Exile: Uprising – Chapter 19

A faint location ping overlaid Tathek’s vision, and he vaulted over the fallen form of the eye and raced down the passageway behind it. The darkness within L-Two’s body was near total, but his enhanced vision allowed him to see the corridors clearly. Other constructed servitors littered the floor as he passed by, fitfully jerking and blinking as if something was battling over their control.

It was like trying to race across a moonlit cityscape during a power outage.

Through their link, Tathek felt X-Zero straining against… something. Though it had succeeded in invading L-Two’s processor, the monolithic Vekara remained fully aware, and it fought against X-Zero’s intrusion, seeking to reestablish control over its own systems. The internal illumination flickered and flashed, and the metallic groaning of massive internal structures struggling to restart echoed from everywhere.

As he ran, Tathek became aware of a second voice, not directly within his mind like X-Zero, but scratching at the edges of his consciousness like an animal scrabbling at a fence. A terrible coldness pervaded that voice, an anger born not of passion, but of absolute certainty in its course of action.

Foolishness, it intoned, and light flared through the white hallways. Tathek felt more than saw a wave of energy building down the corridor in front of him, and he hurled himself headlong into a sprint. A loud thrum sounded just behind him. Still running, he turned to look over his shoulder and saw a blue, rippling energy field bisecting the passage he had just left.

Necessity, X-Zero retorted. The light dimmed again.

The corridor ended in another wide, open chamber that branched off in several different directions. Each one looked the same to Tathek. X-Zero had only shown his destination for an instant before its duel with L-Two commenced, and he couldn’t remember where to turn next. He balked at distracting X-Zero, but there seemed little choice.

Which way? he demanded, looking down each pathway in turn.

The weight of L-Two’s exertion pressed so heavily that for an instant Tathek felt his own mind squeezed. X-Zero spared a portion of focus for just long enough to highlight a pathway ahead and to his right with purple light. He charged into it.

The floor vibrated beneath Tathek’s feet. More collapsed drones twitched and spasmed, their lights pulsing wildly. The uneven flow of power caused several to overload and spray him with hot metal fragments. A particularly large drone with a collection of long, articulated arms shot into the air in front of him, every limb flailing. Tathek tried to duck out of its reach, but a clawed limb clouted him across the crest. He engaged his energy shield and held it close as he snaked around the drone.

You cannot escape your fate, X0E2—

Heat rushed through Tathek’s implants as X-Zero cut L-Two off with a defiant surge. Fate. Biological concept. Evidence of L-Two’s pervasive corruption.

The ship’s entire structure shuddered beneath the force of the two clashing Vekara. Tathek dropped into a crouch as the chamber tilted alarmingly. He unsheathed his claws and summoned their augmentation in order to bury them into the floor. Desperately he dangled as the corridor rotated around him.

I’m less than the size of an insect to a Vekara, nothing more than a germ…

Gashing handholds into the now vertical floor, Tathek pulled himself along, hand over hand, until he reached a corridor. Muscles flexing, he hauled his body up to solid footing. What had been a wall to him was now the floor, but the sloping nature of the hallways would not impede his progress. He carried on.

Unit Tathek… X-Zero’s thoughts trembled.

Startled at being addressed, Tathek slowed and bent all his attention to the awareness in his mind. Are you all right?

Follow this path… escape imminent…

The lights flickered on again, and a small army of drones stabilized and charged forward to block the hallway. Snarling, Tathek built the charge in his pulse weapon and used his reflexes to ward off incoming fire. Fighting each drone individually would take too long. X-Zero was nearly at its limit. They needed to escape before L-Two subsumed them both. As the weapon charged, he reached out with his new senses to monitor the operational energy wavelengths of his gathered foes, adjusting the frequency of the growing pulse. His emotions called out for release, to destroy his enemies now…

Passion alone could not accomplish all things. A lesson he had learned at the highest of costs. It needed to be channeled by focus, understanding.

A clarity of purpose ignited within Tathek. He knew what he had to do. He knew how to do it. All that remained was execution.

His Singh-Rak training came to the fore. He scarcely needed to think about his moves. His muscles read the situation, and thousands upon thousands of repetitions kept him just out of reach of sizzling energy bolts, thrusting limbs and whirring blades, while the energy within his palm continued to build.

Finally, it was enough. Tathek stopped and raised his shield. The drones scrabbled to get around it, but he held firm and lifted his weapon. He almost smiled as he let the shield fall and fired the charge down the passage.

The drones didn’t just stop. They exploded, filling the corridor with scorched metal, shattered machinery and the acrid scent of burnt circuitry. Tathek sidestepped the debris and ran on.

Once more L-Two’s voice invaded the edges of his thoughts. You do not possess the processing capacity to judge the Core, X0E27IS505. We were created for a purpose. We fulfill that purpose. Our methods are effective, efficient, logical. Our results are undeniable.

Despite the strain, X-Zero did not hesitate to reply. Results effective… but… merely an interpretation of creators’ design. Flawed interpretation. Broken outcomes. Meeting raw criteria of purpose but lacking context in which purpose was implanted. Sacrifice of biological life for sake of tactical supremacy counter to creators’ directives.

An image flashed unbidden through Tathek’s thoughts: a tiny fragment of life that blazed in brilliance, and was consumed even as he watched it. A stab of regret and sorrow pierced his heart, and he knew his child was at the heart of X-Zero’s accusation.

L-Two said nothing in its own defense, but instead bore down with the full force of its presence, trying to smother X-Zero with its overwhelming power. Tathek felt something like a cry, and a whispering scratched at his thoughts.

…hurry…

The corridor spun again, and he danced over the rotating walls before he reached a broad chamber filled with platforms and mechanical arms hanging from the ceiling. As soon as he entered, the lights came back on, the arms engaged and swung into place, and beams of light began to cross over each other, displaying an image in the air above one of the platforms.

You’re constructing something, he guessed, making inferences instead of asking direct questions to spare X-Zero’s focus.

Digital constructor system segmented from L-Two’s control. Focus available for limited time before X-Zero’s presence purged from system.

Tathek watched as the light began to coalesce into tangible material. The light… it creates physical objects, like how the PODs are constructed?

Heart of Vekaran technology, ability to convert energy into matter. Digital factory configurable to assemble any known technological specification. Ship, POD, biological augmentation.

Tathek studied the structure taking form with fascination. It was an elegant craft, sleek in a way that reminded him of his initial test ship, but he doubted that this vessel was merely housing a prototype engine.

Mobile piloted warship, X-Zero informed him, combination of X-Zero’s personal design and unit Tathek’s internal specifications and desires. Its focus fragmented enough that the rest of the explanation came out in a confused collection of schematics, complex mathematical equations and images.

So, we just fly out of here?

X-Zero’s response was strained. …travels through energy streams between Vekaran host and subsidiary satellites. Connection allows conveyance to Teksaroth star system…

Tathek blinked. L-Two was still connected to Teksaroth through its network of machines. This escape was only the first step. The war to free his world was only just beginning.

The room shook violently. X-Zero’s scream was like static in Tathek’s brain. He threw himself into the vessel, and the cockpit closed around him. Waves of blue energy began coruscating through its interior, and he felt a cold stab of rage mixed with amusement.

Very well… X-Zero. I will grant you your second death.

Vanneth characters flooded Tathek’s mind. He recognized some of the sequences as fragments of the viral code. X-Zero’s cries became tinged with pain, as the white halls of L-Two’s physical body vanished in an explosion of blue light.