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 Vindar VII offered a lot more sights to visitors, but none of them interested Ves anymore. He already exchanged with the few Journeymen that remained and picked up some bargains from an underground market.

While Ves could spend his time on visiting the other black markets, his timetable was too tight for him to indulge in continuous bargain hunting.

He decided to move on from the Vindar System.

Ves and his entourage returned to Wilxyr's spaceport and left Vindar VII with some new company. The Vindar Dustravens continued to accompany Ves during his stay in the Redwell Province.

While they were based in the Vindar System, their contacts stretched throughout the entire province. They were part of a vast, informal network of other outfits and organizations. It wasn't a stretch to regard this network as an alliance of convenience.

A few weeks went by as Ves visited a number of specific star systems. He visited mech designer after mech designer, many of which yielded very little of note to Ves.

It couldn't be helped. Many mech designers were too selfish and narrow-minded to share their valuable insights.

They valued their own insights highly. Even if they failed to progress their design philosophy after advancing to Journeyman, they still stuck up their noses in front of Ves!

What could a weird mech designer with a Class IX design philosophy offer to them? The only reason they hadn't declined the exchange visitations was out of consideration for his powerful Hexer girlfriend!

For these reasons, Ves encountered many situations where his counterparts only cooperated in a superficial manner. Their lack of sincerity continually disappointed Ves and dampened his impression of Chuko mech designers.

Even if they all suffered under the economic malaise, they still clung to their pride as Journeymen! All of them believed that they were already good enough to live through this trouble period and bounce back to success in due time!

What was worse for Ves was that many older mech designers maintained similar sentiments. He deliberately adjusted his agenda to meet with older mech designers, only to be subjected to long-winded rants about how everything was better in the 'good old days' and endless boasts of how they won various design competitions forgotten by everyone else!

Ves failed to stumble across a second old mech designer who wanted to impart some life lessons to the younger generation.

It turned out that even among his generation, Old Man Terrence was still the exception rather than the rule!

The biggest reason was because Old Man Terrence was a famous recluse. He never married and never mentored any younger mech designers due to the restrictive nature of his design philosophy.

It was too hard to obtain a mech designer who specialized in neural interfaces!

Many other mech designers with more conventional specialties did not suffer this problem. With so many Novices and Apprentices on the streets, they could easily collect dozens of them and nurture the most promising ones into their heirs.

Even that wasn't entirely necessary as many mech designers opted to nurture their own children.

Nonetheless, even as Ves dejectedly returned from his exchanges with little to show for his efforts, he did manage to receive some useful tidbits here and there. Nonetheless, it became increasingly more difficult to find someone willing to hold a sincere exchange.

"Secrets have become too important to a mech designer's continued survival." Ves dreadily observed after his fleet left yet another star system without any gains. "When times are plenty, mech designers are much more eager to expand their horizons and focus on their progression."

That wasn't the case right now. When times were bad, the mech designers who remained no longer thought about growing their capabilities. They simply wished to hold on to their existing accomplishments!

The lack of forward-thinking made many mech designers far too reticent to open their mouths to Ves. Holding onto their existing competitive advantages and preventing them from disseminating might mean the difference between staying in business and declaring bankruptcy!

Fortunately, Ves finally caught a lucky break when he met an unusual mech designer.

At a company headquarters located on a typical industrial planet in decline, Ves shook hands with a middle-aged female mech designer.

"Mr. Larkinson, welcome to Paisley I." The motherly woman greeted with a weary smile. "I hope you don't take our lack of hospitality to heart."

Ves returned a friendly smile. "I wouldn't be visiting the Chuko Republic otherwise, Mrs. Linzif."

As they seated themselves at her desk, they began to chat. Felicity Linzif had been a rather odd choice for him to visit. She specialised in multifrequency laser weapons and enjoyed enough success to gain a nickname from it. Within the local mech community, she started to become known as the 'Prismatic Light', which was very flattering.

Ves felt a little jealous that Mrs. Linzif received a nickname that drew attention to her capabilities while he got stuck with a moniker that made light of his tongue!

Fortunately, not everyone took nicknames seriously. Mech designers paid a lot more attention to a fellow mech designer's specialty and mech designs than their personal inclinations.

Many mech designers, particularly high-ranking ones, tended to be eccentric. If mech designers continually took offense at a fellow colleague's quirks, then how could they expand their network?

Of course, Class IX design philosophies still attracted a lot of scorn, so Ves still had to deal with a lot of prejudice regardless.

Mrs. Linzif didn't appear to be the same as other mech designers, though.

If only her design philosophy was more relevant to him. While her specialty interested Ves a lot, her area of expertise possessed little relation with his design philosophy.

"Mrs. Linzif, thank you for hosting me." He began. "I appreciate your willingness to accept my request for an exchange."

The woman smiled gently at Ves. "I'm not as narrow-minded as the other colleagues you've visited. Word is getting around about your visits. While many of them have conspired to stymie your efforts to learn anything valuable from their mouths, Old Man Terrence speaks glowingly about you. If there is one thing I know, it's that Old Man Terrence is not in the habit of exaggeration."

Ah. Ves learned a lot from her words. He wasn't aware that the local Redweller mech designers he scheduled an appointment with all banded together against his visitations.

He also learned the reason why Mrs. Linzif took him seriously where many did not. Ves owed a lot to Old Man Terrence.

"Terrence Reedan is.. quite a mech designer."

"He's always been rather secretive, which is a necessity considering his restricted specialization." The woman explained. "I've always admired his ambition to make genetic aptitude strength irrelevant. He was always destined for failure, but he never wavered in his pursuits. That is how a true mech designer ought to act."

"Not many of us are courageous enough to upend one of the most impactful rules on mechs."

They quickly moved on from talking about Terrence. Ves hadn't come here to share in her admiration for an old and senile mech designer.

Though a number of customs had emerged to set the ground rules for professional exchanges between mech designers, they did not adhere to a structured format.

This meant that the discussions could take on any form. It all depended on whether the mech designers themselves were willing to divulge their more valuable insights.

For this reason, Mrs. Linzif started the exchange with a strange opening. "What is the ultimate armament of mechs?"

This question completely came out of the blue to Ves. He could only answer according to his honest beliefs.

"The perfect weapon for mechs doesn't exist. Every weapon is associated with their own advantages and disadvantages. No weapon can possibly defeat every obstacle in existence."

"That's the most orthodox answer to this question." She said with an intriguing smile. "Yet what if we disregard this premise that the perfect weapon isn't possible to be made. What if one day, we can develop a weapon so powerful that every other weapon pales in comparison?"

"Is that what you are pursuing?"

"In a way. There are many different weapon types in existence. Ballistic rifles, kinetic rifles, missile launchers all the way up to primitive weapons such as swords and spears. Don't you think these weapons are rather lackluster in this day and age?"

"The Big Two and the first-rate superstates already make use of very advanced weapons such as plasma rifles and positron rifles. They're a lot more destructive than the armaments that are prevalent in the galactic rim."

"Ah, that is true, but that's not the point. Even the entities you've mentioned still make use of laser rifles, you know. Theirs are more advanced than ours owing to better technology and materials, but the basic principles are still the same."

"What are you trying to say?"

"Laser weapons are the ultimate weapons for mechs. They're scalable, universal and applicable in nearly every situation today."

"Not every situation." Ves replied.

For example, the hexapods of Groening IV absorbed seemingly limitless amounts of energy, rendering energy weapons ineffective against these creatures!

"For now. While I admit that certain defenses have emerged that offer extremely effective protection against laser beams, even they can't withstand the energy of a sun!"

"That is horribly inefficient. Trying to overpower a defense that is tailored against laser weapons with lasers is not a cost-effective endeavor."

"For now! That is not indicative of the future! I believe out of all the weapon systems that humanity has developed, none still hold as much potential as laser weapons! They have been with us ever since our civilization's first forays into space. From the Age of Stars, to the Age of Conquest and now the Age of Mechs, laser weapons are still alive and thriving!"

"You could say the same to ballistic, kinetic and missile weapons."

Mrs. Linzif snorted in debridement. "Those primitive weapon systems are always slower than light. Their limitations are plenty. In the future, mech combat will increasingly take place at a distance. The next generation is already a portend of this trend. The offensive might of laser weapons will continue to grow while defensive tech falls further and further behind!"

The woman continued to rant a bit about the supremacy of laser weapons over other weapon types. Ves did not share in her opinion, but he hardly managed to get a word in while she espoused her love for laser weapons!

Nonetheless, despite being subjected to a very biased opinion, Ves still kept his ears open because it sounded as if she possessed some insider information about the next mech generation!

"...the development and evolution of laser technology has achieved so many strides these last couple of decades that the proponents of other techs have tried to muzzle us! The upcoming new standards and specifications on laser weapons is much more conservative than what the leading experts in my specialization wished to impart!

"So the MTA is publishing a half-hearted set of standards for laser weapons?" Ves probed.

"Right! The lobbies for other weapons and defensive tech have managed to persuade the MTA to hold back in introducing radical innovations in laser technology! It's a travesty! If they didn't outnumber us all, we would have taught them a lesson!"

Ves wasn't interested in the infighting that took place within the research circles of the MTA. "Is there a way for mech designers like me to obtain the unadulterated specifications for laser technology?"

Mrs. Linzif grinned. "The new innovations will eventually leak into the mech community. Our efforts will not be in vain. When the new mech generation finally commences, you should do yourself a favor and withhold from designing any mechs armed with laser weapons. Newer and better licenses will quickly emerge in a year or two that will absolutely blow the crippled versions of the MTA out of the water!"

This was a very valuable piece of advice! He appreciated what she told him even if she did not offer him the insights he sought.

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