187 In Shambles
Ves currently likened his body to a balloon that steadily took in air without stop. His body could only hold a limited amount of energy. Even after Jutland directed his body to grow stronger, it had reached its limits, meaning that Ves eventually faced the possibility of bursting apart like a balloon with too much air.
For now, he couldn’t figure out a way to release the pressure. The strange energy cycling inside his body consisted of a strange sort of energy that resembled a thick, permeable gas of some sorts. It was remarkably difficult to control and currently Ves had no way of siphoning a portion outwards.
Therefore, the only way to relieve the problem was to slow down his overactive heat organ. Such a solution wouldn’t work forever, as he merely delayed his eventual death, but he bought himself a lot of time.
When Ves narrowed his concentration on corralling the heat organ, he estimated that the rate of accumulation had slowed down to a fifth of its former activity level. His active efforts also pulled the wind out of his internal energy cycle, which reduced the pressure it put onto his body. This allowed him to regain his mobility.
“I can’t keep this up forever, though.”
It took a lot of effort to maintain his current level of concentration. Ves felt as if he had to maintain two trains of thoughts, one for the present and one dedicated to keeping his heat organ in check. Designing the Mark II which employed three images had been a bit more onerous.
He estimated he could keep this up for three hours at a time before he needed to take a break. He also determined that he couldn’t maintain his concentration when he slept, which potentially cut the effectiveness of this exercise by a third.
“This is merely a temporary fix. I’ll find a more permanent one once I’ve returned to civilization.”
At worst, he’d travel to the Titanium Garden and beg Master Olson to remove his newly implanted organs. Despite the awesome power they provided, it was useless if he couldn’t control it. Ves constantly played with fire the longer he hosted this strange new energy.
The door of the hut slammed open. An angry looking Jutland saw that Ves hadn’t done much of anything, as he still pretended to be suffering from an of energy. “Get a grip! Your body isn’t crippled to the point you’re never able to move again! Get to work!”
Ves minutely shook his head. Despite all of his fanciful thoughts, he remained vulnerable to the whims of a madman.
“Let’s see what’s on the datachip.”
When Ves studied the contents of the datachip, he found the information to be partially complete. Much of the inner portions of the Kaius remained obscured, as Jutland probably didn’t intend to put all of his eggs in a single basket.
Pity he didn’t know that Ves already had a good look inside, courtesy of Lucky.
Doctor Jutland made detailed scans of his chimera mech’s mechanical components. In case of salvaged components, he also documented the wrecks from where he sloppily removed them. The chip even contained the precious notes of the initial mech designer.
Parsing them proved to be a challenge for Ves. The mech designer mostly wrote down miniscule details and incomprehensible calculations that meant nothing without knowing the context. The mech designer never intended to present his notes to others, so he didn’t bother to format them in a way that allowed other mech designers to pick up his torch.
Puzzling through the schematic and documents yielded a little more understanding of the Kaius. The mech designer not only mastered the humanoid form, but also knew his way around several beast shapes, including reptilian ones which the hexapod mostly resembled. Ves vaguely gleaned several insights about the peculiarities a reptilian form demanded.
“It’s all about stability.”
A hexapod massed as much as a mech and more due to its highly developed bones, muscles and scales. This granted them an incredible amount of speed and power that surpassed the specs of most mechs with an equivalent mass.
All of this strength came at a cost. Hexapods required six sturdy limbs in order to leverage their heavy muscles. Though they could make do with four limbs for a time, eventually they reached its limits. Supporting their immense bulk required a lot of constant effort.
“That heat organ is certainly a cheat.”
The plentiful amount of energy provided by a highly developed heat organ allowed the hexapods to do more with less. It removed most of the bottlenecks that constrained their size and allowed them to balloon to epic proportions.
According to the schematic, Jutland modified a hexapod king’s heat organ into an organic power reactor. The highly augmented organ was a marvel of nature and technology. It provided a stable output of energy that powered both its organic and mechanical components. The only downside to these tweaks was that the Kaius thirsted for water whenever it exerted its heat organ.
“Everything is balanced. Limitless energy doesn’t exist.”
Exotic materials often produced miracles, but they always hid a lot of limitations. Besides their scarcity, their effects always exacted another price. The heat organ’s dependence on water gave Ves a clue on one of the vulnerabilities of the Kaius.
“Too bad it’s not something I can mess around.”
Ves was a mech designer. He hardly knew anything about exobiology, which was Jutland’s core strength. If Ves wanted to figure out a way to sabotage the Kaius, he’d be better off focusing on his own core strength.
A fifth of the hexapod king carcass that made up the Kaius had been replaced with metallic parts. All of them were in pretty bad shape. They withstood decades of corrosion, neglect and incompetent handling.
In addition, the quality of the salvaged mech parts left a lot to be desired. The mechs brought by the first expedition simply didn’t hold a candle to the advanced models employed by the forces from the Grey Willow Star Sector. Even in an optimal environment, it would be remarkable if they lasted over twenty years.
This fit with the modus operandi of small-to-medium scale expeditionary fleets. They employed fairly cheap mechs made out of materials that could be easily recycled and be used to fabricate new replacement parts or even entire new mechs.
While this meant that the materials were easy to work with, the parts never lasted very long. The Kaius clearly suffered a substantial degradation in performance due to the perennial weaknesses introduced by its various mechanical components.
It was like a galactic-class athlete being hobbled by a crude prosthetic made of wood. That single imperfection ruined the perfect balance of his body that allowed him to break galactic records.
Depending on the facilities at hand, Ves could think of a number of remedies. To be frank, the parts needed to be broken down and reformed. Ves had no expertise of the former and he’d require a fully functional 3D printer to do the latter.
From the state of this sorry-looking outpost, Ves guessed that Jutland hadn’t been able to preserve a 3D printer. Even if he did have one in the early years, it must have broken down as many of its components were rather delicate.
“I’ll have to assume I only have basic tools at my disposal.”
Expeditions that established an outpost groundside usually brought a standard set of portable equipment to service their mechs.
A compact autoforge was a step down from a 3D printer in that it couldn’t fabricate precise components from a ready supply of raw materials. However, its low-tech nature gave it a robustness that could withstand many different hostile environments without a sweat.
“I don’t know how to work an autoforge.”
He used to handle one when he studied mech design, but only to familiarize himself with its various functions. The much superior industrial 3D printers provided students with a much easier experience. Only the true hardcore metallurgists kept hanging around an autoforge in order to fine-tune the casting of alloys.
Ves spent the rest of the day drawing up a preliminary overhaul of the Kaius. He only touched up the most glaring weaknesses in order to placate Jutland.
The next day, Ves woke up with his entire body aching lightly. He obviously lost control over his energy cycle somewhere in the night. Without his conscious direction, his heat organ went back to pumping his energy at full throttle.
Jutland came by sometime later. “Good! You’re awake again! You better show some work, or I’ll feed you to my subjects!”
“I’ve already drawn up a plan!” Ves quickly replied, and proceeded to show his captor his meager efforts.
“Hmph. Considering the state of your body, you’ve made an adequate amount of progress. How soon until you finish a new design?”
“That’s difficult to say because I don’t have a complete grip on the facilities you have on hand. Do you still possess a working 3D printer?”
“I don’t know! Let’s take a look! It’s your first day on the job, so you better familiarize yourself with your workplace. Haha!”
The doctor summoned a random juvenile hexapod and dumped Ves onto its back. Its coarse scales chafed against his skin, but Ves refrained from uttering a complaint. Ever since he started working on the doctor’s long-awaited overhaul, Jutland hadn’t exploded into anger very often.
When the hexapod brought him to a shambling shack, Ves got to see the outpost’s workshop.
“Well? What do you think? I’ve salvaged more than enough tools for you to work with! I’ve even hauled over a 3D printer for you!”
It looked abysmal. A broken 3D printer took up most of the space. From all of the rust and broken parts poking out of its massive shell, Ves directly wrote it off. As for the pile of handheld tools such as plasma cutters and welders, he briefly sorted them and found that maybe one in four still worked.
At least the workshop held an autoforge. It exhibited sporadic signs of use. Jutland must have fumbled with it over the years as his Kaius began falling apart and needed more mechanical replacements. the hexapod brought Ves over to the autoforge, he turned on its control terminal.
It booted up at least. When Ves initiated its diagnostics, the terminal reported the state of the autoforge. While he didn’t understand some of the readings, he noted that the machine largely held up despite the abuse it suffered over a period of twenty-seven years.
“Your autoforge needs some work. It’s not in the best shape.”
“Then fix it!”
Ves bought some more time for himself with that trick. The diagnostics painted a worse picture than what actually went on, as the diagnostics reported all of its error reports up front. That gave the machine the illusion that it suffered under a mountain of issues.
Jutland left the room to do his own things, but before he left he ordered the hexapod to stay put. While Ves didn’t relish hanging on to the creature all day, it behaved noticeably docile under Jutland’s influence. He probably didn’t have to worry about it getting hungry and wanting to take a bite out of Ves.
“You won’t eat me, will you?”
The stupid creature didn’t even jerk at his question.
Now that Ves had a better picture on what he had to work with, he began to formulate an actual escape plan.
After thinking through his options, he reluctantly gave up on running away on his own. From what he saw, a horde of juvenile hexapods guarded the cave and its surroundings. With only five minutes worth of stealth, Ves could never run away fast enough to escape Jutland’s reach even if he sabotaged the Kaius.
He’d have to send a signal back to base camp asking for rescue.
In order to send a strong enough signal that could penetrate the miasma of metallic particles and garbled radio spectrum, he’d have to get his hands on two different things.
First, he had to get his hands on a transmitter. Fortunately, Jutland’s datachip showed him that most of the derelict mechs still possessed their transmitters, though they weren’t in the best shape. Ves could use the tools at hand to covertly bring them back online.
Second, in order to penetrate the miasma, he required a massive amount of power, enough to short out the transmitter seconds after it sent out its message. Ves expected a lot more difficulty in getting his hands on a power source.
The base obviously ran on Jutland’s own internal energy which he somehow converted to a stable current. The salvaged energy cells Jutland used as batteries must have also slowly degraded to the point where they frequently ran out of juice.
Powering a high-strength transmitter would probably drain most of the energy cells all at once, alerting Jutland that Ves had done something sneaky. Once he came across the transmitter, there would be hell to pay.
“I’ve got to find an alternate source of energy.”
Ves instinctively turned his attention inwards. His internal energy cycle continued to revolve inside his body. Could he figure out the trick Jutland used to draw out this strange energy in the form of electricity?