“No worries,” *BAM* “It doesn’t seem too dangerous,” *BANG* “It’s only the one after all.” *CRASH*
“It sounds like an elephant in a china shop! And it’s doing the macarena!”
“Nicole, believe me, its fine. I know how to deal with rats if I have to.” *WHAM*
“Says the guy who had to be saved from them.”
“There was over forty of them!” *THUD*
The weird multi-armed torso-rat definitely wasn’t the most agile thing around, but it was plenty strong. It must have smelled something it wanted further down the hall, because now it was chasing the entire crowd of civilians in front of it to try and get past them. Whenever it caught up to a person it would grab them with it’s eight arms, sniff them while they screamed, and then throw them angrily to the side. Definitely still hunting mutants.
I was blending in with the panicked crowd, waiting for a good moment to slip away. I had absolutely no interest in getting pulled into a fight right now, not in such a public setting. There would be guards coming to deal with this soon, and even I could predict that the heroes might show for an emergency at the hospital. Being arrested right now was not appealing in the slightest.
The rat grabbed a woman, sniffed her (she screamed), and threw her to the side. The crowd of people was starting to thin a bit as people ran down side corridors or were knocked to the floor, but then a dull roar down one of the intersecting hallways had some of the humans running back into the main crowd. That was bad.
A second stitched-creature appeared from the intersecting corridor, this one with an intact mutant man’s body that had a chitinous carapace, but with a nessie’s neck and a rat’s head. The two joined up and continued chasing the crowd.
Hmm, if I was gauging their behavior correctly…
Yup. A third stitch-creature was flanking the crowd from the next intersection. They might be heavily modified, but the stitch-creatures were still using rat hunting tactics. Both myself and the crowd were being herded.
Idiotic. They were going to herd a bunch of panicked civilians into a constricted space! During Odd Summer! There was well over five thousand people at this hospital, easily enough for at least one to trigger. Some more level-headed people in the crowd were trying to keep things under control, keeping others from being trampled and so forth, but it was only a matter of time before someone got truly hurt, and then the real panic would set in. Considering the circumstances, there was a good chance any resulting trigger would be a violent one. I didn’t want to be around for that.
“Hey Nicole? I’m gonna have to call you back.”
“What!? A-alright, but call me back when you’re safe!”
I hung up the phone, resolving to alter my version of events a bit when I retold them to her later. There was absolutely no way I was letting Nicole know I got herded by rats a second time.
Let’s see, I had to make this look as normal as possible and get it done quick. The best thing would be to get something large and heavy to bludgeon the rats with. Avoid making them bleed, humans panic at the sight of blood.
I spotted a fire suppression canister in a case embedded into the wall. Shoving my way past a few running people, I grabbed the tab on the case that said “LIFT HERE” and wrenched the lid off. Then I grabbed the canister. It wasn’t as heavy as I would have liked, but it was solid, and if Mikey’s horror movies were any indication, bashing something’s brains in with a fire suppression canister was common enough to not panic the crowd.
I slowed down and let people run past me. The two stitched-creatures approached, and I angled for the one with the long neck. Just a bit further…
The stitched-creature came in range and I swung the canister at its head. The metal canister slammed into the underside of the long-necked creature’s chin, throwing its head up in a wide arch and breaking its jaw. The head flopped backwards over its own shoulder, and a moment later the rest of the creature followed, toppling onto the floor. It didn’t try to get up.
Huh. That was easier than expected.
The eight-armed creature blinked in confusion at the sudden absence of its partner, before attempting another hiss-bellow and swinging its arms at me. I ducked underneath the first swing, but with eight arms it was able to land hits through sheer numbers. I couldn’t dodge all of them while appearing human, and eventually three of its arms grabbed my sides. It attempted to lift me up and throw me…
...and failed. I was simply too heavy for it, and with an entire eight-armed torso crudely grafted to the front of a rat body, its center of balance was terribly placed for heavy lifting. Its hindquarters lifted off the ground before I did, and I used its resulting moment of confusion to slam it in the face with the canister. Once, twice, and then it roughly shoved me away to spare itself more head trauma.
The rat thing covered its head with its arms, trying to get its bearings, before suddenly flailing and roaring. I was about to step in for another attempt when a shoe flew over my shoulder and bounced off the rat-creature’s torso. It didn’t do any damage, but the rat paused to watch the boot hit the floor.
I turned to find that several humans had started to grab anything they could to arm themselves. Boxes, medical equipment, the one human who took off her boots and had already thrown the first. One especially large man had dumped the medicine off a metal trolley, and was lifting the whole thing over his head to brace it for use as a bludgeoning object. This human ran forward and slammed the trolley onto the rat, unbalancing both of them. While he recovered, other humans began throwing their objects, or directly hit the rat with their makeshift weapons if they were feeling brave.
The third rat-creature that had tried to flank the crowd wasn’t doing any better. The humans near it had also gathered weapons (one had somehow found a metal baseball bat), and proceeded to beat it to death in short order. That one hadn’t had any real protective enhancements, and didn’t last nearly as long as the eight-armed rat.
Very interesting behavior from the humans. I did not expect them to turn on the rat-creatures in such a manner. Most civilians I encountered always ran, and I had assumed it their default behavior in dangerous situations. My successful attack on the rat-creatures must have galvanized the crowd into going on the offensive. Indeed, the rat-creatures didn’t really have any weapons beyond physical strength, and it wasn’t like three rat-creatures outnumbered such a large crowd. It had only taken a visual example of seeing one human prevail to make the group realize an alternate (and better) method of survival existed. I’d definitely have to remember this tactic for next time.
The crowd slowly started to filter back towards the exits, some of them clutching their weapons while checking around corners, others helping those who had trouble walking due to injury or just frayed nerves. A few of the more proactive humans did that weird ritual where they hit my shoulder, and congratulated me on my martial prowess, or on the size of my ‘testicles’ (I’d never even bothered forming them, a waste of resources). Confusing.
As the crowd walked out I passed by the corpse of the third rat-creature. It had been more or less pulped, nothing more than a red pile of meat with no real features. Technically the rat-creatures were much stronger than any one human, even most mutants, but the combined might of the human crowd hadn’t been a force the rat-creature could overcome. A good reminder of the lesson I learned with the yellow-fur. There was a reason ‘weak’ humans were at the apex of this world.
Yes, I’d definitely have to remember this tactic. How brutally effective it was, and how quickly they turned on a monster.
Escaping the hospital hadn’t been difficult after the crowd killed the rat-creature. The guards had managed to subdue a decent number of the ones they came across, and when Turbo arrived at the scene he searched the hospital and ended the last few pockets of fighting in short order. Brilla was forced to move the van long before he came, due to some of the rat-creatures trying to get at Gregor, so at the very least they weren’t at the scene when the hero arrived. I on the other hand, got stuck in the police debriefing afterwards.
I answered some innocuous questions about events inside, and assured a harried EMT that I was fine before they left me alone. In the crowd of civilians and police, I gleaned whatever information I could from the questions police and medical personnel asked, as well as the ‘chatter’ over their radios.
Twenty-five people missing, two critically injured and mutating, and one man dead after he tried to protect his young mutant daughter from a rat-creature. The rat-creatures had arrived using sewer tunnels around the hospital, and had broken a hole in the floor of the morgue to facilitate their escape with their ‘cargo’ (a shame I couldn’t follow, but Nicole would never have been able to reach the tunnels under the hospital in time to escort me).
All things considered, it wasn’t the worst outcome. No triggers had occurred, and the rat-creatures hadn’t been able to break into the mutavus treatment ward because of the already higher than normal security. My biggest problem was that I needed to call a taxi in order to get to the mall and buy cinnabons. The other minions couldn’t risk staying with the hero around, so they had left after confirming I was fine.
After a brief stop at the mall, I arrived at Manchineel St. and paid the taxi driver. Then I climbed down the sewer entrance with my bag of cinnabons, making sure to dodge Mr. Chonker’s half-hearted lunge and bonk him once. Eventually he’d learn to stop. Then I was almost running around the bend to get to Nicole’s. I was terribly late for our established meeting time, by a whole hour and thirteen minutes.
Up ahead I spotted Nicole. I had called her after I left the hospital and let her know that I was safe. She had been worried about still going on our outing after what had just happened, but I assured her that I wasn’t at all tired from the ordeal, and, in fact, was more eager than ever to begin exploring the tunnels.
“Hey Nicole, sorry I’m late, but I brought the cinnabons. I made sure to get more than one like you asked,” I handed the bag of cinnabons to one of her smaller mandible claws.
Several of her eyes blinked, “You just got attacked by Frankenstein rat monsters and you’re worried about cinnabons? Are you sure you didn’t get hit on the head?”
“It was only a glancing blow. I’m fine I assure you.”
“A-are you joking?”
I heard mumbling coming from Nicole’s den. It sounded like she was talking to herself. Human’s did that sometimes, although I hadn’t quite figured out why.
“So are you ready to go Nicole?”
One of her claws clacked, and she fell into silence. She was avoiding looking at me again. The silence stretched onwards.
“Is something wrong Nicole?”
“...um. It’s just… well…”
“I’m sorry the cinnabons aren’t warm, but they didn’t have a container to keep the heat in.”
“It’s not the cinnabons!” she said. Then she let out a big sigh, “It’s just that… I don’t like people looking at me...”
Confusion. She hadn’t seemed bothered by it up until now.
“Oh. Then have I offended you?”
“Cause I’ve been looking at you when we talk.”
“That’s not what I meant!” she yelled. I waited while she gathered her thoughts.
“Tofu, you’re the only person I’ve met in years that doesn’t look at me in terror.”
Well, that wasn’t quite true (I was rather terrified when I first met her) but I decided to remain silent about that.
“I don’t want that to change…” she trailed off.
Well, that wouldn’t be a problem. While I didn’t have complete control of my emotions, I did have complete and utter control of my facial expressions. If she needed for that to not happen, then I could do that.
“I promise that will never happen Nicole.”
Her eyes finally focused back on me, but she didn’t say anything.
“...Do you want to call it off?” I asked. I really hoped she didn’t decide to call it off.
And then she began to exit her den.
The first ‘segment’ of Nicole’s body was her head. It was reminiscent of a scorpion’s head, but heavily armored, and her eight eyes were placed in a semicircle along the top half of her skull. The first two eyes faced forward, and were the most like a human’s eyes; they had pupils, but the coloration was still uniformly dull gray to match her carapace, no visible iris. From there, a second pair was placed to either side of the first, this pair with no visible pupils. Next was a third pair that had strange pupils with an almost crosshair-like structure, and finally on either side of her head were the biggest pair, which were fully compound eyes. I recognized the compund structure from my research into insects and scorpions. All the eyes besides the large compound ones could blink, and rotate independently in their sockets.
I would have loved to know how her brain coordinated all the different visual inputs. I still had trouble with more than four eyes, let alone using differing designs. Mutavus had created a truly elegant design here.
The bottom half of her face was taken up by her mouth. The top half was part of her skull like with a human’s, but the lower ‘mandible’ could split in two, and was formed by a modified set of pedipalps. Both pedipalps were tipped by small, claw-like ‘hands’, composed of three ‘fingers’. Although stubby, I had seen her deftly manipulate a smartphone screen with those fingers, as well as rip a rat’s head off with them when it came too close to her face.
Oh, and her mouth could spit acid. An important detail.
The second segment of her body was where her main claws were attached. Both claws were large and armored, and while not truly sharp, were easily strong enough to shear a medium sized rat’s body in half without effort. Together, the two claws were large enough to block half a sewer tunnel by themselves. It was almost like she was wielding two vault doors instead of claws. Impressive considering the rather thin ‘arms’ they were attached to.
Past her claws the segments became rather uniform. Each sported a pair of multi-jointed legs that stuck out from the sides, and ended in a two-clawed ‘foot’. The joints themselves were odd, being a mishmash of human bone and arachnid exoskeleton, which resulted in a combination of ball-socket joints, and reversible joints that could easily change direction. The resulting legs looked almost too thin to support her weight, but mutavus had obviously found a way, as she practically glided out of her den, completely silent. Likely she’d be comfortable walking or crawling through a tunnel even if she had to do it upside-down or backwards.
All counted, there were twelve leg segments, which gave her twenty-four legs, and plenty of weight, and muscle, and leverage to easily handle her claw-heavy front end. I estimated that her total weight was actually around twenty-five tons, a bit higher than my previous estimate (although I would never tell her that, humans apparently found it rude).
And then came the tail. Here, mutavus had outdone itself. I could see the perfection in its design. For about twenty feet past the last segment, extended a tail made from (if I was interpreting this right) braided cables of muscle. The outermost layer of muscles were like overlapping ribbons, and seemed to be made out of a flexible carapace composite (how?!), but when the tail flexed and coiled, I could see hints of the stronger cable muscles beneath. They likely extended all the way through her body, acting as an anchor for her muscular system in place of a spine. If I was right, this was how Nicole was strong enough to wield two giant claws like knives, and how such thin legs could support her weight. Mutavus had created some kind of hyper-strong, flexible muscle tissue! Envy!
Compared to all that, Nicole’s core unit was somewhat… disappointing.
It was attached to the end of her tail, and looked entirely like the upper half of a normal human. One head with the normal accompaniment of sensory organs (straight hair tied back in a ponytail), and two arms with one hand each (five fingers). I assumed the rest of her torso was also in order, but I couldn’t see it since she was wearing a black t-shirt, as well as well-used, heavy-duty overalls that ended in a many-pocketed ‘skirt’ around her waist (filled with tools I noted). The only abnormalities were her tail that connected to her lower body somewhere under her skirt, and the fact that her pigmentation was uniformly dark gray to match the rest of her carapace, even her eyes, nails, and hair. If it weren’t for that she might have been any other young human woman. Her human torso didn’t have any extra carapace, or scales, or claws, or spines, or anything else I could see. Too bad, but the parts that had mutated more than made up for that weakness. At least now I knew for certain why she always saved food “for later.” Her acid-spitting mouth probably didn’t have taste buds, and that was one of the best parts about eating.
Nicole had a duffel bag hanging over one shoulder, and she nervously fiddled with the tools in her skirt pockets despite the fact I could see they were all arranged neatly. She kept glancing at me and then back at her tools, before finally saying, “Well?”
The tension drained out of her posture (if having her core unit exposed made her that nervous I’d need to get her some armor. I knew I always felt better when my core was in my helmet).
She made a nervous chuckle, and then smiled.
“Let’s get going.”
“I dunno Abe. This looks sketchy as fuck,” said Blake. He stared down into the lightless hole in the floor and spat.
“It is. But we’ve got a detailed description of what we’re hunting, and over two dozen son’s of bitches who need help and fast. Clock’s ticking.”
“So why don’t they get a fucking cape in here. We’re pest control, not caped crusaders.”
“The only guy who could’ve had to leave. Some situation up north.”
“Pah, bullshit. Just doesn’t want to risk his own hide.”
“Maybe, or maybe there really was another emergency. Whole sector’s only got three capes, they’re stretched thin.”
“Three? Fuck. I hate working east sectors.”
“Everyone does, but look on the bright side, we’re getting paid double plus a bounty on each civi we rescue and rat we bag.”
“Can’t spend money if we’re dead,” said Blake. He spat another loogie down the hole and frowned when he couldn’t hear a splat.
“We’re also authorized to use the big guns.”
Blake turned away from his staring contest with the abyss and raised a questioning brow at Abe.
“Yup. Guess the sector mayor or some other big-wig wants this shit dealt with. They even offered to restock all the ammo we use.”
“Well shit Abe. Why didn’t you just say so? Let’s bag us some rats!”
The two men turned away from the hole in the floor of the morgue, and headed for one of the loading docks where the hospital received deliveries. Two vans and a large semi-truck were rolling in, all of them with the company's logo emblazoned across their side; the silhouette of a vampire, with a red circle and slash “No” symbol covering it.
The vans unloaded six people each, and including the drivers and support crew, that brought the group assembled here to twenty people. Abe and Blake had started as a small, two-man squad after leaving the service, and they had slowly grown their company into one of the better respected (read: expensive) extermination crews in the city, despite their small size. Vampires, banshees, illegal pets that had triggered and grown to monstrous size, you name it they had hunted it. Frankenstein rats was a new one for them though, so they had called everyone in.
“Yo boss, what’s the big hullabaloo? I thought we were hunting vampires?” said one of the new arrivals.
“New plan,” said Abe, “Some asshole has been making Frankenstein monsters out of rats, kidnapped a bunch of people and then fled into the sewer. We’re being paid for each civi we get back and each monster we put down.”
There were surprised stares and worried murmurs at that. Rescuing kidnap victims? From a villain? That was a job for heroes, or maybe the police.
“Calm your tits,” growled Blake, with a sly grin on his face, “we get to break out the bolters.”
“And the client’s picking up the ammo tab.”
At that proclamation there were some cheers. They got to use the bolters? Then the job was as good as done, they just needed to save a few civi’s from overgrown rat monsters and collect their check at the end. Probably get a damn medal for it too, please and thank you.
The back of the semi-truck was opened up, and reinforced cases full of equipment were pulled out, including the two large crates with the warning labels (not because of the contents, but because if you touched them without permission Blake would rip you a new one). The hunters that opened them did so almost reverently, revealing the contents that were sacred to anyone who had ever been on the wrong end of too many claws and fangs.
“Kruger370 automatic, smooth-lock, portable hand-held heavy-bolters. Delivered straight to our unworthy hands from heaven’s very own gun assembly line, also known as New Dawn Inc’s factory number seven.”
There were four bolters total. Not enough for everyone who’d be going down into the tunnels, but enough to ventilate anything that challenged the group four times over. The portable version of heavy bolters could only use lightning rounds, but that was all you really needed. Designed to penetrate armor and lodge in flesh, the rounds were charged by the gun, and would discharge their payload to burn deep, a necessity when the vast majority of triggered animals wound up with regeneration as a power (the guns also had a stun setting, but who the hell ever used that). The only problem with them was the possibility of stray rounds, which put bolters under even heavier restrictions than normal weaponry. A single round wouldn’t always kill unless it hit the right spot (but it would put them down, New Dawn Inc. guarantee*), and the mutations that occured due to a lightning round wound… well, they tended to be nasty.
“Alright gather round you punks,” yelled Blake, as people finished gearing up, “Time to see what you’re working with.”
Abe waited for the group to assemble, and then pulled the tarp off a pile in the dock to reveal the body of one of the stitch-creatures that had assaulted the hospital. Several people recoiled at the sight of it, and expletives were used liberally.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s big and ugly, but that’s about it. No special abilities or powers to worry about, and they’re none too bright either. Most of the ones they put down were beaten to death by hospital guards, so a few bullets or a bolt will put them down right quick. One of the head doctors did a look-over, and it’s likely that the super responsible is a puppeteer, not a tinker, so all we gotta do is pop them and the whole circus goes with them. Oh, and remember to check your lines of fire, all the kidnap victims were mutants. Even if they don’t have armbands: check first! I don’t need to lose a several thousand dollar bonus because ya’ll were trigger happy.”
The group set about making final preparations for the rescue mission. There were communications to set up, and they needed to make sure the hole was a viable access point. Some of the hunters were already done gearing up, and were gathered around the corpse. Partly to discuss tactics to use against other stitch-creatures, but mostly just to prod at it and talk shit.
“So the poor blokes got stapled to a rat. Ain’t that the shit.”
“Man, have some respect.”
“How many of em do you think there are?”
“Don’t really matter. Tight corridors, four bolters? There could be a hundred and we’d be fine.”
One of the newer hunters, a guy named Tidus, nervously toed the corpse with his boot, “Are all of these parts mutant? Some of it looks off, besides the rat I mean."
“Might be some alligator mixed in, it is a sewer after all,” said an older member of the group. Some of the group members chuckled. “Hey, I’m not kidding. There was that one guy with the green ooze downtown. They caught him dumping gator babies and turtles n’ shit into a sewer with the stuff. Took a week to hunt it all down.”
“So you’ve been in the tunnels before?” asked Tidus.
“I have indeed,” said the veteran hunter, “Once back in S3 with the aforementioned gator babies, another time in N6 with a rogue vampire.”
“What are the tunnels like? I’ve heard stories.”
“Bah. Course you have, I just told you ‘bout the gator babies. Mostly they’re just smelly. Trust me kid, we might run into some vampires or a gator or whatever, but that’s what we got the bolters for. Besides these ugly beasties,” he kicked the corpse, “the worst we’ll see is some big rats.”
“Stay close, the rats are the least of our worries down here… not that close!”
She shoved Tofu to the side, and then immediately remembered that wasn’t exactly socially appropriate. He hadn’t actually been too close, but her personal bubble had grown over the last three years since she mutated, and her social skills were pretty rusty. Luckily, Tofu remained unfazed as ever, and ignored her social faux pas.
“I’ve been meaning to ask about that,” said Tofu, “Everyone keeps telling me that the tunnels are dangerous, but the only dangerous thing I’ve encountered are rats.”
“That’s because you’ve spent most of your time in the sewers, they’re the safest part. The section between us and the surface is dangerous because that’s where all the understructure for the city is, and below us is dangerous because that’s where all the organic life hides.”
“That’s where the rats come from?”
“No, they’re scavengers. They nest near the surface so they can raid it for garbage. They’re basically the bottom of the food chain down here, the only thing lower is the nessies.”
“Ah. Can you tell me more about some of the animals we could encounter?”
“Oh sure. Let’s see… there’s crickets, spiders, cheepers, sligs, crocs, one time I actually found an octopus, um, will-o-wisps, those you really need to be careful for, as well as vampires, grue, click-slithers….”
“Ho~ly shit that is a big rat.”
“Understatement of the goddamn year. Thank god for bolters.”
The hunters were gathered around the corpse of an absolutely massive rat they had just downed. It was large and white and just about the size of a tank, with incisors like swords. It had damn near cracked the ceiling with its head when they loaded it with lightning rounds.
“I don’t see any stitch marks,” said one of the hunters, “think this is a Frankenstein special?”
“Gotta be. I’ve seen bigass packrats before, but that’s just ridiculo- look out!”
The hunter who cried the warning suddenly pulled the man next to him aside. Sticking out of the water where the man had been standing was the head of a snake that could have given Chthulu a run for its money, tentacles lining a razormaw of teeth. The hunter’s gun came up, and he fired a burst into the thing’s face.
The thing squealed and started thrashing, and suddenly it became apparent that the ‘snake’ was attached to a larger body in the water. Blake came forward with one of the bolters, and sank some lightning rounds into the thing to finish it off. Only when it finally died did they dare to drag it out of the water.
“Fuck, it’s like someone stapled a snake to a croc and then put my ex’s head on it.”
“You let that suck your-”
“Hey fuck you.”
“Shut it. Both of you,” said Blake, “We’ve wasted enough time as it is. Let’s get moving.”
They formed up and continued on, with Blake taking point and keeping a watchful eye on the pace. The dark and the risk of ambush was getting to some of the hunters, mostly the newbies, but Abe didn’t like it either. Admittedly he had expected an easier trail to follow, but apparently the super responsible for the monsters saw fit to let them operate autonomously. There weren’t any lights or equipment that might have indicated the attack on the hospital was planned from close by. The monsters were just dragging their victims through the sewer however far it took to get to their destination.
He gave one last look at the weird snake/croc monster that had tried to ambush them.
At least they were going in the right direction.
“One sec, just need to wrench this lever and stop the flow for a bit,” said Nicole.
The lever in question was attached to the water main that serviced Manchineel St. and the surrounding blocks. Technically it was an emergency shut-off valve, but Nicole had jury rigged it to be an on/off switch. With the water stopped she could make small improvements to the pipes before turning it on again. We were trying to add a small spout to the pipe that would shoot water down a side tunnel, and make a current for the nessies.
Nicole grabbed the lever with her (human) hands and pulled. The lever must have been stuck, because she had to strain to get it to move, which caused the muscles in her forearms to stand out. That was when I saw another little mutavus improvement; when the muscles in her arms strained, they bunched up, coiling around themselves and creating squiggly patterns under her skin. Seems her human half was not as unmodified as I thought. Mutavus had changed the muscles internally to provide strength while leaving her appearance of a younger woman unchanged. A clever deception, I wondered how many enemies had targeted her core only to find it was not as vulnerable as it seemed.
Unfortunately, she noticed I was watching and her hands slipped. The recoil nearly bashed her head against the wall.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Just, keep a lookout or something yeah?”
I’d noticed similar behavior several times, normally associated with any indication I was paying too much attention to her. At first I thought it fear that her vulnerable core was being analyzed for weakness, but this seemed to be a more human, psychological problem. She was afraid that I would be afraid of her, which frankly made no sense to me. Perhaps some malfunction of her emotions? I could empathise.
Once Nicole had the water shut off, I carved a hole in the pipe. The remaining water shot out under pressure, but eventually lessened enough to allow me to stick the sawed-off pipe piece into the hole, and aim it in the direction Nicole needed. Then I took a tube of sealant and made sure the pipe piece was cemented in place, using my fingers to make sure the sealant reached all the right places. Technically you weren’t supposed to touch the stuff directly, since it would fuse your fingers together, but that wasn’t a problem for me.
Once I was done, Nicole turned the water back on, and a stream of water shot out of the newly made spigot. It flew down the tunnel and into the canal flowing down the center. I didn’t notice a big change in the water flow, but Nicole assured me she had it mapped out.
“It only needs a little bit in a few different places."
“And the city won’t send someone to fix it?”
“Not if I'm planning this right. Maybe if we were closer to Central they’d catch it, but it’s a bit more lax out here.”
“I’d think they would want to keep a better eye on the areas near the wall.”
“You’d think. But tons of stuff slips through the cracks.”
“It definitely gets that way sometimes. Just remember to not go any deeper than the sewers, don’t touch anything that looks like a gizmo if you don’t know what you’re doing… oh, and don’t follow any lights.”
They’d run into another of the snake things, as well as a few normal (but still large) rats when they explored a tunnel that had been dug into the side of the sewer. They had been starting to worry that they’d lost the trail when they found the tunnel, which led to an older maintenance shaft that was a floor lower than the sewer. The lights no longer worked, but there were pipes all over the walls that they could follow.
“Lights up ahead,” called out a hunter in front. Something was sparking in the darkness of the tunnel, looking a bit like a downed power line.
They approached the source, which turned out to indeed be a downed power line. It was wrapped around a metal pipe that it was sparking against. Unfortunately it meant that they couldn’t continue forward following the pipes. The tunnel was too narrow, and they didn’t want to accidentally electrocute themselves somehow. There was more than one wire hanging down from the ceiling.
“Turn it around, we’ll have to try and find a side tunnel to bypass this one.”
The troop of hunters about-faced, but as luck would have it, another thick cable fell from the ceiling right in the middle of the group. It slammed into the side of one man’s shoulder, knocking him to the floor.
“Holy shit! Jeffery! Jeffrey are you alright? Someone get the medkit!”
“I’m fine! I’m fine, it wasn’t live,” said Jeffrey.
“Jesus don’t scare us like that man,” said the man who had yelled. He reached down to help Jeffrey up, when the cable that had smacked Jeffrey suddenly twitched and slammed Jeffrey’s would-be helper in the face, knocking him back.
“Fock! The ell? I tink my nose is broken,” said the man, clutching his bloody nose.
Several hunters aimed their guns up to shine light at the offending cable. And up. And up…
Those weren’t cables. The one that had smacked the hunters was attached to some kind of rock looking thing, and there was more than one of them. As they watched, the cable slowly drew back up into it…
“Uh. Maybe we should-”
...and swiftly flew back out, attempting to slam into Jeffrey again. One hunter fired his gun at the offending rock-thing.
He really shouldn’t have.
“Ooh! Stand back Tofu, they pack a mean punch.”
The creatures in question were attached to a wall, and had lashed out at Nicole when her arachnid half moved past and disturbed them. Her large claw took the hits without problem, and she began to scrape them off the wall with the other while they continued to pummel her.
“What are they?” asked Tofu.
“Barnacles. Well, technically I think they’re some kind of clam,” answered Nicole, “I love these things, but they’re kinda rare. They eat whatever they can catch, mostly rats, but they can’t move; they tend to starve after the rats figure out to avoid them.”
“That seems like a bad survival tactic.”
“Hey, I won’t complain. These things are delicious even if you eat them raw.”
Nicole’s brain caught up to what she’d just said. Tofu already knew she couldn’t taste with her arachnid mouth, they’d talked about it when they had snacked on the cinnabons earlier. She’d basically just admitted to eating raw sewer clams. Sure, that had been well before she’d finished mutating, and it had been necessary, but still!
“Can I try one?”
Tofu had of course completely ignored Nicole’s embarrassment, and had approached the pile of dying clams.
“Can I have one? I’ve never tried these before.”
“Uh, if you want? I have a hot plate with me we could cook them on.”
Tofu grabbed one of the ones that were no longer struggling, and quickly wrenched the shell open. Then he grabbed a handful of the meat and tore it out, before taking a big ol’ bite and eating it. He chewed. He swallowed.
“You’re right Nicole, these are good. Do you mind if I eat a few more?”
“Um. No, go ahead… but pass me one.”
No way am I going to be the squemish one.
“Fuck. FUCK! What the hell were those!”
“Calm it down Henrick, they’re dead now,” said Abe.
The ceiling of the tunnel they were in had come alive with those tongue-things. The bolters had killed them readily enough, but they had needed to make a run for it. The group was banged up, but other than Lebowitz’s broken nose the only real injury was their pride.
“Theo is missing!”
“I don’t see Donald either.”
“Did anyone see them get snatched?”
A head count was performed, and it turned out that a good third of the group hadn’t come out. No one had seen anyone get snatched, and the bolters had torn up the ceiling with the snatchers something fierce, so it was unlikely that anyone got killed. Blake was also missing, and Abe didn’t believe for a second that those tongue monsters had managed to put a tough bastard like Blake down. More than likely they had gone down the wrong side passage in their flight from the tunnel, which was the reason the group hadn’t split up to track the kidnap victims from the get-go. E13’s sewer was like swiss cheese; the blueprints they had brought with them were almost completely useless.
“Alright here’s the deal. We’re gonna do some light recon in the surrounding tunnels. If we run into Blake’s group we’ll continue on, otherwise we’re heading back topside. Standard proceedure.”
The group picked itself up, and backtracked a bit before heading down the first side tunnel they could find. Hopefully they'd run into Blake’s group, and this little snafu would be just another funny story.
“This side tunnel leads to a storm drain,” said Nicole.
“How can you tell?” asked Tofu.
“When it rains this one always leaks,” she replied.
Tofu took a picture with his phone while Nicole stifled a giggle. I feel like a tour guide.
They continued down the rocky pathway they had been following. This path wasn’t part of the sewers; it was a fracture in the cement structure below the subway system that the city had somehow never found. Nicole had cleared out the spiders, and used it to bypass the subway system whenever she went north.
“What is this pipe for?” asked Tofu, pointing at a large rectangular pipe that spanned the crevice higher up.
“That, believe it or not, is one of the secret entrances to Hellion’s lair!”
“Ah. One of the elevators.”
Aww, I expected more of a reaction than that… wait.
“How’d you know she uses elevators?”
“...There’s rumors. Tim talks about hero stuff a lot.”
“Ah… ever think about becoming a hero? Your power is perfect for it.”
“Definitely not. Way too dangerous. I work in a warehouse.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing Tofu, nothing.”
Heh. “Too dangerous.” As if he wasn’t in the tunnels trying to rescue people. Seriously Tofu, learn to lie better.
Blake had had better days. The good news was that he'd found one of the stitch-creatures. Had the stitches and everything.
“Fuck. You!” Blake swung as he yelled, placing a fist squarely in the gut of a humanoid monster with the face of a rat.
The bad news was he’d lost his goddamn bolter.
“Argh!” The rat creature bent, and bit his arm. He used his other hand to stab his thumb into its eye, forcing it to let go.
Blake had been with a few other hunters who had gotten lost after the tongue monster incident. They’d been ambushed by a pack of stitch creatures from the side, and unfortunately Blake had been knocked into the smelly canal running down the middle. The rat creature in front of him had fallen in with him, and the two had been swept away as they struggled to kill each other. That’s when he lost his bolter.
“Just go down you son of a bitch! I ain’t dying to some stupid freak-rat!”
He kept his fists up. Trying to close in on the thing was proving to be difficult. It had claws on its ‘hands’ that were sharp enough to cut, let alone the teeth. If (When!) he got out of this, he was buying one of those hoity-toity waterproof pistols Donald was always going on about.
He waited for openings in the rat creature’s guard, and swung when he could do so without opening up his own defense. The biggest problem was the footing; they were both standing in ankle-deep water, and soaked boots did not outmatch clawed feet when it came to wet and slippery cement. Even the minor current threatened to drag him off his feet with one careless boot placement.
He could do this though. The creature sucked at fisticuffs, unused to fighting with its own mutilated body. He kept pounding at it, and it looked like it would run out of steam before he did. He wound up to deal a heavy blow at its exposed chin… and then leaped instead, dodging the thing’s whiplike tail that had been sneaking under the water. He cleared the tail, and managed to weakly punch the creature’s face besides, but he landed too heavily on the slippery floor, breaking his stance.
The creature kicked forward, shockingly fast (it had been playing possum!), and hit home on Blake’s exposed knee, shattering it.
“ARGHHH!” screamed Blake, falling sideways into the filthy water. He resisted the urge to clutch at his broken knee, and tried to scoot himself back as fast as possible with his hands and one good leg, an almost impossible task given the slippery surface.
The rat creature advanced on him, taking its time. It knew it had him. Seems they weren’t all quite as dull as they appeared.
The rat-thing reached him and raised a clawed foot. It was going to break his other leg. It didn’t need to, it had him dead to rights anyway, but it seemed whatever malevolent intelligence remained behind those black eyes wanted to toy with him.
Blake braced for the blow-
*BAM BAM BAM*
-and flinched at the sound of semi-automatic fire echoing through the dark tunnel. The rat-thing he had been fighting fell backwards into the water, sporting some new holes.
“Shit that was close! Are you alright?!”
“Tidus? Tidus thank God,” said Blake, nearly flopping deeper into the water in his relief.
“Goddamn that was lucky. Didn’t think I’d catch up.”
Tidus grabbed Blake’s hand, but when they tried to haul him up Blake screamed and he fell, the broken knee was too much. Another one of the hunters caught up, and together he and Tidus finally managed to get Blake to the walkway, where they began the painful process of setting the leg with a splint.
“What happened to,” argh, “the others. Did they make it?” asked Blake.
Tidus frowned, “Most of them. We hit a sewer entrance a ways back, they… they just fucking left.”
“Heh, that’s cause they’re smart,” chuckled Blake darkly. “Not that I don’t appreciate the rescue.”
“Listen. People die in this business. It happens. Knowing when to cut your losses is important. I had the only bolter in our group, and I fucking lost that in the shit-water. We’re heading for that manhole you mentioned and we are getting the fuck out. Abe will be doing similar with his group. Obviously we weren’t as prepared as we thought we were.”
Blake heaved himself to one foot with the help of the two other hunters.
“Now,” agh, “Let’s get the fuck out of this hellhole.”
This place was great! There was so much food to eat!
Nicole and I had run into multiple organisms in the darkness of the tunnels just under the sewers.
Cheepers, which turned out to be small little swarmers that looked like fanged mouths with small legs. They couldn’t jump at all, and eating them was as simple as picking them up and chowing down as the others uselessly gnawed at your legs (exoskeletal modifications required).
A slig, which turned out to be a giant ‘slug’ that spat acid (Nicole’s acid was better, and melted its face off), and was especially delicious once cooked on Nicole’s hotplate. Almost like bacon, but thicker.
A grue, which was a terribly misshapen humanoid with far more teeth than was beneficial. How the thing managed to eat with its mouth jammed with teeth I didn’t know, but even with its bent and malformed limbs it was admittedly strong enough that Nicole had to beat it against the floor a few times to kill it. That one didn’t taste good at all (bony, bitter, and gamey), and Nicole had to melt most of it down before she could eat the rest.
I was starting to see how so many animals hadn’t been causing more problems for the sector. Nicole was the apex predator of the sewers, and probably consumed several tons a week in order to keep up with her metabolism. It was almost tempting to try this lifestyle myself, but Nicole soon demonstrated why that was a bad idea.
We were walking past a tunnel when some lights caught my attention. They were soft and blue in color, lightly floating above the water.
“Hey Nicole, what’s that?”
She gasped and froze. I took her cue and froze as well.
After a few seconds went by, she whispered, “Tofu. Very slowly, and very quietly, keep walking. Don’t step in the water.”
I had been on the walkway when I noticed the lights, but I took a cautious few steps away from the water before continuing on. Several tunnel intersections went by before she felt it was safe to talk.
“That was a will-o-wisp,” she said, “They’re blind, but they use those lights to attract prey. Last time I ran into one I almost died. I barely got away.”
“What do they look like?”
“Basically a subway train with teeth. They dig a burrow in the rock when they’re small, and extend it as they grow. Then they basically just sit and wait until they sense things move by, and they’re brutal when they attack. I haven’t found a way to kill them yet; so far poison and electricity haven’t worked, and they don’t seem to starve if you keep prey away from the area.”
She reached into her duffel and pulled out a map, then used a pen to mark the tunnel where the will-o-wisp was. “And that’s another tunnel I can’t use. Shit.”
I considered the problem presented by the will-o-wisp. Something didn’t make sense to me.
“Why does the city allow those to exist? Shouldn’t a hero have cleared them out by now?”
“They probably don’t know it exists yet. Will-o-wisps didn’t exist four months ago.”
“...did someone make them?”
“Why haven’t you reported them yet?”
“Because the last time I reported a problem they dumped a metric fuck-ton of tinker made neurotoxin into the sewers and didn’t tell me before they did it! If I hadn’t seen the bulletin on the sector website I’d be dead! Even then it killed everything else! I lost almost everything I had, and I had to travel for miles to find a sector that wasn’t affected. Traveling down here is dangerous! Will-o-wisps didn’t exist four months ago. Cheepers and nessies weren’t around seven months ago! Grues and giant spiders have only been around for a year! The ecosystem changes constantly! The only permanent thing is the goddamn rats!”
She stopped talking suddenly, and turned away from me. Her hands were clenched at her sides, and every now and then a claw clacked.
“...and I’d appreciate if you not tell anyone, Tofu. I’d… I’d rather not have to move again.”
“I won’t tell anyone Nicole. I promise.”
“...Thank you. I’m sorry for yelling.”
“It’s fine Nicole. I understand.”
If anyone had stolen that much food from me, I’d be pissed too.
Abe was lost. Completely and utterly lost.
He swung his bolter around, desperately trying to see where the sound came from. Was it behind him? To the side? The goddamn tunnels echoed so goddamn much!
He ran. It felt like he’d been running for hours, but in reality was more like forty minutes. His team had been beset by monster after monster, and they'd been scattered. Sometimes it was the stitch-rat things, but the Frankenstein super had tricked them, those weren’t the only things in their arsenal. Teeth, claws, acid, webs, those goddamn noisy fuckers!
He ran, swinging the sight light on his bolter to have any hope of where he was going. He should have never taken this job! He should have known better than to take on a villain, and this one was goddamn sadistic! He was an experienced monster hunter! Shoot a few monsters, bag one villain, rescue a bunch of grateful victims, it had seemed so simple! But down in the dark tunnels, with horrors around every corner, suddenly the logic for why he came down here seemed fuzzy.
He slowed down, then dropped to his knees in exhaustion, breathing heavily. His heart was playing the drums in his ears, and he desperately tried to calm down so that he could listen for any hints of cheeping.
“...and that's why backwards knees are better than forward bending knees for combat.”
“Digitigrade Tofu. It's digitigrade.”
People! Some of his team must have made it! Either that or he was hallucinating, but he’d take anyone right now. He forced himself to his feet, and started searching to find which tunnel the voices were coming from.
"It's not a backwards knee. Lot's of animals walk on their toes. What you're seeing is technically the heel, not a backwards knee."
"No, I'm pretty sure I'm using the knee, see?"
"EWWWWWWWW, don't DO that!"
"You do it too!"
"Mine don't POP like that!"
He was getting closer. He began jogging for the intersection ahead where he heard the voices the loudest. Then he announced his presence before he went around the corner; no use taking a bullet from a startled team member after making it though all this.
“Hello? It’s me Abe! Don’t shoot…”
It wasn’t a team member. It was big.
He aimed his light up.
Claws. Carapace. Those eyes! Cold and deadly, no hint of humanity. The eyes of a true predator, like a shark’s.
He raised the bolter.
“Is he dead!? Oh my God! Is he dead!?”
“Calm down Nicole. His heart is beating. I think you just knocked him out.”
The stupid man had come around the corner and almost immediately opened fire on Nicole. Her claw blocked the bolts, but in her surprise she had wacked the man rather hard, sending him flying, and breaking his gun. I was surprised at her concern for a man that had tried to kill her, but she claimed that this kind of thing was somewhat normal, and probably an accident. Humans were so weird about killing each other. It was his fault if he died here, but Nicole was nearly beside herself with worry.
“Okay! Okay. There should be a manhole cover just around the corner, you can carry him up and then the hospital is only a few blocks away. They should have the place running again by now.”
I sighed quietly. Annoying. Guess this meant my tunnel exploration was over for now. And we had finally made it to the area around the hospital too! I slung the man over a shoulder, before letting Nicole lead me to the manhole cover.
“Thanks for escorting me today Nicole.”
“Sure, sure, anytime. Just get going; getting knocked unconscious isn’t good for people. Oh jeez, I hope he doesn’t mutate. I’d feel so bad.”
“No worries Nicole, his heartbeat really is steady. I’ll take care of him.”
I climbed up the ladder with the man over my shoulder. So troublesome. I couldn’t have him reporting any monsters and causing problems for Nicole. Maybe I could blame any organism he saw on the stitch-rat creator. More importantly though, I had some questions for him. I recognized lightning rounds, as well as the label on the gun. I needed to know what this was about.
Tch. Figures. A sewer system full of predators and the most dangerous thing I find is a stupid human.