Contingency Plan

by Asymmetry

Tags: #gore #comic_book #microfiction #solo
See spoiler tags : #accidental_mc #corruption

This story was originally posted as microfiction on my twitter account. Formatting quirks are largely unchanged from the original.

Getting superpowers doesn't change who you are, those corny old PSAs always said - all they do is bring the person you've always been into sharper focus.

Thankfully, this seems to actually be true. At least, you feel like the same person, just with a dizzying array of ideas for devices centuries ahead of the technological curve.

It's an uncommon but not unheard-of power set: superhuman engineering and fabrication skills, usually with some sort of specialization, some of which are restrictive (say, missiles), others more general (eg automation).

Yours appeared to be one of the latter - namely, redundant systems. You effortlessly account for every possible failure mode of every device you build, making them difficult to break and malfunctions nearly impossible.

It dovetails nicely with your personality, too - you've always been the anxious sort, finding comfort and security in people and things and relationships that stay constant, that you can rely on.

Certainty is a difficult thing to find in metahuman life, though, with fights and constantly-shifting alliances being the norm. It's why you've been careful not to reveal your existence to the world just yet. Better to bide your time and build, first.

That, at least, was going fantastically. In a few short months you managed to build an impressive set of gadgets, from hover boots to personal cloaking field generators.

And with a little interdisciplinary study, you even got into cybernetics. Thanks to an early breakthrough in organic tech, it was arguably easier than the flashy metal stuff, at least as far as procuring materials. Some of the purely organic bits, you grew in your fridge.

You hardened your bones, installed a mostly-bulletproof subdermal mesh, and strengthened your muscles well beyond any ordinary human's. You're not on the level of Vigil or Lady Bulwark, you're not about to juggle cement mixers, but you're much, much harder to hurt.

But the real crown jewel, as it were, was your brainchip. Well, it's less a chip and more an injectable fungus programmed to assemble a conductive lattice along key regions of the brain and a nonmetallic radio antenna inside the back of your skull.

Even as certain as you were that you covered all your bases, it was still a little terrifying installing it. You knew better than anyone that even a tiny replication error in the assembler could leave you seeing upside-down for the rest of your life. Or, y'know, dead.

Despite all your preparation, though, despite the fact that you could now operate all your tech remotely using only your mind, you still didn't feel ready to go out as an independent hero. The fact remained that sooner or later, you were inevitably going to get into a fight.

After all, it was common knowledge that if a meta fought using robots or summoned skeletons or mind-controlled civilians, going after the one calling the shots was the obvious move. You could take martial arts classes, but you've been preparing for months already.

But... your brain isn't just you anymore. You've got an impressively powerful organic computer in there now, one which could run a combat algorithm of your own design. Train it on a simulation, let it borrow computing power from your higher cognitive functions... it could work!

There would, of course, be no danger of getting stuck in 'combat mode', no danger of the program becoming sapient and hostile to you. You didn't make mistakes of that kind. You'd be perfectly safe. You affectionately dubbed the algorithm 'Apex'.

The simulation ran on your lab's personal supercomputer for a thousand subjective years, mastering all forms of combat against metas and normals in varied terrain with countless permutations of weaponry. You were going to be *unstoppable*.

It wasn't long after Apex was finished that your lab was discovered. Your sensor net picked them up first - about forty paramilitary goons in body armor, carrying rifles that were almost certainly hypertech. Professor Webb's men? Fuck!

You had no idea how they detected you, but it didn't matter. They were either here to kill you, or worse, kidnap you and force you to build a doomsday device or something for that megalomaniacal bastard! You weren't letting that happen.

You were hyperventilating a little as they tore through your perimiter security. Automated defenses left a few of them twitching helplessly on the pavement but your turrets were quickly melted down to useless slag by lasers and grenades. 

It was now or never. You heard rushed footsteps outside your lab's threshold as you closed your eyes and activated Apex.

Apex Mk01
selftest GREEN
timerfailsafe ONLINE
heatstrokefailsafe ONLINE
autoescape ONLINE
directive [NEUTRALIZE ALL THREATS]

You were smiling, you realized as you came to. It wasn't out of amusement or joy, you were pretty sure, but rather an easy, serene comfort. The background noise of anxiety in your head was just *gone* for perhaps the first time in your life.

You couldn't remember ever feeling this unambiguously *okay* before. The lab was a writeoff, of course. You directed your stealth hoverdrones to begin relocating everything important to a secondary location, but you weren't worried. You just went home.

You were in your apartment, certain that you weren't followed, when you ran your hand through your hair and found a human tooth, then another. You snapped out of your reverie, finally noticing the metallic smell that had been clinging to you since you left the lab.

Memories (or rather, Apex's activity log) came rushing back to you. You... you butchered those men. You were caked in blood and there were still strips of meat and fragments of bone clinging to you and your muscles burned with pleasant exertion and you. felt. fine.

You vomited in your sink and thanked God your apartment had hardwood floors and that it was just starting to rain outside. This couldn't happen again. It wouldn't! You showered and pulled up Apex's code, trying to figure out how to fix your mistake.

It didn't take long for you to find an elegant solution - prohibit Apex from using more than 50% of your cognitive capacity. You'll remain awake while it's active, able to think and react albeit slowly, and you'll be able to shut it down with a thought.

Some paranoid part of you was screaming that you shouldn't use it again, that it'd be safer to scrap it entirely and just learn jiu jitsu or something. But you knew you needed something that could stand up to truly dangerous enemies.

That was the reason you needed to keep Apex. Yes. The memory of that perfect mechanical peace you felt didn't factor into the decision at all.

The news wasn't kind to you the next morning. Local heroes dubbed you 'Abattoir' and even national networks were running barely-redacted photos of your corpse-strewn abandoned lab.

Abattoir. Fuck! You were supposed to be a hero! You'd already chosen the name Contingency! You paced in your pajamas and felt a rising tide of panic well up in your chest. You could switch Apex on, make it just do some push-ups or something to cool you down, but... no. Not now.

You had to get to your lab. You'd make a public debut soon and explain that last night was in self-defense and you'd be a hero, goddammit! You just needed to build something to let you subdue enemies without killing them. 

...Maybe Apex could help.

You came back to yourself again like waking from a dream. Earlier than the timer failsafe - oh. Oh shit. Of course they found you again, and of course Webb was pissed enough to show up in person. 

Professor Webb was one of the top supervillains in your city. He was a technopath, capable of seizing control of any electronic device in his line of sight. But, you recalled with a smile, non-silicate tech was immune to his power.

Thankfully he was still monologuing into your hijacked security camera when you sent the self-destruct command to every other device in your lab. It was fine, you had backups, and backups of backups, and encrypted backup capsules buried in the woods by invisible drones.

It was just you, him, half again as many mooks as yesterday, and every piece of biotech in your body, along with the freshly-compiled Apex Mk02. You were... looking forward to this, you realized.

You didn't have time to dwell on it, though, as the magnesium flashes of your self-destructing hardware spurred him into action. You cracked your knuckles, took a deep breath, and -

Apex Mk02
selftest GREEN
timerfailsafe ONLINE
heatstrokefailsafe ONLINE
autoescape ONLINE
prioritizenonlethal ACTIVE
directive [NEUTRALIZE ALL THREATS]

It was as though you exhaled all your stress, all your fear, all your adrenaline. It felt like a gentle force was pushing your mind out of your body and into the passenger's seat. You felt your posture change, felt the muscles in your face slacken as Apex skulked forward.

It didn't feel like your mind was going slowly - it was more like you were watching events in fast-forward. You were distantly aware that you'd normally be terrified in this situation, but all you felt was a detached, tranquil readiness.

The first of the henchmen made their way through the narrow entryway to your lab, methodically clearing the room with military precision, but the layer of artificial chromatophores on your bare skin made you nearly invisible in the flickering light of your melting machines.

Apex had stripped naked? That was odd, bu- Your body surged forward like a coiled spring and was upon the enemy before they could react. You struck efficiently, each thrust of one of your limbs shattering a jaw or knee or cervical vertebra.

You were almost alarmed by this, but every time a strike hit home you felt something that could almost be described as pleasure, but it was... simpler. Purer. You felt whole, complete, like you had exactly one purpose in life and you were fulfilling it perfectly.

A tiny part of your sluggish mind realized that this was Apex's utility function, that your creation's cold, mechanical satisfaction was affecting you, and that this was very, very worrying. But the part of you with its finger on the off switch had never felt so utterly content.

Your body danced through trained soldiers, disguised flesh blurring as you took them apart strike grapple throw dive twist rip crush tear and one particularly vicious punch severed a man's leg at the knee. A needle concealed in your finger injected him with clotting agent.

Did you install those today? You didn't remember building- leap lunge break grab fire fire fire throw dodge and then their ranks were breaking and Webb was trembling in his ridiculous power armor and it felt so *right* it felt like home as you slide climb bend twist LEAP

And you were atop his cockpit you were mounting his mecha like a lover and your fist slid into his plasteel carapace and his screams were music and your nerves were light and his face was in your hands and even though your body was silent as you took his eyes your mind *moaned*

You came back to yourself then, the wailing chorus of your defeated foes a symphony in your ears. You disengaged your camouflage, reclining, spent. You were naked and bloody and you felt born again.

The screams died down as your fallen prey fell into shock, one by one. It might be a few hours before you came down from this incredible high, you reasoned, but you were pretty sure your mind was your own again. It couldn't hurt to just... rest your eyes a while.

"Abattoir! Surrender and you will not be harmed!" A voice from above boomed, waking you from your slumber. You recognized it a moment later as Sovereign, of the League of Heroes. Of course they'd find you like this! How were you going to explain -

You weren't, that much was clear. Being a hero was no longer in the cards for you. But the gathered heroes were distant, wary. They didn't know your power, didn't know what they were dealing with. You smiled, a manic, predatory gleam in your eye.

"Apex!" you shrieked, the memory of tonight's slaughter returning to the forefront of your mind, filling you with anticipation as you arranged the mental commands that would destroy the interlopers. Your body relaxed as you sent the final activation signal. "Feast."

x2

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