Ves stopped and started to think. What would a poor, impoverished mech designer rely on when he owned a dingy mech workshop in a remote district of Neron City? With thugs of all kind roaming the streets, he didn't believe a cowardly mech designer would roll over without a fight.
He looked around the long but narrow interior of the mech workshop. It had been built for the purpose, featuring strong ceramic walls that could withstand any industrial accidents, and from the abundant marks of age, plenty of mishaps had happened over the years in this humble building.
The mech designer who spoke over the speakers was probably the latest in a long line of owners.
Ves began to look around some more and studied the aged, rusted machinery and the haphazardly strewn tools. Even if the workshop was at such a poor state, this mech designer should have treated his gear with more respect. Leaving them out in the open for anyone to bump their feet onto the obstacles was a sign of an incredible level of sloppiness.
For a moment, Ves felt like an inspector who had been tasked with the unenviable job of evaluating the safety of this workspace environment. He only stepped through the front and already he could write an entire report on the violations he had seen.
"Where are you? Step out!"
No one responded. None of the speakers crackled to life to convey the high-pitched voice of the mech designer who occupied this dark and silent mech workshop.
Ves tried to put himself in the opposite man's situation again. What would he do against anyone who tried to invade his mech workshop when he was all alone?
"A mech designer operating a mech workshop by himself can rely on at least one thing... bots!"
Just as he realized this thought, a surge of bots hovered into the front hall. Over three-dozen bots of varying shapes and sizes haphazardly stormed over the Ves. The heavier bots wielded unfinished plates of mech armor while the smaller bots wielded a variety of clubs or shabby laser pistols.
Though shabby, such a chaotic group of bots would likely have been able to defeat the group of thugs that originally intended to break into this workshop. As far as ingenuity went, the mech designer came up with a decent plan.
Too bad he faced Ves.
Although the bots looked deadly, they were industrial bots, not war bots. They didn't excel in the battlefield, as evidenced by their fairly slow speed and the awful accuracy of their laser shots. Ves merely had to dive behind a corner in order to shield himself against the lasers.
Still, pathetic or not, Ves would certainly suffer if those bots came close and pressed him between several plates.
"I've got to take them out before they get close!"
He extended his Amastendira and set it at a fairly high power level. Just like before, he unleashed a thick, golden beam that hit the armor plating carried by the biggest bot.
Perhaps a regular laser weapon would have splashed uselessly against the mech-grade armor plate, but the Amastendira was an entire class of laser pistols in itself. The gun in itself had been designed to overcome weaker mechs, and its high-powered potency didn't disappoint.
The armor plate the bot carried succumbed remarkably quickly. Ves did not expect anything different, as he vaguely recognized it as one of the cheapest armor formulas available. He slashed the laser beam from left to right, causing the other improvised shield bots to split apart and burn on the spot.
"My bots! No!"
Ves could hear desperation, but not to the point of giving up. Those bots were very valuable and served a vital purpose in keeping this workshop running. The mech designer shouldn't keep risking his bots like this when his shield bots had all been taken out in a single hit.
What was he relying on?
Only a few seconds passed before Ves smelled something funny in the air. He sniffed and stretched out his tongue, only to taste something that resembled something rotten.
His body had already started to heat up, a sign that it actively started to resist a poisonous element. Ves hadn't felt this warm since his body first transformed on Groening IV.
Back then, he could easily breathe the toxic air of a completely alien planet. A tiny bit of poison synthesized by an impoverished mech designer posed no threat to his health. His body always heated up according to the severity of the threat, and right now he barely felt warmer than his normal condition.
"Nice try, but poison won't work on me! Now stop your stupid shenanigans or I'll destroy all of your bots! This is my final warning! Surrender now, or I'll wreck all your stuff and try my luck at another workshop!"
A brief pause stretched after he delivered those words, but eventually Ves could hear the bots flying back from where they emerged.
"I give up! Please don't do anything! This workshop isn't mine, I rented it! I'll be in so much trouble if anything gets broken!"
After a short while, Ves reached the end of the structure and climbed some steps until he reached the control room where the mech designer governed the entire workshop. Ves carefully trained his Amastendira at the skinny thirty-something year old man who was undoubtedly the mech designer of this workshop.
"What's your name?"
"Filkis Kwan! Mister.. Can you please not point that gun at me?"
"Only if you prove you're unarmed."
Filkis emptied his pockets and removed his coat, leaving him in an oil-stained shirt and a pair of faded pants. Once Ves inspected the man and insured he didn't hide some holdout weapon in his underwear, Ves lowered the Amastendira, though he hadn't let down his guard yet.
"Well Filkis, if you do as I say, I'll be gone before you know. Disobey me, and I won't hesitate to flash-boil your entire head with my laser pistol. Understand?"
"Yes, yes, yes, I understand!" Filkis nodded so vigorously that it looked as if his head would bob off entirely.
"Turn on the command console and show me a status of this workshop. I want a list of all your assets and whatever stock you have in your inventory."
Filkis stared at Ves as if he was an alien. It took some time, but he finally realized something dreadful about Ves. "Your accent! You're no Dettie. You're a Brighter!"
"I am." Ves admitted without any compunction. The truth would have come out eventually. "Don't forget that I'm the one with the gun here, so you better do as I say."
Filkis nodded again and again before opening up the command console to Ves.
Once Ves browsed the lists, he became a little disappointed. Filkis was truly one of the lowest order of independent mech designers he ever had the pleasure to meet.
The 3D printer was from the earlier days of the last generation, and it had not aged particularly well after changing hands over a dozen times.
The assembly system looked a little better, but Ves had just destroyed all of the heaviest bots that were supposed to perform the most demanding duties.
All in all, the machinery would only be able to fabricate the most inferior bottom-tier mechs, and their quality wouldn't be much better than a wreck scavenged straight from a brutal battlefield.
Thus, it came to no surprise that Filkis didn't do a lot of business. His workshop stayed idle for weeks at a time, and his inventory contained so little stock that he was dependent on advance payments.
"You're one of the saddest excuses of a mech designer that I have ever seen." Ves commented, sparing no mercy in his words. "Frankly, it's a waste of time for you to rent this workshop and try and make it on your own. You'd have better luck if you enlisted in the Mech Legion or joined a scavenger fleet and made a living restoring broken mechs."
"I-I know.." Filkis bent his head. "The Mech Legion didn't want me, and I don't have the connections or qualifications to join another employer."
"Really? You're that bad?" Ves frowned. Even the most incompetent mech designer could still be employed as an overqualified mech technicians. There were no useless mech designers. "How did you even graduate if no one wants to hire you?"
"I ahh.. I missed my final semester. I technically didn't graduate..."
Ves couldn't help but palm his face. While a mech designer didn't necessarily need a degree in order to achieve success, Filkis obviously wasn't one of those rare exceptions. He started to regret invading this mech workshop. He should have gone for the ones next door.
He briefly contemplated killing Filkis and trying his luck elsewhere, but figured that the other workshops might not be better off. This area seemed to be the dumping ground for the most incompetent mech designers.
Besides, Ves didn't need to rely on Filkis to fabricate his gear. He only needed to borrow his credentials in order to operate the workshop.
Killing Filkis wouldn't be helpful because his death would lock out all of the systems to Ves. While it was possible for Filkis to transfer his rights to Ves, that wouldn't stick if Filkis died immediately after. Outdated as they were, the production machines came with tons of safeguards that Ves wouldn't be able to overcome on his own.
So for better or worse, Ves needed Filkis alive.
"Do you have a galactic net connection?"
"Uh, of course? Why?"
Thank the heavens! As soon as Filkis opened the galactic net interface, Ves pushed him to a corner where he could easily shoot the coward if he moved and started typing in a couple of addresses.
After spending many months without receiving news of the outside galaxy, Ves was starving for news. He first browsed a couple of news portals and tried to look up the news on the LMC.
"Hmm, they're doing well for themselves."
Ves dared not to linger too long on this topic. He only read enough articles to confirm the LMC continued to grow and sold a lot of Crystal Lords and Blackbeaks. The two iconic mech models had really started to make a splash in the Bright Republic's mech market.
He looked up the current state of the war after that. The frontlines still looked like a giant back-and-forth, with neither side gaining the edge. The Bright Republic held off the furious Vesian assaults for now. The Mech Legion already showed signs of exhaustion, and it wouldn't be long before they became too winded to continue their invasion.
Strangely enough, news about the Flagrant Vandals arriving in the Detemen System had also spread. The news was fragmentary as too many dubious sources wanted to put in a word, but overall the Vesians didn't hold out hope that the Detemen System could repel the Vandals by themselves.
After a couple of minutes of apprising himself of the current news, Ves turned back to his immediate needs. Knowing the state of the war wasn't as important as getting back to the protective embrace of the Vandals.
To that end, Ves visited a couple of murky places on the galactic net. He navigated to coded areas and inputted a lot of passwords before retrieving a batch of highly encrypted archives.
Once he downloaded the archives to the workshop's systems, he disengaged the galactic net and unlocked them by inputting even more passwords. He also verified his identity by letting the command console take some samples of his body.
Ves grinned as he overcame the final hurdle. Within the encrypted vault of the archive he retrieved from the galactic net, a whole database of equipment designs revealed itself to his eyes.
"Now I'm in business."
These weren't mech designs. Instead, every design consisted of every possible equipment that Ves might need to survive on a inhabitable or uninhabitable planet. With these designs, he could fabricate anything from aircars to comms to hazard suits, all of them in dozens of different variations to suit the resources at his disposal.
"Sorry Filkis, but I'm going to have to borrow your production line."
The Vesian mech designer practically cried when he heard those words.