The Nautilus submerged after the guides finished their introductions. Ves noticed that the crew arranged different guides to different groups. Some preferred bots while others preferred no guide at all. The VIPs even had a full staff catering to their every needs.
As for Ves, he preferred staying in a group. The surrounding people already started introducing themselves as they waited for the Nautilus to reach the required depths in the Vermillion Sea.
Ves introduced himself as an independent mech designer, which didn't raise a lot of eyebrows. There were bankers, socialites, shipping magnates and scientists among the crowd, and all of them occupied leadership positions of some capacity.
Only a quarter of the tourists dealt directly with the mech industry. Ves found himself drawn to a conversation with a middle-aged shipping magnate named Eddie Zhang.
"So you are predicting and abrupt collapse and rise of prices in exotics? How does that work?" Ves asked with evident confusion.
"Mr. Larkinson, you speak of exotic minerals as if they are all the same. That's a gross oversimplification of the market. The Komodo Star Sector is relatively barren in exotics in both quantity and variety. It's the latter that's been causing anxieties for us. Our neighboring Star Sectors are increasingly tightening the flow of exotics that's been exported from the galactic heartland."
"Are they growing hostile to us?"
Eddie shook his head. "Nothing as nefarious as that. The Vicious Mountain and Majestic Teal Star Sectors have their own internal tension to deal with, so they are basically intercepting any shipments of exotics before they reach our sector. We're the last kid in a very long line of hungry children, and the cafeteria only has so much bread to pass around."
Ves found it ironic that a wealthy man like him with a net worth in the billions used such an allegory.
"But the Komodo Star Sector still produces its own fair share of exotics, right?"
"Yes, and the quantity is sufficient to meet the needs of the domestic industry, but certain types of minerals are too hard to come by. The Bright Republic doesn't make too much use of these expensive imported exotics, but the Coalition and the Hexarchy will be badly affected when they find they can't produce their high-quality second-class mechs in the desired quantities. Once that happens, the knock-on effects will resonate throughout the sector."
"I see now." Ves could also think through the consequences. "Even though the second-class mechs require imported exotics to produce, they also take up a large share of locally sourced exotics. Once the mech manufacturers find themselves bottlenecked by decreasing imports, the local exotic resource market will end up in a glut of unsold exotics."
That could be good and bad for the mech industry in the Republic. Certainly, Ves didn't think it would be that simple and that the LMC would enjoy a reprieve from the rising cost of raw materials.
All of these worries threatened to burden his holiday, so Ves avoided the topic of mechs. As the Nautilus started diving past various colonies of remarkable marine life, the guides started to explain their origin and their notable traits.
"The spirellian spike fish is a notable species of carnivorous fish unique to the Komodo Star Sector. The spikes extending out of their bodies are not only incredibly tough, but they also enable the fishes to communicate with each other through extradimensional means. Larger schools of spike fishes are able to pool their power together, to the point where it has been proven that they have been communicating with another school of fish several light-years away."
That required a school of over a million spike fishes, something that the spike fishes on Moira's Paradise couldn't sustain. It sure sounded impressive nonetheless. Seeing the spirellian spike fishes swim in unison in such a coordinated fashion hammered home the beauty of nature.
Throughout the next two days, the Nautilus visited various reefs, volcanic vents and trenches. Each time, the passengers gazed wondrously at the exotic marine life making their homes there.
One of the most notable exotic species consisted of fluorescent amoeba. They actively emitted a rainbow of colored light. These shapeless blob-like creatures not only looked resplendent in the dark, but also hid their thorns very deeply.
"The suryean amoebae are notable for being one of the few species in the galaxy to have weaponized radioactivity. If they are provoked in any fashion, they will burn away most of their energy to flash an intense burst of radioactive light that will fatally affect their attackers. Most often, the amoeba in question will die, but others of its kind will feed on the remains and reproduce."
Just when Ves thought he'd experienced enough exotic species, the aeliotonoc whales took him aback.
"One of our most valuable exospecies consists of the aeliotonoc whales. These whale-shaped, eight-limbed creatures are actually genetic off-shoots of an the extinct sentient alien species called the Aylos. If you remember your history lessons, in their early expansion into the galaxy, the Terrans encountered the Aylos. While they were rather slow-witted, these sentient space whales developed a form of FTL that was leagues better than what humanity cobbled together on their own."
The Terrans quickly found out that the Aylos tended to be pacifists, so they outright stole their FTL technology before waging war on them. Utilizing their new ships to their full advantage, they took the Aylos off-guard and wiped them out to the last whale.
Communication between the two species had always been rough, but near the end of this genocide, humanity managed to develop some form of communication with the Aylos. At their final moment, the space whales made a desperate plea for their species to live on, rather than be wiped out from existence.
Since humanity already occupied a commanding position, they assented to the request. Through extensive genetic manipulation, they developed the aeliotonoc whales from the carcass of the once-majestic Aylos species.
Humanity saw it as a final humiliation for a species they vanquished, but the Aylos species considered it a continuation of their lineage.
Nowadays, historians considered the war against the Aylos to be one of humanity's most formative steps to dominating the galaxy. The anti-alien extremists in the Terran government increased their grip on power and began to pursue a policy of rapid expansion and aggression.
This subsequently led to humanity's greater expansion in their origin star sector. Even though they bumped into trouble when they bumped into a regional alien superpower, their boundless ferocity gave them a fighting chance.
What startled Ves about the aeliotonoc whales was not their history, but their mental energy. As the Nautilus gently traversed along a colony of playful whales, his sixth sense started pinging with increased intensity.
Each time a whale did something notable, his sixth sense spiked. The strange sensation totally rooted Ves in place. "How are these creatures so strong?"
Every whale possessed an immense mental strength that Ves could hardly believe it at first. Yet despite the power locked in their bodies, the signals they put out was a mass of chaotic noise that easily blended into the background.
"They've got all that strength, but they don't know how to use it."
Ves never really paid too much attention to the history of mankind's early ascent into space. The Aylos species only formed a footnote in their long and contentious rise to the stars. If humanity hadn't stolen their FTL technology and adapted it for their needs, the space whales would have been forgotten by all but the most obscure historians.
Now, he took a second look at their history. What made these whales so remarkable that they needed so much mental strength? How strong were the original Aylos, and how did they utilize their powers?
He approached Georgina when she finished her initial explanation. "Can you tell me more about the aeliotonoc whales?"
"Certainly, Mr. Larkinson. Do you wish to know anything specific?"
"What are the uses of the whales?" He asked.
Every exotic species they encountered offered something useful to the planet. For example, Moira's Paradise cultivated the spirellian spike fishes for their spikes to serve as substitute materials in the construction of quantum entanglement nodes.
"Besides serving as a monument to mankind's defeat of the Aylos, the aeliotonoc whales are harvested as ingredients for high-value psychotropic drugs. Many inexplicable mental conditions can be treated with these drugs."
Georgina didn't know much more about the drugs because it touched upon the core business of the transgalactic drug manufacturers.
She knew more about the empathic nature of the aeliotonoc whales. As a near-sentient aquatic exospecies, the creatures demonstrated a remarkable capacity to bond with any humans they came across.
All of this hinted that the whales possessed exceptional minds. Ves wished to get closer to the creatures, but Moira's Paradise strictly prohibited contact with the aeliotonoc whales except for therapeutic purposes. The Nautilus only lingered for half an hour before its time was up.
The cruise ship made its way deeper into the depths of the Vermillion Sea. Fort MacLellan ordinary drifted in the deepest trenches of the planet's oceans.
"The Nautilus will be arriving at Fort MacLellan tomorrow morning." Georgina explained. "Make sure to set your alarms and wake up early if you want to step foot inside the fortress. The MTA maintains a strict schedule and any latecomers will be refused at the gates if they arrive one second too late."
"Why is the floating fortress drifting so deep? Won't the pressure put a lot of stress on its shell?" A kid asked.
Their tour guide smiled along with most of the adults. Almost everyone knew the answer. "That's a good question! Think about what forts are supposed to do. Can you tell me why they have such thick and strong exteriors?"
"So that they can bounce off attacks!"
"Good! Now think about a fort in water and compare it to a fort in space. The latter is surrounded by vacuum, which is another word for empty space. If someone fires gun at the fort, the vacuum will do almost nothing to prevent it from reaching the fort. Now compare that to Fort MacLellan, which is many kilometers underwater. If you fire a gun from the surface of the ocean, it will only reach a short distance before the projectile loses power."
"Oh, so all of this water is like another form of armor."
"That's right! The deeper you go, the more stuff you put between the fort and any attacks from space. In fact, aquatic planets are often considered fortress planets for their ability to hold off against a siege. That's also the reason why the MTA decided to build Fort MacLellan here."
A tourist with a military background added his own insights to the topic. "Floating fortresses are superior to underground fortresses because they are able to move around. The water already renders most forms of weapons of mass destruction ineffective. Lasers fired from battleships in orbit will get refracted while projectiles lose their momentum. Anything else that gets through will often lose their mark as the fortress has already drifted away."
The floating fortresses also used other means to obscure their presence from wide-area scans. By hiding within the depths of the oceans, these fortresses forced invaders to allocate a lot of resources in combing the waters for their trails.
Such a game of cat and mouse could drag on for years or even decades, making the invaders very miserable. In comparison, conventional underground fortresses were often found within weeks. Their inability to move made their presence obvious once the invaders brought powerful enough scanners.
"So the fort will only be useful if aliens invade our state?"
"Yes. Floating fortresses like Fort MacLellan takes a lot of resources to maintain. The Republic isn't able to build one that is good enough to hide against conventional scanners."
After answering a couple of other questions, Georgina left and the tour group dispersed. Just as Ves wondered if he should look up the space whales on the galactic net, Raella grabbed his arm and dragged him elsewhere.
"Hey, what's going on?"
"I just found out that they're holding a concert in one of the auditoriums. Do you know who's performing? It's Stellar Fantasy, yo! I can't miss seeing them up close!"
And so Ves spent the rest of the day attending a concert.
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