How integral were chips in the daily life of a modern day human? Even as they slept, these silent workers played their role. They observed the time, measured the surrounding temperature and were on the lookout for any toxicants in the air.
When a person woke up, he interacted with dozens of different processors in a short succession. His power shower automatically cleaned him with the most optimal settings before drying him off without any excess heat and air.
If he was fairly well off, then his household bot would have already prepared a sumptuous breakfast for him. Though the act of automated cooking was long perfected, bots still needed a tiny bit of processing power to adapt to different ingredients.
When it was time for him to go to work, he entered his aircar if he owned one or hailed one from the streets. These basic vehicles were packed with processors of different kinds. The most high-end one was in charge of the main functions, but plenty of auxiliary modules required less calculating power. The projectors that let the person read his news or check out the latest weather were all guided by humble processors solely developed for this role.
Just this tiny slice of life of an average person showed how ubiquitous computers were in this day and age. As the dominant manufacturer of competitively priced computer chips, the Ricklin Corporation should be swimming in money.
In fact, it did. When Vincent last glanced at the company's accounting sheets, his eyes grew cross eyed at how many trillion credits the company raked in each fiscal year.
Unfortunately, no one in the Ricklin family was glad with the company's current trend. Revenue was high, but so were the expenses. To produce that many chips at the lowest possible price, the Ricklin Corporation constantly invested in its mass production capabilities. But that wasn't enough.
The company had to constantly look forward and develop faster processors. Its highly substantial R&D department always licensed newer technologies from more advanced states at practically extortionary prices and spent years trying to adapt them in a cheaper form. By the time these chips finally entered the market, the Ricklin Corporation incurred tens of billions of credits in debt.
"The company is like a hamster stuck in a wheel. No matter how far it tries to go, it always ends up at the same spot." Vincent muttered as he lounged in his recreation room.
The day of the delivery was soon upon him. The new mech that he custom-ordered from some noname kid had passed the MTA's certification process with flying colors. Vincent never thought he'd get his new mech so smoothly. He underestimated Ves.
"Tell me again why I have to resort to this older model?" He absently asked as he twirled his unruly blond hair. Despite its messy appearance, a real human stylist had personally worked on it this morning. While bots delivered consistent performance, real human workers always possessed a spark of creativity that artificial computers lacked.
Johnson, his personal assistant and 'butler' as Vincent preferred to say, calmly stated his own opinions. "Young master, choosing to purchase a more modern mech will alarm your siblings and cause them to raise their vigilance against you. By purchasing a mech based off technology from the last generation, you've successfully caused everyone keeping an eye on you to disregard your intentions."
"I take it no one inside and out is aware of my real intentions?"
"As soon as they heard that you added a codpiece to your mech, they all stopped paying attention."
Vincent smirked as his eyes sparked with indolent patience. While the rich scion still looked like a playboy, there was an edge to his personality which he did not display before around anyone else. Even Ves was successfully convinced his client had no redeeming features.
"My granddad and those old coots in the board of management will soon rue the day they pushed me out of my inheritance."
For the oldest son of a large, traditional family to be pushed aside, Vincent was humiliated beyond words. A family that passed down its leadership position from eldest to eldest since the start of Bentheim's colonization suddenly changed all rules to suit the third and youngest direct descendant.
Vincent gritted his teeth and squeezed his fist. "That hateful Catelyn. Why was she born with all those gifts?"
From the very moment of conception, things started to change. Vincent was afforded any and every luxurity, so long as he listened diligently to his instructors. The amount of schoolwork he needed to memorize each day could astound any other person, but to Vincent who had crammed entire literary works since young, it was like drinking water.
The Ricklin family hid a dark secret. They engaged in extensive genetic modification to 'design' the perfect descendant. Though it was an open secret that every affluent family engaged in the practice, the Ricklin family went a step further.
By chance, one of the ancestors of the family came across a large wreck when she accompanied a priority trade shipment. The already old woman at that time only ordered the convoy to stop and inspect the wreckage for survivors.
She never intended to stay and dig up what had happened because the shipment was time sensitive. Nevertheless, the ruined ship's origins turned out to be extremely remarkable. Through some freak accident involving extensive battle damage and an overstressed FTL engine, the ship suffered catastrophic damage during FTL and ended up well inside a star system's gravity well.
There was no surviving such a process. All life in the ship perished without even having enough time to scream, and most of the interior of the mech got crushed. However, some smaller and more protected systems survived, enough for the ancestor to learn what a bounty the ship represented.
It turned out the ship was piloted by an exiled family line from the New Rubarth Empire. At its height, this Rubarthan lineage ruled over three ports and thirty-nine lesser star systems. Unfortunately, they somehow crossed the Emperor and lost all of their territory in one go when the Rubarthans caught them off guard with a mass invasion.
The disarrayed family barely had time to pack up their essentials and escape with their fastest starships. The wreck the ancient Ricklin elder found was one of them, and like many other escape vessels from a first-rate superstate, it possessed many redundancies.
While the botched FTL transition killed off all of the occupants, its data core was still intact, though its encryption was not a trivial matter. When the elder sneakily ordered the data core to be brought back, she redirected the floating wreck and sent it directly towards the system's sun. She wanted no trace of its existence left.
Years and eventually decades passed by while the family slowly worked on the data core's encryption. An entire generation of family heads retired their places to allow the younger generation to take the helm. The Ricklins eventually decoded the data core, but not through any exceptional effort on their part. They simply waited for the most appropriate cracking technology to advance. No encryption could ever last the test of time.
When the Ricklins finally accessed the data core, they found out it possessed data on only one topic: genetic manipulation. And not the regular kind. No, it turned out the Rubarthans were not content with the human genome alone. They very subtly incorporated DNA adapted from alien samples.
As one could imagine, this was not a simple process. The genetic code that originated from alien lifeforms always came in different formats. It took an immense amount of effort to read, analyze and adapt an alien's best attribute to a form compatible to human life.
It sounded crazy and heretical, but the Rubarthan family who funded these studies actually succeeded in incorporating such alien genes in their own test subjects. Just as they were about to extend their experiments to their own crop of descendants, the Rubarthan Emperor came in to destroy them at hand. Perhaps the research was the principal reason why the family's fortunes turned so suddenly.
In any case, long story short, the Ricklins were barely able to interpret the research results, much less replicate them even in the most advanced biolabs. Only in recent years did they achieve a limited result. Just when Vincent started his schooling, in fact.
Catelyn was the most successful clone out of thousands. Through some confluence of random factors, her gene expression sat in the sweet spot where it activated all of the good things about the alien genes while the side effects were minimized. Whereas most of her sibling clones were stillborn or grew deformed, Catelyn quietly grew up to be a model baby.
Vincent's parents practically ignored their two naturally born sons and latched onto this aberrant new sister. Though the Ricklins never understood precisely what the alien genes did, Catelyn always distinguished herself in many remarkable ways since young. No matter if it was intelligence, ingenuity or deductive capability, Catelyn beat every record imaginable.
The family's orientation changed directions. After the devastating losses the Ricklin Corporation incurred during the last war between the Vesia Kingdom and the Bright Republic, the family desperately needed hope. Catelyn represented their best chance at revival. No one cared about Vincent or his average second brother Gilbert anymore.
Gilbert could get away from any entangling conflicts by taking the opportunity to study at a prestigious institution in a second-rate state. Though he promised he'd be back once he graduated, he never really sent any word back all these years, and no one in the family cared.
As the eldest son, Vincent was stuck in a more awkward position. He could never find any justification to flee the confines of his family's influence. Even leaving the surface of Bentheim was out of the question. He had to give ground in a different way.
His personal assistant, loyal only to him, came up with an elegant solution. With Johnson's assistance, he slowly cultivated a playboy lifestyle to the point he could not really distinguish between his roles anymore. So good was his 'acting' that the family heads were all convinced he grew up to be a piece of trash. With all the myriad scandals popping up in the news, they had the perfect excuse to dispossess him from his inheritance and pass it over to their talented wondergirl.
Naturally, Vincent was no fool and some of the more acute elders weren't either. As he took the initiative to retreat from his cherished position, the older generation didn't make it too difficult for him. Naturally, everyone except for him saved their faces.
"Well, it won't be long before I can get back at Catelyn and the rest." Vincent smirked as he was at the cusp of enacting the plan he brewed for years.
"Your new mech has arrived in the courtyard." Johnson informed him after a few minutes passed. "Shall we meet with Mrs. Bollinger?"
"Yes, let's finalize this transaction."
When Vincent and Johnson stepped out of the doors of the opulent mansion, they resumed their typical appearances. Vincent stumbled forward like he had not yet recovered from a wild night of partying, while Johnson acted as the dutiful servant who ignored everything that did not concern his young master's immediate needs.
As a veteran business woman, Marcella hid her scorn well. She was all smiles as she firmly gripped Vincent's hand, even if he needed some help with that from his butler.
"Good morning, Vincent. It's a great day today, is it?"
"You betcha. My long awaited pimp mobile has finally arrived! I can't wait to see it in the flesh."
Before they could approach the sealed container, the mansion's security personnel went to work. They inspected the container and its contents very thoroughly. After finding nothing amiss, they opened the shell and revealed the imposing form of a newly build medium mech.
"He's beautiful. Such a grand mech deserves to be worshipped." Vincent muttered as he truly grew in love with his latest purchase. "That Larkinson kid deserves a medal. I doubt anyone could have built any cooler mech."
Not everyone present admired the mech. The added frills were senseless and distracted the mech from its core purpose. The unavoidable codpiece jarred everyone's sense of how mechs ought to look like. Its presence was like a shining elephant in the room. No one had ever seen such a thing before in a modern mech. It led to many questioning gazes.
Vincent ignored all of the stares and beelined his way to the mech. An advanced hover bot with zillions of safety features already waited for him near the feet of the mech. As he climbed in the air, he passed by the codpiece. The thick, stubby triangular piece of decoration was larger than his body. Proportionally, it looked hefty on the modified Marc Antony's frame, but it did not exaggerate its prowess too much.
"It sure is big enough." Vincent nodded in satisfaction as he finally reached the open cockpit. He scampered inside, and with familiar motions he strapped himself in. As he stared ahead, he spotted a shining blue crystal-like gem. As he caressed his finger over its surface, he pressed it in, causing the cockpit to close and the mech come to life.
Though it was safer to let a trained pilot under his employ test out the mech, Vincent wanted to do it personally. This was going to be his personal mech, and only he should have the right to pilot it. Using a mech after someone else had piloted it first felt too much like using a second-hand good. As a veritable spendthrift elite, he disdained such matters.
The neural interface connected to his brains. His mind was subjected to a myriad of foreign sensations as Vincent allowed the device to connect his brains to the various functions of his new mech. The connection settled down after a minute as all the first-time testing was complete.
"I have control over the mech. Stepping out."
The Marc Antony model stepped out of the container and into the open air. Vincent admired the heightened perspective of his new body. Despite his acting, he did not hate piloting mechs. In fact, he adored it. Ordering a custom-built mech that looked good merely provided him a convenient excuse for any future circumstances. He could simply say that all the other mechs were too ugly.
As everyone else stepped back in case Vincent lost control, which they thought was likely, the Marc Antony began to exercise its range of motion. The mech performed its actions with smooth motions. After the mech picked up its accompanying mace and shield, it made some rudimentary attack patterns. Nothing malfunctioned.
After half an hour of running around and testing each weapons at the practice range for the guards, Vincent finally hopped out of the cockpit with a satisfied expression. He met Marcella and signed the final contracts.
"And that's all of it." Marcella said with a smile as she instructed her employees to process the newly signed contracts back in her office. "If I may say, it was a wise choice to buy from Mr. Larkinson. The man is young, but he possesses integrity most other Bentheimers have in short supply. If you wish to purchase another mech to fill up your stables, feel free to call me up."
Vincent laughed awkwardly. "I've scratched my itch for a good-looking mech. I don't expect to buy another machine, for now."
One mech was enough for his plan to come into fruition, Vincent thought to himself. Still, on the outside he acted all smiles as he made a few crass jokes. Marcella hardly appreciated them and disentangled herself from the conversation as fast as possible while still remaining polite.
As a guard led the broker back to the front gates, Vincent and Johnson stared up at the new mech.
"It's going to be dangerous from here on out. The storm you will spark will engulf the entire Republic." Johnson cautioned his employer again, now that they were about to take more substantial risks.
"It doesn't matter how many trees will get knocked over. As long as mine is still standing at the end of it, all of my actions aren't in vain."
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