Ves learned a great deal from Master Olson's personalized lecture. She tailored her teaching to him in a way that constantly challenged his assumptions while never straying beyond his capabilities.
She loved to illustrate her point through examples. Many times, she brought up various designs and noted what they did right and what they did wrong. Then she changed to a different but somewhat similar design and prompted Ves to do the same.
While he didn't always answer correctly, the speed in which he internalized her lessons surpassed her expectations. His rapid progress allowed him to go through a lot more topics.
"Battle mechatronics is the study and application of machines purposed for war." She noted at the start. "In the mech industry, this specifically refers to designing and optimizing a mech for melee combat."
Any mech designer with ambitions to design an original mech required some knowledge of battle mechatronics. It provided them with a number of approaches on how to design and shape the overall frame in a way that maximized its power and efficiency.
Ves learned many different methods on how to apply his new knowledge. He learned to look at mechs with a different eye. He could tell how fast a mech could run by the length and configuration of its legs. He could also estimate the amount of power a mech would be able to exert from the proportions of its various limbs.
Besides refreshing the basics, Master Olson focused much of her valuable time on teaching him how to toughen up a mech. Ves already learned to increase a mech's integrity through increasing its redundancy and compartmentalization. Those worked best at mitigating ranged damage.
No matter how much he increased a design's RF and CF, it all meant nothing if a huge impact shook the fragile internals. Certain sensitive parts such as processors and tiny mechanical components wore out really fast if subjected to heavy shock.
Master Olson therefore taught him how to mitigate these impacts by hardening the most sensitive components. Besides adding a large amount of buffer materials, he also learned few clever design tricks that could dampen and negate heavy impacts.
At the end of the session, his master looked at him with a tired but satisfied expression. "You have a very bright and focused mind. You're a perfect pupil. It is unfortunate that you have passed the optimal age for me to induct you as a core disciple. You must walk your path on your own."
Ves didn't mind her regretful words. He cherished his freedom. Becoming her core disciple meant he'd be able to obtain a lot of opportunities as well as frequent tutoring from one of the greatest mech designers in the star sector. Anyone else would kill their mothers for such a chance.
"I'm grateful for your efforts, master. Your teachings have truly opened my eyes."
The specific content of her lecture went beyond the basics of what he might learn from a course in Leemar. Master Olson added quite a bit of personal insights in her teachings.
As a specialist in mechanics and engine design, she possessed a unique design philosophy on how to design a mech. Master Olson heavily favored designing mechs that were built to last. Experiencing such a perspective from an eminent master was a privilege enjoyed by very few mech designers. He essentially started with a leg up from his competition.
Once Master Olson cut off the call, Ves sat back in his stateroom and internalized what he learned. His master had also passed on a supplementary textbook that provided him with the underlying data and formulas to apply the various methods.
Fortunately, it didn't come with the ridiculous security measures that the Clifford Society liked to use on its more valuable books. As Ves already understood the essence of the field, he only required a week to master its contents. He called up his Status.
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Apprentice Mech Designer
Design Points: 33,216
Neural Aptitude: F
[Assembly]: Apprentice - [3D Printer Proficiency III] [Assembler Proficiency III]
[Battle Mechatronics]: Apprentice
[Computer Science]: Incompetent
[Electrical Engineering]: Apprentice - [Structural Pathway Configuration II]
[Mechanics]: Journeyman - [Jury Rigging II] [Speed Tuning III]
[Metallurgy]: Journeyman - [Alloy Compression II]
[Physics]: Journeyman - [Directed Energy Weapon Optimization II] [Lightweight Armor Optimization I] [Mediumweight Armor Optimization III] [Melee Weapon Optimization II]
[Superpublish]: Available. Can be activated once a year.
Evaluation: A young but foolhardy mech designer who braves danger like a moth drawn to flame.
His Status hadn't changed much. He mainly noted that he earned a fair bit of DP. His virtual mechs sales continued to grow apace since he departed from Cloudy Curtain. While the sale of the Young Blood had already slowed down, the Old Soul started to gain a cult-like status.
"The mech trainees consider your rifleman model to be a milestone that they need to master." Gavin told him in a regular report. "Anyone who isn't able to employ the Old Soul in its intended role is regarded as trash."
Ves didn't know what to think about his words. He knew that Gavin had a hand in encouraging this behavior. His task was to drive up the model's sales.
In any case, it didn't sound very serious and it might benefit the young potentates in the future if they mastered the Old Soul's patient piloting style.
What Ves noted next on his Status was that Battle Mechatronics turned out to be a main skill. Technically, it incorporated many insights from Mechanics, Electrical Engineering and even Computer Science in order to provide it with a foundation on how to design a mech from scratch.
Thus, Ves considered it to be a fusion skill of some sorts. Without a sufficient foundation in the three foundational skills, he'd never be able to master Battle Mechatronics so easily. Still, even if his Computer Science skill fell behind, his current focus on hardening the internals required little knowledge in that field.
He considered sparing some of his ample DP into shoring up this lacking skill, but shook his head. "I don't think I'll need to mess with the programming of a mech anytime soon. It'll be important once I begin to design an original mech, but for now there's little use."
A day after he reached Apprentice-level in Battle Mechatronics, the Barracuda finally made its way to the Mancroft System.
A dim red dwarf star in the center of the system provided pathetic amounts of light to its anemic pair of planets. Red dwarfs were considered the runt of the galaxy, the cheap mass-produced version of a star that burned extremely slow but lasted quite a long while as a result.
None of this mattered much except to illustrate the star system's overall lack of value. The only true satellite of any consequence was its gas giant. The yellow pearl-like planet contained significant traces of an essential ingredient in the synthesis of high density ship-grade fuel.
The fact that such a common red dwarf possessed such a valuable gas giant caused plenty of people to scratch their heads. It was as if an old farmer had married a gorgeous supermodel.
"That's the CFA's fueling station. Best not to go anywhere near that place." Silvestra noted as she switched the main display to a close-up to the station in question. It orbited lazily over gas giant. A fair number of harvester vessels flew down to the upper layers of the gas giant and gently scooped up some gas before returning home.
A small patrol of warships made sure that nobody would have any ideas on the station. It consisted of two destroyers and a small flotilla of frigates, enough to threaten any casual pirate incursion. No matter how many mechs swarmed the patrol, the warships would quickly tear them to pieces with its abundant rapid-fire cannon turrets.
It took only a couple of hours for the Barracuda to traverse past the orbit of the gas giant and enter the inner system. A red dwarf massed fairly light, which meant that ships of any kind would be able to transition closer to the center. This saved everyone a lot of time.
"We're thirty minutes away from the Mancroft Independent Harbor. Whatever poses as their traffic control is already hailing us." Captain Silvestra reported to Ves.
"Has anyone else sent a message to us?"
"Besides the usual unwanted solicitations, no, sir."
"Then do what you think is best."
She nodded to him and turned back to send a brief reply. "We'll take up orbit around Mancroft I and keep our distance from others. I suggest you make sure your pilot cousin is ready to enter his mech at any time. We might need to show some muscle from time to time in order to deter the scum from having any ideas."
The ramshackle space station acted as the only other populated presence in the system. No one bothered to colonize the ugly grey planet it orbited, so every ship in the neighborhood flocked to the so-called independent harbor.
The space station had a mundane history. Shortly after the CFA built its fueling station, a gang popped out of nowhere and funded the construction of a passable space station. Led by the Bosey Clan, this group possessed enough strength and foresight to hang on to power and turn their little space station in a regular stopping point for fortune seekers.
"All kinds of people flock to the galactic rim." Silvestra explained with a patient tone. Ves would just keep asking if she didn't answer. She summoned a couple of auxiliary projections that showed the other ships in orbit. "The line between scavenging and pirating is often blurred this far out from any central authority. Even the CFA can't do much about to enforce the law in these parts."
The galactic rim encompassed billions of stars and many light-years of space. The portion that fell under the purely administrative borders of the Komodo Star Sector already encompassed many millions of stars. Even if the regional density of stars was low, many treasures could be found so long as you picked the right star.
"How are the Boseys still in power?" Ves curiously asked. Some of the vessels in orbit looked large enough to field entire companies of mechs. If every ship in orbit disgorged their mechs, they'd surely be able to overwhelm the space station.
"They never pushed the line. The Boseys know that people can easily choose to go somewhere else to perform their trades, so they don't even bother taking a cut. They make a decent living by buying low from treasure hunters and selling high to their contacts back in civilized space."
It sounded smart. Their generous treatment allowed them to make lots of friends.
"The Mancroft System is fairly close to the border. Has the space station ever been attacked by the sandmen?"
"Never. Red dwarfs are a dime in a dozen. They're dim, so they don't provide the sandmen with a lot of energy. Its low mass also makes it hard to navigate. Furthermore, they're also poor in resource endowments. Therefore, sandmen rarely bother to visit red dwarfs like Mancroft."
No wonder the Boseys chose to construct their space station in this system. It not only has easy access to premium fuel, it also provides safe harbor against the sandmen.
Since no one else hailed his ship, it meant his client must be somewhere else at the moment. With a few days to spare, Ves considered paying a visit to the space station. This was the true frontier of human space.
"Is it safe to visit the harbor?" He asked, gesturing towards the large but aging space station and the handful of ships currently docked in its piers.
"Not without an escort or some assurance." The captain replied. "The Boseys might control the station, but for all their pretenses of declaring the harbor a fourth-rate state, it's still a den of thieves."
"That's a shame." Ves knew better than to tempt fate. Already he could feel invisible eyes staring at his brand-new ship. A shiny Arkon-class corvette presented a very valuable prize to those who valued absolute speed. "Keep me posted on any incoming hails."
With nothing else to do than wait, Ves returned to his stateroom and resumed his preparations. Ever since his master warned him about the dangers, he stopped treating the mission like a vacation.