Ves spent the next couple of days pretending to be physically infirm while dragging his feet on the redesign of the Kaius. Jutland frequently hounded him in his free time and made sure that Ves presented some progress.
His job became vastly more complicated due to its dual nature as a mechanical and living machine.
The huge chimera mech incorporated a vast amount of living tissue that Jutland spent a lot of time trying to keep alive. The incomplete schematic included in the datachip only briefly mentioned the various functions of the strange organs inside the beast.
In truth, Ves only partially directed his attention on the Kaius. Most of its complexity lay in its living components. As for the mechanical parts, they mostly provided support, taking the place of bones and tissue that Jutland hadn’t managed to save.
They were simple to design but difficult to fabricate. The lacking facilities available in the cave forced Ves to be a little more creative in his designs. He had to take into account his meager proficiency with the low-tech autoforge.
Whenever Jutland holed up in his lab to cook up his latest biological horror, Ves slacked off in his current duties and focused on his goal of upgrading a transceiver and providing it with a vast amount of power. Both of these challenges required a lot of effort to make any headway.
Ves gained an opening when the doctor suddenly appeared alarmed and readied the Kaius for action. “The nerve of these outlanders! I will be off for a while!”
Before he left, Jutland gave a stern warning for Ves to stay put. He called out even more hexapods and stationed them around the entrance and his most important labs. If Ves got anywhere near the creatures, they’d gobble him up without hesitation. The biolab practically turned into an impregnable fortress by the time the doctor finished his arrangements.
Seeing the Kaius come to life and emerge from the pool of water once again gave Ves a sense of majesty. Even devoid of actual life, the chimera mech still provided him with a sense of dread.
Each step elicited a minor earthquake. Its vast bulk forced the Kaius to expend a mountain of energy which its modified heat organ provided in spades. It slowly crawled out of the cave like a dragon about to raid a village.
Something serious must have happened that caused Jutland to bring out the big guns. Ever since he kidnapped Ves, Jutland had been content with keeping an eye on Ves while he holed up in his precious labs. Perhaps the expeditionary forces stumbled upon something important to Jutland.
“I’m finally alone.”
Without the good doctor looking over his shoulders, Ves could accomplish a lot more things. He scoped out the outpost for the last few days and got a good measure on Doctor Jutland’s security arrangements.
The man generally disdained relying on technology. Everything high tech had already degraded to the point of turning into scrap. The plentiful amount of hexapods standing guard spoke of Jutland’s trust and reliance on these remarkably dimwitted beasts.
Though Ves still hadn’t gotten a clue how Jutland directed the alien creatures. Still, no matter the control method, he doubted they worked like cameras, which meant that Ves had free reign of much of the outpost.
Besides the biolabs and exit, Ves could walk everywhere as he pleased. In his boundless confidence, he judged that Ves should still be coping with his runaway internal energy cycle.
Ves indeed suffered a lot of pain and a loss of control, but that only happened when he stopped suppressing his Jutland organ. Once the doctor and his giant mech disappeared, Ves sharpened his focus once again and dedicated at least a third of his mental capacity to dialing down his rebellious organ.
Days of practice enabled him to become more adept at channeling his concentration. The urgency of the situation and the constant threat of harm had spurred his will to life like a torch.
Before he ended up in Jutland’s hands, he always required a lot of lead time to transition his mind. Now he only required a couple of seconds to switch his focus.
Once his artificial organ had been leashed, Ves slid out the uncomfortable back of the hexapod that acted as his transport. The hexapod that ordinarily watched over him did nothing to stop him from leaving.
“Heh, thought so. These hexapods don’t understand Jutland’s intent. At the very least, the juveniles are as dumb as rocks.”
Two hexapod adults patrolled the biolabs at all time, which clearly indicated their importance to the doctor. Ves thought it wise not to challenge these beasts. Though he was curious what preoccupied Jutland these days, he doubted he’d get away without without losing a couple limbs.
Still, his curiosity continued to nag at him. If he activated his stealth augment, he could sneak past the oblivious hexapods and take a peek. Yet he shook his head after weighing the possible benefits.
“Using the stealth augment will drain the batteries of my comm.”
Ves couldn’t find a single outlet that allowed him to recharge his comm. Such a thing must have been a low priority to Jutland who lost his own comm many years ago.
He decided to hold back his stealth augment for his inevitable escape attempt. Without five minutes worth of stealth, he’d never be able to sneak past the vigilant hexapod adults standing guard near the exit.
Instead, he turned his gaze towards the pile of derelict mechs shoved into a corner of the cave. A devious smile appeared on his face for the first time in weeks.
There weren’t any hexapods standing guard over the wrecks. His captor hadn’t considered the possibility that he’d regain enough strength to make use of them. This allowed Ves to waltz over the pile of junk without challenge.
“This is truly a mess.”
All of the wrecks consisted of remnants of the first expedition. Twenty-seven years ago, Ves could have salvaged a good number of high-quality parts. Now though, neglect and the passing of time allowed corrosion to set in deep.
In the overall scheme of things, a transceiver played a vital role for the mechs that carried them. They enabled the machines to keep in touch with each other and send back vital telemetry.
As humans often employed mechs against each other, the use of jamming technology was widespread. This limited the ability for mechs to communicate across vast distances such as a ship in orbit. Most mech designers therefore employed a transceiver that specialized in establishing secure short-range communication channels.
Thus, a mech transceiver had to fulfill two criteria.
First, they had to be robust enough to withstand shocks. It would be monumentally bad if a crippled mech couldn’t call for help when its transceiver got taken out as a bonus.
Second, they had to be capable of scaling up its output when it received an increase in power. Most of the mechs in the junk pile happened to use the same
Like other sophisticated components such as power reactor and engines, mech designers always licensed a readily available transceiver model from a third-party developer.
Such a model had been designed from the ground up to accommodate many different kinds of mechs. A heavy mech possessed a shipload of power while a light mech had to be sparing in its energy expenditure. A transceiver had to work reliably in many different situations if its developer wished to license them out.
Ves brought a heavy duty plasma cutter over to the wrecks and began to make some careful cuts. He chose to work at the wrecks from the rear so that Jutland wouldn’t notice anything amiss when he glanced at the pile.
When he worked with the plasma cutter, Ves noticed his body lost a lot of flexibility. His recent body transformation played hell with his coordination, which often led to near-accidents when he overshot his aim with his plasma cutter. Ves had to slow down even further if he wished to avoid a very nasty burn.
He wondered what the System thought of his new attributes. His strength and endurance must have shot through the roof at the expense of his dexterity.
“I haven’t checked my Status in months.”
It should be almost two months since he joined the expedition. Due to House Kaine’s omnipresent surveillance as well as Ensign D’Amato’s watchful presence, Ves never dared to access the System.
Now that he’d been left alone with a bunch of stupid hexapods, Ves could finally access its many miraculous functions. He quickly turned off his plasma cutter and placed it aside.
Just in case Jutland hid some cameras around the cave, Ves dove inside the half-open cockpit of a fallen mech. Closing the hatch took some effort, but a judicious application of strength allowed him to seal it somewhat shut.
The cockpit looked even worse than the rest of the mech. All of the projections and status screens either rusted away or hosted some strange metallic plant growth. Even the soft ergonomic seat cushions had decayed in a foul puddle of viscous ooze.
Ves ignored his surroundings and hunched over his body, trying to shield his comm from as many angles as possible. Once he insured that almost nothing would be able to capture the contents of his comm, he navigated through a hidden menu and executed the Mech Designer Program.
[Mech Designer System Menu]
The familiar menu reassured him that he hadn’t lost his most important tool in his career. The System accompanied him in his current rise as an Apprentice Mech Designer. The difficulties he faced nowadays strained his current capabilities. Without the help of the System, Ves faced an uphill struggle if he wished to escape with his hide intact.
First, he called up his Status.
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Apprentice Mech Designer
Design Points: 17,643
Neural Aptitude: F
[Assembly]: Apprentice – [3D Printer Proficiency III] [Assembler Proficiency III]
[Electrical Engineering]: Apprentice – [Structural Pathway Configuration II]
[Mechanics]: Journeyman – [Jury Rigging II] [Speed Tuning III]
[Metallurgy]: Journeyman – [Alloy Compression II]
[Physics]: Apprentice – [Directed Energy Weapon Optimization II] [Lightweight Armor Optimization I] [Mediumweight Armor Optimization III] [Melee Weapon Optimization Ii]
[Superpublish]: Available. Can be activated once a year.
Evaluation: A post-human mech designer capable of surviving harsh environments without protection.
The moment he saw his attributes, his eyes practically bulged. “My strength practically doubled and my endurance almost tripled!”
The last time he checked his Status, his physical attributes all scored below average at 0.8. Mech designers weren’t hotshots like mech pilots who had to be able to navigate a battlefield on foot in event their mechs broke down. Thus, Ves always paid no attention to his lackluster fitness.
Right now, Ves didn’t know what to think. His strength and endurance rose to a ridiculous level to the point of throwing his balance out of whack. He even broke through the natural genetic limit of a human body by surpassing the barrier at a score of 2.0!
As expected, all of the benefits came at the cost of dexterity. He definitely had to address this deficiency once he returned along with every other side effect. The System’s Status only summarized his attributes. They didn’t list out his overall fitness nor all of the junk that Doctor Jutland stuffed inside his body.
“My DP hasn’t grown by much.” He muttered with disappointment.
After thinking about it, Ves figured out the reasons.
He’d been absent from the market for two months. This pushed him out of the current news cycle which severely impacted his brand awareness.
Several other factors also limited the sales of his catalog. His earlier creations performed fairly bad compared to the most popular mechs in their market segments. His later works could be piloted for free via the game centers that participated in the promotion spearheaded by his publicist Gavin.
Only his most radical fans purchased the Young Blood or the Old Soul. The accessible and well-received Young Blood already capped out its DP contribution, so Ves earned nothing else from its sale. As for the Old Soul, its ambush sniper playstyle didn’t appeal to the vast majority of young potentates who craved instant action.
“Well, it’s not like I can scoff at seventeen-thousand DP. I can do plenty of things with this amount.”