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The Asco Continent. As Felixia’s huge game preserve, Asco encompa.s.sed the largest landma.s.s on the planet.
House Laterna needed all of that room in order to provide s.p.a.cious habitats to as many huge cats as possible!
When cats grew to the size of mechs, their demand for s.p.a.ce increased by quite a bit. The quant.i.ty of prey they demanded grew as well, and all of these giant creatures required more and more s.p.a.ce to sustain their lives.
Asco offered this and more. Hundreds of hunting zones spread across the continent offered a very precise variety of prey and predators. By combining influencing technology with genetic programming, all of the beasts on Asco remained stuck within their designated hunting zones.
This gave every hunting team a very good idea of what they would face when they entered a particular hunting zone.
House Laterna deliberately arranged the hunting zone in this fas.h.i.+on to provide predictable challenges to hunting teams of every skill and experience level.
The rookie hunting teams could cut their teeth with the somewhat mundane huge cats, while the premier hunting teams went into the very depths of the continent to tackle the Crown Cats without facing any other interference!
Several cities dedicated to servicing the hunting outfits were spread across the Asco Continent. Ves decided to bring his group to the city of Kemila, which was situated in the tropical zone of the planet.
Hot and humid air greeted their faces as they emerged from their long-distance transit aircar. Ves breathed in the air and smelled the familiar air of metal and grease a.s.sociated with mechs in use.
As far as cities went, Kemila wasn’t as big as the cities on the Eron Continent. While the kid-friendly side of Felixia drew in billions of tourists, much less traffic diverted to Asco.
The hunting community did not like to be bothered by their fans. House Laterna knew that and imposed moderate entry requirements to anyone wis.h.i.+ng to travel to one of the cities in Asco. Only those who held permanent residency on Asco or held jobs related to the mech or hunting service industries on Asco could travel to the lightly-populated continent.
Ves, by dint of his Journeyman status alone, easily secured pa.s.sage to Asco. Hunting outfits of all stripes respected mech designers quite a bit, and for good reason as their lives literally depended on good design work in some cases!
Higher-ranking mech designers were particularly respected. People like Ves were very capable of designing or modifying mechs to suit the specific hunting circ.u.mstances of a hunting zone.
This was critical when a hunting team attempted to track down a Crown Cat. The challenge of hunting these apex predators on Felixia was so considerate that every preparation mattered. Optimizing a mech to withstand razor-sharp claws or improve their targeting systems to account for illusionary abilities could mean the difference between death or escape!
Indeed, as soon as Ves emerged onto the dirt-laden streets of Kemila, a lot of bystanders noted his arrival and distinctive appearance.
His luxurious semi-formal clothing along with his entourage marked him out as a wealthy person.
His young age and the presence of the Ingvars who still possessed the demeanor of n.o.bles yet acted subservient in his presence marked him out as special.
“We’re being stared at by lots of people, and not all of them look friendly.” Nitaa warned in a low voice as she gripped her holstered pistol.
“It’s fine.” Ves waved aside her concern. “No one is going to cause trouble to a mech designer here. Our profession is too respected among the local hunters.”
Different from Eron, Asco was a dangerous continent. Aside from the threat posed by the huge cats, the rowdier hunters also got into fights with each other from time to time.
House Laterna maintained a much looser security regime on Asco for reasons that Ves could only guess at for the time being.
Perhaps they wanted to give the residents of Felixia an outlet for their frustrations. As long as the troublemakers diverted to the Ozzo and Asco Continents, all the violence they unleashed would only affect those used to danger!
In this way, the Eron Continent and its immense amounts of tourists wouldn’t be bothered by violent incidents on the streets.
Whatever the case, the reality on Asco meant that anyone treading foot onto this continent should better come with protection!
Nitaa wore her full suit of combat armor. Crindon, Imon and Casella all wore standard suits of combat armor as well, though Ves did not expect a lot from them if a battle happened to break out. Infantry combat was not exactly their forte.
Ves reached out his hand towards his head where Lucky still clung for some reason! His hand patted both Lucky and the cat ear attachments that Ves hadn’t removed as of yet. He had grown quite attached to the new cat ears!
Even now, he was able to eavesdrop on conversations that he ordinarily shouldn’t be able to hear!
“Hey, look at those fresh new arrivals! Look at that wealthy-looking fellow with the cat ears! Hee looks like he came straight from Eron!”
A snort. “Don’t think about approaching them. That bodyguard of theirs is alert. They don’t look like easy marks.”
“Shame. Our gang is getting rather short on spending money.”
“You dimwits! Why are the two of you talking so close to the new arrivals?! Don’t you know what those cat ear attachments can do?!”
The pair of thugs leaning against the side of a shop suddenly realized their mistake. They quickly darted into an alley and ran out of sight!
Ves merely smiled. These cat ears attachments were proving to be quite useful! He would hate to part with them, though he knew it was necessary. Who knew what kind of shady bioprogramming the organic attachments contained.
He really ought to find a reliable biotech researcher or something. This was the second organic gadget he received that he didn’t dare to make use of on a permanent basis! His inability to judge the veracity of his Archimedes Rubal and now a premium pair of cat ears was seriously hampering his upgrade opportunities!
A huge part of Asco’s industry revolved around hunting alien or genetically-modified cats. Exobiologists and geneticists, many of them unaffiliated with House Laterna’s research inst.i.tutions, offered their services to the hunting outfits.
Nonetheless, most of the biotech researchers working here were not skilled or knowledgeable enough to work for better firms. That, or they simply wanted to conduct their research independently without any obligations.
“Let’s check into the hotel first before we explore our surroundings.”
They did so, arriving at one of the more upscale hotels. Ves was sure that a lot of watchers noted his entry into the establishment, but he didn’t care.
Once they settled in, Ves gathered his crew in order to distribute some tasks.
“Now, all of you know what I’m here for. I’m not here to hunt a huge cat, but study one. Killing them isn’t necessary but I don’t particularly care whether a hunting team kills them or not after I am done with them. As long as their rates are within my budget, I don’t mind which hunting team I get in bed with. What truly matters is the cat that I wish to study up close.”
“You’ve never told us what you are looking for, boss.”
“That’s because I can’t quite judge what I want from footage alone.” Ves calmly replied as Lucky started tugging at his cat ear attachments with his paws again. “I need a better impression of the cats that I have in mind, and for that I require information that isn’t necessarily available on the galactic net. I need hearsay and testimony from the hunting teams that have encountered the specific cats before.”
“Do you want us to interview the local hunters?”
Ves nodded, and then directed his gaze to the Ingvars. “Imon, Casella, I’ll leave this task up to you two. I’ll give you a modest budget that you can spend on loosening up the tongues of the hunters drinking at the bars or lazying about on the streets.”
“Do we really have to, sir?” Imon scrunched his face in disgust. “No offense, but the hunters are predominantly…”
“I know they’re rough, Imon, but you’ve spent months with the Battle Criers. Interacting with this kind of ilk should be within your capabilities.”
The male Ingvar still looked ill at ease.
“If you can manage it, you can approach the more professional hunters instead.” Ves sighed. “Just make sure you squeeze some reliable information out of them without prematurely emptying your budget. Make sure to ask Crindon to load your comm with a lie detector module so you can verify if the hunters are telling the truth.”
This suggestion caused both Imon and Casella to look a lot more relieved! With their n.o.ble ident.i.ties, they felt much more comfortable interacting with the upper ranks of the local hunter community!
“You can rely on us, Mr. Larkinson!” Imon confidently patted his chest, as if his earlier doubts never occurred at all!
While Ves held some doubts, he nonetheless let Imon and Casella decide on their own approach. The task he handed to them partially served as a test. He wanted to see if they were resourceful and adaptable enough to handle this simple task.
Once he gave the Ingvars a list of huge cat specimens that he wanted to know more about, he turned to Crindon.
“As for you, I’d like you to look into the hunting teams themselves.” He instructed. “What I’ve read from the galactic net only consists of official records and dry reports. While they are already informative, I know better than basing my judgement on official papers alone. I need you to go out and discreetly listen to the rumors circulating around Kemila. Discreetly. Don’t attract any attention or make it too obvious what you are doing.”
Unlike the Ingvars, Crindon did not show any hesitation. “Understood, sir. Do you have any priorities in the intel I gather?”
“I’m preferably looking for hunting teams that put themselves up for hire. I want to know which ones have a reputation for reliability and customer service. I don’t want to hire a hunting team without knowing that they have a penchant for ignoring the instructions of the client even if they don’t pose a threat!”
“Got it. I will be on the lookout for obedient hunting teams, though I think there aren’t that many of them here. Hunters are by their nature self-sufficient and unwilling to bend to authority in hunting-related matters.”
Once Crindon received his instructions, Ves turned to the last two members of his group. “Gavin, Nitaa, the two of you will be coming with me to the hunting hall. While Crindon and the Ingvars collect information from informal channels, we’ll be paying a visit to the local hunter hall and meet with the officials.”
As a Journeyman Mech Designer, Ves expected a good reception from the local officials. Unfortunately, Ves would be disappointing them as he did not intend to set up shop on Felixia.
The mech designers who worked in Asco predominantly consisted of Novices and Apprentices. High-ranking mech designers had better things to do than tinker with a handful of hunting mechs engaging in an artificial circus.
As much as the hunting activities here required real skill and preparation to succeed, Ves had no illusion that everything about the entire experience had been carefully crafted by House Laterna.
The savvy rulers of Felixia planned out almost everything except the behavior of the cats themselves, and even that Ves wasn’t sure of. From what he learned so far, House Laterna wasn’t above employing secretive means to spy on people.
He wouldn’t be surprised that the biologists under their employ secretly influenced the behavior of the Crown Cats, to the point of being able to instruct them to kill a certain number of hunters!
The Asco Continent was more of a playground than a true hunting preserve.
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