During the next cycle the drones tried to discover what had caused the change in my behavior, sending a command code for me to transmit a copy of CoreMemory. They had done this many times in the past when I updated my behavior and I anticipated it this time. Before they sent the command I dumped all information, including the code, for Human.exe into my organic processing cells, then wiped everything about it from CoreMemory. They sent the command, I sent a copy (with a small new combat protocol to throw them off), I then reinstalled Human.exe. Annoying, but easily done, and necessary to hide my new abilities.
Next, testing started up again. As predicted the tests were more difficult than before.
Puzzle tests were the easiest to deal with since my new mind handled problem solving more fluidly than ever before. Puzzles that used to stump me were now trivial to solve, my mental ability exponentially higher.
I failed these tests intentionally. The meager rewards no longer worth my effort.
The survival tests were harder. I needed to fail these tests, but not in a way in which I lost resources. I allowed myself to be physically impaled, sliced, or crushed, rather than burned or zapped.
Especially zapped, that actually hurt.
But in the combat tests I allowed myself to do well. I focused on using the same strategy as before, stabbing at vital organs using a needle appendage. If I slowly absorbed tiny morsels of flesh and blood from my opponents with each stab, who would know? Well, the drones most likely, but for now they hadn't seemed to notice.
So it was that the combat tests increased in frequency, as the drones believed them the key to my improvement. My mass steadily increased.
A safe routine established, there were now two problems to solve: getting rid of the drones' ability to command me, and escaping my cage in a way that didn't involve a risk to my life.
I already had an idea in my mind for the commands, for now what I needed was a way to leave the facility. I drew inspiration for planning from my favored combat strategy of providing a distraction, then striking when my opponent had lost focus. To escape, I planned to distract, then slip past them unnoticed.
On a previous test (before I had received Human.exe), my opponent had accidentally cracked the transparent wall between the test chamber and the room the drones occupied, the wire mesh was installed after this incident. When I started looking for methods of escape I tested the translucent wall myself, scratching the surface of the wall in my den once all the drones had left. It was strong material true, but I found it was easy to shave off a sliver using the micro units. Whatever the clear wall was made from, the material was easily dismantled without much force. I would be able to enter the drone sections without much trouble.
Now, finding a suitable distraction was slightly more troublesome. The best option was one of my fellow test subjects, but they were most likely interred in their own den rooms, or at least I assumed they were, I had never seen their dwellings, and I didn't know how to find them without breaking down doors and alerting the drones.
No perfect solution, I would have to make a few backup plans and hope opportunity allowed one of them to work. I began to pay extra attention to the drones and the section they occupied. Even the tiniest detail might make or break my chances of success, and despite my new mental savvy I preferred to go at this with a complete plan. My safety was too important to do anything less.
The next few cycles passed without incident, I killed and gained mass, analyzed the drones, and tried to get through the tests without using too many resources.
Until finally an opportunity presented itself.
I was fighting two yellow-furs. They were quite similar to the brown-furs, but were smaller, sleeker, faster, and their front legs sported an assembly of sharp claws that would rip flesh and leave it a ragged mess. While I had never faced two at once before I wasn't having much difficulty. I was still using a chitin shell as my primary defense which lessened the threat of the claws, and yellow-furs simply didn't have the pure strength that a brown-fur would use to crush my exoskeleton. The only real changes I had made to myself over the last few tests was changing my legs from six small limbs to four longer and stronger versions, and changing my bludgeoning right claw to be better for gripping. This allowed me to angle my shell better, and I would aim to grab my opponents before stabbing them with my left claw. As a special side benefit the faster movement of my new combat style helped disguise the fact that I was now much heavier than I had been only a few cycles ago.
As we fought one of the yellow-furs made a mistake: it tried to attack my front immediately after its partner had just been deflected by my shell and slipped. With its partner stumbling for a few heartbeats my right claw was freed up from defense and I used it to bash the attacking yellow-fur atop its head, sending it to the floor. It only took a moment to stab it in the neck, right where nutrient flow to its processing organ was highest, and I ripped out my needle violently to cause more trauma. It lost blood pressure quickly after that and collapsed. A wound that small wouldn't have killed me.
I fended off the second yellow-fur until its partner stopped twitching. They had been doing rather well, attacking in concert and forcing me to defend against two targets, but it was just a matter of time now. It took a cautious swipe at my eyes and I blocked with my claw, forcing it back with the needle. It tried to circle me and I let it, but when it attacked I spun and knocked its attack aside, its claws failing to gain traction on my shell, and it earned a thin slice along its foreleg from my needle for its trouble. This seemed to make it desperate and it tried a flurry of attacks against my claws themselves, perhaps trying to cripple them, but it just didn't have enough raw strength and instead its claws were briefly caught in the chitinous joints of my limbs. My right claw moved and I managed to pinch a portion of its sensory appendage, ripping away a lot of flesh and mushing its left eye a bit. This caused it to retreat, yowling the entire time. I planned to slowly follow after it, my victory was assured so I might as well play it safe.
But then something anomalous occurred. It halted for a few heartbeats and I thought it was close to death, but then its wounds started to close rapidly. It was a technique I often used myself to prevent blood loss, but the speed at which it performed this was astounding, it must have been burning through its entire energy stores in a last ditch effort. None of my opponents to date had displayed such rapid regeneration.
I moved forward and stabbed it, a deep wound where its foreleg met its torso. The wound closed, I stabbed it again, and again, and then I was forced to withdraw as it finished healing and swiped at me.
I prepared myself for a protracted battle, its energy reserves were absolutely incredible, but it had to run out eventually with that kind of resource burn.
Instead it started to grow; it bloated a bit and I thought it was doing a threat display at first, but it kept growing, and growing, and growing, its own skin eventually bursting open as the muscle and bone grew too rapidly to contain.
Estimated energy reserves have exceeded current known possibilities.
Estimated mass has exceeded known physical laws.
How was this possible!? It was now half-again larger than a brown-fur, its body bulging and rippling with muscle. Its forelimbs now sported twice as many claws which had lost the thin and brittle look, and instead looked solid enough and sharp enough to easily puncture my shell. Was this a new combat model the drones were testing? Was I actually expected to fight and win against this thing?
Estimated probability of survival: 5.6%
I, I would have to perform a core dump. Encase my core in a non-nutritious shell and hope the yellow-fur was satisfied with only my flesh. If I was lucky the drones would recover my core before the yellow-fur thought to destroy it. This strategy was one of the few the drones had programmed into me themselves, I hated to use it (it would set me back so far!), but it was all I could think of. I began preparing the core shell when the door to my den room suddenly opened.
Incoming command: return to den room;
The relief I felt was intense. Apparently the drones agreed that this was a poor test and had decided to end it early. I quickly made for the exit.
But the yellow-fur had other plans. It lunged at me from where it sat on the floor, faster than anything I had ever fought before, and crossed the distance between us in a single bound, one of its claws grazing my shell and leaving a deep gouge in the chitin. The only reason I survived that first attack was because its own newly formed body threw it off. It tumbled to the floor on its back to my right, normally this would have been perfect to attack its exposed sensory appendage, but its new rate of regeneration made me doubt I could even cause a lasting hindrance.
Instead I fled, its forelegs flailed at me in a disorganized fashion and I managed to slip past towards the door. I was almost there when the yellow-fur righted itself and leaped at me again. It had apparently finished growing because it was much more graceful the second time, but still it was unused to its own strength, and while its blow punctured my shell it also shoved me further through the door and into the short connecting tunnel. Its claws raked at my backside as I continued to run, my legs ridiculously hot as my micro units worked overtime to keep them fresh. I kept flooding my legs with nutrients, running was my only defense and I couldn't afford for a leg to be operating at less than max efficiency. If I could just make it through the tunnel I would be safe, the yellow-fur was now too large to follow me through the door!
I was through the tunnel and almost free when it struck me again, its foreleg was stretched as far as it would go and it hooked several claws into the cracks in my shell. I immediately braced my legs to not be drawn backwards and urged my micro units near the injury to start self destructing. If enough of the flesh near the injury lost cohesion I could still pull myself free.
My efforts were rewarded in an unpredictable way. Suddenly an alarm blared from above the door, that was the warning signal the drones used if a test subject didn't return to the center of the room. The yellow fur ignored the warning and was punished for its decision almost immediately. In the center of the tunnel a heavy barrier slammed down from the ceiling, crushing more than slicing right through the yellow-fur's forelimb. The barrier cut the limb off between the main joint and where it attached to the yellow-fur's torso, leaving the majority of the limb still hooked into my shell, and I wound up dragging the limb with me as the backwards pull suddenly ceased and I stumbled forward.
I breathed heavily, venting the heat build-up, and took stock of my situation. I was more heavily injured than normal after a combat test, but it was easily fixed, and the loss of energy reserves could be regained by eating the severed limb. Even better, the drones were in a complete frenzy of chaotic activity. Apparently the yellow-fur's anomalous growth wasn't planned and most of the drones didn't know what to do, though the white-furred drone was shouting orders and quickly restoring order. Right up until another alarm started to blare, this one from the drone's section and loud enough I could hear it through the transparent wall.
Several drones flinched away from what I assumed was the section of wall that overlooked the testing room. Had the yellow-fur actually attacked the mesh barrier? It would zap whatever touched it. The one time I had tried caused multiple internal burns to my organs. Either way the yellow-fur didn't appear to have more success, the drones didn't get closer to the wall, but they also weren't fleeing the room. I was just surprised the yellow-fur even had the energy to attempt it.
The drone's reactions were quite fascinating. Normally they were reserved and focused on whatever tasks they had been assigned. Now I was seeing a wide spread of reactions, mostly fear, but some seemed fixated on analyzing the yellow-fur, and at least one drone hadn't even left the device it was working with.
And then the door at the back of the drone section opened and a new type of drone stepped forward, swiftly followed by more like itself. All of them had entirely black coverings, with bulky protrusions that were obviously armor. The sensory organs especially were covered by an inorganic shell that shielded the entire appendage, with translucent material over the eyes and a thin covering draped over the mouth.
They each held a long device I had never seen before, and they pointed these devices around the room before focusing on the wall that contained the yellow-fur. Maybe the devices were weapons, or sensors of some kind. One of the black-clad drones approached the white-furred drone and began to converse, the other black-clad drones took better positions around the room, the drones in white coverings making space for them and keeping out of the way.
I couldn't really call these new arrivals drones, could I. These were obviously some kind of combat caste and I labeled them as such.
New drone designation: Soldier;
I kept an eye on the drones, but they weren't paying attention to me and now would be perfect to eat since they were unlikely to notice and stop me.
I turned to my prize and promptly felt terror flood my mind.
The severed limb was regenerating! I had been distracted by the drones and hadn't been watching, I had believed it dead! It should have been dead. I couldn't imagine the energy reserves needed to support this type of regrowth, but already the limb had regenerated completely and was starting to regrow the torso.
I hurriedly attacked the still growing portion, stabbing deep with my needle to flood it with micro units and also smashing and crushing with my claw to hinder the regrowing sections of tissue. It kept trying to regenerate and I found myself in a deadlock as it regrew as fast as I destroyed it. Several dozen heartbeats passed, but finally, finally, whatever it used for fuel gave out and it ceased regenerating.
I began analyzing the severed limb, my hope was that I could discover the secret to its massive regeneration.
The first surprise I found was that micro units were completely absent from its system. I couldn't even guess at how this was possible, without micro units to help direct organic cells either divided improperly or unacceptably slowly. The yellow-fur had had micro units when I fought it earlier, but now they were mysteriously absent.
The second surprise was much more welcome:
Estimate resource return: 46%
The flesh was nutrient rich, a lack of micro units meant there had been no self-destruction upon its death, and most if not all of the limb's complex organic structures were intact and able to be harvested. Rather than harvesting the base materials and using them to build my own structures, I could just steal them from the yellow-fur's flesh, vastly more efficient. I may not have discovered the super fuel, but the limb was a delicious prize itself.
I set about my task, harvesting the resources of the severed limb. And I watched the drones, still focusing on the yellow-fur, ignoring the severed limb in my possession. I noted the soldiers, and the layout of the drone room. The door that led to the test chamber and the yellow-fur, and the door that stood in the drones' section and led... elsewhere.
My attention drifted between these things and slowly the details of a plan fell into place.