Was your identity (or the identity of any HH employee) compromised?: No.
Were you, or any fellow employee, injured in a way that required major medical care (bone fractures/lacerations/missing limbs/ etc)?: No.
Were there any fatalities (including civilian, hero, or otherwise)? If so, were they caused by an employee of Hellion’s Henchmen?:
That last question was a tough one. Technically people did die during the job, but not because of the job. I knew of the one civilian at the hospital, and of course the exterminator.
I suppose I’d just note the civilian in the hospital, but not the exterminator. Abe technically died after the job was already done, which I think counts as me being “off the clock.”
I jotted it down, and took another bite of my burger.
After disposing of the exterminator, I called Nicole to let her know that everything had gone fine. Abe hadn’t mutated (truth), and I had handed him off to a medical professional at the hospital (lie). I kinda wanted to continue our search of the sewers for a bit, but Nicole insisted I stay long enough for the doctors to give a final verdict on Abe’s health. That resulted in me heading to Maggie’s Sunrise Diner to get some tofu burgers to-go (it had been just a bit too long since the last time I went there), while I texted fake updates about Abe’s health to Nicole. After a quick stop at my apartment to pick up a spare after-action report (and drop off all the nifty souvenirs I got in the sewer), I then headed off back to the HH main base because I didn’t have a pen to write with. Now I was sitting in the HH cafeteria eating my burgers, while filling in the report, and chatting with Nicole via text.
Normally, this would make me ‘happy’ (and I was), but there were other emotions cluttering my thought patterns as well, and I was trying to parse what caused each one.
Happy: because I was eating Tofu burgers.
Uneasy: because I was lying to Nicole. I didn’t really like to lie. Depending on who you told them to (and who they told them to), lies could be all too easily discovered, and being caught in a lie could compromise my disguise.
Regret: the exterminator had been a valuable resource to Fortress city. Keeping hostile organic life controlled was a vital function, and even if he seemed somewhat incompetant, his death was a waste of resources.
Guilt: this had been the first time I needed to kill someone who wasn’t directly threatening my life, and the need to do it was partly my fault because of my imperfect disguise. I didn’t really lik-
Human.exe emergency shut-down;
Human.exe displaying behavior harmful to core: analyzing…
Emotion: Regret: a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.
Feeling regret due to lost resources: useful to core survival. Allowed.
Emotion: Guilt: Feeling responsible or regretful for a perceived offense, real or imaginary.
Feeling guilt in response to defending core social-background disguise and assets: harmful to core survival. Denied.
Rolling back thought process kernel...
Regret: the exterminator had been a valuable resource to Fortress city. Keeping organic life controlled was a vital function, and even if he seemed somewhat incompetant, his death was a waste of resources.
Disappointment: Nicole was currently texting me that the nessies had all disappeared!
Nicole: I just can’t believe they’re all gone. I must have gotten something wrong with the current
Tofu: No worries Nicole. We can just reverse the changes and then lure them back with food.
Nicole: I looked around. They aren’t close by, they could be anywhere!
Tofu: I have a good nose, we’ll find them.
Of course, there was also the possibility that a predator had eaten them or chased them away. Unlikely given Nicole would have mentioned blood if she found it, but it couldn’t be discounted. I neglected to bring up that possibility, as she seemed distraught enough as it was.
While I ‘brainstormed’ methods of finding the nessies with Nicole, I continued to fill out my report and eat my burgers. The cafeteria wasn’t very full at this time of day, but there were always people heading from one part of the base to another, and they needed to go through the cafeteria since it was also technically the base’s main hub room. It was because of this that I noticed Imp, Socket, and Sandra entering the cafeteria area, along with a Tinker Tot. It was the same young, four-armed Tinker Tot that I had taken the slingshot from.
This was quite the unusual event, as only trusted clients were allowed in the base on non-training days. Security was… interestingly handled among Hellion’s Henchmen. Some minions didn’t care at all about their identities being discovered, while others were concerned almost to the point of inefficient paranoia. In order to keep their employees’ identities safe, HH implemented a multitude of policies such as: keeping much of the record-keeping on paper, constant ‘firmware updates’ to masks using Socket’s own personal network, and a company policy that anyone caught revealing others’ identities would be “personally barbecued by Hellion.”
That last one was probably the most important one, seeing as it was the only one enforced with death. Even betraying Hellion’s plans to the authorities only resulted in "termination of employment" and an understanding that HH would not pay out your last paycheck (although I had been warned that few villains would rehire such a minion, and many in fact took personal offense to ‘traitors’).
Sandra led the Tinker Tot to a seat at one of the tables, and the youth sat down listlessly, staring at the tabletop. He wasn’t really participating in the conversation despite Sandra’s attempts to engage him, and Socket had a furious scowl on his face as he muttered to Imp (which in his case was more like restrained yelling). If what Socket was saying was correct, the Tinker Tot base had been hit by rat-creatures, a concerning event considering the rat-creatures had also hit the hospital. These attacks were escalating fast.
I got up from my table, intending to speak with them about the possible sewer purge I wanted to prevent. If HH was going to assist the Tinker Tots with the rats, then now was the best time to-
Odd. That was Nicole’s ringtone.
“Tofu!” said Nicole in a harsh whisper, “I-I think I found one of those rat-things. It, ohmigod...”
“Tofu it has human parts. Oh God....”
“Nicole where are you?”
“I’m at home, I t-think it must have followed me back, it-”
“There’s two of them!. It… it has a human head! Oh my God, what if that’s a person?!”
“Nicole listen to me. The ones I fought at the hospital were not strong enough to cause you trouble.”
“I-I d-don’t know if I can h-hit them.”
“They aren’t as fast as rats, and they aren’t much stronger.”
“NO! T-t-t-tofu I-I can’t hit a p-per-perso-”
“They are not people! Do whatever you have to do to defend yourself. Run if you can’t hit them.”
“O-okay. I’ll r-run… oh no...”
“...There’s more of them. I-I'm surrounded. I-I’m going to call nine-one-one!"
“Um… alright, do so. I’m on my way as well Nicole.” It would complicate things, but if there was a chance a hero could get to her first then it was best to call.
“A-alright. I’ll call back if I can,” and with that she hung up to call emergency services. I myself had someone else I needed to ask.
“Sandra my friend is being attacked by the stitch-rat creatures, can I use the emergency elevators?”
All four of them, Sandra, Imp, Socket, and the Tinker Tot, looked at me. I had interrupted their conversation and they seemed somewhat stunned by my request. Had I been rude? But I didn’t have time for social niceties.
“This is a time-sensitive request.”
Imp was the first to respond, “Kid, if this is some kind of bad joke…”
“It’s not,” interrupted Sandra, “Is it Mikey in trouble? Where?”
“It’s another friend. Manchineel St, south of Ashwood," I answered.
“Imp can you-”
“On it Sandra. Tofu walk with me,” said Imp. It was more of a fast jog.
The Tinker Tot spoke up, “I’ll come too!”
“Oh no you won’t,” replied both Sandra and Socket. They began saying things to mollify the distraught tot, but I was soon too far to hear it.
Imp led me to one of the elevators and placed his thumb on the button, holding it down for five seconds. The button panel then flipped out from the wall, revealing a numbered pad. He began rapidly hitting buttons.
“Let’s see. Today is Monday, so it should be… unless Socket updated again… ah good,” finished Imp, punching in the last number. The door opened a second later, and we both got on. “You said it was Manchineel St? Give me some areas around it.”
I listed a few, and he punched in a destination for the elevator on the inside panel. Then the doors closed, and the elevator took off at a much higher speed than normal.
“Alright, give me the low-down. Short version.”
“Stitch-rats have my friend cornered in the sewer below Manchineel St. She should be strong enough to fight them off, but she’s panicking, and at last contact she said she was going to call nine-one-one.”
“Ugh, wonderful. So she doesn’t know you’re a minion?”
“No. She does know about my power though.”
“Tricky… if we get there before the heroes we’ll need to go in guns blazing to get her out before they come. You prepared to let her know about your night-job?”
“Yes. Her survival is more important.”
I had several key priorities. First was Nicole’s survival, without her I would lose access to the biological resource that was the sewers. Second was to not allow the heroes to know I was an acquaintance of Nicole, as that might result in her having to move sectors or in the heroes detaining her. Third was to attempt and keep my night-job secret from Nicole, but… I doubted that would be possible if we had to engage. It wasn’t guaranteed that Nicole would cut ties with me if she found out, so this was a far lower priority.
The elevator came to a sudden stop and opened, and immediately my phone began to ring; the shielding on the elevator must have been preventing the signal from reaching me. I picked up immediately.
“TOFU! Oh thank God! I-I couldn’t g-get through to you! They-sob- they s-said they didn’t find any disturbance! The operator hung up bef-fore I could explain I was below the street! -sob- T-tofu they all have f-faces!”
Damn, she was really panicking now. Nicole had handled all of the organisms we encountered in our exploration with decisiveness and without mercy. I had not expected that she would have such a problem with these stitch-creatures, but I suppose I should have; Nicole had been overly worried about the exterminator she hurt, and she avoided violent news whenever possible. It just hadn’t occurred to me that she avoided it because it was violence that involved people.
“Nicole I’m almost there! Remember to use crowd-fighting tactics, the designs I witnessed should be slow enough to-”
“God you suck at this,” said Imp, teleporting my phone out of my hand and into his, “Nicole? This is Tofu’s boss speaking, we’re almost to you. Sit tight and be brave, cavalry is almost there,” then to me he said, “I’m going ahead. Switch your helmet to channel seven and get there as fast as you can,” and with that he was gone, teleported… with my phone.
I shifted my legs into running configuration and took off; the elevator let out in an abandoned apartment building, and I knew where I was going from here. While I ran I flooded my system with extra micro units, and began preparing for any rapid shifting I would have to do. It sounded like I would need to brawl with a crowd of these stitch-creatures, so size and strength would be better than perfect precision, but I still needed to fit into the sewer entrance… ah, that reminded me. I didn’t get to tell Imp that-
“Hey Tofu?” said Imp suddenly, coming in through my helmet, “Next time when I ask for the low-down, maybe mention that your friend is a giant scorpion!”
“Sorry, I was getting to that.”
The run to Nicole’s place was… ‘nerve-wracking’. I didn’t have time for stealth, and caused somewhat of a ruckus among the civilians that saw me. At the very least they got out of my way. I also spotted the police patrol car that had most likely done the poor check of Nicole’s street.
It was tempting to spit some slugs through their windshield, but catching the attention of heroes would be a hindrance at this point, so I ducked through an alley to avoid being seen. In the end, it took me eight whole minutes to get to Nicole’s from the elevator exit. Not a lot of time, but in combat every second counted. My only solace was that Imp was keeping me updated, which meant they weren’t dead.
I reached the entrance I normally used. The manhole cover was already moved aside, and so I took the quickest way and just jumped in feet-first, being careful not to catch a limb on the way down, and extending my legs to absorb the eventual impact. Just before I reached the bottom, I braced.
Increasing reaction speed to 300%, 5 second burn;
I hit bottom, my legs taking the impact without problem, and I quickly scanned the area for what I was dealing with. I was somewhat surprised, Nicole was out of her den and defending the intersection that led to it. Imp was defending the other end of the sewer tunnel with his pistols, shooting any stitch-creatures that approached with a headshot. His teleporting power meant they couldn’t grab him, and every bullet hit its mark. Things didn’t look to bad actually.
“Tofu!?” yelled Nicole. Her scorpion half was fighting the stitch-creatures, but her human half looked bedraggled. She had quite obviously been crying.
“It’s me!” I yelled back over the sound of Imp’s gunfire. My mask was firmly in place for combat; no use hiding my job now.
Nicole reacted strangely, her human half shooting towards me as her tail stretched, and she wrapped her arms around me in a ‘hug’. Then she began sobbing again, which really confused me.
“Nicole? You appear safe, you don’t have to be sad?...Um, this is detrimental to my combat performance.”
“Pfft,” croaked Nicole, but she let me go.
“That’s great you two,” said Imp, “but how about you come and help me over here Tofu? I’m deducting these bullets from your paycheck you know.”
Ack! Those things were expensive!
I moved to help Imp, extending my limbs to my prefered combat position before engaging the stitch-creatures. These ones were slightly different from the last ones I encountered. There was definitely more human parts in this batch, with several of them having humans heads like Nicole had noted. They didn’t seem much more intelligent for it, although a few of them used crude weapons, and one or two of them were slightly faster and more coordinated. It seemed the Frankenstein-wannabe worked fast, the hospital raid had only been about four hours ago.
We settled into a rhythm; Nicole and I defending the two ends of the tunnel, and Imp teleported between us to quickly shoot any stitch-creatures that got past us (mostly he helped me though). Nicole still flinched every time she dispatched a creature with a human face, but it seemed our presence helped her mental state immensely, and she now held one of the heavier wrenches she kept on her with her human hands, just in case she needed to whack a creature that got past her claws.
I lashed out with a hand and ripped a stitch-creatures head off. Then I used roundhouse kick I learned from Adder to break both legs of a rather tall specimen. It worked nicely, sending it falling onto one of its comrades and allowing me time to stab them both through the eye with a knife. I wasn’t even needing to use my slugs that often, which was great. The small hill of corpses that had formed was really starting to pile up. The pile in front of Nicole was actually clogging the canal that ran down the tunnel. I was starting to think we might actually clog the whole tunnel to the ceiling when the creatures finally started to pull back.
“Whew, about time,” said Imp, “Not the smartest things around, are they? I thought they’d never give up. You both okay?”
“I-I think so,” said Nicole.
“I’m fine,” I replied. I had spent quite a bit of energy going full-throttle to not be overwhelmed, but that could be easily replaced with the amount of creatures we killed.
“Nice, then in that case I say we pack up and skedaddle. This place isn’t really secu-”
“...the fuck was that?”
It came from the direction of Nicole’s den, and it was loud.
“Oh no… it can’t be,” said Nicole as she backed up.
“Um, Nicole? What is that?"
“...It’s a will-o-wisp. D-don’t make any sudden moves, that makes them angry.”
I heard a very big splash. And then around the corner, from the tunnel that led to Nicole’s den, extended the head of one of the largest and ugliest creatures I had ever seen. And I don’t use that descriptor often.
It was a grimy brown color, with slime dripping off of its puckered hide in ropes. The face had never had eyes, and two human heads had been stapled approximately where eyes would go on a different organism. At some point in the recent past its jaw had been utterly destroyed, the remains hanging loosely. The rat-stitcher had “fixed” this problem by stapling arms of all shapes and sizes around the orifice to act as a new means of shoveling food into its open gullet (a poor parody of a nessie’s mouth). Atop its head, a long antenna flopped to the side, and gave off a faint phosphorescence that had faded to a mere memory of the attractive lights I had seen with Nicole.
It was inefficient. Poor design. A hash-job done by the truly incompetent and uninspired. A waste of a good body, and a disgusting misuse of resources. Unfortunately, none of that would help us, as the will-o-wisp could probably kill us all just by flopping onto us. How did it even fit through the tunnels!?
It stopped in front of the pile of bodies Nicole had made, and started shoveling them into its mouth one after the other. Whether it was under orders to retrieve bodies or was just following its own instincts was impossible to tell.
“Let's leave while its distracted,” whispered Imp.
We started slowly backing up, but immediately ran into a problem. We thought the stitch-creatures had been retreating, but they had actually been gathering behind us while we were distracted. The other end of the tunnel was practically choked with them! We’d never break through that many before the will-o-wisp noticed.
Imp could of course teleport, and I could just use the manhole exit, but Nicole was stuck. It seemed she knew it too; she was shivering, and she was muffling her whimpers with a hand.
“Nicole. Nicole! Try to squeeze as far up the exit ladder as you can. I’ll try to carve away the stone,” I whispered.
Slowly, so as not to disturb the will-o-wisp, I tip-toed towards the ladder with Nicole in tow. I started to climb the ladder, and the stitch-creatures that had blocked us off growled and started to move forward.
The will-o-wisp apparently didn’t like the noise interrupting its meal, and everyone (including the stitch-creatures) froze in place. It seemed that even their substandard intelligence knew not to piss it off. A few seconds passed before the will-o-wisp went back to its meal. Damn it was stupid; I knew it could see us getting away with the heads stapled to it, but it seemed to not respond to visual stimuluse at all, only sound and vibrations… and maybe smell?
I went up the ladder, with Nicole following behind me. Her torso and tail fit easily, but when it came to her leg sections it was a very tight squeeze. The fact that her legs were thin, flexible, and strong worked to her advantage, but she still had to double up most of her joints to fit. The odd angles meant she could only lift herself a few inches at a time. I started to climb the ladder doubletime; the biggest bottleneck would be the manhole at the top, she’d never fit more than her tail through, and I needed to carve sections away. I reached the top, and immediately started using a tendril of micro-units extended from my palm to drill through the stone.
It was slow going, the cement used was a durable composite which my micro units had trouble with. I burned through my sugar supply to produce as many micro units as I could. This was going to be sloppy, but there was no time.
Imp appeared next to me, “Hey uh, that pile it’s eating is almost gone. Any way to speed this up?”
“Can you teleport sections away?”
“Not if they’re still attached.”
“I’m drilling seperate holes, hopefully that will weaken it enough for Nicole to break through. Here...” I was using both hands to carve away cement now, so I extended a tendril from my shoulder which quickly began to swell at the end, becoming an odor decoy like I had used at the mall. “When this detaches throw it at the will-o-wisp. Hopefully it should distract them.”
The decoy dropped into his hands, and he immediately teleported away. I went back to carving rock, using brute force to rip away chunks as my micro-units completed their work. Nicole managed to backpedal far enough up the tunnel that her torso could reach me, and she started breaking through the cement chunks I had weakened by herself (she really was strong).
“I can keep working here Tofu, I need you to help at the other end. My um, claws are stuck. I need you to cut them off.”
I clambered back down the tunnel, squeezing past Nicole’s leg segments; luckily I didn’t need room to breath. I was hearing a bunch of gunshots echoing from below, and then I was surprised when two large *BOOM*s suddenly drowned out the commotion, followed by a bellowing roar that vibrated the walls almost more than the explosions.
Imp’s voice came from my helmet, “Alright kids time to fucking go! Thing swallowed two grenades and its still chugging.”
“I just need to-”
*WHAM* A crash echoed from below, Nicole screamed, and suddenly her entire body got pulled down the tunnel several feet. Several of her legs broke, and the ladder bent with the sheer force that tugged her down.
“Nicole, spit acid on it!”
“I’m trying! It’s not working!”
I fell another few meters as another tug pulled Nicole even farther down.”
“IT’S SWALLOWING ME!”
Damn, if it had a firm grip on her front I wouldn’t be able to do anything there.
“TOFU! MY TAIL! CUT MY TAIL!”
I reversed course yet again, rapidly shifting the tendrils I had used to dig through the stone. I was burning fuel so fast my arms were literally heating up, and I needed to vent some liquid mass to shed the heat. The blood powdered as it dripped out of me, and I climbed to the accompaniment of Nicole’s hysterical screaming and Imp’s gunshots as he tried to get the will-o-wisp off her. I was almost at her tail section.
“AHHHHHHH I'M GOING TO DIE!”
Quite possibly. Here’s hoping this worked. The tendrils I used to carve the rock were now hardened into spikes with a sharp edge down the side, and I stabbed them into the meat of her tail, doing my best to puncture all the way through and immediately dumping micro units into her.
Ah, seems that really hurt. Hopefully that didn’t mean there was anything vital here. I kept flooding her tail with micro units and also started cutting with the edge. It was so much easier for me to disassemble organic matter (I was built for it after all). My micro units easily slashed their way through organic cells the same size as themselves, or bonded to cell structures and self-destructed, ripping everything apart in chain reactions. Organic bodies were complicated structures at the cellular level, and it was much easier to cause those structures to collapse than to dig through solid cement.
It still took longer than I would have liked (the inner tail muscles were thick, and the protective carapace ribbons were amazingly strong), but Nicole also flexed her tail in ways that made it easier for me to cut through, ignoring the pain. Another tug from the will-o-wisp dropped her lower body, but the last few weakened threads of muscle and sinew tore instead of dragging her down, and I helped her brace against the sides of the tunnel so she didn’t slip.
There was silence for a moment as the will-o-wisp gorged on its prize, but then a shudder went through the walls as the will-o-wisp then rammed the walls around the bottom of the exit. Chunks of stone fell at the bottom as it tried to get into the far-too-small tunnel.
“Nicole! Can you climb out?”
“I-I think so.”
Her voice sounded weak, but she managed to get her hands on the bent ladder and start pulling herself up, curling her tail around the ladder to brace and prevent back-sliding. I held on to the trailing end of her tail to support some of its weight.
It was slow going, made harder by the repeated shudders that announced the will-o-wisp’s futile efforts, but Nicole eventually made it to the top. Imp appeared there, and helped pull her out onto the street. She slowly pulled her tail after herself, and once she was out, I climbed through the entrance myself. Up on the surface the will-o-wisps angered roars were muted. Even it couldn’t get through several meters of solid cement.
Nicole’s street was usually pretty empty, but even so I noticed a few people looking out from windows and talking into phones. We needed to get going before cops or heroes finally showed. Nicole wasn’t really looking up to running though. She stared blearily around herself, and seemed pale despite her dark-gray coloration. The severed end of her tail wasn’t bleeding at least, so her regeneration was working properly it seemed.
“Nicole? How do you feel? We need to get moving.”
“Tired… I forgot my armbands,” she mumbled.
“No worries Tofu,” assured Imp, “Getaway vehicle is already on its way.”
True to his word, one of the black minion vans HH used rolled around the corner a minute later. Not a moment too soon, I could hear the sirens a few streets over.
The van pulled up next to us, and the doors opened to reveal Spikes and Dillo, along with two unpowered minions I hadn’t met before in the front seats. They helped me get Nicole into the van, and then we were all on the way to the base, the driver following speed limits to not draw attention. Imp stayed behind to distract the cops, he could just teleport away when he wanted to. I actually watched the police car drive past us, and all of the minions let out a sigh of relief. Nicole didn't really react, she seemed 'out-of-it', but at least she was alive. That was the important part.
All-in-all the mission was a success, which made me feel better about the massive expenditure of resources. I wasn’t anywhere near critical, but I’d still burned through a week’s worth of operation time, as well as mass which would need to be replaced. Also needed to reshift a few parts, cycle out a few chemicals, catalogue protein chains, and make a list of materials to go shopping for. At least I… AH!
In all the excitement… somehow... I forgot to take a sample of Nicole’s tail.
I was adding one ‘dead rat-stitcher’ to the list.