Joshua followed his friends to the game center today. While he didn’t need to rent a simulator pod since he owned one himself, he still preferred to play with others. They entered one of the closest game center to their school and greeted a few other classmates as they waited in line. After paying for the entire afternoon, they entered the common room.
Large groups of teenagers lingered in the lounge. Some of them discussed their strategies, while others talked about the news. Several projections of matches gave them something else to talk about. Several ads aired in between each match.
“Introducing the Young Blood, Cloudy Curtain’s pride! Pilot our homegrown mech designer’s training mech for free!”
When one of them showcased the game center’s promotional mechs, Joshua squeezed his fists. As a fairly newly ascended player in the Silver League, Joshua still lacked the qualifications to pilot a 3-star mech. An average player had to spend at least a year to meet the requirements to unlock this tier.
Short ads like these became a conversation starter since they first aired in a couple of game centers. Most of the teenagers gained a new appreciation for knights once they gave the model a try. It left younger potentates like Joshua green with envy.
He had been one of Chasing Clouds’ earliest fans! Why did Cloudy Curtain’s homegrown mech designer suddenly move to 3-star mechs? It left most of his starting fanbase in the dust!
Joshua hadn’t given up. He took on his training with renewed passion, working harder than practically every other classmate in his mech classes in order to climb up in the Silver League. He made some gradual progress, but at his current rate, he might as well be a snail.
“Hey, speaking about the Young Blood, have you heard the latest news?”
“What’s up? Did our hometown mech designer finally develop a new design?”
“Pff, nah. That lazy bum is probably lying dormant again. I heard some of my mates that he might be moving away from Cloudy Curtain?”
“No way! He’s ours! I’ll beat him up if he’s defecting to Bentheim!”
“Nah, it’s not like that. Mr. Larkinson wants to stay, but some corrupt politicians are trying to chase him away. They’re cooking up a new law that will hike up his taxes to ninety percent or something.”
“What?! Even I would take a hike with those rates. They can’t do that! Ever since Mr. Larkinson has made a splash, our mech scene is actually showing signs of life. It’ll die if he’s gone!”
Joshua frowned to the side. He approached his older seniors. “Is what you’re saying true? Is the Planetary Assembly really trying to chase our only mech designer from our home planet?”
“Sure as hell. Just talk to the folks around here, half of us have already heard about it. My older brother who’s studying finance says you can even look up the dirty details on the galactic net. Those dirtbag politicians aren’t even hiding their crimes!”
The news truly alarmed Joshua. Like many locals, he was proud of his heritage and his birth planet. Cloudy Curtain might not be the most developed planet in the Republic, but they stubbornly stuck to their own.
While his well-off family insured he’d have the pick of academies once he graduated from his local school, he didn’t wish to let go of his roots. Joshua intended to go back to his parents and give them a piece of his mind once he returned home. They’d better not be complicit in this rotten conspiracy.
As for the mech designer in question, Ves had taken an entire day to skim the forbidden research notes.
The bloodstained documents fascinated him in a horrifying way.
It started off rather clinical and dry. The lead scientist, Dr. Samuel Kawasaki, likely copied over a bunch of important documents whenever his team made a breakthrough.
Much of the content consisted of extremely dense reports filled with incomprehensible jargon or massive tables of measurements. It might take many weeks for Ves to puzzle out the meaning of these documents. Luckily, Dr. Kawasaki included a handful of progress reports that had obviously been written for his superiors.
The senior researcher had been a little more legible in this case, though Ves could sense the contempt dripping through the words. Kawasaki must not have enjoyed dumbing down his words.
The opening statement of Kawasaki’s very first progress report caught his eye.
“The purpose of weapons is to kill. Why do we have to shackle them with artificial limits? We live. We eat. We die. We are but animals uplifted into space. Let us reacquiant ourselves with the long-forgotten art of butchery that our race excels in.”
Despite his eccentricities, Kawasaki led his team of researchers into what they thought of as reinventing the wheel. While they were aware of the basic principles of a gamma laser, they possessed no real experience in developing an actual rifle around a graser.
Much of the researchers in Kawasaki’s team had previously worked on regular laser rifles, so they competently listed the problems they had to solve. The researchers faced two major problems.
First, the graser rifle had to endure extreme conditions. It sucked up a lot more power each time the rifle emitted a beam. The team had to go back to the drawing board and develop an extremely robust design that could efficiently transfer large amounts of power at once. It also had to divert much of the heat in order to prevent the weapon from melting up.
This design problem went in hand with choosing the right materials. Regular alloys and cheap exotics couldn’t handle the stress. In order to be effective on the ground and in space, the weapon also had to be paired with incredibly advanced energy cells.
The problems might seem unsurmountable, but Kawasaki and his people took a shortcut. Without any sense of shame, they pirated existing licences and otherwise procured restricted blueprints from the black market. They borrowed from the best practices of renowned senior mech designers in order to address every issue.
Ves had to admit the researchers picked well. The first prototypes performed badly, but after many intensive tests, they slimmed down the design and cut back on its cost. While it still cost abundantly more than a regular laser rifle, the latest iterations of the forbidden weapon finally worked well enough to be produced en masse.
“If these figures are correct, the hidden base had already sold more than a thousand graser rifles.”
The thought of swarms of pirate mechs armed with graser rifles chilled him to the bones. Such a terrible force could paralyze the shipping lanes of half the Republic.
If that hadn’t been enough, Dr. Kawasaki requested live testing. He hadn’t been content with using cloned human tissue like any other conventional research outfit. His successes swelled his clout, and once he demanded his weapons to be tested on living humans, his masters were eager to comply.
The data gathered from these sadistic tests laid out Kawasaki’s cruel imagination. Somehow, his masters had no trouble procuring an abundant amount of captives. They’d been subjected to an endless series of cruel experiments, from irradiating them directly, to studying the long-term exposure of intermittent radiation behind a thick alloy wall.
No matter the specific experiment, any captives subjected to a graser eventually died in gruesome manners. Their cells degenerated due to the damage the gamma rays inflicted onto their DNA.
“There’s no point to human testing.”
Modern science already established the effects of radiation damage. Kawasaki didn’t have to confirm these well-established facts by himself. Ves realized that the doctor simply commissioned the lurid tests because he could. The rest of the research team went about it with as much enthusiasm as a group of kids at a zoo.
Perhaps these researchers merely expressed their human nature. They wanted to see the results of their work in the most direct and visceral fashion. The static experiments they performed on sterile pieces of cloned flesh simply couldn’t beat the desperate screams of a man slowly melting from inside.
Ves had no idea something like this had been going on. It explained some of the weird spaces on the bottom floor of the abandoned base. They’d been prisons.
As his comm started to fizzle out due to the excessive power draw of the Privacy Shield, Ves closed the final page and turned everything off. He leaned back on his chair and sighed.
“Even a scientist can fall to such a depth.”
The dreary research notes had given Ves a sobering wake up call. The darkness that hid inside each person’s hearts had never been eradicated. Even as humanity conquered half of the galaxy, the darkness continued to proliferate.
Ves momentarily felt unsafe. Despite his cozy security arrangement, he felt awfully exposed. The base might be destroyed, but the design was already out there. The pirates already owned several thousand graser rifles, and more might still be on their way once the shadowy corporation who funded the research resumed their production elsewhere.
The Komodo Star Sector might face a reckoning one day.
“It’s not like I can do anything about it. I don’t even dare to inform the MTA.”
No matter how many precautions he took, he didn’t underestimate the pan-galactic organization. They’re one of the very few organizations in the galaxy that could match the Mech Designer System’s capabilities. Even their branches out in the rim posed a significant threat.
Reading Kawasaki’s words caused Ves to fall into a melancholic mood. The knowledge that so many people died to satisfy a researcher’s whim made him reconsider what he should do.
Though Ves had no use of the results that arose from unethical experiments, he nonetheless gained quite a bit of very practical knowledge.
He learned what kind of designs worked best with energetic lasers. He got to know many unique design quirks that could massively improve the performance of any directed energy weapon, though Ves had to watch out for licenced designs.
He also learned what kind of materials fared best in a compact rifle design. Some of the conventional alloys that normal rifles used tended to perform catastrophically once a threshold had been reached. Knowing what materials he should watch out for was already a massive gain to Ves.
Eventually, he came to a decision. “What’s done is done. I’m not responsible for these atrocities. All that matters is that I’m currently holding a copy. Since it’s already in my hands, I might as well make use of them. Perhaps I can redeem the lives that died unjustly.”
His somewhat noble aspirations lifted his spirits and pushed him along a strange state of mind. Ves threw away his considerations and started to compose the myth he’d use for his rifleman design.
“It must have a heart.”
Dr. Kawasaki and his ilk had behaved in a cruel and heartless fashion. Ves wanted his laser rifleman to be a design that invoked justice and compassion.
“A bounty hunter. A hunter of criminals.”
Such a profession brought death to those who sinned. They might not enjoy the most stellar reputation, but they at least contributed to society by removing the filth that stained it. Ves came up with the concept of a compassionate bounty hunter.
He already started to fill out the bounty hunter’s imaginary biography.
Ves named him the Dogged One, for his harsh youth as a fugitive and later for his relentless pursuit of his prey.
He lived in the same medieval fantasy world of the Instructor. Whereas the latter lived among the righteous and powerful, the Dogged One eked out a sparse existence where he donated most of his money to support the families of his target’s victims.
A survivor of a gruesome incident himself, the Dogged One made it his life’s mission to see every murderer brought to justice. His favorite means of punishment entailed the use of his enchanted crossbow. He nailed down his targets with unerring accuracy. No matter how many bolts his weapon fired, they all hit their mark.
He initially hadn’t been very good with his weapon. It took lots of persistent practice in order to get to this point. Ves wanted to use this backstory to shape his X-Factor into a dogged persistence for improvement.
“It’s not about fun anymore. It’s about redeeming yourself by delivering justice.”