Chapter 313 Learning Room
"Learning room, is it? Let's see how good of a teacher you are," said Aldrich as he made his way over to the door that Fler'Gan pointed to.
"I have a feeling that it will be gross again," said Valera as she followed behind him.
"Such a clumsy and unpleasant word," commented Fler'Gan. "It is not fit to describe the likes of my research and methodology. Even in teaching others how to serve, I make leaps and strides with every new pupil. That one you are about to see, I am especially proud of."
Aldrich put his hand on the door. Ordinarily, this led into a storage space for equipment. There were inscriptions on the door as well, glowing a faint blue, and when his eyes lingered on them, Fler'Gan called out, "That is a glamor spell that hides the door when active."
Aldrich nodded, appreciating Fler'Gan's carefulness. Unlike most doors in post-Alter architecture that seemed to have quite the obsession with being automated and sliding, this one was more old fashioned, needing to be manually opened via a handle.
Aldrich grabbed the handle and twisted it, unlocking the door. A pressurized hiss escaped as he slid open the door. Chilling air that smelled like the ocean wafted in his face, introducing quite the scene.
"Gross," declared Valera, narrowing her eyes.
The storage space, perhaps a 30 x 30 meter square, had been converted entirely into a horrific, alien landscape. The stainless steel walls were covered in dark purple flesh ribbed with undulating protrusions and deep blue veins. Within these veins, many as large as human torsos, it was possible to see the dark silhouette of tailed, tadpole-like creatures swimming about, navigating the fleshscape.
Tendrils of flesh grew down from the ceiling to the floor, wrapping around each other to form thick, pillar like chords. Each of these pillars were ordered neatly in rows that packed the space with precision efficiency.
From these pillars grew eyes on flexible stalks, their unblinking, lidless pupils glowing with light blue bioluminescence reminiscent of that belonging to deep sea creatures.
"Interesting," said Aldrich.
"Now that is the proper reaction," said Fler'Gan as he made his way to Aldrich's side. "It reminds me of how appreciative you are of my efforts, O Elder. Unlike some others."
The Mind Eater cast a three eyed leer at Valera.
"I am still a lady, you know. There are some things that even I cannot stomach."
"But blood and guts fall within ladylike decorum?" countered Fler'Gan.
"I am a vampire, and one trained for war. It is simply who I am," said Valera.
"And this-," Fler'Gan entered the room and motioned all around him with triumphantly raised hands. "Is who I am. Welcome, O Elder and Commander, to the Learning Room."
"This is a nursery, isn't it?" said Aldrich, taking steps into the flesh-infested room. His shoes squelched as they sunk into yielding mass. Tiny little wriggling tendrils brushed at his shoes with every step.
"..." Valera saw the tendrils on the ground, then looked down at her relatively exposed feet in heels. She was dressed in business casual, which was to say, with skirt and all, not the best attire for this. "I will stay here, if you do not mind, master."
"I don't." Aldrich and Fler'Gan began to walk side by side.
"To answer your question, O Elder, yes, indeed, this is a nursery. Mind Eaters such as myself may 'reproduce' by asexually creating Mind Leeches and inserting them into other creatures.
Upon insertion, the leeches take over their host's body, creating a new Mind Eater. However , unless we are connnected to a proper Elder Mind, the leeches are not fertilized.
Yet, fertilized or not, the leeches still remain potent tools for mind control" said Fler'Gan. He tapped at a large blue vein, pointing to the swimming creatures within. "But even creating one or two, especially in my old age, is quite a taxing effort. Leeches can, however, self-replicate within a proper nursery."
"How did you create this nursery to begin with?" said Aldrich.
"Self-experimentation!" declared Fler'Gan. "One of the variant samples you granted me called the Broodmother is capable of ingesting flesh and re-birthing it as a child. I modified the variant's mind and body such that by feeding it my own flesh, it produces more of it.
Mind Eater flesh is malleable, easily directed with the mind. With enough of it, I could create this nursery."
"Your own flesh? How much?"
"Ah, I dismembered by arm fifty seven times to produce enough biomass to work with," said Fler'Gan. With the undead ability to dampen my pain and my species' own natural regeneration, it was a simple task."
Aldrich nodded slowly. Fler'Gan's casual voice made it very clear that even if he did feel pain cutting off his arm, he would have done it just as many times for the sake of progress.
At the very least, Aldrich respected the Mind Eater's drive. .
"And now, I have an ever-renewing farm of leeches to use in my alchemical concoctions. Or, as in this case-," Fler'Gan walked up to a flesh pillar and tapped it.
Some of the intertwined tendrils comprising the pillar peeled apart, revealing the upper body of a naked, blank eyed man covered in viscous, clear ooze.
Several leeches jutted out from his head, their purple, shiny bodies undulating rapidly as they played about with the man's brain.
"For education purposes."
"So this is how you've been taking care of Feather," said Aldrich. "So, has his learning process been?"
"Excellent," said Fler'Gan. "All Alterhumans possess varying degrees of mental resistance, but this one's was especially potent. But days spent in isolation and learning have made his mind more agreeable.
He will listen to you."
"Good." Aldrich nodded, pleased at these results.
The Stranger had provided Feather's location as a gesture of goodwill, sending the information to V as well. Although Aldrich had ended up rejecting the Stranger, he did not see why he should not take what was given to him, and V thought much the same.
While Aldrich was busy in the Judicata, V sent the same hit squad led by Ace, Kat, Tox, and Chiros to Feather. As it so happened, Feather was holed up in a personal underground bunker in the Wastelands.
Feather had been tipped off that people were looking for him, leading him to escape the hit squad's first capture attempt in the free city of Westpoint.
The hit squad's first attempt had captured Feather's men, including the nomad informant that told Feather about what the nomad councils did, but none of them had useful information. They were hired on a per contract basis and shifted out routinely, meaning they did not have longterm relationships with Feather.
Alden, the nomad informant, was equally useless. The Trident kept their tracks minimal when it came to informants, and Alden only knew what he needed to know to complete his jobs.
Which was not much at all, considering all he had to do was tell Feather about happenings among the nomad tribes.
Thus, they all were now in various pieces in Fler'Gan's lab.
Feather was the main guy to capture. A captain in the Italian prong of the Trident who had quite a bit of power and knowledge. And now, he was here, courtesy of the Stranger.
Aldrich snapped his fingers in front of Feather's face. The man's eyes regained focus.
"Wh..what?" mumbled Feather, his voice faint.
"I have questions," said Aldrich.
"And you shall answer," said Fler'Gan. Feather, hearing Fler'Gan's voice, jerked his head up to attention.
"Yes," said Feather, obedient.