Chapter 21 – Preserved Chaos

Chapter 21 – Preserved Chaos

«And you, an unworthy descendant of Raen, will be the first life lost in the wake of our grand reawakening!!»

You—!Mote growled out, but was little able to say anything or even move his body as he saw the golden glow of an energy shield plane forming around his neck. Time appeared to slow; Mote could easily tell that Maenikad aimed to use the energy shield to behead him, but as the glowing plane reached for his neck, there wasn’t anything he could do in that moment to stop it. His armor restricted his body from moving, and he simply couldn’t think faster than the formation of an energy shield. In the end, he reflexively clamped his eyes shut — in preparation for the worst.


When Maenikad’s voice again reached Mote’s ears, he cautiously opened his eyes. As he did, he noted the flaring energy shield plane that intersected his neck… which remained completely intact. Even his breathing wasn’t impeded, indicating that the shield hadn’t penetrated his body at all. What? But how…? Do Aldredian energy shields just work differently—?

«It should figure that a descendant of Raen would not be so easy to kill,» Maenikad eventually muttered, snapping Mote’s attention back to his present situation just in time to see a storm of sparks forming around Maenikad’s hologram. «But shields are far from my only recourse!»

As an Electrotechnic, Mote could easily sense the intensifying electrical fields in the room — fields that were intensifying without his input. So there’s another Electrotechnic around here—? Damn it! Move, Mote! With but a thought, Mote dismissed the Aldredian Armor on his body, causing it to disappear in a flash of white light and reform as a small rhomboid. That the AI can seize control of the armor is a problem, but at least I can still dismiss it! Mote thought to himself, only to then get hit with a blast of electricity that sent him flying towards the underground chasm. As he went sailing over the edge, however, he quickly applied a magnetic charge to his own body and then an opposite charge to the warped metal flooring on the edge of the cliff; the attractive forces snapped him back to the ground, where he landed in a roll and sprung into a full-tilt run towards Maenikad’s hologram.

It’s just a hologram, not the true AI… Mote mused with a scowl as he ran through the hologram and through the large door that had led into the stasis block. The hologram is still here even after I dismissed my armor, so there must be hologram projectors throughout the Ark — this place might be better equipped than that AI led us to believe, so I need to be careful. But still, it’s an AI — a machine. And I can deal with those well enough. He passed the rhomboid in his right hand a doubtful glance before shoving it in his pocket and continuing on running through the hallways. This might destroy the armor, but now is no time to hold back! “Overdrive: Pulse!”

An electromagnetic pulse of incredible strength immediately blasted in all directions from Mote’s body. In that instant, he could sense a handful of electrical devices overloading in his immediate vicinity, their destruction feeding back into his Overdrive to boost his own power — but where the EMP of his Overdrive would normally reach over several dozen meters, this time, it seemed to only affect systems within a couple meters of him. As soon as he realized this, the hair on the back of his neck stood up on end — followed instantly by the electrification of the entire hallway, specifically crafted to create a magnetic gradient that launched Mote backwards like a bullet in a coil gun. So there really is an Electrotechnic around! They must be protecting the AI’s systems. Damn it, Mote thought as he summoned his blue and silver battlehammer and drove its pole end into the metal flooring in an effort to slow himself. Did one of the Aldredas survive? No wonder. There’s no way a machine could orchestrate all of this on its own—

«Your tenacity is admirable…» came Maenikad’s voice, followed by her hologram forming above Mote’s head. «Perhaps I was too quick to call you ‘unworthy’ — you’re more difficult to kill than most Aldredian Chaotics.»

Tch…! Mote snorted in derision, glancing at the hologram through the corner of his eye while he quickly surveyed the surrounding electrical fields for signs of any electrical activity. As soon as he discovered the nearest device, hidden in the ceiling, he blasted it with lightning, causing Maenikad’s hologram to disappear.

«…I see that you can sense electrical fields, as well,» Maenikad replied, though her voice came from farther down the hallway — from a system Mote had yet to destroy. Quickly, he lunged forward to blast that system as well, only to immediately stop his charge and brace himself as the wall to his side blasted inwards. «Never did I expect to find myself in a live-combat scenario like this!» Maenikad remarked, while Mote swept the wall debris off of him with his hammer before charging forward. «But it would appear that training my combat routines has paid off!»

Shut the hell up, Mote snarled, half-turning his upper body to dodge out of the way of several pieces of metal debris that were magnetically flung towards him. I know you have help. Where’s the Electrotechnic?

«You do not know…? Then I am not about to tell you!» Maenikad retorted, just as the hallway electrified again. This time, however, Mote immediately focused on electrifying the hallway himself, easily overpowering the enemy Electrotechnic to launch himself forwards — where he immediately crossed his arms in front of him to shield himself from a shower of dirt and metal debris as the wall at the far end of the hall exploded.

Ngh…!he grunted in pain; without his armor to protect him, the debris was able to rip through his uniform and hit his body directly. His skin and body remained far more durable than any normal human, but he could still get bruised and cut — so it was only a matter of time before he suffered an injury. That AI could tell that I was sensing electrical fields. That likely means the enemy Electrotechnic, wherever they are, can sense and manipulate electrical fields, as well. Which means that I can’t trust those fields as a source of direction— damn it! Mote then raised his hammer overhead, preparing to bring it down on the surrounding bulkheads. If that machine has full control over the Ark, then I need to destroy it if I want to get out of here. And if I can’t use the electric fields to find its core, then my only remaining option is to destroy everything!

Just as Mote went to swing his hammer, large pieces of metal debris snapped to the hammer’s head, electromagnetically manipulated to entomb the hammer and hold it in place. At the same time, a blast of lightning hit Mote in the back and sent him sprawling, but he quickly recovered, summoning his hammer back to himself and slamming it into the bulkheads to his side. As the hammer tore into the metal, Mote seized magnetic control of the resulting debris and launched them like shotgun pellets into the opposite wall, creating even more debris with which he repeated the process, hoping to completely strip the walls and expose anyone or anything that could be hiding behind them.

Just as he initiated the third chain, however, a powerful reversal of the electromagnetic fields all around him launched the storm of debris toward him. In the split-second he had to react, he again shielded himself with his arms while forcing the magnetic charge of his body to match that of the surrounding field, causing most of the debris to deflect away from him before even touching him.

«You certainly are quite skilled…» Maenikad remarked as Mote resumed dashing through the hallways, intent on retracing his tracks through the underground facility. «It truly is a shame that you do not share the Empire’s goals.»

I don’t see why I should care for a dead culture, Mote retorted, dodging to the side to evade a blast of debris before resuming his run. What even are your goals? Why bother leading me this deep into the Ark?

«You are a descendant of Raen. You are meant to reawaken the Arks!» Maenikad insisted. «Normally, I would not dare stand in your way! But in accordance with the Last Resort Protocol, I have no choice. Using the ships you have so graciously provided, I will travel the stars and reawaken the other Arks myself — after all, even your remains can be used to activate Raen technology. In the end, all will bow again to the might of the Raen Empire, else be destroyed in the wake of our revival! And you, descendant of Raen, have lost the right to bear witness!»

Tch—! Mote snorted in derision, but was little able to respond further as he fended off lightning strikes and blasts of debris. The only thing more annoying than a prideful AI is the fact that it doesn’t have to breathe to speak! He swung his hammer through the air, deflecting even more metal debris before slamming the weapon’s head into the bulkheads, where he paused for a moment to take a deep breath. Not that trying to respond during a fight like this is prudent. Battlefield chatter is worthless… but my body… In a brief moment of lull, Mote glanced down at his green uniform with black trimming, finding that it was lacerated all over from the onslaught he was fighting through. He could feel sharp pains running along his arms from all the times he had used them to shield himself, but more than that, he could feel a deeper pain within his chest, accompanied by the anxious feeling of being unable to catch his breath — and a certain acrid scent that, as an Electrotechnic, he was well familiar with.

With a reflexive cough, Mote forced himself to continue running. Damn it. All of this electrical activity is filling the air with ozone — made even worse by being in an underground bunker. That machine surely controls the life-support, too… if this keeps up for too long, I’ll lose to a lack of air, rather than the enemy! I only have one choice. He stopped in his tracks, taking a moment to try and catch his breath — but he didn’t spend too long doing so before taking as deep a breath as he could and holding it in. As the Eximius Vir were more durable than normal humans, they all could also hold their breaths for much longer than normal… but even in a calm room on a calm day without moving his body, Mote could hold his breath for at most two hours. In an atmosphere filled with ozone, while actively fighting off hostile opponents, Mote was certain he had less than ten minutes, perhaps even five before he would need another gasp of air — and by then, it may be too late.

As if to reaffirm his worries, the entire hallway in which he was standing immediately filled with a massive blast of lightning, throwing Mote against the wall. He fought hard to keep his breath as he collapsed to the ground, forcing the irritation in his throat and his urge to cough out of mind as he followed the lightning blast with electrical manipulation of his own, successfully launching himself down the corridor — and then the next. I must be past the point where I lost communication contact with the Genesis, but I can’t afford to stop and check, he mused as he continued blasting himself down the hallways. Knowing that the AI was just ‘testing’ me suggests that all of the technical ‘malfunctions’ may have been a ruse from the start, anyways. Chances are, the machine has cut off comms and all possibility of beaming away across the entire Ark—

Mote’s thoughts were interrupted as a blast door slammed down in front of him. Unable to react in time, he slammed into the door and then recoiled in pain, where he was hit with two more lightning strikes. The Electrotechnic’s still keeping up with me? How?! Mote wondered irately as he staggered backwards, there’s no one behind me… at least this Electrotechnic seems to be the only defense this Ark has, but— damn it. I need to focus on getting back to the main control room. From there, I should be able to find the AI’s core!

With that, Mote swung his arm around to slam his palm against the blast door, and then blow it wide open with an incredible blast of lightning. He quickly jumped through the resulting hole, only to stumble to his knees on the other side; his body was by now begging for him to take a breath, but the smell of ozone still tainted his nostrils. Knowing that the air remained unsafe, he forced himself to his feet and magnetically launched himself down the hall once more, easily using his lightning to blow through another handful of thick blast doors as he sailed through.

«Your lightning is significantly more powerful than any other Electrotechnic I have seen or heard of,» Maenikad observed, her hologram manifesting next to Mote as he continually launched himself through the halls. «And that hammer, as well— are you using the Chaos State?»

Mote didn’t respond, focusing instead on navigating through the Ark’s corridors.

«…Even if you hold your breath, only so much time remains for you. Our clashes are filling the Ark with ozone as we speak. Even in the Chaos State, you will have no choice but to succumb!»

This thing thinks I’m using the Chaos State, too? Mote’s mouth turned into a frustrated frown as he stumbled down the next corridor. …It doesn’t matter. The control room… is around the corner. He stopped to hold his hand to his head, which throbbed in pain. And if I’m… feeling like this, then the enemy Electrotechnic must be, too—

Just as he stopped in front of the entrance door to the main control room, the door exploded outwards, its metal pieces slamming Mote to the ground. This time, he was unable to maintain absolute control of his body; the blow winded him, robbing him of the rest of his held oxygen. And when he reflexively went to inhale, he could tell that the atmosphere was filled with ozone… but not completely, not just yet.

With that realization, Mote quickly sprung to his feet and then magnetically launched himself away from the control room, down a different corridor than the one he had approached from. As soon as he landed on the ground, he took several quick breaths to regain his bearings, and then took as deep a gulp of air as he could; he could still feel the irritation in this throat as he inhaled ozone, but he was able to gather enough normal air to keep himself going. After all, ozone was a byproduct of lightning through air, and it had only been a few minutes since Maenikad first attacked Mote — which wasn’t enough time for all of the air in the Ark to mix. Thus, the areas of the Ark that hadn’t yet been filled with fighting were bound to be cleaner.

The lack of ozone near Mote was soon remedied, however, as the entire hallway grew electrified. With some — though not all — of his strength returned, Mote summoned his battlehammer and slammed it into the metal flooring, ripping it up to disrupt the electrical fields before launching himself back toward the main control room, all while once again holding his breath. Metal debris strewn all across the corridor rapidly came together in an attempt to impede Mote’s path, but he easily smashed the debris apart with his hammer and entered the control room… which promptly exploded, as though someone had instantly and severely overloaded every piece of electronics in the room.

What the—?  Mote recoiled in surprise, only for his expression to turn into a glare as Maenikad’s hologram appeared in the center of the room, and the remaining doors slammed shut.

«You have come far enough!» Maenikad declared. «I did not think you would manage to reach the Ark’s control room, but as I have now destroyed its components, you have no access to the Ark’s systems! Your futile struggle ends here!»

They blew out their own controls to stop me? They must be desperate. Good thing I didn’t come here for the computers, in the first place… Mote turned away from Maenikad and closed his eyes, relying primarily on his Electrotechnic senses to feel out any remaining circuitry in the surrounding area. The enemy may be an Electrotechnic, and they may be able to interfere with the electromagnetic fields in the Ark, but one thing I’ve been able to determine is that my own power far outstrips theirs. If I can locate the main circuits, then I can overload them with electricity and force the Ark’s electric fields to align with its power grid — which will help find the AI’s mainframe!

Initially, Mote began forcing his own electric current through the walls, floor, and ceiling of the control room, allowing him to exert control over the constituent metal — and thus prevent the enemy Electrotechnic from weaponizing any of it. However, he could tell that his constant electrification, accompanied by the initial blowout of the control room, was rapidly poisoning the air — his throat and nostrils were burning. He could even feel a burning sensation along his arms and legs, where he could tell that his uniform had ripped, and his skin likely cut and exposed to the ozone-filled air. Knowing that his time was limited, Mote focused intently on the outgoing circuits from the fried control room and began forcing current down their frayed wires. Sparks began to wreath his body and electricity began arcing between himself and the control room walls, all due to the incredible amounts of energy he was generating and forcing through the system.

This is eating through my air even faster…! he thought bitterly, if I was better practiced, I could generate this energy without the stray sparks. Still, it’s rare that I need to output this much energy — that Electrotechnic, wherever they are, is fighting back hard.

As Mote’s electricity slowly overpowered that of his opponent and began electrifying the entire Ark, he began to peer into the resulting electrical fields. While his electrical sense was too vague to paint a full mental picture of the Ark, he quickly got the impression that his initial mapping of the Ark when he had first arrived in the control room was wrong. So the Electrotechnic was around even then, and interfering with my senses… I should have known this AI wasn’t to be trusted. A scowl reflexively formed on Mote’s face. But now that I think about it— surely I should be able to sense the enemy Electrotechnic by now? But all I’m sensing is the Ark itself. Where are they?

«Cease— cease this at once!» Maenikad demanded, but Mote kept his eyes closed, continuing to ignore her. «You’ll— you’ll destroy the entire Ark!»

That IS my goal Mote thought bitterly, his focus momentarily dimming as he fought off the urge to cough. In that brief lull, he could feel the enemy Electrotechnic push back against his own electricity… but he quickly forced his way back, overpowering their resistance once more. Now, what’s around me… I can sense the stasis blocks — it seems there were another two blocks, but they’re both dead. It’s just as well. What else is here… there’s the power generator, but disabling it is pointless as long as the enemy Electrotechnic still lives. I need to find either them, or the mainframe— ah ha!

«No!» Maenikad shouted, as if in response to Mote’s discovery. «You… you cannot do this! I may well be the last living will of the Aldredas!»

Mote responded only with silence as he redirected his electricity down the circuits leading to the Ark’s mainframe computer, which he could only assume contained the main processing unit for Maenikad. His brow furrowed from the effort, and his head was starting to pound from the lack of oxygen — but his goal was right there.

«I was wrong! I accept my mistake — I should never have questioned a descendant of Raen!» Maenikad pleaded, «your will is clearly as strong as any Aldredas — so please! Cease this, at once!»

Annoying machine Mote spared no more thoughts for Maenikad as he focused on overloading the mainframe. The mainframe itself seemed to resist his control far more strongly than throughout the rest of the Ark; it seemed as though his ability to control electricity disappeared entirely when it came to the mainframe. That brief moment of confusion allowed the enemy another chance to push back, to repel Mote’s power — a resistance that nearly broke Mote’s concentration, as he had to split his focus between his energy output and forcing his body to ignore every last instinct within his respiratory system.

«You still persist…?! I will tell you all I know! All the information stored within this Ark’s databases, I will open to you! But if you destroy me, it will all go to waste!»

Nothing more than a bluff— a bluff that I’m calling. With one final push, Mote forced his own electricity into the mainframe. While he may not have been able to control the distant computers directly, he was still more than able to overload all of the wires feeding into the computers.

«You—!» Maenikad’s voice rapidly began cutting out under Mote’s assault, but still she managed to eek out a few final words. «Regrettable—! —Take— —with me!»

And with that, Maenikad’s hologram dissipated, and all of the electrical resistance that Mote had felt suddenly disappeared.

So the mainframe, and that annoying AI, is finally down, Mote mused, his eyes still closed as he continued focusing on the Ark. But I’m not… done yet. I need to… breath… but not yet! Find the beam jammers, comm jammers, destroy them… wait—!

As Mote began inspecting the entire Ark once more, he noticed that a section of it that he hadn’t noticed before, a section far, far underground, was suddenly active — and the looping circuit was one he could trivially recognize as a massive bomb. This Ark even has a self-destruct system? I should’ve… known! Damn it, I don’t have time to… disable it. Get the… jammers…!

Reflexively, Mote clutched at his chest, which itself was throbbing from his lack of air. He could feel his consciousness growing dim, as well as his control over the Ark’s circuits growing weaker. Realizing that he was at the verge, Mote quickly decided on his only course of action left: to pump such a massive electrical burst through the Ark’s circuits that the entire facility would be overloaded at once — including both the jammers… and the armed self-destruct.

Captain, Colonel… I hope you’re paying attention…! With one final, grand effort, Mote filled the entire Ark in an instant with a powerful blast of lightning, electrifying every last wall, floor, panel, and system. He could hear the metal around him warping under the resulting electromagnetic forces, and he could hear pops and small explosions as he finally found the voltage limit of what the Ark’s materials could withstand. In the next instant, he could feel deep rumbling underfoot, followed by a bright light shining even through his closed eyelids.

…And then, he felt cool air wash over his body, and he could sense that the electrical fields around him had massively shifted. Not far behind him seemed to be a massive void of non-conductive material, but before he could contemplate that any further, he finally succumbed to his body’s painful urge to breath. At first in gasps, Mote began coughing and spluttering, his right hand clutched to his chest as his left supported his doubled-over form on the ground.

Whoa! Mote! Are you okay?!

Mote coughed a couple more times, but eventually he was able to regain control of his body and take a deep breath — at which point he turned his attention upwards, finding Danielle kneeling next to him with a worried look on her face, and the rest of CSF-1 behind her on the bridge of Genesis.

“Let me guess,” Krick muttered as he watched Mote stumble back to his feet. “Shit hit the fan down there, too?”

You… could certainly say that, Mote responded, still catching his breath. He then shook his head as he glanced at Danielle, and then at Colonel Saito. That AI isn’t to be trusted.

No shit, dumbass, Kate retorted. We figured that out when your fucking Corvette started shooting up the fighter bay!

Mote’s eyes widened in alarm. What?!

“That damage is going to be another fucking month in dock, god damn it…” Krick muttered. “But it’s under control, your shitty ship is being held in a containment field. The bigger issue is that someone tried to hack my goddamn ship!”

That was the AI, Mote explained. It claimed that it was going to take over the Genesis and the Origin and use these ships to fly to the other Arks…

“So there really are more of them out there…” Hackett mused.

“If they’re all like this one, then it’d be better to bombard them from fucking orbit,” Krick declared.

Bullshit! Kate countered, now that we know how desperate the Arks are, and what kind of defenses and systems they have, tackling the next one will be a fucking cinch!

If these really are Arks,” Saito replied, and then passed Mote a glance. “Were you able to find any sign of actual stasis blocks, down there?”

Mote took a deep breath before replying, yes, sir. There once were actual stasis blocks in that Ark… but they were destroyed in an earthquake 40 years ago.

“F-forty years…?” Kirstin echoed.

Fuck… we were so close to greatness! Kate exclaimed in irritation. So fucking close to talking with real fucking Aldredas! …Well, at least we can study the remnants, right?

I doubt it, Mote stated. Right before I destroyed the AI, I think it activated the Ark’s self-destruct. I didn’t have time to stop it…

“Our sensors can confirm that,” Krick remarked. “There was some sudden seismic activity around where the Ark should be… god damn, that must’ve been a bigass bomb to generate this much activity. Ah, shit— looks like the self-destruct signal went up to all the satellites, too! They’re all blowing themselves up! Damn!”

Great. Fucking great. Another mission where we learn nothing, Kate muttered, and then glared at Mote. And you, where’s your fucking armor, huh? Don’t tell me you destroyed that, too!

I might have, but it was necessary… Mote responded as he pulled the rhomboid out of his pocket and tossed it to Kate. That AI… I don’t know how, but it seized control of my armor. I had to dismiss the armor, and then I used my Overdrive, so if that device isn’t properly shielded on its own… then—

Fucking hell… Kate held a hand to her brow in frustration as she looked the rhomboid device over in her other hand.

“Well, it seems like everything’s over, now,” Saito commented, clapping his hands once to draw Mote and Kate’s attention. “Mote… I’m glad you’re fine, and I’m sorry for sending you down alone. But for now, we need to get you looked at, and have a proper debriefing!”

Oh… Mote looked down at himself, and at his lacerated uniform and the cuts all over his body. …Right.

“We’ll stick around in orbit for another few hours, do a full sensor sweep of the planet,” Krick stated. “See if we’re fuckin’ missing anything. If not, we’ll be on our way back to Earth, earlier than planned — yet again.” The Captain then passed Saito an annoyed look. “Colonel, why can’t I ever once have a normal-ass mission when you’re around?”

“Ha, sorry, Captain,” Saito replied. “But anyways, everyone, it looks like we’re wrapped up, here. Let’s get going.”

As the Colonel began leading everyone off of the bridge and Danielle moved to help Mote along, he paused for a second to look out the bridge window, at the planet below. Only the scarred terrain met his eyes, with no signs of the underground bunker he had just escaped. Maenisaren he thought to himself, and then shook his head to clear his thoughts, more than ready to move on from the ill-fated remnants of a dead empire.