Why did the skeleton of a giant humanoid ended up in the core of the Glowing Planet?
Was he buried underneath alone, or did the planet contain several other graves?
How long ago did the giant live, and how long ago did it die?
Why was there so much Rorach's Bone around the skeleton of the giant, and why hadn't the skeleton gone to dust all these eons?
So many questions swirled around in his mind. Much like any mystery he encountered, Ves ignored the implications of what he'd seen and focused on the more important priority: getting his payday.
Thus, when he saw the giant's skull contained, he couldn't hold back his glee.
A resplendent glowing jewel hovered at the center of the brain cavity. The jewel looked as polished as the most expertly cut gem, and shone in transparent white, as if nothing had ever tainted its purity. The more Ves stared at it, the more he guessed that it might be the origin of all of the Rorach's Bone in the vicinity.
"If this isn't what the System wants, then I don't know what can top this treasure."
After he finished admiring his find, Ves activated a function in his mining suit that extended a claw-like grip from his gauntlet. Its extra reach allowed him to reach through the hole and carefully grip the shining jewel.
Nothing happened when he pulled the jewel out of its resting place. Ves half-expected some kind of trap to go off, but nothing stood out. Even his sixth sense hadn't picked up any mental spikes.
Thus, with excruciating care, Ves pulled out the jewel and beheld it in his gauntlets. He suspiciously eyed Lucky, but it seemed his cat didn't show any interest in it at all.
"Hah, I forgot. You're a gem cat. This probably looks like excrement to you."
Lucky huffed, but never put down his vigilance. Ves took note of his pet's alertness. Danger still existed even if he retrieved his prize.
"Well, let's get this over with. System, here's your damn jewel. I hope I got it right this time!"
Once he offered the jewel to the System, Ves sighed in relief as the jewel started to dematerialize. It meant he finally hit the jackpot.
[Congratulations for obtaining the core and completing the mission. Exotic materials have a complex origin, and may be spawned by both nature and design. As a mech designer, you must understand the materials you are working with, and be able to distinguish the good from the bad.]
[You have received 10 golden lottery tickets. Please visit the Lottery page to redeem your tickets.]
[You have received a Special Upgrade Voucher (Machine). Please visit your Inventory to redeem your voucher.]
"I'm done! I'm finally done with this mission!"
It came as a huge relief to be finally done with this awful mission. Though the rewards looked promising, he would rather do without all of the danger.
As the jewel slowly disappeared, the System's message about materials put Ves to thought. He floated back and eyed the giant skeleton in the perspective of a mech designer.
"This skeleton looks awfully like the internal frame of a mech."
He'd only have to remove the superfluous parts like some of the ribs and he'd have a ready-made base for a unique mech. The bones must hold some very powerful properties to be able to persist like this. They looked as pristine as if the giant had died yesterday, if not for the lack of flesh.
"It'll have to be a mech that takes full advantage of these bones."
That meant he'd have to design something like a light skirmisher, which relied heavily on the soundness of the internal frame to pull of all those high-speed movements. Ves envisioned adding internals and armor plating around the skeleton. The skeleton seemed tailor-made for humanoid mechs.
For a moment, Ves thought about claiming all of these bones. Then, he reconsidered.
"It's not as if the Mech Corps will let me keep such an important find."
Again, his lack of influence and his role as an external consultant limited his options. After a lot of thought, Ves sadly gave up on attempting to claim the bones.
Once the jewel finally disappeared, something changed. The giant skeleton abruptly started to break down. Its pristine white bones grew grey and turned incredible brittle before falling apart into lifeless chunks. A pulse of violent rage emanated from the center of the Glowing Planet and momentarily overwhelmed his sixth sense.
The entire cavern shuddered, and rocks began to fall from above. It was as if the entire Glowing Planet had gone mad.
"Lucky! Let's get out of here!"
Ves picked up his spooked pet and engaged his mining suit's thrusters. He flew into the tunnel Lucky had dug and carefully navigated it all the way up. This took quite a lot of time because the tunnel was too narrow for him to navigate at full speed.
In the meantime, the rage that his sixth sense picked up thrummed with violence. Ves didn't know where it came from, but the sheer power and reach behind the ripples scared Ves to death. It might even be the planet itself that was lashing out!
"Who the hell did I piss off?!"
In his haste, Ves mistakenly bumped against a turn in the tunnel. His mining suit gained some scuff marks and Lucky meowed in complaint, but nothing broke, so Ves resumed his flight.
All the while, the spacetime fluctuations began to grow in number. Some parts of the tunnel momentarily warped as if someone pinched that part of space. This alternatively widened or narrowed the tunnel in a random pattern. Sometimes, Ves had to prompt Lucky to claw their way out of a barrier that appeared out of nowhere.
One time, Ves almost bumped head-first into a section of warped spacetime. He had to careen his suit against the sides of the tunnel to stop him from turning into noodles.
"That was close!"
Once the wrinkle disappeared, Ves carefully passed by the section of previously-unstable space before accelerating out. It took a lot of minutes before Ves finally reached the end of the narrow tunnel. He emerged in the much greater tunnel excavated by the Gregarious Wrath and flew towards his armored shuttle, only to realize that it had crashed.
The shuttle's entire starboard side suffered an implosion of some kind which compressed all of its materials into a single round ball the size of a tooth.
Ves cursed at the sight. "I'll just have to rely on my suit, then!"
Fortunately, his bulky mining suit contained more than enough fuel to reach the Gregarious Wrath. Ves flew upwards and tried to contact the Wrath.
"Mr. Larkinson! We've been trying to get in touch with you! Danger levels have risen to an extreme level. We advise you to return to the Gregarious Wrath as fast as possible!"
"I'm on my way, but the armored shuttle is a goner!"
"Noted. We've already sent out a rescue shuttle. We've already fixed your position so the shuttle is only a minute away. Hang tight!"
The entire tunnel kept shaking as multiple spacetime storms ravaged the surrounding space. Ves figured he faced the same risks of being swallowed by them if he stayed still or moved, so he might as well continue flying towards the surface.
A light appeared from the distance. The rescue shuttle had arrived. It parked right above Ves, allowing him to fly up and reach its open hatch. An armed soldier pulled him inside and banged the button that shut the hatch.
"He's here! Let's move!"
The shuttle turned around and zipped back to the Wrath, where they could all take shelter underneath her dimensional smoothers.
"What did you find down there?! Did you trigger something?"
"Beats me! I only found a lot of bones!"
Naturally, Ves found more than Rorach's Bone, but he wouldn't admit to encountering the skeleton of a long-dead race of giants.
As the soldier subjected Ves to a brief interrogation, the shuttle successfully reached the Wrath without incident. Once it landed in the shuttle hangar, Ves exited the craft, shed his mining suit and ran towards the engineering bay with Lucky in tow.
Once he reached the engineering bay's command platform, he noted that Chief Petrisc was elsewhere. One of the senior engineers manned the consoles in his chief's stead.
"Where is the chief?"
"He's supervising the most difficult repairs."
"Okay. Can you tell me what's going on?"
"Not really. All we know is that the core has suddenly become unstable and that spacetime is going mad. The fluctuations are predominantly spatial in nature, but we've detected some temporal variance as well."
"Is the Wrath in danger?"
"The dimensional smoothers are holding up, but their effective range has decreased. They're getting stressed by all of the anomalies that are trying to affect the tunneler. The chief wants us to move within two hours to get away from these fluctuations. It gets better the higher up we go."
That put down some of his worries. In the next couple of hours, Ves stayed out of the way while the crew of the Wrath frantically tried to get the tunneler to move again. She didn't need to excavate a new tunnel as she should slither her way up through the tunnel she had already cleared.
This enabled the repair crews to skip much of the redundant systems. After more than three hours of clunking and improvisations, the Gregarious Wrath finally regained her ability to move.
The giant tunneler feebly climbed her way up, but quickly picked up speed once it became clear her repairs held up.
Though she encountered some bumps in the tunnel due to the occasional spacetime flare-ups, her immense mass and power allowed her to bulldoze through any minor obstacle. To facilitate her race to the surface, several smaller tunneling vehicles flew ahead of the Wrath to clear any of the larger obstacles in the way.
In the meantime, Ves helped out with the miscellaneous repairs. Just because the Wrath regained her mobility didn't mean she was in good shape. In truth, she operated with almost no redundancy. If a single critical pipe broke from the stress, the entire tunneler would be forced to a halt.
No one wanted to envision such an outcome, so the repair crews rushed out to repair the pipelines. In general, such repairs didn't require an in-depth background on giant tunneling machines, so Ves easily contributed to the work.
He didn't even think about using his newly gained rewards. The situation was too hectic for him to play with the System. Besides, even with his Privacy Shield, he doubted he would ever be able to escape scrutiny for long. He could tell that some of the security officers kept a close eye on him. It was as if they suspected he played a role in the sudden outburst of the Glowing Planet.
"Do they really think I'm capable of triggering such a staggering response?"
Even if those suspicions had a lot of merit, Ves continued to play the victim and act dumb. Now that the System devoured the jewel and the giant skeleton turned to dust, there shouldn't be any proof left of what he'd done. He also messed with the hardware of the mining suit before he set off in his jaunt in order to make sure it didn't record his actions.
"I'm sure I didn't miss any hidden recording functions on my suit."
If any microscopic spying equipment had stuck around, then Lucky should have already taken care of it. Ves had trained Lucky to always swat away any microscopic bugs.
After reasoning that the Mech Corps shouldn't have gotten their hands on solid proof, Ves relaxed and continued to work.
Six days later, the Gregarious Wrath returned to the surface of the Glowing Planet. A much more disarrayed base greeted their sights. The spacetime fluctuations had been a little less severe on the surface, but the dimensional smoothers had their work cut out for them as the Mech Corps relied on them to cover a large radius.
The Mech Corps had no reason to detain Ves, so he was allowed to exit the tunneler and return to his friends. After questioning some of the base personnel, Ves got the gist of what had happened on the surface.
Both the Blood Claws and Walter's Whalers sustained significant casualties. This forced them to abandon their previous bases and seek refuge at the military. The Mech Corps only retained a crowded section of the Red Zone. Several different pirate and vulture alliances claimed their surroundings.
"I should get in touch with the gang. Hopefully they're still alive."