164 Extra Lesson
According to the CFA, the sandmen thought on an entirely different level. To these intelligent clumps of sand, everything consisted of either matter or energy. They viewed the human race and their many ships and settlements in the same way as a rock or a tree.
Though humanity only had a limited glimpse on what went on in their core territory, it appeared they lacked a complex society. Their culture was nonexistent and their society consisted of a one-dimensional hierarchy based on the value of their composition.
“They’re not a race we can talk to.” Captain Silvestra said as everyone finished their dessert. “It’s either kill or be killed. Energy weapons aren’t very effective but high impact damage will do the job.”
“Since they’re so dangerous, why do people keep invading their space, if you can call it that?”
“As a silicate-based lifeform, they’re extremely obsessed with rare and valuable minerals. Their higher castes have a tendency to hoard exotic minerals for years before processing them or shipping them to their core territories. As long as you’re not afraid to die, a strike group can easily overwhelm a smaller colony and make off with a large amount of exotics.”
While the larger conglomerations of sandmen posed a great threat, the smaller groups tended to be slow and stupid. As long as the raiders left before reinforcements arrived, they stood to gain a handsome profit.
Everyone dispersed after dinner. Ves got a lot more stuff to think about. The dangers and opportunities one could find in the border region could easily enrich a daring prospector.
Much of the space in the core regions of the galaxy had already been mapped out and claimed by various powers. Only at the vast rim of the galaxy could someone change his fortunes after stumbling across an untapped windfall.
Midway into their journey to Mancroft, Ves received a surprising call.
Master Olson personally summoned him to her virtual abode. He immediately dropped whatever news program he idly watched and connected to the one-time address he’d been given. His stateroom’s top-quality projectors strained to portray the majesty of her surroundings.
Ves beheld the famed Titanium Garden for the very first time. It existed both in real space and in virtual space, and both looked magnificent in different ways. The virtual version looked like an endless three-dimensional titanium garden.
The virtual garden had no up or down. Small plots of soil rested atop titanium enclosures which themselves connected to other plots via various vine-shaped titanium lattices. The mixed orientation and the fact that the water that flowed between them never fell outside their channels made it clear that gravity worked inconsistently in this space.
Despite the mind-boggling complexity involved in its construction, the entire garden appeared to exist in harmony. Ves did not get a headache even after he tried and failed to derive some pattern out of the random environment.
A soft clap interrupted his thoughts. He moved his body and saw that his master rested on a divan in the center of an alien garden. Blue grasses and red leafs swirled around her position like how planets revolved around the sun. The moving foliage presented him with an enchanting sight, especially when the plot appeared upside-down in his perspective.
“Come on down.” Master Olson said, gesturing her carefully manicured hand towards another bench that appeared from the grass. “There are a couple of matters that we must discuss.”
It took some time for Ves to figure out how to flip his perspective and land on the bench. He looked up at Master Olson like a schoolkid eager to begin his first lesson.
“How are you today?”
“I’m good. I’m currently on my way to Mancroft.”
“I am aware of your mission.” She responded in an elegant fashion, the many jewels adorning her head tinkling with a distinct melody. Her brilliant blond locks flowed with the wind, which markedly contrasted with the blue and red foliage. “It is not to be taken lightly.”
If his master went out of her way to call him directly, then Ves might be in danger. “Is the Groening mission that dangerous?”
Her cool eyes continued to bore down on his sitting form. “Do you know that I have been nurtured by the Vermeer Group for more than eighty years?”
“I started my training in a batch of thousands. In order to meet the expectations of the Vermeer Group, we competed directly against each other for resources and attention.”
Ves hadn’t heard about this at all. Her public biography only briefly mentioned a dry statement that she had been nurtured by the Vermeer Group in a secretive experimental training program. Ves wondered why she narrated her own back story.
“Compared to my brothers and sisters, I was not the most intelligent nor did I make the most friends. Yet after eighty years, only I am able to reach the master level. Do you know why?”
He shook his head.
“I treated myself harshly. Where my rivals studied five courses, I studied ten. When they gained some experience by taking an easy mission, I took an assignment that sent me straight to an active battlefield. I never slacked off in my pursuit for knowledge and power.”
Ves started to understand why she told him this story. “Every great mech designer has worked hard to reach their positions.”
“Hard work is not sufficient.” She gently chided him. Her eyes grew chillier by the second. “Ruthlessness is needed above all. Everyone starts the same. Only by subjecting yourself to pressure will you be able to break and reforge yourself into something more than human. Only by reaching beyond the limits imposed by our flesh will you be able to reach the senior and master level and craft many wonders from your mind.”
It sounded like she referred to some great secret or truth. Ves started to get a little lost. “So is it a good or bad thing that I’m taking the Groening mission?”
“Let me put it this way. Your current chances of survival is less than twenty percent.”
Ves wanted to argue her estimate. It sounded exaggeratingly low and likely didn’t take into account his System-derived advantages. Yet even with a couple more tricks, how much of a difference did they make?
“To be frank, this mission is rather ill-conceived.” She heartlessly continued. “Your client is relies too much on borrowed intelligence, and therefore instinctively assumes no other threat exists. Unfortunately for you, it is too late to forfeit the mission.”
It sounded like even Master Olson became concerned. “What are your intentions? Do you want me to back out anyway?”
Backing out of a mission that he already accepted pretty much ruined his standing with the Clifford Society. Ves would suffer a heavy blow, but at least he’d be able to survive. Unlike the other Society members, Ves had access to other channels such as the System and Master Olson’s own organization.
She looked at him with disappointment. “Have you been listening?”
Ves started to sweat as he put his mind on her words. What did she mean? She started telling him that she began her training program along with many chosen. In the end, only she had been able to reach the eminent status of a Master Mech Designer.
“I see.” The answer became obvious. “The greater the pressure, the more you gain.”
“As long as you survive.”
“I won’t back out then.” He replied with a firmer tone. Even if he lacked some confidence in himself, he still believed in the power of the System.
Master Olson smiled as if he gained her approval for the first time. “Very good. Now that you have shown your resolve, I’m willing to pass on some of my teachings. You will find it very useful in your upcoming mission.”
His eyes shone wide at her boon. He never expected his master to teach him this early. The value of a single session from a grand Master Mech Designer was immeasurable!
“Before I start my lecture, there is one more lesson you need to learn.”
“Do you know what happened to my rivals once I reach the master level?”
Ves never heard of anyone who rose up in the Vermeer Group in the last couple of decades. Had the Vermeer Group forced them into obscurity?
“I killed whoever remained alive. Even the Vermeer Group had to stand aside.” She responded with a modest grin that hinted at a great amount of enjoyment. “Do make sure to deal with your enemies thoroughly if you ever find yourself in a position of power.”
Her words aimed right at his heart. Ves made quite a lot of enemies, from Carter Gauge to the Ricklin Corporation. Many of these influences completely dwarfed his own. Even if they constantly threatened his life, Ves could only keep his mouth shut.
That might not hold true in the future. When he eventually rose up to become an influential mech designer, he’d be able to contend with the most powerful influences on an equal level.
That was when he should retaliate in earnest. Master Olson wanted him to never forget a slight.
Still, Ves couldn’t quite believe that all of her competitors deserved to die. He refrained from following up with another question. Best not to provoke her any further.
Once she made sure that Ves understood her lesson, she began to lecture him about mechanics and the connection between force and energy.
After a brief introduction, she changed tack. “Let me ask you a question. Why do mechs still resort to low-tech armament such as swords and shields? In human history, there was a time when melee combat has phased out. Much of our current non-mech technology such as tanks and spaceships rely exclusively on the power of their ranged weapons. Why do mechs operate on a different paradigm?”
Ves already learned the answer in his previous studies. “Because mechs possess enough armor and mobility to circumvent a force that completely relies on fighting its opponents at a distance. When an enemy gets close enough to punch you in your face, a railgun won’t be of much help.”
“The key here is to recognize that the confluence of unique properties allow for the anachronism of melee weapons to play a role. Do not disdain their use. So long as mechs are fast and resilient enough to withstand a number of laser beams or kinetic projectiles, there will always be a use for close quarters combat.”
Many experts once predicted that the need to resort to primitive weapons would phase out with the development of deadlier firepower. Mechs would become more civilized just as humans evolved from using clubs to using guns.
Over the past couple of centuries, the power of lasers, ballistics and missiles had indeed grown in power.
The difference between the first generation and the current generation of weaponry was substantial. Even the cheapest currentgen laser rifle could bore a hole through the sturdiest first generation mechs.
Yet those who developed better armor systems never fell behind for long. After they exhausted the means to develop more resilient armor with conventional alloys, they resorted to developing incredibly resilient armor through the use of exotic materials and techniques like alloy compression.
“Since the level of firearms and armor has advanced to significant heights, how are melee weapons able to keep up?”
Ves knew the answer, though he didn’t learn this from any of his courses. He possessed a decent amount of experience working with various generations of mechs, from the 1-star Fantasia to the 5-star Caesar Augustus. That gave him a lot of perspective on the gradual evolution of mechs.
“The amount of force exerted by mechs have also increased over many generations. The average size and mass of mechs increases bit by bit every year. The power of their engines and the effectiveness of their artificial musculature has also experienced several breakthroughs.”
“That is correct.” Master Olson nodded. She sprinkled her fingers, which summoned up a projection of various designs. They all focused upon the methods in which they provided the limbs with mechanical force. ” Now, let me open your mind to the power of battle mechatronics.”