The Mech Corps brought out the big guns from the start when it came to mining. Besides bringing enough hardware to empty out the surface layers of red zone in a matter of months, they also brought an enormous cruiser-sized tunneler to breach the hardy soil of the Glowing Planet and reach the core of the planet.
A vertical shuttle descended quickly down the depths of the tunnel that had been excavated rather recently. Ves looked out of the porthole with wonder.
"Aye, that's the Gregarious Wrath at work." A cadet bragged to Ves. "She's two kilometers long, of which two-thirds are solely devoted to making her the best tunneler in the Republic."
Such a name would have been more fitting on a battleship than an enormous tunneling machine, Ves thought. "How far has she reached?"
"Around five-hundred kilometers. We've encountered a lot of obstacles on our way to the core. Some of the bedrock the Wrath has bumped into is too hard to burrow through, so she's forced to take a detour. That takes up most of the time. Besides that, sometimes weird stuff happens, forcing some important systems to become a little wonky. We have to shut off the entire machine if that happens."
"I understand. It's too risky to keep working under those conditions. Who knows what kind of risks we'll face if we brave the energy fields without understanding their effects."
As if to emphasize those words, his stomach suddenly turned. The nauseous feeling almost prompted Ves to cough up his breakfast.
"What is that?"
"Beats me." The cadet shrugged. "The scientists have a fancy name for it, but we just call it the stomach turning field."
Over the next half hour, the entire shuttle passed through multiple short-ranged energy fields which each caused some form of debilitating effect to the shuttle or its occupants.
"How is the Gregarious Wrath able to function with all of these energy fields?!"
"It helps that we put three dimensional smoothers at different points of her hull. They counteract or dampen most of these weird fields somehow."
Even then, some of proximity effects couldn't be fought against at all. Humanity still had a long way to go in understanding the effects of each different exotic material the galaxy had spawned
Of course, Ves had no doubt that the big trans-galactic organizations like the MTA and CFA possessed the most complete database of exotics. In their eyes, the Glowing Planet likely held no secrets. The same went for the first-rate superstates like the Terrans and the Rubarthans.
On the other hand, the petty states that eked out a poor existence in the galactic rim had no chance to develop such a complete record. Knowledge was valuable, and a detailed understanding of rare exotics even more so. The Republic couldn't find a single party in the galactic net that would be willing to sell such valuable information, at least not without paying a ruinous price.
Thus, the scientists and researchers aboard the Gregarious Wrath had to stumble about in the dark and forge their own paths.
Perhaps no one on the shuttle had been more sensitive about the abundant amount of exotics buried in all directions than Lucky. The mechanical cat had become annoyed that he wasn't allowed to claw his way out of the shuttle and start munching on the visibly glowing deposits of high value exotics.
"It's okay, Lucky. You'll get your chance soon enough. The deeper we go, the yummier the exotics."
The Glowing Planet truly held no threat to Lucky. Ever since they touched down, his cat acted like this entire planet was his playground and a paradise filled with endless food. Ves tried not to think how much energy Lucky had accumulated so far. It must be enough to surpass a tactical nuclear strike at the very least.
The shuttle took a few turns when it encountered the detours made by the Wrath. Despite her shape as a cylinder, the Wrath incorporated accordeon-like structures along her hull that allowed her to turn like a worm.
Obviously, the Wrath had to use that particular function more and more the deeper she burrowed into the solid interior of the planet.
"Will the Wrath be in trouble if we encounter magma or some other liquids?"
"Are you kidding? The Gregarious Wrath is clad in heat and pressure-resistant compressed armor. She's as expensive as ten fleet carriers. No other tunneler is so extravagantly tough and durable. If not for the potential riches we can find in the core, the brass would have never risked sending it down the Glowing Planet."
This certainly added to the proof that the Mech Corps knew what to expect down at the core. Ves might have to fight to obtain his deserves share of the mysterious ore demanded by the System.
"Ah, we've almost reached the Wrath. You better return to your seat and strap in. It's going to get violent soon!"
Ves listened to the advice and strapped down on the crash shield while holding onto Lucky. Even his cat felt something amiss and tried to find some shelter in his owner's embrace.
The shuttle shook harder and harder, as if it had a lot of trouble keeping up a stable flight. Even in an airless environment, some sort of pressure wave still penetrated the vehicle deeply to the point of straying from its straight and narrow path.
"What's going on!?"
"That's the might of the Wrath! Behold the Republic's ingenuity!"
The shuttle took another turn and came into view of the rear of the tunneling machine. Ves had to rub his eyes a few times while suppressing the shudders that ran through his heart.
The Gregarious Wrath looked like a massive worm more than a machine. Her dirt-crusted hull gave the tunneling machine a sense that she was a living, breathing mythical monster.
Even as the shuttle neared the rear portion of the Wrath, the tunneling machine continuously bore through the soil, pressing excess crunched rocks to the side.
"How is the tunnel so stable? Aren't we risking a collapse?"
"The Wrath is not that simple! We mix a little extra fluids that stabilizes the tunnel walls. It's not that expensive, but it takes up so much space that the Wrath needs to be supplied every four hours."
"Why bother keeping open this tunnel in the first place then?" Ves asked.
"As mighty as the Wrath looks like, she's a tunneling machine, not a mining machine. When she reaches the core, she won't be able to filter the truly valuable bits from the somewhat valuable stuff. It will all get pressed to the sides to form new tunnel walls. We've got to bring other machines if we want to extract the hard-to-find bits."
As the cadet explained the workings of the different machines, the shuttle neared a small opening that led the vehicle to a hangar. As soon as the shuttle entered inside the Wrath, the entire vehicle suddenly became subjected to a different direction of gravity.
"Haha, I forgot to warn you that the artificial gravity inside the Wrath is set alongside her length. It's the best configuration for us to be able to shift stuff from the bow to the stern."
Despite being a quintessential land behemoth, the crew treated the Wrath as a ship. From the terminology to the command structure, everyone treated the tunneling device as if she swam through land.
"Let's bring you to the chief engineer. He's been dying to meet you."
After being subjected to a strict security check, they entered the tightly compartmentalized interior of the huge machine. Besides the constant low thrumming, Ves hardly noticed that the Wrath was burrowing through tons of soil. It must have taken an immense amount of effort for her designers to isolate and neutralize al the various sounds, pressure waves and the shifting gravity.
Since they arrived at the rear of the Wrath, they didn't need to traverse the entire length of the tunneling machine. The Wrath actually held two engineering bays, but the Chief Engineer currently resided in the rear engineering bay which was responsible for powering the enormous beast.
A storm of activity greeted Ves as soon as he stepped inside the engineering bay.
Huge rows of power reactors hummed out of sight while bots constantly hauled supplies and tools back and forth.
The engineers that kept the Wrath running constantly entered and exited the bay as they had to perform maintenance along the entire hull of the machine.
Ves sensed the passion and drive in each of the engineers. The Republic must have recruited some of the best graduates to staff the Gregarious Wrath.
"Like what you see?" An older man asked from the side.
"It's like heaven here."
As a mech designer, Ves truly enjoyed the sights of people pouring their passion into machines. Even if they worked on entirely different mechanical contraptions, they still shared much in common.
"Harmon Petrisc. I'm in charge around here." The chief engineer shook hands with Ves with a meaty grip. "That's a nice grip you have. Your hands are still too soft."
"Hah, we let our machines do the heavy lifting." Ves admitted without shame. "I'd love to forge a mech without resorting to a 3D printer sometime, but that's still a long way to becoming feasible. Besides, don't tell me you're not using printers yourself to fabricate new replacement parts."
"You got me there!"
To certain hardcore mech designers, they only truly appreciated mechs that had been built without any form of automation. Even though a 3D printer required a lot of skill to utilize, a mech designer didn't have to expend too much effort to perform a complicated function.
The chief briefly showed him around. Everything appeared to work the same as any capital ship, though the designers of the Wrath had added a lot of necessary features to allow the tunneling machine to stay powered under tough conditions.
"Thankfully we don't rely on energy cells to run the Wrath, though we still use energy cells to provide backup power and run auxiliary functions throughout her hull. We've been working hard to replace them with your new design as fast as possible. It saves us a lot of stress, you know."
"I can imagine. The Wrath must be carrying hundreds of energy cells at the very least." Ves nodded in understanding. "It must be giving you a lot of nightmares to think they could detonate all at once if the Wrath entered the wrong energy field."
Both of them turned grim at that possibility. Neither could rule out the chance that they could enter some weird energy field that had a devastating effect on the already dangerous energy cells.
That was why the Chief Petrisc showed a lot of appreciation to Ves. Hardly anyone else including the captain and the executive officer of the Wrath knew how much they tempted fate by keeping those overcharged energy cells in place.
Once they finished their little tour, Petrisc guided Ves to his little office. "From what I understand, you're only here so you can nab your share of the most valuable exotic mineral we're expecting to find in the core."
"That's right. I hope I'm not imposing on you."
"Oh, don't worry. We're so overworked that we could use a hand. What do you say about lending some of your expertise?"
Ves frowned at that suggestion. "That doesn't sound very appropriate. The Mech Corps doesn't want me to touch their valuable hardware. I'm still a civilian, after all."
"Ah, who cares about the rules." Chief Petrisc casually dismissed the concerns. "To be honest, we're so overworked that we could use anyone with a brain to help us out. The Gregarious Wrath has always been meant to tunnel through regular terrestrial planets. The Glowing Planet is a whole different level of complexity. Every new exotic we find results in another inexplicable malfunction."
"I see." Ves considered the suggestion deeply. If he refused the offer, he'd be doing nothing while the Wrath would slowly trudge along. "Well, I'm anxious to complete my assignment as fast as possible, so if you think I can help out, then count me in."
"That's great news! I've already prepared the permissions for you. Since you've come up with something as ingenious as those new energy cells, I'll put put you to work in power management. It's not the easiest job onboard the Wrath, but our power systems are the most susceptible to outside interference. Hopefully your perspective will help us resolve these problems faster."
Thus began his work as a temp worker. Ves had never imagined that the chief engineer would accept him so easily, but he took it as another opportunity to broaden his vision.
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