I managed to fix the player, but I don't know how long this solution will last. I apologize for all the inconvenience caused by the change in rules on the audio file server side over which I had no control.
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It took more than an hour before Jovy finally managed to get back to Ves and Gloriana.
He looked a lot more tired and heavy after his return. Since he was the sole RA representative on site that could directly observe the exterior of the Zeal, he repeatedly analyzed the artwork and formed his own opinions which doubtlessly carried a lot of weight to the higher ups of the Association.
While Jovy was clearly up to the task, the lack of preparation and anticipation made his job harder than it should. He would have liked it if Ves actually bothered to give him a few more days of advance warning before he went ahead and made a bunch of alarming prophecies.
There was no certainty whether all of these prophecies were accurate, but the people above him clearly thought that Ves and Ylvaine had pulled off a real feat.
This was why the discussions about what to do with the Zeal had taken so long.
"Hello again." Jovy said as the other two mech designers stood up to greet him. "I apologize for taking so long. Your latest creation has provoked a lot of contention and disagreement among different leaders and factions. The Survivalist Faction and the Transhumanist Faction did their best to stand up for your interests. We did the best we could, but you will still have to make a few compromises that cannot be avoided."
That did not sound surprising to Ves.
"Let's hear it, then."
"First, let me inform you of the most important decision. You can keep the Zeal."
Both Ves and Gloriana widened their eyes. They had been worrying about this ever since they realized that the Zeal had become far more than just an ordinary masterwork mech!
The mechers undeniably wanted to take possession of a machine that served as a tapestry of all kinds of dangerous and shocking prophecies. The fact that they decided against it showed that the Survivalists and the Transhumanists indeed lived up to their promises this time.
Ves relaxed a bit as Jovy had assuage his greatest concern.
"Can I ask why?"
"You have made a contribution to the Red Association. That cannot be denied. It would be remiss of us if we punish you instead. That would only deter you from making similar contributions in the future, which eventually benefits nobody but our enemies. We do not want you to hold back in making and sharing similar credible predictions with us. No matter how controversial or undesirable your prophecies may be, any data is better than no data."
That was a remarkably rational and far-sighted perspective. It succeeded in reassuring Ves.
"I will pass on any important predictions that Ylaine makes in the future." He promised. "However, don't expect him to work like a slot machine where you can attain a result by inserting a coin. What we managed to pull off is unique and likely not replicable, at least for the foreseeable time. We conducted a strange ritual in the middle of upgrading a third order living mech mech that is strongly associated with a prophet-like entity into a much more powerful masterwork mech. I also suspect that one or more powerful entities may have taken advantage of our attempt to divine the future by sending a few visions of doom in our way."
It went without saying that it was difficult if not outright impossible to replicate all of the conditions that led to this remarkable result.
"We understand." Jovy said as he made a reassuring gesture with his hand. "We have our own experts. We do not ask you to feed us prophecies on a regular basis. The Zeal has already given us more than what we need to reconsider our assumptions and verify a number of issues that may lead to problems down the line. It is not a setback if our caution turns out to be overblown."
"How badly do certain people within the Association want to get their hands on the Zeal?" Ves asked next.
"I cannot mention any specifics as I am not privy to those discussions. I can tell you that there are additional reasons why it may be better to keep the Zeal in your hands. There are many mech designers among our leaders. Each of them have experienced similar incidents throughout their long careers. They all know how a mech deserves to be used in the way that you envisioned. It matters even more when the mech is sentient and alive. You are not the only mech designer who is concerned about the treatment of mechs."
This was a clever remark. Jovy emphasized that the Red Association was different from other major organizations by how much more it understood and cared about mechs.
As a mech designer himself, Ves would always be able to gain more understanding and sympathy among his fellow industry peers.
It was a subtle way of making sure that Ves continued to rely and cooperate with the mechers as opposed to the Terrans and the Rubarthans.
The most important part about this move was that it worked!
He appreciated the respect and deference shown by the people behind Jovy. He also felt that he was dealing with people who understood him and his work the most. It was much easier for them to speak the same language as a consequence.
"There is also a third factor that has encouraged certain parties to back down. The Zeal is steeped with so much mysticism of the dangerous variety that taking it away may end up doing more harm than good."
Ves had this feeling as well. From the moment the Zeal turned into a scroll that recorded thirteen visions of doom, the living mech had formed a lot of bonds of karma with immensely dangerous forces.
The nature of the predictions also caused the Zeal to become steeped with negative karma.
In other words, it had become the carrier of bad luck.
That did not necessarily mean that it was dangerous. His most recent talk with his mother and Irene taught him that negativity could be turned into a weapon directed against enemies.
While Ves already began to think how he could effectively weaponize the bad luck accrued by his latest creation, his wife started to have doubts."Are the mechers unable to handle a single mech that may or may not be cursed? The Zeal is not a high-ranking mech. Many first-class multipurpose mechs should easily be able to crush him in battle. It is difficult to believe that your Association is fearful of a single standard mech."
"The current Zeal should be fine because it, I mean he, is in the possession of his rightful owner. If we attempt to take your latest masterwork mech, we risk triggering a backlash that causes us to suffer from the attention of great and terrible beings. The last thing we want is to alarm and attract the attention of the subjects of all of the prophecies."
The mechers clearly took this matter seriously. They would rather err on the side of caution because the situation was far too delicate to afford any mistakes.
"I take it that the Zeal isn't allowed to show up in public without sanitizing its appearance, right?" Ves asked.
"That is correct. We know that it is not desirable for us to ask this of you, but we must insist that you erase most of the artworks that you have painted on the surface of your masterwork mech."
"Erase? Not cover up?" Gloriana asked.
"I did not mispeak, madame. It is better for your living mech if he can still retain his original form when he is put into use, but we cannot allow this to happen. Covering up his surface by applying a second layer of coating or applying another layer of armor plating are imperfect solutions. Any accident could resurface the controversial images. It is best to destroy them entirely even if doing so will trigger unknown consequences."
Though Ves did not like this at all, he already expected to receive this kind of request. "I'll do it. I will erase my artworks in person. I painted them in the first place. It is my responsibility to unmake them now that they have served their purpose."
"You do not have to erase all of your works, Ves. We do not have any strong objections towards the pieces titled 'Filicide" and 'The Sentencing of a War Criminal'. You are free to keep them up if you wish."
These were the only two images that did not directly foretell doom to human civilization as a whole.
They just warned of ill tidings to Ves and the Larkinson Clan!
Naturally, Ves was not too happy about being able to retain these two prophetic visions.
"Thank… you. I appreciate your mindfulness."
They discussed a bit more on how thorough Ves should be when he cleaned up the current state of the Zeal.
After that, they moved to the most exciting part of this talk.
Jovy finally addressed the rewards the Larkinsons had earned.
He already mentioned that Ves and Gloriana had made an important contribution, so there was no way that the Association would end the matter by giving them a pat on the back!
"Let me inform you that there were real talks about promoting you to a tier 2 galactic citizen." Jovy said out of the blue.
Both Ves and Gloriana reacted with surprise!
The gap between galactic citizenship tiers became progressively greater at the top. There was a massive difference between a tier 2 and a tier 3 galactic citizen!
"I take it this proposal hasn't passed." Ves said as he quickly reined in his excitement.
"Correct. You are… still too young and lacking in experience. Your contributions are great, but they are inconsistent. You are still a Senior Mech Designer who has yet to realize his design philosophy at the end of the day. Forcibly elevating you to a tier 2 galactic citizen will force us to institute many protocols that may not be beneficial to you in your current state. It will also attract a massive amount of unwanted attention to you. People will expect miracles from you. If you are unable to meet these expectations, it will be hard for you to retain your higher tier."
"I am already being treated as a tier 2 galactic citizen by a few parties. The Red Cabal thinks that I pose the same level of threat as the Mace of Retaliation."
"You are an unusual case." Jovy admitted. "That does not mean that we can keep making exceptions for you. It is better for all of us if you continue to work honestly and progress towards Master the old-fashioned way. We can revisit this discussion once you have successfully realized your design philosophy."
That was a clear message. Ves could forget about raising his galactic citizenship any further until he finally became a Master. That would definitely take a lot of time.
"Fine, then. What can I get instead, Jovy?"
"Well, we have prepared a range of options for you to choose from. First, you can choose to be awarded with a lump sum of MTA merits. You can expect to earn at least 10 billion MTA merits, but it will be difficult to argue for more as we have yet to obtain hard proof that your prophecies are accurate."
10 billion MTA merits. Not bad, but it was way too few compared to the huge amount of impact the early warnings have made.
"Modern first-class starships. We are aware that you have been trying to build up a first-class fleet for the Larkinson Clan. We can help you with that. You can choose to receive a small quantity of capital ships or a larger quantity of sub-capital ships."
Now that definitely aroused Ves' attention! This was a much more attractive reward than obtaining a bunch of MTA merits.
Starships were hard currency in the Red Ocean!
They became more important than ever now that Ves had become aware that red humanity faced several existential threats.
The ability to flee from doomed territories while retaining a high degree of combat effectiveness could mean the difference between survival and total extinction!
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