While the war between the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom flared up, a much bigger battle ensued out of the eye of the public.
After the passing of the seventy day deadline, the Glowing Planet and its immediate vicinity turned into a forbidden zone in the truest sense. This time, the danger didn't come from the unnatural phenomena radiating from the planet.
This time, the true rulers of the Komodo Star Sector had arrived.
"Bright Republic? Vesia Kingdom? Never heard of them."
Two enormous armadas spanning more than fifty-thousand ships and more than a million mechs collided against each other. Their so-called skirmishes easily dwarfed the most pitched battles the Vesians and Brighters had ever fought.
On the side of the Friday Coalition, every major partner chipped in their forces, leading to an eclectic mix of ship and mech models. Of all the partners, the Gauge Dynasty and the Konsu Clan fought the best and thereby claimed the biggest share of the proceeds of the strip mining operations.
As for the Hexadric Hegemony, the matriarchal society imposed a complete uniformity of its military forces. Their fleets looked like clones as they used the exact same ship and mech models throughout their entire navy and mech forces.
Both approaches had their good and bad points.
"The Six are One."
For the Hegemony, imposing the same designs for all of their war materiel vastly simplified their supply chains. Production, maintenance and training activities reached an unprecedented level of efficiency.
The Hegemony also centralized their design work to an unprecedented high level. A committee of Master Mech Designers inspected and approved every single new design regardless if they incorporated it into the military or released it to the civilian sector. If even one Master disapproved of a design, then it had no future in the Hegemony.
"Rebirth through Adversity."
As for the Coalition, their abundance of designs fostered a culture of innovation. Their researchers often trumped their counterparts from the Hegemony due to their hectic pace of development and production.
Sometimes, they published designs that flopped. However, with each failure, the developers and their competitors learned something new. Their next products definitely surpassed their previous ones.
The two second-rate states held diverging views on how humanity and society should be ruled. Their relations had always been poor, and the fact that they each occupied vital resource-rich regions in the center of the Komodo Star Sector added fuel to the flame.
The Glowing Planet merely provided an early window in how the two second-rate states would struggle over supremacy in one of the most remote star sectors in the galaxy.
Both of their armadas slip into smaller fleets that maneuvered around the Glowing Planet in complex patterns meant to preserve their mobility. Large-scale mining ships passing by from orbit deployed special apparatuses underneath the surface of the Glowing Planet. These devices promptly blew up or cracked apart a humongous chunk of land into space.
These remnants would subsequently be captured by other mining ships that had orbited into pre-calculated positions.
Chunk by chunk, the two states visibly chipped away at the Glowing Planet without any mercy. As a non-lifebearing planet, the Glowing Planet was not protected by the treaties imposed by the MTA and CFA.
No one cared whether it survived at the end of the clash. Both sides pursued the maximum amount of benefit in the least amount of time, hence they employed the most destructive methods of strip mining the hapless rogue planet.
It could only blame itself for bumping into a trade convoy when it passed through the Komodo Star Sector.
Even though the Bright Republic and the other third-rate states wanted to peek at the battles raging around the Glowing Planet, the two overbearing combatants had deployed a significant amount of machines that blocked and obfuscated any attempts to observe the surrounding area.
Any ship that strayed within a light-year of the Glowing Planet would quickly be pursuit and destroyed without any appeal.
Far away from the Glowing Planet but well inside the borders of the Republic, Ves floated at the entrance of the cave in his hazard suit. He looked out at the dim, red-tinted asteroids that streaked in front of his current abode.
The lonesome sight inspired him. He had not been truly alone for many years now. Hardly any human could be found within the Joe Star System.
Once the Barracuda dropped of Ves and his supplies, she flew towards another major asteroid well out of range.
For the time being, Ves wouldn't be able to communicate with anyone, but neither would anyone be able to locate him and observe his work.
Which was exactly the way he liked it at this time.
"This damn mission. Sure, it's a C-grade mission under normal circumstances, but why the hell does it want to saddle me with a war crime?"
The seriousness in which every human treated taboo weapons nowadays had reached a hysterical level. Just the mere hint of it could spark an immediate panic in the entire star sector.
Forget about the MTA and CFA, even the Bright Republic would deploy all of its forces to squash those who flouted this rule.
In the first day, Ves did not immediately embark on his design work. Instead, he installed and inspected all of the gear he brought. He spent the most time on partially disassembling his second-hand 3D printer for any hidden spying or recording components.
With the help of Lucky, they sniffed out over two-dozen different bugs.
"This is a lot worse than I thought."
He had no doubt that most of the bugs came from his hired help. Sanyal-Ablin never promised to respect his privacy when he contracted them to provide security.
Privacy? Did that word even exist in the Age of Mechs?
Ves ultimately had to delay his timetable and spend a vigorous amount of time catching each and every microscoping spy drone.
He thanked his lucky stars that he redeemed his Privacy Shield from the System early on when he hardly attracted any attention. The device had quietly shielded him from electronic observation during his most crucial moments when he interacted with the System.
Now that the LMC grew into a multi-billion credit behemoth, Ves attracted much more attention than before. He couldn't even go the the toilet or take a shower without being spied on by a dozen different parties.
Every public figure had to deal with such an intense level of scrutiny, including Ves.
Once he finished combing over every device including his hazard suit, he finally became comfortable enough to embark on his actual purpose for traveling to the middle of nowhere.
"Let's start designing."
According to the mission, Ves would pass its requirements if he successfully came up with a practical graser rifle design. Implicit in the description was that he wouldn't be able to pass the mission if he plagiarized the existing designs from the research notes that set him on this path.
"The spirit of the mission appears to be driving me towards pushing my Physics Skill and related Sub-Skills to the limit."
Ves had never designed a laser rifle before. His only practical experience with laser weapons was when he repaired them during the Glowing Planet campaign and when he modified an existing model for the 2-star Old Soul virtual mech.
Anyone could tweak an existing design. At the simplest level, a modification could be as simple as replacing one material for another or to shift a couple of components by several millimeters.
By working from the safety of a proven design, the person who performed the modification could be as sloppy as he wanted as long as his work remained within certain boundaries.
In contrast, designing a weapon from scratch entailed a lot more work. Ves had to take into account a thousand different aspects when he made his design choices.
"It's actually a lot like designing a mech."
Designing a weapon fell a bit out of his expertise, but Ves managed to stay on track by borrowing from his experiences with designing his first original mech.
"First, I'll have to set a vision for my graser rifle."
Distasteful as it appeared, Ves had to force himself into imagining the use of his weapon. He envisioned a frigid duel in space. Two spaceborn rifleman mechs circled around each other as they traded potshots at each other.
One rifleman mech utilized a conventional laser rifle adapted to space. It fired infrared beams from a bulky rifle that featured a much larger heatsink. Due to the lack of gravity in space, the rifleman mech wasn't overly hindered by its weapon's increased mass.
In comparison to the moderately bulky laser rifle, the gamma laser weapon wielded by its opponent resembled a miniature cannon. It featured a much bigger weapon frame in order to accommodate its jumbo-sized battery, heat rod and internal mechanisms.
"With my skills, I won't be able to design a rifle that's as compact as the one developed by the research team." Ves quietly judged.
The graser rifle's firing rate was a lot lower than a conventional laser rifle, but each energetic beam traced by a small amount of waves from the visible spectrum. Each time it hit the enemy mech, its armor hardly buckled, but an extremely large amount of energy got absorbed or passed through the layers of armor.
Whenever the gamma rays passed through an electronic system, they got fried. Once it reached the cockpit and passed through the pilot, the outcome of the battle became clear.
The stricken and irradiated mech turned into a lifeless entity after getting hit by only five high-powered gamma laser beams.
Ves pulled his mind back from his construction vision. "A graser rifle kills the pilot before the machine."
As long as the weapon pumped enough power into the beam, it could pass through any amount of armor and irradiate the enemy pilot.
"What a horrible way to die."
He knew very well how the human body fared against the might of a graser beam. Dr. Kawasaki who originally compiled the research notes had cruelly experimented on live subjects to satisfy his sadistic power trip.
The thought of following in Dr. Kawasaki's footsteps put Ves in a difficult position.
Should he even proceed with this mission? What was the System's intention by setting him on this potentially ruinous course of action?
"Laws and rules of convention constrain a mech designer. By purposefully incentivizing me to break a taboo, the System seems to be telling me that I shouldn't take the rules for granted."
The System set itself above the rules that governed human society from the onset of the Age of Mechs.
Would the System push him to breaking another rule in the future?
Ves mentally shrank from the idea. Even though the System acted deviously, Ves had no choice but to play along its tune in order to harvest some benefits out of it. For better or worse, he became an accomplice of the inscrutable System and its unknown goals.
"As long as I get to reach the pinnacle of mech design, I'll commit any number of war crimes if I have to."
Ves had already stepped aboard the ship. If he stepped out now before it had reached its destination, he'd end up choking to death in interstellar space.
He turned his attention back to his design. Now that he formed a vision of his weapon, he began to draft a design for his laser rifle.
Unlike with mechs, Ves did not employ his Triple Division or any other technique related to X-Factor.
"A graser weapon doesn't deserve the X-Factor."
Even he had his limits. If the System set him on the path to committing a war crime, he wouldn't do so with a smile.
Ves treated his design like a chore to be performed as soon as possible. He decided not to take any excessive care with his design choices and instead stick to a basic, workhorse design with plenty of tolerances for failure.
"The bigger the weapon, the more leeway I'll carve out for myself."
Ves spent two days on his draft design. After that, he spent five more days refining its schematic into a precise and functional product. In theory.
In the meantime, the Joe System was as quiet as a mouse. Not a single ship transitioned out of FTL during this time. Just the red dwarf, the asteroids and the Barracuda kept Ves company in the unremarkable star system.
The only excitement happened when Lucky decided to pass his boredom by boring straight towards the center of the asteroid. Once there, the gem cat encountered a peculiar rectangular substance.
Lucky curiously pawed what looked like a crystal window.