MLM – Chapter 39

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It was the day afterward the impressive weaponry exhibition, and also the date of their departure. They had released the starved, captured rat a day ago, giving it a full 24 hours to hopefully find its way back into the nest, looking for food, after which the hunters would track it down using the radio waves being broadcasted from a chip implanted in the rat’s neck.
[So it wouldn’t be able to chew it out], PiRA had claimed.

Currently, Lasko and PiRA were finishing their preparations. Lasko had his suit and was making sure that everything was working the way it should, PiRA was gathering various materials to take with them.
PiRA had decided to take a number of drones down underground with them, in case they would be needed, or as use as meat shields in case they needed to make a run for it. It seemed as if, between the perfectionist AI and Leonard, they had planned for every scenario.
What about Leonard’s outfit? Doesn’t he need armor of some kind?
PiRA replied with an odd tone of voice. [He’ll probably be OK. I wouldn’t worry about him. Relatively, Ford is the one we should be worried about.]
Ford, their supplemental plan for finding the rats; nest, was sitting nearby. Except that now the dog had a completely different look to it.
The immense dog was now wearing a suit that was a very similar design to Lasko’s own, without the bells and whistles. Powered by the dog’s own thetans, with a small emergency battery pack of about 100 units, it would serve to deflect the rats’ teeth and claws.
In addition, PiRA had made a helm of sorts. It had a strong frame, protecting Ford’s skull, and at the jaw, a dangerous looking hinge hung with jagged teeth. The whole thing looked a bit like a stylish bear trap.
The suit and the helmet made the dog look quite unnatural and awkward. But Ford seemed completely oblivious, and other than the occasional hind-leg scratch, the dog showed no signs of discomfort.
Lasko had the suspicion that PiRA had somehow communicated the function of the suit using the chip implant.
The implant, a couple days ago, was claimed by PiRA to be a success and operational, however, it would take the dog’s brain some time to build new synapses referencing the tiny chip. Whether or not they could use the dog to read the rat’s copied memories had yet to be tested, but PiRA had said that a form of wireless communication with the dog would eventually develop, as the dog’s brain learned to interpret and respond to the various electric signals produced by the chip.
Ford didn’t seem to have any side effects, much to Lasko’s relief, and he hadn’t thought too much about it since there weren’t any visible changes. They were planning to undergo the first tests when they entered the tunnels, so hopefully everything would go well.
It was about time to head out… Lasko looked around the area, but didn’t see any sign of Leonard.
“What’s Leonard doing?” Lasko asked Tunnel and Sharp. Tunnel and Sharp were both seated nearby, watching Lasko make preparations a bit glumly.
“He went ahead, apparently. The old man said he’d wait for you at the ‘entry point’.” Sharp said.
Tunnel looked sad and worried, and was clearly holding back some tears. “Do you gotta go? I… I don’t want the weapon anymore… so just stay. Or take me with.”
Man… Tunnel was a good egg. Even PiRA quickly stifled something that sounded almost like an [aw…]
Lasko had to fight to keep the swell of sudden emotion out of his voice. “Sorry, kiddo. No take-backs on deals, remember? It’ll only be for a few days. We have to find this food, otherwise we’ll be in trouble.”
“Can’t we just eat the rats?” Sharp muttered.
Tunnel nodded eagerly in agreement. “I can eat rats. I like rat meat.”
Lasko’s wavering will solidified instantly as he was reminded what was at stake. He ruffled Tunnel’s hair, and began walking to the entry point, calling out his goodbyes over his shoulder. “I’ll be fine. See you guys in a few days! Stay in the base, and out of trouble!”
Ford and the drones followed Lasko out of the entrance, but PiRA’s original body hung back, waiting till Lasko was out of earshot.
[Don’t worry boys. I’ll bring him back alive,] the AI said in a warm tone, before turning to follow the rest.

The entrance to the rat tunnel was located a mile out from base. Upon arrival, Lasko immediately saw Leonard, who was waiting impatiently nearby. But what surprised Lasko was not Leonard, but what the old man had with him.
[What is that?] PiRA exclaimed. She was immediately interested in the modern equipment that she had never seen before.
“It’s a drooler,” Lasko said. And it was undoubtedly so, having the characteristic claws and red glowing eyes. But it seemed a bit different than the one Lasko had seen in the Gate town, having an expanded torso, and missing the shoulder turret. It also had a large object strapped to its back, which looked to be some kind of weird combination between a sword and shield. The large machine loomed over Leonard, who sat beneath it in its shadow, nervously tapping his leg.
“Finally, Lasko, you’re here.” Leonard stood quickly upon seeing the arrival of Lasko and his entourage of robots and dog. The nervous energy the merchant was exuding faded a bit, and he even offered a small smile to the approaching group.
“Leonard, where’d you get that?” Lasko asked, the amazement appearing in his voice.
“This guy?” Leonard now gave a full on grin. “Impressed? Droolers, they have a certain lifetime before they spit out their guts and shut down. Usually nobody ever sees it happen, but I was lucky enough to get to one before its buddies came to retrieve it.”
[So you stole it.] PiRA said drily.
Leonard stiffened up a bit, then relaxed. “I wouldn’t put it exactly like that… but you can call it whatever you want. Truth be told, I’d commit any crime to get a hold of this Gate-tech.”
He slapped the torso of the machine, which gave off a hollow sound. “I modified it, enlarging the holding pit to be a bit… more comfortable. Didn’t want to show it to Sharp and Tunnel, so I wanted to meet you here. Darn kids wouldn’t be able to keep their mouths shut, and I’d get the heat fer sure.”
[Well, I can’t wait to see it in action.] PiRA said, begrudgingly admitting her interest in the technology.
So was Lasko. It was definitely looking to be an interesting trip.

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