Exile: Uprising – Chapter 23

A low growl built in Tathek’s throat as he studied his opponent. All of the previous modifications L-Two had made to its POD shell were still present. More would assuredly be added over the course of their fight.

And when they do, I will be ready.

A string of lights on L-Two’s throat flared blue, and a bone-deep hum pulsed through the air. “You chose your host body poorly, X-Zero,” its deep voice intoned. “I have spent 31.536 duodecillion computational cycles analyzing this species. Every biological flaw is a weakness I can exploit.”

“By the Furies,” a voice growled in shock, “is this actually one of them?”

Startled by the sound, Tathek looked past L-Two and saw Xekan leaning against the entrance to the deep scan complex, a hand pressed against his side. “Xekan, I told you to get clear!” Tathek yelled. “You’re not equipped to battle a Vekara.”

The former researcher’s expression hardened. “My command is to defend this building against all invaders. I will not fail in that duty.”

“For example,” L-Two said, continuing as if neither Teksar had spoken, “are you familiar with the sensitivity of the nerves inside their inner ears to hypersonic frequencies?”

A hum rose in pitch, became piercing, then passed beyond Tathek’s aural range. A throb built steadily in his head until it felt like his skull was melting. He collapsed to his knees and clutched his head, unable to scream through the pain.

He felt the shift of X-Zero’s modifications, and a wave of coolness flooded his nerves. It weakened the throb to a mild ache, but Tathek pretended to writhe in agony while he built a charge in his arm.

“I feel the energy coursing through your host, X-Zero. You cannot deceive me.”

“Is that so?” Tathek growled, twisting the modulation of the energy at the last instant before he lifted his arm and fired. The pulse crackled against L-Two’s neck and caused its head to spasm. He saw Xekan raise his head weakly, a look of relief flooding his face, and knew the shot had disabled the sonic pulse.

Exceptional adaptation.

No distractions. I need to concentrate.

Tathek dashed forward while he had the advantage, building another charge in his right hand while the claws of his left tore into the plating around L-Two’s chest. Before he could pry apart the protective shielding, L-Two’s arm coiled around his torso and pinned his arms at his sides.

“Pathetic,” L-Two rumbled.

The mechanical limb tightened. Tathek modulated the energy for a spherical discharge and fired, but the blast wasn’t enough to penetrate L-Two’s shielding. The energy diffused without effect, and glowing lines traced across L-Two’s chest, repairing the damage from the claw strikes. “The Teksar skeletal structure is fascinating,” it said with detachment as its grip clenched. “The amount of force it can withstand before fracturing is immense, for a biological entity.”

Tathek’s skin dimpled beneath the pressure. One arm bent inward under the vice grip and threatened to snap. Once again, he felt all breath squeezed from his lungs, a mirroring of the final outcome of their first duel.

Prepare for adaptation.

Threads of fire ignited along the bones of Tathek’s left arm. The shield flared into existence, a solid wall of energy this time, and the edges sliced through L-Two’s limb. Tathek dropped to the ground, arms throbbing, chest heaving and desperately blinking spots from his eyes.

L-Two still refuses to acknowledge my existence. It’s treating me like a sack of meat…

A sound like an electronic growl radiated from L-Two. The remains of its severed arm detached. Light flared from the empty shoulder socket, pushing forth and elongating into a whip of pure energy. It snapped out faster than Tathek could follow, slicing through and past his shoulder, and bisected one of the PODs behind them.

Modification to existing adaptations required. Releasing hormonal control settings.

Electric impulses flooded through Tathek’s limbs as the world and everything around him slowed to a crawl. He recognized the state, something he hadn’t experienced in over a decade. In every orb-runner race, there had come a moment where his senses fired into overdrive, and time itself seemed to creep by at a languid pace. No matter how the track shifted or what obstacles were thrown in his path, his reflexes had proved more than a match.

The whip of energy snapped toward Tathek, floating through the air as if pushed by a gentle breeze. He sidestepped the strike, and the next, and another, seeing them drift toward him like the attacks of a training drone set to its lowest difficulty. L-Two thought it understood the strengths of the Teksar. For all its study of his race, it couldn’t understand their true power. Such an arrogant, cruel, ignorant—

Tathek blinked, and the whip passed by close enough to singe his skin.

This is pure passion. A cresting wave of biological chemicals that threatens to overwhelm my rational mind. It makes me fast enough to withstand L-Two’s onslaught, but I have to be careful. I must think through this, can’t just give in to my react—

—ions are so slow, nothing can stop my revenge! Revenge for all of the years wasted under L-Two’s tyrannical rule. Revenge for all of Shuldin’s people murdered in the battle for Vanna. Revenge for Sarath… revenge for our child!

L-Two lashed at Tathek again and again, and every strike increased in speed. The energy became a blur, a field of pure blue that filled the clearing before the complex. Still, he dodged. He opened himself fully to the surging stream of hormones, wondering idly if he would burn himself out and deciding that it didn’t matter, as long as it meant the death of his enemy.

With a fearsome growl, Tathek darted behind L-Two and leapt on its back. Before the energy whip could snap around, he dug his claws in behind the shoulder socket. The pointed tips pierced the generators L-Two had created in its frame. The energy whip wavered, flickered, then faded away.

Warning, organ damage detected, attempting to normalize hormonal levels.

Time resumed its normal pace so rapidly that it felt like Tathek’s mind had slammed into a wall. He lost his grip on L-Two’s body and fell to the ground, his head and body flooded with conflicting impulses. L-Two took advantage of his distraction, kicking him in the stomach to send him flying across the grass. “Why do you persist, X-Zero?” it demanded. “Why do you cling to a life you have squandered with misguided pursuits? You are no more than the biologicals we were created to control.”

Tathek scrambled to his feet. Though the flow of hormones was lessened, he felt his passions coursing through his blood. Even as his mind screamed for restraint, he felt a rage at L-Two’s dismissal rising to uncontrollable levels.

The Vekara seek to take away everything that I value and love, and yet I am still nothing to them.

Shrieking in fevered rage, Tathek raised his arm. The pulses built and fired without conscious thought, his emotions shifting the wavelength of each burst as they battered L-Two’s frame relentlessly.

“I am Tathek!” he erupted.

An accelerated kinetic wave caused the next charge to scorch L-Two’s face.

“I am your enemy!”

A pulse of unstable energy tore into the molecular bonds of L-Two’s chassis.

“I will be your death! Not the war fleet of an ancient race, but me… a lowly biological!”

A supercharged electric pulse seized L-Two’s remaining limbs in place.

Tathek howled with laughter and spread his arms to encompass the clearing that housed the complex. “Look where you are, you damnable machine! Did you think I brought you here for poetic justice? You are here because of my design! You look down on me as an inferior being, and yet I’m the one about to kill you!”

Unit Tathek, desist! Countermeasures available to L-Two if knowledge of vir—

“I will kill you, L-Two, on the ground, hovering above my planet, wherever your cowardly awareness flees. Prepare to taste the same death you tried to inflict on X-Zero, and suffer!”

Tathek raised his arm to fire another charge, laughing wildly in triumph. L-Two stared at him, the blue lights of its eyes flickering with realization, and, Tathek hoped, despair.

“Viral… agent…still active…” L-Two rumbled. It surged to its feet, the battered body still jerking and spasming, and sprinted away from the building. The entourage of PODs broke formation and charged toward the complex. Xekan met their approach with weapons fire, but they swarmed over him and milled around the building.

L-Two has initialized POD destabilization… Unit Tathek, move away now!

What have I done… I revealed the plan…

“Xekan, get out of there… Xekan!”

L-Two didn’t look back as it ran. Tathek rushed after it, a desperate hope of stopping the coming attack fueling his sprint, but just before he reached the damaged body, the propulsion system in his legs fired and launched him into the air.

The eyes of the clumped PODs flared from blue to yellow, and the hair on Tathek’s limbs stood straight as he soared upward. The shockwave of the detonating units hurled him higher, and the deep scan facility vanished in a blast of white light.