Ves and Iris chatted about their lives for the rest of the evening. The Vesian guest designer got to hear how he won the Leemar Open Competition and became an apprentice to Master Olson. Ves got to learn that the MTA offered a staff position to Iris.
"That's an incredible opportunity!" Ves remarked. "Anyone who receives an invitation from the MTA will surely experience the best of what humanity has to offer! Why did you turn it down?"
"The MTA is a neutral organization. It's not a place for old loyalties. The MTA has made it abundantly clear that once you join their ranks, you'll never be able to return to your state. Anyone who accepts their offers has to sign a lifetime contract with them. Every bond has to be severed. This not only includes your sentiments for your state, but also entails a clean break from your friends and family."
To a person who cherishes her bonds, such a condition was unacceptable. Though no organization was truly neutral, the MTA came darned close, but it was not without a price.
"I heard that the MTA often assigns its staff members all over human space. Those who are serving in the rim are transferred to the galactic heartland and galactic center. Those who originate from the galactic center are shuffled far away from their prosperous stars."
"That's because it's too easy for an official from the MTA to act on their biases. If one day you happen to be promoted to a position overlooking the entire Komodo Star Sector, can you resist the temptation to make things easier for the Bright Republic?"
Ves was no saint. "I don't think anyone can remain neutral in that case."
"That's why the best way to sort out this problem is to send every association member at least fifty-thousand light years away from their home state. This is more than enough distance for their people to become estranged to their former states. Even if you can remain in contact with your family through the galactic net, the distance is so vast that even your closest family members will become distance concerns after a few decades."
It was certainly a drastic measure in his eyes. If Ves received the same offer on day, he too wouldn't be so eager to join their ranks. Although every member of the MTA had access to the best technologies, all of their work would one day become property of the MTA. There was no room for any individuality in their ranks.
"The Mech Trade Association is a great organization. They're the only bunch in the galaxy besides the CFA who have managed to impose some sensible rules across all of human space. It's just too bad that the Big Two haven't been able to take the next step."
Iris chuckled at his words. "It's been done before. The galaxy is way too big to be ruled by a single nation. It's pure fantasy at this point."
"Well, the future is still in flux. There's always a chance that humanity will one day unite under a single banner."
No state called themselves a country or a nation. This was because they lacked the confidence to proclaim their sovereignty over the territories they ruled.
It used to be different in the Age of Conquest. Various star nations all claimed to be the blessed stars of humanity and started to become conceited against other sovereign nations. The animosity that grew between the star nations eventually escalated from minor border conflicts into full-fledged wars, and from there these conflicts escalated into a race to extinction.
It was a good thing the MTA and CFA showed up at the end to smack some sense into the so-called star nations. Ever since then, the Big Two imposed a number of rules and taboos. Taking away the warships was especially fatal to the star nations. They could no longer hold themselves with their heads held high because without any warfleets to defend themselves against other warships, there were no longer capable of safeguarding their borders by themselves.
It was no wonder that people started referring to the emasculated nations as states.
"By the way, what was that about a gift earlier?"
"Ah, it almost slipped through my mind. I wanted to pass on a gift to you before you left. It's just something to commemorate your time as a guest designer among our ranks."
Ves pulled up a small square gift box and passed it over to Iris across the table.
"Open it up." Ves encouraged her with a smile.
Iris eagerly opened up the box to reveal a strange gift. "What is this?"
"It's a miniature mech."
Ves spent a couple of hours fabricating a miniaturized mech that resembled the Hellcat hybrid knight. He could have fabricated it within seconds if he wanted to produce a toy, but Ves went the extra mile and created a partially functional mech that was scaled down to the size of a hand.
It was an excellent example of craftsmanship to Ves. He not only infused the model with his understanding of the Hellcat model, he also spent a lot of thought in shrinking down the different components and finding substitutes for unworkable materials. While there wouldn't be any human small enough to pilot the mech through the tiny cockpit, he did manage to incorporate a remote control feature into the tiny machine.
For some reason, Iris threw him a weird glance and shook her head. "It's an amusing curiosity. I can see that's it's pretty functional."
"If you supply its miniaturized nail drivers and missile launchers with appropriately-sized ordnance, the mini Hellcat can actually fire them out. And you best be careful of its sword. It's sharp enough to stab someone in the chest."
Though she initially treated the model casually, her eyebrows began to furrow as she studied it further. She rotated it carefully around her delicate fingers. "I recognize these materials. This is compressed armor! Did you waste exotics on this toy!?"
"How else will it be so authentic?"
She frowned a bit at that. "Won't you get in trouble with the Flagrant Vandals for reproducing one of their signature designs?"
"Oh, It's fine. The mini model isn't a replica of the Hellcat. I don't even have complete access to its design specifications. You can say it's my own spin on its concept. The miniature is cosmetically similar to the Hellcat, but its internals looks completely differently. If it is scaled up to full size, its specs won't be as good as the real deal."
The woman traced the surface of the tiny mech with her fingers. "There's something strange about this gift of yours. It's like the model is warm to the touch without actually feeling my hands getting hotter. It's like you've added in its air of pride and aggression! Why do I feel it's not just a toy?"
"That's because the model is a carrier of my own design philosophy." Ves sent her an enigmatic smile. "If you can study it, you might be able to glimpse what makes it so special."
Ves had struggled hard to come up with a gift that Iris would appreciate. He settled on handcrafting his own miniature mech according to his own style. This wouldn't be just a normal miniature, but one which exhibited a trace of X-Factor. Accomplishing that wasn't difficult for Ves, especially with his level of Spirituality.
As for choosing which design he wanted to adapt, he considered choosing his own designs such as the Blackbeak or the Crystal Lord, but eventually rejected those choices because they weren't associated with the Flagrant Vandals.
Only the Inheritor light skirmisher and the Hellcat hybrid knight deserved to be used. Of the two, Ves was heavily partial towards the Inheritor, but its status as a cheap, disposable mech to the Vandals could be seen as disrespectful to the recipient. He didn't want to give Iris the wrong impression.
The Hellcat was much more appropriate to be adapted because the spaceborn design enjoyed a very high status with the Vandals. The mech's archetype also allowed Ves to incorporate the lessons he learned from working with other hybrid knights designs such as the Caesar Augustus and the Marc Antony.
The only complication he faced was when he tried to create a miniature flight system. Ves had been forced to fudge a lot of things in order to get it to work without shooting the miniature into the ceiling.
"If you connect the miniature with your comm, you can control it from there. Try out its flight system."
Iris followed his instructions and keyed the miniature Hellcat to her comm. Like operating a toy, she activated the mech and made it over their table. She laughed as she played with the little mech.
"I haven't played with dolls since I was a kid!"
Several minutes later, Iris had her fill and switched the little mech off. She carefully put the machine back into the gift box it came with before setting it aside.
"So how is my gift?"
"It's more than I expected, Ves. It's surprisingly symbolic, in a way. I'm sorry to say that I haven't prepared a gift of my own for you."
"No, I insist. Since you've given me such a personal gift, I won't feel easy until I pass you something of my own."
"Take your time with it, Iris. There's still time before we enter the Reinald Republic."
She nodded at that. "It's true that I'll have to say goodbye to you and the Vandals when we get there. The VRF still needs me back home, and I can't forsake my family. Don't worry though, I'm pretty sure we'll meet again."
"Why is that?"
"It's. A. Seeecret." She replied with a wink.
At first, Ves thought she only said that in a perfunctory manner, but evidently she knew something that he didn't. Would they truly see each other again someday?
Perhaps after a couple of decades or so. Ves threw his speculation to the back of his mind.
"It's getting late. Let's retire for the night."
The pair wished each other goodnight and returned to their separate cabins. Ves sighed as he changed his clothes and slipped into his bunk. He almost couldn't believe their escape from Vesian space had reached the endpoint. The border to the Reinald Republic was only a stellar stone's throw away.
He wondered what would happen next once they reached another foreign state. Reinald was a very different locale from the Bright Republic. Whereas his home state was a little boring, the Reinald Republic was full of life and excitement.
"At least, that's what all the promotions are saying."
The Reinald Republic was known as one of the liveliest states in the Frozen Leaf Alliance. Though the state wasn't very large or endowed with an abundant amount of exotics, it had become a nexus of sorts of different foreign influences.
As a small state, the Reinald Republic actively courted other states. Besides the neighboring Vesia Kingdom, Reinald managed to forge diplomatic and commercial bonds with almost every other third-rate state in the star sector.
Their location wasn't very central. In fact, it was actually a little troublesome to reach Reinald because there weren't any port systems in the vicinity.
To some people, this was an advantage. The Reinald Republic played host to many ventures of dubious legality. Thieves and gangs mingled with suspected pirates in Reinald's extensive grey and black markets. Whenever someone needed to get their hands on something dirty, they took a trip to Reinald.
For some reason, the MTA hadn't cracked down on all of the shady dealings that took place there. Some believed that the MTA tacitly contented to such trades as long as it wasn't too excessive. If the MTA decided to stomp on Reinald's illegal markets, the problem would only go somewhere else. In the thousands of years since humanity expanded into space, crime and piracy always accompanied their rise.
"Even the MTA can't do everything."