The Mech Touch Chapter 1377
Felixia. The Planet of Cats. The Cat Utopia. Originally, it started off as a barren rock in a star system completely devoid of valuable exotic materials.
As the Sentinel Kingdom started settling strategic or mineral-rich star systems, a number of eccentric aristocrats with way too much money than sense had another idea.
Why not terraform a planet into the perfect cat paradise?
When Ves first read about it, he thought these cat-crazed nobles were absolutely mad! What kind of value could a planet dedicated to cats bring to society?
Quite a lot, it seems.
"Cats are the most popular animals in human space. No matter what kind of cute and cuddly little exobeasts get discovered in the galaxy, cats are some of the oldest companions of our race. Isn't that right, Lucky?"
Lucky currently rested on his lap. The cat's bone-white surface crossed with cyan blue glowing lines felt warm to his touch.
"Are you looking forward to Felixia?"
"I thought you'd be excited. There are lots of fellow cats for you to play with! There's big cats, small cats, alien cats, genetically-engineered cats and even other mechanical cats!"
Ves chuckled. Evidently, Lucky disliked being compared to common cats!
Regardless of what Ves thought of Felixia, the initial colonists somehow turned it into an attractive paradise. It became so famed that it attracted lots of tourists from outside the Sentinel Kingdom!
The initial colonists turned much of the surface of the planet into a managed nature preserve. Different continents and subcontinents featured different attractions.
For example, one region had been turned into a giant petting zoo. Friendly house cats and comparable cat-like species casually roamed the forests, the canyons, the idyllic village settlements and other environments.
Families and crazy cat ladies alike swarmed to this region in great numbers!
Other regions offered other services and attractions. For example, hunting became a very big attraction. Wealthy or daring tourists could bring their own weapons or rent them from the local facilities and go on a hunt in various challenging environments.
The hunters could choose to hunt various mundane and exotic cat-like species, each of them interspersed in carefully-constrained boundaries in order to keep the challenge and risk level predictable.
For example, families bringing their kids to an outing could go on a guided hunt where they hunted down ferocious-looking but inwardly-tame big cats. The kids would come away from the trip with an awesome preserved lion head that they could show off to their friends.
More serious hunters and trained soldiers looking for a challenge could enter the riskier preserves. The big cats there had teeth and even killed some people from time to time!
Anyone entering these dangerous hunting zones did so at their risk, but that was part of the experience.
Aside from hunting mundane big cats, the hunters mainly aimed to take down more exotic cats. Felixia constantly seeded their hunting zones with new, recently-discovered cat-like exobeasts.
They also engaged in a liberal amount of genetic modification, cooking up hybrid cat-alien monstrosities with genes from dozens of different Terran and alien cat species!
All of the cats, whether they were human or alien, natural or artificial, looked good. Hunting down any of these species granted the hunters the right to do with them as they wish. For a fee, they could turn the heads of a big cat into a trophy, turn their hide into a fur coat and much, much more.
Anyone who returned from a hunt at Felixia with a coat made from the fur of their cat prey received the envy of their peers!
Hunting became such a profitable attraction on Felixia that it transformed an entire continent into something even better!
Rather than hunting an exotic big cat on foot, why not hunt them instead with mechs?
Such an operation reminded him of the training camp at Nova Migolatus I. The Vesians there turned an entire forested continent into a dangerous training environment by propagating it with huge exobeasts that posed an actual threat to mechs!
The same had been applied to Felixia's famous mech hunting zones! Instead of seeding them with human-scale cats, the authorities instead designed or obtained formidable mech-sized cats with enhanced strength and other tricks!
"These cats are huge!" Ves admired as he projected some of the footage of some of the impressive creatures. "Some have even survived for decades without succumbing!"
Some cats were too strong, cunning, clever or elusive to take down. With mech hunting teams subjected to various restrictions, it became a real challenge for these teams to take down the more formidable huge cats!
"Tons of mechs get wrecked and numerous mech pilots can even get killed when a huge claw pierces their cockpits!"
Again, while the danger scared away many mech pilots, a small proportion of daredevils and hunting fanatics remained who eagerly chased after these opportunities!
Ves remembered that then-Lieutenant Dise used to be a hunting enthusiast herself. Before she succeeded as the leader of the Swordmaidens, she became famed for hunting down many dangerous exobeasts in the many untamed planets of the frontier!
"Hunting is a big industry!"
The activity attracted a disproportionate amount of wealthy customers to Felixia, enriching it even further! The local authorities used that money to invest in research institutions dedicated to studying and modifying the genes of all of the cat species on the planet!
The scope of Felixia's cat craze frightened Ves quite a bit at first. Not only did tourists come to Felixia to hug cats or hunt them down, some also came to take advantage of the popular gene mod templates developed on the planet!
Though genetic modification as a whole was frowned upon, some fetishes simply couldn't be repressed. The amount of people who visited one of Felixia's renowned genetic clinics boggled the mind.
All of these people wanted to modify their own bodies so that they had cat ears and cat tails! Some even opted for more extreme modifications, such as turning their entire heads into cat heads!
Evidently, genetic modification as a whole was still frowned upon except when it came to cat girls and cat boys! Anyone who showed up with lovely cat ears at the top of their heads could expect to receive a lot of squealing and headpats!
Ves looked down at Lucky. "Do you think Gloriana will appreciate it if I show up to her with cat ears?"
"Hahaha, don't worry, Lucky. I was just joking! You're still the only cat in my household."
Cat ears were too impractical for him anyway. He envisioned that he would have a lot of problems with his gear.
Trying to fit a standard human helmet onto his head while he had cat ears would be very difficult!
If he decided for some insane reason to go through such a needless transformation, then he'd likely be denied due to his already highly modified genes.
"I'm pretty far away from a baseline human." He muttered. "There's too much risk of negative side effects if I add cat ear genes to my already-crowded genome."
He discarded this option in quick order. If Ves wanted to indulge in his cat fancy, he could readily cuddle with Lucky. There was no need to turn himself into a partial cat!
"I agree. Furries are missing the point. Humans should stay human! There are enough cats in the galaxy!"
Overall, all of these cat-oriented services turned Felixia into a cat lover's paradise. The planet became so known in the region that it had been dubbed the unofficial cat capital of the star sector!
Among the many cute and attractive cats that populated the planet, Ves dismissed all but the largest ones.
His Devil Tiger required a powerful design spirit! To do that, Ves had to obtain a spiritual fragment derived from a powerful felinid exobeast.
The stronger the spiritual fragment, the stronger the resulting design spirit.
The stronger the design spirit, the more remarkable his Devil Tiger design!
He focused on the biggest, deadliest and most persistent huge cats. Ves hungered to harvest a spiritual fragment if possible!
As Ves browsed through footage of some of these specimens, he wondered whether some of them possessed a significant degree of spirituality. Developing special powers might be the reason why they eluded so many mech hunting teams.
"It's worth a try to see if they have what I need. The only problem is that I need to get in range in order for me to inspect their spiritual qualities."
The most cunning, deadly and unpredictable huge cats acquired so much renown in the mech hunting community that they fell into a separate category.
The Crown Cats!
The mech hunting community considered any huge cat that fell under this prestigious category as a veritable king or queen of their own species, hence the crown!
The Crown Cats officially listed the top twenty most challenging cats to hunt! Despite being hunted non-stop by various mech hunting teams, they always managed to elude or turn the tables against their pursuers!
Ves petted Lucky's back as he flitted through the top twenty. "Those Crown Cats are amazing! They all look great as well!"
Most of the Crown Cats consisted of hybrid alien monstrosities that had been cooked up as experiments in the research institutions of Felixia.
Most genetic experiments turned out to be disappointments. They either suffered from severe genetic defects or didn't turn out to be remarkable enough to justify their cost.
However, a small proportion of experiments resulted in a fantastic exception that outperformed almost every comparable huge cat!
The huge artificial exobeasts that became Crown Cats possessed valuable genetics that the research institutions sold to other interested parties. This alone signified the great value of these aberrant creatures!
Ves frowned. "However, each Crown Cat is essentially one-of-a-kind on Felixia. The authorities only make one unique specimen of each species available for hunting."
This made hunting them all the more valuable and exclusive. Even if some corporation bought the rights to the genes of a Crown Cat, the creatures they grew simply did not hold the same value as a Crown Cat who fought and resisted a mech hunting team under strict conditions!
Felixia deliberately pursued a strategy of maintaining artificial scarcity while hyping up the uniqueness of their remarkable Crown Cats. Only the wild ones who have killed or eluded dozens of mech hunting teams were genuine apex predators! Those grown in a lab environment and killed under heavily skewed circumstances simply didn't give the killers any prestige.
"The hunt must be respected! Only in Felixia do they count!"
One of the biggest reasons why the hunting community respected the hunts on Felixia was their reputation for fairness. No one, not even a wealthy Hexer who offered an enormous bribe to Felixia, could circumvent their rules for their hunts!
While some parties did manage to bribe the authorities in the past, the disgraceful hunts would always be exposed by savvy hunters who were very zealous about the integrity of the hunting challenges.
Those who got exposed not only lost all of the prestige of hunting down a Crown Cat, but their reputation tanked as well as every hunter hated their guts!
A proper hunt had to be a test of skill and intuition. Bringing an overwhelming number of expensive and heavily-armed mechs defeated the purpose of the hunt!
"Hunters can't bring too many mechs." He muttered.
Mech hunting teams could only consist of a single full mech squad at most, along with a limited number of transport or auxiliary vehicles!
The planet also imposed restrictions on the mechs that could be brought to the hunt. No aerial mechs and no heavy mechs were allowed to participate in the hunt, and ranged mechs couldn't bring too much firepower.
The quality of the mechs also couldn't be too excessive.
"With all of these handicaps, it's no wonder the Crown Cats foiled so many hunts."
His face scrunched into a frown as he considered this problem. Certainly, if he could make a deal with the authorities to send an entire mech company into a hunting zone, he wouldn't have any problem with accessing one of these majestic creatures.
Yet because the hunts were bound by so many rules, Ves could very well die if he accompanied a hunting team!
"This is really dangerous!"
Nonetheless, the danger only added to the allure of hunting down the impressive cats!
"Well, what do you say, Lucky? Are you up for hunting down one of your up-sized cousins?"
The more he read about Felixia, the more Ves became attracted to the planet. Perhaps he was a bit of a cat lover after all! Cuddly cats, big cats and huge cats all livened up the tourist planet, turning it into a one-of-a-kind destination that he simply had to visit!