Just as Jutland indulged in his triumph, the Cathrec suddenly beeped in alarm. Its limbs moved stiffly as its pilot failed to response. “Detecting incapacitated pilot. Initiating contingency Gamma-One-Six. Autonomous control mode activated.”
Some of the other mechs of the hunting platoon also started to move without any prompting from their pilots. From their awkward movements, Ves figured out that artificial intelligences had taken over their controls.
It was a brilliant countermeasure against Jutland’s psychic attack. Ves remembered that no such backups existed in the designs of the Olympian. Chief Ramirez must have taken his warnings seriously!
“These primitive bots won’t stop me.” Jutland hissed and commanded the Kaius forward.
The smart intelligences that appropriated the mechs finished off the hexapods first. Jutland’s indiscriminate mental command affected not only humans but also the native wildlife. The AI’s conveniently cleaned them up before the Kaius lumbered over. Its extensive internal damage due to the corrosive chemicals Ves slipped inside the pool slowed down its gait, giving its opponents plenty of time.
The massacre didn’t even affect the raging madman. He continued to push the Kaius onwards as if he helmed a spaceship about to crash into a moon. He disregarded every possible consequence as the AIs mastered the controls and formed to receive the charge.
The Kaius stopped in its tracks as its anemic charge failed to phase the prepared Olympian. The Volmars along with the Cathrec had long positioned themselves at the flanks. As medium mechs, they pounced on the briefly immobilized Kaius like a pack of raptors.
All of the AIs aimed at the weak points, as if they’d already been programmed with the relevant data. The Kaius truly buckled this time as some of its weakened metal parts buckled under the force.
However, a starved camel was still bigger than a horse. Even with all of its ailments, the Kaius continued to hit back with slow but powerful attacks. It even managed to pull off a difficult feint and struck a Volmar square in the chest.
This highlighted the faults of using AIs. They had obviously been implemented with haste, giving them very little time to master their respective mechs, let alone develop a smooth routine that took full advantage of the strengths of their machines.
Still, as bad as they currently performed, they rapidly learned their lessons. Their movements grew smoother over time, and they made less mistakes than in the first minute. The Kaius became increasingly hard-pressed to fend off their coordinated attacks.
If the hunting platoon fought against any other opponent, House Kaine would hesitate giving up control of the mechs to AIs.
Yet they lucked out this time because as much as Jutland excelled in exobiology, he lacked the expertise to counter the use of AIs. Any competent force employed hackers and cybersecurity specialists that punished any widespread use of bots and AIs.
Despite falling leeward, the doctor still urged his Kaius to fight on. Neither side yielded.
Now that the Kaius became preoccupied in its battle against the AI-controlled mechs, Ves gained a much-needed reprieve. Ever since his body became immobilized by the psychic attack, he started fighting back against the restriction keeping his mind and body imprisoned.
It helped that while the restriction covered much of his mind, it focused predominantly on his subconscious. Somehow, it hadn’t managed to get a good grip of his conscious mind, allowing him to nibble at the edges of the restriction.
The more he freed up his conscious mind, the faster he got rid of his entanglement. He employed his newly freed up brain capacity to assisting his efforts to free his mind. Once Ves reached a tipping point, he outright broke his shackles, freeing his entire mind as well as his body in rapid succession.
He gulped in some air as he breathed in and out. His heart pumped with fury and his Jutland organ roiled as if it hated being stopped. Ves quickly devoted his full concentration on suppressing the rebellious organ. He didn’t wish to lay down on the ground any moment longer.
A welcome arrival padded over to him then. Lucky greeted his owner with a relieved meow. As a purely mechanical creature, the psychic attack hadn’t affected the gem cat at all.
“Lucky! It’s good to see you again.” Ves picked up the cat and affectionately hugged the pet. “I’m going to need your claws for something important. Let’s go!”
He turned around and instead of running for the exit, he rushed towards the biolabs. While Ves cherished his life quite a lot, he also possessed a burning curiosity of what Jutland had been cooking in his labs. What if the doctor prepared something even worse than the psychic attack?
So with Lucky in tow, Ves reached the highly guarded lab area. Ves ignored frozen hexapods standing guard in front of the sturdy structures. He looked at the three structures and chose to begin with the smallest lab. With the help of Lucky’s energy claws, they easily bypassed the lock.
“Damn, this is a dud.”
The smallest lab primarily consisted of scavenged computing terminals and the like. Jutland must have performed most of his data analysis and number crunching in this room. The lab also contained a few rudimentary microscopes and the like. After a round of searching, Ves finally found a cooler stashed underneath a desk. When Ves opened it up, an entire rack of vials greeted his eyes.
Most of them carried coded labels that Ves had no way of figuring out. Without a guide, he couldn’t figure out which ones were poisons or medicines. Whatever the case, Ves grabbed a nearby pole and resolutely smashed all of the vials.
A dangerous stink emerged from the cooler, so Ves only made sure he broke most of the vials before he quickly left the lab and shut the door.
“Let’s go to the next one, Lucky.”
After another swipe broke the lock to the lab next door, Ves entered it with trepidation.
Unlike the first lab, this one contained actual specimens. Ves expected to encounter a genetically engineered monstrosity like the hexaworms. Instead, he came face to face with half-a-dozen incubated human bodies. They floated silently in their own transparent vats with many tubes and cables connected to their bodies.
The most frightening aspect about the bodies was that they looked identical to Doctor Jutland.
“That madman cloned himself!”
Worse, the clones consisted of human-hexapod hybrids. While the original Jutland still retained a semblance of human appearance, he hadn’t constrained himself when he developed his clones. All of them featured a different mix of typical hexapod traits such as claws or scales. One Jutland hybrid even adopted a complete reptilian head!
While the clones appeared dormant, given the amount of time Jutland had spent on their development, Ves took no chances. First, he turned off the power to the various machines that connected to the bodies. Then he requested Lucky to claw through the vats and destroy the brains of the monstrous clones.
It took a tense minute for Lucky to complete his task. While the human-like clones perished quickly enough, the ones with scales fended off his energy claws with alarming ease. Lucky had to sneak his claws through their mouths and penetrate their brains from the inside in order to finish the job.
Just as Ves and Lucky exited the middle lab and approached the largest lab, they finally got caught. Jutland bellowed with rage as he diverted his attention from the AI-controlled mechs.
“My labs! What have you done with my experiments!?”
Ves cursed Jutland’s perception but continued to the final lab. This one had obviously been built to last, as its walls, doors and locks outclassed the other labs in thickness. Despite their robustness, Lucky only had to swipe a couple more times to destroy the sturdy lock.
“You rat! Get away from that lab!”
The doctor finally noticed Ves skulking about. He became so alarmed at the intrusion that he resolutely abandoned the fight and jumped from the Kaius. While the chimera mech continued to clash against the hunting platoon, the doctor himself employed his full might into closing the distance.
Naturally, Ves became scared at the approaching doom. Nevertheless, he opened the door of the lab and sneaked inside. Despite the risks, Ves wanted to see why Jutland cherished this lab.
He came across an unusual sight. Ves expected to encounter a formidable hexopod, or some other biological horror. Instead, he came across an incubation chamber which housed a single, resplendent flower in the center.
The flower resembled a white lotus flower in the middle of a pond. It rested quietly in the middle of an artificial pool that was constantly being fed with nutrients from a reconstructed dispenser. The size of the containers told him that the radiant flower had a voracious hunger for nutrients.
Where did it all go? Ves couldn’t figure it out really, but one thing was for sure, the scent it gave off instinctively roused his appetite. His entire body screamed that if he were to eat this carefully cultivated flower, he’d receive an unimaginable amount of benefits.
“Time is running out!” Ves reminded himself while shaking his head.
Though he didn’t know what purpose the flower served, with Jutland hot on his heels he had to make a swift decision. Would he listen to his body, which hungered for the flower, or his instincts, which warned him of the danger of eating a completely alien organism?
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
In the end, Ves couldn’t resist the temptation. The flower must be representing Jutland’s hopes and dreams if he devoted so much effort on this magnificent flower that completely clashed with the local environment. Ves guessed that Jutland must have grown it from a seed he obtained elsewhere.
With Jutland breathing down his neck, Ves didn’t hesitate any longer. Once Lucky swiped open the incubation chamber, Ves ignored the hot gasses escaping the chamber and grabbed hold of the flower. His skin tingled as he brushed against the beautiful plant by its floating roots.
Ves stuffed the flower in his mouth while grabbing hold of Lucky. As soon as he completed his actions, he turned on his stealth augment. Ves disappeared from every kind of view just as Jutland smashed open the front of the lab.
As the lab door bounced beneath his feet, the maddened doctor beheld the damage Ves had wrought just seconds earlier. He gazed at the broken chamber as well as the dissipating gasses. His eyes took in every detail before focusing on the very center where a flower used to float.
In the meantime, Ves quietly sneaked way under the cover of his stealth module. He smoothly bypassed Jutland as he stumbled towards the broken incubation chamber and successfully exited the lab.
Once he passed the broken door, he picked up his pace, wanting to get as far away from Jutland as possible. The flower already started to disintegrate in his stomach, turning into a strange kind of energy that resembled the one cycling through his body but with much higher potency.
Despite the incredible amount of energy rolling in his stomach, the flower possessed an exceedingly gentle attribute. It was as if it had been made to be compatible for consumption.
“What is this energy?!”
After a couple of seconds of accumulation, the energy jumped straight past his internal energy cycle and reached his brain. The sudden influx of energy momentarily caused him to blank out. His body suddenly fell mid-stride, causing Lucky to meow in alarm. Fortunately, the stealth augment remained active.
While Ves dealt with the rash consequences of eating an alien growth, Jutland screamed with indescribable rage and blasted the entire lab to pieces with a single shock wave emanating from his primal body.
“RETURN MY HEAVENLY FLOWER YOU THIEF! THAT’S THE CULMINATION OF MORE THAN SEVENTY YEARS OF RESEARCH!”
Jutland continued to bellow his demands while overturning the entire surroundings. A distressing amount of heat escaped his body as he slowly spun out of control.
He completely disregarded his Kaius, which slowly succumbed under the increasingly competent teamwork of the AI-controlled mechs.
Captain Kaine even broke through the psychic shackles on her mind and body somehow. She took over from her awkward AI and brought her Cathrec to its full potential. The spear-wielding elite mech danced around the increasingly burdened Kaius while trying to dig through its scales in order to stop the giant glowing brain buried deep inside its chest.
While the battle turned against the so-called king of the jungle, Ves slowly recovered from his impulse action. He didn’t know whether he made a mistake by eating the flower, but much of its energy suddenly flowed inside a hole inside his brain.
“Where did it go?”
Once the energy disappeared from his body, Ves regained control over his body. For a moment, he thought the energy would fry his brains into ash. Never did he expect to see it disappear like water flowing down the drain. His rudimentary inspection of his body revealed no other changes.
“I can’t afford to dawdle any longer. I’ve got to go!”
Ves resumed his escape, passing by Melkor’s immobilized Stanislaw as he neared the exit. After suffering from several delays, his stealth augment only lasted for another minute. Ves had to get out of Jutland’s sight or he’d have a post-human madman going for his head!
“Damnit, what heavenly flower? All of that energy instantly flushed away into another dimension.”
He guessed that the flower’s potency ended up in one of the other dimensions besides the visible ones. Spacetime only consisted of the three dimensions of space along with time, but scientists have long determined the existence of additional dimensions, mostly through their interaction with exotics.
The flower must be an exceedingly precious growth nurtured with precious exotics then to possess its special characteristics. Ves therefore speculated that the flower was meant to nurture Jutland’s supposed soul, but in actual fact it just dumped a huge load of energy inside a higher dimension that, as far as he knew, had nothing to do with the human body.
“Did I just throw away a priceless treasure into the trash?” He idly wondered. As long as Jutland didn’t get his hands on a power-up, Ves had done his job.