Ves got what he came for during his visit to the Sentinel Peacekeeper Association. The gossip, rumors and other nuggets of information he pumped from the mouths of the Peacekeepers at their branch on Cinach XII might not be the most reliable intel around, but collectively they painted a broad inside picture of the Nyxian Gap.
His perspective of the Nyxian Gap had deepened. He became a little bit more aware of the dynamic between Peacekeepers and Nyxians. The Nyxians themselves also fought against each other for supremacy, survival or greed.
The highly unusual anomalous effects within this vast, disturbing region of space led to the emergence of a unique society where fugitives and exiles found second lives as brutal pirates or merciless dark mercenaries.
As Ves and his followers entered a private courtyard in order to enjoy some lunch, they began to share their own thoughts.
\"The Nyxian Gap is like a supercharged version of the frontier.\" Ves opined. \"The resources there are richer, but the pirates there are far more ruthless.\"
Commander Cinnabar scratched his red beard. \"The population of humans in our star sector is astounding when you think about it. Only about 3.5 percent of them are potentates, of which many of them become mech pilots. Of this group, only a miniscule proportion turn into bad apples.\"
\"When you think in percentages, the proportion seems small. But when you start counting in absolute numbers, the figure is quite astonishing!\" Ves summed up. \"No one knows how many mech pilots roam the Nyxian Gap, but I've heard estimates ranging from a million to a hundred million mech pilots!\"
A hundred million mech pilots! Though Ves personally thought this estimate was way too inflated, if the pirates could muster up even a fraction of that number, they could easily overrun the Sentinel Kingdom!
However, while analysts generally agree that the Nyxian Gap harbored a lot of scum, their sense of unity was non-existent. Pirate alliances existed, but the effective size of the Nyxian Gap was too large to exert effective control over large regions of space within the Gap.
In the Faris Star Region, both the Dragon Alliance and the Ravienne Alliance held sway over considerable portions of space. Navigating between their holdings was generally easy, as it didn't take more than a few months to go from one end to the other end of their territory.
Not so for the Nyxian Gap. Dozens or even hundreds of disparate pirate alliances existed in a region where it took decades, centuries or even millennia to travel from one end to the other end of the Gap! The lack of FTL travel really hampered any group's ability to assert effective dominance over the entire region!
Surprisingly, Gavin mentioned an upside. \"The Nyxian Gap is a magnet for trouble, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Don't you realize how few wars the Sentinel Kingdom has fought against other states? Sentinel and the other states in the vicinity of the Nyxian Gap are more interested in defending against pirates and exploiting the boundless resources of the Nyxian Gap than waging destructive wars against each other!\"
\"The states know if they are pulled in any war, then the Nyxian pirates will all come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the chaos.\" Nitaa remarked. \"They'll be the only winners of war by the time the fighting ends.\"
All of this sounded probable to Ves. He never heard of any instances like the Bright-Vesia Wars occurring in this corner of the star sector. Every state already had their hands full trying to defend their territories against the ravages of pirates.
No matter how many pirates they exterminated, there was always more!
This reflected the ubiquity of bad apples within the mech piloting community. Potentates did not magically transform into virtuous saints when they trained to become mech pilots. While the mech academies did their best to instill notions of honor, duty, sacrifice, justice and other virtues, people were just too diverse!
Some mech pilots were just too rotten to redeem or turn a new leaf. When these dangerous and unstable individuals entered the cockpits of their mechs, their capacity for murder, destruction and other violent acts went through the roof!
When these rotten mech pilots finally showed their true nature, they were no longer welcome in civilized space. They needed to find somewhere to escape pursuit!
Places like the frontier and the Nyxian Gap therefore ended up as the garbage dumps of the star sector. They accumulated all of the human trash that the Komodo Star Sector generated and digested them into the next generation of pirates and scum!
\"Hey, it's not just the mech pilots who have turned pirate, you know!\" Gavin complained. \"An even greater number of norms like us are driven to desperation as well.\"
\"Even mech designers aren't exempt.\" Ves nodded in agreement.
A lot of people who entered the Nyxian Gap didn't have what it took to survive or retain their freedom. Many of them died, and most who survived ended up as slaves or lackeys to powerful pirate gangs.
Only the strongest and most ruthless among these fugitives ended up on top and gained a measure of power over their lives. The Nyxian Gap constantly brought out the worst in people because they had no other choice if they wanted to survive!
The thought of his father trying to stay alive while avoiding the Five Scrolls Compact weighed heavily on Ves. He had to grow stronger before he could save his father!
However, even as a Journeyman, his ability to influence his father's fate was still non-existent!
At this rate, by the time Ves finally advanced to Master, his father might reach the end of his lifespan!
He vigorously shook his head. He couldn't let himself fall into despair! Perhaps he might be able to offer aid sooner. Ves would just have to keep his eye on the Nyxian Gap and wait for opportunities to help his father or hinder the Five Scrolls Compact.
Lucky just finished crunching the minerals served in a small bowl placed on the table, but he was already begging for more!
\"You already ate enough for the day!\" Ves admonished his cat.
\"If you want to earn more, then be on the lookout for anything interesting!\"
Once everyone finished their lunch, Ves resumed trawling the trading halls and other venues for gossip and something interesting to buy.
Along the way, Ves also kept a lookout on imitations of his work. Yet aside from the copycat Aurora Titan wreck he encountered earlier, he hadn't found any other ripoffs.
He didn't know whether to feel relieved or insulted.
\"The LMC hasn't expanded its reach to this part of the star sector yet.\" Gavin noted. \"Give it time. I'm sure more imitation mechs will pop up in the markets here.\"
Ves sighed. \"Yeah, you're right. There's no way we can beat the plague of copycats.\"
\"The best the LMC can do is to expand their presence in the Sentinel Kingdom and elsewhere. When there are legitimate copies for sale here, many mech buyers will opt to buy from us. All of our mechs are certified by the MTA, after all. Who knows what kind of corners and backdoors the illicit producers have sneaked into their copycat mechs.\"
Ves snorted. \"According to what I've heard, the black markets have developed their own solution for that, though their reliability still isn't as good as the MTA.\"
Black market organizations knew that they had to provide some measure of assurance to their buyers. They employed various mech designers as mech appraisers who could inspect and judge the true state of a mech for a fee.
While the reliability of these mech appraisers were always in question, they were better than nothing!
As Ves continued to hang around in the Peacekeeper halls, he began to attract an increasing amount of attention. His overcoat as well as his recent accomplishment caused various Peacekeepers to observe him closely. He even received a couple of commission requests from various outfits!
He refused them all on the spot. Ves did not intend to entangle himself any further within the Sentinel Kingdom.
None of the commissions promised anything interesting as a reward either. Ves had better things to do than to spend months to design a custom mech for an underwhelming sum of money.
Though Ves felt a little bit flattered at being approached, none of the offers matched the rewards given by Lady Miralix. None of the Peacekeepers managed to match her sincerity!
As Ves kept browsing the goods for sale, he continually kept his senses, hoping to catch another P-stone in the wild. According to Lady Miralix, his second P-stone originally came from the Nyxian Gap, so Ves held some hope that he'd be able to find another sample among the goods that the Peacekeepers managed to gather!
Sadly for him, Ves failed to uncover any new P-stones that he could add to his collection.
However, he did find one interesting exotic that attracted his attention.
When he idly brushed his spiritual senses over the rock, his spiritual energy suddenly seethed in excitement!
Even Lucky, who clung to his shoulder, suddenly jerked his head at the mineral.
\"I know! Stay put!\"
Wary of being ripped off, Ves did not immediately enter the store that sold the exotic that reacted to his spirituality. Instead, he lingered around the section of the trading hall and pretended to browse the other wares for sale while he cautiously inspected the rock with his spiritual senses.
From his brief glimpse, he saw that the exotic looked like a gnarly bright yellow rock with strange red dots spread throughout its surface. It resembled a squat, solid mango infested by parasites.
It was these strange red dots that caused the spiritual energy he extended to react. As Ves extended a more solid spiritual tentacle towards the strange exotic, he closely observed the interaction that took place.
As soon as his spiritual tentacle pressed against one of the red dots, a charged sensation ran through his Spirituality! It was as if he encountered a high-quality source of spiritual energy!
His eyes widened as he kept inspecting the exotic with his spiritual senses. He continually revised his evaluation of the strange exotic as his Spirituality continued to experience charged sensations from the strange rock.
\"What is happening?\"
Upon closer inspection, he realized that his spiritual energy actually started to change upon interacting with the red-spotted yellow rock! Ves immediately drew back his spiritual senses for fear of contamination!
Yet despite this threat, his fascination for the exotic did not decrease! Exotics that reacted to spirituality were far too rare, so even this suspicious rock merited his attention!
Ves continued to act nonchalant for ten more minutes before he finally gave in to his temptation. He casually entered the store that sold the yellow rock and a variety of other exotics and slowly came over to his intended destination.
\"I haven't seen anything like this before. Where did you get it?\" He asked the vendor.
The man on the other side of the counter hesitated for a moment.
Right now, Ves had dialed up the strength of the aura of his overcoat, thereby exerting a lot of pressure to the salesman!
The staffer did not have the courage to pull off any shenanigans. He answered the question without any embellishments.
\"This sample is part of some spoils brought back more than a year ago by one of our Peacekeeper outfits. Ostensibly, the rock came from the center of the Nyxian Gap. While we have no way of verifying this claim, we've never found anything like it, so the chances are low that it can be found in the periphery of the Nyxian Gap!\"
That discouraged Ves a bit. The second type of exotic he found that reacted to spirituality turned out to be another unicorn-like exotic that was extremely difficult to find! It was impossible for the Peacekeepers to travel all the way to the center of the Nyxian Gap!