The Mech Touch Chapter 653
652 Money And Tech
Lately, various distractions and events had slipped him from this dream. He had to shove it aside to address more immediate concerns, but once his life calmed down, he never really got back to it. His duties with the Vandals constantly preoccupied him with more distractions.
He was losing his drive.
"If I hadn't compared myself to the likes of the Skull Architect and the others, then I wouldn't have woken up."
This simple mental aspiration sounded short and simple, but it encompassed all of his other goals. It provided a solid direction to swim towards, enabling him to ignore any side branches that might have seduced him away from his true calling.
Making mechs alive was as impossible and fantastical as the Skull Architect's dream of designing an impossibly efficient and powerful mech! Perhaps the difficulty of achieving it even surpassed the Senior Mech Designer's ambition!
"I like it! If there is anything the Masters and Star Designers have showed the galaxy, it's that nothing is impossible!"
If a path to achieving a goal didn't exist, then a mech designer should make his own! This had always been the creed of higher-ranking mech designers.
"This is why mech designers exist!"
Having reignited his passion, Ves felt unprecedented motivated to design a mech. The only problem was that he didn't have any cause or opportunity to design a new mech!
"Damn, it's like I'm excited and raring to go, but I only have my hand to keep me company!"
The Flagrant Vandals required no new mech designs. Even if they did, only a Senior like Professor Velten had the right to lead the design projects. A small-time player like Ves could only be involved in the testing, optimization and debugging processes, which were hardly tasks that exercised his design skills.
"There's only one project available that I can spend my energy upon."
The Vandals collected all the recoverable fragments of the Vesian stealth shuttles and stored them in a forgotten corner aboard the Shield of Hispania. He intended to start working on them earlier, but his obsession with the Skull Architect's puzzle had delayed his original plans.
"Damn, Avenaeon must be pissed for me to skip the last few days."
He quickly called up the chief engineer of the Shield. Surprisingly, he didn't hold any animosity towards Ves for fudging up his appointments.
"While I'm not a mech designer, I'm still an engineer." The older man explained with a smile. "I've seen inventor types like you get inspired by something interesting before. I've learned that it's best to let people who fall into an inspired state work it out of their system on their own. Think about it. Would you be in a good mood if I abruptly pulled you out of your tinkering?"
If Ves received an interruption at any point while he worked on the Leiner Grey design, then he would have lost the thread of inspiration that had fallen into his lap. It was almost impossible for him to go back to that special mood!
"I'd be pissed and angry as hell. You've done me a huge favor. Thanks for letting me finish what I started." Ves bowed his head in genuine appreciation. "About the stealth project, let's postpone it until later. I've gotten in touch with a potential channel that can be a massive boost to our research. We'll also be arriving at Mancroft soon, so we'll be busy with the final resupply situation."
"Those are my thoughts as well. Mancroft is a rough place, but it's the only opportunity we have left to stock up on key supplies. I suggest you take a look at our fuel stock. From my end, the fleet is definitely short on ship-grade fuels. We simply don't know how far we have to travel in the frontier. Once we run out, all of our fancy hardware will instantly become useless."
Ves nodded in agreement. "That's a good idea. There's only a couple of space stations in the entire Faris Star Region, and they are only open to pirates. Even if we can lean on Lydia's Swordmaidens for help, it's better for us to stay self-sufficient."
The alliance between the Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordmaidens appeared stable on the surface, but a responsible leader needed to take contingencies into account.
"By the way Larkinson, while we can leave the procurement of supplies to Logistics, the space station itself is still worth a visit. Have you visited the black market on Harkensen III?"
"I did. A lot of shady goods and services are traded there. They're rather unusual, but none of them seem useful to us."
"Well, the stuff that ends up in the black markets in the Harkensen System is only a fraction of what the frontier exports to our star sector. A huge chunk of traffic between the frontier and our star sector goes through Mancroft as a stopover point. Lots of interesting goodies from the frontier that you can hardly find anywhere else is on display there. I highly suggest you drop by at the market section of the space station."
"Even if something catches my attention, I'm not allowed to bring anything with me, remember?"
The chief smiled lazily at Ves. "Don't let the rules stop you. If you have to cover your butt for some reason, just write some official paperwork about procuring extra 'supplies' for a super-important project or something. You've been field-promoted to head designer, right? Just fill out a requisition form and throw it into the logs where it will quickly become a forgotten entry in the logs."
"That's an abuse of power, you know."
"Ves!" Avanaeon loudly coughed. "Abuse? What are you talking about? There's no abuse going on here. We're merely engaging in.. proactive inventory management. A bit of creative bookkeeping won't hurt the finances of the mech regiment that much."
"Whatever you say, chief. Let's just say I'll think about it and leave it at that. If nothing else, I'll visit the space station anyway for the experience alone."
After Ves ended the call, he sighed and cast his gaze at the days ahead. This wouldn't be the first time he visited the Mancroft System. Roughly two years ago, he accepted a mission from the Clifford Society to participate in a vast expedition into the frontier organized by House Kaine from the Grey Willow Star Sector.
He remembered that the expeditionary fleet resupplied at Mancroft as well before they crossed the border into lawless space.
"Back then, the expeditionary fleet was so powerful that House Kaine even turned a recommissioned fleet carrier into their flagship."
The might of their expeditionary fleet allowed them to deter a huge amount of pirate raiders. Yet even with all of that power at their disposal, they still encountered lots of setbacks. Their ships and mechs might have scared off the riff raff, but the major pirate factions as well as the alien sandmen were undeterred.
"The frontier isn't safe. The near-disaster of the Groening Mission already proves that every time you enter it, you gamble with your lives."
It was also little wonder that Lord Kaine's expedition found lots of problems in finding willing mech designers to join them as they jumped into the proverbial abyss. Most of them were bookworms, not adventurers! Only a greedy idiot like Ves jumped into the fray without taking stock of the many risks involved.
He suddenly had the sense that history might repeat itself. Would the Flagrant Swordmaidens encounter the same problems that plagued the previous expeditionary fleet?
The more he thought about it, the more he feared the prospect of another tour into lawless space. Even though Lydia's Swordmaidens fit right at home in the frontier, that didn't mean the Flagrant Vandals could rely completely on their ally's home advantage to avoid the crises that might occur in this perilous space.
"The most they can do is rely on their network of contacts and alliances to force the local pirate groups back. They can't do anything if a sandmen fleet decides to suck out all of our energy."
Pirates only formed one threat among many in the frontier. Perils from fellow competitors, alien races and natural hazards only piled up on the misery, causing most prospective colonists and exiles to lose their lives within a decade of setting shop in frontier space.
"They don't call it the untamed stars for nothing. There is no order and guarantee of safety in this wild region of space."
This time, they had the advantage of being accompanied by a local ally. The downside was that the Flagrant Swordmaidens hadn't brought a sufficiently domineering spaceborn fleet. The major pirate factions could easily muster up enough mechs to challenge them head-on, and if they encountered a major sandman force, they could only run as fast as possible.
A quiet day went by as Ves mulled over the threats they might face. Visions of various disasters haunted him at night, which completely obliterated his highly motivated state. He wouldn't be able to design mechs at all in his depressingly worried mood.
His routine morning meeting with the mech designers went poorly as Ves became distracted on what precautions he should take. While it was easy to leave his safety up to the planning of the Swordmaidens and the Vandals, he disliked being at the mercy of someone else. He experienced too many times where all the best laid plans went to hell due to an unexpected occurrence.
Ves developed a healthy respect for the frontier, so he planned to make some additional preparations. "I need to upgrade my personal gear."
Besides his military-issued equipment, he also tinkered together a rudimentary jamming device and stealth detector. While they were small and portable, their range and power left much to be desired.
The root of the problems he had with both devices was that their batteries were seriously deficient. It was like depending on a hamster running on a wheel to power the energy demands of an aircar. The two operated on completely different energy scales!
"I know that better batteries exist."
The Amastendira was the most exquisite example to date. Powered by an infinitely rechargeable battery that possibly drew its juice from zero-point energy, it showed how compact and powerful a battery could become. Naturally, it was impossible for Ves to replicate first-class technology out here in the galactic boondocks.
The shield generator gifted to him by Master Olson formed a more attainable to Ves. He had carefully studied the device extensively without risking its integrity and he found the amazing device possessed a powerful battery made almost exclusively from high-grade exotics.
The total size of that battery could fit in the palm of his hand.
While he didn't have access to any high-grade exotics or the requisite technology to form them into an ultracompact battery, he might still be able to pick something up at one of Mancroft's many markets.
"Still.. high grade exotics costs a lot of money. A single gram of some valuable substance can be worth a billion bright credits. How can I possibly pay for all that stuff?"
Embezzlement? No way something like that would work! Lieutenant Commander Soapstone watched their available funds like a hawk. Small sums might pass by her notice, but a jumbo charge of over a billion credits would easily come to the forefront of her vision.
Should he pay for them out of his own pocket? "That's going to be difficult since I put restrictions on my bank accounts."
He still had a small fortune stashed away in his accounts. Through the dividends the LMC paid out since he left, they should have gained several hundred million bright credits at the very least.
Fortunately, a lot of commerce took place in Mancroft. The space station hosted several sector-wide bank branches. As long as he paid a personal visit and verified his identity, it wouldn't be difficult to momentarily unlock his accounts.
"That takes care of the money. What about the technology?"
Ves furrowed his brows. That would be much harder to get ahold of. An ultracompact battery wasn't exactly common in this area of space.