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Chapter 2: Stupid AI Butler

Yuka slept straight through to lunchtime.

A smart home robot brought her a warm towel. She sluggishly got up, wiped her face in a daze, and yawned amid the orb butler's yell of "Skincare! Put on your cream!" 

After a quick wash, she sat in the aerial garden, admiring the view below.

The planet was a birthday gift from her dad, located on the edge of the Alliance. It wasn't rich in precious minerals, just greener than most, but it still fetched a cool three hundred million astracredits at auction. Of course, this was just pocket change for her dad.

Glancing at her opticomputer, Yuka noticed the messages she'd sent in the morning were still unread. Her dad must be really swamped. Normally, her account would have been topped up with a sympathetic billion by now, and he'd have video-called her personally to cheer her up.

Lunch was a gourmet feast by thirteen interstellar chefs. Yuka picked up her fork and took a bite of steak.

"Master, mind your table manners," the butler chimed.

She ignored it, setting her fork down with a clink.

"Master, chew slowly, like a lady," it persisted.

Yuka opened her mouth wide and gulped down a big bite of cake.

"Master, balance your meal with veggies too," the butler advised.

Yuka finished the meat, leaving the veggies untouched, and started munching on an apple.

The butler sighed. It was used to this.

As she chewed her apple, Yuka pondered her next move. She had dreamt about losing her hair over an unfinished essay, ending up bald, and even worse, dying suddenly in her drafty dorm while cramming.

She put down the apple core thoughtfully. A sick leave wasn't an option. It would only prolong her back-to-school anxiety—and delay graduation.

Just then, the opticomputer's call alert rang, and the butler promptly answered for Yuka. She instantly transformed from her lazy posture: legs down, back straight, hair smoothed, a sweet smile on her face, hands neatly on her lap.

A second later, the call connected, and Yuka greeted her dad in a ladylike manner, "Daddy."

The butler observed silently. Fifteen years on, it still couldn't get used to Yuka's quick-change act.

On the holographic screen floated a handsome middle-aged man with a kind look in his eyes, resembling Yuka.

"Yuko, having a good day?" he asked lovingly.

Yuka lowered her eyes, her thick lashes fluttering, lips slightly pursed, a hint of grievance on her beautiful face. Even the hardest hearts across the stars, if witnessing this, would feel affectionate towards her.

Her father, Taira Hideki, asked with concern, "What's wrong, Yuko?"

In a whiny tone, Yuka said, "I don't want to go to university."

Unexpectedly, instead of saying, "Then don't go, Daddy will figure something out," Hideki fell silent. Yuka sensed something ominous in his silence, and rightly so, as he finally spoke, "Yuko, you must go to this university."

Yuka's brows quivered slightly as he continued, "UUA is jointly established by the Alliance Science Academy, the Royal Family, and the Alliance Army. Its motto of 'Justice, fairness, and truth' is not just for show."

"At UUA, whether you're a prince or a refugee, everyone is treated equally. There are no special privileges," he said sternly. "I can't help you."

Yuka nodded. "I understand. I'll go."

"Good," Hideki nodded. "I'm tied up with business and might not be able to make it tomorrow. Do you need me to send someone to pick you up?"

"No need," Yuka sweetly replied, "Go on with your work, Daddy. Bye."

After the hurried end of the call, Yuka's poised posture slumped, exhaustedly reclining in her chair. Her opticomputer pinged, announcing an astracredit transfer of eighty million.

She knew it was her father's way of consolation. Bored, she turned to the butler, "Let's prepare the luggage."

"Alright," replied the butler.

Half an hour later, facing three huge suitcases, Yuka sighed, "I'll do it myself." She removed the skincare products, makeup, fancy evening dresses, and other items the butler had packed. She kept only the essentials and fit them into a small suitcase.

Dragging her luggage to the underground garage, the lights lit up one by one automatically, revealing hundreds of the latest model space levitation vehicles, or so-called "Levs", sparkling.

In the center of the Levs, a spaceship, all black with blue energy points at its power source and hidden cannons ready to attack space pirates if activated, stood out.

The butler suggested, "We could take the spaceship to Capital Octoxis. Even if we encounter space pirates, there's no need to worry."

After a moment of thought, Yuka said, "I'll take the public spacecraft instead."

The butler looked puzzled as Yuka pulled up the map on her opticomputer, "We can drive the Lev to the nearest K32 planet and catch a public spacecraft there. It'll take half a day to reach Capital Octoxis."

The butler, puzzled, asked, "But why? Isn't it better to use your own spaceship?"

"Of course not," Yuka replied, choosing a less flashy Lev and tossing her luggage in. "Flaunting wealth in front of classmates is a big no-no." She wanted to be an ordinary college student, so ordinary that she'd blend into the crowd, easily forgotten even if spotted.

Yuka thought to herself, 'Just blend in for four years at university, then go home to inherit a fortune worth billions.'

Checking her opticomputer, she noted, "If we leave now, we should get there by noon tomorrow."

She took one last, tearful look at the mansion she'd just moved into, kissing goodbye to her luxurious life. After instructing the butler to lock all doors, she stuffed the orb butler into her sportswear pocket, climbed onto the Lev, and started the engine.

Helmet on, Yuka activated the Lev's protective barrier.

"Hold on tight," she said. The engine roared to life, the high-grade mineral fuel allowing the Lev to soar into the sky and speed through the cosmos.

The butler's screams of "A lady shouldn't speed!" were drowned out by the Lev's thunderous noise, eliciting a light chuckle from Yuka as she floored the gas.

K32 was a peripheral planet in the Alliance galaxy. Its resources were scarce, and its economy wasn't booming, but its location was strategic, maintaining a route to Capital Octoxis.

With two daily trips to Capital Octoxis, it was a bustling hub. However, it was also rife with underground market dealings, thieves, bandits, and unscrupulous traders, all overlooked by the indifferent Alliance police.

At the planet's entrance, a man squatting on the ground smoked a cigarette containing trace hallucinogens, banned by the Alliance. He exhaled a cloud of smoke, eyeing each newcomer for potential targets.

The roar of Yuka's Lev caught his attention. He stood up, spotting a slender girl on the latest model Lev. He quickly estimated its value; selling it could bring him between 500,000 to 700,000 astracredits.

He didn't underestimate the girl just due to her apparent frailty. He knew that anyone capable of operating a Lev must have at least B-tier physical strength.

In the Alliance, a person's potential largely depends on their physical strength and psychic power, categorized into five main tiers: D, C, B, A, and S, with subcategories within each. S is the rarest, highest tier.

Physical strength indicates basic physical fitness, with C being a normal, healthy level, and A strong enough to punch through a wall.

Psychic power is closely linked to mecha operation; only those with A-tier psychic power or higher can pilot mechas.

Mecha were the strongest weapons of the Alliance, instrumental in defeating the insectoids, pacifying rebellions, and establishing the current alliance. 

Over decades, even though the Alliance has become "peaceful and stable," the stature of mecha in public eyes remained unchanged.

Essentially, if one's psychic power was sufficient to operate a mecha, they didn't need to worry about their careers since the Alliance Army would actively recruit them and support them for a life time.

Physical strength could be enhanced through training, but psychic power could not. Those with A-tier or higher psychic power were exceedingly rare, less than one in a thousand of those with A-tier physical strength.

The man didn't worry about the Lev-riding girl having high-level psychic power, as those with such abilities usually had joined the military, and the haughty mecha soldiers wouldn't be found in a place like this. Her long curly hair, fair neck, and hands, all spoke of her affluent background, suggesting she was just a rich girl with better-than-average physical strength.

The smoking man, with A+ physical strength and years of combat experience, was confident he could easily overpower this 'rich prey'. He took a step towards her, but then stopped abruptly, his pupils contracting.

He saw the girl pull out a small spatial button, packing both the Lev and her luggage into it, then slipping the button into her pocket.

That was a space button capable of holding a mecha, worth up to five million astracredits!

Others lurking in the shadows now emerged, their eyes burning with greed, drooling over the girl.

The man turned around, scanning the crowd.

Those who met his gaze quickly looked away, unwilling to provoke this formidable local boss, withdrawing from the competition.

Yuka patted her pocket to ensure all her belongings were secure, then looked around. 

Not far from her, a man smoked, surrounded by a haze; nearby, under a building, a child was peeing by the wall.

Yuka decided to keep her helmet on for now, to block out the smells, planning to remove it only once aboard the spacecraft.

Checking her opticomputer, Yuka found that tickets from K32 to Capital Octoxis were sold out.

"Butler, what about the tickets you were supposed to get for me?" she asked incredulously.

The butler, now linked to her opticomputer, appeared on the screen as a virtual figure in dungarees, looking guilty. "I, I got distracted watching 'The Ten-Day Crash Course in Lady Behavior' and forgot to book the tickets..."

Yuka could only sigh in frustration.

AI, her nemesis this time.

Treein Treein

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