Lucky's glowing egg reached a critical stage. Its bone-like surface sparkled and glistened. The pale blue glowing lines burned bright as the energies within spiked alarmingly.
The spillover effects had reached such a volatile stage that SASS thought someone attacked the workshop. Ves had to call back the incoming security guards before they mistook Lucky's egg as a bomb.
"I'm busy with an experiment! Don't enter my office! I'll take all responsibility for this incident!"
With that answer, the guards reluctantly drew back, though they kept a vigilant eye on his office door.
Ves learned his lesson and deployed his Privacy Shield. No matter how many times the egg convulsed, not a wisp of it escaped the Privacy Shield's barrier.
The egg began to radiate an eerie green glow that pulsed like a heartbeat. Ves could feel the thrum deep within his bones. Even his internal energy cycle disrupted its quiet routine and started to follow the pulsing pattern.
All of this astounded Ves. His eyes opened wide as his sixth sense brushed against sensations that tasted a lot like raw emotion.
The pulses kept accelerating until it reached a fever pitch. Just when the egg looked like it was about to explode, everything stopped when a crack appeared on the shell.
A dainty bone-white paw emerged from the cracks.
The violent activity had stopped as if a bomb had been defused at the very last second. Lucky's paws continued to crack open the egg that now seemed very brittle. Moments later, Lucky's head emerged from the widened crack. His curious eyes looked around until they centered around Ves.
Lucky rapidly broke away from the shell and glided over to Ves as if he weighed nothing at all.
Ves caught his cat in his arms and smiled at his pet. "You've finally leveled up!"
Despite the drastic procedure, Lucky looked the same as always. His exterior plating still consisted of a substance that resembled high-grade Rorach's Bone. This gave his cat an exotic appearance that couldn't help but draw people's eyes.
Fortunately, Lucky didn't glow anymore, so he wouldn't attract too much attention. Ves tried to spot any other changes but failed to see anything that stood out except for size.
Lucky had grown a little bigger. It was almost imperceptible, but Lucky did indeed grow a centimeter longer. This did not represent too much of a change, but it indicated that Lucky might grow into a tiger someday.
"I'd rather you stay small. You're easier to feed that way." Ves nuzzled Lucky's belly with his face, prompting his cat to paw at him. "Hahaha, I'll have to enjoy this while I can!"
Once he finishing cuddling his cat, he set Lucky down and inspected him with the vision granted by the System.
Owner: Ves Larkinson
Rank: Exceptional [Exclusive]
[Gem Excretion III]
[Energy Claws II]
[Gravity Manipulation I]
[Sharp Senses I]
Overall, Lucky's evolution resulted in a substantial boost of strength. Ves had no doubt that Lucky became more durable and his energy reserves grew deeper. Even if the System didn't enumerate his exact specs, Ves already knew what to expect from the first time he leveled up.
What was different was that Lucky's rank jumped from Gold to Exceptional. This obviously indicated that Lucky had become a more advanced mechanical pet. This also reflected in the Skills that had been added to his status page.
Ves briefly went over the skills. Gem Excretion III spoke for itself. This was Lucky's foundational skill, and one that had the potential of bringing a lot of value to Ves. The jump from Gem Excretion II to Gem Excretion III shouldn't be too substantial. Every gem that Lucky left in litter box only boosted a mech's performance by a couple of percentages.
As long as Lucky kept leveling up, his gems would grow more formidable. At some point, Ves would be able to harvest gems that boosted an attribute by as much as twenty percent!
The power of Lucky's gems should truly come into being by then!
Lucky's Energy Claws II also leveled up. While Ves had no clue what had changed, they should be able to cut through even tougher materials or last a bit longer.
The remaining skills all appeared to be new. Ves tried to inspect them, but he found his borrowed power of observation to be limited. No matter how much he stared at those skills, the System refused to display a description of these novel additions.
"Oh, come on!"
Lucky's level up had put the cat at a higher pedestal. Ves suspected that he lagged behind. "Lucky advanced to level 3 while I'm still stuck as an Apprentice Mech Designer."
This put Ves to thought. The road to Journeyman was a difficult one. The most basic prerequisite had to do with his Skills. The easiest and most direct way to satisfy this condition was to upgrade a Skill to Senior-level.
"Apprentices rarely manage to reach such heights. It's easier to accumulate a lot of Journeyman-level Skills than try to advance a single Skill to the minimum standard of a vaunted Senior."
Still, what others might have difficulties with, to Ves it was a matter of spending Design Points.
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Apprentice Mech Designer
Design Points: 223,356
Neural Aptitude: F
[Assembly]: Journeyman - [3D Printer Proficiency III] [Assembler Proficiency III]
[Battle Mechatronics]: Apprentice - [Knight Mech Mastery I]
[Computer Science]: Incompetent
[Electrical Engineering]: Journeyman - [Structural Pathway Configuration III] - [Energy Storage IV] - [Conductors III]
[Mechanics]: Journeyman - [Jury Rigging III] [Speed Tuning IV]
[Metallurgy]: Journeyman - [Alloy Compression III]
[Physics]: Journeyman - [Directed Energy Weapon Optimization II] [Lightweight Armor Optimization I] [Mediumweight Armor Optimization IV] [Melee Weapon Optimization IV]
[Signals and Communications]: Journeyman
[Superpublish]: Available. Can be activated once a year.
Evaluation: A post-human mech designer with a random collection of Skills.
Ves accumulated so many Design Points over the past couple of months due to the proliferation of his Blackbeak Design. Both his virtual and physical mechs enjoyed commercial success.
He found it interesting that he earned as much DP from his physical mechs than from their virtual copies. It was the first time he had experienced such a thing.
The main reason for the Blackbeak's lack of popularity was that it couldn't deliver a powerful short-term performance. The Blackbeak's performance in the arena was rather dismal. It only redeemed itself in larger battles like the 50v50 Wartorn Instances.
Luckily, the people who bought physical mechs prized the Blackbeak's strengths in toughness and endurance. Sales had spiked during the peak of the Glowing Planet campaign and only tailed off after its conclusion.
According to the sales department's internal projections, demand for the bronze label Blackbeak would slowly decline as the limited demand for offensive knights continued to be met.
While this meant that EME would soon lost their cash cow, the LMC enjoyed a better market position.
"The market finally recognizes the efforts I've made into ensuring the quality of my products."
His gold label mechs enjoyed widespread renown. They had become veritable collector items. All of the limited edition mechs he sold at the Vintage Festival gained a substantial amount of value, the most expensive ones even straight-up doubling in value.
Even though the silver label Blackbeaks differed only minutely from their lesser bronze label counterparts, the mere fact that it carried the LMC's illustrious label had become an added benefit to his customers.
"This is exactly what I want."
Ves worked hard to associate his brand with quality and craftsmanship. He had to give up a lot of opportunities to earn a quick buck along the way, but the seeds had finally started to borne fruit.
His current goal should be to reinforce this association by publishing more designs with the same level of quality. Once the local market got used to his standards, Ves could then start with publishing more exotic designs without fearing any rejection.
"This will take a long time to ferment. First I have to prove that the Blackbeak isn't a fluke by designing a successful rifleman mech design."
Ves turned his attention back to the System and entered the Skills page. The projection shifted to an array of trees, all of which kept branching out like an endless river delta.
Considering that he aimed to design a rifleman mech, Ves focused on the fundamental Skills that played the biggest role.
"Both Mechanics and Physics are vitally important to rifleman mech designs."
Mechanics allowed Ves to design a wholesome frame that synergized with the pilot and his piloting style. The design of a rifleman mech required a wholly different application of Mechanics than with knights.
Knights favored brute force and robustness. Their frames must withstand a lot of shock and should continue to function even if it suffered moderate damage.
Rifleman mechs prioritized precision and finesse. Humanoid rifleman mechs should adhere closely to the human physique in order to maximize the transferability of a mech pilot's skill in marksmanship.
Battle Mechatronics applied to this as well, but Ves should first upgrade its parent Skills, hence why he eyed Mechanics first.
"I can also go with Physics."
Physics delved more into the science of how a mech's components and weapons worked. Whereas Mechanics dealt with mechs as a single system, Physics broke it down into its constituent components.
The largest benefit to upgrading Physics was that Ves would gain the qualification to tinker with mech-sized laser weapons. Even if he learned a fair bit about laser weapons by studying the forbidden research on gamma lasers, Ves still possessed a shallow foundation compared to those underground scientists who dedicated their lives to this field.
Upgrading his Physics Skill also enhanced his ability to optimize his designs. He would be able to program and utilize more complex mathematical models and adjust them on the fly based on his needs. He'd be able to gain some proficiency into some of the higher levels of Physics and make more inroads into understanding the effects of highly energetic exotics.
"I've got two good choices. Which one should I pick?"
Each choice emphasized different aspects of a mech. The safest choice would be to upgrade his Mechanics. A strong development required a strong foundation, and Ves couldn't think of anything that could beat Mechanics in terms of fundamentals.
Still, Ves did not lack for confidence in terms of Mechanics. Despite his lack of Sub-Skills in this category, Ves had developed his Mechanics Skill to a deeper level with the help of his Master and his own personal experiences.
He even dared to say that his Mechanics could keep up with actual Journeyman Mech Designers.
"Upgrading my Physics presents more practical benefits. First, the ability to modify a laser rifle is a powerful one. Second, my ability to optimize my designs will also improve."
Ves focused mostly on the former, but the latter also had a lot of value. Better optimization allowed him to close the gap against the dominant mainstream designs and their many variants.
The only downside to choosing Physics was that Ves might not be able to utlize its advantages with other mech types such as Skirmishers.
"I can always upgrade my Mechanics Skill later on. Right now Physics is more useful to me."
Upgrading a Skill to Senior-level entailed learning at least three Sub-Skills and completing an upgrade mission.
"This mission may take some time."
Ves was worried that the System would serve him another multi-month mission. He already had a lot of tasks on his plate.
After couple of seconds of hesitation, he decided to bite the bullet and dump 100,000 DP into upgrading his Physics to Senior-level.
A mission prompt appeared.
Mission: Design and Fabricate a Functional Gamma Laser Rifle
Prerequisites: [Physics - Journeyman]
The essence of a laser rifle revolves around converting energy into a form that causes damage to the target. Conventional laser weapons predominantly utilize the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.
However, a mech designer should not be content with remaining within the boundaries of artificial rules.
Explore the potential of laser weapons and design a gamma laser rifle by yourself. Then fabricate it and test the weapon to verify its performance.
[Physics - Senior]
The upgrade mission sounded simple. The System only assigned a difficulty of C to this task and it didn't even come with a failure condition.
The only problem was that Ves could not let anyone find out what he was doing. Producing gamma laser weapons was as bad as dabbling with nuclear weapons!
"This is illegal!"