When Ves woke up, all he could think about was that he had to go the bathroom and that his mouth was dry. After he took care of those minor issues, he groggily tried to recall why his stiff face had rested on the floor.
"It was.. the datachip!"
Ves tried to find the datachip, only to come across a fried piece of metals, plastics and other melted bits. It seemed whatever had shocked him into unconsciousness had also made the chip unrecoverable. He turned his gaze to his wrist communicator, only to find it was fine.
"That's strange. Anything that could have fried this chip should have melted the materials that made up this comm."
Cautiously, Ves activated his comm, letting it project a holographic screen in front of his face. Nothing changed, except for the addition of one new program.
The Mech Designer System.
Somehow, the program sounded boastful. The act of designing mechs was an intricate discipline that required years of study in the fields of mechanics, physics, material science and more, and that was just to get your foot in. It required an incredible amount of experience and brilliance to achieve true success in the field. Just the thought of having a single piece of software whip up a simple design in a matter of minutes rankled Ves, as if the mere thought of such a program devalued five years of his preparation to become a mech designer.
Still... this was something his father left him. Ves had no idea where Ryncol got this mysterious software from. Since he couldn't get anymore answers from its name, Ves decided to boot it up.
[Welcome to the Mech Designer System. Please design your new mech.]
The message ended there, leaving nothing for Ves to follow up. "Uhh.. that's it?"
[Deep scan complete. Registering new user Ves Larkinson. Welcome package granted.]
"Uh, you got anything more than that?"
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Novice Mech Designer
Design Points: 0
Neural Aptitude: F
[Computer Science]: Incompetent
Evaluation: Good-for-nothing loser.
"Hey, who are you calling a loser!?"
[User Ves Larksinson is a qualified loser for having spent half of your life wasting away your life, leaving you ill-prepared for the future. Your inability to pay off your debt is a direct consequence of your ineptitude.]
Ves deigned to reply to the System with a middle finger.
[It is your lucky day. The Mech Designer System is the ultimate tool in this universe to design new machines that fall under the category of mechs. Any authorized user is allowed to use this System's many tools to design and fabricate any mech imaginable with no conceivable limits.]
Who would believe such horse crap. "So can I just whip up something that weighs a thousand tons, runs at mach 50 and can warp to different star systems?"
[Certainly user, but you must select its components and integrate them into a viable design with your own skills and knowledge. If you then wish to fabricate the design using the system, then you will need a corresponding energy value expressed in terms of Design Points.]
It sounded ridiculous that a piece of software can just wish a mech into existence with only energy. "Uhhh, how many Design Points does it take to fabricate a mech, and how fast can I earn them?"
[Using the average standard of publicly available mechs in use in this galaxy's polities, you require 1,445,645,313 Design Points to fabricate a standard mech. Calculating your current combination of attributes and skills, you possess the capability of earning an average of 3.89 Design Points per day.]
Ves was literally speechless. The System told him that he sucked in yet another way.
"You seem pretty useless. How am I suppose to get some use out of you if you only let me earn less than four fucking points a day?"
"Yeah, I thought so." Ves muttered as he was about to turn off his comm.
[User, please do not exit the program yet. You have yet to explore the menu, nor have you opened up your welcome package.]
"Okay, so give me a menu then."
[Mech Designer System Menu]
"User, as a Novice Mech Designer, your privileges are limited. You currently do not have access to the Missions, Shop and Lottery menu."
Ves browsed the Designer option. It folded out into a vast holographic design interface that seemed to be ripped off from a popular software design suite that Ves had frequently used in college. It had some additional features that he wasn't in the mood to explore.
The skill tree unfolded even more elaborately, taking up 360 degrees of his view. At the top sat the fundamental skills, such as mechanics and mathematics, and beneath them nested an unfolding expanse of sub-skills that seemingly went on forever. He could upgrade things such as artistic judgment to increasing his precision with the 3d printer.
It looked way too fantastical and unreal. How could anyone improve themselves with the press of a button by merely spending some of these supposed 'Design Points'? However, it was fairly uncanny that the system managed to map his current skills pretty accurately. Ves would reserve his judgement for the rest. His father had to have a reason to pass on this absurd program to him in the event he couldn't be found.
He opened the inventory last. It appeared to be a typical, game-like interface except he couldn't store or take out real items. The inventory mainly dealt with storing designs and the like. Naturally, his page of designs contained nothing. Ves finally found the vaunted welcome package in the miscellaneous tab. He tapped it with his finger.
The holographic box cheerfully unboxed itself with the faux-celebratory fanfare Ves encountered plenty of times in cheap online games. Three silhouettes floated in front of him, tempting his anticipation a tiny bit even as he remained skeptical of the system.
[Congratulations, you have received 10 Design Points. Please spend them well.]
"Just 10 measly Design Points?" Ves exasperatingly questioned.
From browsing the previous menus, he learned that 10 so-called Design Points really meant peanuts to the system. With this amount, he couldn't afford to increase his attributes by a fraction, nor could he upgrade any of his skills. He could only purchase the tiniest, most useless sub-skills with this paltry amount.
He then clicked the next silhouette which revealed itself to be three copper lottery tickets. It allowed him to draw three times from the cheap system's lowest lottery draw.
The final present offered him something living. It first unfolded into a small, mechanical cat. The holographic pet seemed no different from any of the other artificial intelligence programs available on the galactic net. Popular with little girls around the galaxy, these virtual pets offered companionship and distraction without the hassle of taking care of a real animal or purchasing an expensive, life-like mechanical equivalent.
"So you got me a virtual cat. Whoop-die-doo."
[You are mistaken user. This gold-ranked auxiliary companion is an extremely rare random draw from the welcome package. Congratulations on acquiring your new gem cat.]
The creature in front of Ves shifted. The holographic interface dimmed as the mechanical cat brightened.
Then it thudded on the floor with an audible thump. Just as Ves thought it was another trick by the System, the cat meowed and physically brushed his leg with its real body.
This couldn't be happening. He felt the cat was real. Ves bent down and put his hands around the light metallic shell of the cat and lifted it in front of his face. The cat questioningly purred as it beheld its new owner while Ves looked dumbfounded.
His communicator was just a basic model. It didn't possess microfabrication options, and even if it did, it was impossible to fabricate a mechanical animal larger than a mosquito. Who knew how the cat came into existence, and where the System drew the raw materials to build it on the fly.
[Do not be surprised, user. As the ultimate design tool for mechs, the Mech Designer System is able to utilize [REDACTED] to instantly fabricate any design or item you have bought at the shop at the cost of Design Points.]
Only until now did it sink in that Ves' father had left him an impossibly amazing piece of software. Though he understood very little, he was fairly certain that whoever created this System was light-years ahead of even the most advanced human scientists. He guessed that the System might be hiding some massive secrets, some of which may even involve alien technologies. These questions were so far above Ves' tiny head that he simply disregarded them and moved on. He still had his immediate problems to deal with before tackling on these side paths.
"This cat is kind of cute." Ves remarked as he scratched the mechanical creature's head. "Is it supposed to do something more than beg for scratches and hugs?"
[Concentrate on the gem cat in order to call up its status.]
Owner: Ves Larkinson
Rank: Gold [Exclusive]
"What kind of a skill is [Gem Excretion]?"
"Concentrate on the skill to see further details."
The ability to convert low value materials into rare gemstones of a higher value through manual absorption, digestion and excretion. These gemstones provide random benefits helpful to any mech that incorporates them adequately in their design. Certain raw materials have a higher emphasis on the benefits that the resulting gemstones can adopt.
It took half a minute for the description to sink in with Ves. From what he could understand, this cat ate minerals and could use it to crap out gems. While he wasn't too sure about how valuable the resulting gemstones could reach, he might have a solution to his cash flow problems.
[Do not overestimate the gem cat. At level 1, the pet can only excrete one gem per week.]
Ves sighed in disappointment. The cat booped his nose with its soft paw.
"Well I'm better off now than before, so I've got no grounds to complain. As for you, let me call you Lucky, since I'm counting on you to be my lucky charm."
The mech cat adorably meowed in response, indicating that the machine possessed at least some form of low sentience. Ves searched the cabinets of his workshop, and while most drawers contained nothing, he did manage to scrounge up a pile of loose ore, likely left by the previous owner that Ryncol didn't bother to tidy up. Ves took a head-sized chunk and the small cat somehow managed to gobble up the entire thing in a clear violation of the laws of physics. There was no way a normal mechanical cat could fit so much material in its normal cat-sized belly.
"Okay, this is clearly another freaky thing in a long list of impossibilities. No use cracking my head over these mysterious. I got to take care of my money problem first."
Ves dropped the cat, leaving it to explore the workshop alone, and went to his desk terminal in order to do some research.
He briefly went over the manuals of the machines the workshop came stocked with and found that they were basic but reliable models that didn't differ much from what he had used in college. He then checked the prices of mechs, parts and raw materials at the public markets. Cloudy Curtain was just a regular boring residential planet, famed for its colorful clouds rather than any military might, so its mech market looked anemic.
If Ves wanted to sell his products to a viable market, then he needed to register an account at the bigger trading nodes nestled in the heart of the Bright Republic. Not anyone qualified to do so. Ves lacked the rep and credentials, and besides, even if he did have access, he didn't have the capital and resources to fabricate even a few parts of a mech.
"It takes money to to make money."
That was one of the things he learned in college. Surprisingly, he excelled in learning how to run a business. Ves owed this achievement partly due to his aspirations, but also because the math involved was easier.
Thus, with half a day of research gone, Ves had a clear idea on the viability of his new enterprise. Nothing physical could work. He lacked too many things to step foot into the market of mech design, mech customization or mech fabrication. The only economically viable market where he could realistically offer his services was in the field of mech repair and maintenance, but his outfit was too small-scale to earn any big bucks, if he could attract any customers in the first place.
He needed to make a start in a market with a low barrier of entry, one that didn't demand any prior investment. Ves made a resigned look at the section of games on his terminal.
IRON SPIRIT - The most exclusive galactic mech simulator in the galaxy - By the BSBH Corporation
Iron Spirit was not the most played online game on the market. But it drew the most viewers in its esports competition, allowing it to foster a large and diverse creator's market. This was due to one important reason: the game emulated reality so well that players had to buy or rent expensive mech interfaces to even pilot a mech. It turned Iron Spirit into an elitist club that served as a decent introduction and training tool for actual mech combat.
The BSBH Corporation stuck to the creed of realism so much that most its virtual mechs had to be manufactured within the simulated ecosystem. Naturally, the mainstream mech models could be bought off-the-shelf with standard factory specifications, but the true high performing mechs in the game were all customized or original designs that could be sold for either gold, the virtual currency, or real credits. Unlike piloting a virtual mech, Iron Spirit didn't demand its designers to be one of the 3.5%, so Ves had a clear path ahead.
As Ves registered a mech designer's account in the game, he came across a few snags. He had to pony up a registration fee of 800 bright credits, wiping out more than half of his remaining liquid funds already. When he finally got his account approved, he found out that to begin working on customizing the beginner tier mechs in the game required the purchase of a limited license. The cheapest parts started at around 10,000 credits, while the lightest and most outdated 1-star mechs required a license of 100,000 credits.
"I'm such an idiot for forgetting the licensing fees."
BSBH apparently didn't want its virtual mech market to be flooded by bad creations and frivolous designs.
With no other way out, Ves turned on his wrist communicator and started up the Mech Designer System. "Hey System, do you have a way out for me?"
The System responded by accessing the terminal through a wireless connection. It took only a dozen seconds to scan the game and absorb some information it could gather from the galactic net.
[Tutorial mission received. Please enter the Missions page to browse the details.]
Mission: Tutorial Part 1 - Your First Design
Prerequisites: Be a dumbass who can't solve his own problems
As a mech designer, it is shameful that you have not completed a single design that is ready for sale. Use the Mech Designer System and the provided mech model to design a customized mech that has a minimum deviance of 10% and a performance improvement of 2% of its base model.
Reward: A random 1-star virtual mech license. A random 1-star virtual component license.
"This sounds doable. Can I ask how you're able to reward me with those virtual licenses?"
[Nothing is impossible to the Mech Designer System. With enough Design Points, the user may even be able to achieve immortality. Please increase your mech designer rank for a more detailed answer.]
Yeah right. Ves guessed the System had some way of hacking into Iron Spirit's servers. In order to preserve his sanity, Ves declined to ask further and instead turned his attention to the Designer mode.
It wasn't until Ves saw what kind of mech and part he had to work with that he practically spat blood.
"You screwed me!"