If Ves ignored her giant sword and her exobeast clothes, Mayra looked and spoke no different from a genuine Journeyman Mech Designer. However, Ves simply couldn't ignore what her veneer of civility covered up. She was not only a daughter of the frontier, she also learned her craft from a mech designer that earned the rare privilege of earning a bounty on his head from the MTA!
A Senior Mech Designer ordinarily wouldn't be kicked from their membership rolls even if they had some blood on their hands. They were mostly content to leave law enforcement in the hands of the states.
Only a couple of exceptions roused them into action. One of them would be to break one of the taboos. Another one would be to violate the tenets of mech design.
Skull Architect Jimenez was guilty of the latter.
Whatever depraved theory he came up with in his fruitless search for the X-Factor compelled him to make use of human remains.
It would have been one thing if he killed random thugs or slaves from the frontier. The Skull Architect detested lowlives. The personality of a mech was defined by its soul. Embedding the soul of a thug in his mechs would merely drag them down.
Jimenez only wanted the best for his mechs. In that sense, his pursuit for perfection was disturbingly similar to Ves' insistence for quality.
To the Skull Architect, only the bones of mech pilots qualified as valid raw materials. The better the mech pilot, the better his mechs performed, at least according to his fantasy. His bone-infused products never performed any different to his regular mechs.
He initially began his experiments with utilizing the bones of dead mech pilots that scavengers picked up from long-abandoned battlefields. These bones usually had little value, so it didn't take much effort for someone like Jimenez to get their hands on them. Sadly, the Skull Architect concluded that rotten bones did not make for good materials.
Only the freshest bones satisfied his cravings!
Mech pilots in the Vermeer Group in the Friday Coalition started to disappear. No one knew where they had wandered off to. However, the kidnappers had been capable enough to clean up their tracks, so the truth behind their disappearances had long been an unsolved mystery.
All of this changed once he crossed the line. Unsatisfied with the results of his experiments up to date, he came to the conclusion that his raw ingredients weren't good enough.
The souls of basic mech pilots and advanced mech pilots weren't strong enough to provide any measurable boosts to his mechs. Only expert pilots would do.
One day, a famous expert pilot ended up missing.
The entire Vermeer Group panicked and sprung into action. The disappearance of thousands mech pilots didn't matter to a behemoth that was one of the principal partners of the Friday Coalition. Yet the disappearance of a single expert pilot was completely different!
With the full investigative might of the Vermeer Group brought to bear, it only took half a day to track down the kidnappers, work their way up to the ones who issued the contract, and from there beat out the name of their client from their mouths.
To their horror, the one who was responsible for kidnapping and ultimately killing their prized demigod was none other than a respected Senior Mech Designer.
It was a wonder he managed to flee the Coalition and stay out of reach from the vengeful hunters of the Mech Trade Association. His depraved experiments defiled the honor of expert pilots and cast a stain upon the profession of mech designers!
The scandal remained a hot topic for weeks in the entire star sector!
To her credit, Mayra didn't seem offended at the reactions of Ves and the chiefs. If anything, she took it as a badge of honor. "My mentor is extremely dangerous. He has to be in order to survive in the frontier."
"What kind of status does he enjoy in the frontier?" Ves asked.
The Skull Architect had dropped out of the news ever since he fled from civilized space. Heck, many people thought he was dead!
"My mentor is one of the main shareholders of Malligan's Pitstop, a medium-sized independent pirate station. His mech industry is based there. Mechs sold from the station carries his personal guarantee. His word is as good as certification from the MTA."
"Ah." Ves understood. "There's no oversight from the MTA beyond civilized space."
In civilized space, mech designers and purchasers of mechs relied on the MTA's long-standing system of validating mech designs and certifying every mech that rolled off the production lines. Ves had taken this reliable system for granted. He had never thought of a time where he wouldn't be able to rely on those services.
The scams taking place in the underground markets of Harkensen III had already given him a taste of how difficult it was to do business without a neutral arbiter. The only way a layman could purchase a reliable product that performed as advertised was to hire a mech appraiser.
The problem that came with this choice was that there was little anyone could do if a mech appraiser was biased. During his previous strolls in the grey and black markets, Ves witnessed the appraisers discretely favoring one stall owner's products of another. Who could say if the mech appraiser hadn't already been bought by the stall owners?
"I gather you play a very important role with the Swordmaidens. It's different here. Many smaller mercenary corps and other outfits can do just fine without a mech designer on retainer. They can largely trust what they buy from the market."
Mayra snorted as she took a few sips of the soup that arrived next. "Trust is impossible to achieve from where we come from. The only loyalty comes from our family, and the Swordmaidens do a good job in binding us together. Unless you know and fought alongside someone for years, you can't trust anyone you meet. This is even more vital when it comes to mechs. It's our main weapon and the only way we can defend ourselves. A group without a mech designer will always remain a lackey to others."
They continued to talk about the differences mech designers faced in their different environments. In civilized space, mech designers flooded the industry. Millions of them graduated from the Komodo Star Sector alone. The market couldn't possibly accommodate all of them, therefore leading to a situation where competition had reached an increasingly brutal degree.
"There aren't that much mech designers in the frontier." Mayra explained the floating bots picked up her half-empty plate and replaced it with some kind of gelatinous substance. "The education system in the frontier isn't very developed. Most people learn from automatic teaching programs or through browsing free lessons on the galactic. Genuine teachers are worth their weight in exotics. It's exceptionally difficult to raise engineers and technicians when there's hardly any place to learn."
"Let alone a higher institution, many places don't even offer high school or elementary school-level classes." Ves added. "To raise a qualified ship engineer or mech technician, you need to educate the students from the very start."
The age of ten was widely used as the starting point of a child's future development. Before the state tested their aptitude, their future was in flux. Anyone could become a mech pilot, and lots of children held out hope even if their odds were small.
Once they reached this magical age, the truth would finally emerge. Many received a negative result, which meant their aspirations to become a mech pilot had been dashed. From then on, the children needed to find another calling, and take classes that would bring them closer to their future careers.
"Children are some of the most precious resources in our region. It is ten times harder for them to grow up there than in your safe and structured space. When we say that every Swordmaiden in our group is a daughter of the frontier, it carries a special meaning to us."
Mayra gazed at a younger Swordmaiden sitting next to her. Ves did not spot any family resemblance. While Mayra's genetic modification tinted her skin in a subtle shade of purple, the other girl's modifications had changed given her a pair of horns that looked strong enough to impale someone in the way.
She looked like a little demoness in a way. There was no telling what other modifications she hid underneath her clothes that consisted of a dragon scale-like pelt that glittered in orange and red.
Despite the lack of resemble, the Journeyman Mech Designer obviously cared a lot about the girl. She introduced the young girl to Ves. "This Ketis, my oldest student."
"I'm your first student!" Ketis growled. The girl looked ready to stare her teacher to death.
"Don't mind her. Ketis hasn't been exposed to the greater galaxy yet. She's barely earned her battle clothes."
"I slayed a Wistra Dragon with my own sword!"
Mayra laughed. "Hunting a single exobeast does not mean you are ready to spread your wings. Mech designers like us are valued in the frontier, but that also means that many pirates want to obtain us, and they don't care how. This cocky attitude of yours will land you in trouble eventually."
The pair of Swordmaidens bickered for a while. Ves had the feeling that Mayra regarded Ketis as her adopted daughter. However, while Mayra was tempered by age and experience, Ketis was flush with the excitement of her youth and aggressive upbringing. The Swordmaidens raised their maidens to be warriors, regardless of their ultimate vocation.
"You spend too much time on combat practice and not enough on your studies. You've already fallen behind on your mechanics classes! How are you supposed to design your own swordsman mech if you keep insisting on sparring against other Swordmaidens!"
"Don't tell me what to do! I'm a full-fledged Swordmaiden now! What I want to do with my time is none of your business!"
The family drama sounded surprisingly mundane if it didn't involve lethal weapons that could cut through the hangar bay deck. Ves found the idea of a sword-wielding mech designer absurd, but evidently Ketis tried her best to excel in both.
"Mech designers don't have to be combat marines or special forces operatives." He chipped in, wanting to provide his own perspective on the matter. "While it's true that relying on your own strength is foolproof, the problem is that you can only split your time to a certain extent. Many mech designers have never reached their full potential because they never made a plan or indulge themselves in too many distractions."
"How am I supposed to defend myself, huh?" Ketis retorted.
"By relying on others. That's the ultimate lot for mech designers. You never hear stories as mech designers that are excellent soldiers. It simply can't be done. It takes a lifetime to study the art of designing mechs. If you only spend half of your time on designing mechs and the other half on becoming a better warrior, you'll only end up average in both at best."
The young girl violently shook her head. "I don't believe that! It doesn't take too much time to keep up with my sword practice."
This must have been an old argument for the couple. Ketis' attitude would have never been tolerated in civilized space. Mech designers who lazed about or got distracted by other activities quickly became redundant in the industry. Employers could easily replace the slackers with more motivated mech designers.
As the dishes floated in and out of the dining room, the Vandals became a bit more accustomed to the hybrid-looking Swordmaidens. They were still human, in a way.
Mayra began to probe Ves on his background and accomplishments. She became mildly impressed when she found out that Ves had founded his own company and managed to become a nominal disciple to a Master Mech Designer.
"It's not so impressive." Ves said, not wishing to make a mountain out of a molehill. "I'm merely a part of the periphery in Master Olson's organization. I'm in no way comparable to her direct disciples."
The pirate mech designer eyed him with an appraising look. "You seem like you have a good head on your shoulders. Your grasp on mech design is more encompassing than the usual collection of fugitives that arrive in our region of space. I'd like you to tutor Ketis for a time."
"What?!" Ketis erupted. "That's absurd! I've got nothing to learn from this fellow!"
Even Ves was shocked. Though he understood Mayra's intentions, an unwilling student was the worst kind of student!