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 Ves tried to take back the tiny bit of spiritual energy he lost. It took some exertion, but he eventually managed to pull it away from the hungry rock.

Once he did so, Ves looked at the rock with a speculative expression. What was it? Why did it attract his spiritual energy? What uses did it have?

In any case, Ves already developed a theory of why this exotic initially attracted notice. It must have stored some spiritual energy upon discovery. When certain people came in touch with it, the rock must have discharged it into their bodies which caused them to faint.

He wondered what kind of energy the rock used to contain. Could it be a spiritual remnant of some long-dead alien or something? Whatever it contained, Ves found no traces of its existence.

What interested him more was if this exotic was unique. It would be a bummer if he devoted a lot of research to its potential applications, only to find no other samples to realize them. There were many exotics in the galaxy that did not occur more than once!

"I really hope this rock isn't among this category!"

At the very least, it should be easier for him to find a similar rock once he studied and recorded its parameters. Ves could scour all sorts of databases and marketplaces by matching the density, hardness and other properties of his rock to what other sellers had on offer. It would save him another field trip to a marketplace like the one he visited before.

"Mech designers only need to find a useful exotic once in person. We can leave the search for other samples to others."

Ves had some hopes of finding other samples of this grey exotic because it originated in the Komodo Star Sector. Although the seller refused to reveal where it had been found, Ves was quite sure of this. The seller did not seem like a person who represented an inter-sector trading company!

He closed the box and set it aside. His curiosity had been assuaged by his discovery. He could find out more about the rock when he had access to better lab facilities.

As he prepared himself for bed, he idly wondered if he should still stick around in Centerpoint.

"This star system is far from simple. Who knows whether I'll get entangled into something else tomorrow."

Influential factions like the Rim Guardians ran rife in Centerpoint. The players here were far more powerful than anyone else in the Komodo Star Sector!

Ves shrugged as he laid down on his bed. "I only got in touch with the Rim Guardians by using their invitation card. If not for that, I would have been no different from a regular tourist."

"Meow."

Lucky crawled to the other side of the bed and curled up.

"Yeah. I planned to find a girlfriend here. I can't depart without making a serious attempt."

He sighed. To be honest, after coming out of his previous ordeal, he would rather go back to work. He didn't have the heart to find a suitable girlfriend.

"Besides, why should I find a girlfriend in Centerpoint? I can just as well find one in the Bright Republic instead." He muttered before he went to sleep.

The next day, Ves woke up and did his morning routine. Once he ate a sumptuous breakfast, he passed the box to the receptionists of the hotel he was staying at and instructed them to deliver it to the Barracuda.

After taking care of that errand, Ves turned his attention to girlfriend hunting.

He frowned as he sat down on a sofa in the hotel lobby. "How should I go about it, Lucky?"

His cat clung to his shoulder in a contented manner.

"Meow."

"Yeah, you're right. Someone of my stature shouldn't be so crass to rely on a hook-up app to find a match. I think there ought to be matchmaking services out there for lonely mech designers."

Many mech designers tended to be nerds who didn't know their way around someone of the opposite gender. They might be brilliant when it came to designing mechs, but they were completely inept when it came to picking up girls!

"Am I like that?" He doubted himself.

Ever since he embarked on his career, he devoted himself completely to his profession. He ignored all other distractions and pleasures in pursuit of becoming a better mech designer.

Obviously, all of that effort paid off. Even if he had the System, it didn't do all the work on his behalf. Now that he passed the first milestone by becoming a Journeyman, Ves could finally direct some attention to the other parts of his life that he neglected as of late.

"Meow."

"Yeah, you're right. A girl won't fall into my lap just because I'm available."

The Centerpoint System was completely unfamiliar to him. Ves decided against visiting random bars or clubs. Who knew what kind of people he would bump into. While Centerpoint V was mostly populated by space peasants, a considerable amount of protected galactic citizens lived here as well.

Instead, he activated his comm and searched the galactic net.

"Ah, so matchmaking services do exist! And there's even some that caters specifically to mech designers!"

Ves read up the information they put into their portals. Apparently, many mech designers sought to develop a relationship with other mech designers for several compelling reasons.

First, a mech designer understood another mech designer the best. If his girlfriend was a fellow mech designer, he could talk shop with her. They could bounce off ideas on each other and they could even discuss some of the particulars of their design philosophies to someone they trusted the most.

Second, a mech designer might live for a very long time. A Journeyman already lived a bit over two-hundred years if they worked hard to afford life-prolonging treatment.

While they could work a couple of decades more to earn the right to have their spouses undergo the same treatment, that was a lot of time and money spent on something that didn't directly progress their careers.

"Time and money are very valuable to mech designers." He muttered. "The less time and money spent on their research and their improvement, the less likely they can take the next step."

For this reason, mech designers mostly preferred to marry someone of the same rank. A Journeyman like Ves should start with finding a match among other Journeymen first.

Instances where Apprentices hooked up with Journeymen or Journeymen became lovers of Seniors were very rare. The distance between the two was too big. While pure love sometimes prevailed, most of the time the disparity in status and capability always got in the way.

A problem might still develop even if two Journeymen decided to marry. Once one of them advanced first, a gulf emerged between the two. Ves occasionally heard about divorces where more talented mech designers decided to ditch their slower partners and upgrade to better ones.

However, it was not too bad if the other Journeyman failed to advance to Senior as fast. A Senior possessed so much more earning potential that they could subsidize the research activities of a fellow Journeyman.

"Journeymen have already proven that they have the potential. The same can't be said for Apprentices. No matter how much money is invested in them, they might never break through."

Still, it was best if both mech designers were equally as talented.

To Ves, that meant that he should find a Journeyman who advanced before their thirties just like him. The problem was that not a lot of mech designers like that existed.

Aside from the previous two reasons, there was an additional reason as well why mech designers should seek a peer. It was by far the most relevant motivation to marry a fellow mech designer!

"Mech designers with compatible design philosophies can combine their forces and achieve greater synergy in their collaborative design projects!"

Ves recalled the time he was assigned to inspect the Kadar-Neyvis Group. The two lead designers shared a very close relationship with each other, but their specialties weren't compatible.

"Even then, Mrs. Kadar and Mr. Neyvis did not let that hinder them from growing their mech company. They also raised a wonderful family while they were at it. How much more could they have accomplished if their design philosophies synergized with each other?"

Although the KNG had now become a defunct and tarnished mech company, Ves still admired it when it was at its height. He was envious of the trusting relationship between Kadar and Neyvis. Ever since he witnessed their devotion to each other up close, a part of Ves yearned to enter into a similar relationship.

If Ves ever found a fellow mech designer whose design philosophy complimented perfectly with his own, then both stood to gain many benefits.

"Design philosophies don't necessarily have to work in isolation. Perhaps it's easier to express a design philosophy with the aid of another one."

This allowed their collaborate mech designs to achieve a higher level of performance than if they designed their mechs on their own. This was especially pertinent at the higher levels as diminishing returns ensured that every improvement came at an exorbitant price.

"Collaboration can negate some of this by achieving abrupt jumps in performance."

Not only would their existing works be better and possess higher values, but their future progression became easier as well. When a design philosophy interacted with other design philosophy, they provided their mech designers with several more research directions.

Ves wasn't quite sure whether he could find a partner with a design philosophy that synergized with his own rather than complimenting it. Two unrelated design philosophies would merely exist in the same mech design in isolation, which was not as ideal.

"I guess that's what these matchmaking services are for. They got to earn their keep somehow."

All of these variables complicated the lives of single mech designers enormously. This was where specialized matchmaking services came into play. They took both their personal and professional traits into account when they matched customers with an appropriate partner.

By employing the most sophisticated matching AIs and the most empathic relationship experts, they guaranteed a reasonable degree of satisfaction whenever they matched a mech designer with a compatible peer.

Ves decided it didn't hurt to try and make use of one of these services.

Many different matchmaking services existed that catered to Journeyman and higher. Frankly, Ves couldn't find any differences. All of them boasted good reviews, because the bad ones always went out of business.

"All of these services have ties to the MTA as well."

Either their owners were internal members, or they established a business partnership with one. This allowed these matchmaking services to access some of the MTA's databases or make use of some of their more advanced AIs and algorithms.

This told Ves something very important. "Even the MTA is interested in facilitating relationships between mech designers."

This made sense. According to their own research, mech designers achieved more success if they were partnered with fellow mech designers.

While that didn't mean that Ves was forbidden from marrying a mech pilot or someone who wasn't from the mech community, he would be forgoing a huge advantage.

"Love should trump everything else." Ves muttered. "But if I can enjoy both love and a useful mech design partner, then that is even better!"

After careful study, he contacted a matchmaking service company with a great track record. Although they charged more than everyone else, it was still within the range of his budget.

After a quick exchange of messages, Ves made an appointment to stop by the company's branch on Centerpoint V later in the day.

[We have already pulled the relevant data from your record, Mr. Larkinson. Please be assured that our sophisticated matching system is searching for compatible mech designers right now. We await your arrival at our offices at the appointment time.]

Ves turned off his comm with a smile. "Let's go and hang out until my appointment comes, Lucky."

"Meow."

"Yeah yeah, very funny, Lucky. You're wrong. I'm not married to my work!"

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