Chapter 6: Revenge
15 October 2018 at 06:26:49 | [E]
Part of For Better or Worse
"So what is it?" I asked, wincing as the needle of the external interface pierced my spinal port.
"Don't need to know." Red grunted as he tightened the securing screws.
"You're paid to transport, not to question."
Red stood over me and began to type at an ancient console wired into the cradle I was interfaced with. The mechanism was cobbled together from spare parts, illegal salvage, and castoff electronics. The "cradle" itself was a cracked and dingy vinyl bucket seat bolted to a sheet of metal. Two of the gang-members had pulled it from under a pile of debris before seating me in it and reclining it fully back. My arms and legs were secured to the chair with strips of rags so that I wouldn't accidentally jostle the interface needle.
The interface needle jutting up between the seat and headrest appeared to be salvaged from an entertainment deck. It was wired into mess of wildly varied computer hardware filling a crate at the head of the cradle's sled. I was able to make out several consumer grade towers, an entire bank of 50+ year old smartphones, an ancient SCSI RAID block, too many random boards to count, and even a salvaged drone dumb-AI core. I was still marveling at the incredible variety of devices networked into the interface needle when Red jerked my face upright and clamped my head still with a metal band.
I'd really like to know what they're loading in my processing suite's storage array. Of course, maybe its better that I don't. Only one way to "un-know" something...
Red finally stopped typing and waved at one of his men beyond my field of vision. The gang-member came into my view with a large military ruggidized case. He set it on the floor and I heard it open with two clicks. He pulled something from the case and as he handed it to Red, I saw it was a simple black cube. One one of its faces was a standard data interface. Behind me, I heard Red messing with the hardware in the computer case, presumably plugging in the cube. I was about to ask if the cube was the "package" but Red began speaking.
"So, lad, here's whats going to happen. We're gonna crack the cube and extract a bit of data. That data will be streamed directly to your storage as it is extracted. We only get one chance, so don't jostle the needle. If this is messed up... Well, you won't have time to care."
I would have jumped up at that time, had I not already been tied down. Instead I did the only thing I could and began yelling at Red.
"HEY NOW, What is going on? What are you cracking back there and why am I networked into it?"
Red began typing again as he explained the situation more. I almost preferred to be ignorant.
"We're cracking 2048 bit encryption with military-grade reactive firewalls and a "Scorched-Earth" tamper-switch."
These guys are insane! That setup will cascade through the hardware and burn my nervous system out!
I couldn't trust the skill of Red, and the payout was far too low to risk brain-death. I began struggling against my bindings, hoping to get free before the cracking started. Almost immediately six gang-members appeared around me, holding me down. My augs were being supressed since the meeting started, so I had no more options. I desperately tried reasoning with them.
"There's no way that hardware you had in there can break that encryption! You'll trigger the switch, kill me, and lose your fucking package all in one go."
Red just kept typing. He finished a few moments later and turned to me, hand hovering over the keyboard.
"That hardware ain't crackin the cube. The drone-core in there is active. The rest of the hardware is just simulating an environment for it. It thinks its tracking a "suspicious person", so it has opened its entangled link to Central's quantum processors for verification. We're gonna hijack that link and feed it the cube's decryption scheme. The quantum processors will crack the cube for us. As the data becomes available, we're gonna stream it onto your storage. You gotta stop struggling though. The stream has to be perfect or else the tamper-switch will realize the data is being moved. Jostle that needle enough to drop one byte, and you'll drop your brain right next to it."
I stopped, frozen in some kind of horror induced paralysis. Before I could voice my objections to the hair-brained scheme, Red brought his hand down on the keyboard. Instantly I could feel the jittery flow of data being pushed through my spinal port, across my nervous system, and into my processing suite.
Suddenly, one of the gang-members began shaking my shoulder.
"Stop! You'll break the stream!" I shouted. Then suddenly I was looking at an armored elf standing over me, shaking me awake.
"Wake up! You have ten minutes to clean yourself and eat."
It had been several days since I was evaluated. The guard had told the truth about the rewards. My living conditions were a definite step up from how I had been treated before. My cell was square, with about three meters on a side. The straw pallet I was provided with for sleeping was about two meters long and one wide. Considering that I was quite a bit taller than the natives here, I imagined it must have been specially made for me unless they had other larger prisoners. A proper chamber pot was provided and emptied while I was at training. I was never woken with a bucket of cold water anymore. Rather, a guard would wake me, and I would be provided with a full bucket for cleaning myself. I was also provided with breakfast in my cell each morning. It was still unidentifiable slop, but it tasted slightly better than before. I was never chained inside my cell, but the door lock was too solid and complex for me to break or pick without tools.
On the first day, I had been taken to some kind of storeroom. There I was provided with two set of extremely plain undyed robes. They were unfortunately far too small for me, but I made do. It was still a step up from a dirty loincloth. I switched robes each day, and the other would be cleaned and left in my cell when i returned from training each night. They sheared my hair back down to my scalp, which helped quite a bit since I had developed a nasty lice infestation.
Every morning after I washed and ate, I was marched to the training room. The room was very large compared to all the other rooms I had been in in this dungeon. There were several benches arranged in a semicircle around the teacher's stand. While my previous class had as many slaves being taught as could be packed into the room, this class had twenty of us. I recognized a few of the elves, and the dwarf from the previous class. There were also two large green creatures that I figured must be orcs. None of us were wearing the slave collars anymore.
The teacher, like the one for the previous class, was not actually a magic user. According to his introduction on the first day, he was a lesser noble under Baron Tarsk who was taught magical theory for the purpose of teaching slave mages. The classes in the first phase were mostly about basic magical theory. The classes now still did not teach actual spells, but the theory was much more in depth. In addition, each day a fully trained slave mage was brought in for demonstrations. I would have found myself frustrated at the pace of teaching, since my internal processing suite allowed me to learn the material much faster than the other slaves. Instead I was using the extra time to develop an escape plan.
My Retinal Aug paired with my internal processing suite allowed me to deep-scan the elves and other native species. I discovered that unlike humans, all the natives I scanned had a larger proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Theoretically the effect of this would be greater strength, but lower endurance compared to a human. Elven eyes were much larger for their body size than humans. Calculations suggested this would allow them better eyesight, especially in the dark. Other than these differences, they were remarkable similar to short humans. I could not find any difference physically between those with and those without mana reserves.
Scanning the walls revealed them to be mostly extremely thick granite. The metals used were mostly bronze, but the slave cuffs and collars were cast iron. Strangely enough, there was no physically apparent difference between regular iron and the slave restraints, but the slave restraints were unnaturally durable. This seemed to indicate that magical augmentation operated without measurable physical changes. I had some ideas on how to deal with the restraints, but they would require my augmentations to be fully repaired.
The primary issue I was up against was that I was still not being fed well enough to be able to afford to expend my body mass to build nanomachines. Most of my augmentations required a significant amount of nanomachines to run. What little quantity I had was being used to repair my last broken nanomachine factory. Even once both factories were repaired, I would still need mass to build nanomachines. I could use external mass as long as I was in physical contact with it, but it took time and wasn't very efficient. In addition, the external mass needed to be mostly carbon with some trace minerals, as that is what nanomachines were made from.
Karkan, Slave Trader
I was hoping for her to be intact to use to motivate the Wretch, but this is almost better....
I looked down into the chest the brothel owner had sent at my request. Inside was a "gift" for my Wretch. Maybe it would have motivated her to be a more useful slave, but the time for her chances was over. I would sell her for whatever price the brothel owner offered and finally wash my hands of the Wretch.
My perfect slave was out doing my business while I stayed behind to enjoy this task. I unlocked the door to the closet where I had been keeping the Wretch. She was chained by the neck and feet, forced to stand in a rather uncomfortable position. She had long since lost the privilege of sleeping on the floor. I unlocked her chains and hauled her out by the remains of her hair. I threw her to the ground in front of the table holding the chest, where she immediately assumed a kneeling, submissive posture.
"Wretch, look at me. I have something to show you..." I said, trying to keep a straight face. I was almost vibrating with the anticipation of the Wretch's reaction. She would finally be punished as she deserved...
She looked up at me, one eye a disgusting gray mass of scar tissue. She had gotten that for spilling a wash bucket in my presence. Once I was sure I had her complete attention, I reached into the chest and grasped her "gift". My composure momentarily broke as my face split into an evil grin and a short giggle escaped my lips. The Wretch looked confused and terrified...
I pulled the object from the chest and tossed it into her lap. The wretch froze as she stared into the dead eyes of her sister. She stumbled back in horror, the severed head dropping from her lap and rolling to the side. I threw my head back and let out a guttural howling laugh. A high keening joined my laugh as the Wretch began to weep. I looked down at her, cradling her sister's head with tears pouring from her good eye.
With the punishment administered, I turned back to the chest to pull out the chains I would restrain her with before shipping her to the brothel. Behind me the keening deepened into a growl. I began turning to see what the Wretch was doing-
I looked down at my side with confusion.
I'm bleeding? What-
My mind made the connection as I realized the handle of my dinner knife was sticking out of my side. Blood poured from my side, ruining my expensive robes. My vision started to blur as I looked up, following the hand holing the knife handle. The Wretch stood in front of me with tears dripping from her face. Her mouth was twisted into a savage grimace.
The Wretch!? How dare she! I will break her... I will hurt... I will...
My thoughts started to become fuzzy. I couldn't concentrate. My body was so tired. Blood everywhere. I just needed to rest.
I jerked awake again laying on my back, too weak to move. The Wretch was leaning over me with... pliers... in her hands. She shoved them into my mouth and I felt her grip a tooth. My world exploded into agony.
The Wretch laid on her back next to her dead master. A pile of teeth was stacked between them, next to a pair of golden pliers. The inscriptions on her slave manacles glowed as the enchantments burned her from the inside out. The manacles were killing her now that her master was dead, but the Wretch allowed a smile to break onto her face. She had her revenge.
"The Human is progressing well with training. The instructors indicate that he is ready to be tested for placement into a caste. He has also regularly requested additional food from the guards. He complains that humans require more sustenance to survive, and that he is slowly starving. The physician notes that his body weight has dropped significantly since his initial assessment."
The black-robed steward bowed low as he awaited my reply.
I pondered this for a moment. The Human had been remarkably obedient since he was imprisoned. Still, I knew to be careful. The stories I had heard of other humans seemed to indicate that they had a tendency to be always planning nasty surprises. Still, I could not afford for my prize to die of starvation.
"Slowly increase his food supply and have him regularly assessed by the physician. Once he begins gaining weight, maintain the level of food he receives. Notify me once he regains his previous weight. As for his assessment, make it happen. I need to know what kind of tool he is."
I turned away and allowed the steward to leave. Once he was gone, I continued developing my plans. By the end of the month I expected to have won all four of my neighboring baronies. From there I would have a solid position to take over this side of Adympia.
I realized that I was an idiot. I already though of using the straw pallet as a carbon source for nanomachine production, but I had been hung up on the need for trace minerals, especially iron. I look down at my IRON manacles.
Such an idiot
I laid on my pallet and programmed the nanite factory to convert the straw in contact with my skin and the some of the iron from my manacles into a supply of nanomachines. I closed my eyes to sleep and allowed my functional nanomachine factory to work.
The next morning I was wolfing down my breakfast when the guard glared at me with suspicion.
"Why are you so happy this morning, Slave?"
I realized I had been grinning as I ate.
"Well, you guys gave me a bit more food today, see?" I said, displaying the slightly larger bowl.
The guard snorted and turned away, muttering "Simpleton."
They really had fed me a bit more, but that wasn't why I was so happy. The display on my Retinal Aug was my real source of joy.
Nanomachine Factory 0 : Passed Nanomachine Factory 1 : Passed Nanomachine Storage Array: 73%
Now I have a chance...