Chapter 11:

Zone 17 Training Center Gladius

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

"So the processor chips that enables the automatic control of the suit should be situated at the base of the spine rather than the top! I believe the safety factor can be greatly increased as it reduces the chances of mental afflictions and potential neck paralysis. Also, the processor's thermal paste composition can be improved to reduce the build-up heat by 30%! Also..."

On the looptrain, Ceres groaned as he ran out of time on the same stage of Glucose Rush as before, while a sixteen-year-old boy dressed in the same school uniform as him rapidly talked as though if he didn't spit out 100 words a second, he would have died.

Ceres didn't mind the 1.2m tall Ardan talking about exosuit theory to him, as he did not understand most of the theory that Uncle Dawn passed to him.

He just didn't pay attention as he was extremely focused on the game, which he felt like blaming the loss on Ardan just because.

"Ceres, what do you think? What do you think? Do you think you can try it later during the training?" Ardan looked expectantly at Ceres.

"First of all, Ardan, I almost won stage 110078 if it wasn't for your timely distraction. Second, I don't have the material to make the new thermal paste and lastly, nobody has a nerval jack at the base of their spine, every human has one at the top, near the nape of their neck."

Ceres gestured to the much apparent hole on every adult passenger in the looptrain, usually stylised with other objects such as dummy plugs or weird colourful designs that ensured no foreign entities could access it without permission.

"Yes, but the nerval plug installation procedure has a failure rate of 8%! While the wireless version has a lower failure rate of only 6%, the efficiency of data transmission to the processor is much less! The majority of the failures occur due to overstressing and compression of nerves and muscles on critical pathways that go through the neck!"

"Ardan, trust in the big boys alright? The nerval plug has been around for more than 600 years, if adults can't create a jack in the base of the spine, then it's impossible! I feel like you're going to suggest replacing the asshole with a nerval jack next."

"Wait, what's wrong with doing a nerval jack at the asshole? It has the second highest concentration of pain and taste receptors, which would prove a potential alternative as an access point to the nervous system, though hygiene may be an issue..."

Ceres rolled his eyes, checking his multi for the new timetable of riots that was released for the coming week. Only four days had passed since their decisive victory in Zone 5, yet his daily routine had started to evolve with the addition of Ardan clinging onto him.

He still wasn’t entirely clear on how Ardan was related to Taren or the Gladius, nor did he understand how this young boy could know so much about exosuit design.

So when Ardan offered to bring Ceres to the Gladius, he jumped right on the boat, regardless of how much it threw off his daily schedule. He had to see for himself this training center and what the hell was happening inside if it managed to produce someone like Ardan.

Ardan promised him that he would be able to get a good training deal for Ceres in the Gladius, though Ceres doubted that. How could a sixteen-year-old kid have that kind of leverage?

Even Braton had to squeeze an adult to near death to get into the Gladius and be trained by Taren. Ceres didn’t think Ardan had the chops to actually squeeze someone to death with his scrawny arms, much less the water out of a soaked rag.

It was a short distance away from the orphanage, so they only took the looptrain three stops. As Ceres exited the train station, he entered the commercial district of Zone 17. Rows and rows upon of high street shopping greeted him, along with flashing commercial stands that showcased the latest products.

Everything was tailored to people living in the outer zone, especially those who just recently got a windfall at the local casino or just wanted to look better before entering the inner zones of the city.

Ceres grimaced at the prices he saw on one of the ‘inners’ fashion store, which seemed to be anti-gravity clothing for the richer upper class.

Despite the stark contrast from the orphanage area, around which was just a normal suburb, the commercial district only had buildings that were about three stories high. There was just that much land to build on, not requiring buildings to extend as high as they did in the crowded inner zones.

However, in the midst of all that, a sharp tall building that rose eleven stories high stuck out like a sore thumb.

In front of the stairs that led up to the majestic building, a statue was erected there, with a lady exosuit knight stabbing her sword into the ground with both hands. On the sword there was only one word carved into it – “GLADIUS”.

Entering the lobby of the Gladius, the building was a complex maze with an open atrium, walkways upon walkways connecting the various floors with a marble receptionist desk placed near the entrance.

The lobby was crowded with hotblooded training fanatics, slightly oversized reservist personnel preparing for their annual physical test and various young students from other zones waiting for their training slots.

A large hologram hovered behind the receptionist desk, displaying the namesake of the building in a cursive logo manner.

The entire building was split into separate sections: weapon training, bodybuilding and exosuit practice. Three large gates stood at the back of the lobby way behind the logo wall where there were a lot of human traffic, which Ceres assumed were the different sections.

Fixed multi-terminals dotted the lobby area, allowing anyone to connect directly to book or modify their training appointments. Various certification tests were also conducted in the Gladius, which was required for certain specific jobs both within the city and beyond.

For example, excavation and mining crews outside of the city had to deal with hostile wildlife and rouge criminal groups, hence the need for arms training and self-defence.

This only applied to independent crews and small mining companies – Bee Strathon had it’s own armed forces and training center that was leagues above the Gladius.

Mercenary fleets that were just starting which operated in the region would also come to train here, assuming their starting budget was not enough for the inner zones training centers.

In extreme cases, the imperial military’s Legions would also requisition their resources in the event of war for rapid reservist training.

As they neared the receptionist desk, a young attendant dressed in the training center's uniform of a blue shirt and white pants hurriedly approached them.

Ceres had never been waited on before, thinking that the guy was about to try to hustle them instead.

People mostly avoided him like the plague in the inner zones, so he was used to getting ignored. Anyone approaching him was definitely up to no good!

"Welcome back, Master Fye, how can I assist you today? Are you here for the upcoming appointment for the practice room?"

"Yes, and I would also like to book the next six months’ appointment in advance too for both Ceres and I at the same timeslots."

"Well that will be a bit difficult sir, many other customers have also expressed interest in the timeslots chosen so far, and it will be hard on me to convince others to give up..."

Ardan took out his multi and did a swiping motion on the screen towards the attendant. Seeing the received notification on his own multi that was wrapped around his arm, the young attendant eyes immediately had a glint of happiness and bowed towards Ardan.

"Ah Master Fye, the next 6 months will definitely not be a problem. You will receive a confirmation shortly in less than half an hour both through your account and personally if needed."

"No need to personally confirm it, bring us to my aunt."

They took an office lift to the fifth floor in the lobby, with the attendant continuously introducing them to various training add-on packages that they can purchase, while Ardan maintained a haughty condescending attitude as though he owned the place.

Ceres was already reeling from the implications of what just happened, unable to even focus on what was happening in the lift.

They were led to an office with the door labelled "Vice-Manager". Before Ardan could open the door, Ceres grabbed his hand. “Okay wait, give it to me straight, what the hell is going on?”

“Look, we got no time – she’s already waiting inside! Ceres, just follow my lead!” Ardan grabbed Ceres’s arm and swung the door open.

Inside, the office had a sleek white minimalist design, with shelves inbuilt into the wall as curves while the curved table had a similar blue-white pattern. It felt as though the owner of the office was extremely against any form of right angles or straight lines.

The layout of the room gave a weird feeling of discordance to Ceres but he suppressed it and followed Ardan to stand in front of the office desk.

Pouring over rapid information that seem to scroll past at the speed of a looptrain on two holograms floating at eye level, a middle-aged muscular woman wearing the same uniform as the attendant buttoned with a badge "Vice-Manager Fye" was sitting behind the desk.

She barely gave a glance to Ceres, but smiled when she saw Ardan. She never stopped looking at the holograms while the two young boys bowed.

"Ardan dear, good to see you, how's my little bro doing?"

"Dad's fine, but shouldn't you ask me how I'm doing? I even brought a new friend over! We've been hanging out together for a long time now."

"I can clearly see how well you're doing, considering you've been throwing money around and acting all high and mighty in the lobby like you own the place."

Ardan blushed slightly, while she now took a longer look at Ceres. The demeanour of Ceres didn’t exactly exude rich and capable, unlike the prim and proper attitude that she exhibited herself.

Sighing, Vice-Manager Fye leaned back on her reclining chair, still continuously reading the cryptic information and spreadsheets on the holograms in front of her.

"Alright, let's cut the bullshit and skip straight to the point. Tell me how much money you need from me to make you go away." She uttered without the slightest hint of looking at Ceres any longer.

"What? I'm here to train, didn't Ardan tell you beforehand? ...Aunt Fye."

"He didn’t tell me anything apart from you being a friend, but you’re more of a leech if anything. Sorry Ardan, I got to say this out for your sake. And call me Little Melody. That’s the rule in Gladius."

"Sorry Aun... Little Melody" Ceres swore in his head, hardly believing that the 'lady' he was talking to should even be referred to with such a petite name.

The build and size of the lady seem to go against every concept of whatever the name implied, with arms and hands that could potentially crush his waist with a single squeeze. She could've easily acted as a general in those ancient holofilms and probably win a 'Best Realism Award".

“Well, Aunt Melody, Ceres is my mentor!” Ardan beamed.

“WHAT?” Both Ceres and Vice-Manager Fye shouted.

“Wait why are you shouting too?” She suspiciously looked at Ceres.

“I have absolutely no idea what’s going on!”

“Everyone calm down, I think Ceres is probably the best exosuit repairer I’ve seen in this Zone! He can mentor me better than any of the old farts left in the Gladius!” Ardan stood between the two of them, gesturing wildly to his aunt.

She stared Ceres down, her eyes flashing as she checked Ceres’s data. "You hardly look like you could be a mentor, and checking your information, you're not that much older than Ardan, what makes you qualified to teach him? I have way better trainers here that could probably beat you in every aspect."

"Don't look down on Ceres! He's one of the best mechanics I've seen and I'm happy to learn from him! The main point is exactly his age, as he can train alongside me for a longer time! I don’t want some impersonal trainer that treats me like a job!"

"You're only 16, dear, how could you possibly know what you're seeing? Associating yourself with people that leech off you is never good. How do you know he wouldn’t treat you like a job too?”

Despite the absolute mayhem, Ceres definitely wanted to train in the Gladius. From what he’s seen and heard about the place, it seemed like a much better starting point to train for the upcoming competition than the orphanage.

Sure, the military orphanage had its own resources, but he had to fight everyone for it. If he could get the in-road here, it would be literally like his own private training chamber.

He looked at Ardan, who was expectantly looking at him with ‘yes yes’ eyes. Ceres never had someone younger actually ask him to mentor.

Usually nobody actually cares about what he knew or kept in his head, so having someone want it felt nice to Ceres, in the ego-stroking kind of way. “Is this what Uncle Dawn was getting off on when he taught me?” Ceres thought to himself.

Ceres glanced yet again at Ardan, who nodded at him vigorously to do something. “Quick, show off something!” Ardan whispered urgently.

Ceres sighed. “Alright, time to pull out all the tricks in the bag!” He thought to himself.

He took out from his backpack three metallic dragonflies, which whirred into life as they took off from his palm and hovered around.

Ceres attached a metallic wristband to his left wrist and flexed his fingers. Rotating his hand upwards, the dragonflies formed a triangle formation around his hand and followed the rotation.

Vice-Manager Fye squinted: "That's very interesting kid, but I can buy one off the street just two blocks down at the local appliance store. This dragonfly is just a kid’s toy from decades ago and you want to impr..."

Before she could speak further, Ceres stuck out his index and middle finger, pointing at a flower vase near the edge of the table. The three metallic dragonflies emitted a tiny visible laser beam that congregated onto a single spot on the vase.

Drawing a circle in the air with his hand, Ceres used the three metallic dragonflies to cut out a tiny hole, and the smell of burning fibre started to emit from the sizzling hole.

Ceres formed a fist with his hands and the dragonflies went back into standby mode. A smug grin forming on his face, Ceres looked at Ardan and Vice-Manager Fye with expectation, not expecting to see Ardan’s face becoming paler, while she stared at him with piercing eyes.

"Err..., that was the last present from my Dad before he left a few years ago..." Ardan stuttered.

"..." Ceres blanked out.

An awkward moment of silence filled the room. After a good moment of heavy breathing on the part of Vice-Manager Fye trying to calm herself down, she stood up and approached Ceres menancingly.

Ceres immediately was about to curl up in the ancient defensive posture of the porcupine to prevent any possible hits though he doubts that it would have made a difference.

The three dragonflies hovering around his head jerked erratically as though they were equally frightened.

“Don’t think that proves anything yet. You’re still on probation.” Instead of hitting Ceres, Vice-Manager Fye patted him on the shoulder.

“Wait, I made it through? What do you mean probation?” Ceres’s head filled with confused cheers of success.

“Let me give you a tour first, then we’ll continue our discussion. You’ll understand once you see the rest of the Gladius.”

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