The Mech Touch Chapter 654
653 Compromised Comms
The best gadgets came about through a combination of resources and tech. Sometimes, both could be acquired by money.
"Yet not everything can be obtained by money."
He also couldn't go too far in pursuing his private pursuits. He knew that the Vandals put a lot of surveillance on him. The mech regiment's all-encompassing internal sensors caught everything that happened within their ships. Even if Ves stepped outside the Shield of Hispania and did some private business on Mancroft's space station, his actions would still be noted by a hidden bug or a security officer following him from a distance.
"Even if I do some shady dealings, I can't do anything that compromises the Vandals or our upcoming mission."
That limited his options a lot. Ves figured he could still get by with obtaining materials at Mancroft, but obtaining the tech that transformed the exotic materials into powerful but stable batteries was another matter.
Ves turned around his desk and activated his terminal. He logged into the central database to see whether the central database contained a blueprint or a textbook of sorts.
The library didn't contain anything useful. The books Ves had access to only dealt with mech-sized energy cells and battery packs. Miniaturizing them into the size of his palm never fell within the scope of those books.
It was a different case for certain specialist blueprints. Ultracompact batteries showed up several times, as certain gadgets and devices required use of such a powerful component.
Nonetheless, Ves only received permission to read a short description of the blueprints. Accessing the entire schematics and specifications went far beyond his current authorization.
"Damn, what's the point of making me aware of this tech in the first place?!" He cursed. "It's like dangling a carrot before the horse, but never letting the poor creature take a bite!"
He could look at the summary all he wanted, but it contained none of the instructions that enabled Ves to reproduce an ultracompact battery.
Restricted from contacting his other channels, Ves only figured out three possible alternatives.
"First, I can scrounge up some money from the bank branch and hope I can find the technical specs in the black market."
He didn't have much hopes for this option, as tech like ultracompact batteries went beyond most other tech he came into contact with in the Komodo Star Sector. Pirated or bootleg copies of ultracompact battery schematics shouldn't be casually for sale in some dingy booth deep within the bowels of a grungy trade station.
The second option was to beg the Vandals or the Mech Corps to grant him access to the schematics in the central database.
He snorted. "Fat chance any of that will happen. I can't come up with a decent excuse why I need access to this tech."
A bigger issue involved with this route was that Ves needed to gain direct permission from Colonel Lowenfield herself. Due to her possibly complex history with his uncle Ark back when she served at Citadel Havensworth, Ves grew very leery at the thought of conversing with her directly. From everything she had heard about the highly regarded colonel from the Vandals, the woman was as shrewd as a snake.
No way Ves would voluntarily serve himself up to her on a plate. "She probably doesn't have enough clout to grant me the necessary authorization anyway."
What else could he do? His final option involved asking for a favor from someone far more dangerous than Colonel Lowenfield.
"Am I really considering the option of asking for another favor from the Skull Architect?"
The Vandals tacitly approved of his attempt to ingratiate himself with the Skull Architect because the fugitive mech designer wielded a vast amount of influence in the Faris Star Region. Tacitly did not mean full-throated support. The man's notoriety with the MTA made Major Verle apprehensive about establishing formal ties. It wouldn't reflect well on their record.
And this venture depended entirely on whether the Skull Architect possessed the requisite knowledge in the first place. Did Senior Mech Designers from the Friday Coalition had the right to access this tech? Ves leaned towards no because their star sector simply wasn't developed enough.
"I'll have to ask the man when I'm finally granted an audience with him. He's sure taking his time to address his mail."
None of the options so far sounded good. Ves tried to wrack his brains for alternatives. He ruled out contacting his Master, but he gave the Clifford Society a shot. He quickly logged into their virtual portal's marketplace but found no trace of any supremely advanced human-scale tech. The only products available consisted of finished products, and they required an obscene amount of merits as well as a higher rank within the organization to obtain.
"Obviously, this isn't tech that Apprentice Mech Designers are supposed to get into contact with." He concluded after reading the unspoken message behind these restrictions.
His best bet appeared to be making a possible deal with the Skull Architect. If Ves guessed right that Reno Jimenez possessed the specifications or at least the theory on how to build an ultracompact battery, then he had the opportunity to trade for these goodies.
"The biggest issue here is that I have to offer something worthwhile to convince him to trade for those tech specifications."
Ves grew weary at the thought of entering into a bargain with a man that once ordered the death of an expert pilot. Someone who possessed so few scruples that he even dared to have designs on a demigod would surely not be satisfied with mere trifles.
"Even so, it's impossible for me to give what he really wants."
Knowledge of Spirituality and a rudimentary understanding of the X-Factor were some of his most prized assets. If someone else knew more about Spirituality than him, then they certainly weren't around here to compete against him. As the only holder of these secrets, Ves possessed a monopoly on this aspect.
Holding a monopoly was lucrative. And dangerous. Ves put most of his hopes in the advantage that he gained, and planned to milk it for all it was worth until his enterprises grew to encompass the entirety of human space!
The potential profits and sales he could achieve from this advantage was enough to make the rich princes from the galactic center salivate. That made this arrangement extremely dangerous to Ves. Almost every mech designer would kill to possess this knowledge.
Therefore, for safety and profit's sake, he needed to figure out another way to please one of the most powerful mech designers in the Faris Star Region.
Sometime later, Ves received a short call from Mayra aboard the Jaded Sword.
"Larkinson, my mentor has finally gotten in touch with me."
The moment he waited for had finally arrived. "What's the verdict."
"He declined to tell me. But the news is good. He informed me he wants to conduct a secure conversation with you at the soonest. You better contact him quickly, because he doesn't suffer tardiness gladly."
Ves frowned a bit. "What does he consider secure?"
"He doesn't trust the quantum entanglement nodes aboard your mech regiment's ship. And for a discussion as sensitive as I think it is, he won't be satisfied with ours either."
"If the Skull Architect doesn't trust any quantum entanglement node, then how can I get into touch with him in the first place?"
"You can book a secure comm booth at Mancroft Station. The Independent Harbor is one of the few places which hosts a Tzianti crystal. Have you heard of it before?"
"I can't say that I have."
"Well, a Tzianti crystal is a relic from the long-dead Tzianti race that used to live in the frontier. They work on an entirely different principle than our quantum entanglement nodes, but the effects are similar that they can establish point-to-point real-time communications. The major downsides are that these crystals are very large and unwieldy and their bandwidth is awful. They strain and crack from use and it takes a generous application of expensive materials to repair these cracks."
"If they're so unwieldy, why use them at all?"
"Because the MTA, CFA or any of the other big organizations aren't listening in. The other end of the nodes aren't installed in a central facility which is under their management. Each end of the crystal is accounted for and under constant guard. It's primitive compared to quantum tech, but it's something the pirate factions have complete control over. There's a crystal at Mancroft that corresponds to a crystal in Malligan's Stop."
"I see." Ves nodded. "Even if it's a crappy means of communications, it's their only means of instant communications that's outside of the control of the authorities."
The trans-galactic enterprises that mass-produced the quantum entanglement nodes possessed an oligopoly on the technology. With the MTA and CFA's blessings, the alliance that was collectively called the Comm Consortium wasn't shy about throwing their weight around. Not only did it cost a fortune to obtain a node, but the other end of the node always led to a central hub that contained millions if not billions of nodes.
The official reason the Comm Consortium gave out for setting up these hubs was that it facilitated instantaneous communication from across the galaxy. The galactic net wouldn't be so all-encompassing without the node hubs. Yet everyone and their mother knew the true reason the CC set up the hubs was to eavesdrop on every scrap of data that passed through their network. True point-to-point communications couldn't be done through the galactic net because the CC controlled every aspect of the network except for the user end!
Each time one of them called someone up from their comms or accessed the galactic net, they were pretty much doing so in plain view of the Comm Consortium!
Mayra sent him the protocols to establish a Tzianti connection to Malligan's Pitstop. This allowed him entry into any comm facility that possesses a Tzianti crystal that was paired with one at the pirate station.
"It'll mostly be other pirate stations which are connected to each other." She said just before she ended the call. "As far as I'm aware of, the Tzianti crystal at Mancroft is secure. The only way a Tzianti crystal can be read is through a single port drilled into its core. If you're skeptical, the facility allows you to inspect and scan the entire arrangement. Pirates are incredibly distrustful of each other, so these checks happen every day."
That still didn't rule out more sophisticated methods of eavesdropping, but if he could think about it, so could others. Ves simply had to trust the pirates knew what they were doing when they set those crystals up.
After the quick call, Ves prepared for his upcoming visit to Mancroft. He skipped out on visiting the Independent Harbor during the previous expedition because of its terrible reputation and the very real dangers aboard the notorious space station.
Pirates, smugglers, treasure hunters, salvagers and other rough-and-tumble spacers and adventurers congregated to the last port to the frontier. While true pirate scum didn't dare to enter the Mancroft System, the marginal types that received permission to cross over to civilized space were already sufficiently intimidating.
The naive and inexperienced Ves of before had grown up now. Even if only a couple of years had passed, Ves felt as if a lifetime had passed between his two visits of the Mancroft System.
Back then, he would have been shaking in his shoes at the thought of stepping foot on Mancroft Station.
Now? He couldn't imagine why he was so scared in the first place. It was just a black market hub! "Though strangely enough, they are performing all of these shady deals within throwing distance of a CFA fueling station. Well, whatever. If the CFA isn't cracking down on this business, then it's probably okay to step foot on the station."
If anyone dared to find trouble with him, he would deal with them like he did with all troublemakers he came across!