Chapter 9:

A Mysterious Box

[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera

Despite how long Ceres had spent with Uncle Dawn, not everything was transferred over to him cleanly. His mentor was still largely considered a ‘crazy’ guy, with lots of ill-conceived projects left in their prototype state across the workshop.

It was in this context that Ceres witness some of the crazy modifications that one could do to an exosuit, broadening his horizon as to what was possible.

A few key projects were left unfinished by Uncle Dawn in the workshop, arranged by Ceres during his annual cleaning. There was a nerval interface helmet that could selectively wipe memory, and by selectively it means to liquidate that section of your brain, physically.

Ceres wondered if this project was invented by Uncle Dawn or someone else, but he did not really want to improve on it.

A four-legged exosuit with three arms hanged from the merry-go-round of failed modifications, almost permanently damaging the mind of the poor test pilot taken off the streets. Ceres sighed as he glanced at it, shaking his head.

There was a clear reason why exosuits were fitted to the human body and rarely had additional limbs – most human brains simply could not handle the additional load of data required to control the additional limbs.

Making a human suddenly convert into a four-legged centaur with three arms was far beyond the capability of the test pilot.

Despite the obvious lack of proficiency from the test pilot, Ceres wondered if he would be able to handle the data load when he got his nerval jack. “Maybe I’m one of the special ones who can handle it!”

But of all the key projects, there was one that truly fascinated Ceres.

A dense pure white lightweight box that looked like a luxurious shoebox about 30cm long laid on one of the shelves, adorned with a sign shouting: "WARNING: DO NOT TOUCH NAKED!!!".

This 6-kilogram box has been the object of Ceres' fascination for the past two years, ranking third on his current “priority” list: the first being winning the competition (partly because he had nothing else better to aim for) and the second being fleecing enough money from the rioters to have enough to pay the rent.

Ceres wondered as to which human would have tried to strip off all his clothing before touching the box that would've caused Uncle Dawn to place the signage on it.

Uncle Dawn had been fiddling with the box long before Ceres met him; in fact, the majority of the equipment and books that the workshop had in stock pertained to attempts to crack the box.

A few months after Uncle Dawn’s death, Ceres found a memory chip in the workshop left for him detailing everything Uncle Dawn had learnt and attempted to crack open the box.

One thing he noted that was critical was that he wore thick gloves, especially if the white box responds to human touch. Even Uncle Dawn was wary on that part.

“It’s been stated that the box has brought misfortune to whoever touches it with their bare hands. Countless previous owners have completely gone missing over the centuries when coming into direct physical contact with this box!” Uncle Dawn’s stern voice echoed as he left an instructional video.

The box looked impeccably smooth, but under the nanoscope, small indentations and runic-like inscriptions could be seen. No information was known about when or where this box came from, or how Uncle Dawn got his hands on it.

All Ceres knew was that Uncle Dawn was not able to even get the box to work, let alone open. The function of the box remained mysterious.

Ceres has been polishing and refreshing his skills in order to open the box, hoping to finally defeat Uncle Dawn and surpass him.

They used to have regular competitions on anything under the sun regarding exosuits apart from processors and nerval plugs.

Ceres absorbed the information and the lessons learnt from his various failures like a sponge, becoming extremely adaptive and practical at technical stuff.

The theoretical, however, flew way over his head, and he could never understand the various hypothesis and underlying equations that governed what and how he was repairing. He just somehow 'knew' he was doing something right.

Carefully placing the mysterious box in the middle of the 3D printer, he wore a nanoscope on his left eye and adjusted the magnification.

Performing a quick cursory scan of the surface while rotating the box for each side with his gloved hands, he suddenly froze and peered closer at the box, almost tipping over.

"Yet another inscription has changed again. I must be hallucinating. Pull up the scans of 7 days before and lay them out from left to right chronologically please."

A neon hologram of 7 square windows appeared near Ceres, each detailing the resulting scans of the six sides of the box for the past 7 days.

"Why would it even start changing? I have not been actively trying to pry open the box since 3 months ago... yet the inscriptions are changing seemingly like clockwork... I can't imagine what is possibly in this box, such a technological marvel!"

"Or maybe I am the chosen one! Maybe it stores secret alien strengthening drugs and capacity boosters, enabling me to become the greatest knight ever!"

"Maybe it is the secret artifact of a grand overarching society that rules the underbelly of all humanity across the stars and it has chosen me!"

"Or a secret weapon or highly advanced AI that enables me to play life like a litRPG, almost destined to 100% become God! Or a cursed item that is bonded to me but is yet extremely nice and supports whatever I want to do! Perhaps with this, I'll actually have something to do!"

Dazing off and drifting away into the various delusions that normally plagued a standard 12-year-old, Ceres decided to take a break, turning on a holographic tv as he slurped on two-weeks old soda.

He was about to tune the channel to his favourite exosuit design channel, but as he passed a news channel, something interesting caught his attention.

[The border defense is seeing increased activity against the slovesa – more raiders are continually pouring it, taking away slaves and loot from the new colonies. General Kyle Hawthorn has vowed to take revenge against the raiders, but did not clarify his plan. However, public trust in him is at an all-time high, and more colonists are swarming towards the border in search of fame.]

Ceres watched in interest. The planet Athen used to be a slovesa planet too, so there were plenty of ruins both on the surface and deep underground. Stories of explorers and large battles underground were not uncommon to hear.

[In other news, the gang violence in Rockhold is steadily increasing. Former crime boss Andre Jusai has been assassinated in broad daylight. With more than seven criminal organizations battling for supremacy, we advise all citizens of New Saint to take precautions if visiting Rockhold. Please be aware that the New Saint’s enforcer department does not have jurisdiction in that area.]

New Saint was an independent city, and so are the thousands of other outposts, towns and mining sites. The enforcers had no right to intervene in their personal issues.

Not until the Consortium of Athen unifies the planet under a single entity, which has never happened before in the entire history of the Loeric Empire.

[Struck gold! A small mining group has found a large ore vein of Sturore, and they are planning to expand even further, despite pressure from the largest mining conglomerate on the planet: Bee Strathon. “This discovery is a breakthrough for all of us here in the town. With such a large deposit, it would probably take us close to two hundred years to mine it all, and that’s assuming it’s at the same rate as Bee Strathon!”]

Sturore was another exotic metal that somehow enhanced the stability of other molecules next to it, strengthening defensive properties of armour plates.

It was extremely useful for mining drills, which when mixed in was able to increase the fatigue cycles to failure by two hundred percent!

“Man I wish I found such an ore vein…” Ceres grumbled. That would been more than enough money to buy himself an entire starship!

[In our local star sector news, the Council’s new representative, Qual Hyol, has taken office. “Human citizens of the Melsura Star Sector, it is my pleasure to serve all of you as your mouthpiece to the Council. With your cooperation we can guide human civilisation to a brand new peak!”]

At this point, Ceres swapped the channels to a music channel. He hardly cared about the Council, seeing as they never did anything for him at all. From his point of view, not a single thing they did nor said over his life affected the way he lived.

He could see how benevolent the Council was for adopting a ‘intervene-in-catastrophe’ stance so far, allowing human nations to develop on their own trajectory.

However, that mean even more apathy from him, because it meant they were ordinarily useless to him!

Apart from setting the galactic time system, which also meant nothing to him seeing as he was still stuck on Athen that had a local time. Perhaps when he got a starship, he might care more.

Suddenly, a loud knock was heard on the main door. “The rent collection crew again?! Isn’t it supposed to be more than two weeks later?”

He opened the door grudgingly to see a fat old lady dressed in a pink dress standing next to a large hover box that was packed to the brim, filled with electrical appliances that looked like they suffered a galactic war and years of neglect.

"Hello, Mrs Qiu, I thought I already told you the day before that I'm extremely busy and won't be taking repair requests for the next 6 months. It’s the competition and all." Ceres performed a mini-bow.

"So sorry dear, but I really can't keep up with the chores without these home appliances working. My husband and I can barely hold it together while running the dumpling store at the same time.”

Ceres let out a sigh, but allowed Mrs Qiu into the workshop with her home appliances. She was a long time customer of the workshop, so he couldn’t find it in him to turn her away. Either way, it was going to be a simple fast job.

Offering her a seat, he started to rummage about the shelves to grab his tools and a soldering kit. The various appliances were extremely old and rugged, and they were about the cheapest to get in any appliance store.

Their design had hardly changed over the last thousand years. If it worked, why reinvent it?

As they were designed to be extremely basic and easy to repair, Ceres began his repair sprint while Mrs Qiu stared at a picture of Uncle Dawn and Ceres together.

"I still miss him dearly. I remember the days when we used to share a plate of paste dumplings under the starry sky way back then... We had so many frisky nights together..."

Ceres figuratively puked in his head when he imagined Uncle Dawn and Mrs Qiu getting it on.

He felt that Uncle Dawn's scrawny old bones would have been crushed by the various flaps her body developed from continuous pregnancies. Mrs Qiu noticed the changing expression on Ceres’ face.

"Don't look down on me, young man. I used to be the Zone's top beauty in the past, people back then started an uncountable number of riots just to claim the chance to propose to me. I would have married Uncle Dawn too if he wasn't such an idiot and shipped off to the frontlines again. By the way, how's Lisa?"

"Err, I haven't seen her at school recently, I think she might be going hard on the training and fighting side."

"Are you suggesting that my daughter is playing punk?"

"Err yea, it's a fact that she..."

"Lisa would NEVER skip school! She's my brightest child and one day she will take over the dumpling store and raise it to a citywide franchise!"

"Yea but..."

"Lisa is extremely intelligent, maybe slightly lacking in discipline but she would always treat her studies seriously! Don't you dare insinuate that my daughter is skipping school!"

"Ah shit here we go again", Ceres thought to himself as he decided to drone out the rest of Mrs Qiu's rambling whilst repairing.

To be honest, he had not seen Lisa for close to two weeks as she wasn't an orphan and only attended the school, partially because it was the only school in Zone 17, mostly because it was the cheapest.

The remaining reason was that Mrs Qiu felt that Lisa would have flourished tremendously in a small pond instead of going to a prestigious inner zone school, making her be able to stand out in both talent and diligence.

However, the fact was that Lisa had not been to school, but knowing her nature, Ceres probably felt that she was most likely participating in riots under an illegal identity and further polishing her ruthlessness in the inner zones.

It was a known fact that anyone crossing her path or even slightly walking next to her that was not her friend would receive a swift beating for no apparent reason. The only pattern seen amongst the survivors were that they were generally taller and lanky.

Ceres took about 20 minutes to repair all the appliances, after which as he got up, he noticed Mrs Qiu standing around the Rawes old-gen 3D printer staring at the mysterious white box.

"Do you know anything about this box? Uncle Dawn had this box the first time he returned to the city." Ceres asked.

"Yes, he has told me about it before, but I've never actually seen it in person till today. Now that I look at it, I feel a great sense of deja vu but I can't seem to pinpoint it..." She reached out to grab the white box barehanded!

Ceres immediately jumped up and activated his salesman voice: "Alright Mrs Qiu, I don't have much time before the upcoming competition! I've repaired all your appliances and I need to continue my training if you will allow me to. Please prepare 12 paste dumplings each day at dinnertime for me for the next 2 months and we'll call it even, how about that?"

"Sure, but just let me take a look at the box, maybe even touch it to see where this feeling is coming from!" Mrs Qiu shouted as Ceres 'gently' forced her out of the workshop in the form of a rugby tackle.

Pushing out the hover box while stopping Mrs Qiu from coming in was not easy for the relatively smaller body mass of Ceres. Reminding Mrs Qiu of his payment in dumplings and slamming the workshop door close, Ceres let out a huge sigh.

He couldn’t figure it out. Why did the box evoke such a strong reaction in everyone else other than him?

He had been with the box for close to two years now, studying and analysing it, yet he never had exhibited the same urge that he saw from Mrs Qiu just now.

The box was the closest thing he had to something special in his childhood, but even then, it was a hand-me-down. For all he knew, it could just be an insanely elaborate prank from Uncle Dawn.

Disappointed, he placed the box back onto the shelf, only removing his gloves after. “Well time to head off, big riot today for the Crimson Mining Group.” Ceres flicked off the power switch, the lights turning off in the workshop as the machinery died down.

He left the workshop, still wondering what the hell was in the box. Ceres kind of hoped it was untraced L-credits in the millions, that would help him a lot.

Back in the dark workshop, the moment Ceres left the workshop, a small tiny hole appeared on the side of the box, with a drop of black goo leaking out, slowly travelling along the surface.

As it reached the shelves, it navigated through the workshop and reached the main table. It sneaked up to Ceres’ gloves and starting dissolving small holes through the gloves!

But as it tried to return to the box, the black goo suddenly became lethargic and slowed rapidly, degrading and evaporating down into an inconspicuous black stain left on the floor.

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