Ves returned to the Barracuda via a shuttle, leaving Delta-Gina behind to pick up and guide another mech designer.
"How has it been?" Gavin greeted his boss. "Did they force you to slit your palm and shake hands or something?"
"Nothing of the sort." Ves shook his head. "I can't say much about what I've been through, but it's mostly a bunch of formalities mixed with grand displays of the MTA's might."
"Makes sense. The MTA is really adamant about keeping every mech designer under their thumb. It's kind of weird how every mech designer accepts their dominion."
The MTA could hardly tolerate a rival organization that tries to govern mechs, Ves knew. They wanted to control as many mech designers as possible in order to harvest their gains when they advanced to Master.
"You should mind your words, Benny. We're still in MTA territory. Besides, the Association has done a lot more good than bad for the mech community."
"I'm not so sure about that. Why is the mech market the only place which requires such an extensive degree of supervision and regulation? You don't see the market for nutrient packs being governed by a tyrannical Nutrient Trade Association who send out entire warfleets against every manufacturer who rips off someone else's formulas."
"Nutrient packs are products which are inherently useful and always in demand. We both know that mechs aren't nearly as desirable."
The MTA and CFA forced every state to replace their warships with mechs. Those that didn't quickly got demolished. Under such a naked threat, states could only begrudgingly hand over their bigger toys and start playing with smaller ones instead.
Though Ves had never thought about it too much, now that he witnessed the MTA's urgency in encouraging innovation, he had to admit that their nightmare might come to pass one day.
If mechs failed to develop into war machines that could effectively stand toe-to-toe with warships, the latter would inevitably make a return to human society.
While mechs would always have a place in the armed forces of a modern state, they'd be relegated to unimportant auxiliary units. Deprived of glory, attention and funding, mechs would become increasingly more invisible. The thriving mech industry would shrink to a fraction of its height, forcing countless mech designers to abandon their profession and become more mundane engineers.
The MTA wasn't about to let this come to pass. They put all of their hopes on mech designers who advanced and developed psionic powers that enabled them to go beyond the technical limitations of mechs.
Yet if the MTA could harness psionics, what about the CFA? What were they up to with regards to this mysterious force?
Ves knew that the CFA should definitely be aware of its existence. He even witnessed an experiment related to psionics on Aeon Corona VII. That meant that as early as three-hundred years ago, the CFA was already dabbling with this power!
Yet the warships the CFA employed to this day did not appear to possess any exceptional quality. They were huge, brutish vessels that solely relied on quantity and quality to unleash overwhelming might!
No matter what kind of metaphysical tricks were thrown at them, warships always managed to defeat exotic effects through sheer brute force!
Perhaps the CFA tried but failed to replicate the powers of a mech designer onto a shipwright. It could be that they decided to focus on a different application of psionics.
Whatever the case, the CFA was not obliged to imitate the MTA.
Gavin interrupted his musings. "Now that you've got your Journeyman certificate and galactic citizenship badge, are we done here?"
"Yup. I've finished my business with the MTA. We're free to leave the star system, but since we're here, we might as well stick around for a while."
While Ves still had an appointment with Master Olsen at Leemar, it wasn't too urgent. He doubted she cared if he arrived a week or two later.
"Let's enjoy what Centerpoint has to offer. It's not every day I get to visit the most prosperous star system in the Komodo Star Sector."
Centerpoint was truly the biggest nexus of trade in the region. Situated smack dab in the middle of the Friday Coalition and the Hexadric Hegemony, it facilitated trade from all over the star sector and beyond.
Despite the huge costs associated with doing business at Centerpoint, a huge amount of cross-sector trade took place here. Huge trade fleets dumped extremely valuable goods from star sectors closer to the center of the galaxy while loading up their cargo holds with exotics and other specialty goods native to the Komodo Star Sector and the frontier.
This also meant that Centerpoint offered a lot of advanced goods and services that weren't native to the Komodo Star Sector or the galactic rim!
Naturally, not everyone could afford to pay for these goods and services. They were so expensive that only the internal personnel of the MTA and the wealthy citizens of the two second-rate states could afford to spend that much money.
The Centerpoint System was an immense star system that hosted multiple stars, planets, space habitats and space stations. Many of them imposed strict requirements of entry.
For example, Centerpoint III was the exclusive reserve of mech designers working directly for the MTA. A lot of amazing mechs and mech designs emerged from Centerpoint III each day.
Ordinary mech designers from all over the star sector dreamt of being admitted to the planet and becoming an apprentice or assistant to one of the esteemed MTA mech designers who resided on this paradise planet.
Yet for as long as it was settled, Centerpoint III had never opened its doors to anyone but internal members of the MTA!
The same applied to several other planets and habitats in the system. Even settlements with looser requirements still limited entry based on tiers of galactic citizenship.
While Ves had recently been inducted as a galactic citizen himself, his paltry tier only allowed him access to a few additional places.
For all intents and purposes, Ves was barely better off than a space peasant in Centerpoint!
After studying various possible destinations, he decided to visit Centerpoint V first. He recalled that Charlotte gave him an invitation card to a certain club on the planet. He might as well see what it was all about.
"Please set course for Centerpoint V, captain."
"Will do, sir." Captain Silvestra nodded and passed on the orders. "Mr. Larkinson, since the Centerpoint System is strictly regulated, you aren't allowed to bring along a heavy escort. The most the Greenfeather is allowed to dispatch are a number of guards on foot."
Ves shrugged. "That's fine. A star system that's directly under the control of the MTA won't be as insecure as Bentheim."
Certainly, Ves wasn't naive to think that Centerpoint was a bastion of law and order. However, no one should be brazen enough to sow chaos and destruction with mechs under the noses of the MTA.
With their next destination set, the Barracuda reunited with the Greenfeather and leisurely followed their assigned route to Centerpoint V.
In the meantime, Ves read up on the planet. It was a prosperous and densely-populated planet that thrived on tourism, trade and retail. Almost every part of Centerpoint V was open to everyone, giving space peasants a taste of life under the MTA.
Only a handful of cities and city districts limited access to galactic citizens. Ves was curious about some of these areas. He definitely intended to pay a visit to them and see what the fuss was all about.
"Galactic citizens sure hog all of the good stuff to themselves." Gavin commented.
"Most of the good stuff you are referring to is extremely expensive." Ves retorted. "Even if I saved up billions of credits, I can easily squander it within an hour if I go on a shopping spree."
A galactic citizen wasn't just an empty status. It was an acknowledgement that someone was productive and wealthy enough to afford better goods and services.
It took some time for Ves to arrive at Centerpoint V. No ship was allowed to enter within a certain range of the planet. Both the Barracuda and the Greenfeather were forced to park in deep space while a transit shuttle arrived to pick up the passengers.
For this excursion, Ves decided to explore the planet with Lucky and a bunch of guards, though the latter pretty much served as window dressing.
"It's too bad I don't have my own men in place yet." He sighed.
The Avatars of Myth were still in the process of training competent guards. Therefore, his current protection detail consisted of guards dispatched by SASS as usual. While he had no complaints about the security company, he didn't want to rely on them forever.
Ves and his escorts first stopped by a space station acting as a transit hub before obtaining passage to the surface. They soon boarded a large transit shuttle that took them to a very busy spaceport on the ground.
He split up with Gavin here.
"I'm no use to you here." He explained. "Rather than see you hobnobbing with all the rich galactic citizens, I would rather perform some impromptu market research and figure out what attracts all these wealthy ponces and pretenders to this planet."
"Stay safe, Benny, and watch your spending."
"I know. You don't have to warn me. I'll call if I need help."
With Gavin walking off, Ves only had Lucky for companionship. He turned to his cat who padded on the floor of the spaceport like a regular mechanical cat.
"Are you excited, Lucky?"
"Yes, yes, of course I'll buy a batch of exotics for you. Just remember that stuff is vastly more expensive here. Don't think I'll be able to buy as much as I did on Bentheim."
While Lucky still acted standoffish in front of Ves, the cat had mellowed out a bit over the past few months.
Ves hoped to repair his relationship with his pet during this visit.
Ves and his company soon hailed a large aircar that brought them to a downtown district of a highly-populated city. The hustle and bustle of visitors and residents overwhelmed him a bit.
A large majority of visitors came from the Friday Coalition and the Hexadric Hegemony!
While the two states were bitter rivals, neither of their citizens showed any hostility to each other.
A small portion of visitors were accompanied by their own guard details, but all of their weapons had been locked. The MTA maintained a visible security presence in the form of bots, guards and plenty of automated security systems.
With so much visible security, Ves felt kind of stupid for bringing along his own guards. They were really less than useless here. After some contemplation, he ordered his SASS guards to return to the Barracuda.
"Are you sure, Mr. Larkinson?"
"Just go. I really don't need you here, especially when your weapons are locked. Some of the places I want to visit will bar your entry anyway."
Ves felt much more discrete now that he wasn't being accompanied by a number of guards in bulky and eye-catching armor.
Now that he was alone with Lucky, he decided to visit some of the shopping streets first before he headed for Astralis Nightclub.
"There's still plenty of time before evening arrives."
In truth, none of the planets in the Centerpoint System were subject to a normal day-and-night cycle. With five suns orbiting in a very complex relationship to each other, all of the planets regularly enjoyed sunshine from at least one star.
If the MTA hadn't deployed satellites that enveloped each planet with a special energy shield, many surfaces would have been scorched by the sheer amount of heat and radiation radiating from multiple suns!
In fact, the energy shielding was so advanced that they even simulated a true day-and-night cycle!
That made life in Centerpoint much more convenient.