After spending his DP like a drunken tycoon at a casino, Ves only had 10.000 DP in his budget. While he considering splurging the entire amount on lottery tickets, he quickly reconsidered.
"My luck is rather inconsistent. I don't want to take any chances at this moment."
He opened the System's Store page and called up his wish list.
At this moment, Ves mainly sought to keep the Mech Designer System a secret. With enough credits, he could buy all manner of fancy gadgets. The only thing he couldn't readily buy with credits was a way to obscure his expanding use of the System.
[Anonymous Parcel Delivery System - Level 1]
Price: 10.000 Design Points
Range: 1 star sector
Dimensions: 1cm x 1cm x 1cm
The APDS is a sophisticated transportation device that can teleport any cargo to an unmonitored area within its range.
The description left much to be desired, but Ves got the gist, especially with his enhanced intelligence. The small device was somehow capable of instantly teleporting any object placed inside its tiny interior across many light-years.
The capacity of the box was tiny. It only had enough space to teleport a datachip, one of Lucky's gems or his nail clippings. It also drained a lot of power everytime it initiated a teleport.
Ves mainly considered purchasing the APDS due to its ability for him to remain anonymous when he traded something sensitive, like Lucky's gems. He still had to come up with a way to remain untraceable when he communicated with his clients, so until then he had no use for this item.
"Let's look at something else."
[Small Anonymizing Stamp]
Capacity: 1 cubic cm
Price: 10.000 Design Points
This specialized stamp can permanently mark any object with a special ink. The stamp has the ability to hide the special characteristics of object that receives a stamp. The SAS is only capable of affecting an object with a maximum volume of 1 cubic cm.
[Anonymizing Ink - Small]
Amount: 1 single-use cartridge
Price: 100 Design Points
This ink can be used by any compatible stamp or device to anonymize an object, thereby hiding their special characteristics. Enough ink is supplied to apply 1 small stamp.
The stamp and its separately supplied ink could completely obscure any object smaller than a single cubic centimeter. This meant it could obscure the origins of one of Lucky's gems as well as a normal-sized datapad.
The parameters only cares about the volume. This technically meant he could stamp a stick as lengthy as a shuttle as long as it was very thin and very narrow. The stamp worked as long as the object offered a large enough surface area.
"Let's go with these stamps." He decided after a moment's consideration. "The items down the list are also useful, but right now it's important to cover my tracks going forward. If I still want to make use of Lucky's gems, I have to obscure their effects."
As long as Ves applied a tiny stamp, no one would suspect the activation button of the mech to affect the machine in a mysterious way. The only downside to using the stamp was that he had to spend 100 DP for every stamp. It turned each physical mech sale a net loss in terms of DP.
He tapped his lips and weighed the costs. "I can still earn back the points when I design another virtual mech. It's more important for me to raise the performance of my premium mechs. The higher their specs, the more my fame will spread. I'll limit the use of Lucky's gems to gold and ruby label mechs."
The mass production mechs fabricated by Carlos did not deserve to be graced with a special gem. "A cheap synthesized gemstone will do."
Ves bought the stamp and a single cartridge of ink. He stuffed them both into the pocket of his antigrav clothes for now. "I should add secure storage to my shopping list."
After Ves finished his shopping, he went back to work. First, he returned to the Clifford Society's virtual portal and entered the Star Library. He scanned the most advanced Apprentice-level books and grabbed a generous selection.
He then proceeded to read them rapidly. Any Society members that walked by might think he was merely skimming the pages. In truth, with his improved cognitive abilities, he was able to understand most of the theory fairly quickly.
During his reading marathon, his comm discretely beeped. Dietrich finally sent over the thirty-five million credits from the sale of the blackmail material they found at the abandoned base.
"Took you long enough." He said. He first sent the promised twenty-five million credits to SASS. This left him with a total savings of thirty-two million credits. "It's not much of a stash, but I've got enough to spend on some additional books."
In order to accelerate his learning, Ves resorted to the open market to get his hands on Journeyman-level books. The books available for sale in the public might not be as good as the ones in the Moon Library, but at least he didn't have to spend his valuable merits.
Ves indulgently stuffed his comm with two million credits worth of virtual textbooks. He wasn't satisfied with any of them, as the pedigree of the authors fell far short of those whose works were included in the Moon Library.
"Well, beggars can't be choosers."
He essentially tried to advance his main skills by brute force. His enhanced intelligence allowed him to make sense of even the most opaque descriptions. His improved concentration also helped by keeping his focus on track. It took a lot of effort to maintain his interest in his studies.
Slowly but surely, his strategy paid dividends. By combining quality Apprentice-level books from the Star Library with the awful Journeyman-level books from the galactic net, he eventually broke through. He reached Journeyman in both Physics and Mathematics two weeks later.
"Finally, I'm done!" He screamed in the air. He tiredly rubbed his eyes and stood up from his terminal. He walked over to Carlos to see how much progress he made so far. "How many successes?"
"Just three so far." He shook his head as he kept his focus level on the assembler. Trying to stuff the mess of cables and components into a limited space without breaking anything always eluded Carlos so far. "This mech is just too damn finicky with its internals. The three intact mechs I've fabricated so far are complete flukes."
Funding his first employee's fabrication spree also took a toll on Ves. He expected Carlos to master the process now that more than a month went by. What he saw instead was Carlos tripping over the last hurdle over and over.
Ves stretched out his palm. "Okay, this clearly isn't working. Just stop."
"I'm sorry Ves. I thought I could master it, but this darned design is too insane."
"You should see the original Caesar Augustus. That one is at least fifty percent harder to put together. In any case, there's no use for you to work on either designs. They're too advanced and too complex."
"Then what should I do next?"
Obviously Ves didn't want Carlos to sit on his thumbs waiting for him to finish his redesign. "Go ahead and practice on my virtual mechs for now. You need to get the hang of fabricating all kinds of mechs. Start with my 1-star designs like the simple Nomad and work your way up to my 3-star Young Blood."
"I'll be sure to master the Young Blood once you're done with your redesign." Carlos promised him. He knew he screwed up.
"That's good, because some of the design principles I've used in the Young Blood will carry over to the Marc Antony Mk II. By the way, the Young Blood also makes use of compressed armor, so you should skip that step as usual until you are ready to learn its principles."
Alloy compression was an extremely sensitive and dangerous process that could go wrong in many ways. At best it could ruin a batch of multi-million credits worth of exotics. At worst, the entire compression machine might blow up.
Ves still had to find a way to automate the production of compressed armor plating. One of the reasons why he hungered for the Dortmund was that it could link up to a good quality alloy compressor and fabricate compressed plates in a single session.
After settling his fabricator's new training, Ves left the workroom and entered the area where Lucky previously hibernated. The glowing blue ball winked out a few days ago and left a sparkling new mechanical cat in place.
His pet clearly benefited from the unidentified piece of ore from Master Olson. It must have been worth quite a lot, but without any headway into figuring out its use, Ves had no regrets in passing it on to Lucky.
"How are you buddy? Have you recovered from your sleep?"
Lucky tiredly meowed at him while brushing its burnished bronze exterior with his tongue. Ves bent down and scratched his mechanical pet between the ears. He admired Lucky's shiny new exterior and examined his status.
Owner: Ves Larkinson
Rank: Gold [Exclusive]
[Gem Excretion II]
[Energy Claws I]
Lucky already gained the ability to claw through armor from a previous gift. His cat did not gain anything special this time when it consumed the ore. Instead, his cat leveled up. Ves understood that as an upgrade to its core functionality. The cat grew a little tougher, faster and maybe smarter.
His exclusive Gem Excretion ability also advanced. Any gems that Lucky excreted from now turned into real treasures. Compared to the pitiful gems that Ves had stuffed in a safe, the newer gems should be twice as strong.
Ves already looked forward to what Lucky might 'produce'. He already had his Anonymizer Stamp in hand. "It's getting dangerous these days. Don't go excreting your gems into the woods without me next time. Let me raise my Privacy Shield first before you do your business."
Lucky lightly smacked his hand with his paw, as if expressing his dissatisfaction.
"Don't be like that Lucky. I already have a huge shipment of tasty ores in my storage room."
That certainly perked up the cat. Lucky rose from his bed and raced out of the living room in a hasty scramble. Ves scratched his head. Did his cat even know how to open the locks?
He followed after his overeager pet and opened one of the drawers for him. He only withdrew a modest chunk of minerals for his cat. He didn't want to see his cat grow fat.
"Take your time, Lucky. I've got plenty of stock ready for you to devour." He cooed, already thinking about the small mountain of gems his pet could excrete.
Having taken care of Lucky's dinner, Ves left the living room and exited the workshop.
Underneath the ever-present clouds, a highly automated construction force fortified the perimeter. The bots already removed the flimsy electric fence. Sanyal-Ablin's workers already measured out an expanded square of fortified walls. Large glowing pillars of light marked the locations where they planned to place the turrets.
Ves approached the construction foreman. "Any problems?"
"None that requires your attention, Mr. Larkinson. The soil here is softer than we anticipated, so we will have to treat it along the way. We're also having difficulties in obtaining our permits from the Freslin City Council. Without their say-so, we aren't allowed to install our heavy turrets."
"I see." Ves thinned his lips. He forgot about the local government in his expansion plans. "What kind of objections have they mentioned?"
"Well, nothing. They don't outright reject our applications, but they are letting them hang in limbo. This seems strange because there aren't any other major projects that is going on that can explain the delays."
The foreman didn't spell out his suspicions directly, but Ves got the message.
"Do I need to pay a visit to the city hall? Remind them that there's a time sensitive project waiting for their approval in my yard?" Ves asked as he tried to figure out a way to exert his influence on the government without ruining his relationship with them. After all, he still enjoyed a privileged status.
"It may help. It's rather strange. Normally our name is enough to cow the local bureaucrats. Our managers suspect that someone else is directing their obstruction."
That was great. "Do you know if the mastermind is from the Republic or from the Coalition?"
"You'll have to speak with Miss Robyn for that. My guess is that it's a foreigner who's stuck their hands into the pot."
"Okay, thank you for informing me." Ves said and tipped his head to the helpful foreman. "I'll dig into this immediately."
"Thank you, Mr. Larkinson. The longer this goes on, the more it will cost."
Ves grumbled a bit. Who thought that with his status, a local still dared to mess around. He could forgive a politician or a bureaucrat who opposed him for a good reason, but this naked obstructionism benefited no one but the shadow behind the scenes.