Ves considered designing mechs his life's calling. Since his birth into the Larkinson family, his upbringing constantly centered around mechs. Even after finding out that he'd never be able to interface with a mech, he switched his goals to designing them after a low spell.
Strangely enough, Ves never questioned his singular obsession with mechs. In the Age of Mechs, that shouldn't be a problem for most people, but mech designers had it different.
A mech designer designed mechs. While that sounded like a pleonasm, it actually hid a fundamental truth: a mech designer combined his knowledge and life experiences to shape a unique mechanical war machine into being.
What was a mech designer without much life experience? A bot. A run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter designer who studied from the same mainstream textbooks referenced by countless other designers.
"Is this why apprenticing to a Master and seeking fortune in danger is so important?" Ves hummed to himself. He felt as if he parted the veil behind a essential truth in the field of mech design. "Mech designers that lead monotonous lives will inevitably gravitate towards designing monotonous mechs."
He thought back on all the innovative designs he came across. From the glorious, larger-than-life Caesar Augustus to the gimmicky spear-dashing Hoplite, all of these unique creations possessed a spark of personality that no sane designer could have ever come up with if they holed up in a design studio all day.
Despite their various flaws, the personal touch imbued in their designs turned them into unforgettable classics that lived on in the annals of mech history.
What about the Star Designers, the very best designers in the galaxy? Legends like Apollo, The Polymath and The Armorer all possessed colorful biographies filled with excitement, struggle and tragedy. They persevered throw their lows and rode their highs towards the very top of the tallest mountain in the galaxy.
Even then, they still sought even greater heights, always grasping towards the unattainable heavens above.
"That's still too far away from me." Ves shook his head. Who was he kidding? Forget about reaching the heavens, he still hadn't finished his first climb. "Let's find a hobby first."
What did other people do for fun? Ves decided to ask his employees.
He already knew what Carlos did sometimes in his free time. Even back at Rittersberg, he occasionally sneaked to a game center and immersed himself in one of those casual mech simulation games.
Different from Iron Spirit, these games allowed neural peasants like Carlos and Ves to get a taste of actual piloting with minimal demands on their aptitude. They worked by pre-programming all kinds of moves into the virtual mechs. Players could activate them by issuing only a single mental command.
Rather than call it piloting a virtual mech, Ves considered it more like commanding a robot. He always felt very detached when he played such casual games. Even though the games evolved throughout the years to the point where even beginner pilots could pull off moves mastered by aces, it never felt real enough.
"So that's out."
Ves approached Chief Cyril next. He had a very peculiar hobby.
"I make my own clockwork from scratch. I started with the classics using alloys and woods, and after several years of mastery I moved on to incorporating exotics in my works. It's a great hobby for technicians like me because the skills and patience you learn from assembling clocks will greatly help your ability to put a mech together."
Clocks didn't call out to Ves. As far as he was concerned, if he needed to know the time, he could look up the current time from his comm.
With some reluctance, he started asking his technicians on what they did in their free time.
"I like to catch up on the mech duels of the past week with my buddies."
"My father used to be a pro at zero-G rugby. I still play some in the weekends at Freslin's local club."
"I'm part of a bird watcher's association. We're currently lobbying the local government to introduce more species of birds on our planet."
None of these activities appealed to him, but they did give him a sense on what people did for fun. Half of the time they took over the hobbies from their parents. That presented a problem for Ves, as his father was a mech pilot himself.
"What did my dad do in his off time?"
He liked to sit on the porch of their house and watch the murky sky of their home planet. Sometimes he brought out a data pad and read some literature about mundane people facing mundane problems.
Should he sit down and read a book like his father? "I already have to read a lot for my work, so I have no appetite to read anything else for fun."
Ves didn't imagine he'd have so much trouble finding a suitable hobby for him. The more he realized its absence, more he thought he hadn't been making the most out of his life.
He started dabbling in various kinds of arts.
He tried practicing music, but his complete lack of experience with any kind of instrument made it clear he needed to put in thousands of hours to get somewhere. For someone like Ves, that took way too much time.
He switched to painting next, only to get frustrated by his inability to translate his vision onto the campus. Besides requiring a lot of specialized skills and finesse, Ves also found the process to be tedious.
Figuring he had nothing left to lose, Ves tried out a couple of virtual games on his terminal. He tried his hand at being a battlefield commander ordering around virtual troops, an infantryman fighting against aliens in the trenches and a ship captain who tried to bring his battered ship home.
None of the games held his interest for long. Ves already worked in a sector closely related to war and conflict. Playing the role of a combatant was a nice fantasy, but he'd rather stick with his current job.
He also played some of the sillier popular games. He pretended to be an anthropomorphic pony on fairytale world or engage in a detective game where he tried to solve a fictional city's chicken theft spree.
The lack of depth and the substantial amount of detachment in these games bored Ves to tears. "Anyone who plays these games are either kids or adults looking to escape reality."
So even virtual games couldn't stoke his passion. Ves scratched his head and sighed. "I'm such a quintessential mech head. My entire life is geared towards mechs!"
It was not as if he understood where others got their enjoyment from their hobbies. They simply didn't resonate to Ves. His body and mind had been wired in a different way to most people, and it received a further transformation from his adventure at Groening IV.
"I've got alien genes in my body. Maybe that's got to do with my lethargy."
He couldn't deny that Ves still didn't understand his body. Even though he regularly visited a specialist from Sanyal-Ablin, he still felt a bit unsettled by the changes wrought by the additional organs in his body.
His Jutland organ still continued to circulate an invisible energy loop in his body. While his treatments helped subside some of the organ's strange effects, Ves always considered it with a wary eye.
For this reason, Ves declined to participate in any sports. His posthuman body gave him an unnatural advantage in this area. Many sports clubs automatically bar their gates towards any genetic deviants like him. They wanted to maintain an even playing field for the most numerous species of mankind.
"I can't blame them for doing so. They'll unleash a race towards hybridization if they allow people who muck up their genetics with alien traits in their ranks."
Ves considered taking a hobby closer to his calling, such as constructing functional scale miniatures or designing so-called 'fantasy mechs'.
The latter consisted of designing mechs using technology or principles beyond humanity's reach. In many cases, this referred to magic.
Several popular virtual games took place in a low-tech fantasy environment. The mechs that sometimes appeared in these settings ran on either pure magic or a combination of magic and technology. They provided an alternative to those who wanted to play with mechs but didn't wish to simulate reality so closely.
He briefly considered diving into this world, but begged it off after a while. "If I'm going to escape from my work, I better not be doing the same thing."
By now, even his subordinates grew exasperated by his ineptness at finding a distraction. Carlos tutted at him with a tired expression. "For heaven's sake, Ves, just get off your butt and go take a walk or something. There's plenty of things to do in downtown Freslin."
"I'm kind of under constant threat right now. My security guards advised me against taking casual walks outside. Who knows how many greedy criminals are waiting to kidnap me outside."
The LMC made a fortune out of its recent sales. No one could hide that fact, especially since dozens of news portals published articles about his products. The more money he accumulated, the more scrutiny he attracted.
Few of those gazes had the best intentions in mind.
Frankly, Ves started to feel that his current security arrangements could use some adjustment. Melkor and Raella helped by patrolling with their mechs, but Ves could hardly demand they stay inside their mechs for an entire day.
Work constantly tempted him back, but he resisted. "The workshop doesn't need me right now."
At the moment, the LMC only produced the silver label Mark II's. That didn't mean the design posed no challenges, but with Carlos on hand, his employees should be able to handle any problems themselves.
The new workplace culture started to show its effects. Under a combination of positive reinforcement and leading by example, Chief Cyril managed to instill the mech technicians with a sense of initiative. They loosened up and started giving out suggestions on how to improve particular processes.
Even if their ideas turned out to be brain-dead stupid, at least they made an effort. Ves had no wish to turn his company into a soulless profit-driven enterprise where its workers were treated like cogs in a machine. Carlos often complained about treated like dirt in his previous job as a quality control inspector at a major mech manufacturing plant.
Ves turned back to his quest to find a hobby. He even asked Lucky if he had any suggestions on what to do. The mechanical cat let out a puzzling meow before turning back to munching on a chunk of minerals, tail swishing lazily all the while.
"Okay then. Enjoy your meal."
Should he simply give up on his search or find a girlfriend to spend his time with? Ves quickly ruled out these options.
"Maybe I should go on a vacation."
He considered spending time on a retreat not too far away from home. While Ves liked to experience a change in scenery, he didn't wish to stay aboard a ship for weeks at a time. He couldn't afford to take too much time out of work.
The idea stood out as a great way to experience something new without making a substantial commitment to his time. With the speed of his Barracuda, he could easily reach most star systems within Bentheim's sphere of influence in a couple of days.
Ves browsed through a selection of nearby star systems and planets. Every settled planet in the Republic offered something unique to tourists. Even a boring place like Cloudy Curtain turned into a refuge for those that lived on worlds with very strong suns.
He paused flicking through the destinations when he came across an aquatic planet called Moira's Paradise. Water covered the entire globe except for a couple of artificial islands. Its settlers built many cities underwater.
While the planet originally offered very little in the way of aquatic flora and fauna, its enterprising citizens imported many remarkable alien wildlife into its ecosystem. They even managed to get their hands on a couple of exotic creatures that could only be found in the galactic heartland or the galactic center.
All of them deserved a closer look.
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