"Come here, Vessie boy!"
A cute, black-haired toddler waddled over to his parents, who looked down on their son with eager grins. Ryncol Larkinson, a mech pilot of the Mech Corps, and Cynthia Larkinson, a wedding photographer and graphical artist, waited until their boy stumbled out of their house with his little legs.
Cynthia picked the boy up and gave him a loving smooch. "Who do you love more? Mama or papa?"
Little Vessie gazed at his mother and father with a confused expression. He put his thumb in his mouth and sucked on it. "Hmmm... mommy! I love mommy the best!"
The two began to cuddle affectionately while their father Ryncol ruefully looked on. "But you love daddy too, right!"
The little boy, now a little bit older, felt warm all over as his mother tucked him into his bed. She kissed him more than a dozen times on the cheek, making him feel as if the scary night had faded away.
"I want a sister. Can you give me a sister?"
"Oh, Vessie." His mother kissed him yet again. "Just wait a couple of years. It's not time yet."
"Please hurry. All my other friends have sisters but I don't have any."
"I promise you, Ves. You will have lots of brothers and sisters to play with in the future."
His mother stroked his cheek and couldn't resist giving Ves another kiss. After making sure the little nightlight stayed on, she left his room, allowing the little boy to enter a blissful state of rest.
"Mommy! Look at what daddy got me!"
The little boy, having grown up a little bit more, scampered over the grass towards his mother. He held a toy rifleman mech in one hand which he showed with childish glee.
A slim dark-haired woman sat next to a tree under the murky clouds of Cloudy Curtain. Despite the grim-looking skies, the woman smiled as if nothing in the galaxy could ruin her day. She picked the little boy up and held him on her lap.
"Oh, what's this, Vessie?"
"It's the latest Oncalix Systems GTNVC-39BE! It even has the underbarrel grenade launcher attachment! Look at how cool it is!"
Cynthia indulgently stroked her son's head. "Vessie boy, your father has given you enough mechs for toys. Isn't it enough? How about a stuffed tiger?"
"Noooooooooo! I want more! I never have enough mechs!"
The boy kept nagging his mother for more toy mechs. He wanted to play with the entire collection of Oncalix Systems. Ves only had their rifleman and skirmisher mech models. His friend Joey who lived down the streets in the suburbs of Freslin constantly bragged about owning all nine toy models.
"I'll promise you another toy if you've been good. If you make mommy happy, I'll buy you another toy next month!"
"Moooom! That's too long! The Oncalyx Systems mechs will grow old by then!"
His mother sighed. She understood nothing about his son's fascination for mechs, yet she knew that every other boy was just the same.
"Get back, I've got a gun!"
Ves, now a full adult, pointed the resplendent-looking Amastendira at the apparition that suddenly appeared behind him without warning.
It should have been impossible for anyone to sneak into his private workshop floor! Several meters of pure alloy walls engulfed the floor, which was several kilometers underground. State-of-the-art sensors monitored any disturbances in the soil around the exterior of the floor.
As long as anyone tried to penetrate the vicinity of the Mech Nursery, they would undoubtedly get caught!
At least, that was the intention. Yet he made a massive oversight! Ves had not considered defending against energy beings that could turn their entire bodies intangible!
The trivial manner in which Lucky passed through high-security walls and vaults with contemptuous ease should have triggered some warning bells in his head!
The ghost looked much more formidable this time. Last time, the energy being that pretended to be his mother had casually stolen the high-grade Rorach's Bone that should have been his reward. Thankfully, he excavated another sample of high-grade ore on his own, but he always wondered why his mother took it away.
Now he knew. The ghost obviously used up the Rorach's Bone to her own benefit. Her exterior shone with milky white radiance that closely matched Lucky's own appearance.
The resemblance was uncanny. Nothing except high-grade Rorach's Bone could have caused the two to look so similar.
His mother dismissed his pistol-brandishing form with a wave of her dainty hand. "Ves, put that toy away. You're no soldier. It's dangerous to play around with guns."
The way she commanded him to put away his weapon sounded extremely familiar to Ves. She used to adopt the same motherly tone of voice when Ves stayed up too late while playing with his miniature mechs.
Some instinct buried deep within his bones moved his body before his mind could process the request. His arm automatically lowered the pistol before he sobered up.
"Your tricks won't work on me!" An angry frown appeared on his face as he raised his pistol and aligned the barrel to his mother's figure. "Stay back! I'll really shoot you if you come close!"
The ghost tutted as she slowly hovered forward. The closer she neared, the more Ves felt pressured. An invisible cloying miasma surrounded his mother that brushed against his sixth sense.
Strangely enough, this time his mother didn't leech off his internal energy cycle. His mother seemed much more complete. Perhaps she had grown stronger to the point where she didn't have to rely on outside sustenance for the moment.
Ves did not let down his guard in any case. This deceptive energy being certainly had an agenda of some sorts. Her intentions would certainly be detrimental to him. His attitude remained harsh and he even dialed up the power of his laser pistol.
"Stop! Don't come any closer! Lucky, help me!"
Lucky kept lounging on top of the kitchen machine. The abrupt presence of another intangible presence hadn't alarmed him in any way. He completely treated the ghost that wore his mother's face as family.
His mother smirked and held out a hand. An unknown piece of glowing mineral materialized in her palm. Once it became solid, she threw it towards the cat.
"Lucky, is that what Vessie named you? Be a dear and play outside. I need some time alone with my son."
Lucky jumped up to catch the mineral in his jaws, having partially materialized his upper body to manage the feat. Once he secured his snack, he eagerly floated away, leaving Ves to fend off his mother without any backup.
Even though he expected the betrayal, he still looked disappointed. "This stupid cat."
"As I said, my dear, don't forget who gifted you these toys. You have no idea where he comes from. Only your father and I are aware of his origins."
"Stop it! Just stop it!" Ves couldn't take it any longer. "My mother is dead! You are just some wraith who somehow managed to escape from the Glowing Planet! I don't know how you got out, but don't think you can act with impunity in my presence! This time I can hit you back!"
His mother dropped her smirk. She closed her eyes in exasperation. "Vessie, while I am not happy that you've clung to mechs in your adulthood, at least you haven't become a soldier. I'm proud to see you grow up to become a successful man, but you should at least recognize that you have no business pointing a gun at your mother."
As she spoke, she slowly floated closer. She completely disregarded the threat of the Amastendira, as if she treated him like he was a five year old holding up a toy gun to her body.
Ves struggled against the competing impulses of his instincts, his fear and his rational mind. The ghost had crossed the halfway point by the time he resolved his internal contradictions.
No matter the truth, he couldn't allow the ghost to get close. Before he ascertained the threat, he should keep it well away from his vicinity.
"Stop! If you come closer, I'll really shoot. This is your last warning!"
Again, his mother didn't look deterred. She calmly floated closer as if she wanted to bait him into action.
After several seconds of second-guessing, Ves steeled his heart and pulled the trigger.
A bright and thick laser beam emerged from the Amastendira and pierced straight through his mother's intangible form. The beam continued to strike the wall behind and bore a hole straight through the thick layers of alloy, ceramics and composites.
Against the might of a fully-powered laser beam from the Amastendira, everything in its way devolved into non-existence. The beam carved out over five hundred meters of solid walls and bedrock before its energy ran out.
Such a mighty laser beam could have threatened a mech or carved open the belly of a transport ship.
Even more remarkable, the laser beam also carried a hint of spirituality. It was one of the mastercrafted pistol's most cherished features, and allowed the wielder to fend off all manner of energy beings that roamed the galaxy.
It should have annihilated his mother, or at least inflicted grievous wounds on her intangible form.
Instead, the instant before he pulled the trigger, a hole had already emerged in his mother's intangible form. It lined up exactly with the trajectory of the beam. Thus, his mother evaded damage entirely. The peripheral heat that bloomed around the laser beam posed no threat to intangible forms at all.
The hand that held the Amastendira started to shake. Ves had never expected the ghost to pull off this kind of move. Such an insane reaction speed akin to precognition wouldn't have been out of place if he faced an expert mech pilot, but this was his mother! When she was still alive, she was a photographer!
The quick reaction further reinforced the idea in his mind that he faced an impostor.
Ves attempted to pull the trigger again, but held off at the last second. His mother would likely react in the same manner. The first laser beam had already inflicted a large amount of collateral damage. The containment of his private workshop floor had been breached, and it was extremely expensive and troublesome to fix all of the damage.
He instead walked back, trying to keep his distance from his mother. He started to circle in order to avoid cornering himself like last time. His mother followed suit, and they slowly spun around the kitchen area as if he was a giggling young boy running around in circles while his mother playfully chased after her son.
Naturally, Ves did not feel any amusement at the tense standoff. "Tell me why you're here! How did you escape the Glowing Planet?"
The woman shook her head. "The so-called Glowing Planet was never my home. I do have to thank the Republic, though. Without their intervention, I would have never get past the monsters that you've called the devourers."
Obviously, his mother took advantage of the vacuum that ensued when Gregarious Wrath met and killed off the devourers and devourer king.
"What does that have to do with your presence here? Why can't you bother some other schmuck?!"
"Because I only have a single son. You are my only child, and nothing will stop me from meeting you again."
Her mother spoke those words with such a sweet tone that Ves mentally admired her performance. She truly performed her role to perfection. Even Ves couldn't spot any flaws.
"I suppose you stowed away aboard one of the ships that evacuated from the Glowing Planet. An energy being like you can probably make yourself undetectable if you wanted to. Am I right?"
"Correct, but that is not the entire story. You see, you are sorely mistaken if you believe I am some indigenous life form from the Glowing Planet."
Ves widened his eyes.
"The Glowing Planet is merely an opportunity. I've always been there. Only now am I able to appear before you in this form."
Deceptive witch! Her words muddled up his judgement until he became completely confused whether he should treat the ghost as his enemy or his mother.