Ves entered the conference room with tired eyes. He stayed up late the last two days as he tried to juggle various duties at once. Not only did he had to come up with a way to bring both damaged Ajax Olympians back to fighting form, he also had to devote some time into studying the sensor data the hunting platoon had taken of the Kaius.
The more he studied the Kaius, the more he admired the strange and primal-looking chimera mech. For a mech that had been built more than twenty-seven years ago, it possessed a lot of charm.
Whoever designed the initial incarnation of the Kaius possessed a lot of hands-on experience. However, that mech designer’s skill level didn’t exceed what Ves already mastered. The mech designer must be a senior in age who never made any achievements in the field. Doubtlessly he only reached the level of an Apprentice Mech Designer in his later years.
Still, age and experience brought its own strength. His work might lack in sophistication, but he made up for it with a strong mastery of the basics. The sound design and solid foundation of the Kaius allowed it to remain functional long after the first expedition ended in failure.
Commander Tregis welcomed Ves into the conference room and nodded him to a seat at the side. Since the headquarters of the base featured full climate controls, everyone took off their bulky helmets and breathed in the sterile air.
Ves took a seat next to a handful of exobiologists. They had been studying the same sensors readings as he had, but they focused instead on the incredibly powerful heat organ.
The room already had a handful of other important people present. Captain Kaine sulked next to Tregis, while an officer wearing the uniform of George’s Cavalry conferred with someone from the Stray Phantoms. A handful of other officers whose roles Ves couldn’t guess rounded out the gathering.
Commander Tregis clapped and gestured everyone to take a seat. “Now that we are here, let us begin with this meeting. First, I’d like Captain Kaine to recap her encounter with Doctor Jutland and his strange biological mech.”
Captain Kaine didn’t wish to recount the awful experience, but Tregis put her on the spot. She briefly described the events that took place, and described how a crippling strike against one of her heavy knights forced them to hunker down and wait for rescue.
No one laughed at her. They all knew that she did her best under the circumstances. The power and endurance shown by the Kaius exceeded every other mech in the expedition.
After she sank back into her seat, Tregis turned to Ves. “Before we go into Doctor Jutland, let’s start with the Kaius. Mr. Larkinson, please relay your analysis on the chimera mech.”
Ves dutifully described his initial results and threw out a guess on the identity of the mech designer. “One thing to note is that the Kaius shows definite signs of cross-discipline collaboration. At a minimum, a mech designer and a specialist in biology have had a hand in its initial design.”
He summoned up a projection of the chimera mech’s wireframe model. Sections of it had been shaded in blue while a lot of other areas had been shaded in red. “That’s living tissue. The chimera mech isn’t so much a mech but is more like a carcass brought to life with the help of technology.”
The Kaius told a story of its own. The mech hadn’t been designed and fabricated in a well-stocked workshop. It looked more like a product that a mech designer came up in the field. The lack of facilities along with the limited amount of supplies necessitated some compromises.
The survivors of the first expedition must have started hollowing out a hexapod king carcass. It’s powerful on its own and Doctor Jutland must have done something in order to preserve the heat organ which acts as the power reactor for the Kaius. They then augmented it with parts salvaged from other mechs in order to turn it into a controllable war machine.
“Isn’t the beast supposed to be dead for over two decades?” Captain Kaine suddenly asked, expressing the bewilderment of much of the mech pilots present in the room. “How come it hasn’t rotted to the point of becoming a useless mess?”
“That’s something for the exobiologists to explain.” Ves nodded to the exobiologists who patiently remained at their seats. “I don’t have a clue how Jutland managed to stretch the longevity of the Kaius’ muscles and organs, but there’s obviously been some failures over the years. You can see in the readings that there’s a lot of gaps and places where salvaged parts have taken the place of living tissue.”
“So the mech is failing?” Tregis honed in on the most important point.
“The state of the mech is fairly awful at this point.” Ves stated carefully. “That doesn’t mean it’s a pushover. The design is incredibly robust. The mech designer, whoever he may be, had built it to last for years, perhaps in anticipation that a second expedition will arrive twenty-seven years later. However, the patchwork repairs over the years has not been very effective in maintaining the full capabilities of the design.”
“In other words, the mech designer is dead?”
“He’s either dead or is unable to help with the maintenance and repair of the mech. Whatever the case, these repairs appear to be done by someone who is inventive, but is not an engineer. The current version of the Kaius has already drastically drifted from its original design, to the point of performing around twenty to thirty percent worse.”
Captain Kaine shuddered at his words. If her hunting platoon faced the Kaius at its peak, then they would have been smacked down hard.
“This sounds promising.” Commander Tregis smiled viciously. “While the Kaius represents an enormous threat to this base, we still have a chance to turn the tables on Doctor Jutland. Doctor Mellow, please report your findings on the biological aspect of the Kaius.”
A prim and proper middle-aged woman with her brown hair tied in a neat bun stood up from her seat. “Our studies of the hexapod species and its various properties are still ongoing. Though we lack a direct comparison of an apex hexapod, our studies of the smaller hexapod adults allow us to extrapolate the properties of this chimera.”
Doctor Mellow slowly explained her findings in a simplified way. None of the people present had a background in the biological sciences, so she skimmed over much of the details.
“The Kaius takes advantage of the remarkable capabilities of the heat organ, as you call it.” The doctor frowned for a moment, as if she disdained the layman’s term of such a powerful example of life’s ingenuity.
“The role of this marvelous organ is first and foremost to draw in power from ambient heat and radiation. It is incredibly capable of doing so, to the point of absorbing the energy from any form of direct energy weapons with near-complete efficiency. What is even more remarkable is the role the monoexurite plays in this system. It’s part of a complex organic structure that’s compressed all of that energy into a space the size of your palm.”
What she described truly defied convention. While the most advanced technology humanity had at its disposal could also achieve such an effect, that took thousands of years of scientific accumulation to develop. Even Ves couldn’t recharge his precious shield generator by himself with the facilities he had on hand.
“The Kaius expended a lot of energy in the last engagement. Its breath weapon is especially potent. Do you believe the mech is on its last legs?”
The doctor shook her head. “Do not underestimate the prowess of the indigenous life forms on this planet. The heat organs become increasingly more formidable the larger they become. The average hexapod adult has a heat organ the size of a human, while the heat organs of an apex hexapod has reached the size of a small aircar.”
She waved her hand, causing the projection of a wireframe model of the Kaius to zoom in to the center of its torso. Its heat organ deviated from its purely organic counterparts with the addition of various mechanical attachments that served unknown purposes.
“The Kaius is unusual in its size. It is about fifty percent larger than what our models suggest. Our conjecture is that Doctor Jutland must have preyed on other hexapods and processed their heat organs to augment the chimera mech’s biological functions. All of the other tissue show evidence of extensive modification, much of which we are still determining their purpose.”
In other words, the exobiologists knew that Jutland had done something, but they didn’t know how he did it. Still, the effects spoke for themselves. The Kaius performed significantly better than a purely organic hexapod king. It truly deserved to be called the king of the forest.
Commander Tregis rapped his fingers on the table. “Is there any way to exploit the biological portion of the Kaius? Can we synthesize some form of poison that can weaken its functions?”
The exobiologists all shook their heads. “The hexapods are the most resilient forms of life on this planet. They’ve thrived under incredibly difficult situations that would poison an unaugmented human to death in seconds. I’m not sure even Doctor Jutland has managed to find a way to poison this species.”
All of this meant that they couldn’t take any shortcuts. With Doctor Jutland’s extensive tampering, the internal structure of his chimera mech had become exceptionally resilient to all forms of damage. They stood a better chance of defeating the Kaius by focusing on its mechanical portions.
Everyone turned back to Ves. While House Kaine had its own experts to consult with, Ves remained one of the most knowledgeable people around when it came to mechs.
Ves zoomed the projection back out and pointed his finger at a couple of portions, causing them to be shaded in orange. “I’ve already determined that two of its six limbs are improperly affixed to its joints. I found a handful of other components that show similar signs of poor maintenance and patchwork repairs.”
Ten percent of the wireframe model turned into orange. “These portions should be the chimera mech’s achilles heel. They’re much less tolerant of damage than the rest of this complex mech.”
A light shone in Captain Kaine’s eyes. She dearly hated the Kaius for beating her first command to the point where they had to abandon their mission and return to base in disgrace. Her Cathrec also lost its hand at the end, which cut her combat effectiveness in half.
“Unfortunately, the scans we’ve made of the Kaius has not been very extensive, especially in its deepest portions. I’m still unable to figure out the state of its cockpit or if its even present on that thing. However, I’m confident that the weak points I’ve pointed out should severely impact the performance of the Kaius.”
In truth, Ves learned a lot about the chimera mech’s internal structure with the help of Lucky’s surreptitious recordings. He even encountered something frightening that gave him a whole new conception of what mechs were capable of. He left all of these details out of his story because he didn’t wish to explain how he got ahold of this information.
After Ves finished his report, the meeting turned to other topics. They talked about Doctor Jutland and whatever scraps of information they found of his background, which was surprisingly brief. He definitely had a checkered past, but someone with a lot of power had scrubbed all mention of the man from the galactic net.
Tregis even brought in a psychologist who talked a whole round of nonsense about the crazy doctor’s mental state. Ves largely slept through his long and winding explanation.
The man had simply gone native. He also let the poison in the air affect his judgement despite his best efforts to modify his body to become more compatible with the environment. The twenty-seven year long wait for the next expedition had also taken a toll on his psyche.
At the end, Commander Tregis relayed something unsettling. “The mercenaries in the field have started to relay unusual movements among the hexapods. Much of them are being drawn away to the east of our position, which is where the hunting platoon had been circling towards. Our analysts believe that Doctor Jutland is gathering them for an assault.”
The news came like a thunderbolt from the sky. While the hexapods possess a formidable amount of power, they generally acted with beastly instincts and thus could easily be outfoxed. They also generally roamed the forest in a solitary pattern.
If Doctor Jutland gathered them into a horde, and directed them with a rudimentary strategy, the base camp could very well be overrun.
“We should ask for reinforcements from the fleet!” A nameless officer proposed. His eyes darted around as if he feared a hexapod could jump out at any moment. “There are still a lot of mechs that haven’t been shipped from orbit!”
“That is out of the question.” Commander Tregis shook his head. “The vast majority of the assets this expedition has brought comprise of spaceborn mechs that function best in zero-g space. Bringing them down to the surface where they will have to face crushing 1.4 times standard gravity will severely hamper their effectiveness.”
In addition, the spaceborn mechs also possessed flight systems that wouldn’t be able to function in atmosphere. This severely neutered the spaceborn mechs to the point where they were better off with deploying obsolete mechs.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I also have to relay an important change that affects our entire operation.” The base commander continued. “Scout ships have reported sightings of a small but potent sandmen fleet. They’re approaching the Groening System in an inexorable march. Due to this approaching threat, the main fleet has quietly left orbit to meet the sandmen fleet in battle.”
If the threat of Doctor Jutland could be likened to a rabid dog, then the threat of the approaching sandmen fleet was comparable to a hungry tiger. Between the two adversaries, Lord Kaine put a higher amount of priority in beating back the space-faring aliens. Half of the people present in the conference room adopted despairing expressions.
Even Ves frowned at the news. The departure of the Ark Horizon cut off their supply lines, which meant that they couldn’t get their hands on replacement armor plating for the damaged Olympians. Without the heavy knights, nothing could stop the Kaius if it decided to barge past the walls of the base.
“We’re so dead.”