934 Contrasting Sentiments
Right now, the entire Starlight Megalodon appeared to be heading towards collapse. The sandman mothership that long ago in the past managed to ambush a CFA battleship and entangle her in close range came alive once again!
The FTL drives which constantly leaked out higher-dimensional energy due to being induced in a state of half-collapse finally fell silent after millenia of miraculous continuous operation!
While it would take time for the higher-dimensional energy already thrown out into the atmosphere and into the rest of the star system to dissipate, already the intensity of the spacetime distortion started to ebb. This caused everyone to feel an unusual sensation as the degree of accelerated time affecting the planet lessened remarkably!
The fading of the astral winds also started to lessen the planet's isolation from orbit. The storm lands would soon fade away in a matter of hours as the abrupt halt to the operation of the FTL drives marked a new epoch in Aeon Corona VII's history!
Yet Ves was far too busy running for his life right now to care about those implications! As they made their way through the security checkpoints they already breached before, the rabid army of clones constantly nipped their heels!
Ketis and Miss Calabast constantly shot backwards as they ran, though they hardly made a dent against the hundreds of clones.
Of the three of them, all of their suits augmented their movement. Though Calabast's infiltrator suit offered much less help in that regard, she was already a highly trained and fit intelligence operative. The four rounds of genetic optimization treatments she went through also markedly enhanced her speed and endurance.
Unfortunately, not everyone could keep up. The heavily-armed subordinates Calabast brought all wore heavy suits of exoskeleton armor. This wasn't necessarily a problem because many exoskeleton armors could run as fast as a horse.
Yet Miss Calabast initially set out to fight their way through the Exotic Research Sub-Department. So rather than kitting out her fellow operatives with mobile armor, they instead went for exoskeleton armor models geared towards maximum armor and maximum firepower.
"Your goons are too slow!" Ketis complained just after Ves shot another wide-angle laser blast from his Amastendira that killed many clones but merely delayed the rest! "Tell them to get out of their armor!"
Miss Calabast raised her arm into a signal that caused the handful of exoskeleton soldiers to stop their plodding flight. Instead, they turned around and brought all of their weapons to bear, substantially pushing back the horde of clones!
Yet how long they could keep that up, nobody knew!
"What the heck?!" Ketis looked shocked. "Are you abandoning your own men?!"
"They are trained to live and die on my command. I am making the best use of their lives!" Calabast responded ruthlessly. "Trust me kid, sentimentality is worthless when it drags you down!"
A chill went through his spine as Ves witnessed how callously she discarded her own subordinates as expendable pawns. Obviously, she wouldn't treat him this way as he held much more value alive than dead, but it spoke much about Miss Calabast and the organization she worked for if her subordinates wordlessly agreed to hold the rear at the cost of their lives.
"Just leave it, Ketis."
"But Ves! What if she decides to throw us behind?!"
"That won't happen! We're not cannon fodder!"
"At least one of you isn't." Calabast said with a terse smirk. "I'm not sure about the other one."
Ketis glowered at the spook but she knew better than to kick up a fuss at this time.
Thunderous sounds and rabid screaming echoed behind the three as the exoskeleton soldiers did their best to hold back the crowd of clones. The rear guard wouldn't be able to hold back the abnormally strengthened clones for long, but they bought a vital amount of time that allowed the rest to breathe.
At some point, they exited the Exotic Research Sub-Division. Ves fired his Amastendira several more times, bringing it closer and closer towards its inevitable forced cooldown cycle.
"This is where we need to make our final choice." He said. "Either exit the Research Department and try and run towards the escape pods, or we take a gamble and head inside the Mech Research Sub-Department and bet that Qilanxo can interfere with the anti-teleportation field."
"I'll follow your lead, Ves." Ketis said. "This spacetime science stuff is completely beyond me."
After a second or two of hesitation, Miss Calabast nodded as well. "I have a backup extraction team waiting outside. They'll be expecting my arrival."
"Good riddance." Ketis muttered. "The sooner we get rid of you, the better. Ves, can I chop this woman?"
"Don't think about it, Ketis! It'll do us more harm than good if we go against Calabast! Just worry about our lives for now!"
Ves knew that Miss Calabast indirectly warned him that she already prepared safeguards against any possible betrayal from his side. He was sure that if he killed her or simply blocked her from using EPT, his secret would surely leak out to the rest of the galaxy in no time!
Therefore, as much as Ves wanted to point his Amastendira in Calabast's direction and be rid of her, his prudence and his apprehension towards her many means won out in the end.
As they all kept running, they started encountering many alarming sights. Bots started to break down. Hatches took their time to slide open. The entire hull of the Starlight Megalodon groaned, shook and even tilted slightly as the massive sandman mothership became increasingly more vigorous and violent!
"What is Sigrund thinking!?" Ves wondered with frustration as he spammed his authorizations at hatch blocking their way. It only started to slide open after thirty seconds of delay. "The Starlight Megalodon is an incredibly valuable ship when left intact!"
Miss Calabast didn't see it that way. "It is also the sentient AI's prison. Much of the programming that restricts Sigrund's ability to fight against humans comes from the integration of his experimental processor core with the ship's systems. Once the Starlight Megalodon and all of her systems break, Sigrund will be rid of these software shackles!"
The three finally managed to reach the research lab where Ves holed up Qilanxo. The sacred god had already entered into a state of mild panic due to the instability she felt from the ship! She already battered against the bulkheads keeping her locked within her huge cell, but they hardly suffered a dent.
Only when Ves sent out a command to release the locks did the massive form of Qilanxo finally liberate herself from her cell. She roared at Ves with panic!
"Qilanxo! The Starlight Megalodon is falling apart! We need to get out, but to do that we need your help!" Ves spoke. He retrieved a bulky gadget from his toolbelt. "This is a short-ranged teleporter that can instantly bring you outside the ship! While it's range is shorter than mine, its powerful enough to bring you far enough away to escape this calamity!"
Back when Ves realized that he wouldn't be able to stay on the Starlight Megalodon for much longer, he spent his remaining merits since it wouldn't be of much use anyway. This short-ranged teleporter he redeemed from Levitt only possessed a range of fifty kilometers and didn't work well with even mild dimensional instability. However, the redeeming factor of this one-use teleporter was that it possessed enough power to transport large vehicles and mechs!
Ves didn't entirely know why he spent his merits on redeeming this short-ranged vehicle teleporter when he could have traded his merits for more useful high-tech gadgets from the armory instead.
Sentiment had a way of affecting his decisions. It made him care about others. It also distinguished him a bit from Calalabast, which reassured him somewhat.
He didn't have to secure an escape route for Qilanxo, but he did so anyway. Ves was half thankful for this because the teleporter also secured her full cooperation. The sacred god knew as well as Ves that staying aboard this ship was a death sentence!
"Come on! Work with me! Our escape depends on you, Qilanxo!"
Qilanxo roared out her confusion and panic. She didn't understand his instructions!
"Look, all you need to understand you can get us all out of here if you stabilize the surrounding space!"
It took several minutes for Ves to explain what he wanted her to do. All the while, the clones kept coming closer as the hatched that Ves locked behind him were slowly unlocking due to Sigrund's control over the ship's systems.
Even though Qilanxo would easily be able to stomp on the army of clones, the distraction alone would draw too much time away to arranging their escape!
The ship kept shuddering and some lights and systems started to fail as the sandman mothership started to crush and grind its way through the corridors and compartments. Even the laboratory became affected by the slow collapse of the ship as their footing grew unsteady.
Under the prodding of Ves, Qilanxo began to apply her abilities in a completely different fashion. Rather than fold space into a shield, she spread out her powers over a much wider area around her in an attempt to exert her dominion over it. Her lack of knowledge in the sciences made it extremely difficult for her to understand what she needed to do, but Ves constantly corrected her and set her on the right path.
"Yes! That's it! This is the way! Smooth out the shaky bits and calm down the surrounding space!"
It helped that the anti-teleportation field engulfing the Starlight Megalodon started to weaken upon the ship's slow collapse. The shifts in space made Qilanxo sensitive to the field.
Ves kept his eyes peeled onto his Squalon's sensors that possessed a limited capability to measure the instability that blocked their teleports. When the interference forcefully smoothed out due to Qilanxo's strenuous efforts, the safety margin became acceptable enough that Ves couldn't wait any longer.
"This is it! Teleport now!"
Ves activated the vehicle teleporter he attached to Qilanxo's body on a ten-second delay. In the meantime, Ves, Ketis and Miss Calabast all activated their own EPTs, with success this time as the devices could easily cope with the remaining instability in the surrounding space!
Within a span of three seconds, it was as if they materialized out of the lab. This was their most vulnerable period as anyone could put a random object through their bodies and cause it to fuse with their organs upon emergence at their destination.
Fortunately, nothing came to spoil the crucial teleportation process!
As Ves and Ketis materialized close to a cave in the middle of some rocky terrain nearly a thousand kilometers away from the Starlight Megalodon, both of them immediately collapsed.
This was the first time they experienced teleportation, and it was as if the entire process broke their bodies down and built them back up at their destination!
Of course, Ves knew that the EPTs didn't work like that, yet that didn't matter as he tried hard not to vomit out his stomach.
"Bleh!" Ketis almost hurled out her lunch. "I swear the EPTs were trying to kill us!"
"I think the teleportation went rougher than normal due to the moderate amount of spacetime distortion that is still affecting the planet." Ves said as his Squalon automatically injected some stimulants and medicine in his bloodstream to stabilize his roiling stomach and balance. "The most important point is that we finally managed to emerge from the ship!"
An intense feeling of relief overcame Ves as he realized he succeeded in getting away! He made the right choice in redeeming the EPT instead of something shinier. Nothing was more valuable than saving his own hide!
Nonetheless, Ketis didn't seem enthused. She looked around their surroundings and saw no one else. "Dise isn't here. Your Captain Orfan isn't here either. Did they manage to escape?!"
A tense mood fell upon them. Would the others manage to escape the calamity that had befallen the Starlight Megalodon?