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 The fleet crossed into the Sentinel Kingdom without much fanfare. Nonetheless, Ves and the others immediately noticed the difference when they studied the local ship traffic in the Kingdom's star systems.

\"There's a lot of military vessels and mechs on patrol.\" Ves commented as he viewed the local plot on the bridge.

\"The Sentinel Kingdom places a lot more emphasis on control.\" Captain Silvestra noted. \"Mercenary corps still exist in the Kingdom, but they're subject to far more restriction. They have to since many mercenary corps in the past used to maintain secret connections with the Nyxian pirates.\"

The Sentinel Kingdom's proximity to the Nyxian Gap led to a lot of destructive pirate attacks. Instead of compromising with the pirates, Sentinel instead united together to resist them in almost every sphere.

While the Nyxian pirates still managed to bribe or subvert some local Sentinel influences, the noble houses made sure to keep their noses clean.

All of them had to, since the royal house always cracked down on those who got caught with colluding with the pirates!

The most crucial difference between the Sentinel Kingdom and the Vesia Kingdom was that the latter featured a strong royal house. With the monarchy in firm charge over the Kingdom, no noble dared to contradict the monarch who ruled the state with an iron fist!

Of course, the downside was that commercial ventures faced a lot of barriers in the state. The royals and nobles captured the majority of industry and trade. Ambitious commoners and greedy foreigners were left with the most troublesome and unprofitable sectors in the economy.

\"Sentinel's economy is closed to most foreigners.\" Ves remarked with regret. \"Mech usage is very high here, but most of the market share is captured by domestic mech companies. Unless I befriend a noble house, I can forget about selling my mechs in Sentinel's lucrative mech market.\"

Different from the Ylvaine Protectorate, the Sentinel Kingdom's mech market fared a lot better despite the lack of foreign competition. The perpetual fighting against the pirates spilling out of the Nyxian Gap forced the local mech designers to become very good at their jobs.

Those who thought they could coast their way through success would quickly find their products ignored in favor of better-performing models!

When lives were on the lines and battles could be won and lost due to a crucial difference in quality, Sentinel's mech forces couldn't afford to indulge in patronage and other corrupt practices!

Large territory, strong cohesion, a strong central power, persistent external pressure and other conditions shaped the Sentinel Kingdom into arguably the strongest third-rate state in the star sector!

Though their strength and prosperity obviously fell short against the second-rate states, they were still considerably stronger than the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom combined!

Naturally, the Sentinel Kingdom suffered from its problems. Its efficiency in non-military sectors ranked below average as many noble estates derived fat profits from the overall lack of competitive pressure.

In many cases, the prices of many goods did not match their quality levels. Commoners weren't being paid very well and had less money to spend on overpriced goods and services.

Nonetheless, while the lower classes enjoyed considerably less luxuries, their safety and basic needs were fully met. As long as the military did a good job of protecting Sentinel space from pirates, the citizens remained content.

\"One important trait to take note of when you visit this state is that Sentinels are very proud of their state, sir. Questioning their rulers or how the Kingdom is being run will attract a lot of animosity from the locals.\"

\"I'm aware, captain. This isn't the first place I've visited where the locals are strongly committed to their state.\"

It reminded Ves of the Ylvaine Protectorate and how most Ylvainans looked up to the three ruling dynasties. Blending in state and church aided a lot in keeping the local Ylvainans subservient to authority.

One key difference that distinguished Sentinel from Ylvaine and Vesia was the lack of upward mobility.

The commoners from the two neighboring states of the Bright Republic offered various opportunities for the lower classes to climb their way upwards.

In the Ylvaine Protectorate, talents and exceptionally hard-working Ylvainans attracted the attention of one of the leading dynasties. The Poxcos, Curins and Kronons regularly issued invitations to adopt the promising Ylvainans.

In the Vesia Kingdom, commoners who earned a lot of merits in battle or became notable scientists or such might receive a noble title! The state deliberately set up avenues for commoners to promote into nobility in order to keep the masses content and to keep the noble houses from growing too complacent!

The cutthroat infighting within Vesia occasionally led to situations where vigorous common-born nobles had successfully managed to topple established noble houses! Despite their rich heritage, as long as they lost their dynamism, they failed to maintain their standing!

\"Within the Sentinel Kingdom, commoners will always remain commoners with almost no exception.\"

Only high-ranking mech designers and mech pilots had the opportunity to buy or earn their way into nobility, but they all had to contribute a lot to the state in the process.

Nonetheless, even if Ves did not entirely agree with the way the local blue bloods ran their state, it wasn't any of his business. At the very least, the high security and stable economy contrasted sharply with the conditions in Chuko, thereby making it a lot safer for Ves to travel around in the state!

Once Ves finished discussing some matters with the captain, he left the bridge and returned to his stateroom in order to devote the remainder of his time to designing his mech.

As he summoned up his incomplete design schematic, he sighed at the many areas which remained in limbo.

\"There's so much I can't decide upon yet without obtaining a solid direction.\"

Ves adopted a different design process than before. In his previous designs, he always formed his images and obtained his spiritual fragments before he proceeded with the meat of the design process.

Right now, he was embarking on the latter without securing the former. This effectively meant he had been designing his mech without a concrete vision to guide his work!

Normally, Ves opposed designing his mechs half-cocked, but this was a very different situation.

First, he needed to finish his design during his stay in the Sentinel Kingdom. His mech functioned best in only a couple of chaotic planetary environments in the Nyxian Gap. It wouldn't be of much use when employed by a regular mercenary corps or mech regiments.

Second, even if Ves hadn't found an ideal tiger-like spiritual fragment as of yet, he could still lay down the groundwork by designing what every tiger mech had in common.

A key attribute of his mech that made this approach a lot more viable was its malleability.

\"My Devil Tiger is a mech that is designed to be open to change from its inception!\"

Working with smart metal and especially ASMAS granted Ves a lot more flexibility in how to configure the mechanical layout of his mech.

No matter how high, low, wide, narrow, long, short he designed a specific subcomponent, he could always shift it into another shape later on when he had a better idea on the final shape of his design.

If something didn't work after he produced his mech? Then he could just adjust the programming of the ASMAS and let the mech adjust its shape on the fly!

\"An ASMAS mech is practically a maintenance-free mech!\"

This was the biggest charm in working with a mech that consisted of at least sixty percent of smart metal!

If not for the exorbitant cost that even made Gloriana wince in pain, Ves would have liked to take ASMAS even further and incorporate it into some of his other mech designs!

\"It's too darn expensive!\"

For the time being, the Devil Tiger would probably remain as his only smart metal mech in a very long time. He couldn't even take credit for designing it since he broke so many rules during the design process.

From pirating component licenses without paying their rightful owners to granting the mech so much autonomy that it could harm its mech pilot, the Devil Tiger embodied some of the MTA's worst nightmares in one single design!

\"Hehehe.\" Ves self-indulgently chuckled. \"The stuffy internal mech designers of the Association will probably suffer heart attacks when they see my design!\"

Of course, after they got over their shock, they'd probably arrest or kill him outright for egregiously violating their precious rules and regulations!

One aspect that Ves paid a lot of attention to in recent days was the configuration of the neural interface. This vital component within the cockpit strongly affected the relationship between the mech and mech pilot.

\"According to Old Man Terrance, this single component is far more impactful than I realized!\"

In his past design processes, whenever he came across the neural interface, he merely copied over one of the standard neural interface models from the MTA. Each neural interface model developed or endorsed by the MTA gained a reputation for safety and stability.

To mech designers who didn't specialize in neural interfaces, this was all the information they needed to make use of these deceptively low-risk components.

\"I can't brush past this decision like I used to in the past.\" He muttered to himself. \"Neural interfaces are far more influential and much less safe than I previously thought!\"

Whereas before he saw the MTA-approved neural interfaces as universally safe, now he regarded them as barbed roses.

\"They look good and smell nice, but you can easily cut your hand if you hold them improperly!\"

Nonetheless, the beauty of roses might be worth the risk to some.

What Ves wanted to do with his Devil Tiger was to explore an extreme. What if he broke the mold of his previous design and deliberately made use of a neural interface with much looser restrictions than the MTA approved?

Less restrictions meant the mech pilot could immerse himself a lot deeper into his connection with the mech. This led to both upsides and downsides.

The obvious drawback was that the negative feedback would be amplified. In the wrong conditions, this might lead to much more severe brain damage in the event of suffering from damage.

\"I don't think any mech pilot can last more than five straight years with my Devil Tiger!\" He guessed.

This was an extremely awful projection! Normally, mech pilots ought to be able to pilot their mech for fifty or a hundred years without suffering any debilitating effects.

Cutting all of that short to merely five years meant that the Devil Tiger would likely prove fatal to many mech pilots if it managed to last a couple of decades or more!

Despite the immense potential harm his Devil Tiger could do to its mech pilots, the advantages were just as spectacular.

Ves obsessed over the man-machine connection. Lately, he faintly developed a notion that what he had managed to achieve with his previous mech designs only scratched the surface of what it could do.

With much less restrictive safety limits, a closer spiritual melding of man and machine could take place, leading to a vastly greater degree of mutual strengthening and cooperation!

\"The core of my design philosophy revolves around symbiosis, after all! If I don't explore this method of empowering it, I won't be able to let it go!\"

It was better that he indulged in his desire to explore the limits of neural interfaces in an illegal, one-off mech design than in one of his commercial projects! Ves would never dare to unleash something as harmful to the mech pilot as his Devil Tiger to his loyal customers!

\"It's better to sell my mech to a Nyxian pirate.\" He grinned. \"Even if the poor fellow's head blows up, it's no big deal!\"

Now that he thought about it, pirates might be the ideal test subjects he had always been looking for. Most of them were scum with numerous crimes under their belt. No one cared if his experiments proved fatal as long as he limited his wild experiments to their kind!

\"Hahahaha!\" He bent back his head in laughter, causing Lucky to look up at him in alarm! \"I should have thought of it sooner! Let my Devil Tiger be my inaugural experimental mech!\"

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