SooF: Op1 Log2 “Harsh Introductions”
“USE A QUICK BLOW TO THE HEAD TO SET YOUR OPPONENT OFF BALANCE! Press the attack, or get space to think in the time provided!”
It was his grandfather’s voice, an old memory fluttering to the surface from somewhere. He could see past and present playing in real time, his then-giant grandpa Andy before him superimposed atop the mousy menace. His left hand snapped back clad in a phantom boxing glove, tearing free of the encroaching goo; his shoulders rotated and right hand extended into a perfect straight punch as the memory faded. In the memory, smart gloves and safety fields cushioned the blow; those were not present in reality. The blow connected just as the grey goop was settling over mrs. McCullough’s face, jarring her head partly free with a concerning dull thud. The ink briefly lost its grip, then hurriedly sealed over, seeming even more unsteady on the feet. She… it… they? Lurched towards Jonesy with faltering steps.
“Sorry May, if we all survive this your next home improvement is on me!” He glanced around for something to keep the infested mouse at bay without harming her, and more importantly staying away from the goop that seemed so eager to grab onto him as well. His grandfathers’ oft repeated advice to not fight with empty hands if you could help it rung in his ears. The streets were clean and empty, save a lonely bench sitting forlornly in the drizzle. Two quick steps brought him to its side, grasping the smooth plastic that remained dry and easily grasped despite the soggy fog. Advanced polymers rendered the classic styling surprisingly light; this was meant to be easily moved, a convenience for any who needed a spot to rest, relocated for events and parades, with non-slip feet to keep it firmly in place despite its lack of mass. Makeshift polearm in hand, he braced for a charge as though it were a mammoth spear. Goo-McCullough hesitated, faced with the stalwart and now slightly armed giant, and then seemed to lose her shape and disappeared through a storm grate.
“Uh… ok then?”
A notification popped up in his view, a soft chime playing into his ear through bone conduction by the goggle’s straps.
[ALARM 12:30: LUNCH AT SUB PEN]
The alarm had been set to wake him from his nap. Or rather, would have done so, had he not been woken early by the end of the world. Usually it just kept him from getting too busy working and forgetting to eat. At the gentle prompting, his stomach growled to confirm that he did in fact still need to eat. A moment later his brain caught up with such base urges; A busy restaurant attached directly to the subway in the industrial district in the middle of the lunch rush was going to be a prime target for the bodysnatchers that were apparently on the loose. He had a recurring order, apocalypse or no the sub-o-mat probably would have it ready and waiting.
Time to go earn that sandwich.
Something that looked like it came from beyond the stars was attempting to aggressively clamp itself over her face like some kind of horror movie. Worse, she was trapped in her ambulance, the seatbelt locked from the forced landing and there wasn’t any room to fight off or escape her assailants. Fighting to protect her face from the gnashing teeth with her left hand, Rose’s right fumbled along the console for a tool, rewarded by a weighty grip thankfully still right where it should be. Perfectly manicured fingers grasped the industrial non-slip hilt.
“Get OFF OF ME you grabby little freaks!”
The short weighted haft ended in a spiked hammer, which she brought across her face with all the force fear and anger could put into it given the cramped confines. Thankfully it was specifically designed for maximum force in said cramped confines, and a sickening crunch and screech of pain and anger were her reward, along with a blessed moment of respite from the assault. She wrenched the thing clear and smashed the driver’s side window, unsuccessfully attempting to hurl the crawling fiend through it. A safely shielded hooked blade freed her from the clutching seatbelt, and another couple whacks bought her time to force the door open and throw herself clear of a redoubled gropefest recovered from their mild bludgeoning. A great fat drake was currently lounging atop her ride like a great cat, and curiously pivoted its gaze to her.
…… Right. Dragon. Fat dragon? Please don’t breathe fire, please don’t breathe..
Her thoughts were cut short as a high pressure but unfocused deluge of water was directed her way, narrowly avoided by some combination of reflex and gut feeling that it had to have a breath weapon of some sort. Her dive roll was ungainly, her ample curves leeching momentum she desperately needed from the maneuver and attempting to pull her over as she retook her feet.
Alright girls, now’s not the time. I don’t think the monsters are impressed.
She tossed the hammer into the air, deftly grabbing a pair of straps to either side of her sizable bust and pulling, ratcheting her undershirt down like a sportsbra. It wasn’t comfortable, but right now she needed the range of movement. She snatched her hammer from the air and brought it crashing down into the first crawler to renew its attack with a flying leap, and made a dash for the roof access door. She was no dragonslayer, least of all armed only with a tiny emergency hammer.
Rose, if you get through this, you owe Jonesy and his dad another thank you for that birthday present.
The cyclops lumbered towards the bus stop, long arm grasping towards him. Pete kicked off the modest structure, landing well behind and away from the beast as it struggled to follow his sudden trajectory. A few ungainly steps and it was upon him, great hamfisted swings sent his way as it sought him with meaty mitts. A few deft steps of his own kept him dancing around it, always a step or two ahead until the awkward waltz reached a lightpost, which the squirrel quickly shimmied up. The one-eyed thing stared balefully up at him, halfheartedly attempting to work out if it could climb after.
“Come on, knock it off. Don’t go grabbing people, especially not ones you’ll never catch!”
An impolite honk of annoyance was the orange hulk’s response, and an attempt to shake him loose from the light pole; The pole remained unhelpfully stalwart, hardly moving despite best efforts. The thing seemed smart enough to conclude it wasn’t fast enough to catch him on the run, but was lacking in mental horsepower to figure out another way to lay hands on the slippery squirrel.
“N.. no, please, help! Mommy! Stay away, I don’t want this!” Pitiful wails drew his attention, a small beagle boy frantically scooting along the ground away from a woman that looked to be his mother… slowly lurching after him, being consumed by a creeping grey goo. The cyclops took advantage of his distraction with one more grab but came up short, turning its attention to the boy. Why was he… lunchtime, they were pretty close to the elementary school, close enough for older little kids to do things like have lunch with parents if they were nearby.
Zombies? I always boasted I could totally outrun a zombie apocalypse no problem, but I didn’t want to prove it for REAL!
“Oh no you don’t! KID, get clear!” Powerful leg muscle catapulted him off the lightpost into a sprint, swinging into a curved path to the youth. He dropped into a feet-first slide, near frictionless skidplates on the backs of his heels, ample posterior, and backpack carrying him along at speed as he snatched the shrieking youth from the grasping arms of his goop-coated mother. Catching a heel into the plascrete, he righted himself back into a run with the fluid ease of practice, child clutched in his arms.
“It’s gonna be alright kid, I’ve got you!”
More people began to filter out of the doors of the various industrial buildings, his elation at reinforcements swiftly dashed as they too succumbed to the goop. He ducked another grasping hand as one got close, one of his regular customers.
“Hey Mr. Timmson, can I interest you in your Sandbar Special that I was delivering, instead of whatever it is a goozombie is after? No? Your loss!” He hurdled a bench and moved to the center of the rapidly filling street. It wasn’t long until he was going to be overwhelmed, he needed space to run.
“Hey, hey kid? I need you to hold onto me real tight, ok?”
The little beagle looked up at him and nodded, latching firmly onto the front of Pete’s bodysuit with all his tiny might. It was enough to free one hand, enough to climb.
Can’t glide with the little guy, at least not without time to get him situated.
A break in the crowd near a nicely detailed faux-brick building gave the opening he needed, along with another of those orange cyclops things. He turned abruptly, racing the rapidly closing walls of grey goopeople.
“C’mon big ugly, take a swing at me, you know you want to!”
It obliged, cocking back an arm and throwing a whole-body downward haymaker at him. A kick shifted his momentum into upwards, enough for the punch to fall short and permit him to roll up the broad arm, tucking feet tight to land on the thing’s shoulders as his roll finished, and piston both legs into the hapless hulk. A honk of confusion and discomfort, along with a dull thud, rewarded his ears as he and his tiny charge sailed to the safety of decorative elements well beyond the reach of the mob below, high tech climbing shoes and gloves allowing him to cling easily.
Cheating or not, might be time to use that gecko-climb function on these.
A bit of navigating visual menus in his sport glasses adjusted them to full power; he could theoretically walk straight up walls if he really wanted, probably. A screech snapped him out of it, just in time to throw himself to another handhold; a many-limbed purple thing the size of a dinner plate before the arms sailed past from above, skittering to a stop halfway down the wall and swiftly climbing back towards him. Several more scrabbled through the crowd, joining the vertical chase.
“Welp, break’s over, time to go!”
He kicked off towards a ledge, a few quick stickysteps carrying him across the otherwise too-far gap. He could climb fast, and the geckoshoes could at best let him walk, safer to stick to what he knew in case there was a dusty spot and he lost geckogrip. His heart raced as he climbed, increasing uncharacteristically with every leap and grab, even without the bug-things swiftly gaining on him; Usually his arms were free and he could glide, so height was never a danger. Not only could he not glide right now, but it was because of a kid he couldn’t risk dropping.
Not gonna let you down. I can land a big drop if I have to, even without gliding.
A glance back showed the purple crawlers clutching at his heels, a glance beyond his next grab showed only a few more to go.
“I think I can outrun them on the level, just gotta beat them to the top.”
Gotta get away!
The grip on her upper arm was vicelike and unyielding, but gave her a stable platform while being dragged along. The skidplates on her rump made that easy and smooth, and no doubt contributed to the worrying clip with which she was being taken to the mass of monsters.
No time like the present!
She grabbed the hand holding her and spun on her sliding butt, clamping her legs around the beefy arm and clutching the hand to her chest in a makeshift armbar. She hauled herself clear off the ground, eliciting a surprised honk, and then an angry growl as she got her hand around one of the sausage fingers and WRENCHED it open, forcing the offending grip to release. Her now-freed arm shot down to the ground and supported as she cartwheeled away to her feet. A quick glance showed a LOT of these alien monster things closing in from in front, and what looked to be The Open Palm’s patrons now covered in grey goo coming from behind. She turned to run for the buildings, only for more of those handsy grabby things to begin crawling down from the rooftops. She was surrounded. Her abductor took a swing at her, and she blocked with both hands; it rocked her like a powerful kick, but she stopped it. Gill-like protrusions pulsed on the cyclops’ side in front of her, and before it could recover from the blocked punch she whirled and drove a roundhouse kick into them while exposed; gasping honks and the thing backing away were her reward, but the circle of others was closing fast.
Can’t run, guess I’ve gotta fight. This ain’t going to end well. They’re slow, maybe I’ve got this if I can get something to fight with.
Anna pulled her backpack off, glad it arrived just before the world went crazy. She was doubly glad that Mrs. Jefferson always ordered the same family size thermos of the Palm’s Seafood Soup Of The Day, which was the same every day, made from fake fish that grew on plants, and was actually technically chili. What mattered right now was that the thermos was over a foot long, heavy, and made of nearly unbreakable polymers. She pulled a sticky grab handle she used for hitching rides on smooth transports and stuck it to the base of the thermos, getting a makeshift club. She rested it on her shoulder and braced herself for a fight
“ALRIGHT, WHO WANTS SOME?!”
The encroaching attackers… stopped. Something huge, like a colossal ape if it were a bug, rounded the corner behind the huge mob of invaders she’d been getting dragged towards. Her erstwhile assailant shuffled off as if directed by something, and the mob parted to give the monstrous insectoid a path.
Guess I know where they were taking me…
“Hey, the correct answer to that question was ‘nobody wants some’ and then you let me go. You can even have another try if you want to get it right.”
The bug-ape approach was unhalted, expectedly uncowed.
Well, worth a shot…
A battle cry welled deep within her, from the days of pre-splice humanity, invoked in the face of long odds and risky decisions, the name of an ancient warrior.
It was a few blocks to the Sub Pen, in closer to the rest of town from the semi-outskirts he lived in. Embedded in the subway system, it was modeled after a bunker harbor from the old world, full of spy flick memorabilia from the old world, and in lieu of direct water access had a huge glass wall that showed an underwater cave that connected to the nearby ocean. Semi-autonomous, it was a favorite for him due to its capacity for quick turnaround with large crowds, convenient location, broad hours of operation, and ample portions. Usually the streets would be full of life, bustling with hungry folks hustling to or from their jobs, or stopping on the way to the less built up shoreline for some rest and relaxation. In the unseasonably brisk rain, there was no one. The entrance to the subway yawned wide ahead of him.
I was somehow expecting more screaming. Which is either good or bad.
As if on cue, panicked shrieking began emanating. He took a running leap down the stairs, landing heavily. The platform was abandoned, but some kind of big shuffling reddish thing was in the Sub Pen, along with screams of terror as the few occupants tried to stay away from it.
Oh, hey, more monster things.
Jonesy broke into a run, barreling towards the thing. He set his arm into a flying elbow and crashed into the stout beast, blindsiding it with his full weight. Even the most trained boxer couldn’t throw a running punch without risk to the fragile wrist, but the elbow was perfectly capable of withstanding such abuse. The shuffler gave a pained honk of surprise, and another as his momentum slammed it against the rear wall of the business. Time spent on the tackletoss and youth wrestling teams let him throw his weight around like a pro. A crash made him whirl, a second assailant had been out of sight, already midswing towards him! There was another farther behind waddling aggressively towards him.
“AGAINST A HAYMAKER, ARMS UP AT 90, HANDS BLADED, AND DIVE INTO IT! HIT MID-FOREARM, ONE ON THE ELBOW, THE OTHER ON THE CHEST!”
It was his grandpa Rob, another memory from training in his slightly less distant youth. Once more, past and present overlapped and he did as the memory instructed. He slammed into the rubbery bulk, short circuiting the broad haymaker and mashing his elbow into the thing’s chest. His grandfather’s giant black-furred frame floated like a phantom over top of the doughy assailant.
“IF THE BIG PUNCH FAILS, THEY’LL PROBABLY GO FOR A TACKLE. DROP WITH ‘EM AND RESIST, BUT DON’T PUSH OR YOU’LL BE OFF BALANCE!”
Sure enough, after a hoot of confusion, it attempted to dive low against him. He dropped with it, knees bent and braced against the lunge. The cyclops tried again, only to be stymied by the same shield against it.
“WHEN THE ASSAULT LETS UP, PUSH THE ATTACK. TURN IT INTO A GRAB, AND PUNISH WITH KNEES! KNEE, STOMP, KNEE, STOMP, KNEE, STOMP!”
It hesitated, and he had his chance; right hand around what would be the upper arm, left hooked around behind the shoulder. Hauling down on the hapless beast and driving upwards with all his might, sending a knee cruelly into its chest. His grandfather caught the blow with his muscled forearms; the cyclops caught the blow with its rib cage. The force of the blow caused a choked honk, and it went limp in his grasp. Still off balance, Jonesy took a step forward and sent it tumbling into its alien ally, both crashing into the ground. The memory faded, leaving Jonesy alone against the sprawling foes.
“Jonesy, what the hell was that?”
What few people were in the business were now staring at him with as much fear as the monsters. The voice belonged to Travis Ishimura, owner of the Sub Pen. He was an old friend of Jonesy’s since he was a wee lad: a spidermonkey subtype presently holding a mammoth paper-wrapped cylinder, proudly labeled as a SuperDuper Everything-On-It Submarine, which was so large the full name fit in large text with no difficulty. Jonesy sighed. Even fighting sports looked nothing like that; that kind of fighting hadn’t been taught in the 100 years since the last war ended and the new era of peace had been ushered in.
“My grandpas served in the last war. They didn’t think peace would stick, and taught pops and I how to fight like they had been. Said the discipline was good for us, even if it was never used for more than a vigorous workout.” The suspicious eyes fell, reminded of Jonesy’s military heritage; it was now viewed as a black mark on all of society, an unethical travesty to have ever inflicted upon anyone. “We should, uh, we should probably get out of here.” The one cyclops not yet brutalized was attempting to free itself from its crumpled companion.
“That’s… well, I guess we’re all lucky they did. You got someplace to go?” The undamaged cyclops took a swipe at Travis, and Jonesy planted a swift stomp onto the exposed gills. With a pained honk, it tucked its arm and shielded itself. The handful of patrons around the sandwich shop flinched.
“I think my place is safe, and I’ve got keys to some of the empty warehouses out back. Streets were empty on the way here, but I think I’ve got a shortcut that’ll be safe just in case.”
A half dozen crawlers and a dragon. If she couldn’t get away, she’d have to beat them all. Her ambulance was still flyable, but she didn’t like her odds against the waterlogged drake. In less strange times the civic building roof might have been full of workers relaxing on their lunch breaks, used as a small park. Rose’s dash brought her to the door, but it was locked! None of the buildings around were close enough for her to reach, she needed to get through that door!
Oh come on. I mean, good on you for locking doors when there’s monsters about but that really doesn’t help ME right now!
She dove for cover as another stream of high pressure water was sent her way, this far more focused; the super-tight beam blew a hole in the door, opening her way forward.
Guess I’m not locking the door behind me.
Soft light bathed the interior of the building, a far cry from the harsh halogen bulbs of old. She hesitated at the elevator. The doors would give her respite, but she’d be trapped. She mashed the call button, and the doors opened immediately. The key for ground floor lit up at her press, and she slipped back out of the tiny traveling room. With a vault over the safety railing, she landed on the landing below with a bounce, and quietly opened the door; keeping up with the flying squirrel twins had taught her a fair bit of freerunning, and even without the dragon she considered discretion to be the better part of valor at the moment. There would be other stairwells, hopefully, and a significant reduction in groping bugbeasts. The elevator pinged and quietly glided, frantic skittering chasing it through the elevator shaft and stairwell her reward as the crawlers took the bait. She held position against the door, to block it closed just in case.
Really hope I didn’t just breach the building’s containment.
A few moments to be sure she was in the clear, and she let out a sigh of relief and slumped to the floor. Going into one of Jonesy’s action games or for a run with the twins was much easier to prepare for than having a fight thrust upon her! Even getting called to an emergency gave her time to brace for it.
A toucan subtype leaned into view at the noise, shuffling unsteadily into view.
“Oh! Hey, there’s something weird going on outside. Do you have the key to lock this? Not to alarm you but there are strange creatures outside.”
The toucan lurched towards her, a viscous grey fluid flowing over her body, as more of the ink-coated office denizens shuffled unsteadily out into the hall towards her. Her heart rate spiked and stomach clenched. Rose pushed to her feet and hauled the door open, almost tripping over one of the grabby bugs, and vaulted down to the next floor. This door was open too, but another crawler resisted her efforts to close it. A three-clawed limb flailed at her through the crack in the door, a screech and crunch as she shoulder checked the door. She relented on the door enough for the beast to withdraw its mangled limb, finally pressing it shut with scrabbling against the other side.
Looks like they were already in here.
This floor was mostly deserted; meeting rooms and storage lockers, plus what looked like classrooms. Rose set the doorstop to brace the door shut and pushed to her feet.
Deep breaths. Count to five on inhale, and five on exhale. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1, 2, 3,
A crash interrupted, near the stairwell on the opposite end of the hall.
4, 5. Alright what now?!
Made it. Barely.
Climbing at his best, he could probably beat these things in a vertical race, but it was dicey with 50 pounds of kid, 50 pounds of backpack, and only one arm free to use. His arm ached and his heart was pounding when he finally rolled onto the roof, but there was no time to rest. A scrabbling behind warned the crawlers were still hot on his fluffy tail. A glance around found his next destination, a roof just out of range of a jump without gliding, but he had a trick up his sleeve. Or, up his shoes.
“Still with me kid? Ever ridden airskates?”
A soft whimper told him the youth was at least still conscious. All things considered he wasn’t sure he was doing much better; his thoughts strayed briefly to Anna, but he shook them away. Had to keep up a brave face, no time to dwell, he had to stay safe for her sake and she’d do the same for him. The pounding synths playing from his sport glasses set the pace of his steps as he clicked his heels and rose on the aerocushion built into the shoes; they set off, leaving the clutching hands in the literal and metaphorical dust. The skates were faster than running, but too inflexible to switch on and off to allow clean freerunning.
The street sailed by far below, and Pete’s heart dropped as if to reach the pavement; There wasn’t much danger leaping between buildings when you could glide, but right now he couldn’t. Did Rose and Jonesy feel this when they came along for runs, or were the glide packs they used enough to fend it off? Landing with a skid drove such thoughts from his mind as the weight of his frenzied sprint caught up with him. With a click of his heels, the jets disengaged, and the pair dropped to the roof proper, and from there to a seat for a much needed rest. A turn to glance at their pursuers saw one plummet to the street below, the rest wisely abstaining from attempting the jump. Pete took a look around, finally letting the little beagle go.
“I think we’re safe here, for at least a little bit...”
Turning around, an ambulance sat on the adjacent building’s roof… Rose’s ambulance! A strange triangular head lifted above the line of the roof next to it, beady black eyes seeming to fix upon the pair. Pete snatched his tiny charge, this time hauling him onto his back, guiding hands into holds on the backpack and feet onto belt pouches.
“Nope, nope, not safe, time to go! Hold tight, time to fly, rooftops bad!”
Ringed in by monsters and zombies preparing to engage in single combat with a ten plus foot insectoid centaur was not what Anna had been planning on doing today. Admittedly, it was a step up from attempting to take on the entire mob at once, slightly? Her grip tightened on the makeshift thermos-club, full of chili and hopefully pain. Her stomach was full of butterflies, attempting to reject the Sandbar she drank before, and her heart was pounding.
Really hope they just let me go if I can pull this off. It’s big, which means it’s slow, right? Jonesy’s big and not slow and I spar with him all the time, I’ve got this.
With shaky steps she strode to meet her opponent. It was time for a high stakes dance, with death or zombification on the line. The hordes of monsters and grey ink covered citizens closed as the two approached, forming an arena; they kept as wide a distance from her as they did their seeming leader.
“Alright, how’s this work? Gonna stop, size each other up? Maybe some banter first if you can inexplicably speak my language?” She slapped the bat into her other hand to put on a show of menace, only to do so a little too vigorously and have to shake feeling back into it. The creature paused to examine her, strangely connected head rotating as it peered with three sets of eyes. A sound not unlike poorly meshed gears emanated from the… neck? She wasn’t sure what was below the head, which seemed to float in place and rotate freely.
The thing raised a club-like arm, bringing it down in a great arc with a step to close the gap; with a hop and a skip she cleared the impact zone. It spun its torso, slinging the limb after her in a broad sweep that forced Anna to vault it.
Never going to get away if all I do is dodge and hope this thing gets tired!
She needed a handful of steps to clear the distance it had covered with one, sending a smash with her foodbat for the segmented joint of the knee. Her reward was a solid WHACK, an almost mechanical grunt of pain, and nearly being flattened by the downwards counter-punch. Righting herself from her last second dive out of the way, she dashed for another leg, only to have her target taken beyond her reach by a step back and a flurry of blows.
“Didn’t like that, did ya? Looks like I can get through that shell of yours if you’re actually defending” She might just pull this off yet. She just had to keep her guard up and never take a hit, like… who was it, famous long odds from the pre-splice world…. Little Mac and Mike Tyson, that was it.
The subtran station was dead. Metaphorically, at least; power was on, as to be expected. Just about everything was run by individual compact fusion generators, complete with hardening versus most things like power surges. It would take more than strange weather, zombies, and monsters to turn the lights out. That said, things should be bustling and full of life and noise, but the only sounds were soft keening honks from the things that had been attacking his handful of survivors. Survivors? All the old zombie flicks called people not yet turned survivors, so it seemed kind of accurate, but near as he could tell May had been just fine beneath the goo so she was technically a survivor too. Jonesy shook his head to refocus on the task at hand, and glanced back at the timid group following him.
“So did those things get there just before I did?”
A small but sturdy looking ant subtype nodded in response to Jonesy’s question, secondary arms wringing nervously. “What WERE those things? Where is everyone? The TV was just playing as normal, we were wondering what was up with the lack of lunch rush but….” He trailed off, unnerved.
“Far as I can tell, there’s some monsters about and my neighbor attacked me with grey sludge. I think she’s fine under it all if we can get it off? Also the weather’s weird; you’re going to want to dial up the warmth of those clothes.” Jonesy’s straightforward answer did not seem to give them anything resembling comfort, but they fished out their Personal Electronic Taskmasters and set the smartfabrics of their garments to maximize heat retention and generation. His own coat had embedded sensors and took care of such adjustments on its own after one too many times getting busy with something and failing to stop and adjust until it got uncomfortable.
The streets were eerily silent, the rain harder and colder than it had been when Jonesy arrived in the few short minutes the rescue took. The soft forcefield across the entry made the unexpected transition even more jarring; it was August, it should be positively balmy right now!
“What’s going on with the weather?” The dainty opossum was clutching her tail uncertainly, peering up and down the empty streets.
Jonesy held a meaty finger to his lips to request quiet, and returned a loud whisper. “We’re almost there, we’ll talk more once we’re inside” those following hushed immediately, the nervous muttering silenced. Right now Jonesy’s calm countenance was their rock of stability in unfamiliar times; if he was was concerned about noise, their questions could wait.
The group was heading towards a large, ancient warehouse and factory building; it went back to the dome and possibly before, with a ramp for old fashioned wheeled vehicles to deliver materials to the second story. As with much of the outskirts of the city, it had lain fallow due to declining population and the more advanced production methods of the fabricatory. It was old but well kept, though any signs of its former function had long since vanished and been forgotten. Eyebrows raised as Jonesy fished out a key organizer from one of his many spacious pockets with a grin and one last glance around to be sure they were alone. This far out from the hustle and bustle of town, the streets were usually pretty empty anyway and now was luckily no exception. The sturdy but welcoming front office door yielded to Jonesy’s key, and the group hurried inside.
The lights flipped on a moment after the door slipped shut with a faint but solid clack, to murmurs of surprise; The building was clean and well kept, as if it were still in use! Old fashioned display cases with rotating metal covers dotted the room. Most modern stores had no such protections, as the more socially conscious population and post-scarcity society all but eliminated crimes of all sorts. Of course, that no doubt meant there were a great many of them sitting unused in storage somewhere, now apparently used here. Jonesy stepped ahead and turned, arms spread wide to indicate the room to the new guests.
“Welcome to the best kept secret in Locksmouth, the premier locale for the action sport of Hyperdarts in possibly all the world. City wasn’t using it so I asked if I could, we’re safe here for the moment.” He beamed proudly, and used another key to open one of the rolling top cases to shocked gasps; an assortment of guns lined the case. All weaponry had been banned and destroyed after the last war, save for some antiques for historical preservation. His guest’s closer inspection, seemingly fueled by fear and morbid curiosity, revealed the devices to indeed merely be particularly menacing toys. Any questions they might have asked were cut off by the mirth vanishing from Jonesy’s face.
“Alright. Far as I can tell we’re in the middle of an invasion of bodysnatchers, and also… aliens? Monsters? So far I’ve encountered a strange grabby bug in my house, those shuffling honkers at the shop, and my neighbor who was acting like she needed help until she tried to snare me with grey goop that seemed to be controlling her. I knocked her clear of it for a bit, I think she’s fine under it, but mind control goo isn’t a great thing to have to deal with.”
Travis was the first to speak up. “And you’re sure we’re safe here?”
Jonesy fished out his PET, launching a utility to check trackers on the building. “Sensors say everything is clear. I have the whole place sealed up, and sensors to make sure nobody misses the call for match over and gets locked in or injured by a map reconfigure.” A few more presses and some screens turned on in what seemed like a small cafeteria, displaying presumably the rest of the facility. The portable computer and commlink disappeared back into his pocket, though it continued to feed data to his goggles. A locker room and staging area lay through a door in the other direction, peeked into by newcomers looking around.
“Two stories, with dynamic terrain and display walls, can even fake weather with sprinklers and fans. If I need to I can switch it into a big housing unit, with beds and whatnot...” He hesitated to complete the thought, looking over the frightened group. Travis picked up his unease.
“But you have something else in mind. You’re not one to take an alien invasion sitting down. Right? Here, before I forget, you’re going to need your lunch before you try to save the world. Can’t fight on an empty stomach. I’d say it’s on the house but I think it already got auto-paid for.”
Jonesy’s stomach growled loudly, clearly in agreement with Travis’ assessment, and he accepted it gladly. “Yeah, that’s the gist of it. Need to figure out what’s going on, what I can do about it, and where the rest of my pack is. They didn’t answer before, but they probably had their hands full.”
The alternative implication hung heavily in the air, until the athletic lynx cleared his throat. “Hey, uh, Jonesy right? Mind giving us the tour? If it’s all the same, it sounds like this place will be a good spot to ride this out whatever you do with it. Think those toy guns would help any? What do they even shoot?”
Jonesy perked up “Yeah, name’s Jonesy. They’re hyperdarts!” It was an unhelpful answer, but bought him time to find a small display off the counter. Inside were three lengths of small hexagonal darts a centimeter across, with a heavier head, slender body, and simple conical tail. Three, six, and nine centimeters long, without any graphics they looked to pack progressively more punch. While the newcomers examined the sample darts, Jonesy set about opening the showroom properly.
“Most of the time we just use the short ones, they’re a bit gentler and the guns are easier to control. Longer ones are for advanced play, they fly farther but hit harder. Usually want pads for those, can get by with just street clothes for the small ones. Minimum of goggles are always mandatory, gotta protect those pretty eyes even if they grow back.” Each of the displays was opened in turn, with occasional pauses for the sturdy mole to steal a bite of the giant cold-cut sandwich. One held padded vests and even full bodysuits; adjustable to the wearer instead of custom fit like most clothing, they were intended for first timers to try out the sport. Another held sleek, tight fitting polymer masks and glasses, and even a few full-head helmets, in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit different subspecies. Many held guns, some with accessories, and even a tray of assorted toy melee weapons and throwables.
“PET integration handles healthbars, and some of the advanced stuff gives you bonuses to what armor you’ve got on. Whole place is rigged with force projectors, to protect out players and help them off the field. Got it as close to playing videogames as I could, but it’s real! Well, real-ish”
A sea of uncomfortable faces met him when he turned his attention back to his impromptu audience. His face fell, pride and enthusiasm dashed against their obvious discomfort; So much time and effort for realistic play fighting just made them concerned. When they saw that he could see their worries, they tried to hide them for politeness’ sake but it was too little too late. Jonesy sighed again.
“And that’s why this whole place is a secret. Gotta be interested in such things or have a friend in the know, no advertisements or signage for it.” He directed his gaze to the older spidermonkey. “This is where all those big carryout orders go, and where some of those out-of-towners come from in the industrial district instead of by all the shops and attractions.” Travis seemed thoughtful, considering all the extra business Jonesy had sent his way over the past few months.
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air, until the lynx picked up one of the larger dart guns. “I’m Steve, by the way. Think you could teach me to use one of these? I’m not… entirely sold on all this, I guess it’s just not for me. But getting grabbed by weird monsters and goo people is even less my style, and these things sound like they’ve got some punch to ‘em. I’ll step out of my comfort zone to fend off planetary invaders, sign me up.” The rest of the small crowd hesitated, glancing between one another, then nodded. They weren’t fighters, most probably hadn’t even thrown a ball aggressively since high school dodge volley. Taking toy guns into the apocalypse felt better than sitting helpless in fear.
Jonesy could feel a wicked grin spreading across his face. Something about all this just felt right, much though he hated to say it.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
It was a field triage, full of monsters. A stout rubbery red-orange cyclops thing waddled between alien patients in various stages of disarray, and did… something. It seemed like it was healing of some kind but she couldn’t see how. An assortment of inhuman creatures were sprawled on the long tables in various poses of obvious discomfort or pain; a number of those grabber things, more rubbery cyclops, some kind of gorilla shaped bug thing.
Multiple fractures, probably from a bad fall on that one. Those two look like they got hit by a car. That one… caught in a door maybe?
The rest all seemed to have various minor bumps and bruises, and there didn’t look to be any damaged to the level where they couldn’t be saved by… whatever it was the apparent medic was doing. Rose leaned in, trying to get a better look, and her hand on the doorframe slipped, the hammer still clutched within making a very audible CLUNK.
Coulda done without that…
Everything in the room in condition to do so swung around to glare at the door. Their demeanor changed, suddenly unsteady, zombie-like lurching.
“Wait. Wait, the zombie bit is AN ACT?!”
The apparent healer seemed to be in charge, and it glanced around at the surrounding creatures. Abruptly the zombie bit vanished, and they came at her in earnest.
“OH COME ON.”
Rose turned to run for yet another time, only for the door to open inwards with a too-vigorous mob of grey goo people. And again at the other end of the hall.
There was no way out.
“FINE, we’re doing this? COME GET SOME.”
Her grip tightened on the emergency hammer, and she whirled to face the monsters. When it all got to be too much and her calm couldn’t hold on, she channeled it into anger. Anger at the injustice of good people getting injured, anger at diseases even the marvels of medicine couldn’t fix ravaging good people, and now apparently alien invaders. Anger got things done when she just wanted to break down. Rage in her heart and murder in her eyes, she launched her attack.
The crawlers got to her first, and were the first subjects of her wrath. With a screech the lead critter hurled itself at her with arms spread wide, only to be snatched by the outstretched arm and whirled in a flailing arc. The hapless monster’s wiry might was no match for the violence and malice with which it was swung, used as a club against its fellows before being spiked into the ground and stepped on as Rose began her rampage in earnest. The bug-ape swung a meaty limb at her, and Rose swung her hammer in riposte; the pointed superhard striker sent shards of splintered chitin flying as it hit the creature’s arm, a hiss of pain and short retreat her reward.
“YOU WANT MY BODY? COME AND TAKE IT”
She cocked her arm back for another blow, and something brushed her shoulder; her arm went numb, the hammer clattering to the ground behind her as the limb fell limply to her side. Rose lept away, pivoting to face her new foe. The medical cyclops gazed impassionately back at her. A stolen glance about the room showed that everything else, infested post-splice human and apparently alien alike was giving her a wide berth, save the hapless crawler that had served as a club. Rose sent it hurtling towards the rubbery thing with a kick, to be caught and gently deposited on a table with a few clumsy pokes from the flipper-like hands. She desperately mashed the pressure points leading into her arm, gritting teeth as pins and needles shot through the limb to report it was once again somewhat functional.
The crawler weakly limped away, eager to be away from the pair, and the cyclops turned to face her once more. Rose dashed in with a punch aimed right for the giant eye, but the still-numb limb refused to cooperate; what’s worse, the flipper put it back to sleep as it deftly blocked. With too much momentum, she couldn’t escape the bear hug before it closed like a squishy vice.
The thing fell atop her, and she was too far off balance to resist. Yellow goop abruptly covered it, and flowed over her as a wave of deep despair washed over her like the fluid encompassing her. A voice not her own whispered into her mind
Thank you for the offer, I believe I WILL.
Please don’t follow us, please don’t have noticed us, please don’t…
A shadow passed over him, and he spared a glance behind; There was a wyvern lazily gliding overhead, peering keenly at them. Arm-wings spread wide, no additional forelimbs, definitely wyvern and not dragon, and definitely following them.
Right, right, chase instinct. Come on, get bored and leave. Not doing anything interesting, not scared of you. See how not scared of you you we are?
The blue drake swept in behind them for a closer look, the mammoth predator sending a shiver up Pete’s spine. He wasn’t sure if the chill was fear or the unseasonably chill wind and damp sapping heat from his body through his glide membrane.
Not… scared... at all.
Whatever the drake saw, or didn’t see, it was apparently the wrong thing. Pete stole another glance behind as it drew a deep breath.
Breath weapon? Breath weapon.
“HOLD ON KID, it’s time to FLY!”
He clicked his heels together again, activating the boosters in his shoes. Feeling no resistance, they ramped to maximum thrust and shot the gliding pair forward, narrowly avoiding a stream of high pressure water through the air they just vacated. He could feel the boy clinging desperately to his back, head buried in the small of his back, trying to keep the horrors around him out. The boy was trusting him entirely with his safety; Pete really hoped that trust was not misplaced.
“Glove controls engage, flight mode!”
A vibration in the gloves let him know that their smartfabric surfaces were now reading inputs like a touchpad, and he dialed the boost back to nothing just in time for another jet of spray to overshoot. He was built to glide, not for aerobatics, and a full backpack AND small child had him lumbering through the air like an overweight kite. The charge readout in his sport glasses was dropping swiftly from running the energy afterburners.
Need to get away, somewhere that thing can’t get us, and I have to do it soon.
He dove, a third stream of water shooting overhead as his passenger shrieked from the sudden maneuver. There would be a parking garage under one of the buildings, the wyvern wouldn’t fit, at least not with any mobility. It beat him handily in the air even with technological assistance, but he’d leave it in the dust on the ground. The dim lighting of the garage below a minor civic building was a welcome beacon in the uncharacteristic mid-day gloom.
“I think we’re home free, kid. At least for now...”
The entryway yawned open as Pete pulled hard out of the dive, shooting through with retained speed. The soft field at the entryway kept the inclement weather outside, the warmth on his glide membranes a comfort after the biting chill outside. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the harsh garage lighting, only for his heart rate to spike as inexplicable terror gripped him. Some kind of deep, near-inaudible thrumming rang in his ears, barely audible with his music and apparently triggering some deep-seated fear response. The world began to spin violently as he lost his sense of up and down.
Struggling to stay upright, his eyes came back into focus; There was some kind of giant humanoid insect crouched to fit into the low ceiling, and they were headed straight for it. The head spun, and a huge pincered claw raised to pluck him from the air. The momentum that carried him to safety away from the hunting drake now carried him straight into the grip of a new threat despite his best efforts to redirect. He crashed chest first, the wind battered from his body by the impact, gasping to regain his breath.
“k… kid, RUN!” His voice echoed strangely, interrupting himself and nearly jamming his ability to speak as the words jumbled against themselves. Still, the boy managed to wriggle free, dropping behind him with a thump and unsteady steps away. The disorienting effect stopped abruptly as the ape bug lifted him for a closer look. He sent a clumsy punch for its… face? It connected with a thump, but the beast seemed unimpressed.
“H… hands off! Or claws. Or whatever.”
A deep purple sludge rose out of the creature, flowing over him. It was accompanied by a deep, visceral despair, different from the auditory-induced fear and vertigo of earlier. At the edge of his senses, he could hear a scuffle from behind, and then silence. He hoped that meant the kid got away…
A voice not his own whispered into his mind.
So you’re the troublemaker we’ve been chasing all over town.
Anna brought the makeshift mace up and braced it with her other hand, catching a sluggish but mighty swing. The shockwave of impact jolted through her body, one of many; she’d been taking bad falls from last second dives, glancing blows, and desperate blocks for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few hard minutes. She pushed away the limb and sent the club for the exposed segmented elbow joint.
I’m doing it. I’m actually doing it. I’m slowing down, but this thing’s slowing down faster. Just have to hold on a little longer.
She’d been giving it her all, and trading blows for a while. Hope and desperation told her that she was giving at least as good as she got. Her hand and forearm ached, from impact shock of her own blows and controlling the weighty bludgeon. Now if she could pull this off all she had to worry about was escape; she was thoroughly surrounded, her boost skates were nearly empty, and she’d need more room for a takeoff runway if she wanted to try to fly away if she even had the power.
“Come on, what’s the matter? You’re slowing down. Can’t even take a little squirrel in a stand-up fight? No fancy tricks up those big stupid sleeves of yours?”
The thing’s head spun as it paused to look at her, as if considering. When it raised its arm for another swing, it split into three. Split? No, each was full, all seemingly connected to the same shoulder joint. Each attacked in a different arc, all aimed for her in an impossible superposition. A desperate dive carried her clear of the blitz, only a single thudding impact reaching her.
“Ok that’s a pretty good trick. As with before, the correct answer was actually ‘no’ and then you keel over from exhaustion and I go on my merry way. But I’m gracious, you’re welcome to change your answer at ANY time. Honest, I won’t even count points off.”
I should really keep my mouth shut today.
Another pause, and the world began to spin. No, that wasn’t right, Anna closed her eyes and shook her head to try and clear it and the effect vanished. Eyes opened, and the cause became slightly clearer; the textures of each surface were crawling and sliding across themselves. The pattern around her glove’s wrist slid as though animated, which was just fine. What was less fine was the very ground itself seeming to move and flow, like when she’d partaken of far too much of the old fashioned alcohol Jonesy brewed that one time. The creature itself seemed to be in several places. Sometimes one, sometimes two, as her eyes fought to focus and were denied.
Anna brought her bat back into guard, warding a horizontal swing only to have it pass right through her; the true blow struck her from the other direction. Pain radiated up her side through her body as she staggered back to her feet. Two of the beast strode after her, another swing and another missed block. This time it caught and held her, vicelike pincers digging into her dainty frame. The added pressure forced a coughing fit from her. Something shimmering white began to ooze from the arm over her body, bringing with it a tide of utter hopelessness. Something sinister whispered in her mind.
Yes, I WOULD like some.