"Ketis, do you love to design mechs?"
"Uh, yeah. I do." She answered rather lamely as she flipped her hair over her shoulder. "I was always smarter than my fellow sisters. The Swordmaidens rewarded me whenever I performed well on a test. Eventually, Lydia herself called me up to her office and told me that I was smart enough to become an engineer. She gave me the choice of studying to become a ship engineer or a mech designer. You can probably guess what I chose."
"If you chose to become a ship engineer, we wouldn't be talking to each other right now." Ves siad. "Tell me why you insisted on studying to become a mech designer. It's one of the hardest careers you can pursue. To make it this far, there must be a reason that is driving you forward."
Ketis looked reluctant to share her thoughts. However, she eventually relented after being stared at by Ves. Somehow, his unusually sharp gaze evoked a measure of fear from her instincts.
"We Swordmaidens fight with our mechs. We depend on them to guard our sisters from attack. We use their strength to force others into surrender in order to rob them of their stuff. Without mechs, we are nothing. I'm afraid of what will happen if Mayra isn't there anymore. She tried to raise some other sisters to inherit her work, but they never panned out. Right now, I'm the only one in the Swordmaidens who can back her up."
"So you entered the profession because you want to help your sisters?"
"That's exactly what I said! They need me to take on this job and be ready of Mayra ever croaks or goes missing. A lot can happen in the frontier. One day, nothing is happening. Another day, an entire war gathering of sandmen jumps on our ships. We've experienced so many accidents like this in the frontier that it's a miracle we managed to stay standing. I hope that with my help my sisters will continue to fight under our banner in the future."
Though her motivation sounded a little bland to Ves, he sensed the sincerity in her voice. She truly cared for the Swordmaidens and wished to do her part in helping them survive.
Yet this reason alone wasn't adequate to drive her to take her work seriously. In his eyes, it could only be a half-reason, something to say when you couldn't figure out a better excuse.
"It's admirable for you to care so much to your fellow sisters." He replied gently, but his tone grew firmer. "But if you continue to hold on to this reason alone, you'll eventually lose heart in the craft and remain stuck at the beginner phase."
"I'm not lazy! I work hard! Each and every day, I hit the books, I experiment with Mayra's designs, I doodle up my own designs! There's not a single day that goes by where I'm not doing something about mechs!"
Ves stood up from his desk and took measured steps. Each step forward added to his momentum and increased his stature in front of Ketis.
Though the girl made herself out to be strong and tough, in the end her life experience was too brief. Against his intimidating approach, she instinctively shied backwards.
"W-W-What are you doing?!"
Ves halted within one step of Ketis. Even though she could have unsheathed her giant sword and use that to threaten Ves, somehow the thought never crossed her mind. This was not a contest of arms. It was a contest of wills.
And she lost badly.
"Let me ask you again." Ves spoke and jabbed his finger against her collar. "Are you passionate about mech design?"
A few seconds passed as Ketis looked both angry and defeated. "..I guess not as much as people expect of me. It's just.. it's hard work, and boring work at that. Just because I studied better in my youth doesn't mean I'm cut out to be a geek. Just look at me!"
She brandished her biceps and her muscular figure.
"I'm a warrior! I'm a Swordmaiden!"
Ves audibly sighed in front of him. His breath brushed against her angry face.
"You are a Swordmaiden, but you are neither a warrior or a mech designer."
"What did you say?" She whispered.
"I get it that you're interested in your martial training. But you are taking it way too far. How good are you compared to your sisters?"
"Pretty good, actually. I'm not as good as the best in my age group, but I'm well above average. I train my body every day and I spar with my sisters whenever I can."
"Okay, let's say that Mayra drops dead one day. It's a big tragedy. Now what?"
The silence stretched on. Ketis realized that she had put herself in a bad spot. It didn't help that Ves loomed inside her personal space and put continual pressure on her psyche.
In fact, Ves was resorting to a trick he recently picked up. He was blasting his Spirituality in the direction of Ketis. Though he didn't expect his trick to be very effective due to a lack of understanding in this area, he figured it could at least add to his stature.
"Well?" He prodded her again. "Answer me! You talked about this exact same scenario a few minutes earlier! Shouldn't you be prepared for this eventuality? What will you do when Mayra won't be available anymore?"
Ketis adopted a defeated expression. "I can't be in charge of all of the mechs in the Swordmaidens. It's too much to me. I can't even design a successful variant of a single frigging hybrid knight. What business do I have with Mayra's precious machines? I won't be able to give them the care they need."
"It's good you recognize your shortcomings." Ves said, stepping backwards and relenting on the pressure he put on the girl. "You are not young anymore. The time for playing and frolicking with your fellow sisters is over. As an adult, you need to take your responsibilities seriously. Does spending half of your day on warrior training sound wise to you?"
Of course it didn't, yet Ketis stubbornly held on to the beliefs she acquired since she was young. It wouldn't be so easy to shake off her compulsion for warrior training. Still, as long as Ves pried open a gap in her armor, time would eventually do the rest.
"You're a jerk, you know that?" She gritted her teeth at him as she couldn't think of an appropriate response.
Ves patted her shoulder in a gentle fashion. "Let's take a step back for now. Let me tell you about an observation I have made. I've encountered many mech designers. Some are Masters, others are Novices like you. They vary from their twenties to their five-hundreds. Some designed hundreds of mechs, other haven't even completed a single original design."
"What are you getting at, mister?"
"What I'm trying to convey is that I've encountered so many mech designers that I can tell what separates the good ones from the bad ones. And you know what strikes me as the one major element that every good mech designer possesses? Passion. Love. Ambition. Desire."
"I count four words, not one."
"Doesn't matter." Ves shook his head. "They all convey similar meanings. The point is that the mech designers who have all achieved some success are driven individuals. They don't look at the present and find themselves content with their lot. They are always casting their gaze into the distance. They hope to reach a greater height in the future, but they know they won't get there by inertia alone. They have to work for it. Fight for it. Struggle for it! Good things don't come by themselves!"
Ketis was taken aback by his fervor.
A fire lit in his eyes as he waved his arm as if he conjured up a magnificent vision. "Don't you have dreams? Your vision has always been limited to the Swordmaidens. That shouldn't be endpoint of your ambition. Aim higher! Don't you wish your designs be piloted by more than a few hundred Swordmaidens? What about thousands? Millions? Billions? As long as you work hard for it, your designs may proliferate throughout the Faris Star Region one day! You'd be as famous as the Skull Architect! Think about it! Is that a dream come true to you?"
"I.. I don't know.." A hunger definitely burned in her mind as she got caught up with the fantasy Ves spouted, but it didn't quite fit with her heart. "I never thought about how my work will affect others besides the Swordmaidens. This.. this is too big for me. I'm sorry, I never held such dreams before."
"It's not too late to start." Ves spoke and patted her shoulder yet again. "Look, it's fine to stay attached to the Swordmaidens. It's just that you are wasting your talents and limiting how much you can help them if you keep on spending your time like always. Develop a goal. A real goal, one that doesn't involve the Swordmaidens. You don't have to separate from your sisters. In fact, it's best if the goal is complementary to the interests of your sorority. The key is that a mech designer can only truly better themselves if they design mechs for a wider audience."
She blinked at him. "Won't I be leaving the Swordmaidens behind?"
"Not at all. The stronger you become, the more you can help the Swordmaidens get even stronger. Every good mech designer is a money-making machine, you know. Tell me, does Mayra have any side businesses?"
"Ah, she designs mechs for some of the smaller pirate gangs that we've acquainted with." She said as she stroked the floating scabbard that held her greatsword as if it was a purring cat. "Many of them don't have their own Journeyman Mech Designer, so Mayra's help is very welcome to them. They exchange favors or valuable goods in favor of her expertise."
"You see? Mayra is capitalizing on her advantages. Everything she gains in exchange is helping the Swordmaidens in obtaining new goods and securing new allies. What do you think will happen if Mayra advances to become a Senior like her former mentor?"
Ketis widened her eyes. "She would become one of the hottest names in the Faris Star Region! She could lift us all up into a big influence! No one would dare to touch us then! Our enemies will be too scared of how many allies we can draw upon!"
Ves let the Novice indulge in the fantasy of before making it all come crashing down. "So let me repeat an earlier scenario, one that you brought up yourself I might add. What do you think will happen if the opposite occurs? Sometime in the immediate future, Mayra turns up dead or missing. The only mech designer who can fill her shoes is you. What will happen to the Swordmaiden's strength and their relationships?"
"Not good! Not good at all!" Ketis finally became aware of the gravity of the situation. "Those so-called allies of ours are all scumbags. If Mayra is no longer with us, I'm not sure they're willing to back us up anymore. The only reason they're giving us the time of day is because we have a Journeyman at our disposal. This.. this is a disaster!"
"Mayra has helped build the Swordmaidens up, but she can easily tear you down as well. Your outfit is too dependent on a single talented mech designer. So long as this concentration of ability persists, your group will never be secure. The only way out of this precarious hole you've dug for yourselves is if you step up and treat your profession seriously. Let me ask you this, what is the meaning of a mech designer?"
"Uhhhmm.." Ketis had to scratch her head again. "To design mechs?"
"Correct. A mech designer designs mechs just as mech pilots pilot mechs. It sounds obvious, but look at it from another perspective. Does a mech designer need to be able to fight? Does a mech designer need to learn how to fight with a sword? Does a mech designer even need a strong body?"
The answer to all of those questions was no. Ves had been driving towards this conclusion all this time, but Ketis appeared to be unwilling to admit the truth.
Ves landed the killer blow. He stepped closer and placed both of his arms on her muscular shoulders. "Disregard your own ego for a moment and ask yourself this. Will the Swordmaidens benefit more from having an extra warrior or an extra Journeyman Mech Designer?"
"But.." She stammered. "I'm not as talented as Mayra. I'll never be able to advance to Journeyman?"
"Will you? Nothing is impossible. Mayra managed to do it. You're her student, her protege. As long as you are motivated and possess the right work ethic, there's no reason you can't follow in her footsteps. Don't underestimate your own potential. A daughter of the frontier can be just as talented in designing mechs. It starts with a dream."