Unlike most of the Seniors he met before, Professor Ventag didn't sit behind his desk. Instead, he stood in front of a projection depicting Bentheim from orbit. It was a stunning sight and the globe offered its viewers a good glimpse of the dense amount of structures dotting the busy planet.
"Come closer, young man."
Ves slowly stepped inside, taking note of the security guards stationed inside. It seemed that every important person aboard this ship except Ves received guard protection!
Of course, that might also be because Ves wasn't very important in the eyes of Senator Tovar and the higher ups!
He quickly shook away his resentment at the perceived lack of care in order to cross the room without making a scene.
When Ves came to Professor Ventag's side, he became struck by how thin and tall the Senior appeared.
Ventag possessed a dark complexion that wasn't very prevalent in the Komodo Star Sector. He possessed an intense pair of eyes that continued to scan over Bentheim's various terrain features.
A minute passed by as Ves quietly waited for the Senior to speak. Just standing silently next to the professor already gave Ves a vague idea that this was a hard-working Senior Mech Designer with a lot more promise han Professor Velten!
This was a Senior who was still in his prime!
"Mr. Larkinson." The professor finally began. "Senator Tovar instructed me to take care of you while you are a part of the peace delegation. He seems to believe that you can benefit from my guidance while you are here. Tell me, are you the kind of helpless mech designer who can't do anything without a Senior to hold your hand?"
Ves smiled awkwardly at the Senior. What the hell was this?!
"I did not expect Senator Tovar to solicit you on my behalf." He began. "I welcome any advice you can give me, but I am already content with my current progress."
Ventag nodded. "Short and diplomatic. Good answer. Your words contain neither arrogance or servility. You have expressed enough deference to be respectful, but not enough to suggest you are sucking up to me. Are you pleased?"
"I am pleased to receive your praise."
Ves looked a bit stumped as Ventag stopped speaking and went back to staring the projection of the globe. What was he supposed to say? It was too unseemly for an Apprentice to argue against a Senior's judgement, yet Ventag didn't change the topic to something else and instead let his last remark linger.
He felt as if Professor Ventag was testing in some way. While Ves did not fear being quizzed on mech design topics, all of this strange talk just tied him in a knot.
Fortunately, the strange Senior eventually moved on and gestured an arm at the projection. "Hmph. Very well, let's move on. Tell me, what do you see?"
"It's a projection of Bentheim, the principal planet of the Bentheim System." Ves answered. "As the center of trade, production and innovation of the Bright Republic, Bentheim is a vital economic motor to the state."
"Is that all you see? Is that all that Bentheim represents?"
What Ves previously said was a standard textbook answer. However, a Senior never wanted a simple answer! This prompted him to recall his previous talks with Senator Tovar and Leland. To people in their camp, Bentheim wouldn't have given them so many headaches if it was just a prosperous planet.
"Bentheim.. Bentheim is a planet in contention. It possesses an abundant amount of economic power, but it is far away from Rittersberg, which is the Republic political center of power. These differences have led to much friction, culminating in the rise of the Bentheim Liberation Movement. Their goal to liberate Bentheim from the Republic is unrealistic and downright stupid, but their grievances against the central government aren't... unfounded."
Professor Ventag threw him an intense glance that made Ves feel as if his eyes were being poked. "That is a very nuanced opinion. Senator Tovar won't be pleased with your answer, you know. To the politicians at Rittersberg, Bentheim has been treated more than fairly. Certainly, the planet gives up a lot of its revenue, but in turn it is able to shelter under the umbrella of the mighty Bright Republic! Do you see it that way as well, Mr. Larkinson?"
One could argue how much benefits the rest of the Bright Republic actually offered to Bentheim. That way usually led to people getting into heated arguments.
Ves vaguely figured that this issue seemed to be very important Professor Ventag. Otherwise, why raise this topic in the first place?
No matter what he said, he would be sure to upset at least someone. In the presence of Professor Ventag, Ves suspected that he couldn't get away with a lie or a non-answer. So he decided to bite the bullet and speak his personal opinion on the matter.
"While I've spent a portion of my youth as well as my student years on Rittersberg, my true home is Cloudy Curtain which is very close to Bentheim. Having grown up on a quiet, rural planet right next door to the busy Bentheim, I learned that my planet is heavily depended on the commerce and consumers that Bentheim offers. While Cloudy Curtain is extremely dependent on Bentheim to sell cloud rice and other agricultural products, Bentheim is also dependent on other planets and star systems to provide them with goods and services that keeps it aloft."
Ventag's lips curled a little. He appeared to be pleased. "Go on."
"Every planet and star system is interconnected these days. As far as Bentheim concerned, it uses up an incredible amount of food to feed its dense population and demands an enormous tide of raw materials to feed its mech companies and other industries."
"Trade doesn't necessarily happen within the borders of a state. In fact, Bentheim imports and exports most of the goods that pass through the star system."
"Even so, the domestic suppliers and buyers offer Bentheim stable and favorable partners to do business with. You can't say the same about the foreign states, who can turn against us at any time to further their own goals. Aside from that, Bentheim's most powerful gift from the state is the protection of all of the forces of the Mech Corps raised in the other parts of the state to reinforce the star system's defenses!"
"Very good. That is one of the most important observations you can make." Professor Ventag nodded. "No state can stand on their own without military power. The Bright Republic is no different. Some local miscreants and agitators may be convinced that Bentheim is able to raise a sufficient amount of forces to hold back the Vesia Kingdom, but that is a considerable miscalculation. Strength is strongly correlated with territory. This has been tested over and over again throughout the wars in the past, both against other human states and against the aliens. What do you think of Ansel?"
Ventag probably didn't ask Ves on his opinion about the city.
"The AUMD is one of the most prestigious schools for mech designers." Ves answered, stating the obvious before he gave his opinion. "Regardless of its faults, it is nonetheless able to provide the Bright Republic with most of its Senior Mech Designers. As long as we have so many Seniors, we are able to stay on par against the Vesians who possess slightly more Seniors due to their larger population."
Professor Ventag sighed. "The AUMD is a necessary evil. I agree with Senator Tovar that Ansel possesses an outsized amount of influence in the mech industry. However, the way the Bright Republic has hamfistedly tried to restrict the school has either ended in failure or antagonized the Ansel alumni network into pushing back. It is not so easy to wean the Republic from their dependence to a single institution."
All of this didn't really seem relevant to Ves in his life. However, he knew that the more he grew, the more he would become involved with this particular dynamic. What he witnessed at the KNG already showed him a glimpse of the power and reach of Ansel mech designers.
"Probably the only way to keep the AUMD in check is to offer worthy competition." Ves remarked.
"That is exactly what we are trying to do. The Dorum Center of Technology and Innovation is one of several ongoing solutions by the central government to chip away at the AUMD's monopoly on high-ranked mech designers. However, we estimate that barring any major incidents, it will take centuries for the DCTI to be able to come close to matching the AUMD's prestige. What do you think of my alma mater?"
Ves twitched his lips. He couldn't very well badmouth the professor's own school, right?
"The DCTI enjoys a good reputation in the Bright Republic. It's the second school of choice for most students aspiring to be mech designers. Its track record of raising mech designers who went on to successfully advance toe Senior is respectable enough to give many students hope of achieving the same one day."
Ventag shook his head. "I'm afraid it is not so simple, Mr. Larkinson. Every decent school for mech designer is able to raise some Journeymen at the very least. However, it takes an enormous amount of investment as well as other requirements to make a Journeyman advance to Senior. The AUMD is able to shoulder these requirements with their famed alumni network. Successful Seniors are willing to lend their hand to the younger generation of Ansel mech designers with guidance, financial assistance, technical help or favorable contracts."
"It's a virtuous cycle." Ves observed. "Older Seniors help out younger Journeyman, increasing the chances that the latter are able to advance to Seniors. This new generation of Seniors are subsequently encouraged by the alumni network to do the same to the generation of mech designers before them. The same thing repeats again and again."
At some point, the alumni network became so wealthy, powerful and influential that Ansel graduates take up the majority of the Bright Republic's top-end mech design talent!
"I am glad you recognize how formidable the Ansel machine has become." Ventag said. "Breaking this machine is impossible. Therefore, Rittersberg has instead decided to erode it over time. It may take centuries, but eventually the DCTI will rise to catch up to the AUMD and be able to offer an equivalent amount of help to their Journeymen to ease their advancement to Senior."
This was a very long-term scheme that didn't seem very likely to achieve their goals. Ves did not hold out his hopes that the DCTI would ever be able to beat the AUMD at their own game. Its reputation as the second-best mech design university of the Bright Republic wasn't a badge of honor, but a mark of stain to the school. The AUMD would never allow the DCTI to wipe off that stain.
Ves found it difficult to care about this issue. He was just an Apprentice for now, and even if he advanced Journeyman he still failed to see why he should be involved. After all, he studied at a school on Rittersberg and not Bentheim, so he found it hard to care about the rivalry between the two best mech design universities.
"Senator Tovar... has expressed an intriguing possibility." Professor Ventag said and stopped studying the projection of Bentheim. He turned to Ves with his intense eyes flaring. "Personally, I find his suggestion rather premature. However, it is intriguing enough for me to consider it. What do you think about a future opportunity to teach at my school? As long as you become a Journeyman Mech Designer with some renown, you are qualified to teach some introductory classes at the Dorum Center of Technology and Innovation. Does that interest you, Mr. Larkinson?"
Ves gulped. This offer completely came out of the blue! While Ves always dreamt of holding a teaching job as a side activity, he wasn't very picky about the schools. Yet if Ves casually accepted this overture from Professor Ventag, then he would firmly put himself in the DCTI's camp, making him an enemy of the AUMD and its powerful Ansel alumni network!