Hey friends and fictional folk! We’re really getting into things now. Not much to say for this chapter, I think I’ll let it speak for itself. Hope you all enjoy!
Daniel’s heart leapt so far up his throat he could taste it.
“No!” he yelled. “You can’t!”
“Correct,” COOTS said.
He blinked, fear turning to confusion. “What?”
“Deploying Lethal Force May Only Be Authorized By A Biological Creature Belonging To A Species Advanced Enough To Have Constructed Vehicular Machines And Simplistic Artificial Intelligence. I Am Incapable Of Performing This Function Without Your Command.”
Daniel sighed. He was glad that whoever had built COOTS had the foresight to restrict certain actions. He was usually all for AI rights, but this one didn’t seem to possess any sense of emotion or morality. So it was probably best that they didn’t have total control of the ship.
“You mentioned that the two hybrids were unstable,” Mr. Ross said. “Can you elaborate, please?”
“Colloquialism Recognized,” COOTS said as picture began to shift on the screens. “Colloquialism ‘Hybrid’ Will Now Be Used Interchangeably With The Word ‘Bioweapon.’”
Video feed of the bridge from multiple different angles popped up displaying the battle between Natalie and Ahuizotl. The two of them were still fighting with frightening ferocity. Though the sound of their clash coming from COOTS’s speakers was set to low volume, that did nothing to detract from its brutality. Ahuizotl lashed out with every limb, even her tail, and used the entire room to her advantage. Natalie was a blur of snake and human parts. She shifted so rapidly that Daniel had less than a second to figure out what she looked like and by the time he did she had already morphed three more times.
The bridge was undamaged so far, but Daniel doubted that even whatever alien metal this ship was made out of could withstand the onslaught of those two fighting for long.
Silhouettes of Natalie and Ahuizotl appeared next to the video feed. In the chest of the silhouettes were their shards. Ahuizotl had the shards floating separately in her torso. Natalie however, only had a single shard, but where Ahuizotl’s were unmoving, hers seemed to be spinning and vibrating like a glitchy graphic in a video game.
Daniel’s heart sank.
“Please tell me that’s just from her transforming a lot,” he said, pointing at Natalie’s spinning shard.
“I Could Tell You This,” COOTS said, “But It Would Be Inaccurate. The Instability In Bioweapon B’s Genetic Reconstruction Template Is Due To An Alignment Error, Exacerbated By Their Rapid Use Of The Metamorphosis Function. There Is A High Probability This Was Caused By The Genetic Reconstruction Template Manipulator You Hold In Your Hand.”
“You mean these tongs?” he asked, glancing down at the tool Ahuizotl had given them.
“Affirmative,” COOTS said. “Colloquialism Recognized. Colloquialism ‘Tongs’ Will Now Be Used Interchangeably With The Designation ‘Genetic Reconstruction Template Manipulator.’”
“We are getting off topic,” Mr. Ross said. “COOTS, please return to your explanation of what you mean by ‘unstable.’”
“Both Bioweapon A And Bioweapon B Have Incorrectly Deployed Genetic Reconstruction Template,” COOTS explained. “While Bioweapon A’s Instability Of Unconnected Genetic Reconstruction Template Is Relatively Harmless To The Bioweapon And Any Allies, Bioweapon B’s Instability Is A Danger To All Lifeforms And Structures In The Immediate Vicinity. Due To The Alignment Error Of Bioweapon B’s Genetic Reconstruction Template, She Is Beginning To Suffer Genetic And Neurological Degradation. If Left Uncorrected, The Damage Caused By This Degradation Could Become Permanent.”
A loud crash burst from COOTS’s speaker. Turning back to the surveillance screens showing the fight, Daniel saw that Ahuizotl had apparently been thrown so hard against one of the seats that it had broken in half. She was struggling to stand, had several large gashes seeping blood into her fur, and was holding her left arm at an odd angle. Natalie was—
Daniel gasped. The monster onscreen wasn’t Natalie. It couldn’t be. Not a trace of humanity was left in that hulking mass of scaled, sinuous limbs. Multiple heads—at least a dozen—sprouted from the central body, each with a large cobra-like hood and a pair of fangs long enough to stab all the way through the thickest part of his torso. The body of the creature itself was thick as an oak and stretched out into a tail as long as a pickup truck. A mottled patchwork of scales of every color covered the creature’s body like some sort of nightmarish quilt. This thing Natalie had transformed into was neither snake nor human. It was a beast of mythology. A hydra that Hercules might have balked at. Even separated by thick metal walls and only viewing it on a screen, the primal part of Daniel’s mind was screaming for him to run. To flee and find somewhere to hide.
“My god,” Mr. Ross breathed, his voice little more than a whisper.
“Bioweapon B’s Genetic Degradation Is Reaching Peak Instability,” COOTS informed them. “Lethal Countermeasures Are Strongly Advised.”
“No!” Daniel barked. “Wait!”
He held up the tongs. His mind was running a mile a minute. He needed a plan. Even if it didn’t look like it, Natalie was still somewhere deep within that thing on screen. He wasn’t about to let her die just because she had turned into a giant snake monster. It hadn’t stopped him from helping her the first time and it wasn’t going to stop him now.
“Couldn’t we use the tongs to realign her shard?” Daniel asked, blurting out the first, crazy plan his brain could think up.
“Colloquialism Recognized,” COOTS said. “Colloquialism ‘Shard’ Will Now Be Used Interchangeably With The Designation ‘Genetic Reconstruction Template.’”
“Answer the question!”
“Use Of The Tongs To Realign Bioweapon B’s Shard Is A Viable Alternative. However, It Is Not Recommended. Based On Your Physiology And The State Of Bioweapon B’s Genetic Degeneration, I Calculate Your Chances Of Success At Fifteen Percent.”
“Which means it isn’t impossible.”
There was a long pause from COOTS. “Affirmative. It Is Not Impossible. However, Due To The Danger Presented By The Rampaging Bioweapons, I Will Require Confirmation By Both Humans In This Room Before I Will Allow You To Exit Into Such A Dangerous Area.”
Daniel turned to Mr. Ross. His teacher looked deeply shaken.
“My boy, I trust you completely,” he said. “But please, do not rush out there without a plan. I’m not sure you would survive in there with those two at each other’s throats.”
Daniel felt a smirk tug at the corner of his mouth. “Ah, but I won’t be in there with both of them.” He turned back to the wall of screens as Mr. Ross raised an eyebrow. “COOTS. Can you open up a tunnel leading from the bridge to the surface?”
“This Vessel Is Capable Of Such A Feat.”
“Then do it. Open one right next to Ahuizotl. I mean Bioweapon A.”
They watched on the surveillance cameras as a portion of the bridge wall next to Ahuizotl slid back to reveal a dirt tunnel that sloped steeply up toward a faint gleam of sunlight. Ahuizotl glanced at the tunnel, then at Natalie. She snarled, spat out some retort Daniel couldn’t hear due to the low volume of the speakers, and dove into the earthen passage.
“Close up the tunnel entrance from the bridge,” he ordered.
The wall sealed itself back into place just as Natalie made to charge after Ahuizotl. Her monstrous body slammed into the solid metal and, for a moment, Daniel feared she might break through. But whatever alloy the Mishibizhew and Kgr’da had built the ship out of held fast. Natalie’s many heads all screamed with primal rage. She beat at the wall but, unlike the chair she had broken by flinging Ahuizotl, it would not budge. It did not so much as dent.
Daniel sighed in relief.
“Now for part two of the plan,” he said, turning to Mr. Ross.
He explained the plan quickly. There was no guarantee how long Natalie would remain distracted by Ahuizotl’s escape. They needed to act fast, but carefully if his crazy, totally-going-to-get-him-killed idea was going to work. Plus, COOTS had mentioned that, if they didn’t fix her condition soon, she might be stuck that way forever.
Mr. Ross listened, concern growing deeper on his face with each new word of the plan.
“It’s risky,” his teacher warned.
“I know,” Daniel said. “But it’s the only way I can think of to save Natalie.”
Mr. Ross sighed. “Unfortunately, I can think of no better alternative for ensuring she comes out of this alive. Given that she is my student, I would prefer she not die while under my care. Very well. I consent to this plan.”
Daniel turned to the wall of screens that he thought of as COOTS’s body. Though in all likelihood, the AI’s body was likely the entire ship. He looked toward the surveillance footage of Natalie still banging on the bridge wall. If it hadn’t been for last night at Lake Levi where she had to save him from drowning, her shard wouldn’t have gotten misaligned. If it weren’t for his insistence on her becoming a superhero, she wouldn’t have been fighting other hybrids. If it hadn’t been for his weakness in front of Carson and Paul or his finding the ark orb at these mounds in the first place, none of this would have happened and she would be safe at home with her family.
I’ll save you Natalie, he vowed to himself. This is my fault, so it’s only right I fix it.
Gripping the tongs tightly, he took a deep breath.
“Open the door to this room, COOTS,” he ordered.
There was a long pause before the computer spoke again.