Author Topic: Part 16: Progress  (Read 3201 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 16: Progress
« on: August 15, 2022, 03:41:54 AM »
Three days later, the Arbormass was a tense concentration of anxiety and concern. They were watching sensory input from the groves on the front line. Their weapon was about to be tested.

It was actually kind of impressive to consider how fast these 'thunderers' as Rax had named them, had been constructed. The Chancellor hadn't been joking when she'd said the resources of the whole Union were at their disposal. Metal had been diverted from the nearest mines, and thunderers had been constructed and equipped with ammunition. Getting the right powder mixture out there in time had been a challenge, but thankfully it was a lot lighter than the metal. Qars had been able to run great distances, drop off their cargo at the next one, and then collapse in fatigue as their comrade took it the next leg of the journey.

Also impressive was the fact that they were watching this input in real time! The Chancellery's scientists had perfected the copper wiring inside the artificial roots. It allowed messages to be sent using electricity instead of chemical interaction. There was plenty of copper to be had, but growing insular roots around it took time and effort. The Union had been able to run the copper wire through existing roots, but it had taken massive effort by thousands of qars. So far there was only one of these altered roots, running from the front line all the way to grove Heirach. They were tapped into a part of it here, and so could watch.

Using radios to keep tabs on the attack was also a possibility, but they could only transmit messages and emotional enzymes. Visual signals were far too complex to condense into a radio signal.

The trejuns had pushed forward with frightening inevitability for the past week now. Dozens more groves had been wiped off the map, replaced with scorch marks in the Arbormass' network record. In fact one of the groves in line of fire now was Ursun, Noq's old home. The Consensus was going to try and finish off his people just like they'd killed him.

Moss tried to distract himself by testing the swivel function on the thunderer here in the Arbormass. Tobor had brought in a new grease mixture to make it move more easily. It had a nasty texture according to Grace, but it seemed to be more effective than the previous lubricants.

"It's time," Lens sent out, and Moss was back at the input again in an instant. He could see flying targets approaching four of the groves including Ursun. It seemed the trejuns were focusing on simultaneous attacks, not that it really mattered. This might as well be a military parade for how difficult it had been so far for the trejuns. To date, not a single grove they'd targeted was still intact.

The local groves sent signals to their thunderers, and qars quickly loaded each one defending each grove before scrambling away. Thunderers were quite loud, and they were much more vulnerable to the noise than their masters. The treqars then took control of the weapons, aiming them up at the sky. Moss felt two of his roots that were crossed.

They couldn't hear the sound of the thunderers discharging with their own senses, but the sound was transmitted along with the image. One of the flying groups came apart, with black liquid streaming out from a ruptured package and falling to the ground. The others kept coming!

The Arbormass watched in horror as the qars rushed out and tried to reload the thunderers. Small bags of powder were poured in and then ballets shoved into position. The treqars couldn't aim the weapons while they were being loaded though!

Then fire enveloped three of the groves. Treqars roasted alive: their chemical signals transmitting lightning-quick into the minds and heartwood of everyone watching. Moss was transfixed in terror, until the signal suddenly ended and it was just the seven of them here again.

"I cut the connection," Aysa explained darkly. "We didn't need to see any more of that. We already know what happened."

"We failed, that's what happened!" Tobor put in heavily, his message coming through loud and angry. "Seventy-eight people just died because we failed them!" Moss paid close attention for any unusual signs from Rax, but he was only sending out regret and frustration like everyone else.

"But twenty-six more are still alive," Char reminded him. "Every success starts with a lot of failure. Do you think Aysa and her mother got perfectly functional radios on their first try? It took them years!"

"She's right," Aysa confirmed. "Grove Chaepa's qars were dying by the hundreds as we worked on getting a stable, reliable transmission going. It only spurred us to work harder."

They had a point. The Arbormass had to focus on their one success, and build on that. Moss tried to turn the group's attention back to the work. "We know that all four thunderers discharged, so it wasn't a problem with the powder or the ballets. What went wrong?"

The twins pulled up recordings of the three failures. They paused the images just at the flash point, and saw the projectiles flare out the end of each tube. "They missed, is all. The treqars controlling those thunderers just didn't have enough time to train." Lens sounded enraged at the situation just like anyone else. "I'll send a recommendation up the chain of command. Every grove in the Union will have treqars practicing this by dusk!"

"We also need to speed up the reload time," Rax put in. "If it can even be improved. We might need multiple thunderers at each grove. One can fire while the others are being reloaded. Then we get multiple shots for each attack." He sent out a faint signal of uncertainty. "D'you think they'll attack grove Shalm again?"

"I would," Lars responded. "I'll make sure the resources are allocated so that new thunderers can be built and sent there. It could take another day or so." He'd become their unofficial quartermaster ever since the thunderers had been designed. Moss supposed someone had to be.

"Hopefully the surviving juns will tell their masters what happened. It might make the Consensus think twice before launching another attack. We need every bit of time we can buy." Aysa was probably trying to sound encouraging, but it just came off as morose.

"Well, it's not our problem anymore," Moss finally said to the group. "We did our task and gave them the tools. It's their job to use them to fight the trejuns, and now it's our job to get back to our original task. The Union needs mechanical qars, and we're going to design them." He was trying to be practical and to-the-point, but the silence from the others gave Moss pause. Had he overstepped his bounds? Fortunately Aysa sent out some agreement, and the group got to work again.

He hadn't meant to be overly authoritative, but the Arbormass needed a distraction right now, and they were all inventors here. Nothing distracted inventors like a new problem to solve.