The Mech Corps didn't have much time left before their 70-day deadline came to pass. The Gregarious Wrath took much more time to breach the outer core of the Glowing Planet. Thus, the military moved very quickly to confirm they reached the periphery of their goal.
From the outside, the outer portion of the core glowing in bright green. It consisted of a virtually single gigantic mass of growing green junk exotics with just a tiny speck of extremely rare exotic material interspersed in between.
Sadly for Ves, none of the trace exotics happened to be the substance the System sought for. Even if a single gram of certain exotics could be sold for ten billion credits in the open market, none of them possessed any traits that could truly make the impossible into reality.
"So this isn't the right substance either, huh?"
Ves threw away the latest sample excavated from the core. After it bounced on the deck, it ended up in the clutches of Lucky, who eagerly began to devour it. The cat had been in bliss ever since they breached the core.
Chief Petrisc oversaw the maintenance of the Gregarious Wrath's drill components. After burrowing thousands of kilometers into the ground, the drill urgently required maintenance. Ves had nothing to do at this time because he'd do more harm than good if he involved himself with drills.
"This is boring. When are we going to go deeper into the core?"
"The Wrath will move forward as soon as we know the core won't ruin it. The deeper we go, the denser the bedrock. We need to replace the regular drills with more expensive ones if we want to make any progress." An engineer replied besides him. "It's strange how most of the energy fields disappeared at this depth. It's as if the core is isolating us from the exotics up above."
Unlike other planets, particularly life-bearing ones, the Glowing Planet didn't feature magma or any form of liquids. After the planet's formation and its exile from its original star system, the magma had slowly cooled until it became fully solid. This gave the planet enough time to sink all of its heavier materials to the core of the planet.
The ore that the System demanded from Ves should also be found close to these depths. It would be impossible to reach the exact center with today's technology, but hopefully they'd reach close enough to start encountering the desired material.
"More tunneling and mining machines will arrive very soon to lend a hand. The core is largely uniform, but if we're lucky we might come across an easier side path. This entire planet is weird so who knows what's down there."
"We're also short on time." Ves added. "We only have less than twenty days to wrap up this expedition."
While he had faith that the Mech Corps would be able to hang on to the red zone, he had less faith in their ability to approach the inner core and reach the truly valuable substances that rested so deep. All of this was pretty much out of his expertise, so Ves had no choice but to stand aside and let the experts do their jobs.
He left the labs where the ores were analyzed after a time. Lucky didn't want to go, but the cat hadn't been allowed to roam on his own. "Stop being fussy. We still have plenty more days for you to chew on some ores."
Even as his cat yowled in protest, he carried Lucky back to his bunk and threw him on top of the bed. Ves followed suit and rested on its comfy surface while he rubbed his stomach.
Due to the unknown shielding effect, all of the energy fields no longer tried to disturb his body and his delicate internal energy cycle.
Over the past weeks, his body somehow accumulated what it had lost from the ghost. Ves hadn't expected his internal energy cycle to bounce back so fast. He wondered where the energy came from in the first place.
"It would be too banal if it comes from my food. I don't take enough nutrients to account for so much energy."
Perhaps his body absorbed it from the energy fields, or perhaps he drew it from some abstract dimension. Whatever the case, his body regained the same pros and cons as before. His strength increased to an unrealistic level while his body risked getting blown up if his energy cycle ever went haywire.
He even half-hoped the ghost returned to siphon away the excess energy. Ves deliberately found reasons to be alone, but his mother never came.
"What a neglectful parent." He sighed.
Ves looked forward to leaving this cursed planet. Humanity would never thrive upon such an active and chaotic planet. The alien species that took to such planets as easy as drinking water must be extremely formidable.
Still, it hadn't prevent most species from getting bulldozed or chase away by the human race during the Age of Conquest.
"Well, we're in the Age of Mechs now. We don't have the numbers to fuel a further expansion into the rest of the galaxy. We're already spread thin in the star sectors we've claimed."
Much of the empty and poorly-explored territories inside human space hid buried treasures. Treasure hunters didn't have to leave for the frontier to score big. Even at the galactic center, many new stars came into being. All kinds of stellar activity generated an uncountable amount of exotics at the heart of the galactic center.
Despite the hazards of living in such active regions, they generated an enormous amount of riches.
On the other hand, the Komodo Star Sector was so far away removed from those lucrative regions that it had to excavate the leftovers that drifted to the galactic rim. The Glowing Planet was just a little more exceptional than anything else that came to the Komodo Star Sector.
While Ves slowly drifted off into sleep, a sudden thrum ran over his body. His energy cycle receive a severe shock which prodded him back to wakefulness.
Even Lucky jumped up from his slumber at the foot of the bed. The cat arched his back as if he faced a giant dog.
Both of them sensed something amiss just then. Ves hadn't imagined the jarring sensations. After a couple more minutes of waiting, he let down his guard.
"Something's up. Anything that can spook the both of us isn't normal."
Ves freshened himself up and left his bunk. He headed down to engineering, only to encounter a flurry of activity. Ves found an engineer he became familiar with and asked what was going on.
"Didn't you hear? We've found 3 milligrams of Rorach's Bone!"
The significance of that news hadn't set in on Ves. "What's Rorach's Bone?"
"It's the entire reason we dug so far! Don't you know how priceless Rorach's Bone is? It can't even be expressed in credits! The Mech Trade Association has an insatiable demand for Rorach's Bone. It's said that it's an essential ingredient to make cutting-edge mechs!"
Now Ves understood all of the excitement. Any material that was valuable enough to be used in the best mechs of the galaxy should be extremely exceptional.
As Ves left the engineering bay and headed for the labs, he flicked open his comm and read up on Rorach's Bone in the Gregarious Wrath's internal database.
It only contained a brief entry on the material. Much of it had been redacted, and Ves didn't possess the necessary clearance to know any more. What he did learn was enough.
As a material referred to as a bone, the exotic substance formed an essential part in constructing a durable internal frame. Besides granting the skeleton of a mech an unheard amount of durability, the most amazing property of Rorach's Bone was that it drew in heat and used that energy to self-repair itself!
The entire concept seemed unreal to Ves. "So it's actually possible to make a self-repairing mech!"
Incorporating Rorach's Bone onto other components also granted them the ability to repair itself. Obviously, there were limits to this ability, but it granted mechs an unheard amount of endurance. Even if the cutting-edge mechs became lost, its ace pilots would still be able to survive with the help of his constantly replenishing mech.
Learning about these traits made Ves suspect something about the System. "Is it damaged?"
Certainly, Rorach's Bone didn't offer anything unique. Many other extremely valuable exotics offered the same amount of increase in toughness.
When Ves reached the lab, he got a distant glimpse of the so-called bone. It was just a tiny grain suspended in a vacuum chamber as the scientists performed all kinds of tests.
One of the scientists summed up their findings. "According to our analysis, this is a low-grade Rorach's Bone. It's lost its potency over billions of years of separation. While it's still a valuable specimen, the MTA won't get much use out of it. However, its presence proves that there should be larger samples of Rorach's Bone buried deeper within the core."
That satisfied the officers who had been sent to he labs to take stock of the latest find. The Mech Corps would definitely intensify their efforts to dig deeper into the core. Rorach's Bone was an amazingly dense material, so it would have sunk down deep into the center of the Glowing Planet at the beginning of its formation when much of its volume consisted of magma.
Ves approached the group of officers and made his presence known. "I hope to be informed whenever you've made another major find. Don't forget that my Master has already called dibs on the first major chunk of Rorach's Bone."
The scientists nodded, but the officers didn't seem so pleased. One of them stepped forward. "The Mech Corps needs all it can get. Everything you see here and everything we've achieved so far is accomplished on our own. As far as I'm concerned, the Coalition can wait in line."
As much as Ves sympathised for his home state, he wasn't willing to sacrifice his own interests. The System demanded for its pound of flesh and Ves could only cut if out from his own body if he couldn't present a fat pig.
Ves continued the pretence that he was here on behalf of the Coalition. "I would hope that you understand how severe your words may sound. Don't forget that the only reason we're allowed to scramble in the dirt is because the Coalition has granted us seventy days to do as we wish. If they wanted to, they could have come within a month."
He hit a good point. As much as the officer wanted to stand up for the Mech Corps, he didn't dare speak ill of the Coalition in public. If someone recorded his words and spread them onto the galactic net, he'd be booted from the service in an instant.
"Come on, sir. We have business to attend." Another officer gestured the man. They all moved away.
"That's very brave of you, Mr. Larkinson." A metallurgist casually spoke. "Was it really necessary for you to remind them of their obligations?"
"It was. I have my mission and they have theirs. Mine just happened to supercede theirs. The Komodo Star Sector belongs to the Coalition and the Hegemony. The Bright Republic is just a tiny fish that swims in the same pond as the sharks. We should do everything we can to prevent the predators from eating us."
Ves didn't like these words, but he had to in order to keep up the pretence. He knew the Mech Corps would benefit enormously if they retained every piece of Rorach's Bone they dug up from the core. He hated that the System forced him to divide his loyalties.
This incident reminded him that the Mech Designer System never owed any loyalty to the Republic. This wouldn't be the last time he'd have to choose between the System and everyone else.
An alarm sounded out.
"Detecting anomalous movement!"