Exile: Uprising – Chapter 18

Tathek awoke, and immediately the world began spinning. He pressed a hand to his temple and waited for his senses to steady.

How long was I unconscious?

His body and the tube had been cleansed of blood, and gentle drafts of air warmed him once again. Remembering the eye’s parting words, he waited for his torturers to return, ready to cast his defiance into their teeth. He couldn’t imagine any torture worse than seeing Sarath again. The knowledge that his actions had resulted in the death of his mate and child crushed him like a mountain, and bitter tears silently flowed from his eyes.

Minutes passed as he waited. Time stretched on, but nothing moved within the chamber. He sat up and tested the feel of his limbs, finding them responsive and without pain.

Enhancements rebuilt during rest cycle. Further modifications seeded for use in escape.

Tathek frowned at X-Zero’s words and tested his augmentations. Concentrating on the pulse cannon, he felt a familiar thrum as energy coursed through his muscles again. Where are we? he finally asked.

Within L-Two’s physical form. Current location approximately ten-thousand light years from planet Teksaroth.

Tathek gathered his thoughts, arranging his words carefully before he continued. You spoke to me before, after L-Two disabled me. Did you speak the truth? Are you really going to turn on one of your own?

Affirmative. Corruption of L-Two unacceptable. If degradation of directive present within all Vekaran intelligences, Vekarans must be eradicated to preserve creators’ objectives.

Tathek felt the truth of X-Zero’s response, but the question still came unbidden to his mind. How do I know this isn’t a trick?

X-Zero bonded to unit Tathek. Incapable of deception.

Despite the fact that his captors remained absent, Tathek looked up despairingly at the seamless integration of the tube and ceiling. I don’t see how we can escape. If we’re in L-Two’s body, then how can we hope to survive, even if we find a way out of this prison? We have no ship, and L-Two can see and kill us at any moment.

Security measures designed to counter attacks by biological entities and weapons. Countermeasures ineffective against Vekaran technology.

Tathek almost smiled, feeling X-Zero’s confidence and borrowing a portion of it to relight his own. While the price extracted for his arrogance was a void that he would never be able to fill, he knew what Sarath would want him to do if she were still alive. She would want him to escape, to fulfill their purpose and free his people and their world. The thought of achieving those goals without her brought a hard lump to his throat, but he would not dare dishonor her memory by surrendering to hopelessness.

After all, he was not alone.

Do you have a plan yet? Tathek asked as he got to his feet.

First objective, escape from containment, X-Zero replied. Modifications to unit Tathek likely to allow completion of objective. Containment device constructed of artificial material engineered to adapt to needs of Vekara. Responds on subatomic level to Vekaran commands. Energy pulse modifiable to disrupt molecular bonding of material.

Immediately, Tathek charged the energy pulse and fired it at the tube. The charge impacted the clear material but had no noticeable effect.

Different energy composition required, X-Zero informed him.

Then change it, Tathek replied immediately, frowning with impatience.

Unit Tathek possesses control of energy composition. Offloading task improves response time and efficiency.

Wait, how am I supposed to change the energy? And how would I know what composition to use anyway?

Patience, unit Tathek, X-Zero counseled. Observe.

With effort, Tathek focused his mind and tamped down his passion. He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes. A new connection opened to the implant as X-Zero streamed the knowledge of how to read the composition of the Vekaran material, as well as change the modulation of his pulse weapon, into his mind. It was a subtle adaptation that couldn’t be rushed, but fully customizable, like a well-calibrated steering mechanism. He opened his eyes, raised his arm and studied the tube.

The material was designed to restructure itself around other forms of Vekaran energy. That was why the probe could reach within his prison while he remained sealed. He just needed to mimic the proper energy signature, and he could trick the material into opening a hole wide enough for him to step through…

He let the charge build up as he adapted the weapon in his mind. When the energy felt strong enough, he released the charge.

Soundlessly, the wall flowed away from him, retreating into the floor and ceiling until there was no trace of the tube.

Tathek stepped out and looked around at the three hallways. Which way?

Right passage, X-Zero responded. The light within the curving corridor dimmed to gray as he ran. L-Two knew he was loose. He spurred himself on, following X-Zero’s directions down the winding pathways that bent, intersected and looped in on themselves.

At a junction ahead of him, the tunnel swarmed with movement. Dozens of hand-sized machines approached along the walls, the floor, even the ceiling, and Tathek reversed course, firing off rapid bursts of energy behind him.

Inefficient expenditure of energy, X-Zero informed. Individual targeting ineffective against multiple foes. Increase charge, modulate waveform for dispersal pattern. Eliminate multiple targets simultaneously.

They’re too fast! They’ll overtake me before I could build a sufficient charge.

Stand by…

Tathek fired shot after shot, disabling the foremost machines, but the horde gained ground. Lances of pain tore through the palm of his left hand, a sure sign that X-Zero was making changes, and he struggled to keep his footing even as he ran faster.

Prototype shield function enabled. Temporary delay, finite energy capacity. Utilize sparingly.

Once again, X-Zero transmitted knowledge directly into Tathek’s mind. He halted and raised his left hand, palm splayed. A new type of energy surged down his arm, and he blinked as a thin energy field spread to fill the hall in front of him. The front edge of the machines bounced harmlessly off and milled around, uncertain of how to proceed. Once the field was in place, it took no focus to sustain, and Tathek grinned as he modulated and charged his pulse weapon. The tiny robots clambered and crawled over one another, hurling themselves against the shield which had already begun to waver.

Tathek raised his right hand, released the shield and fired. The pulse swept through the hallway, and every machine it touched clattered lifelessly to the floor.

The illumination of the hallway dimmed as Tathek ran on, until he could barely see the floor ahead of him. He slowed his pace, feeling along the wall to keep his balance, until a stinging pain in both eyes forced him to stop. When he opened them, the light level was unchanged, but he could easily see the contours of the corridor.

You’re getting faster, he remarked to X-Zero, and the hope of escape surged within him.

Tathek emerged from the corridor into a wide chamber that branched off into several adjoining hallways. Three new drones awaited him, roughly the height of Teksar PODs but of vaguely humanoid shapes. Strobes of piercing light flashed from their chests, and he staggered back as if struck. Shielding his gaze with his left arm, he lifted the right to fire off another blast, but found himself unable to channel the energy.

Visual sequencing specifically targeted to disrupt neural translation of Vekaran commands. L-Two adapting defenses to counter Vekaran influence.

Give me something I can use to put out those lights!

Vekaran technology countered, adapting natural Teksar defense systems.

Tathek’s claws extended of their own accord, metal coating their surfaces and shaping them into serrated blades. He felt a surge of warmth running down each arm, and the blades began to glow with intense heat. With a snarl, he dropped into a combat stance before leaping at one of the drones. It continued to pulse light at him, and he thrust his left hand directly into its chest. The lights sparked beneath his claws, and before they had completely died he slashed at a second drone with his right hand, tearing through the metal surface and dragging smoldering wires from the ravaged chest plate. He advanced on the last drone, ignoring the throbbing strobes, and eviscerated his metallic foe with crossing slashes.

The lights in the chamber went completely dark. A crimson glow flared in the blackness and threw Tathek’s monstrous shadow against the wall.

“X0E27IS505!” a mechanical voice called out behind him. He turned to see the eye drone blazing at him. “So, you have persisted within the body of this pathetic biological, because you could not accept the consequences of your failed calculations.”

A hint of disdain echoed through the computerized voice.

Unit Tathek, convey response to L-Two.

Tathek squinted in the harsh red light of the eye, trying to glare at the mouthpiece of the Vekara who had murdered his mate. “How did you know?” he yelled.

“The calculation was simple,” the eye replied. “At every step of this escape test, the adaptations were manipulated in a manner consistent with Vekaran design. Such extensive modifications to a biological host body could have been plausible without a direct Vekaran influence, but only a Vekaran intelligence possesses the capacity to create and direct such augmentations in an improvised manner. Only a single Vekara has ever been separated from the Core. X0E27IS505. You did well to mask your presence during the interrogation, but, as before, your calculations were flawed and ultimately fatal.”

Tathek ground his teeth at L-Two’s refusal to acknowledge his existence. “What you’re doing is evil,” he shouted for himself. X-Zero’s thought stream joined with his own as he continued, “The creators did not make you for this. You were supposed to be guardians of the biological races. Caretakers. Not taskmasters and overlords!”

“Your arrogance is undiminished, X0E27IS505. Since the departure, you have acted as though you were the only remaining steward of the creators’ intentions. This hubris will be the cause of your death for a second time.”

Tathek felt a surge of adulation course down the mental connection as X-Zero streamed the remaining details of the plan. He broke into a laugh before addressing the suddenly blinking eye. “Speaking of hubris, L-Two, you really should keep a closer eye on your internal systems. While you were monologuing… X-Zero infiltrated your command processor.”

The eye blinked fitfully, the mechanical voice stuttering to reply, just before the light switched off and it dropped to the floor with a clang.