Dietrich and Ves entered a modestly luxurious compartment where they stayed for the duration of the trip. It featured as much space as half a house. Besides offering two separate bedrooms, it featured an opulent living room decorated with generous amounts of gold and blue, the spaceline's oft-used colors.
What Ves particularly liked was that a door led to a small, private workspace with a secured terminal. With the promised privacy offered by Townsend Airlines, Ves could work on his designs in peace. He planned to do a lot of catching up now that he had time to spare.
"Man, these beds are great! Don't mind if I bring some company over, if you know what I mean." Dietrich suggestively said as he jumped right onto the bouncy mattress of his chosen bed.
Ves studiously ignored the implications of those words as he calmly packed his luggage away. Lucky roamed around the room with adventurous mirth, pawing his forearm against a shiny vase.
"Whoa! Look at the prices of this dinner menu! They're charging forty-seven thousand credits for the top 18-course meal!"
"Don't even think about it Dietrich. I don't think either of us can afford to squander so much money. Besides, we already paid for complementary meals."
In actuality, the Torch of the Vanguard greatly resembled cruise ships whose sole purpose was to tour the most interesting sights in space. The main boulevards inside the ship was lined with shops featuring handcrafted luxuries. Those interested in culture could visit the museums and various theaters. As for those more immersed in the world of mechs, a small arena was nested at the bowels of the vessels.
The Torch was like a city unto itself, one that travelled constantly from system to system. The amount of credits it took to keep it running was astronomical. The frugal Ves disliked wasting so much credits on a simple passage, but that was the price to ensure his safety. The cheaper spacelines all had dubious records when it came to protecting their passengers from errant pirate raids.
As Ves was just about to join Dietrich outside to witness the ship's departure, he received a priority call. He picked it up and met Marcella's ambivalent face.
"Looks like you've got some news Marcella."
"Somewhat. You know you gave access of your Iron Spirit designer account to me right? Well I set some triggers in case anything unusual happened, and one of them tripped this morning. You should head to a terminal and see for yourself what has happened."
Hopefully his account wasn't banned for terrorism or something. Ves told Dietrich to wait and quickly sat before a terminal. Luckily, Iron Spirit's lobby already came installed on the terminal though full immersion wasn't possible without simulation pods. As he entered the game, he checked his statistics.
"What the? Thirty-one CA-C1 Marc Antony's got sold?"
Just as Ves sat back with amazement, he saw the ticker of his sales count increase by one, meaning another of his virtual mechs got sold.
"For better or worse, the infamy of today's incident drew a spotlight to your mechs. I've even received some offers for you to replicate your customized mech."
"Really? Including the codpiece?"
"Especially the codpiece. You don't seem to realize how much of a trendsetter you've unwittingly become. There are already some other mechs who's sporting the same kind of codpiece."
That sounded like he was getting ripped off. "That's my design! They shouldn't be able to copy it without my permission!"
"That's why I'm calling you. First, you should raise the prices of your virtual mechs, at least the ones based on the Caesar Augustus. Second, register your customized design at the MTA so that anyone that wants to copy your codpiece design will have to cough up some money. Third, while it's your personal choice, I really suggest you put up your customized design for sale ingame. I can guarantee you it will sell like hotcakes."
Ves nodded and agreed with some of the proposals. He talked a bit more about how to take advantage of his design's current infamy and the tradeoff between achieving a lot of sales versus keeping his reputation clean.
While Ves greatly valued his reputation, he was willing to put it aside when it came to earning DP. The precious Design Points were notoriously different to earn, but right now the unintentional publicity concerning his second ever Marc Antony changed the equation. He quickly called up his status and grinned uncontrollably at the amount of DP he earned from the virtual sales.
"With every five-star virtual mech sold, I get fifty DP from the System. Combined with other incidental sales along with my previous savings, I'm already looking at 1800 DP."
The magnetic pull of earning shiploads of DP had overridden any other practical concerns. His eyes turned into shining gems of DP as he tried to envision what he could buy with the System's most valuable currency. Even purchasing one of the expensive attribute boosts from the Item Store was not out of the question.
"Considering my next destination, I can use all the DP I can get."
The System gave him the daunting task of apprenticing himself to a master. These eminent personalities were spoiled for choice. They could pick from tens of thousands of hopeful mech designers at any time. The only way Ves could stand out and receive an opportunity to beg them for an apprenticeship was to perform well in the upcoming open competition.
Coming from a third-rate state, Ves was quite aware of his backwardness. His knowledge base paled in comparison to what even the worst novice learned in any of the Friday Coalition's colleges.
"I'm too far behind." He concluded. The inferiority gnawed at him. He already had a taste of how formidable the exclusive knowledge could be manifested when he faced all of those elite graduates in the Young Tigers Exhibition. Ves practically lucked out in reaching the finals, but he hit a solid wall in the form of Edwin McKinney.
Despite their similar ages, the mere difference in where they studied proved to be a decisive factor in how far they could go. A diploma from the Rittersberg University of Technology was worth less than the toilet paper of any of the Friday Coalition's vaunted universities.
"If I can't catch up to my rivals in terms of skills, I can forget about participating in Leemar."
With that thought, Ves decisively tweaked his online sales page. He left the prices the same but he did load his customized design into the game and put it on sale.
[CA-1CD Marc Antony, Male Variant]
Base Model: Caesar Augustus CA-1
Purchase Price: 900,000 gold
Premium Price: 27,500 bright credits
The prices Ves charges were very generous and did not lose out to any other 5-star mechs. He elegantly attached the moniker of 'Male Variant' to the design, as if he simply meant to distinguish it from his genderless model. It sure sounded classier than the alternatives he came up with, such as 'Bling Edition' or 'Biggus Dickus'.
"Well, let's get you to work. I expect a lot of sales from you while the hype still lasts." He said to his latest product on sale, feeling a bit like a pimp pushing his whore to the streets.
He closed the terminal and left the cabin along with an impatient Dietrich. They navigated the gently illuminated halls with their carpets and artwork until they finally reached one of the observatory areas at the top of the ship.
A handful of other passengers stood around or sat at the many benches. They all gazed at the orbital space station spinning above Bentheim's chaotic surface. Their smug faces and low conversations made it clear that they did not hold much sympathy.
They were like gods sneering over the trials and tribulations of the mortals suffering beneath their feet.
Though Ves disliked such attitudes, there was no point coming into conflict with them. From their fancy suits and dresses, he gathered that they could easily crush him by their net worths alone.
"A lot of people are running away." Dietrich huffed as he scratched his stubble. "Can't say I blame them. If you have the money, why not move to somewhere better? Hey, will you move as well if you make it into the big leagues?"
Ves shook his head as he admired the jewel of a planet underneath his feet. "The Republic is my home. It doesn't feel right abandoning my homeland."
Frankly, the System was a cheat. Any ordinary mech designer had to seek apprenticeships from masters living in more developed states. As for him, as long as he kept selling mechs he'd earn enough DP to develop his chosen skills. He enjoyed an incredible luxury over his fellow designers that allowed him to avoid pledging his loyalty to a greater party.
Every passenger and all their cargo finished boarding the passenger ship. The mighty Torch slowly lumbered into life as a fraction of its powerful engines started to detach the ship from the space station. Escorted and helped along by a couple of tugs, the spaceship headed straight towards a Lagrange point, skipping past many smaller vessels along the way.
"All that money sure is well-spent. Evidently our ship is important enough to skip the queue."
Faster than Ves had thought, the Torch reached the approximate area where gravity allowed the ship to jump into FTL. With a disembodying zip, the vessel emerged into the swirling confusion of physics referred to simply as FTL space. The scientists had a proper name for it, but no one cared.
"Right, the show's over. This is going to take a while. Let's go grab some drinks."
Ves didn't decline Dietrich's invitation. He had a long month ahead of him and he could use some relaxation before he started to go to work. He wanted to use his time well and prepare as best he could for Leemar.
Still, internally he felt insecure. No Master Mech Designers were willing to waste their valuable time instructing an average apprentice. They presided over major organisations that allowed them the pick the cream of the crop. Most masters adopted promising geniuses when they just started their studies into mech design, sometimes even earlier.
To a master, an apprenticeship represented more than a simple exchange of knowledge. A good apprentice carried the name and reputation of his master as he exercised skills derived from his master's unique insights. Thus, a meticulous master was said to emphasize the teaching of their design philosophy.
As Ves followed Dietrich to the entertainment section of the ship, he wondered what his philosophy consisted of. Certainly his meager focus in speed and armor was not sufficient to form an ethos.
"The only thing that's truly unique to all my designs is my emphasis on X-Factor."
He wasn't sure if he could find any similar approach to the masters present in Leemar. Likely he had to keep that secret locked up in order to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention. In fact, Ves wasn't sure if seeking a closer relationship with a master had any benefits for him. The System already offered him an entire galaxy's worth of knowledge.
"Well, even if I'm not very serious about finding a master, I should still do it to complete the quest."
He wondered what the System intended by forcing him to travel so far away. Was he wrong about the usefulness of a master? Was it worth getting close to one and risk exposing his many secrets?
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