Possessing a single P-stone already opened up so many options to Ves. Yet he only had one of it so far. Due to its very faint and indistinct properties, finding another P-stone was going to be incredibly difficult!
All Ves had to go on was the vendor's claims that some of the people who came in touch with it fainted for no apparent reason.
This was a very vague criteria that made it incredibly difficult for him to find another sample on the galactic net. Too many weird space rocks did something similar, though usually toxins, radioactivity or some other mundane was the cause.
"Still, if I ever post a purchasing request for this rock, I'll probably be inundated with millions of people offering worthless asteroids to me! It's too hard to distinguish the real ones from the fakes by remote!"
In order to test the authenticity of the P-stone, he had to brush them with his Spirituality. Observing a projection of the offered samples wouldn't allow him to do so. Only by coming across them in person would he be able to determine if he was being scammed!
"It's a nightmare!"
The P-stone certainly didn't make it easy for him to accumulate large quantities of it, but that made it all the more valuable. The single application he found for this remarkable exotic already excited him to no end!
"I really hope it's not a unique manifestation and that more samples exist in the galaxy!"
It was an unfortunate fact that some exotics were so rare that only a single known sample had been found by humanity.
Doubtlessly, a large part of why no other samples became known was because a lot of researchers jealously kept their findings to themselves.
Even so, Ves might have to face a possibility where the P-stone he possessed right now might be the only sample of its kind! This made him even more reluctant to experiment with it further.
Finding another P-stone sample therefore became another priority to him. He already set up automated search routines that regularly trawled the news for any mention of suspect exotics that caused people to faint.
So far, Ves only came across false positives and dubious matches. It really didn't help that he failed to find something to distinguish P-stone from any other metallic asteroid that others could actually measure.
He looked around the tiny lab of his ship. A number of small lab machines graced his sight. All of them were smaller, miniaturized versions of proper lab equipment. The limited selection and notable absence of lab machines that took up a lot more space meant he still hadn't recorded every parameter of his P-stone.
"I need access to a better and more complete lab."
A normal lab wouldn't do. His intuition told him that the P-stone resembled normal asteroids so much that he would likely find nothing of use in a normal lab.
"I need to access a fully-equipped lab from a second-rate state!"
He knew what better labs looked like. Not only did he visit Master Olson's expansive underground workshop with Oleg a couple of years ago, he also came in touch with fantastic CFA lab equipment during his time on the Starlight Megalodon.
Compared to those wonderful lab equipment, the tiny machines aboard his ship were laughably shallow and underpowered!
Yet.. where could he access such a lab?
"Don't tell me I have to ask my girlfriend for a favor?"
Just the thought of stepping foot in the matriarchy-dominated state sent shivers through his back!
After he poked the P-stone around, only to achieve no new results, he dejectedly left his lab. Arranging access to a better-equipped lab would take some doing. Considering that his to-do list continued to grow, Ves decided to put the issue in the backburner for now.
"Maybe a convenient opportunity will present itself during my tour." He muttered.
Days continued to pass by as Ves continued to work on various matters. Between developing a mech concept, playing with his P-stone and managing his relations with his new Kinner hires,
As the Barracuda and her escort came closer and closer to crossing the border into the Chuko Republic, Ves decided that enough time had passed for him to address a long-simmering matter.
It was time for him to talk to Ketis.
Deciding that it was best if he had some moral support, he tracked down Lucky who was lounging at the engineering bay for some reason.
"What the heck are you doing crawling all over the FTL drive?"
"Whatever. Come over here. I need your help in keeping Ketis from becoming depressed or erupt in some stupid outburst."
"Just come with me, you little critter."
After grabbing Lucky, he returned to his stateroom and placed a call to Ketis' comm.
Half a minute went by before Ketis appeared into view. Her projection showed her wearing typical work clothes. The smudges on her garments made it clear that she had just come out of performing hands-on work to a mech.
"Ves.. I didn't know you'd call."
"I would have called sooner, but I have a lot of work to deal with." He said lamely. "Uhm, Lucky missed you."
He held out Lucky.
Lucky's cute impression finally managed to elicit a smile from the girl. "Ohh, you're so cute!"
After Ketis babbled a bit with Lucky, she finally turned her attention back to Ves. "Thanks for that. I really missed Lucky. I wish I had my own version, but all I have to keep me warm in bed is his gift shop plushie."
That reminded him of something. "Ah, I did promise to get a pet for you. I'll be sure to grab one for you during my trip."
"That would be.. Appreciated." She offered a brief smile before tackling something more serious. "Ves... about Gloriana..."
A short silence stretched as Ketis tried to find the right words to say. After bowing her head for a time, she finally found her courage and faced him head-on without any trace of doubt.
"I'm happy for you. Truly. Gloriana sounds like a great gal and she's certainly really happy to be with you seeing how vocal she is. You really deserve to be someone who can keep up with you. That's something I can't match."
Her demeanor radiated utter seriousness, which was a far cry from the playful girl he knew before.
"Look, I've had months to think over it. I admit that I took a fancy on you, but it's over now, alright? I wised up. I looked at myself and saw that I wasn't acting anything like a Swordmaiden. That's over now."
"What does that mean?"
"A Swordmaiden's primary responsibility is to look out for herself and her fellow sisters. After spending so much time in civilized space, I started to lose sight of that, but no more. Nothing is more important than for me to become a better mech designer. Only by becoming a Journeyman can I truly help Commander Lydia lead the Swordmaidens to their former glory."
"That's a very admirable determination, but you've already been working towards that, right?"
"I'll do everything possible to help my sisters." She reiterated. "Right now, that means I want to continue to work and study under you. I won't let my feelings get in the way of what's important. Someday, there may come a time where I'm in a much better position to help the Swordmaidens by returning to their side."
That meant that Ketis would definitely be leaving him and his company. Ves always knew that this possibility might come one day, but hearing her mention this meant that her determination to leave at some point grew stronger.
Ves did not blame her for this decision. Keeping Ketis as a permanent member of his design team was no longer possible.
"I'll support you regardless of where you go. As your mentor, I hope you can find your own way."
She smiled. "Thanks for that. You're a really great mech designer. I still have much to learn, and I don't plan on leaving anytime soon."
As she spoke, Ves contemplated whether he should reveal his intention to go on a grand expedition to her. Once he embarked for another star cluster, it would be inconvenient to bring her along.
He decided to break the news.
"Ketis, to tell you the truth, my plans have changed. Due to the special nature of my design philosophy, I..."
He gave her the same spiel he gave Gloriana. Though his 'girlfriend' easily bought his story, Ketis on the other hand narrowed her eyes on him. The way she studied him made him feel as if she figured him out!
"You know, running away is something that always happens in the frontier. Sometimes there are threats that are simply too overwhelming to confront head on. There's no shame in distancing yourself from something you can't beat. Don't you agree?"
Ves tentatively nodded. "Right."
"So your plan is to leave the star cluster ten years later?"
"Yeah. It's not set in stone. I might depart a few years later than that, but not much longer."
The implication was obvious to the both of them. Ketis "Okay, Ves. That probably sounds like the right time for me to return to the frontier. Until then, I'll make the most of my stay here. Will that be alright?"
"That's fine. I won't mind if you decide to join me on my expedition. You'll always have a place in my crew."
She firmly shook her head. "No thanks. I don't want to get in the way between you and your girlfriend."
They moved on from this awkward topic. Once they strayed away from Gloriana or her eventual departure, their discussion became much more pleasant.
He quickly queried her about her current work. "How is your variant coming along?"
"I'm at the prototype testing stage. In fact, I was just in the process of tweaking my first prototype, hence my messy clothes."
This was in line with his expectations. It didn't take much time to design a variant, but since this was her first time, he expected her to take it slow.
"How has your prototype fared during the tests?"
"Pretty good. My variant already performed to my expectations in the simulations. The prototype hasn't deviated that much from its theoretical performance. I'm not trying to do anything too fancy for my first attempt."
She declined to say anything else about her work. "I'm sure you can lend a hand, but my variant already incorporates too much of your influence already. While I'm not too picky about that, I don't want your influences to drown out my own."
"That's an admirable sentiment. I've always stressed the importance of figuring out solutions by yourself. When do you expect your variant to be ready for publication?"
"A month, maybe, but not much longer. I've already showed the design to Calsie who thinks it might be good enough to attract some sales. While its demand isn't likely to match any of your mechs, it'll be nice for me to satisfy my first customers."
"I'll look forward to seeing your finished product."
"Don't worry on that front. I've applied all of the lessons you've imparted to me. Some of the woozier stuff you talked about such as mechs being more than lifeless machines has started to make more sense to me now that I'm working on my own project. It really feels like I'm designing my own baby."
Ves smiled. "I'm glad you see it that way. I really do believe your designs will be better off if they receive your love and devotion. It's important to approach the design process in a focused mindset without any distractions. A muddled mind will only produce a muddled mech design."
Even though he was technically imposing his own ideas on her, Ves truly believed she would be better off if she listened to him on this front.