Chapter 236: Imagination
Beyond the childlike fascination of witnessing humanity latest toys at work, Ves thought the visit to Fort MacLellan served another purpose. There was no reason for the MTA to show off its might to the well-heeled tourists of the Nautilus than to put them in their place.
For Ves, the visit reminded him that the states in the Komodo Star Sector meant nothing to the MTA. As far as they were concerned, the conflicts between the states resembled toddlers fighting over a favored toy.
Still, even the MTA and CFA had their limits. Even though they made a lot of strides in binding the fractured human states together, they never attempted to unite all of humanity into a single galactic empire.
History had shown that such a cause often ended with disaster. Nowadays, the galaxy was big enough to accomodate all kinds of rulers and states. The existences of countless kingdoms, republics, federations, alliances and more attested to the diversity of their race.
After touring a couple more aquatic mechs and other curiosities, the tourists shuttled back to the Nautilus. The final leg of the holiday consisted of a three-long visit to Cava City, the party capital of Moira’s Paradise.
The tour organizers offered a lot of options for the passengers to choose. Some preferred to visit the city’s seedy gambling dens while others preferred the city’s fantastic art scene.
Raella wanted to attend a high-profile aquatic mech duel tournament. Ves on the other hand wanted to find some inspiration by paying a visit to the city’s many museums.
“Cava City isn’t safe. We shouldn’t split up.”
“Oh, come on Ves, why do you have to visit those boring museums? If you want to admire some artwork, why don’t you look them up from your terminal?”
“A projection is no substitute for the real thing.”
“That’s what artsy design folk like you would say. To me, it makes no difference!”
They argued a bit but Ves had the upper hand since he paid all the bills. Ves only relented a bit by promising to spend one day at the arena before going off to the museums and art galleries.
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re wasting your time.” Raella remarked with a touch of spite in her tone.
“Culture is never a waste of time.” Ves replied as he registered their plans to the tour operators. They’d receive their priority tickets within the hour. “It takes a lot of creativity to come up with a good design. They don’t fall off the sky like apples from a tree.”
A mech designer had to come up with something creative in order to make a splash in the market. Many of his rivals forgot about this rule and published generic designs that competed in the same saturated market segments. They’d never be able to beat the mainstream models that have gone through countless rounds of optimization.
As the Nautilus traversed along the bottom of the ocean, Ves considered whether he’d benefit from spending his DP. He eyed his Status and his stagnant Attributes and considered whether to invest in candies that upgraded his Creativity.
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Apprentice Mech Designer
Design Points: 112,530
Neural Aptitude: F
[Assembly]: Apprentice – [3D Printer Proficiency III] [Assembler Proficiency III]
[Electrical Engineering]: Apprentice – [Structural Pathway Configuration II]
[Mechanics]: Journeyman – [Jury Rigging III] [Speed Tuning III]
[Metallurgy]: Journeyman – [Alloy Compression II]
[Physics]: Apprentice – [Directed Energy Weapon Optimization II] [Lightweight Armor Optimization I] [Mediumweight Armor Optimization III] [Melee Weapon Optimization II]
[Superpublish]: Available. Can be activated once a year.
Evaluation: A post-human mech designer with a random collection of Skills.
Over the months, his physique had stabilized at their current levels. With an endurance of 1.9, his body performed close to the genetic limit of the human race. His strength had also decreased by a significant margin.
For now, Ves ignored his physical Attributes and focused on his mental ones.
“There should be a reason why the System includes Creativity in its Status page.”
The industry often repeated the phrase that designing mechs was both an art and a science. Now that Ves faced the prospect of designing his first original mech, he became aware of the importance of those words.
“It’s never wrong to invest in my mind.
With a stockpile of over 100,000 DP, Ves had the points to spare. He decided to upgrade his Creativity first. Right now, Ves merely wished to improve his capability to appreciate art.
Ves checked whether his Privacy Shield still worked before purchasing a bunch of candies. “Come on, System, give me the candies!”
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,000 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,100 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,200 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,300 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,400 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,500 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,600 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,700 Design Points
[Creativity Attribute Candy]: 1,800 Design Points
The candies materialized before him. Ves had never figured out how the System did that, but now that he learned about materialization, he started to foster some suspicions. He looked at his form-fitting comm resting on his wrist, but no matter how much he stared at it, he couldn’t believe it actually packed such a wondrous piece of technology.
Since the System maintained its silence, Ves simply shrugged and started swallowing the candies one after another.
The candies worked their magic in a gentle fashion. Ves found it hard to describe the transformation in his mind. It was as if a gentle breeze blew into his mindscape. Wherever it passed, flowers bloomed and animals grew.
The difference between a Creativity score of 1.0 and 1.9 quickly became apparent. His mind bloomed with possibilities. Ves found it difficult to hold his focus as his senses ceaselessly stimulated his imagination.
Things ceased to become things.
They became something more.
For example, when Ves looked at a half-empty glass of water sitting on the table, his mind started to go off a tangent about its origins. The glass possessed an exquisite design, but Ves could tell it had been mass produced.
He imagined some dirty factory on some rusted planet that had pumped out these glasses on the cheap. His mind made up the tragic backstories of the handful of workers whose job entailed looking after the bots that did the actual work and cleaning up after their messes if they screwed up.
Even the water itself sent his mind into a wild story about how some primordial comet traversed the stars for billions of years before it fell into Moira’s Paradise. The Nautilus of the Deep sucked up some of the fallen comet’s water molecules out of pure coincidence.
“I’ve got to get a grip on my mind!” Ves clenched his teeth as he attempted to stop his overactive imagination. “My mind works for me, not the other way around!”
In the end, Ves had to employ his considerable concentration to force his imagination back. He maintained his highly focused state throughout the day until his imagination started to relent.
“That could have been dangerous for me.” Ves wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Maybe I should show more consideration for balancing my attributes.”
If he didn’t possess a strong concentration, then he might have gotten lost in his own world. Ves never imagined that upgrading his Creativity could lead to such a dangerous result.
“The mind is a sensitive domain. I should be more prudent about it. I should stop swallowing all of the candies at once at the very least.”
He’d become too complacent of its relatively mild effects. The candies appeared trivial compared to gene boosts that came with very strong side effects.
The ordeal forced him to pause his plans to upgrade his other Skills and Attributes. He had a sense that his imagination still needed to be tamed. Right now, Ves felt as if he birthed an uncontrollable monster in his mind. Without a leash, it could wreak havoc with his mentality.
For the rest of the day, Ves rested in his cabin, only coming out for meals and such. Meanwhile, the Nautilus continued her journey to Cava City without stop. By the time Ves recovered sufficiently to leave his cabin, the cruise ship reached her destination.
“The city looks huge.” Raella uttered as she stared out from the observation deck.
“Millions of people live and work in Cava City. Of course it’s huge.”
Massive transparent domes littered the bottom of the Vermillion Sea. The domes kept the water out from the man-made construction contained inside. If Cava City faced a threat, the domes could even be covered by armored shutters made out of bulk exotic alloys.
To make their surroundings more attractive, Cava City spent a lot of effort in transforming its surroundings. Powerful lights illuminated the strange and colorful marine flora around the domes. Aesthetically pleasing fish and other marine life made their homes among these alien plants.
Despite the immense pressure at this depth, the plants and fish swayed leisurely along the currents. All the biodiversity gave Cava City the impression of an underwater kingdom.
The Nautilus arrived at a bustling port that hosted many other ships. Once the ship established a connection with the structure, the passengers entered the city in a figurative horde.
Ves entered the city with Raella and Lucky in tow. This time, his cat got to enjoy the sights as well. His cat purred with pleasure once Ves brought him out of the familiar confines of the Nautilus.
Mindful of his security, he also brought along a pair of guards. The cruise organization maintained a partnership with a local security firm that regularly hired out its guards to the passengers of the Nautilus. Ves had to pay an extra fee to get some piece of mind.
Once they stepped out into the nearest dome, they looked around and admired the dynamic structure and the lights flashing from their surface.
“It’s so wild here. I like it!” Raella grinned.
“Strange. There’s no mechs in sight.”
“That’s because mechs are prohibited from operating inside the domes.” A nearby tourist responded to Ves. “Think of how much damage a rogue mech can do. If they’re powerful enough, they can even crack the dome above our heads!”
Ves and Raella shuddered a bit at the thought. Ves had it worse as his overactive imagination started to spark a very vivid image of what a catastrophe a cracked dome could be.
“I guess that makes a lot of sense.”
Even though they constantly faced the risk of a malfunctioning dome, Ves still felt safer in Cava City. The lack of mechs meant that Ves still had a fighting chance if another incident occurred.
One of their guards flagged an aircar. Once they hopped inside, the car brought them to their first destination. The car entered an underground passage filled to the brim with other vehicles and leisurely passed underneath a dozen domes before reaching the busiest one.
“Welcome to Cava City’s mech district!” An invisible transmitter greeted the new arrivals as they stepped out from their aircars. “Enjoy your stay but be mindful of the rules!”
Several flashing warning signs posted at the exit the of the parking area emphasized the rules again.
The rules basically boiled down to one thing: no active mechs allowed on the streets.
“Do people break these rules?” Ves asked his guards.
“It happens more often than you think, Mr. Larkinson. Emotions run high during some of the duels. Sometimes the mech athletes put themselves under debt in order to compete at the stage. If they lose, they stand to lose everything.”
The explanation showcased the darker side to dueling scene. Raella shook her head in pity. “A lot of people don’t realize how much credits it takes to run a dueling team. There’s always kids entering the amateur circuit who think they can get by with their skills alone.”
“What happens next?”
“They find out they’re not as big of a deal as they thought. Some duelists are quicker to realize this lesson than others. Those who hold on to their delusions either have the skill to back up their confidence, or become ruined within a year.”