Lieutenant Ferct deposited Ves and Lucky in the ready room.
When he entered the room, he saw that it was decorated just as plain and drab as the rest of the Pit. Despite the luxury and splendor on display in the rest of Centerpoint, the Rim Guardians deliberately eschewed any comfort.
Was it to introduce some hardships to its visitors? To make the Rim Guardians remember their humble origins? To state what they were fighting for?
Ves couldn't tell. As soon as the lieutenant left, Ves instantly turned his attention to the other occupants in the room.
None of the other people in the room reacted to his entry. They all eyed at him warily.
From their clothing and other signs, Ves could tell that the other people were Journeymen like him. They also seemed to come from various corners of the Komodo Star Sector.
Their ages varied a bit but none of them were too old. The Rim Guardians seemed to invite any mech designer with potential to take part in their trials.
"Hey you!" A friendlier-looking man called. "Come sit next to me. I could use the company."
Ves did so for lack of a better option. He approached the man and sat next to him on the plain metal bench. He was a little annoyed that the bench lacked any backrest. The Rim Guardians really took their Spartan interior design philosophy too far!
"You look like you're lost." The man remarked.
"That's because I am." Ves admitted. "I received an invitation card from someone, but didn't know what it meant. Ever since then, the lady who guided me only gave me some background information about the Rim Guardians before dumping me in this room."
A couple of people in the room sneered and laughed at him. Ves didn't mind this reaction. Considering the way this entire situation was set up, everyone in the room appeared to be his competitors.
The more they looked down on him, the higher the chance he could turn the tables against them in the upcoming trials!
Still, it was rather odd for this fellow to be so friendly to him. Ves made sure to keep his guard up and take everything he heard with a grain of salt.
It seemed the man could tell what Ves was thinking, because he offered a confident smile. "I'm not afraid of you. The others? They see how young you are and how you've been personally accompanied by one of the mech officers of the Rim Guardians. They're scared. They're shaking in their boots. Your entry means it will be that much harder for them to pass the trials!"
Ves frowned while he idly comforted Lucky. "You mean the trials will set us against each other?"
"You guessed it right. While even I'm not sure what kind of trials we're facing as the Rim Guardians always randomize them, in the end they're only looking to pass two of our current company. While I don't want to brag, I'm definitely assured of one of those slots!"
Wow. This guy was really confident! Ves could tell it wasn't a duplicitous act because he kept his spiritual senses peeled.
Ves did not sense any dishonesty from the mech designer, though that was just what he picked up from the surface. He was very leery about intruding on the spirituality of another mech designer!
"Ah, by the way, who are you? You don't appear to come from my state."
"I'm Ves Larkinson. I come from the Bright Republic. I just turned into a Journeyman recently."
"The Bright Republic, eh?" The man raised his eyebrow. "You're quite young for advancing to Journeyman so early. Who is your master or mentor?"
"I'm a nominal disciple of Master Carmin Olson of the Vermeer Group."
The man's eyes lit up. "I see! How fortunate! I met the esteemed Master a few times! She's a role model to me, you know! She's really remarkable for advancing to Master in just a single century!"
"You've met her?"
"Naturally." The man proudly patted his chest. "I am the great Tristan Wesseling! Have you heard of me?"
"No?" Tristan looked disappointed. "Are you even a real apprentice of Master Olson? How come you've never heard of me? I'm famous in the Friday Coalition!"
"I only visited the Friday Coalition for brief periods of time. I mostly work and live in the Bright Republic."
"Oh. You're one of those mech designers who stick to their homes. That's pretty patriotic of you. Well, since you really haven't heard of me, I guess I can forgive you. The reason why I'm famous is because I'm a direct disciple of Master Katzenberg!"
Ves widened his eyes. This Tristan was an Oleg-like figure! Not only that, but Tristan was already older and seemed to have advanced to Journeyman a while ago. The strength he exuded from his posture and his spirituality was very vigorous! His entire demeanor radiated confidence!
"I see. I've been rather remiss in my greeting."
"It's fine. We're both Journeymen. That already makes us equals. Only pretentious mech designers who haven't accomplished anything will lean on the reputation of their masters."
Becoming a direct disciple to a Master did not guarantee a mech designer's ascension to Journeyman. Aside from the problem of possessing psionic potential, a mech designer needed to put in a lot of effort into their studies and design work in order to crystallize their thoughts!
"If I recall, Master Katzenberg's specialty is exotic material substitution, right?"
Tristan nodded. "Right. Her mechs might not be the best performers, but they're some of the most cost-effective machines for sale in the Friday Coalition. Hardly anyone can beat their price-to-performance ratios!"
This was an extremely valuable strength that propelled Master Katzenberg into one of the most prominent Masters of the Friday Coalition. Even a second-rate state couldn't afford to be too wasteful when they equipped their mech forces!
"Have you inherited her design philosophy?"
"Yes. Although I'm not as nearly as good as her, I've learned a few of her tricks. I've even researched some material substitutions."
Ves found that to be very fascinating. What did it mean if multiple mech designers shared the same design philosophy? Did Tristan ever regret becoming a direct disciple?
In a way, direct disciples paid a heavy price to obtain a Master's personal guidance. Even though they enjoyed the intensive tutelage of some of the best teachers in the industry, they had been stripped of the opportunity to develop their own design philosophies.
Who knew what Tristan could come up with when he formed his own design philosophy. It could have been something completely unrelated to exotic material substitution.
Still, Tristan didn't seem regretful at all. The confident man enjoyed his success without any reserve.
"Have you met Oleg Vorn?" Ves asked.
"Oleg? Sure! He's rising really fast. Did you know he already advanced to Journeyman several years ago? That's too fast! He might even catch up with me. That's why I've never slacked off ever since he appeared on the scene! Do you know he's about to participate in the Rimward Games soon? He'll be off to represent the entire Komodo Star Sector soon!"
It seemed that even Tristan regarded Oleg as an exceptional talent.
""You're really strange, you know." Tristan suddenly said while eying him in a speculating fashion. "A Journeyman like you shouldn't be unheard of. While you advanced later than Oleg, it's still respectably fast. There are lots of direct disciples who took a lot longer to breakthrough."
Ves modestly smiled. "As I said, I mostly keep to the Bright Republic. I have no plans of moving to the Friday Coalition or expanding my business there. You natives have already cornered the entire market anyway."
"That's right. You'll have to fight an uphill battle if you want to establish a foundation in the Friday Coalition's mech industry. Master Olson won't be able to help you in that regard."
Since Tristan seemed to be so open with answering his questions, Ves might as well take advantage of it. Who knew when he would ever get in touch with such a valuable font of information in the future?
"What exactly does it take for an immigrant mech designer to achieve success in the Friday Coalition's mech market?"
The slightly-older mech designer pursed his lips in thought. "You either have to come from a state that is equal or greater in power, or you have to become one of us. Being good at designing mechs isn't enough. Basically, most immigrants end up seeking a relationship with a local mech designer or businessman. Only by integrating into our society in such a fashion will the mech market treat you as an insider."
Ves inadvertently thought back to Patricia Hoffmeister. Was this the driving reason why she was engaged with a mech designer from the Friday Coalition? Once she married a local, she could use her new family connections to gain better access to the Coalition's mech market!
"You know, if you're thinking about getting a piece of the action, I can hook you up with some mech designers." Tristan said with a sleazy grin. "While most mech designers from the Coalition look down on immigrants who come from third-rate states, anything is possible as long as you are talented."
Ves shook his head. "No thanks."
"Can we get back to the trials? What is it about them that makes them so attractive?"
"You don't know?"
"That's why I ask."
Tristan laughed. "You don't even know the main reason! That's funny! Hahaha!"
Ves waited until the mech designer had his fun. "Can you tell me now?"
"Okay, sure! Let me put it this way. The Rim Guardians are primarily composed of mech pilots from all over the galactic rim. Do you know how many star sectors that is? The galaxy is huge, and the galactic rim occupies the most extensive areas!"
"And this is important because...?"
"Just think about it. Forget about the entire galactic rim. Just consider the Komodo Star Sector and our neighboring two star sectors. The Rim Guardians are composed of members who originate in all three star sectors."
The implication suddenly dawned upon him. "The Rim Guardians must be running their own cross-sector distribution network! With members in every star sector, it's easy for them to set up their own collective trade channels between every star sector in the galactic rim!"
"Correct." Tristan nodded and gestured to the other mech designers in the ready room. "This is one of their main sources of revenue. The reason why mech designers like these lot are jumping at the opportunity to pass the trials is because they want access to this vast distribution network! As long as they pass and become an ally of the Rim Guardians, they'll be able to make use of the distribution network!"
"And thereby making it easier to expand their business into other star sectors!" Ves gasped.
To most Journeymen, it wasn't worthwhile to expand their businesses to another star sector. The various costs involved in engaging in inter-sector trade was way too high! Ves would have to be at least a Senior before he could think of expanding into the Vicious Mountain or Majestic Teal Star Sectors!
Yet if he became friends with the Rim Guardians, he could take advantage of their network to obtain more favorable fees or to exert stronger control over distant operations.
"This is just one of several benefits the Rim Guardians has to offer, Ves. Work hard to compete and pass the coming trials. I'll definitely obtain a slot. I don't want anyone else in this room to obtain the other remaining slot, so make sure to work hard and show off your design capabilities!"
Ves nodded perfunctory, but inwardly he was sweating a little. His spiritual energy still hadn't recovered to its peak! Would he be able to bring out his best in the upcoming trials despite lacking some energy?
Whatever the case, Ves needed to work even harder to overcome this handicap!