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 After setting the record straight with Gloriana, he ended the call before she could entangle him in another virtual date.

"Consider this your punishment." Ves quickly said.

Though Gloriana cutely pouted at him, Ves had enough of dealing with her for a day.

He let out a deep breath as her projection winked out. He turned around and glanced at Lucky, who had been observing the entire conversation.

"I did well, right?"

"Meow."

"I put my foot down."

"Meow."

"Yeah, it will take more than a single rebuke for me to take charge."

During the conversation, Ves had been keenly aware that if he pushed Gloriana harder, she might push back or do something worse. He could only give her a restrained warning because anything else was unenforceable.

The only way to change this unfavorable dynamic was to become more powerful than her. While there were multiple ways to do so, the most straightforward option available to him was to advance to Senior first.

Ves scratched his chin. "Gloriana seems to be a very capable and driven mech designer. Her design philosophy may be difficult to develop because she's chasing after the impossible concept of perfection, but once she makes a breakthrough, it's pretty significant."

To be frank, her passion and drive drew a lot of admiration from him. She was one of the most motivated mech designers he had met so far. Although no high-ranking mech designer was truly lazy, there were only a few who were willing to do everything to accomplish their ambition.

Gloriana had at least that in common with the Skull Architect. Now that he thought about it, should he place himself in their category as well?

It was a disturbing thought.

"Am I being crazy for trying to improve faster just because I don't want a girl to be in charge?" He asked.

"Meow!"

"Heh. Figures you'd see it that way. Humanity may have developed into a thriving galactic civilization, but deep down we aren't too far away from the cavemen who were predominantly ruled by their instincts."

Ves had plans. He wanted to pursue sustained growth, both for his company and for himself. What was the point of pursuing reckless growth only to pay a greater price at a later point?

From everything he learned and all the advice he received from older mech designers, he knew that he should first and foremost prioritize his ability to innovate and to solve problems by himself.

Centuries of mech-focused innovation from countless mech designers resulted in a huge body of readily-available knowledge.

It took a lot of effort to obtain the more advanced and specialized pieces of knowledge, but at least it was available.

In essence, it was easier to obtain other people's knowhow than to discover it by himself. Who wanted to reinvent a specific wheel that had been invented a hundred times before?

Logically, it was better to learn how to build an existing wheel from others than develop it yourself. Yet what many mech designers forgot was that reinventing a wheel that already existed was not completely pointless.

"Learning how to innovate and discover unknown phenomena is vital to advancing to Senior and especially to Master. If a mech designer is only used to studying existing research findings, how well can they fare when it's their turn to enter the lab?"

When Ves met with Gloriana, he saw that she wore a lab coat and some protective gear. This signified that she was definitely performing lab work of some kind.

"She's quite diligent!"

Surpassing her would be quite a challenge. It wasn't enough for Ves to adopt a measured pace of growth. He needed to be more proactive and put more effort into accelerating his progression.

"It will be a disaster if she advanced to Senior faster than me!" He realized with fright. "I'll never be able to keep her in check if she's a Senior while I'm still a Journeyman!"

A number of horror scenarios whirled through his mind. Perhaps her patience would run out. She might decide to swoop in, take Ves away from the Bright Republic and forcibly drag him back to the Hexadric Hegemony without an opportunity to say goodbye to the people he left behind!

"Damnit, I really have to hurry!"

In general, the most talented Seniors still required at least a couple of decades to advance. Ves had a very long road ahead of him regardless of the measures he took to get to his destination faster.

When he thought over his approach, he made a very important point of distinction. "If my progression from Journeyman to Senior is a long and windy path, there are two ways to hurry up. I can either take shortcuts, or I can run faster."

He had to be careful not to take too many shortcuts. Ideally, he wouldn't take any at all. This was because walking the entire path ensured he would have the healthiest foundation to work towards reaching Master.

Instead, the best way to advance quickly while still preserving his ability to innovate and to research the unknown was to sprint over stretches that weren't as important or vital.

One example of this was studying fairly generic Skills and Sub-Skills. Previously, he made a very deliberate choice to begin the process of upgrading his Mechanics and Metallurgy main Skills to Senior-level.

"Studying is one of the more time-consuming activities of a mech designer." He muttered.

Every mech designer needed to meet a certain proficiency in the fundamental sciences related to mech design. Yet the higher a mech designer climbed, the more advanced knowledge they needed to learn.

It would take at least a couple of decades of dedicated study for an average Journeyman to reach Senior-level in a handful of sciences!

"It's necessary, but time-consuming!"

In these instances, Ves faced an easy choice. Rather than spend years behind his desk to read through an entire library of academic literature, it was much better for him to pay a hefty bag of DP and fulfill an Upgrade Mission instead!

Yet even if he upgraded all of his fundamental Skills to Senior-level, that did not mean he was equivalent to a Senior Mech Designer. It merely meant he fulfilled one of the prerequisites.

By far the most important factor was the development of someone's design philosophy! From Apprentice-level onwards, it was up to the mech designers themselves to develop their own design philosophies. Barring direct disciples, nobody could resort to outside help to accelerate their growth.

Ves was very much aware of this, and tried to come up ways to help him reach Senior faster without compromising his future opportunities.

"I see several ways to accelerate my growth."

He began to list out his options.

First, aside from upgrading his fundamental Skills and Sub-Skills, he could also try and find a way to upgrade his mental attributes.

"My Intelligence not only helps me in my mech design, it also improves my learning and memorization abilities. Improving it even further will be hard."

The System listed his mental attributes with a special focus towards mech design. At least that was how he interpreted. The addition of other Attributes such as Strength, Dexterity and so on made him suspect that the System might also be able to accommodate mech pilots as well.

"Too bad I'm not a mech pilot." He shrugged.

He had already surpassed the human limit with regards to Intelligence, Creativity and Concentration, so swallowing any further Attribute Candies served no purpose other than to waste his DP.

Yet that didn't mean he ran out of options to upgrade his mental attributes further. Gloriana already resorted to a lot of genetic modification to improve her learning ability.

Even Ves himself already benefited from various genetic treatments, which proved that he could still resort to solutions outside the ones offered by the System.

He still remembered he possessed an invitation card to the powerful Angel's Wing Foundation. He should really get around to using the card in order to access its rumored marketplace and auctions for biological goods and services.

"I always get caught up in other activities that it's always fallen off my mind."

Perhaps it would be a good opportunity to finally make use of the invitation card this time.

Still, since his three most important mental attributes were already past the human limit, it would be a hundred if not a thousand times harder to upgrade them. Ves needed to do a lot of research and find a trustworthy geneticist or organization to perform the desired treatments.

"I suppose approaching the Rim Guardians is the best option."

However, to do so, he first needed to prove his worth by transforming that Garlener William Urbesh into an expert candidate. If he failed to do so, he would probably be able to earn the MTA fraternity's favor in another way, but that would take way too much time!

"With Gloriana breathing down my neck, I can't afford to wait for another assignment." He muttered. "I have to kick William Urbesh into shape!"

Though he previously wanted to drag his feet in this assignment in order to avoid unwelcome attention, he changed his mind. Surpassing Gloriana was more important!

The second method he thought of to accelerate his advancement was to collaborate with other mech designers.

"It can't be any random collaboration, though. I need to find mech designers whose design philosophies synergize with my own."

If he combined his design philosophy with an unrelated one from another mech designer, then the resulting mech would merely incorporate both without any interaction. While they wouldn't conflict, neither would they reinforce each other either.

Only when his design philosophy reacted favorably in response to a different variable would Ves be able to study and decipher the interaction.

The most obvious candidate to help him accomplish this was Gloriana, but this would not help him get ahead of her at all. He needed to find other mech designers!

"There are many mech designers. I just have to find them and approach them to suggest mutually-beneficial collaborations."

For now, Ves had only recently advanced to Journeyman. He still lacked the reputation and prestige to get others to take him seriously. He would have to return to this option a few years later when he had a couple of more published designs under his belt.

The third option available for him would be to find exotic materials or other phenomena that might be related to his specialty.

"It is by far the most expensive option."

Wealthier mech designers possessed a greater advantage in this area than others. Even if a mech designer wasn't particularly talented, if his powerful family or connections could help him obtain related exotics, they would inevitably progress faster due to all of the research they performed on interesting materials!

"This is one of the biggest reasons why the second-rate states and the MTA have a lot more Seniors and Masters." He grumbled. "They can partially spend their way up with relative ease."

Ves did not have access to that much capital.

Yet Gloriana's situation was better. Not only was she a Hexer, but she was also a member of the Wodin Dynasty, which ought to be a very wealthy side power in the Hegemony.

"Damn, she possesses a huge advantage over me in this area!"

He needed to narrow the disparity as much as possible!

"There are two options available to me. Either I can expand the LMC in order to boost my capital, or I can take matters in my own hands and search for those exotics myself."

He decided to pursue both at the same time. The LMC would definitely grow as it sold more mechs based on his designs, but this growth had limits. The amount of money he would earn would always fall short compared to how much he wanted to spend on valuable exotics.

"It doesn't help that the vendors always seek to rip off mech designers whenever possible." He muttered.

Rather than pay a hundred or a thousand times the actual worth of an exotic, why not seek them out himself? Prospectors and treasure hunters trawled the entire galaxy for interesting exotics to sell. If Ves could cut out the middlemen and do business with them directly, he could obtain a lot more samples without spending more money!

In fact, Ves had already laid the groundwork of this option by forging ties with the Swordmaidens in the frontier. Further ahead, he also intended to raise another force that could search for valuable materials directly on his behalf.

It was easier to do so in the frontier. In civilized space, most planets and star systems already fell under the control of a state. Many valuables had already been discovered, but even if something new popped up, they were bound to fall in the hands of a powerful influence.

Ves sighed. "All in all, there are a lot of options, but none of them are easy."

Perhaps taking advantage of the System might help him out in some areas, but he still needed to do the rest on his own!

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