Once Ves finished his morning routine, he was ready to depart from the planet. Gavin already booked transit to Cinach VIII.
He mainly intended to go there to gain entry to the temporary marketplace set up by the Circle of Mota.
However, it would be rather inconspicuous if he traveled all the way to Cinach VIII only to spend his time in a hotel all the time.
For this reason, he added another goal to his trip. He intended to visit one of the Sentinel Kingdom's renowned mech universities and see if he could fish some benefits.
\"Benny.\" He spoke as he got ready by donning the Pride of Dusk's overcoat over his casual business attire. There was no need for him to try too hard in dressing himself up for a simple interplanetary transit ride. \"Have any of the mech design universities responded to our request to visit their premises as a guest?\"
\"The responses have been quite good, boss. A number of them are even willing to host you and show you some of their research in exchange for giving a guest lecture.\"
Ves frowned as he placed his soft, fluffy decorative cat ears over his head. Because why not?
\"Yeah. The professors want you to speak in front of a class of mech design students for at least two hours.\"
\"What do they want me to talk about?\"
\"As far as I know, they want you to impart some of your experiences to the students. In particular, they want the students to get a more practical impression of the life of a mech designer who leads their own business. Personally, I think you'd do great. You should consider the offers. I think they are really sincere since they value you for your rapid advancement to Journeyman. You're an example to all of the students.\"
Though Ves felt flattered by the praise, he knew that the only reason he shot up so quickly was due to his hidden advantages. There was no way he could set himself up as a responsible role role model to the impressionable mech design students.
He shook his head. \"I'm thankful for the offers, but I respectfully decline. I don't think I'm suitable to lecture about my career trajectory to the students.\"
\"Why not?\" Gavin frowned. \"You're a great mech designer! Sure, your life is anything but normal, but that's what makes it so exciting! In addition, guest lecturing will do wonders for your personal and professional brands. By accepting you as a guest lecturer for a day, the university in question essentially lends some of their credibility to you. That's vital in painting your reputation in a better light and rub away some of the stains it acquired!\"
That put Ves to pause. He and his company did suffer quite a bit from the accusations that their products brainwashed their customers.
Giving a guest lecture or two did not do anything to lessen the spread of rumors, but it would doubtlessly help in blunting the negativity.
Building up his credibility as a mech designer essentially granted him an invisible suit of armor that was exceptionally suitable to deflect these kinds of attacks.
\"Give me a list of offers.\" Ves stretched out his hand. \"I want to see which institutions value me to such an extent that they're willing to put me in front of a class of promising students.\"
Cinach VIII hosted a lot of universities and educational institutions. Not all of them taught mech design. Only four universities sent him an offer to give a guest lecture, and only a single one of them was highly acclaimed.
\"The Rawlings University is one of the best mech design universities in the Sentinel Kingdom, right?\"
\"They're in the top ten. How they rank within the top ten is a matter of intense debate. None of the noble houses who sponsor their universities are willing to give ground.\" Gavin shrugged. \"Rawlings is definitely the best on Cinach VIII, so I highly recommend you accept their offer. All the other mech design universities aren't worth your time.\"
Ves briefly frowned at Gavin's dismissive words towards the other universities. He personally attended one of the 'lesser universities', and he had nothing to complain about.
Sure, if he had a choice, he would have rather attended a more prestigious institution such as the Ansel University of Mech Design, but his alma mater was not that bad.
Still, in terms of reputation and credibility, Rawlings beat out all the other local institutions. If Ves wanted to maximize his benefits, then he really had no other alternative.
Ves sighed. \"Okay then, Benny. Reach out to Rawlings and tell them that I'm willing to give a guest lecture. Please ask if I can give my guest lecture on short notice, preferably within the week. I don't want to linger in the Cinach System any longer.\"
\"Great! I'll get on it right away! You made the right choice, boss!\"
As the enthused Gavin went on to hammer out the arrangements, Nitaa suddenly arrived in front of him with a deeply concerned expression.
\"Sir, I've just received some alarming news! We need to speak in private!\"
Ves dropped all joviality and led her to the hotel bathroom. Once he activated his jammer, she began to reveal what she learned.
\"It's about the mech you recently built. When you finished it, we packed it into a secure container and shifted it to an empty warehouse to await further transport. When the smugglers arrived at the warehouse to bring the container off-planet, they reported that they haven't found any cargo containers inside!\"
\"What?!\" Ves became alarmed. \"It's missing?!\"
\"Yes! The smugglers weren't able to fulfill the commission because there is nothing for them to sneak past customs!\"
\"Did they lie to us?!\"
Nitaa shook her head. \"No, that's not the case. I've arranged some monitoring and nothing suggests that the smugglers have lied to us. They genuinely arrived this morning without encountering any cargo containers!\"
\"Then how can the container that stores my Devil Tiger be missing?!\"
\"The smugglers haven't found any containers, but they did find something strange in its place. I.. I think we should visit the warehouse in person.\"
\"Then let's go right away! We need to get to the bottom of this! The Devil Tiger is my first masterwork! No one steals it from under my nose and gets away with it! No one!\"
Ves stewed in fury and rage as he brought his entire entourage aboard a shuttle. While he did command them to take an obfuscating route in order to cover some of their tracks, he was too impatient to dance around for half a day.
Soon enough, they arrived at the dilapidated-looking warehouse. The warehouse sat squarely in the middle of a manufacturing district that had fallen on hard times. Almost no one frequented the place other than the gangs that held on to the ruins that remained and tried to eke out the last bit of money they could earn from the worthless facilities.
As Ves entered the warehouse, he encountered a completely empty, dusty space. He could spot a lot of disturbances in the dust from the recent movements.
As Nitaa went on to check some of the monitoring devices installed in the warehouse, Ves walked up all the way to the middle of the massive hall. Lucky perched up his shoulder as usual and gazed in every direction as if trying to find some clues of what had happened.
A small toy figurine of a mech had been left in the space occupied by the cargo container. The large, rectangle-sized disturbance in the dust noted the complete absence of what should have rested here!
When Ves approached the mech figurine, he began to sense something strange in the surrounding air. It made him feel as if it was a really bad idea to bring his hand closer to the toy.
He frowned. \"This is not a normal toy.\"
Despite the unusual sensation, his intuition didn't warn him of anything dangerous. He even whipped out his Vulcaneye and scanned the toy and found nothing explosive or toxic.
Due to his impatience for answers, he decided to press ahead and pick up the toy.
The instant he touched the figurine, a strange impulse suddenly shot out from the figurine and shot at his mind, passing straight through the defenses of his mind!
His perception momentarily changed! He no longer saw anything, but could still feel his body! In addition, a very familiar voice started whispering in his ears.
\"I snooped around before I left this star system. Imagine my surprise when I discover this remarkable mech of yours! Although it is rather more feral than I like, I'm sure your father would love it! Please don't mind if I bring it back to him so he can suppress his rivals with this fine machine. Your present is appreciated!\"
The strange experience quickly ended, leaving him with nothing but a cheap mech figurine like the ones he played with in the past.
A tense pause ensued as Ves took in his mother's message, because there was no doubt who took his Devil Tiger!
\"MOTHER!\" He burst out in rage!
He violently threw the mech figurine against the ground, the force of its fall breaking its cheap composite components apart from each other!
He wanted to scream and rage! This was outrageous! How did she know about his Devil Tiger?! What possessed her to decide it would be a lovely mech for his father to pilot?!
Didn't she realize what an immense risk the mech posed to its mech pilot?!
Ves designed the Devil Tiger as an outlet for his repressed desire to experiment! He planned to treat the scumbag pirates of the Nyxian pirates as his test subjects for his dangerous mech!
He never intended for his Devil Tiger to be piloted by someone he cared about! His father would be putting himself in immense danger if he actually went through and piloted his smart metal tiger mech!
Nothing about the Devil Tiger deliberately warned its mech pilots of the risks they incurred if they piloted his mech! Ves didn't wish to scare away any potential mech pilots after all, so the Devil Tiger did not openly broadcast its risk factors!
Once he calmed down a bit, he realized the worst might not necessarily happen. As far as he knew, his father only piloted humanoid mechs. It shouldn't be easy for someone to adjust to a bestial mech.
\"If he's smart, he'll assign a subordinate who specializes in piloting bestial mechs to pilot the Devil Tiger.\"
Would that truly happen? Ves hoped so. If anything dangerous happened, then his father would just lose a single subordinate.
Yet... his mother's words left open the possibility that his father might pilot the Devil Tiger in person! Due to the lack of disclosure on his part, they would never know what kind of a disaster they invited!
Even if his mother sounded as if she might be able to keep Zeigra's spirituality under control, that did not detract from the Devil Tiger's other dangers!
The hostile design spirit represented only one facet of the Devil Tiger's double-edged nature. What Ves worried about more was the illicit neural interface model he incorporated in the cockpit of his masterwork mech!
The words of Old Man Terrence came to his mind. The specialist in neural interfaces spoke quite vigorously about the dangers of neural interfaces with looser restrictions.
The greater immersion and feedback they provided may strengthen the mech pilot's performance, but also exposed them to potentially greater brain damage when a battle went awry!
This was a problem inherent in the hardware of his Devil Tiger! No matter what kind of spiritual sorceress his mother turned out to be, there was no way she possessed any idea what kind of threat its neural interface posed!
Ves couldn't rely on any of the mech technicians or mech designers under his father's employ either. In order to prevent others from rummaging through his neural interface and finding out the truth, he implemented a lot of measures to camouflage its true nature!
Unless a Journeyman or higher manually inspected the neural interface in person, no one would know the ugly truth!
Neither his mother or father would be able to realize that the Devil Tiger's strength came with an even greater price!
Ves wanted to warn his parents, but his secretive mother hadn't left him with any means to contact her! He had no way of disclosing the full extent of the risks of piloting his Devil Tiger!