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 While his visit to Zin Alpha III had been an eye-opener, Ves did not enjoy his visit very much. The pathetic degree of complacency among the locals really depressed him. The Kamoners eschewed mechs as much as possible. They didn't even make use of display mechs whose only purpose was to look impressive and imposing for their owners!

He did not regret the visit, though. The Kamon Republic's complacency and dependency on a superior state for protection opened his eyes to how blind a state could be when they forget they lived in a hostile universe.

"Even the Friday Coalition has enemies. There are also the masses of alien races that are hungering to regain the territories humanity stole."

Even if humanity maintained a long period of relative peace, it had never truly ceased fighting against the aliens. Both sides simply opted to have a strategic break in order to reorganize their civilizations and rebuild their depleted forces.

To lose the edge that the human race had developed during the Age of Conquest did not seem wise to Ves.

"Centuries have passed since Kamon has last fought a serious conflict." He scoffed.

Ves had a feeling that the MTA and CFA didn't like to see this either. This was probably why they did not try very hard to stop human infighting. As long as states kept fighting against each other, they continued to remain in fighting shape.

That might not seem important now, but if the alien races ever decided to launch a counterattack, then most human states would be ready to resist!

As Ves returned to the Barracuda that currently orbited Zin Alpha III, he met a curious Gavin.

"Did you have fun on the surface?"

"Not as much." Ves shook his head. "Kamon's mech culture is on life support."

"This place is different from the Bright Republic. They never had to contend against the equivalent of the Vesia Kingdom. While they share an uncomfortable border with the Hexadric Hegemony, it's beneath the second-rate state's notice to invade the Kamon Republic."

"Well, I have seen everything there is to see. I'm dying to visit the Kinner Tribe. They're a lot more desperate. It'll be interesting to see how resilient the Kinners turn out to be compared to the Kamoners."

"Before you retire, we received a comm request from a new contact." Gavin informed him. "We aren't sure whether you wanted to talk to him, so we kept him on hold until you returned."

"Oh? Who wants to call me? Is it one of the mech designers on the list? Have any of them changed their minds?"

"No.. it's a more significant figure. A Journeyman called Tristan Wesseling wanted to speak with you directly. As far as we could gather, he's a direct disciple of Master Katzenberg of the Carnegie Group. I'm not sure whether it's wise for us to engage in conversation with him considering your current relationship with the Coalition."

Ah. Ves hadn't been able to talk to Tristan after the end of the trials at the Pit. The Rim Guardians booted him out of their clubhouse first.

Though Master Olson formally cut off his connections to the Friday Coalition, Ves did not hold any animosity against them. It would be nice to Ves to talk to a mech designer he considered to be a peer.

"It's fine. He's an acquaintance from Centerpoint. Accept the comm request and route the call to my stateroom if he's available."

"If that is what you want. I'll contact him and see if he's available."

As soon as Ves entered his stateroom and hung up his shawl while throwing Lucky in the air.


As Lucky scrabbled for stability in the air, the compartment's projectors came to life. The familiar form of Tristan came into view.



Both of them studied each other for a moment.

"You don't look like a Hexer lover. Did you seduce Miss Wodin or did she seduce you?"

"It's complicated. I used a matchmaking service and they thought it was a good idea for me to meet with her. As for what ensued, all I can say is that Gloriana is intense."

"Miss Wodin is one of the most eccentric Hexer mech designers to have emerged in recent times. She only works on custom mechs, you know."

"I'm aware. I don't mind this limitation. Sometimes one excellent mech is more valuable than a million normal mechs."

"You misunderstand." Tristan shook his head. "I didn't mean to suggest that Miss Wodin's design philosophy is a detriment. In fact, it's the opposite. Aren't you aware, Ves?"

Though Ves hadn't thought about it before, Tristan's prompting quickly reminded him of a very important aspect about custom mechs. "Designing custom mechs for regular mech pilots is just the start. The best custom mechs are those tailored for expert pilots and higher!"

At this point, Gloriana advanced fairly recently. As an inexperienced Journeyman, she lacked the qualifications to become involved in the development of expert mechs.

Yet soon a time would come where she progressed far enough to receive the acknowledgement of the Seniors or Masters in charge of the development of expert mechs!

As a contributing designer, Gloriana could bring a lot to the table as long as her design philosophy didn't clash with the other designers involved in the project.

Once she contributed to a number of successful expert mech designs, by the time she advanced to Senior, she would definitely be able to head an expert mech project as its lead designer!

And for good reason! A mech designer who foreswore designing mass-produced mechs and focused solely on custom mechs to the point of basing her design philosophy around it would definitely be able to excel in this aspect!

An ordinary mech designer with a more normal design philosophy simply couldn't compete against her in this area!

Others were already aware of her potential in this field. This must be why the MTA favored her. Even if her hopes of advancing to Master was low, her design philosophy already added a lot of value at the Senior level!

"Miss Wodin is a very desirable mech designer. She rejected a lot of suitors, you know." Tristan remarked. "It's very surprising that she settled for a Brighter of all mech designers."

"Because of her potential to design fantastic expert mechs?"

"Yup. Many influences are eying her ability to take expert mechs to the next level. An effective performance boost of five percent or ten percent is extremely significant at high-level combat. It's enough to drastically swing the outcome of battles between expert mechs!"

Ves hadn't fully thought about Gloriana's significance. It turned out that she was quite the hot potato!

"Does this mean I'm in danger or something?"

"Miss Wodin has already claimed you as hers. If anyone touches you, it's an affront to the Wodin Dynasty. They'll be forced to respond, causing the Hegemony to enter into turmoil. No one wants to see that happen."

That did not sound very reassuring to Ves. Although Ves likely wouldn't face any open attacks, that did not rule out dirtier means of eliminating him. He had plenty of experience with assassination attempts!

Ves rubbed his face. He was exasperated. "Thanks for the warning, Tristan. I'll be sure to make the right precautions."

"No problem." Tristan smiled. "Anything for a fellow mech designer. Personally, I dislike mech designers who engage in dirty dealings. They have no honor. If they want to steal Miss Wodin away from you, they should challenge you in public!"

"I'm grateful for your vote of confidence." Ves ruefully smiled. "I have to ask, why are you still so friendly to me? I'm no longer Master Olson's apprentice. I've even been kicked out of the Clifford Society!"

"We're mech designers." Tristan emphatically stated and spread his arms. "Fridayman, Hexer, Brighter, those are just labels. Even if we will face each other on opposite sides one day, that will not affect my respect for you. Your performance during the trials thoroughly proved you're worthy of my regard. Trust me, I have a good eye for that!"

In other words, Tristan believed that Ves would rise high one day and wanted to make sure there would still be a connection between them if that happened.

This was a very calculated decision on the part of Tristan. Master Katzenberg's apprentice was very keen on building up a network with notable and promising mech designers, and didn't mind if some of them belonged to the opposite side!

Such an open-minded and far-sighted approach to establishing connections drew a lot of admiration from Ves. He should take a page out of Tristan's book!

"Well, if you don't mind becoming friends with me, I'm okay with staying in touch." Ves smiled.

Both of them implicitly understood the underlying truth behind their relationship. Each of them saw value in maintaining a friendly connection with each other. The moment one of them died or became worthless, their friendship was as good as dead.

This was the nature of friendship based on mutual interest. Ves should know, since he already forged a more comprehensive pact with Calabast.

After both understood each other's intent, they began to settle down and chat. Ves took the opportunity to ask what Tristan heard about Gloriana on Centerpoint.

"So she basically went to a bunch of public venues, most of them frequented by fellow mech designers, and bragged about her new 'boyfriend'?"

"Yup. she wasn't even subtle about it at all." Tristan nodded. "She crowed your name out loud whenever there was an opening in a conversation. Since a lot of influences are keeping track of her, the news spread rapidly."

Hearing this prompted Ves to conclude that Gloriana acted very deliberately to spread news of her new relationship. This was a woman who knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to take decisive action!

"What do you think?" Ves curiously asked.

"I haven't heard much about Miss Wodin, other than that she's very picky and demanding. While you're definitely lucky to have her as a girlfriend, she's definitely a high-maintenance girl, if you know what I mean."

Ves chuckled. "I'm very much aware of that possibility."

"Seriously though, you're very lucky to have found a girlfriend who matches with your personality and your design philosophy. Some mech designers have little choice but to pair up with people who only fulfil one or the other. There is nothing wrong with mech designers marrying people who aren't mech designers or whose design philosophies don't match, but it's wasted potential."

"As for mech designers who marry to advance their design philosophies rather than out of love, their lives are probably less fulfilling than others." Ves added.

"They can get quite dysfunctional." Tristan agreed. "Mech designers at our level and higher are all good enough to receive galactic citizenship. When two of our kind disagree with each other but are forced to make nice just because their design philosophies work well with each other, all kinds of ugly situations occur behind closed doors."

Ves read the implicit message behind this example. It was a warning to him that he should take care to never reach this point with Gloriana!

That reminded him of something. "By the way, have you heard of a fellow Brighter mech designer of mine by the name of Patricia Schneider?"

"Master Null's apprentice? She's quite an intriguing mech designer. She does remarkable work with heavy mechs and she's been involved in several design projects led by Lyri Reywind."

"I'm interested to hear how she's doing. She's a former classmate of mine. How is she doing?"

"She's been doing quite well for an immigrant. I heard she recently got married. I missed her wedding as I was already on Centerpoint."

"Do you know who she married?"

"Just some Leemar graduate. As far as I know, he's just an Apprentice." Tristan replied dismissively. "I think they both married for practical reasons rather than for love. Miss Schneider needed inside access to the Friday Coalition, and the only way to do that was to marry one of our domestic mech designers."

"Are you sure that's the case?" Ves asked huskily.

He was stunned by this revelation!

"The man she chose is a nobody, Ves. The lucky fellow hasn't caught the attention of any Masters. He likely lacked the confidence to make it anywhere in the mech industry. For this reason, he probably agreed to marry Patricia because she's apprenticed to a Master and therefore a better mech designer. Her chances of advancing to Journeyman is a lot higher, and if her relationship with Master Null is as close as the rumors suggest, then reaching Senior is not out of reach."

Ves entered into a slightly turbulent mood. After Patricia told him that she was about to marry, he stopped inquiring any further into her situation.

Although getting closer access to the Friday Coalition definitely played a part, he long thought that she truly married for love!