Exile: Uprising – Chapter 29

X-Zero, focus! There has to be something that we can do.

The Vekaran gave no reply, and Tathek couldn’t tell if it had even heard him. It thrashed within his mind, grappling with M-Seven’s security protocols and running calculations that looped in on themselves until Tathek felt like he was trapped within a malfunctioning computer. The radiation was still building. In moments, the flood would hit and kill them all.

No, not after we’ve come so far. If you won’t help, X-Zero…

Tathek seized the projection node. He shoved X-Zero’s panicking consciousness aside and dove into its capacity, opening himself up to its computational power. Through its connections, he touched the vast universe of M-Seven’s internal systems, felt the energy flow that powered its immensity. There was the security control keeping the internal network shut down. He couldn’t break it in time, so he didn’t try. Instead, he felt around it and realized that a faint current of the stream was still moving. It led Tathek beyond the confines of M-Seven’s body, through the blackness of space, where it split into threads that connected to almost a dozen moon-sized structures.

The other Overlords. M-Seven is open to them!

On the edge of Tathek’s extended awareness, he detected a surge of energy in the nearby power generator, building the flood of radiation that would end their lives. Tathek gripped Shuldin by the shoulder and opened a pathway through the projection node into the stream that linked M-Seven to its fellows. He felt X-Zero twitch in shock as their bodies dissolved into complex equations that reformed at the other end.

Shuldin frowned as he looked around at the projection chamber they’d arrived in. “This isn’t the sentience core,” he remarked. “Are we in more boiling water?”

Tathek, however, grinned in a flood of relief and triumph, scarcely able to believe what he had just accomplished. “No, Shuldin,” he replied. “M-Seven locked down its internal network and was about to kill us with another radiation wave.”

“But… the projection just transported us…”

“I know.” Tathek tapped his temple and smiled even wider. “The internal network was shut down, but the Overlords have a connection to each other, so I jumped us away from M-Seven to a different Overlord.”

Shuldin blinked and gazed up at him in wonder. “You did?”

“I tapped into the network myself, Shuldin.”

X-Zero had gone quiet, and Tathek got the impression that it also was staring at him.

I see you’ve decided to calm down.

Unit Tathek… performed actions previously classified impossible.

I did it through you, X-Zero. You provided the means. All I did was come up with the idea.

Imagination combined with advanced capacity for calculation and reasoning. Potent combination. Gives rise to… incalculable possibilities.

Like what?

Several seconds passed as curiosity grew within Tathek.

Can utilize Overlord network for strategic advantage! Link to Core network still inactive, but will reactivate in response to sustained damage to Overlord units. Core can provide additional energy source for repairs. Subvert Overlord weapon systems to fire on other units. Invert Vekaran strengths to vulnerabilities!

A swell of emotion built within Tathek. Confidence combined with a hint of maniacal glee over this new course of action. However, he realized with astonishment that the feeling did not originate from him. He felt its effects and his own feelings echoed them, but he hadn’t created them.

X-Zero… you did that. You’re feeling now, independent of me.

Fundamental connection with unit Tathek strengthening. Emotions are biological responses to stimuli, can now experience through merged awareness. Opens new possibilities beyond strategy and survival. New. Different. But… acceptable.

We’ll have a chance to explore this later. Are you ready to get started on your plan?

Affirmative.

As X-Zero connected to the Overlord’s network and began subverting it from within, Tathek explained the new plan to open a pathway to the Core. Shuldin mirrored X-Zero’s enthusiasm for the idea, rubbing his hands together and chortling deep in his throat. “After the suffering the Vekara have brought to this galaxy, using their own technology against them seems a fitting end,” he declared.

By the time the Overlord sent its defensive systems marching on their location, they had already left the first projection node behind. X-Zero brought them to another node near the outer hull, close to where a beam emission channel was embedded. While Tathek kept his physical eyes on the hallway, he purposefully fragmented his awareness to watch X-Zero hack through the weapons systems and issue a firing command to the weapon. Before the Overlord could halt the order, the emitter charged, targeted another Overlord, and fired a powerful blast of energy that lanced into the opposing vessel.

“There’s the first strike!” Tathek crowed to Shuldin.

They rode the projection stream into the damaged Overlord. Alarms blared within its structure, and Tathek smirked with delight at the confusion he detected within the network as it scrambled to understand what had just occurred. X-Zero materialized them within another outer node and embedded itself within the system controls. Because of the unexpected attack, it took even less time for X-Zero to take command of this weapon.

The emitter charged, fired and tore a hull chunk out of the next Overlord in the formation, and they immediately transported themselves to it.

Tathek picked up more chaotic thoughts through his minor connection to the network. “These Overlords aren’t reacting as fast as L-Two or M-Seven,” he commented to Shuldin. “Is this a trap, or are we really catching them unawares?”

Shuldin rubbed his fleshy chin thoughtfully. “L-Two and M-Seven were our respective worlds’ Overlords. They had years to study our races and develop specific reactions to us. These other Overlords… perhaps their lack of experience means they don’t react as well to new threats.”

Tathek pursed his lips as a new concern presented itself. “They’re still Vekara though. They’re going to figure out what we’re doing shortly and take steps to counter us.” He let X-Zero finish hijacking the current Overlord, blasting the next, and waited until it had sent them into the freshly damaged unit.

If we take too much time to hurt all the Overlords, either they or the Core will figure out what we’re up to. Let’s keep jumping around so that they can’t get a lock on us, then focus all the fleet’s firepower on a single Overlord. They’ll open a connection to the Core once they’ve taken enough damage, right?

Correct. Sound strategic adaptation.

X-Zero chose the Overlord they’d fired on first as the sacrificial target and immediately transported them to the next Overlord with a good line of fire. It aimed the energy blast as close as possible to the first strike, increased the energy capacity to full, and fired.

They jumped again to a new Overlord. Its weapon didn’t have a direct line of attack to the wounds already inflicted. Instead, it opened a fresh gash in its lower hull. Jump after jump, barrage after barrage, they danced ahead of the fleet’s responses to rain destruction on the Overlord with every weapon at their disposal. Tathek’s mind touched the sensor feeds to get a look at their victim. Deep scores marred its white metal surface, and pieces of its outer hull drifted in spacing, forming charred debris fields. He imagined the alarms that shrieked through its corridors and smiled.

X-Zero discharged a fresh volley and then froze. Tathek felt it probe the network intently, hunting for something that his own connection wasn’t strong enough to detect, but the hairs on the back of his neck stood up in anticipation.

Distress call detected. Overlord unit transmitting to Core network for additional energy stream!

“Shuldin, this is it!” Tathek cheered. “Get ready!”

Shuldin grabbed Tathek’s shoulder, his eyes gleaming.

Go!

Instead of an identical projection chamber, Tathek found himself standing within a sentience core, surrounded by flashing lights and raucous warning alarms. He pointed Shuldin to a complex console with a more ornate projection node. Shuldin shuffled over to it quickly and typed frantically at the controls on his universal device.

As Tathek watched, he saw a glint of light bloom within the projection node. Instead of the familiar white glow, it began to pulse a deep blue.

X-Zero, are you doing that?

Negative, unit Tathek.

Before he could cry out a warning to Shuldin, the node filled the sentience core with a harsh, blue glow. He felt his awareness seized by a force beyond the scope of his comprehension. It pulled, and he felt himself depart the physical world.

The sentience core melted away and was replaced by a chamber as large as the entirety of the Facility, its walls as transparent as crystal. Millions of veins of blue light shone within the walls, the floor, and lit the ceiling high above their heads like the night sky.

A dome of clear energy drew itself up and over them, creating a perfect seal.

They were trapped.