Ves pushed his setup to its limits when he failed to get a response. Due to the inverse-square law, the poor little transceiver had to accommodate an increasingly alarming amount of power.
Neither the salvaged energy cells, the improvised power converter or the hastily upgraded transceiver handled the increasing load well. Ves frequently shut down the power to cool down the stressed devices and replace a few of the more delicate components that only hung on by a thread.
His persistence finally paid off when his shabby transceiver finally returned a response. It came in with dense encryption that made no sense if Ves didn’t have the right key.
“Why reply with encryption?”
Then he thought about the untrustworthy elements in the expedition. If someone like Commander Keller listened in to their correspondence, then that could lead to a lot of unpleasant consequences.
Acting upon a hunch, Ves applied a unique code that his father hammered into his head to his transceiver.
The gibberish transformed into simple text.
[This is base camp. We read you loud and clear. Both your cousin and the commander are present.]
Ves checked his transceiver and noticed a trail of smoke. He rapidly typed in his reply on the projected keyboard.
[I am still in captivity and am transmitting through an improvised transceiver. It will only hold up in a limited amount of time.]
[Roger. We are triangulating your position but it will take time. Please explain your circumstances.]
Without any delay, he briefly transmitted what he experienced including the fact that he’d been operated on. He also emphasized that Doctor Jutland and his Kaius departed the cave a day ago.
[Copy that. We have anticipated his arrival. Base camp is currently in upheaval. Expeditionary fleet has suffered a defeat against sandmen fleet but fled in good order. Cmdr. Keller and his supporters have rebelled and are at large. Prospectors have found the motherlode and its exploitation has disturbed the local ecosystem. Disabling the Kaius is a critical priority. Do you have a solution?]
The brief message came at a bombshell. The defeat of the expeditionary fleet caught everyone off-guard. No wonder Keller and his ilk went AWOL. That latter part of ‘fled in good order’ sounded reassuring, but who knew what the truth really looked like.
Without a stable fleet presence up in orbit, they’d never able to leave this miserable planet. If they couldn’t leave within twenty days, they’d be joining Doctor Jutland in his merry isolation.
Forget about retaining your sanity, you’d run out of food, water and air long before the next twenty-seven year lull arrived.
As for the motherlode, Ves figured that House Kaine finally found the source of all the monoexurite spread throughout the jungle. An unimaginable amount of wealth should be locked away in this vein.
Digging it out should net the expedition an unimaginable amount of monoexurite, perhaps in the kilograms even! However, taking such a valuable source of monoexurite away would also devastate the local ecosystem and cut off Jutland’s ambitions.
“He’s just like an alien who can’t do without a source of exotics. Cutting him off from monoexurite is like taking away the stimulants of a hardcore addict. Jutland will never be resigned to give up his source of bliss.”
Fortunately, House Kaine took its security seriously, and with Ves warning them of the coming of the Kaius, they’d be fully prepared to repel the monstrous mech.
That reminded Ves of his data chip and the valuable schematics within.
[Please stand by while I transmit incomplete schematics of the Kaius.]
Ves retrieved the data chip and inserted it into an open slot on his transceiver. After selecting the pertinent files, the device slowly transmitted its contents to base camp. Due to the great distance and the constant interfere in the air, the transmission dragged on for minutes.
[We’ve received your transmission in full and are in the process of verifying its contents. Please stand by.]
His transceiver started to release a lot more smoke by now. It shouldn’t be able to hold on for long.
[My transceiver is breaking up. I have only seconds left. Please send rescue to my transmission point. There are half-a-dozen adult hexapods and a score of juveniles under Jutland’s thralls. No elder hexapod kings are present to my knowledge. If the Kaius returns, I will attempt to sabotage it.
[Our manpower is short. We can only divert a limited amount of help. Your rescue will hinge on the success of your sabotage. Rescue party will abort its attempt in the event of failure.]
For a moment, Ves felt the need to slam his fist down the radio. House Kaine practically pushed him into a corner and blatantly blackmailed him into disabling the Kaius! Still, if they had to fend off Jutland, Keller and the native wildlife at the same time, it’d be a wonder if they could send out a squad of mechs.
[Roger. I will await your rescue party. Out.]
His transceiver finally bit the dust before he received the final reply from base camp. He hastily put out the flames, then dismantled his entire setup before stashing his half-fried gear among the desolate pile of mechs.
After cleaning himself up, he left the junk pile and walked over the edge of the massive pool of water. A familiar juvenile hexapod padded over and croaked towards him as if he was a dog welcoming back his owner.
“Hey there friend.” He said and tentatively reached out a hand to rub its head. The hexapod barely noticed his touch. “I guess you’re nothing like a dog.”
The dimwitted creature acted more like a badly programmed bot than anything else. Ves wondered how Doctor Jutland managed to direct these creatures in the first place.
Did he raise them from their infancy and conditioned them to obey him from the start? Had he fed them with a cocktail of drugs and slowly weaned away their instincts? Or did the crazy doctor use some mystical mind magic?
The truth mattered little to him for now, as his rescue party could clean up the beasts themselves. Ves only had to figure out a way to cripple the Kaius. He looked down the pool of water and tried hard not to smell the disgusting scent emanating from its murky depths.
“What can I purchase with my remaining points?”
His newly added insights into salvaging provided him with a couple of decent options. Sometimes, they had to bypass obstacles without resorting to heat-based cutters.
The most sophisticated salvagers in the center of the galaxy employed highly advanced nanites. These microscopic bots not only ate through the toughest materials, but were also capable of limited self-replication.
Sadly, the System’s Store charged a ludicrous price for a thumbnail’s worth of basic nanites. Even if he possessed the points to exchange them, his lack of expertise prevented him from employing them as he wished.
A lower-tech solution to salvagers was the use of chemicals. They relied on various acids and the like to dissolve extremely hardy obstacles. Proper use of chemicals required a lot of foreknowledge on the kind of materials the salvagers expected to encounter. If you brought the wrong formula, you’d be liable to waste your time.
“It’s a good thing I know exactly what kind of alloys the Kaius has incorporated.” He smirked.
He couldn’t do anything against the chimera mech’s resilient living tissue. Jutland spent a lot of time and resources to strengthen them against every possible form of damage, and they were already strong to begin with when the hexapod king was still alive. Ves only aimed to weaken its mechanical replacement parts.
He returned to the junkyard and found quiet corner to activate his System. He visited the Store and sought out the chemicals that should be effective against the alloys incorporated in the fallen mechs.
[Formula FDER-351]: 25,000 Design Points
[Formula HH55-00030-F]: 50,000 Design Points
[Formula U-22 V77 Folmention]: 30,000 Design Points
[Formula 22256F]: 5,000 Design Points
Of the handful of formulas that met his criteria, only one of them came close to his price range.
As the most affordable chemical on the list, Formula 22256F appeared to be a product designed to appeal to the cheapskates. It was highly unsafe and had a limited shelf life. It also came in a smaller container than the rest.
“Will it be enough to weaken the alloys?”
If Ves dump the skinny vial into the giant pool of water, the chemical would spread out over a very wide volume. Still, despite its price, the chemical was very potent on its own. Ves even knew a couple of tricks that salvagers often used to give the formula some extra kick.
He decisively purchased a vial from the store. It materialized in his hand, which he carefully stuffed in his pockets. It would be a disaster if he spilled it. Now that he possessed the main ingredient, he could get to work with adding some supplements.
Ves returned to the junkyard and carefully opened up the engines and power reactors. Most of these core components were highly complicated systems by themselves that incorporated a number of chemicals. He salvaged a couple of critical chemicals that hadn’t evaporated or turned bad over the years.
“Damn!” He hissed as he barely drew his fingers back in time. A foul splash of chemical goop exploded from the power reactor he worked on. “Even my thickened skin won’t save me if I get any of this acid on me.”
Doctor Jutland could return at any time, so Ves worked with haste. He finally gathered a sufficient amount of chemicals after several hours of focused work. He looked down at the makeshift buckets he fashioned out of spare scrap.
After blending them together, he added in the formula. The entire mixture instantly seethed as if it came alive. Ves didn’t wait for it to fully mix and tipped over the container into the pool. The mystery blend submerged into the water and had become diluted to the point where Ves couldn’t spot any difference from before.
He wouldn’t want to dip into the waters, though.
“I’ve done all I can now.”
Ves cleaned up the scene of the crime as best he could and returned to his designated juvenile hexapod. He laid down on his ride and deliberately loosened his focus.
With his reins loosened up, his Jutland organ hit back with a vengeance. The massive influx of energy destabilized his internal energy cycle and caused a lot of pain.
He gritted his teeth and tried to deal with the problem without resorting to his mind. Ves only achieved a minimal amount of progress in this regard.
Time passed slowly as he pretended to be weak and infirm. Ves caught up with his sleep but could do nothing for his hunger and thirst. He didn’t dare piss off the hexapods by attempting to slaughter them for sustenance. Besides, hated the barbarity of eating raw flesh. He’d rather go hungry for a while.
“Seems my body hasn’t finished adjusting if I’m still craving for food.”
While Ves continued to speculate about the changes in his body, Doctor Jutland finally returned after half a day of quiet contemplation.
The Kaius obviously suffered a setback. Its entire left torso appeared to have suffered a massive explosion that cracked some of its scales and enormously weakened the exposed metallic components close by.
The man also came with company this time. A very familiar looking swordsman mech that had seen better days trudged after the Kaius.
The situation on the ground must have been dire for the both of them if they retreated to this cave in a hurry. Neither of the two men paid much attention to Ves, which was just the way he liked it.
Jutland even directed his Kaius to submerge into the pool without glancing at it, which relieved Ves from one of his worries.
“Doc! This isn’t what you promised!” Keller yelled as the cockpit of his mech opened up. Unlike Ves, the mercenary commander wore a vacuum-sealed piloting suit, which possessed less armor than a hazard suit but provided him with much more flexibility.
It didn’t avail him when Jutland pounced on him from a ludicrous distance with his massively enhanced body. The crazy doctor grasped Keller’s neck and slammed him against the side of his cockpit.
“Don’t talk to me in that tone, little worm! I’m the one in charge, not you! If you and your men remained patient, we’d be able to attack the expeditionary forces from two seperate fronts!”
“You don’t know my men! I couldn’t get a lid on my men once they got wind of the main fleet’s defeat. They had to lash out!”
“Incompetent simpleton!” Jutland cursed and slammed Keller against the surface of his mech again. “Are humans always so dumb? What is the use of keeping you alive when you don’t have any men anymore?”
“W-W-Wait a moment, doc! I can still get in touch with some of my friends in base! Not everyone lost hope! I can continue to feed you information and-”
A loud crack sounded out as Jutland mercilessly punched his fist into Keller’s visor. The force not only broke through the transparent composite that made up the foreplate but also crunched the Vesian’s head like a watermelon.
Ves felt a chill in his spine. The brute force displayed by Doctor Jutland far surpassed a baseline human’s limit. Even he didn’t wish to measure his strength against the murderous exobiologist.
With hardly a word, Jutland threw aside the corpse. Keller’s broken form practically shattered upon landing. Only his vacsuit prevented his body from splattering out in a disgusting display. The doctor jumped from the vacant mech without a word and landed on the ground.
“Hahahaha! I’m surrounded by incompetence! There is no hope for humanity!” Jutland’s gaze turned vicious as he stared at Ves. “Are you incompetent as well?”