The aliens that built the crystal ruins always fascinated Ves.
Through his continued proximity to the crystal city, he imagined an increasingly detailed picture of their race.

The crystal builders very likely evolved from a terrestrial planet not too divergent from the terran standard.
This meant they likely looked like organisms from the terran animal kingdom.
Throughout the galaxy, nature often led to the same solutions to the same problems.
That was also why humanoid-looking aliens were remarkably common in the galaxy.

Some radical scientists even believed that some outside force had artificially inflated the prevalence of sexually dimorphic humanoids with two arms, two legs and a head.
Of course, no one believed them.
The most predominant theory was that the shift from walking on four limbs to walking on two limbs freed up the forelimbs for the usage of tools, which subsequently led to the birth of civilization.

These kinds of humanoid aliens made up a substantial amount of species in the galaxy.

The crystal builders happened to be a variant of the standard humanoid form.
As Ves peered over the remarkably preserved corpse through the portal, he noted that it was as small as he imagined.

The tiny corpse possessed a weird face with cavities all around its uneven ball-like shape.
Ves couldn ’t figure out which senses corresponded with any of the cavities.
One hole might turn out to be the mouth while the other could be an ear.

Its torso possessed a natural hunch, which meant the alien likely walked around while holding a naturally bent posture akin to primates.
Nevertheless, their arms were remarkably short and stubby even for their stature, as if they had atrophied through long generations of neglect.
Their legs looked lean and normal, with much wider soles and more bend into them in order to stabilize their hunched posture.

”They look like little puppets. ”

Another amusing thought sprang into his mind.
He imagined a kid playing around with living crystal builders.
The kid grabbed two of them with each hand and smashed them against each other, not caring at all how much he hurt the aliens.

Ves shook his head.
He couldn ’t help but belittle these tiny aliens despite their impressive technological achievements.
It was human instinct to treat any creature smaller than themselves as toys or pets.

Such assumptions could be dangerously negligent, as some species of small aliens possessed a lot of might.

”Lucky, don ’t eat the corpse.
Bring it back to me! ”

Fortunately, Lucky appeared to obey him without any fudging this time.
As a gem cat, his favorite food consisted of mundane and exotic minerals.
Actual flesh and blood hardly whetted his appetite.
Lucky carefully grasped the corpse with his maw and flew back through the portal before depositing it onto his outstretched gauntlet.

”Curious. ”

Ves had no idea how much time had passed since the alien had died, but it must have been millions of years at the very least.
Why hadn ’t it decomposed?

Ves whipped up his trusty Vulcaneye and meticulously scanned the alien.

He quickly found out why the corpse hadn ’t broken down all these years.
The alien had actually replaced his flesh with a flexible crystal substance.
Certain cavities within the body must have hosted the brains and other vitally important organs.
They had long been broken down into dust, leaving only an empty shell behind.

”Even for the crystal builders, this must be an extravagant procedure. ”

He imagined this alien once held a very high status among his race.
He might even be the master of the crystal garden.

While Ves would never in a million years wish to replace his body with a mechanical equivalent, he still found this corpse to be of utmost importance.
It was a potential treasure in the eyes of those who pursued immortality through mechanising their bodily functions.

The supple, flexible crystals that bent when he lightly squeezed them with his gauntlet also held a lot of value.
If Ves could derive its composition and reproduce it in his labs, he might be able to invent a new substance that would be ideal in armoring the joints and other parts of a mech that needed a of flexibility.

”It ’s likely to be extraordinarily expensive. ”

From what Ves could gather from the readings of his Vulcaneye, the exotics used in the flexible crystal exceeded the ones used in the solid crystal ruins.
Thus, any attempt to derive some value out of the flexible crystal could only be put off until his career had advanced.

Ves put away the crystal builder ’s corpse and ordered Lucky to dig up the crystal garden for any other treasures.

The portal opened and closed several times.
For safety ’s sake, Ves always called back Lucky to his side of the portal before it closed.
Although the crystal city ’s portal generator worked fine so far, Ves would be a fool to assume that ancient alien technology worked flawlessly after countless eons of neglect.

The crystal garden suffered a very different outcome from the crystal city and the crystal palace.
The aliens abandoned the latter two, but the former still held a single powerful occupant.
Perhaps a retinue of servants and bodyguards had accompanied the crystal cyborg to their deaths, but nothing of their existence remained in the ruined garden.

As Lucky dug out the uneven crystal structures in the garden, Ves studied the sample of the plantmeat that Lucky had also brought back.
The Vulcaneye read out a bunch of data that only exobiologists would understand.

All he knew for certain was that it was actually still alive and that it possessed both plant-like and flesh-like traits.
Considering that it had grown over the crystal garden and survived for who knew how long, Ves suspected that it might be some kind of bioweapon.

”A clash between two different alien civilizations perhaps? ”

Besides the sample of plantmeat, Ves hadn ’t found any traces of the threat the crystal builders faced.
All of their history was lost to time, and only their most enduring creations remained to prove their existence.
So many races rose and fell in the galaxy that Ves hardly shed a tear to the passing of another race.

Humanity was a practical race.
They only cared about the benefits.
Most of the time, that meant exterminating any aliens they came across and loot the best parts of their technology for humanity ’s own use.

Ves merely thought of himself as someone who followed that trend as he instructed Lucky to crack open the crystal structures, which held a lot of cultural significance.

The crystal structures of the garden contained a lot more furniture, but none of them interested Ves.
It wasn ’t until Lucky dug into the basement levels of the largest crystal structure that he managed to come across something remarkable.

It was a circular plate the size of his palm.
To the aliens, it must have been a large table or piece of art.
To Ves, its shape hardly roused his interest.
Instead, he focused on the tiny crystals embedded onto its surface.

”Is that the galaxy? ”

The embedded crystals on the table depicted the Milky Way Galaxy in a very accurate depiction.
It hardly differed from the modern appearance of the galaxy.
Ves could actually use the differences between the two to date the table ’s construction, though he wasn ’t particularly interested in doing so.

What Ves focused on instead was that the map highlighted a couple of stars with crystals of different colors.
They were so small that Ves had to magnify his helmet ’s visor in order to see them clearly.
He realized that the outermost one corresponded to the location of the Komodo Star Sector.

”That should stand for this planet or where the Joe System. ”

The other miniscule gems spread out over the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy, though most of the colored gems had been affixed in roughly the same ’slice ’ of the galaxy.
This likely meant that the crystal builder ’s civilization had stretched from the galactic center to the galactic rim!

”Had they once been the dominant race of the galaxy as well? ”

The significance of these ruins went up if that happened to be true.
Had those portals stretched over thousands of light-years? Was the crystal garden actually located in the galactic center?

That would be a mind-blowing fact if that was true!

Sweat started to trickle down his back as Ves realized the implications of his discoveries.
Perhaps he misinterpreted the map, or perhaps the crystal builders liked to exaggerate their accomplishments, but Ves became more determined than ever to keep this secret to himself.
He ordered Lucky to retrieve the table.

The crystal garden hadn ’t turned up any other treasures.
Lucky dug up a lot of furniture, but in his eyes it might as well be junk.
Still, the table potentially held a lot of value, because when Ves scanned it with the Vulcaneye, he found out that it held a dense amount of circuits.

He intended to decipher their contents later once his abilities progressed.

”Well, that ’s two ruins down.
Hopefully, there ’s more. ”

The galaxy map fostered some hope in Ves.
It contained a score of colored gems, and Ves hoped that they corresponded to all of the destinations of the portal generator.
As long as he played the lottery long enough, he should eventually be able to open a portal to all of those locations.

”Sadly, I ’m running out of time. ” He sighed.

Much of the value derived from these ruins consisted of things that weren ’t immediately useful to him.
He would have to improve his knowledge base by a substantial amount and put in a lot of research before he could profit from his gains.

A potentially massive payoff twenty or so years from now wasn ’t very useful compared to what he could earn when he went back to designing mechs.

”I ’m a mech designer.
I design mechs.
Researching alien remnants is only useful if it helps me build better mechs. ”

It only made sense for him to moonlight as a treasure hunter so long as it benefited his designs.
If he could readily decipher the crystal builder ’s technology, then he didn ’t mind being stranded here for years, although he would likely be forced to subside on clawed worm meat.

His face crinkled into a disgusted expression.
”No thanks. ”

Over the next two days, Ves resumed his endless lottery draw.
He continued to shoot the alien rune monuments like a monkey banging at a keyboard.

If the monkey continued to type a random mash of letters, he ’d eventually be able to reproduce an exact copy of Old Earth ’s classics.

Ves indeed felt like a monkey as he continued to persist in this monotonous task with hardly any rest.
He forcibly kept himself awake as sleep would eat a precious amount of time that he could have used to gamble for another successful combination.

His luck turned out to be awful as Ves failed to hit a successful combination in the remaining amount of time.
Every single time he hit a different combination of fifteen runes, the crystal spires would shoot out their light beams at him without fail.

”Seems like I won ’t be gaining anymore harvests this time. ” He sighed at the end of his time limit.

His mind had practically become fossilized at the excruciatingly boring routine.
Even Lucky hadn ’t bothered to do anything but sleep at the same spot.
Even if a light beam passed through his intangible body, the disturbance wasn ’t enough to wake him out of his rest.

Ves was ready to go home.

He retrieved the alloy key monument and wondered why the crystal builders had used metals instead of crystals.
He also wondered why they made it relatively easy to open a portal to the location of this monument.

”Will it actually be able to bring me back home, or is it some kind of trap? ”

No matter the truth, Ves owed it to himself to try the combination.
He had already fixated on the runes in question and began to shoot at them in the order depicted by the keys.
He chose to read out the runes from left to right and top to bottom.

A bunch of light beams hit him right through the head.

”Okay then.
These aliens aren ’t a fan of reading from left to right. ”

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