The Mech Touch Chapter 642
641 Glory And Ruin
Ves understood that he had entered into a negotiation with Mayra. The pirate mech designer wanted something from Ves.
While she could have put Ketis under the tutelage of any other pirate mech designer, hardly any of them possessed the foundation and experience of a legitimate mech designer, let alone an aberration like him!
Before the conversation turned into this direction, Ves hadn't obscured his own background. Though he attempted to understate his accomplishments for fear of sparking any suspicions, his meteoric rise nonetheless marked him out as a mech designer with a bright future ahead of himself. It was no wonder that Mayra thought favorable to him to the point of wanting to put Ketis under his wing.
As long as Major Verle and Professor Velten cleared the decision, he wasn't opposed to the decision. In fact, he even figured the exchange of favors might tie the Swordmaidens closer to the Vandals.
The two had almost nothing in common, so accepting a guest designer might help ease the friction between their forceful marriage.
In addition, the main prize was a grand one. Even a casual glimpse in the principles of modern stealth tech would be enough to form a beacon in the dark. As long as Ves became familiar with the overarching concepts, he could figure out the exact science behind their applications on his own. Naturally, he preferred it if he could get his hands on more than just a taste. The more details he obtained, the less gaps he needed to fill.
He realized that he had the upper hand in this negotiation. A successful mech designer like Ves was hard to come by, and while he was too young to be a proper mentor, Mayra didn't expect him to teach Ketis everything. Teaching her the essence of their profession was something he could do in his sleep, and if Ketis showed a little more enthusiasm that would have been perfect.
Therefore, Ves wasn't in a hurry to agree. He also identified a very big caveat in Mayra's offer.
"All you've told me so far is that the Skull Architect possesses knowledge that is useful to me. But what about you?"
Mayra awkwardly shrugged. "My mentor hasn't seen fit to impart me with an understanding in stealth tech. He does not spread his teachings lightly, let alone on a sensitive matter such as this. However, as a former student of his, I can introduce you to him and beg him for a favor. As long as you make a persuasive case, he won't object to showing you a trick or two."
Ves looked at Mayra as if she had lost her mind. "So you only promise to get me in touch with the Skull Architect, and that's it? Let's not mind the fact that you want me to talk with someone who earned the ire of the MTA, I don't see why a Senior Mech Designer would want to waste his time with me. I doubt that either of us can offer anything meaningful in exchange."
"I admit, it's not the guarantee you are hoping for, but this is the extent of my reach. Do you know how valuable it is to receive a lesson from the Skull Architect? Many pirate mech designers knock on his door each day to be taken in as his student! With my help, you'll at least have a foot in the door!"
"Yeah, only for the door to slam into it as it closes. The opportunity you're dangling over my head doesn't interest me. I already have a teacher, and I have access to many channels of knowledge. I'm not particularly eager to get in touch with a fugitive, and if it becomes publicly known that I did so, my reputation in civilized space will go down the drain."
That last point concerned him quite a bit, though unless someone possessed solid proof, Ves could still fight back to an extent. The effort would be too much, though, and some people would always harbor suspicions.
"Mr. Larkinson." She said seriously. "You'll be doing the Swordmaidens a favor if you accept. You may call us pirates, but we aren't ungrateful. Besides that, you don't have to accept my request if you fail to get anything out of my old mentor."
That sounded more reasonable, but Ves wasn't satisfied with just a single added condition. "What if I only partially succeed in prying something valuable out of the Skull Architect's grasp?"
"I can make it up to you. We have much to offer, from connections to other pirate organizations to entry in various black markets. You'll be able to obtain resources there that you won't be able to find in civilized space."
The pair discussed the details in hushed tones. While the Swordmaidens had access to various exotics and other resources that was in short supply in any other place, Ves had no need for these unique materials. Most of them would only be useful in special applications such as building high-spec components for expert mechs.
In contrast, Ves was much more interested in her offer to introduce him to various black markets. These were unlike the sanitized versions that did business in the Harkensen System. Gaining entry in these markets represented that Ves would be able to obtain much of the bounty from the Faris Star Region as long as he paid a sufficient price.
The banquet ended before they could go in on this topic. Ves sighed and stood up along with the rest. While Major Verle led Commander Lydia and their inner circle to a confidential meeting, Ves shook Mayra's hand.
"It's a pleasure meeting you. I'll think about your offer." He said, hardly straining at the Journeyman's surprisingly powerful grip.
"LIkewise. If there is an opportunity, I will explain the matter to Commander Lydia and your superiors. If they assent to my proposal, we shall proceed from there."
Mayra left the dining room along with half of the Swordmaiden. The junior sisters among them such as Ketis had been left behind.
A mech officer stepped up. "Do you want to go get a drink? Have a spar or two? Or maybe both at the same time?"
"Bring us to what passes for your sparring ring!" A Swordmaiden spoke with a grin. Many of her sisters looked eager to test the mettle of the Vandals. She abruptly reached for her giant sword and unsheathed it from its floating scabbard. "If you have weapons that can match our swords, then that's great! If not, I suppose we can spar like our children!"
The more macho fellows among the Vandals took offense at her boast. For hours they tried to remain polite while the Swordmaidens challenged their masculinity at every step. The men wanted to show to these dangerous, exotic women that they weren't pushovers!
As for Ves, he shook his head and ignored the coming fiasco. The Flagrant Vandals was a military mech regiment. It's entire purpose revolved around fielding mechs. If the contest involved a spar between mechs, then Ves would put his money on the Vandals. Yet when it came to physical prowess, then he would put every credit on the Swordmaidens.
Their genetic modification was no joke! Subtle ones allowed humans to retain their appearances, but the tradeoff was that the effects were weak. More drastic changes inevitably introduced a change in phenotypes. In other words, the alien traits became more dominant to the point where the weaker human traits started to lose ground.
The more alien a hybrid looked like, the more their strength and attributes resembled the alien they borrowed their genes from! Naturally, the risks became greater at this point, as hybridization often proved to be irreversible. A poor match of genes could have unpredictable and extreme results!
It was the number one source of insanity among the upper class!
"Lydia's Swordmaidens are playing with fire. They should take care to learn from the lessons of the Age of Conquest."
Hybridization became increasingly prevalent among those who could afford to undergo such treatments. Back then, the enthusiasm for shedding the limited human form had led to a race among exobiologists. They developed radical new patterns without taking the time to understand the repercussions of what they offered.
Many of them might grant powerful physical or mental enhancements, but they also introduced radical changes in behavior. These changes required decades of formal trials to identify, but the freewheeling market of genetic modification couldn't afford to wait that long for a new product to be released!
"What happened next was a disaster."
Entire swathes of statesmen and admirals became power hungry and belligerent! A president of a third-rate state might abruptly declare war against a powerful second-rate state. An admiral might order the annihilation of a highly-populated planet because of a perceived insult from its rulers.
"The Age of Conquest is a time in human history when mankind conquered the aliens. It is also a time where aliens have conquered man."
The unsurpassed achievement of conquering half the galaxy, only to suffer genocide of their own making when alien genes turned the ruling class insane represented the duality of this past era.
From the brink of success, to the brink of annihilation, many humans who lived today often sighed about this complex time in history. What would have happened if regulators reined in the exobiologists and geneticists? Would humanity end up as the only space-faring species in the galaxy if they hadn't turned their genocidal instincts inwards?
As Ves exited the dining room and walked back to his office compartment, he wondered whether this proposal was a good idea in the first place.
"Associating with someone who's called the Skull Architect isn't exactly the most prudent career decision."
He already had the System, the Clifford Society and Master Olson to assist him with mech design-related issues. Though it appeared he was spoiled for choice, all three channels came with caveats, and access to them could be taken away from him at any time.
"A crafty rabbit has at least three burrows."
Anything could happen in the future. If Ves ever suffered a similar fate to the Skull Architect, then at least two of his burrows would collapse while the third one likely couldn't help at all. If nothing else, even if the entire galaxy hated his guts, he could always find shelter in the lawless frontier.
"Preparing a fourth burrow won't take too much effort. If I can take advantage of the circumstances and establish ties with one of the power brokers of the Faris Star Region, then I'll have a firm footing in the underground."
Ves received a lot of warnings about dealing with the underground when he studied mech design. Many of his colleagues fell to easy temptations put out by seemingly generous pirates. Once the mech designers found themselves in their clutches, it turning out the sweet offers had been nothing more than a lure. Those unfortunate mech designers became permanent 'employees' of those pirate gangs, and were generally never heard from again.
These unsavory stories illustrated the double-edged nature of becoming involved in the underground. Everyone was out for themselves, and the rule of law and the sanctity of contracts held no sway here. Without sufficient strength and cunning, one would always be a victim of one of the sharks that trawled the frontier regions.
This was also why he didn't immediately agree to Mayra's proposal. Even if he was a mech designer, Skull Architect Jimenez was one of the biggest sharks in the sea of stars! A careless gesture might earn his ire, or worse, trigger his obsession!
"This fugitive killed thousands of mech pilots, and went as far as butchering an expert pilots and pull out his bones to incorporate them in one of his mechs!"
That particular blend of madness spoke of extreme irrationality that was the bane to any mech designer! Basically, any interaction with the Skull Architect would be fraught with peril! Who knew if he turned some kind of switch in the Senior's addled mind!
The risks would surely quadruple in his case because of his hidden specialty! What could Ves do if the Skull Architect somehow managed to discover the truth behind his work!
Ves therefore felt leery about contacting the Skull Architect in the first place. If the X-Factor hadn't been so difficult to define and understand, Ves would have never entertained the offer in the first place.