Chapter 235: Disparity
The Nautilus of the Deep made her way towards the depths of Moira’s Paradise. In this age, humans preferred to live above blue skies and breathe fresh air, but some made do without them. On aquatic planets, the vast majority of the population lived underneath massive domes at the bottom of the oceans.
Fort MacLellan differed from those static settlements by possessing both stealth and mobililty along with a very thick shell. Combined, these traits turned the floating citadel into one of the best protected bulwarks against external threats.
As the Nautilus arrived at the right coordinates, a handful of fast marine shuttles descended onto the cruise ship. Heavily armed security officers in MTA colors scoured over the entire ship from top to bottom. Even Ves and Raella had to be subjected to a couple of scans.
The pair had been cleared to enter Fort MacLellan, but Lucky had to be left behind.
“Our apologies, Mr. Larkinson, but our scans can’t penetrate your mechanical companion. For safety reasons, it’s best to leave your pet behind.”
Ves acquiesced to the demand, especially since the Mech Trade Association guaranteed his security aboard the fort. Besides, if the MTA turned on him for any reason, he doubted Lucky could make a difference. Against the vast might of one of the two most powerful human organizations in the galaxy, nobody could afford to go against their will.
When the fort came into view of the ship, everyone on the observation decks held their voices. The floating fortress appeared as a giant metallic egg with many segmented surface plates, all of which could be retracted to reveal weapon hardpoints or hangar entrances.
At its current state, the fort hid its fangs, but its gigantic size loomed like a constant threat. An estimated fifty-thousand men and women manned the fort, enough to lockdown the entire planet if it stockpiled enough supplies.
Once the Nautilus had been checked, the MTA started shuttling tourists over to the dormant egg. A small hatch opened up to allow the marine shuttles to enter the belly of the beast. A powerful energy screen kept the water at bay. Despite the immense pressure at this depth, the energy screen never flickered from the stress.
Georgina gathered her tour group once the passengers exited the shuttles. She led them through a series of guarded checkpoints through depressing grey corridors.
The entire interior appeared utilitarian to the extreme. Ves spotted hardly any artwork or decorations that could cheer up the people manning the fort. Every service member they passed by maintained dour expressions that spoke of complete dedication to the cause.
“Even the Mech Corps isn’t as serious as these dummies.” Raella carelessly remarked, which earned him a few glares from the other guests.
It was never a good idea to disrespect the MTA, especially in the middle of one of their strongholds.
“You may be wondering why the service members are unusually focused on their tasks.” Georgina said when the atmosphere turned tense. “That is because they are exiled from the galactic center and have been forced to take up a post in the galactic rim. Essentially, they are not here by choice.”
“So is everyone here a constript? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Not everyone aboard the MacLellan is a conscript. Half are volunteers sourced from across the Komodo Star Sector. Once they signed up with the MTA, they formally renounced their citizenship to their former states and have become a true galactic citizen. Even if they don’t look like it, they all hold very strong fealty to the MTA.”
As an organization renowned across the galaxy, the MTA knew how to inspire loyalty in its people. Much of what actually happened inside its halls remained classified, but everyone knew that service members almost never turned against the organization.
Some conspiracy theorists even thought that the MTA injected nanites in their members to influence their thoughts. Since such an act violated a fundamental taboo enforced by the very same organization, no one entertained such ideas.
An MTA public relations officer met with Georgina at the end of a long series of corridors. Unlike most service members, the officer actually smiled.
“Welcome aboard Fort MacLellan! For the next two days, I will be guiding you around the fort. Our first destination is just up ahead. Follow me.”
They followed the guide to a massive chamber that hosted a giant cannon barrel the size of a corvette. The sheer size of the thing underscored how powerful the fort could be if it ever bared its fangs.
The PR officer began his speech. “Fort MacLellan hosts many advanced types of weapons, from pulse cannons to antimatter nukes. While I can’t speak about most of those armament, sometimes we find the simplest solution the best solution. This big boy here is a plain old gauss cannon that’s been scaled to fit our needs. Just like any weapon that works on electromagnetism, it propels a heavy alloy slug forward at unimaginable speeds. At the right depth, we can even crack a battlecruiser in half.”
Everyone got to enter the control room and witness simulations of the super-sized gauss cannon at work. A childish glee took over the guests as they pretended to hurl accelerated slugs at various simulated targets, all projected with an unprecedented level of realism.
After everyone got a round with the cannon, the PR officer brought them along some other places.
They dropped by the mess hall to experience first-class food.
They visited one of the armories, where they got to hold some very advanced infantry weapons. Tourists who held weapon proficiencies even got to fire them in the practice range. Ves especially found the pulse rifles intriguing.
Pulse weapons served as the standard weapon in the galactic center for its ability to deal both kinetic and thermal damage at the same time. As long as weapon developers paired the technology with sufficiently powerful energy cells and heatsinks, a pulse weapon vastly outlasted conventional ballistic weaponry.
“I’m not a fan of rifles, but this rifle is really awesome!” Raella whooped with enthusiasm as she fired the rifle until it reached its heat capacity. A block of alloy at the range turned into a broken, half-molten mess. “I only drained ten percent of its batteries!”
A lot of other people took note of this, prompting the PR officer to speak up. “Human technology has made enormous strides into increasing the density of our energy cells. In truth, the rifles you are holding are all equipped with the lowest tier of energy cells. It’s unfortunate that our heatsink technology hasn’t caught up with our needs. Normally, we allow the rifles to vent the heat or eject the sink and replace it with a cold one.”
The officer demonstrated the procedure. The spent heatsink came out red hot, to the point of distorting the air around it. If the officer didn’t wear a specialized glove, he would have burned his hands down to the bone.
“The more you move to the center of the galaxy, the less restrictions we face in terms of power supply. A cutting-edge mech of the New Rubarth Empire can output enough energy to power a capital ship.”
That meant at minimum a battlecruiser, a capital ship crewed by thousands. Battlecruisers possessed enough armaments to wipe out every form of life on a planet such at Bentheim or Rittersberg. The notion that all of that power could be compressed in a single mech completely astounded Ves.
“Does MacLellan have one of those mechs?”
“Sadly, no.” The officer smiled as he shook his head. “Such mechs are extremely demanding in their fabrication and maintenance requirements. It would cost as much as the GDP of the Bright Republic to maintain a cutting-edge mech for a single year.”
Again, the tourists learned how little the Komodo Star Sector mattered in the greater scheme of things.
“While we don’t have a cutting-edge mech to show off, we do have plenty of excellent first-class mechs to offer.”
They moved on to one of the many mech stables of Fort MacLellan. Even Ves looked forward to this part, as he had never come across an aquatic mech in his life.
Everyone expressed their awe once they came across the mechs. Every mech looked like giant metallic fish. Only a couple of mechs adopted humanoid traits in their design.
“Much like the aquatic mechs of the Bright Republic, our mech pilots favor hydrodynamic shapes over the increased flexibility of a humanoid aquatic mech design.”
“Why don’t aquatic mech pilots want arms?”
“Oh, it’s not that they hate arms, but they bring more cons than pros when you fight underwater. In practice, the speeds at which aquatic mech combat occurs makes it difficult for a humanoid mech to swing its weapon. Mechs have to fight against the water before they can deal any damage to their opponents.”
Humanoid mechs also had a tendency to lose grip on their weapons at higher speeds. They had to lock their weapons to the frame through various means if the mech had to crank up their jet engines. Mech designers might as well adopt a fish-shaped design and embed the weapons along the frame in fixed hardpoints.
“That’s not to say that humanoid aquatic mechs serve no use.” The man quickly added. “Mechs face less pressure the closer they are to the surface of the ocean. Sometimes, aquatic mechs have to fight against enemies that are on the surface or in the air. Arms provide more flexibility than rigid hardpoints in this case.”
They got to visit both varieties of mechs. The first design consisted of a classic merman mech. It possessed a humanoid torso and a fish-like lower body. Its complicated arrangement of scales and flexible internal frame made the lower body as responsive as the body of a snake. It allowed the mech to maneuver through the water with a high degree of control.
With a mech designer’s eye, Ves noted that the mech had been fabricated in an absolutely perfect state. Besides some evidence of routine wear and tear, the mech appeared flawless. Other copies of the same model exhibited the same traits.
“How are these mechs produced?” He asked, unable to contain his curiosity. “They don’t look like they’ve been fabricated and assembled with ordinary means.”
“That’s because we don’t fabricate the mechs, we materialize them.” The PR officer smiled with pride. “Each design is reproduced from atom to atom with a materializer. You’d have to bring up a lab-grade scanner to notice any discrepancies from the mech and its original design.”
“How fast is this process?”
“Oh, it’s fairly fast. The best equipment can materialize a mech in less than an hour. Materialization is our most advanced means of producing mechs. Still, it will likely take several hundred years for the technology to proliferate to this corner of the galaxy, as materializers demand a lot of power to run.”
While the technology sounded impressive, Ves found the results to be less than stellar. The mechs appeared completely dead to his senses. Even when he strained his Sixth Sense, he encountered nothing but silence.
Even the sloppiest fabricated mech carried some remains from the people who worked on the machine. Ves had never encountered a mech that felt more dead than these aquatic mechs.
A normal mech fabricated by his competitors at least showed some potential for life. Even if their X-Factor ended up in a stillborn state, it still left some remnants that possessed a chance to be revived.
A mech that had been materialized lacked this possibility. The influence of any single human being had been diminished to the point where he had to activate a single command on a materializer. Once he lifted his finger, the materializer did the rest of the work, reproducing the design from atom to atom with precision that only machines could accomplish.
“The future of manufacturing technology is becoming increasingly more soulless.” Ves lamented quietly.
The pursuit of speed, efficiency and precision had no limits. Human beings imposed many constraints on these goals, as their wobbly limbs, slow reaction speeds and questionable judgement made it difficult to ensure a perfect production run.
Personal craftsmanship became increasingly more irrelevant in the face of better technology. Ves took a final look at the merman mech and turned away. He completely lost his appetite for MacLellan’s mechs.