"Larkinson." The exotic purple-skinned and purple-haired visage of Mayra appeared on the projection. "I've received your submission. I've already passed it on to my mentor's account. It should take some time for him to go over his mail."
"I understand." Ves nodded. "Did you look at my take on the Leiner Grey?"
Mayra smiled ruefully at him. "I did, and I have to say you are very courageous for sticking up for your principles. I'm sorry that I couldn't warn you that my mentor doesn't have the best intentions in mind when he threw this test at you. Many mech designers who approached him have never been the same after undergoing this test..."
Ves waved away her concerns. "I'm not like the others. You can already see from my work that I haven't lost myself in temptation. I have always been aware that there are some risks involved with approaching a man with such a notorious moniker. I don't bear any grudge for his tricks."
If Ves was any weaker or less firm in his will, then he would have been pissed. Since he came out of this ordeal without any damage, he simply laughed the whole matter off. It was pointless to develop any animosity over a mech designer who wielded a vast amount of power in the Faris Star Region.
"I can't say how my mentor will respond to your design, but I think it speaks in your favor that you stood up for yourself. Too many mech designers who are new to the frontier think the only way to worm themselves into his circle is to act like sycophants. That's never the frontier way. Nothing disgusts my mentor more than a mech designer that bends too easily when it comes to their own work."
"I see. Is that how you gained his approval?"
"I didn't know anything back then when Lydia led me to my mentor." She shook her head. "So I stuck up for myself like always. I was rather stubborn back then, but that has served me well. He would have been disappointed in you if you copied his work without adding anything original. My mentor believes the only mech designers worth their salt are those pursue their own questions over any other obstacle in their way. "
That sounded swell until Ves realized that this was the same reason why the Skull Architect had been driven to the frontier. Reno Jimenez outright ignored the law and issued orders that led to the deaths of thousands of mech pilots and one irreplaceable expert pilot.
Sometimes, bending before a greater authority was a good idea.
"What was it like to study under him? Did he treat you well?"
"He was always more absorbed in his own research. I think he only took in students because he needed a firmer footing in the Faris Star Region." She replied. "That said, he treated us well enough, letting us read through his books and help him with the production of his mechs. He's the smartest mech designer I've ever met, and he seems to know every field related to mech design."
"How did he guide your development?"
"Well, I made it clear that I'm only interested in designing swordsman mechs, and he accepted that. He assigned an entire catalog of books as reading materials and reviewed the practice designs I came up with. He's not the sort of person who holds your hands. He expected me to work for my gains through my own hard work. Back then, I disappointed him a lot. I wasn't as diligent in my studies and wasted the opportunity to ask for his advice."
"Was it dangerous to be in proximity to him?"
"Oh, he's dangerous. Make no mistake about that." She immediately stated. "He's decent towards his friends but ruthless towards his enemies. I don't think he started off this way, but it's the only kind of language that the people in the frontier understand. In your case, you don't have to be too careful. My mentor doesn't see any threat in a young mech designer like you. From what I saw from your submission, it possesses enough quality to meet his minimum sensibilities."
"He sounds like a decent teacher."
"It comes with the job." The Swordmaiden mech designer smiled. "While he doesn't have the best reputation, he's very passionate about mech design. His conviction gives him strength. He misses his old life back in the Vermeer Group. He likes to collaborate and exchange information with his peers. Ever since he was driven out of civilized space, he doesn't have anyone who he can talk to on an equal level. Every other Senior Mech Designer in the frontier is a rival."
It sounded like the mech design industry in the frontier, if Ves could even call it that, was a lot more cutthroat than in civilized space. The market was smaller, infrastructure was poor but a lot of profit could still be made.
The natural tendency for mech designers would be to monopolize the markets from themselves. Without the MTA watching over their heads, they possessed plenty of incentives and none of the deterrents to resort to foul play.
"By the way, how is it going with Ketis? Has she been up to mischief yet?"
"Ehm, I'll have to get back to that." He nervously laughed. "I handed over a similar test to Ketis in order to get an impression of her design style."
"Well, I did promise you to get what you wanted from the Skull Architect." Mayra scratched her purple cheek. "But don't neglect her. Give her something to do. I would prefer it if you begin to educate her. Do you have a lesson plan in mind?"
"As you said, it depends on what I get in return. If I'm satisfied with what I've received, I don't mind guiding Ketis more intensely. I'll have to see her work before I can say what she needs to work on, but from what you said she needs to firm up her fundamentals and adopt the right mentality. The former can be done through cramming and tutoring, but the latter is something that can't easily be changed."
Having an excessively high opinion of yourself was one of the biggest mistakes a mech designer could ever make. Too many mech designers grew self-centered to the point of becoming a narcissist. Though Ketis may not have reached this point, Ves figured she was close to crossing the line.
"Don't be afraid to knock her on the head if she misbehaves." Mayra said, closing that particular topic.
The two discussed some routine business. Now that the Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordmaidens moved together, they needed to coordinate their supply situation. One topic that Mayra emphasized was the fact that resupplying in the frontier was at least a hundred times more difficult.
"Most star systems in the Faris Star Region are wild and empty. Industry is almost nonexistent and trade in the supplies we need can only be done at the few pirate stations that manage to stay aloft."
The Faris Star Region was like a desert in that sense. Vast stretches of empty sand hid some buried treasures underneath the surface. The pirates and treasure hunters that made the frontier their home usually passed through the few oases in the sands. Sometimes, those stuck in the desert needed to travel for months before they could reach the nearest oasis.
After Ves hung up with Mayra, he turned his attention to other matters. He neglected his other duties during the time he worked on the Leiner Grey.
Fortunately, nothing serious happened that required his intervention. By now, the system of delegation did its work. If the lower-ranking mech designers needed any help, they reported to the higher-ranking mech designers. If they couldn't solve the problem, they kicked it up to the deputies. Only if the deputies failed to cope with the problem would Ves step in and save their bacon.
"It's a good thing that Mercator and Trozin have managed to solve the issues that cropped up. That leaves more time for me." He uttered with satisfaction.
Ves fired off a quick set of mails to his deputies and the other mech designers that performed well. There wasn't much substance to the message besides complimenting them for their diligence and reminding them to continue to follow the schedule.
He also noticed that a couple of mech designers requested one-hour tutoring sessions with him. He almost forgot about that, but he was glad people like Vedette recognized the benefit of receiving his instructions.
"I should clear some hours in my schedule to make time for their sessions."
Once he processed his backlog of paperwork, he turned his attention to Ketis. The girl had been quietly working on the assignment he gave out. It should be about time to evaluate her work.
"Alright Ketis, that's enough. You can stop your design work now."
"I haven't finished yet!" The horned lady squawked. "I just need a couple more days to complete my variant! This design you chose is awful to work with! I barely made any progress in the first day!"
Ves shook his head. "I only need a snapshot of what you are already capable of. I can do that just as well with an incomplete design. Completing your variant isn't important."
He forcibly transferred the latest version of her variant into his terminal over her protestations. As her boss, he possessed full administrative privileges over her guest account, so he could do anything he wanted with it. Once he opened the design schematics of the rushed variant of the Caesar Augustus, he studied it with a critical eye.
"Sloppy." He said after a few seconds. "Your work is too rushed."
"That's because you only gave me a week's time! What am I supposed to do in a week? This stupid Caesar Augustus is one of the most complicated designs I've ever worked with! It's such a travesty that I feel like strangling whoever came up with this hybrid knight!"
Ves ignored her words and continued to dive into her work. Even though he hadn't been fair to her when he only gave her a week to deliver something presentable, the lack of care she showed went behind necessity. As Ves sampled her principles and the nucleus of her design philosophy, he sensed that this lack of diligence went deeper than he thought.
Every mech designer needed to be meticulous in their measurements and their judgement. Ketis seemed to pursue what she found the most exciting, which was the Caesar Augustus' sword and shield.
She focused most of her attention on strengthening her variant's melee capabilities, but completely neglected the wrist-mounted laser cannons and the shoulder-mounted missile launchers. The performance of those two weapon systems practically cratered to the bottom.
More than that, she also got some key measurements wrong, leading to several instances of bad fits between the various components. The errors slowly piled up until the variant underperformed by at least twenty percent, which was a very serious margin for this kind of mech!
In summary, Ves caught out two major flaws in Ketis' disposition. First, she only worked seriously when she came into touch with what she loved. Second, her foundational skills was filled with holes. She lacked systematic learning that every Novice Mech Designer should have memorized.
He briefly explained his observations to Ketis, who looked understandably displeased at being criticized in such fashion. "Excuuuuse me, you little boss! I didn't get the opportunity to grow up in a quiet, safe planet and go to school like everyone else."
"Look, I'm not trying to knock you down for that." Ves quickly said while holding up his arms in a harmless gesture. "I just wanted to get that out there so we can do something about it. Our first priority is to bring you up to the same level of your civilized peers. A good foundation is essential if you want to move up the ranks."
Ketis grumbled a bit but she wasn't an airhead. She knew was well as any other mech designer how far she fell behind. Whether she could sum up the motivation to close the gap was another matter.
The girl looked as if she was torturing herself when she attempted to design a variant of the Caesar Augustus. Her displeasure stood in stark contrast to Ves' enjoyment when he puzzled over the Skull Architect's test.
Ves believed the key to unlocking the guest designer's potential was to ignite her passion.