933 Relentless Horde
Sigrund may be restricted by his circuits and his programming from killing humans directly and even indirectly, but that didn't leave out every possibility!
There were always loopholes to a set of rules and restrictions. Even under such a long time under lockdown that vastly restricted his full capabilities, Sigrund nonetheless managed to arrange several methods to eliminate the pesky humans.
First, when a sandman mothership initially ambushed the Starlight Megalodon, it held the battleship in an inescapable stranglehold. The worst part about the sandman was that they almost always held the upper hand once their sand amalgamations managed to infiltrate and bore inside any ship!
The first lesson any person learned when they entered the frontier was to never let a sandman ship get close!
While Ves didn't know the exact circumstances behind the sandman mothership's successful attack on the Starlight Megalodon, the fact that it managed to grab the battleship was an incredible failure on the part of her officers and crew!
Whatever the reason for allowing the sandman mothership to get close, the engineers somehow managed to come up with a desperate solution and induced the FTL drives into an abnormal state that put the sandman mothership into a partial form of stasis and allowed them to tear out the sandman leader in control!
Ordinarily, a sandman mothership without a leader at the helm would have collapsed. But this was not an average mothership, and the sandman admiral was still alive in the form of Sigrund!
While the AI researchers of the Starlight Megalodon experimented on Sigrund's old core and imposed several hardware and software restrictions that shackled it to this very day, the same couldn't be said for the rest of the sandman mothership!
It still possessed an immense hostility to humans and human ships! Sigrund merely needed to let it finish the job it set out to do to destroy this hated ship and every human present.
However, as an added insurance, Sigrund also leveraged his control over Project Icarus' enormous amounts of cloning vats. The unintelligent but very aggressive clones that stumbled out of them immediately acted upon their bioprogramming.
Sigrund may have been prevented into programming them to become hostile to humans. Yet that did not prevent him from applying a workaround that altered their brain chemistry in a way that made them naturally hostile to any form of life other than themselves!
"Goddammit!" Ketis cursed as she shot her standard-issue CFA laser pistol at the approaching horde of aggressive clones. "I thought zombies are supposed to go down in a single hit! Why are these clones so tough!"
Sigrund's physical dwarf avatar cackled loudly. [I HAVE CULTIVATED THESE CLONES FOR CENTURIES. THEY HAVE BEEN PERCOLATING IN NUTRIENT SOLUTIONS FOR SUCH A LONG TIME THAT THEIR PHYSIQUE HAS HARDENED TO AN INCREDIBLE DEGREE!]
"Their vacsuits are also resistant to damage!" Miss Calabast observed as she fired a gout of green plasma at a clone which quickly caused it to melt down. The problem was that her weapon's fire rate was too slow to stop the hundreds threatening to overrun them! "We don't have enough firepower to defeat these clones!"
The war party she brought diminished substantially in numbers after fighting their way through several checkpoints in the Exotic Research Sub-Department. They lost all their bots, and what little exoskeleton soldiers remained alive tried their best to punch back the oncoming horde.
Even though their heavy kinetic cannons and artillery shells splattered dozens of clones at a time, hundreds more stumbled closer. There were far too many clones and far too little humans to fend them all back!
Ves and Ketis activated the aiming assist of their combat armor to fire their lasers at the heads. However, the abnormally durable vacsuits folded out their helmets to envelop the heads, removing this weakness from the table!
Even though the clones weren't completely impervious to damage, Ves saw no way out with the anti-teleportation field blocking out his EPT from shunting him to safety!
He knew that while the CFA laser pistols were in an entirely different grade than the Vandal sidearms he handled before, they still fell short compared to a pinnacle mastercrafted pistol such as the Amastendira.
While the Amastendira that Ves obtained was only a copy, it nonetheless possessed a prodigious amount of firepower as long as he dialed up its power setting.
He felt rather hesitant about showing off his trump card in front of Ketis and Miss Calabast. He didn't entirely know whether Calabast already knew he possessed this trump card, but he was loathe to reveal one of his strongest form of insurance to her. There were also his subordinates to consider who could leak out his possession of this wondrous wondrous weapon.
Nonetheless, the situation turned so dire that he couldn't hold anything back at this point. Ketis gave up on lasering the resilient clones to death and holstered her overheated pistol and drew out her CFA greatsword.
If her end had come, she intended to fight and die like a Swordmaiden!
Calabast also drew out her secret weapons that she kept in store in case of emergencies. She launched a series of compact, miniature grenades at the horde. The crowd of clones pressed so closely against each other that every grenade affected at least a dozen or two of the clones at once!
Some of the grenades detonated in explosive fury. Others showered the surrounding area with plasma. Many more either warped the surrounding space, froze the clones in momentary stasis, corroded their bodies and vacsuit or weakened them due to the poisoned air they breathed.
Yet Calabast only carried a finite amount of grenades. Besides her plasma rifle, her sidearms and some knives and other minor trinkets, she possessed no more means of inflicting mass destruction!
Ves sighed and holstered his CFA laser pistol, just like Ketis. While she drew out the greatsword that she trusted the most, he began to materialize the weapon he came to depend upon to save his life time and time again.
"That weapon!" Miss Calabast exclaimed. Even though the horde of clones threatened to tear them into pieces, she had always kept her eyes peeled on Ves as if she was expecting something.
Right now, Ves couldn't tend to Calabast's response. He instead tried to evaluate whether it was better for him to fire his Amastendira in a wide angle scatter mode to affect the entire horde at once or in a continuous cutting beam to slice apart scores of them in quick succession.
He briefly paused to listen to his intuition. It told him to try out the wide angle scatter mode first. Ves quickly configured the firing pattern to this mode, opting to fire it at a generous forty-five degree cone from the muzzle and dialed the power setting all the way up to maximum.
"Make sure your visors are set to harden against a bright flash!" He warned them all before he pulled the trigger.
An enormous gout of light, heat and energy blasted from the Amastendira in an instant flash! The approaching clones all screamed and stumbled over each other as they had all become seriously affected by that single laser blast!
The front of the horde all died instantly as their resilient vacsuits proved to be inferior against a weapon strong enough to pose a threat to mechs! Those in the second and third ranks died sporadically while the rest clung to life as their melted vacsuits fused with their painfully burned flesh!
Unfortunately, the vacsuits provided a great deal of protection against laser damage, and the wide-angle scatter mode quickly diminished the Amastendira's lethality the more its energy spread.
Nonetheless, all the bodies in the way hindered the horde from storming forward. The surviving clones in the flanks, center and rear slowly climbed their way over their dead and heavily-burned comrades.
"Keep pulling back!" Miss Calabast shouted, causing everyone to focus more on running back to the exit of the massive research lab than firing potshots at the relentless clones. "Ves! How many times can you release those powerful blasts?!"
Ves wanted to obfuscate the truth and understate the amount, but in a case of life and death, he couldn't be bothered with holding back any longer!
"Nine times! My weapon can fire a single powerful beam or a wide-area scatter blast like this at full power nine more times before it enters into a lengthy cooldown cycle!"
"That's not enough!" She cursed. "Those clones moved with very little coordination at the start, but they're mastering their bodies quickly. They are learning fast and running even faster! Nine more laser blasts like yours won't delay them long enough for us to exit the ship and escape the anti-teleportation field that's locking down our EPTs!"
"You have one as well?!" Ves asked and stared at the small of her back where an EPT would typically be mounted at. "I thought you prepared another escape plan already!"
"We did, but with the sandman mothership coming back to life, it's highly probable that our escape vehicle will be toast by the time I reach it! It seems I'll be accompanying you for a while longer!" She chuckled.
"This isn't the time to laugh! We're trapped right in the deepest part of the most restricted section of the Research Department! It also happens to be situated close to the center of the ship, which means that we'll have to run through several kilometers worth of corridors to reach the nearest exit hatch! That's way too long!"
"My apologies. Old habits die hard." She continued to laugh as they fled with a recovering horde of clones on their heels. "However, you're right. We can't run fast enough to outrun the clones. Even if we do, the sandman mothership is probably minutes away from regaining its full faculties upon which we'd all be buried and grounded down by living sand! Think! Think of a way to evacuate the ship!"
Besides teleporting which was blocked right now, the battleship didn't offer any convenient way of escape from their location. All the escape pods, shuttles and other exit routes were situated close to the outer sections of the ship. The fact that no escape pods allowed those residing in the very heart of the ship to evacuate instantly was a major design shortcoming!
Ves understood why battleship designers didn't incorporate a straight escape channel out from the core of their ships. Incorporating such a channel allowed for easy access and infiltration to the center of the ship from the outside.
Such channels also weakened the overall structure of the vessel and allowed for precision-targeted payloads to cripple the center of the ship with a single, well-placed attack.
Still, understanding did not mean he sympathized with the decision. Right now, this very same design choice prevented them all from evacuating the ship unless they traversed half the city-sized interior of the collapsing capital ship!
As his imagination quickly churned through several alternatives, each one more ridiculous than the last one, he inadvertently stumbled upon an uncertain but possibly very plausible solution!
It was the only one he could think of that could get them out quickly without running all the way towards the distant exit hatches or escape pods!
"Qilanxo! We have to run to the restricted section of the Mech Research Sub-Division. One of the labs there holds a sacred god called Qilanxo!"
"The exobeast you Vandals managed to tame?" Calabast frowned, but then looked a little less skeptical. "That beast is powerful enough to crush the clones! But she can't help us against the sandman mothership that is about to destroy us all!"
"Maybe so, but there is also a possibility that we can escape! Do you know what Qilanxo's power is? She is capable of forming a space barrier! And that is only one of the applications of her power. If I'm guessing right, I think she might also be capable of neutralizing the anti-teleportation field that is blocking our EPTs!"
"How sure are you of that?!"
"I'm not sure at all, but can you think of a better option?!"