Ves wanted to leave his mark in the Age of Mechs. The Living Mech Corporation encapsulated both his selling points and his aspirations. The name might sound a little bland, but its open-ended meaning left a lot of room for interpretation.
More importantly, the name also matched his nascent design philosophy. No matter how many mech designers had already touched upon the secret of the X-Factor, Ves definitely wished to forge his own path.
After finishing his discussion with Marcella, he left left her office and returned to the foyer. Lucky played with a potted plant. Raella and Melkor stood at the side, admiring the promotional footage projected at the sides. They all showed several designs in action. Ves even saw archival footage of the Mark I in action.
"Is that your mech?" Raella curiously asked.
He nodded with pride. "It's my very first sale, in fact. I designed the variant and fabricated it completely on my own. No one else lent a hand to me during the entire process. Recently, I even updated its design. The Mark II is a comprehensive improvement over its predecessor."
His cousins looked suitably impressed. It turned out they hadn't heard about Ves and his accomplishments before. Raella dedicated her entire life to the mech games while Melkor presumably served in some kind of military unit.
Only now, they realized what kind of a bigshot Ves had become. The ability to design and build your own mech impressed the two mech pilots. To them, the entire process sounded like sorcery.
Ves felt as if he was a wizard showing off a fireball in front of a crowd of knights. Though the latter could easily snap the former's body in two, the impressive display held them back. The wizard's magic had exceeded their limited comprehension.
For the first time since they joined his company, the two regarded him with respect. Raella always wore her emotions on her sleeve, so her mood shifted the most.
As for Melkor, he must have already been acquainted with Ves from reading a report. The visor blocking half his face also hindered anyone from determining his attitude. With the help of his enhanced perception and intelligence, Ves nonetheless picked up some hopeful signs.
"Let's return to the spaceport now. We have a flight to catch."
"Aww, do we have to?" Raella suddenly begged. "This place is a lot livelier than I thought! I want to visit all the mech boutiques and see the local mech athletes in action!"
Though Ves originally planned to depart in a few hours, Raella convinced him to take them for a day out. Perhaps it hadn't been fair for the family to force them to accompany Ves. For privileged city folk like them, a rural planet like Cloudy Curtain must be a boring place to them. Raella especially wouldn't be able to handle the transition.
"Let's head downtown then. The classiest mech boutiques and chain stores can all be found there."
Ves hailed an aircar and the three of them boarded the vehicle. After inputting the address, the vehicle ascended into the air and joined the orderly traffic.
Ves sat in the front holding Lucky while Raella and Melkor sat in the back discussing the merits of Bentheim's local teams.
Raella favored the Velvet Fists, which was Dorum's flagship team. They often clashed head-on against the Silver Chancellors and acquitted themselves well. The Velvet Fists distinguished themselves by their flamboyant female leader.
As for Melkor, he respected an up-and-coming team called the Grease Monkeys. Based in the heavily industrialized city of Haston, the community-funded team enjoyed a lot of local support. Somehow, they signed on a couple of talented locals and have been making their mark over the years.
"I don't care much about the local teams." Ves replied when Raella asked him who he supported. "Bentheim isn't my home. I spent a lot more time on Rittersberg actually. My real home is Cloudy Curtain. It's just too bad the planet isn't rich enough to fund a team."
They simply didn't have the means. The farming consortiums owned the majority of the planet's wealth. Considering their roots, the last thing they wanted to do was to foster more mechs.
Just as Raella started to explain the merits of her favorite teams, Melkor held up a hand.
"Aren't we supposed to head downtown? Why is our aircar moving away from it?"
His sudden interruption startled Ves. He never paid attention to their environment. When he pressed his face against the window, he found to his dismay that their aircar had inexplicably turned around. Instead of shops and flashing lights, he only encountered drab-looking workshops, factories and warehouses.
"This isn't good! Our car is flying above the industrial district! We're never supposed to come close to this area in the first place!"
Raella instantly pulled out a laser pistol that she previously hid in her coat. "What the hell? Why is someone after you, Ves? Are we being kidnapped or something?!"
"It might be possible. I never thought anyone would be crazy enough to start something on Bentheim." Ves replied while holding his chin.
Who could it be? Bentheim Liberation Movement? The Five Scrolls Compact? The Gauge Dynasty? The Ricklin Family? Ves provoked too many enemies lately. He couldn't determine who was aiming for him at the moment. He needed more information, but first he had to solve their current crisis.
While everyone still tried to press down their panic, Melkor reached forward and pressed a conspicuous red button. "I don't know much about aircars, but they should all be equipped with a hard override."
The car hadn't changed its course at all. The saboteurs disabled the button.
"What do we do?!" The only female occupant panicked. She held up her comm and tried to contact an emergency service. "My comm is blocked! I can't get a signal!"
"My comm device is blocked as well."
"Hold on! I can fix this, I think!"
Since his last adventures, Ves had gotten into the habit of carrying a miniature toolbox. You never knew when something might need fixing. He retrieved a multitool and quickly separated the console in front of his seat. They encountered a confusing maze of wires and electronics.
"Do you know how to hack this aircar?" Raella dubiously asked.
"I can make sense of some of the components, but I don't specialize in flying vehicles." Ves shook his head. Though he could mess with the autopilot or the altimeter, he could also cause the car to crash. "Lucky, can you take a peek and see if there's anything suspicious inside?"
The cat meowed at at his request and promptly stuck his head inside. His cousins looked a little skeptical at his pet. "Isn't that a mechanical pet? I thought they are supposed to be equipped with low-grade AIs."
"Lucky isn't one of those bottom-bin, mass-produced mechanical pets. He's a lot smarter than any other artificial pet and he also has a few surprises in store."
The gem cat already saved his life more than once. Ves hadn't even mapped his feline companion's full capabilities. After half a minute of sniffing, Lucky suddenly hissed and pawed at an inconspicuous palm-sized backup battery.
"What is this?"
The cat continued to hiss at it as if it killed his ancestors. Ves decided to trust his companion and used a tiny multiscanner to inspect the suspicious object. It didn't take much time before his scanner blared in alarm.
"It's an improvised explosive!"
His announcement landed like a bomb. Raella practically started to foam at the mouth.
As for Melkor, his entire posture radiated fury. He pressed a button on his visor, causing its fluorescent surface to turn from blue to red. He looked around and his expression soured. He retrieved a hidden knife and started to stab the aircar's upholstery.
"What are you up to?"
"There are spy sensors embedded into our seats."
That instantly shut her up. Raella quietly watched him squash the bugs one by one. Meanwhile, Ves continued to scan the improvised explosive in order to determine how much of a threat it posed.
"Haven't you done enough scanning?" Raella asked, her face marred with stress. "Why aren't you pulling it out yet?!"
"It's triggered to blow if I mess with it!"
Besides tampering, the bomb was also set to blow if it received an outside signal. In fact, Ves already activated his Privacy Shield. The invisible spherical field encompassed the bomb, preventing any outsiders from detonating it once they realized their targets became aware of the threat.
It also blocked their kidnappers from sending out their commands to the aircar itself. Ves didn't want to see their vehicle suddenly nosediving to the ground.
Fortunately, the bomb didn't appear to be set to explode once it missed an occasional preprogrammed signal. Bentheim's hyper-vigilant security forces would quickly track a suspicious signal to its source. Ves concluded that his assailants this time must not be too sophisticated.
"It's likely the work of the Bentheim Liberation Movement."
"The separatists? The ones who are always bombing factories and refineries?"
"I'm pretty sure it's them. One of their cadre has a contentious relationship with me. This must be some form of revenge."
"Well, you better fix this quickly before we end up in his grasp!"
Raella had a point. Whoever sabotaged their aircar could have blown them up as soon as they boarded it. Instead, the vehicle quietly redirected their destination to the outskirts of Dorum. Wherever they might end up, it wouldn't be good for any of them. Ves quickly had to ground the car, but before he could do so he first had to solve the bomb.
"I'm already blocking any signals from communicating with the bomb." He explained while heating up a micro plasma cutter. The tiny gadget could barely cut a thin sheet of metal, and only worked for thirty seconds at its maximum intensity. He simply had to make to. "I've largely figured out its mechanisms. I think I can disarm the bomb by disconnecting this controller and this backup trigger here."
His explanation flew over their heads. "How sure are you that you won't blow us up?"
"I have no idea, really. It depends on how devious the bomb maker is. From what I can gather, he's not a professional. The bomb's construction actually gives me the feeling he's a washed out mech designer."
Such a figure must have studied mech design in the hopes of designing his own mechs, just like Ves. When he finally graduated, he must have found out that a novice mech designer was worth nothing and that the mech industry had no room for him. Such a bitter and frustrated mech designer must be easy pickings for the BLM.
While everyone held their breath, Ves quickly cut through the plating and separated the two essential components. His hand moved with precision as he deftly removed his targets within the thirty second time limit. His micro cutter sputtered out once it expended its charge.
No one moved for a few seconds. Once they realized the bomb hadn't gotten off, everyone sighed. "Let's throw it out!"
Ves nodded in agreement. He used several tools to cut its external cables and separate it from its mounting. After pulling it out, he looked at the aircar's window.
"Lucky, can you open up a hole?"
The cat sprung his energy claws and ruthlessly attacked a window. The claws neatly parted an oval-shaped hole in the car. The vehicle's continued high-speed flight caused the interior to be engulfed in wind and noise. Ves finally threw out the package, which quickly dropped onto the roof of a warehouse.
"With the state of Bentheim's alertness, I bet the drop has already triggered an alert." Melkor reasoned. "As soon as they take a closer look, they'll know it's a bomb."
Help might be on the way, but the security services still needed some time to catch up with the car. By the time they finally tracked it down, the Larkinsons might already be dead, or worse.
"Enough talk! Ves, please put us on the ground!"
Ves had already started doing so once he threw away the bomb. Lucky hadn't detected any other threats, so Ves went to work with forcing the car to descend. After a minute of rummaging, he found the emergency override.
While the rebels might have tampered with its programming, any standard aircar had to include a functional mechanical override. Such a device should continue to function even if the car had been subjected to jamming, hacking or an electrical overload.
Even the saboteur couldn't do anything about the simple mechanism. The omnipresent sensors around Bentheim constantly scanned each car to see if it still worked.
Without further ado, Ves pulled a lever. The aircar blared an alarm and blinkered its lights before diving down to the streets.
"Get ready for trouble!" Melkor shouted over the howling wind. Both mech pilots readied their pistols and nodded at each other. "As soon as we touch down, we'll try to flee to the nearest shelter and try to hold up until the security forces arrive!"
No one knew if anyone awaited them on the ground, but the Larkinsons never backed down from a fight!
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