to ask how you and your kids have the same mutation? Did you all have a similar injury?”

“Tofu!” said Ifrit, while stepping on my foot again.

 

Oops. I guess this was another ‘rude’ topic? I really didn’t understand why humans were so testy about mutations. Pebbles wasn’t at least.

 

“Oh. Sorry Maz.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m not offended by questions as long as you’re polite. As for your answer I was already mutated when I became pregnant with the twins, they inherited it from me.”

“Ah, I didn’t know mutavus could do that.”

“I didn’t either. Only found out after they were born, imagine my surprise!”

 

We talked a bit more, mostly Maz about her kids, and I learned a bit more about ‘family’ dynamics. It was interesting stuff; apparently the twins could be “right little terrors,” and they made her “want to kill them sometimes,” but she hadn’t yet. Seems being a ‘parent’ required good self-restraint.

 

Our conversation was cut short when the elevator finally reached its destination. It had been a longer than normal trip since this elevator started all the way over at the E12/E13 border. The doors dinged and opened.

 

Baby!”

 

Suddenly a human woman in red armor dashed in and grabbed Ifrit, crushing her in a hug. I almost attacked before I recognized her as Hellion.

 

Oh my god I was so worried! Are you hurt? Are you okay? Lia sent the video over, and I saw you get stabbed, and I lit my desk on fire, but Trebla said you were fine, and-”

Omigod, MOM! Let me go! I’m fine!”

 

Huh. I’d never been this close to my boss before. Small sparks and tongues of flame were coming off her suit in her agitation, and Maz and I edged around the two of them to leave the elevator. Imp and a few others were in the hall, and we joined the forming crowd of curious onlookers.

 

“That little bitch hurting my girl. I should pop over and give whatever her name is a piece of my mind!”

Omigod please stop embarrassing me!” said Ifrit, as she tried to extricate herself from Hellion.

“The sidekick’s name was Poena,” I supplied helpfully.

“Her name will be charcoal when I’m done with her!” declared Hellion.

MOM!”

 

I decided to slink away while everyone was distracted with Hellion’s display. It was an interesting example of family interaction, but it seemed rather troublesome, and even a little dangerous with how the sparks and embers were coming off of Hellion (barbecues...). These ‘families’ seemed rather beneficial if it meant someone like Hellion would retaliate for you, but at the same time somewhat... scary. I’m glad I wasn’t part of one.

 

Now, I just had to leave before anyone questioned my performance on this job. I didn’t want to have to explain why I left Pebbles and Buzzer behind to Hellion, or worse, to Sandra.

 

“And just where do you think you’re going?”

“Oh, um, hi Adder.”

 

I hadn’t noticed her among the minions. She walked up to me and poked me in the chest.

 

“What the heck was that?”

“Um, what was what?”

“Lia sent us the early footage of the sidekicks to look over. Couldn’t help but notice the terrible lack of my training you applied to fighting Morph.”

“But he had a power...” (and Ifrit said I couldn’t just stab him).

“So? And that chokehold was pathetic! Poena got up in less than a minute.”

“Well I…” (was sort of malfunctioning at the time).

“Follow me. Obviously I need to teach you a proper sleeper hold.”

“But I was-” (going to do tests with the plant).

“Excuses excuses.”

“But-”

“March!”

 


 

Heroes

 

The conference room for the E13 Hero Department wasn’t exactly “nice” as conference rooms went, but it was practical. The chairs were reinforced, the large table was holding up nicely (despite the many dents in its metallic surface), and a large flat screen t.v. hung on the wall. Normally the t.v. might be displaying the news, but currently it was displaying a video of the fight against Trebla outside the bank. Unlike the usual shaky cell phone or news cam footage Brick was used to watching after a fight, this video was cut together using crisp, high-resolution footage, and edited together by someone with obvious talent for choreographing dramatic action sequences. The result was a thirty-five minute long montage of the villain Trebla holding off four heroes and then dramatically escaping, which the villain had then posted to his goddamn blog.

 

Brick sighed and turned towards the six other people in the room. Magenta, Turbo, the team's liaison Jerry, a man and a woman who were the case handlers for the sidekicks (he should learn their names he supposed), and one public relations official (whos name Brick definitely didn’t care about). He had asked for supers and somehow gotten paperpushers instead.

 

“Jerry, exactly who is this guy again?”

“Well, as you saw in the, um, opening credits, he goes by Trebla the Terrific. He’s a high-profile villain who operates mostly in the southern sectors, but he tends to pop up in other sectors randomly. Central intelligence hasn’t determined any overall goal beyond thrill-seeking.”

“I see. Can I assume this was a one-off then?”

“Er, maybe. Trebla’s general area of operation has been moving steadily east, likely due to the presence of Hellion’s Henchmen. He’s become a frequent client of theirs apparently.”

“Wonderful. So what’s the damage?”

“Well the bank was basically cleaned out. They haven’t determined a total, but it looks like something to the tune of a little under a million dollars stolen, plus whatever it takes to replace the other miscellaneous items like computers. The real concern is the account files, the bank is working to lock down everything affected before Trebla can use it, but the investigation is-”

“Jerry, skip the rest please. What was the casualty report?”

“Oh, some good news there actually: zero casualties. And there were only a few minor injuries, mainly just people who weren’t careful in the rush to leave.”

“I’d hardly call what happened to Morph and Poena minor injuries,” said one of the handlers. Micah, Marrie... Mackenzie? Brick just couldn’t remember her name. “Morph has a concussion, second degree burns, and several lacerations on his arms and legs from where the injuries carried through his power. Poena has a bruised trachea, shattered collarbone, and four broken ribs. All of which could have been prevented if their senior supervisors had stayed with them.”

“The hostages took priority,” replied Magenta.

“And I’m sure a fist fight with Trebla was the best way to go about it.”

Excuse me?”

 

“She has a point,” said the PR official, “You’ve not exactly done much to convince the parole board you aren’t more than a thug on a leash. Not that I blame you, you’re fitting right in. Frankly this team is one more shady member from being a gang anyways.”

Wh-, I, you-

“Hey, up yours buddy!” said Turbo, “Think you can do better be my fucking guest!”

“A powered monkey could do a better job. God knows it would make mine easier.”

“You wanna try it?! I can drop you off in front of Hellion’s in five minutes! See how damn well you do monkey suit!”

 

“Turbo calm it down. And you’re out of line,” said Brick, pointing at the relations official in lieu of a name. He waited a few moments to make sure the arguing wouldn’t start up again.

“Concerning the sidekicks; they’re alive, and that’s what’s important,” continued Brick, addressing the handlers, “We’ll send a request to Central to send a medical super if they can spare one. Morph and Poena can decide from there if they want to continue as capes. I realize this was rather rough as first outings go, but better they come to terms with what they’re facing now rather than later. I’ll have a talk with them about it. As for my team, I agree with their plan of engagement. When a villain like Trebla shows up, and takes as many hostages as he did, it’s an all hands on deck kind of situation. Prioritizing the hostages was the right choice, and leaving the sidekick with the civilians while the hero deals with the villain is standard procedure while mentoring.”

“Still, that whole building was teeming with hostile supers, wouldn’t it have been prudent for at least one of you to have stayed with them?” asked the other handler. The name Collin kept coming to Brick’s mind, but he knew that was wrong.

“Actually, Hellion’s powered minions are composed primarily of mutants,” offered Jerry, “They have super status only because they work as a group, and I sincerely doubt Hellion’s organization actually has more than a handful of real supers among their ranks. With Morph and Poena’s powers there was no reason to think they couldn’t handle it.”

“Still…”

“Man, do you wanna baby them forever?” complained Turbo, “They collared a couple punks and took their licks, move on already.”

As I said, I’ll talk to them when they are feeling up to it,” Brick interjected, before Turbo’s callous tone could spark another argument, “But frankly if Morph and Poena’s injuries are the worst of it then I’d like to move on. We have higher priorities that need to be addressed, starting with-”

“I’m sorry, but I beg to differ,” interrupted the PR official. Brick suppressed a sigh. “While you might not be concerned with recent events, everyone else is, and it’s becoming a PR nightmare. As funny as it might be to watch four professional heroes get tossed around by a circus act, I can assure you no one is laughing.”

 

Brick gestured for Jerry to pass him one of the folders in a stack on the table. The red one.

 

“What is worse is that this business with Trebla only punctuates a growing trend. One that has been building ever since Kandor died and you assumed leadership of the E13 team.”

 

Brick temple twitched at the mention of Kandor, but he opened the folder, and thumbed through to the section he wanted.

 

“Luckily this Trebla business happened in E12, and the liability falls mainly on their shoulders this time, but I have the bank’s lawyers breathing down my neck, and I’m having-”

 

Brick pulled a photo from the red folder, and flicked it across the table so that it landed in front of the official.

 

“-trouble arguing that you all aren’t somehow culpab-, culpa… what? What is...”

 

The photo was of a young woman, or more precisely, what had been a young woman. Multiple red lines crisscrossed her body where metal wires had sliced into her skin, and ultimately killed her. Held taut by the wires her corpse stood (or more exactly hung) in an alleyway, in a macabre parody of a person gesturing for help.

Brick flicked another photo over, this one of a man strung up in a similar web of wires in the same alley.

 

“From what officers at the scene could tell the woman died first, the man sometime after. Likely after noticing the ‘woman in distress’ and naively trying to help, getting him caught in the trap himself. The next person smartly ran first, and called the police after.”

“I-I see. But what does this-”

 

Brick flicked another photo. This one of a mostly eaten human corpse on a rooftop.

 

“An unfortunate victim of the banshee Magenta killed earlier this week.”

 

He flicked another picture: several corpses in a dumpster.

 

“These were found in a dumpster, a day after the banshee attack. Officers thought the bird did it because of the state of the corpses, but autopsy revealed that they were missing key organs, notably livers, bone marrow, fatty tissue, and sections of the brain. The injuries were strange, and the coroner couldn’t match them to any known monster types, so its officially a murder for now, with suspicion of cannibalism.”

 

Another photo; a man with a distinctive neck wound, his corpse a shriveled husk.

 

“This one is obviously a vamp, so I’ve already sent in a request for an extermination crew. I’m also making this one a priority,” said Brick, directing his comment towards Magenta and Turbo, “I’d like to go one summer without an infestation.”

“I-I believe I see your poi-”

“Here’s an interesting art project,” said Brick, ignoring the somewhat green-looking PR official.

 

Yet another picture skimmed over the table. This was perhaps the worst one so far, as this corpse was actually several. Different animal parts had been stitched together to create a chimeric nightmare, one which could only have been more terrifying if it had been alive.

 

Among the various pieces several could be identified as human.

 

The PR official covered his mouth and turned away from the table, breathing slowing as he tried to keep his stomach under control. Turbo snickered half-heartedly at his distress, but everyone around the table was looking pale, minus Brick and Jerry who had already gone over the reports.

 

“I understand your concerns; we haven’t exactly made your job easy,” continued Brick, “But frankly yes, we do have higher priorities. This assortment of homicides share only two common factors: they were all inside E13, and they were all within the last week. You haven’t been with us through an Odd Summer yet. I don’t know how it goes back in the inner sectors, but out here this kind of bodycount is par for the course, and it will only get worse as we get deeper into Odd Summer. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t give two figs about an undoubtedly insured bank. Clear?”

 

The PR official recovered himself somewhat (helped by the fact Jerry gathered up the photos and put them away), but nodded towards Brick in acknowledgement, and held any further comments.

 

“Now, does anyone have any ideas for how to start approaching these murders? I’d like to get ahead of the curve while things are still relatively quiet.”

 

Suggestions were made, one of the best coming from Jerry. One of the two minions to be arrested had been Buzzer, who’s power would be incredibly useful in finding the vampires. The minion’s lawyers were all too willing to make a deal if it included Buzzer and Pebble’s freedom. Brick loathed the idea of just letting them walk, but a vamp nest really did need to be destroyed as soon as possible, before it grew too big and split into new offshoots. They were about to move on to the next case when Jerry’s phone vibrated. He checked it and muttered a quiet curse.

 

“What’s up Jerry.”

“Trebla posted another video to his blog.”

“How does he even... Screw it. Just play it.”

 

Jerry set the video up on the flatscreen. Just like with the first video, an opening title scene announced the contents in an annoyingly loud font.

 

Super Sidekicks VS Mega Minions

 

The case handlers for the sidekicks immediately groaned, while the PR official swore. Turbo zoomed out of the room and returned with snacks, earning him dirty looks from the Central agents. He shrugged; it was fun as long as it wasn’t happening to him.

 

Trebla must have hacked or brought his own newscam drones in order to get some of this footage, as most of it was from outside the building at a distance. Nevertheless, the video quality and editing were top-notch, just like the first had been. It started with one of the Hellion minions sneaking into the room, and Brick felt a chill when he realized the sidekicks had gotten distracted by the fight outside, and neglected to guard the door after beating Pebbles and Buzzer. Damned rookie mistake! The fight wasn’t over til you left the field, and sometimes not even then. Maybe he’d have to get more involved in their training after all.

 

“Hey! That’s the cockroach who broke my leg!” said Turbo around a mouthful of crackers.

“Turbo mind the slurs,” said Jerry automatically. Turbo rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue.

 

Brick focused back on the video, where the minion in question was getting spotted by the branch manager’s lucky (or unlucky) timing. Admittedly the minion’s sneaking had looked somewhat insectile, but it quickly became apparent the minion was a shapeshifter and not a mutant. Likely the same one that slipped away from Magenta; they weren’t exactly common. Things quickly devolved into a typical super brawl, and Brick started noting down things to address with the sidekicks later.

 

The group watched in relative silence, broken up only by quiet gasps as a sidekick took a hit, or Turbo crunching on his annoying snack food. Then Poena got caught, and Brick worried that the real injuries had begun after the fight (some cowl types tended to get vindictive after they won), but Poena surprised him with her attempt to take out the pyro. Unfortunately it went badly, and there were sharp intakes of breath as Morph barely avoided the following blast and went flying through the window. Magenta muttered a curse at that part; she was one of the heroes at the scene who might have saved Morph, but apparently she hadn’t seen it happen.

 

The next surprise was when it was the minion who caught and saved Morph. There were some confused mutters around the table, but that was quickly forgotten when Poena stabbed the shapeshifter. The PR official covered his eyes, and started cussing a storm under his breath.

 

Yeah… Brick didn’t envy his job right now. It had been the right move on Poena’s part; better to put down the threat first and sort out what was going on later, but admittedly it did not look good after that rescue. And dammit, she had been warned about using that spear, it was basically a guaranteed heart attack if-

 

Onscreen, the shapeshifter grabbed Poena, and methodically choked her out while slamming her against the floor; the spear that should have rendered him unconscious at a minimum sticking out of his chest the entire time.

 

The room was silent as the video completed. The minion went into the office for a bit, grabbed the branch manager, and on his way out kicked Poena into the table as she was recovering from unconsciousness (likely the cause of the broken ribs). Then the video even had scrolling end credits. Brick wasn’t sure why, all of the normal roles like editing or special effects were just listed under the name “Lia”, except for the actors who were listed as Poena, Morph, Ifrit, and ???.

 

“Well, that’s a problem,” said Brick, breaking the silence.

“Quite the understatement,” said the PR official, “Obviously Poena and Morph weren’t ready for deployment.”

“Hm? Oh not them. I thought they did rather well actually.”

“Did we watch the same video? What exactly did they do well?”

“Well they did the most important thing right: they didn’t run away. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll need polish, but I’m a lot more interested in keeping them on. Seems you were right about them Jerry.”

 

“Told ya so."

“Heh, don’t celebrate just yet. This still highlights what I was talking about; we’re outnumbered, and Hellion is always hiring. Any chance of an ID on the shifter?” asked Brick.

“Um, actually yes, costume looks familiar. It should be around… aha,” Jerry pulled out a picture of the minion (or at least one wearing a similar costume) sitting in an interrogation room, “He got picked up with a bunch of other perps a couple of days ago. They couldn’t get anything to stick, but they ID’d them all. Apparently he goes by Tofu, around eighteen years old, and he… likes rectangular objects? Interrogator noted he mentioned that a lot.”

 

“So basically we got nothing,” said Turbo, “Info is complete ratshit, no way that is a rookie.” Turbo’s fingers blurred over the controls and the image of ‘Tofu’ choking Poena showed on the screen.

“Maybe his power just makes him immune?” supplied Poena’s handler.

“Maybe. But he kept way too cool considering there were explosions going off in his face. Plus he was giving Ferrosa the rope-a-dope earlier, and he gave Magenta the slip. Mark my words, he’s a pro playing possum.”

 

Brick mulled that over. Turbo might have been exaggerating a bit (probably just mad about his leg), but whoever the shifter was, he was competent. Just their luck, they got two good powers with Morph and Poena, but Hellion matched them immediately with Ifrit and… Tofu.

 

Brick reached over to the controls and skipped the video over to the credits before letting them play.

 

“What’s up Brick?” asked Magenta.

“His name is missing from the credits. Seems a bit odd.”

“Think it means something?”

“Might be. Trebla doesn’t seem like the type to miss a detail, which means it was on purpose.”

“Probably just doesn’t want his name associated with such buffoonery,” muttered the PR official.

 

Brick arched an eyebrow at that, “...That might just be it. Jerry, think you can find me someone with a specific power set? Something a bit more subtle?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Someone who can start digging up dirt on guys like our shifter friend here. Right now we can’t match their manpower, and Hellion’s lawyers throw every trick in the book at us when we try to take players off the board. Time to stop trying to win an arms race; let’s see how they like it when we play dirty.”

 

The meeting continued for a little longer. The handlers eventually leaving to check up on the sidekicks, and the PR official and Jerry left soon after to do damage control and get the ball rolling on Brick’s idea respectively. Magenta and Turbo stayed to go over the video together with Brick again; hashing out plans for engagement as a team was critical.

 

The video reached the part where the shifter was stabbed for the fifth time. There was a chance his power made him immune, but still...

 

“Turbo, Magenta... how long did you last when they were testing Poena’s power?” asked Brick.

“Dark green,” answered Turbo.

“Um, yellow,” said Magenta sheepishly. It made sense, her forcefield meant she didn’t have much experience with injury.

“How far did you make it bossman?” asked Turbo.

 

“Blue.”

 


 

I made it back to my apartment a few hours later. Adder had kept me for a long time to show me multiple methods of non-lethal takedown. I wasn’t sure how a ‘sleeper hold’ would have helped against someone who could shapeshift, but then again, Morph hadn’t shifted his head or torso. Maybe it would have worked?

 

I walked over to the window and sat down, placing the potted plant down next to me along with some of Spikes’s discarded spines. This had been a more troublesome job than I anticipated, but at least I had gotten a lot out of it.

 

First was of course the MRE’s. I’d need to do some testing on how to apply their caloric packing to organic tissue. It would be useful if I could reduce my weight but maintain the same energy storage levels.

 

Second was the discarded spines from Spikes. The composition of the spines was nothing special, but the design was nice. They were actually hollow on the inside, in a way that suggested it was to help keep the spines pointed in the right direction during flight. Kind of like ‘fletching’ on an arrow, except in this case it served the dual purpose of causing anything it impaled to bleed out faster if it hit a good spot. The launching mechanism was harder to understand with only the projectile, but I suspected it used a tendon snap? Winding it too far on purpose, and then letting it snap to provide the launching force. Not as powerful as my slingshot design, but the aforementioned bleedout mechanic was probably the target goal of the weapon. I recorded it for later, I might find a use for it.

 

The last prize was the potted plant. I had already started researching plants on my phone, and I had asked other minions if there was anything I should know about it. Apparently all it needed was water and sunlight for day-to-day maintenance, and an expensive permit from the city that was normally not available to the average civilian. I asked if the permit requirement was because there was some kind of danger from owning a plant, and was glad to be assured that it was just because plants could provide a foothold for animals to survive from. When any animal was a potential disaster it was understandably important to regulate organic activity in the city.

 

Of course, they then told me that Sandra’s legal department could forge a permit for me if I wanted to keep the plant and not pay fees. It seems illegal trafficking of organic organisms was a decent percentage of organized crime. A bit counterproductive to the city’s defensive integrity, but I suppose different factions had different ideas on what was acceptable risk.

 

The other minions had assured me it couldn’t trigger (a few had even laughed when I asked), so I (very carefully) tore a leaf and stem off of the plant before eating it. It was somewhat what I expected after eating the strawberry leaf, although I rolled my eyes at how many rectangular cells there were (probably why the bank deemed it worth having one). Some of this would be useful; the unusual cell walls had structural applications, and its method of gathering energy would certainly be useful. Not as good as eating, but in an emergency it might be useful. So far I hadn’t needed to perform a core dump, but if it happened I might be able to use this ‘photosynthesis’ to recover from it.

 

I sat back and observed the plant. It really just… sat there. That’s all it did, gather nutrients and grow. Relying on the fact that it was not a threat and barely nutritious to keep it safe. It was so different from the other organisms in the city that all struggled for survival. Even the dirt it sat in was soft and brown, filled with nutrients, so unlike the rest of the city which was all cement and metal. The closest I’d found to dirt like that was the sewers, where rat nests or broken pipes sometimes allowed for the build-up of organic waste.

 

It was an organism that survived and nothing else.

 

I could probably survive that way. Sit in an out of the way spot. Photosynthesize.

 

Might be safer than what I was currently doing.

 

Hmm...

 

My phone vibrated. I pulled it out to check the ID and was surprised to find it was Tim calling me. I answered it.

 

“Hello Tim.”

“Hey Tofu. You and Mikey done with work yet? His phone’s off so I can’t reach him.”

“I’m done, but I don’t know if he is.”

“Well find him if you can man. A new VRcade opened at the mall, we gotta try it out.”

“Oh, um, I’ll let Mikey know, but I was actually going to call it a day.” I had to get started on my priority algorithms, and I actually sort of wanted to hibernate as well. Even after deleting the pain memory I’d noticed that my thinking was a bit sluggish; this job had been stressful.

“Aw come onnnnn, live a little.”

“I dunno, I kinda have stuff to do…”

“Pleeeeease? I have an idea for triggers I really want to try. I’ll buy you a cinnabon.

“A cinnabon?”

“Yeah man, or whatever else they have at the foodcourt.”

 

Food what?!

 

“I’m on my way.”

 


 

New Dawn Inc.

 

“Hey Brett? They want you up in meeting room two.”

 

Brett looked up from his computer screen with bleary eyes, “What for?”

 

“Dunno, but I’d get up there soon. Boss said it was priority.”

“It’s always priority.”

“Hey, that’s just what they told me man.”

 

Brett grumbled, and turned to his computer to start locking down his work station. He hated being called away from his work. Not because it was interesting, but because he had to lock down his station every time he so much as went to take a piss. His cubicle was in an open room with dozens of other employees, and despite everyone having had around five background checks, security protocols had to be followed. If he didn’t, his supervisor would give him an unbearably long talking-to about “the importance of maintaining a friendly and safe workplace environment.”

 

He finished locking up and headed for the elevator. At least he was able to deflect the chattier coworkers by saying he had a priority meeting. Damn he hated being in a general office area. Everyone wanted to chat, or gossip, or talk about the weekly report. For the billionth time he cursed Odd Summer for ruining his project. He missed talking to actual scientists, experts in their fields who wanted to actually work on their projects. When Dr. Mason had offered him a spot on his project two years ago, it had seemed like a dream come true, and it had been for a while. A cure for Mutavus. It would change the world for the better if they could crack it, and between Dr. Mason’s knowledge of microbiology and Brett’s tinker power it had seemed in reach.

 

True, the project goal had changed to making an autonomous weapon for New Dawn Inc. once they began footing the bill, but that was a minor hindrance. The weapons company ran a lot of wildlife suppression work out in the wilds past Fortress City’s walls, and on one of the forays had recovered a very unique mutant animal sample. Of course New Dawn’s first idea had been to make a weapon out of it (dull-witted troglodytes!), but trying to weaponize the sample had admittedly advanced Brett’s nanite research by leaps and bounds. There had been drawbacks, namely that the nanites were seen as foreign objects by benedicci, and the two did not play well together, but he had been getting closer and closer towards solving that problem. The prototype had proven unexpectedly helpful in that regard; being able to see how his code affected the nanites' control over cells in real time had been a godsend, and he had started to resent working on the weapon less and less, and see it more as a tool.

 

In the end he had made something that was a true engineering marvel, and not just some gadget or gizmo that would eventually break down the moment its maker moved on or died. He had become quite proud of his work on the prototype, for all it had started a weapon.

 

Until it escaped...

 

It kept Brett up some nights. He had looked over the data dumps hundreds of times since the accident, but hadn’t found any explanation for it’s anomalous behavior. Just the slight uptick of its focus on combat for two weeks or so and then BAM! The stupid cougar triggered, and ruined everything somehow. It was the only explanation he could think of.

 

The elevator dinged as the doors opened, and he got on. On the way up his thoughts were pulled back to the prototype over and over. He had designed the code to allow the prototype to operate autonomously indefinitely, but that was all it had! There was no off button, no deadman switch, no reason to think it would ever just stop without a command to do so, and now it was out there. The only consolation Brett had was that the nanite self-destruct failsafe couldn’t be circumvented, no matter how damaged the core unit became.

 

He still remembered pulling the damaged command receiver from the remains…

 

He trudged out of the elevator and down the hall, to the meeting room where a no-doubt boring lecture or meeting was waiting for him. Maybe this was his divine punishment, sentenced to office trivialities for the sin of not implementing planned obsolescence into a prototype.

 

He stopped before the conference room door and took a deep breath, gathering himself. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad? Maybe they would want to discuss the finer points of molecular kevlar sheathing? Not the report he should have had filled out last Thursday? No, probably not. They’d probably want a report on his report situation. He opened the door.

 

...

 

“Dr. Mason?”

“Hello Brett.”

 

To Brett’s complete surprise Dr. Mason was seated at the conference table in front of him, as well as…

 

“Mr. Savvy! Please, please come in. Have a seat, we have a lot to discuss,” said Mr. Slick. The man was exactly as Brett remembered him. Pressed suit, gelled hair, his laptop open next to him, he might as well have stepped through time.

 

Brett moved to the table in a daze. What was going on? Was the project approved to continue when Odd Summer ended? Was it completely canceled? He took a seat next to Dr. Mason, who smiled and nodded at him. He dared to hope.

 

“Let me start right off with the good news. We found your prototype!” announced Mr. Slick.

 

Brett’s mouth fell open.

 

“Y-y-you did? Oh my god! D-did you recover it? Where has it been?! Was… was anyone hurt? Oh god, it must have right? What happened?!”

“Calm yourself Mr. Savvy. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have good news. We haven’t recovered it yet, but the situation is not at all what we expected, or even could have predicted. Here, I’ve shown Dr. Mason already, but I believe this video can detail what is going on better than words ever could.”

 

Mr Slick adjusted the laptop so Brett could see it better, and then pressed play. Brett wasn’t sure what he had expected. Maybe a frightened news reporter detailing a monster attack, or grainy security camera footage of the prototype killing some poor gas station employee.

 

But this? No. As the footage played he went from confusion, to doubting suspicion, to complete bewilderment. Never in his wildest dreams could he have expected this. The video ended, and Brett looked back and forth between Dr. Mason and Mr. Slick, expecting them to tell him it was an elaborate hoax at his expense. But the confetti and camera crew never appeared.

 

“That… that was the prototype.”

“Indeed it was Mr. Savvy. Seems New Dawn Inc. owes you and Dr. Mason an apology. Obviously the prototype was farther along than we thought.”

“But it wasn’t! I knew its code inside and out. There’s no way it could have progressed this far on its own…,” he turned to Dr. Mason, “...is there?”

“I was hoping you would have the answer to that,” said Dr. Mason, “This isn’t exactly my area of expertise.”

“I don’t believe this is anyone’s area of expertise,” said Mr. Slick, “Which is why New Dawn Inc. is restarting the project, effective immediately. On behalf of New Dawn Inc. I’m offering you both-”

“Restarting the project?” interrupted Brett, “Now? The prototype is still out there! We should be focused on cleaning up this disaster and you want to make another?! And you stopped the project because of Odd Summer to begin with! I’m not sure what exactly I saw in that video, but Odd Summer is definitely involved in this somehow. A new technomancer probably stole it, or tampered with it, or... hell, maybe computers can trigger now for all the fuck I know.

 

“Calm yourself Mr. Savvy,” said Mr. Slick. His tone was ice.

 

Brett’s mouth clicked shut; he suddenly remembered who he was talking to.

 

“...Brett makes a good point Mr. Slick,” said Dr. Mason, “We don’t know exactly what happened, and there could be dangers we aren’t seeing.”

“We already have an example of the worst case scenario Dr. Mason; the super weapon escaped, it was released into the general populace, and the worst thing that happened was that it got itself a job. I’ll admit it’s choice of vocation isn’t ideal, but it’s hardly the murdering monster Mr. Savvy seems to be imagining. The heroes will arrest it just like they do hundreds of other criminals every day, we’ll collect it after the fact, and then the problem is solved.”

“But the risk…” said Brett, less confidently.

“Gentlemen, I understand. You started this project with the intention to cure Mutavus and better the world. New Dawn Inc. agrees that is a worthwhile goal, and if it means securing your cooperation it is willing to finance your research towards a Mutavus cure indefinitely.”

 

Both Brett’s and Mason’s eyes widened at that.

 

But, I believe you are missing the bigger picture. The fact of the matter is you have already achieved the design goal we originally set for you. You’ve created an autonomous weapon, one that can operate unguided, repair itself, grow itself, and adapt to any situation! It can differentiate friend from foe, apply non-lethal force to a target, and it can contend with supers! Can you imagine if we had these helping every hero team in the city? Sweeping the underground tunnels of monsters, performing search and rescues, helping heroes secure dangerous triggers and villains? No more putting the lives of officers in danger, no more waiting for the right power to fall into the hands of the right person. You want to better the world? This is the type of discovery that can do that, it can push back the horrors of Odd Summer, and it all hinges on one simple question:

 

"Can you make more?”

 

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A note from Gogglesbear

So the plant turned out to be a red herring. But this chapter has an easter egg if you can find it Very Happy


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Gogglesbear

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