As Ves continually tinkered with his Devil Tiger, his fleet smoothly entered the Felixia System.
Just like any other major tourism destination, the Felixia System became host to a lot of starships.
A considerable amount came from other states, but plenty of Sentinels headed towards the famed Planet of Cats as well. The high proportion of foreigners in the state made Felixia a lot more welcoming than other places within the Sentinel Kingdom!
\"Business is booming.\" Ves observed as he called up the local plot.
Thousands of vessels were transitioning in and out of FTL in the inner system. Most of the ships consisted of fuel-efficient passenger liners who transited tourists from neighboring foreign states at affordable prices.
As far as tourist destinations went, Felixia did not attract the highest number of visitors in the Sentinel Kingdom.
However, its many varieties of cats and cat-based services constantly attracted a very generous inflow of cat lovers!
When it came to their passion for cats, they freely opened their wallets and bank accounts. This made Felixia very profitable to the Noble House of Laterna, whose founders developed Felixia into the most prominent Cat Utopia in the star sector!
\"About half of the tourists are cat lovers.\" Captain Silvestra mentioned. \"They're crazy about cats and can be completely unreasonable when the topic shifts towards them. No matter how many times they visit Felixia, they always come back to undergo another cat nirvana.\"
\"I know.\" Ves replied while he hugged Lucky against his chest. \"I'm looking forward to visiting it myself!\"
\"Be sure to buy an organic cat ear headband, then! I hear that it's all the rage these days.\"
\"Maybe I'll do so.\" He chuckled.
Nitaa and him developed a plan to cast him as a mild cat enthusiast when he visited the planet. Though Ves honestly did not adore them as much as the genuine cat lovers that frequent Felixia, disguising himself as one of them was a good idea to avoid attention.
Some cat lovers could be quite eccentric, so much so that they would probably be declared insane in any other place!
Felixia served as their refuge and their paradise. Whereas on other planets they had to keep their behavior in check, on the Planet of Cats they could fully unleash their true nature among like minded enthusiasts!
\"If you think about it, the Planet of Cats is literally a temple for cats.\" The captain remarked. \"While many casual tourists visit Felixia in order to enjoy a completely new experience, others are treating it as a holy pilgrimage!\"
The description caused Ves to grimace. If there was one thing he hated, it was fanatics who unflinchingly believed in something to the point of losing their common sense!
As much as he wanted to deny Captain Silvestra's words, he knew that there were some odd people in the galaxy who adored cats above humans! As Felixia centered around everything related to cats, much of those crazies congregated to the planet like moths to the flame!
\"Many of those crazies flock to the Eron Continent, though.\" He stated. \"The cat worshippers love nothing more than to hug all of the cats that roam the cities, villages and wilderness of this continent!\"
Felixia featured four distinct continents. House Laterna, which founded and developed Felixia, engineered each continent towards a distinct purpose.
Eron was a hemisphere-sized petting zoo and playground. Tame cats of all sizes and harmless prey populated much of its idyllic landscapes.
Cat lovers and families with young children spent weeks or even months on this landmass without ever getting tired of all the cats they could hug and play with! Literally billions of docile cats ensured that no one ran out of cats to hug!
Ozzo had been turned into a big game hunting paradise. Cats whose sizes ranged from mouses to bears prowled the diverse environments of the Ozzo Continent.
Unlike the harmless and domesticated cats on Eron, most of the felines on Ozzo still retained their wildless! Aside from the cats of the start zones, the Ozzo cats were very much capable of killing their hunters!
While the prestige of hunting an Ozzo big cat was fairly significant, it paled in comparison to the much more extravagant huge game hunting that took place on the largest continent of the planet!
Asco's sheer size and diversity of biomes housed many expansive hunting zones, each of which supported a specific mix of dangerous huge cats the size of dinosaurs or greater!
Aside from the three continents open to tourists, the Talin continent served as the administrative and research hub for Felixia. House Laterna also based themselves in the continent and guarded it very tightly against unauthorized visits.
Talin's remoteness and inaccessibility posed a very significant challenge to Ves. While the other continents housed a large number of small-scale research outposts, they only hosted a minute amount of core research data.
If Ves or Nitaa identified a suspect researcher aligned to the Five Scrolls Compact, then they might not be able to obtain anything useful.
While Lucky could sneak into any facility with his abilities, it was hard to cross an entire ocean and roam undetected for days in a continent that House Laterna avidly guarded against any intrusion!
He left the bridge after he became assured that nothing unusual took place on Felixia. No terrorist attacks or major accidents occured.
Not a single docile cat killed any humans on the Eron Continent, though many tourists regularly incurred injuries when they handled a cat too roughly.
The hunters on foot in Ozzo left the planet with bundles of trophies in tow. A portion of them even wore their new overcoats made from the fur they harvested from their successful hunts with pride.
As for the Asco Continent, business was booming as always. Even though some mechs, mech pilots and support personnel never came back alive from hunting the huge cats, a continual influx of hunting teams and their sponsors continually entered the depths of the hunting zones to challenge the mighty Crown Cats.
As the Barracuda and her escorts slowly traveled to Felixia I, Ves spent his remaining time on refining his mech design and preparing for his impending visit.
Due to the various rules and regulations House Laterna imposed on every visitor, Ves wasn't allowed to bring a single weapon onto the surface of the Eron Continent!
This rule annoyed Nitaa to no end. If they really met with any trouble, they could only resort to their fists and feet to fight back!
Fortunately, House Laterna maintained a very strong guard on the surface. Rulebreakers knew better than to start any trouble, especially since Eron highly prized its family friendly nature.
Adults looking for more excitement could instead visit Ozzo or Asco to indulge in more violent pleasures.
Once Ves had his fill of the Eron Continent, he and his entourage were allowed to carry some of their weapons and equipment when they visited the Asco Continent.
With so many dangerous people and wildlife roaming Asco, self-protection was not only prudent, but advised!
\"The settlements on Asco are not very secure.\" Nitaa noted during their final meeting before landing on the surface. \"We will have to watch out for ourselves while we're there. Drunken brawls and deadly fights between hunters happen frequently.\"
\"Why doesn't House Laterna secure the Asco settlements more strictly?\" Crindon asked.
\"It's because hunters sometimes need an outlet for their frustration. When their mechs are downed and in the process of being restored, when they suffer injuries which puts them out of the cockpit and when they are waiting for sponsors and organizers to hire them, they often get bored. The hunting community attracts all kinds of people. Sadly, some of them are rather rougher than we'd like.\"
\"Kind of like pirates or criminal gang members.\" Ves added. \"They're the same type of people. The ones on Asco merely decided to wear the coat of a hunter.\"
\"Will we have to hire additional guards?\"
\"It's fine, Crindon. From what I've read, a single well-armed bodyguard is enough to deter most trouble makers. That aside, the hunters know better than to molest a wealthy visitor. People like me are seen as potential sponsors who can fund an expensive foray into the hunting zones.\"
It cost a lot of money to conduct huge game hunting. Many hunting outfits in Felixia weren't able to pay for all of their expenditures through their own activities.
Hunting the huge mech-sized cats on Felixia almost never paid off! Aside from hunting down a prestigious Crown Cat and putting up the trophies for auction, the remains of all the other huge cats simply couldn't be compared!
Even if a slain huge cat yielded a lot of money, the hunting outfits had to pay a significant amount of taxes to House Laterna for making use of their hunting zones.
\"Speaking of hunters, have you decided upon which hunting outfit we'll accompany, sir?\"
Ves shook his head. \"Not yet. I'm not even sure which huge cat I want to study up close. I'll make my choice later when I get some first-hand information from the hunters at Asco. Depending on the difficulty of hunting down my desired target, I'll hire a regular or a premier hunting team.\"
This time, he put Calabast's advice under serious consideration. Though he felt inordinately drawn to the Crown Cats, he did not necessarily have to obtain a spiritual fragment from a creature likely to kill him instead!
The huge cats ranked far below the most vicious and cruel of their kind might possess what he sought. Seeking out the younger and more juvenile among their kind exposed him to far less risk, though the spiritual fragment he expected to gain would probably be significantly weaker.
\"You're not taking the Crown Cats into consideration, sir?\" Nitaa asked with a hint of relief in her voice.
He smiled at her. \"The elite hunting outfits that predominantly focus on hunting the Crown Cats and other formidable huge cats aren't easy to hire or sponsor. They only associate themselves with clients who know what they are doing and have participated in numerous lesser hunting trips. A newcomer and a complete unknown in the local hunting community like me won't be able to get access to them without an introduction.\"
He looked into the customs of the hunting community on Felixia and found out about how difficult it was to approach the better hunting outfits.
Just like with the Kinners, the hunters based in Felixia paid a lot of attention to reputation and familiarity. The better the hunting group, the more selective they became.
Merely having a lot of money didn't guarantee their acceptance, as many hunting teams previously suffered immensely when they got into bed with awful clients who needlessly risked their lives!
\"Do you already have a huge cat in mind, sir?\"
\"I've formed a list, but there's still too many names. As I've said, I don't know for sure which of the known huge cats. I need to make a more thorough investigation on the ground.\"
It was difficult for him to explain what exactly he sought from the huge cats. Perhaps Nitaa might have some clues given that she knew one of his secrets, but Crindon, Gavin and the rest thought that Ves was being eccentric again.
Ves didn't consider himself eccentric. His goals were just beyond everyone's understanding!
Lucky climbed up his shoulder and arrogantly licked his paws.
\"I know, I know. Regardless of how huge and impressive those mech-sized cats appear, you'll always be the best cat in the galaxy!\"
\"Although... if there's a cat out there who's more powerful than you, who knows if you'll have a companion to play with. Doesn't that sound like a great idea, Lucky?\"
Lucky hit his head with his paw and rudely jumped off his shoulder. His cat really didn't like to share, it seemed!
\"At least I'll be on the lookout for a pet for Ketis! She deserves some companionship too, you know!\"