One of the biggest fears any human faced was the prospect of never waking up after sleep. This especially crept up when you were being operated immediately after being knocked out. The prospect of never knowing when you died haunted Ves when Doctor Jutland forcibly sapped his consciousness.
It came as a small relief when Ves eventually woke up. That relief quickly made way for pain, as his entire body ached.
The most prominent pains came from the incisions in his chest and in his head. Jutland obviously hadn't wasted much time cutting him open. The recently cut flesh still radiated a lot of pain as his flesh actively worked to recover from the damage.
Several new portions inside his body emanated a lot of pressure that constantly washed over his flesh and bones. A portion near his heart constantly released a stream of omnipresent pressure that constantly pressed against his body as if he was a dam about to burst. Having nowhere else to go, the scalding hot energy washed inside his body, forcing it to accommodate the excess.
His body couldn't take the sheer amount of energy flowing out from the organ next to his heart. However, a strange sensation swept from a spot near his spine that forced the volatile energy to submerge in every cell of his body. Ves could vaguely sense that the energy brutally transformed his flesh and bones through a constant cycle of destruction and rejuvenation.
Each time his cells got destroyed, new ones grew in their place that were able to contain a little bit more energy before they reached their limits. Ves didn't know how many cycles his body already went through, but it grew to the point where he could breathe the foul-tasting air of Groening IV without suffocating to death.
His eyes and all of his orifices only lightly stung when they came into contact with the toxic air. A constant prickle suffused his body from his surroundings. They weaved through his flesh and entered the organ besides his heart without stopping. Ves took that to mean his body drew on the ambient heat and radiation to fuel his ongoing transformation.
"Ah, you're awake!" Doctor Jutland entered the makeshift hut with a smile. A small, salvaged light taken from a mech hung from a wire extending from the ceiling. Jutland's face took on a mock-fatherly appearance as he studied the readouts from a medical device strapped to his bed. "Your life signs have stabilized. Good! You've passed the most difficult test!"
Jutland turned around and brought up a bucket filled with freshly butchered meat. He grabbed a random thigh of a juvenile hexapod and ripped the hardy scales from the flesh with his bare hands, coating it with greenish blood. After he finished removing the inedible scales, he extended the raw piece of meat to Ves. "Here. Eat! Your energy is limitless, but your body still needs nutrients!"
His overarching hunger suppressed usual disgust when presented with a raw piece of meat. Ves grabbed onto the shank and sank his teeth into the hardy flesh, not even taking note of his strengthened denture. He finished up the shank in only a couple of minutes. His stomach finally subsided from its constant nagging for food.
The urge to sleep overtook him. Ves tried to restrain his fatigue but his strengthened body overwhelmed his feeble desire. He returned to slumber just as Doctor Jutland injected his body with a strange solution.
Over the course of an unknown amount of time, Ves kept waking up with hunger gnawing in his stomach. Each time, Jutland entered the hut and eagerly handed him another freshly butchered hexapod limb.
Sometimes, the doctor fed him their organs. Ves even got to sink his teeth into a juvenile's heat organ, which instantly scorched his mouth despite its increased tolerance for heat. Just a tiny bite of the underdeveloped heat organ had surpassed what his stomach was capable of digesting at any single moment.
Minutes later, the organ besides his heart flared up as if it had been injected with chicken blood. The torrent of energy that flowed out from his chest almost physically pressed against the insides of his toughened skin. When the waves finally subsided, Ves blissfully returned to sleep.
After his twentieth-or-something awakening, Ves woke up devoid of excessive hunger. His body had finally finished whatever Jutland had initially spurred on. His exposed flesh withstood the alien atmosphere without any signs of degradation. Though his body still generated a lot of energy, most of it threaded through his body in a circle and returned to the strange organ in his chest.
When Jutland finally returned to check his body, he cackled maniacally. "Hahahaha! You not only survived the process, but exceeded my expectations!"
"What did you do?" Ves asked weakly.
Though the excess of energy invigorated his body, he had a hard time gaining control over it. It was as if the energy didn't belong to him but merely rented space in his body. Sporadically, it even showed signs of erupting, which Ves suspected would be really bad.
Jutland grinned at the opportunity to brag. "I put in twenty-seven years of focused research to use. My Jutland organ is carefully designed and grown to incorporate the best traits of a hexapod's heat organ. Meanwhile, the regulator I've implanted in your spine has spurred your body to renew itself along a modified genetic makeup. All of your cells down to your bone marrow have fully adapted, just as I intended!"
"Did you change my genes?"
"Of course! It's the only way I can force your body to transform with the failing tools I have on hand. Be glad that I found out that you took an initiating elixir. Without that gene boost as a primer, I would have never been able to spur your cells to swap their DNA so effortlessly!"
Ves recalled the M-21 Initiating Elixir gifted by his master. He only received a small boost in attributes from the injection, but he'd been told that it only laid the groundwork for further gene boosts.
If Doctor Jutland recognized that he used that gene boost, then his earlier rants about the relationship between the MTA and the Five Scrolls Compact might be true. Ves tried hard not to think too deep about that connection.
"What else did you do to my body?"
Jutland cackled again and rubbed his hands in a nefarious manner. He rambled on a bit about the various enhancements he developed over the years. His Jutland organ formed his magnum opus, but he didn't limit his research on the humanized heat organ alone.
Overall, Ves received two other major enhancements.
First, his digestive system received a large enhancement in order to be able to process food that regular humans could never stomach. The doctor expanded the range of foods he could digest.
To his relief, Ves did not lose the ability to digest conventional human food. He hadn't lost any capabilities in that area. Instead, his digestive system became even more effective in extracting every possible nutrient out of everything he ate. Combined with the energy provided by his heat organ, Ves required a lot less food to make it through the day.
Next, Jutland implanted a small growth next to his spine that initially directed the transformation of his genes. Now that his body adapted to his revamped genes, the regulator organ mainly functioned as his heat organ's central processor.
For example, the energy cycle within his body had only come into being with the help of the regulator organ. Its cells contained extensive biological programming that coordinated his central nervous system with all of the changes in his body.
After all, a baseline human didn't have anything like a human-sized heat organ. Without some form of instructions, his body wouldn't know what to do with it. The regulator essentially augmented his baseline central nervous system like how his Full Stealth augment added a new function to his Privacy Shield.
That reminded Ves to check his gear. He found out that Jutland stripped him of all clothes and gear, replacing them with a spare set of hospital clothes that must have been stewing in a box for a couple of decades.
"Ah, wondering where your devices are? I confiscated them both! Thank you for your spare shield generator. As soon as I decipher its identity lock, it will make for a useful guarantee of my safety! That blasted lock! The latest system is too tricky!"
Ves already expected to be stripped of his shield generator when Jutland stumbled upon it. After all, without it, he'd be at the mercy of his deranged captor. He could only give up on that avenue. Instead, he focused on his comm. He had to get his hands on his System.
"What about my comm?"
"What about it?"
"I need it to redesign the Kaius. Do you expect me to design a mech by drawing hexapod blood on the ground?"
Jutland waved his hand dismissively. "I've salvaged a number of terminals from a couple of derelict workshops from the first expedition. Half of them still work, last I checked!"
"Their processors have never been rated to endure this much radiation and corrosive air over time. Even if they still look functional, you can't trust them to produce reliable results."
"Then I'll commission that thug Keller to steal a terminal from your current expedition!"
"That won't do. The workshop runs on a vastly different software suite. I'm used to working with the software installed in my comm. Please give it back to me."
Doctor Jutland uncharacteristically fell into silence. After a long consideration, he nodded and pulled out a familiar comm from his dirty lab coat and threw it onto Ves.
"Fine! But no more delays now! You've slept for eight days straight now and your expedition is already halfway through its window! You'll start your work immediately! "
The news that Ves had intermittently slept over a stretch of eight days affected him greatly. He already missed so much! A new sense of urgency washed over his mind, spurring him on to sit up from his cot. He slowly reached upwards, but his sudden movements disturbed his internal energy cycle. A large portion of energy escaped the cycle and travelled onwards until it smashed the front of his chest.
The invisible impact forced a painful cough out of Ves. He heaved a bit and vomited out some blood.
"Reckless! Just because your body finished its transformation doesn't mean you've mastered your new source of energy!"
"How can I control this rampant energy?"
"You can't!" Jutland cackled again. "An unenlightened boor like you will never be able to master this higher form of energy! Instead, the cycle will continue to revolve your internal energy until its quantity surpasses the limits of your flesh."
"Am I dying?"
"Everyone is dying, Ves! You are merely expiring faster than others because your body is eventually unable to process the vast amounts of energy from my Jutland organ! You'll blow up in a grand explosion that will spread your scattered flesh over many kilometers! Maybe you'll even break Mike's record! Hihihihihi!"
Jutland's insane behavior frightened Ves but also made him question why his thoughts and behavior still remained the same. Had Jutland improved his new organs and fixed the flaws?
"Don't think all of that energy will keep strengthening your body." Jutland ominously said after he recovered from his latest bout of giggling. "The flesh is weak. Your only salvation lies in cultivating your soul. I predict you'll be bedridden for a few weeks. Don't bother moving away. Instead, start working on improving my steed!"
Doctor Jutland made some arrangements to his bed so that Ves could prop himself up into a somewhat comfortable seating position. He also threw a datachip at Ves that he could slot into his comm.
"I'm not a mech designer, but years of boredom have given me plenty of time to master a trivial scanner device. I've already included extensive scans of the Kaius in that chip. Ignore the living tissue and focus on remedying its mechanical components!"
After Jutland finally left the hut, Ves tiredly smiled. Despite the ticking time bomb implanted in his body, he remained hopeful he could remedy the flaws in his body.
He already achieved significant progress after Jutland had rambled about the soul. Even though he automatically dismissed the doctor's assertion, his beliefs gave Ves a clue on how to tackle his runaway energy cycle.
Obviously, Ves couldn't rely on his body to sort the problem out itself. Even the regulator organ did nothing but impose a rudimentary cycle that extended his lifespan from a couple of hours to a couple of months.
Ves didn't believe in the existence of the soul. Yet the idea prompted him to employ his mind. He instinctively sharpened his focus onto his Jutland organ, trying to impose his will on it. He treated it like he wanted to nurture the X-Factor onto a design.
Strangely enough, it worked. His Jutland organ jerked a bit, and it took several minutes to figure out how he could dial down the overactive organ. The energy cycle slowly subsided from a raging torrent to a placid stream.
It became much more bearable for his body, which enjoyed a reprieve for the first time in more than a week. He regained control over his body in rapid time, which broke Jutland's estimate that he required weeks of rest before he could even leave his bed.
"Now we're talking."
Now that he managed to restore his mobility, Ves could finally cook up an escape plan.
Earlier, Jutland ignorantly handed him back his comm. Not only did he regain access to the stealth augment, he also recovered the ability to access the System and its various marvels.
Ves carefully pretended to be weak and tired and slowly activated his comm. Instead of opening his hidden Mech Designer System, he executed a mundane designer software.
Who knew if Jutland kept some eyes on him. Ves had to be very careful in order to preserve his ability to escape.
"First, I'll have to master this abundant power reactor in my chest."
Pseudoscience or not, Ves resolved to cure his body through his own efforts. He refused to entertain Jutland's delusions and his heretical faith that he could find salvation from these supposed Immortal Gods.
Ves recalled two very pertinent quotes he learned from school that guided his resolve.
First, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Second, the weak believed in God while the strong seek to surpass his existence.
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