“Looked what the cat hacked up!” Sgt. Slam said. “You ready to get back to work?”
I slumped into a chair, mindful of the tender spot on my side where the nanites stitched me up. The night’s adventures. Reindeer doesn’t go for the nanites, I think some sort of magical interference. I don’t know how it all works, but there seems to be some sort of divide between magic and technology. Same reason my cybernetic eyes are somehow replaced by Reindeer’s organic ones. There’s a mystery there, but that’s not what I’m dealing with.
I’m dealing with DIE: the Directorate for Investigation and Experimentation. It’s boring name for a group that experiments with dangerous mutated diseases to do all kinds of shit. Like how they created a giant pink hulk with glowing lights under his skin who punched me through through a building. Vertically.
“What’s next?” I asked. “If we’re traveling, can we get a tour bus or something? I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I had something like that in mind for Gates. Dr. Monroe, Murko, and Newburgh are busy following leads to make sure we got the job done. The way you chose to handle the building was messy, indiscriminate, and makes it harder to check everyone off the list. Bodies are still being dug out of the wreckage. That’s complicated by the basement levels, which we never got to check because you blew the place up after getting your face pounded in and then out your ass.”
For the record, I’m 75% sure that wasn’t literal. I’m pretty sure I can survive it, but that doesn’t mean I want to feel it.
Slam told me, “Recuperate. We’ll let you know if we need you.”
So I did. Zipped back to my body back home. Started decorating the yard. When you’ve got some skeletons in the closet, it’s easy to find a spare for the yard. Put out some plastic jack o’lanterns as well until we’re far enough along. Those things gave me an idea, too. An idea I had time to work on while my daughter was off at school.
It was nice. Having a normal day, working on my little pet transhumanism project. Even at my store, I managed to score a nice little win. Seems this kid had lost a hand recently. He and his mom weren’t comfortable with an organic replacement, and I ended up talking up the value of cybernetics. Took me little time to whip up a replacement hand for him, complete with tone-matched fake skin cover. The hand I gave him is better than the original, and that’s without all the extra toys I wanted to give him. His mom said “no” to the laser, grappling hook, hidden blades, smoke machine, and sonic weaponry. I told the kid to come see me if he’s getting bullied or when he turns 18.
The day didn’t require an AK, so it was a good day. The same can’t be said of the night. I got called back by Sgt. Slam who enthusiastically shook the body I had at the motel. “Wake up, dammit. We need you!”
“I’m here,” I said, jumping up and walking to my armor. It closed around me and together, we were both encased in a slimy nanite covering.
“What are you doing?” Slam asked.
“Updates,” I said. “What do you need me for?”
“Something’s out there. Multiple somethings. More of those pink things like you fought.”
“It’s a good thing I’m upgrading,” I said. Some of the nanites spread out, helping themselves to pieces of the lamps, TV, and wiring. “This won’t take long. Where do we go?”
“Gates is helping evacuate Monroe and some people who were attacked. Murko’s moving to overwatch for the neighborhood, but this isn’t secure enough to bring people to and he doubts his rifle’s up to this. Newburgh was at a hospital and is trying to assist with triage.”
“What kind of numbers are we talking?” I asked, the nanomachines flowing back into their tail configuration as they finished adjusting me and closing a few final cracks in the armor. Unfortunately, those repairs won’t be adequate. Nothing I grabbed was the alloy I use or even good quality steel. The nanites are also a bit depleted after everything they’ve done. I intended to keep an eye out for materials they could use to replenish their ranks.
“Newburgh said there were at least four. He says one’s wrecking the CDC, another’s tearing up the protest, and the other two are on the move. Wait, one’s wrecking a police station. You take the CDC. Murko and I will do what we can for the protesters. After that, we take down the third and try to find the fourth, got it?” When I nodded, he clapped me on the shoulder. “Good. Good luck out there.”
He’d need it more than me. But he also saw the aftermath. He knows what he’s getting into.
“One last thing,” he said before I left. “You might want to disguise yourself. You look evil. People will judge you.” Meanwhile, he slid on a brighter costume. Mostly blue and white, but with a red “Slam!” on the front. It looked ridiculous and cheesy. “People are more willing to run to a savior who doesn’t look like Sauron at the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, and it makes it clear we’re good guys fighting a good fight, not jealous villains.”
My mind went to Reindeer, but I don’t want Herne the Hunter interrupting shit now that he’s vowed to take her antlers. I didn’t have the board for the Free Radical persona I’ve used before. There weren’t any rockets handy to call myself the Missile Patriot. And I… huh. Weird. Having trouble remembering some stuff, but that’s probably just some connections I’ll have to fix with the computerized parts of my brain. Must have missed something with the nanites is all.
My armor shifted, the nanite tail shifting to become a cape that colored itself purple. The armor itself went Tyrian purple as well, with bright silver accent marks. The helmet appeared to show my face in a metal cowl topped with a tiara. The holograms showed less mass to the armor, making it appear skintight and with prominent heels on the boots. I liked the look enough to queue it up in the armor forge back home. The cape might be a decent alternative to having a tail.
“If that’s the best you can do,” Slam said. “Code name?”
“Eminence,” I said. The name has been used before. “Because I rule.”
I saw him roll his eyes before he fixed a domino mask with white-out eyes into place. “I’d say it’s your funeral, but let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that. This is going to be hard enough already.”
One good thing about having a cape made of nanomachines, I can really Spawn this shit up. There were the tiny jet engines to help boost me, but I had the cape itself spread out and pull me along using buildings and street lights along the way. By the time I reached the CDC, the pink brute there had made a huge hole in the outer wall. There were a lot of dead and injured people outside, some in security guard outfits. I lowered myself down and managed to catch someone being tossed out. “Easy there, I got you,” I told the grey older scientist in my arms.
“I think I shat myself,” he said.
“Giant pink hulks have been known to cause anal leakage. If symptoms persist more than four hours, see a sex toy shop about a butt plug,” I recommended, setting him down. I jogged toward the building, my armor amplifying my voice. “Hey big’un! Uber Ass-Whoopin’s is here with your order! One boot up your starfish, special delivery!”
There was a roar from within. This big pink person who ran out looked a bit different than the other one. No glowing lights under the skin, longer hair, no penis… huh, it was a woman. Harder to tell as the muscle growth and the stretching of skin diminished the visual characteristics most used as shorthand for sex.
There were a lot of people around, both in the building she’d been attacking and outside trying to escape. And past the campus of the CDC was a whole city, so it’d be tough to wrangle this thing to a safe spot for a huge fight. I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on a fair fight. Last time, this thing caught me by surprise. Now, it’s time to wield the mighty power of a brain infused with the might of a thousand suns.
My cape flew forward and formed a cone in front of me and I made some adjustments to my armor so as not to blow out the speakers. I let the brute get close. Almost waited too long. It jumped toward me, so I went ahead and unleashed the Paralyzing Note. Or Banshee Scream or whatever I’ve called it in the past. A tone I picked up during my captivity in The Cube, where they played a sound that disabled motor functions to keep me subdued. Naturally, I found a way around it. Unthinking pink giant didn’t, but I still had to throw myself to the side to avoid the paralyzed brute landing on top of me. There were folks around who were also affected, so it had some collateral damage.
Righting myself, I latched onto the big gal’s body and pulled us closer together. Up in the sky, I spotted helicopters, some medical and some news. The medical ones descended to try and help some of the wounded, so looks like I won’t be pulling this paralysis trick. Image-wise, it would have been better to contain this thing. I didn’t have that option. Instead, my cape flowed into its body. This thing was heavily infected with something that had warped its body shape.
I’d have use pretty much every nanite in my cape to have a chance of curing this thing. So I did. Extra armor plates, jet turbines, lasers, etc. all collapsed to the grass as the little robots flowed into that brute to start healing it.
Luckily, my 360-degree HUD decided to call special attention to the car flying at me from behind. I turned and acted on instinct. From my gauntlets grew laser claws, the result of upgrading my body with powers I have been able to copy from others. I dug those claws into the middle of the side of the car that would have hit me, cutting through and pushing it aside to protect myself, but also digging in to hold it and keep it from flying off. I finished tearing the car in half, but dug the claws in and ran at the new pink brute who was likewise charging me. “Touch Me And I’ll Break Your Face” began to play in and around my armor.
We ran at each other, me slowed down by the car halves wrapped around my fists, and him bounding. I landed the first hit, smashing the car apart as I put him on his ass mid-jump with right cross. He reached for my head. He lost an arm to the laser claws, then the other. A sweep at his legs left him on stumps as I wound up and gave him hell with an overhand punch with the left, smashing that car apart as well. While he was down, I leaned in close an gave him the Paralyzing Note as quietly as possible, putting an end to his thrashing. It didn’t stop his body from trying to heal but, it was taking him awhile.
“Hey Slam, I found that fourth one, I think. I got two down here. Both paralyzed. Nanites are cleaning up one of them of the infection doing this. The other one’s no threat at the moment.”
“Stay-!” I heard the sounds of effort, “With them!”
“Murko, what’s going on?” I asked, switching over to a private channel with him.
“I’m doing what I can to distract Target 2. Got some explosive rounds. Slam’s engaging with Target 1 and I’m popping off shots to help him out when I have them in sight. I know what he said, but can you get here?”
“Not quickly. Nanites are tied up at the moment. Might could commandeer a chopper, but that would leave one of these guys here where it can regrow some stuff and wake up.”
“Local law enforcement is busy trying to escape the police station, that’s where Target 2 is at. Nothing they’re using is any good against this thing, but the smoke’s making it a little harder for it to toss them around.”
“I don’t think these things are as tough as the one I fought,” I said, looking down at the one whose limbs I’d taken off. “That one could stop an atom-thin blade. This one, it was laser, but it still took the arms off easily. Still regrowing as easily.” The pink guy’s mass was diminishing a bit as they regrew, the muscles shrinking, but those arms were coming back as quickly as the other one at least. Maybe whatever they’d done to the other guy, implanted something subdermal, maybe that helped him take more initial punishment and stop the nanite blade. “Still, this thing’s healing too quickly. I can leave, but it’ll be back up. Try and take the limbs off.”
“That’s what Slam’s doing,” Murko informed me.
I decided to lay out something that could be used against me. It’s part of the downside of nanite-assisted rapid regeneration and part of the reason I’m less usually less-than-discriminatory about what they feed on to heal me. It’s also why I eat a lot. I let Slam know as well. “That mass doesn’t come from nowhere. You take arms and legs off, it’ll heal, but it has to cannibalize other mass on the body to do so. Common downside of healing that quickly and unnaturally.” Hell, humans just plain don’t regrow limbs at all do to the body not really doing regrowing that stuff after initial development in the womb. This infection they have has broken through that, but it’s still subject enough to the laws of physics that the mass has to come from somewhere.
My nanites consume from food and leftovers from the digestive system to help me regrow, with them transferring mass from elsewhere and gradually shortening me as a last resort if I’m in bad enough shape. Basically, skimming a little off my body here and there so I get smaller little by little, to help make up the difference. Fat reserves go first, which is another good reason for me to eat as much as I do. Just indulge the hell out of my tastes, since I’ll probably make it up healing. With some minutes to ponder and nanites sending me data, I had time to try and figure this out.
I knelt by the one I’d taken the arms and legs off of and saw problems cropping up. The wounds closed and the arms and legs started to come in quick, initially. Muscles atrophied as the body’s healing and growth processes, supercharged as they were, still needed to free up energy from somewhere. That tells me a lot, because while some energy is initially stored in muscles as glycogen, full-on consumption of muscle for energy usually takes days without food. The amino acids are then used for glucose. And it’s not just the main muscles we think of that get broken down. I called Slam back up. “Not all legs and arms if you can. Just enough to keep it from hurting anybody.”
I heard a grunt. “There. Let’s see you catch me without any legs!”
I swapped to Murko. “That one at the police station, is it eating anything?”
“It was trying to eat people before local heroes got here. It’s slowing down though.”
“It’s probably just a matter of time. These things’ metabolisms have to be going crazy with them healing like they do. This one I cut all the limbs off might die of starvation before I can free up enough nanites to stabilize it.”
Reluctantly, I pulled out an emergency chocolate pudding cup from a utility pouch on my armor and asked Slam. “We still want these things alive, right?” I mean, it was my last pudding cup. The others didn’t survive the first encounter with a pink brute.
He sounded like he was catching his breath. “If possible. We need to study this and figure out where these things are coming from. This is too big a mess to leave to the locals. We’re going to need a cover story.”
Of course, the splash of photos on the front page of the newspaper the next day left Murko more vocal about what we needed. “You need to go fuck yourself!” he said pointing at me. “And you need to get the press out of our grill!” he said to Slam.
“We Needed Heroes And They Appeared!” the headline declared, showing Slam guarding a legless giant, me standing triumphant near a pair of them, and the local costume brigade standing near one that ended up trapped under a pile of police vehicles the heroes had saw fit to pile on top of it until it couldn’t move.
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