In the next couple of minutes, the Skull Architect acted decisively once the deal had been reached. He poked at his comm for a minute before he looked up again.
"The documentation on what you came for is being sent through the Tzianti connection right at this moment. I've included only the bare minimum of files on both pieces of technology and cut back on both the duplicates and extremely profound theories that you have no business dealing with at your stage. What I'm already sending should be more than enough to get you by, so don't be greedy!"
"I understand, sir!"
Ves trusted the professional integrity of the Skull Architect to send what he promised. Certainly, if Ves didn't bargain so hard, the Senior may have kept in some freebies, but he got what he paid for. For the price of just fifteen collaborations, he obtained condensed knowledge on two key technologies that formed the essential cornerstones of his future plans.
Due to the low bandwidth of the connection, it took some time for the files to completely transfer. While they could have performed this transfer a billion times faster through the galactic net, that would basically be broadcasting their dirty deeds to the Comm Consortium. Both of them would rather put up with the slow connection.
The Skull Architect seemed less likely to chop Ves up and use his skull as a decorative piece for his next mech now that they closed a deal.
"I am sure I do not need to remind you of the consequences of reneging on your part of the deal. Even your vaunted Master Olson won't be able to protect you from my wrath if you are stupid enough to do so. From what I know of Carmin, she will even take my side! A contract between mech designers requires no guarantee from the MTA to hold force."
"Yes, sir. I have always upheld my contracts. I am not about to break this track record."
"Let us discuss the practicalities of my demands. I won't go easy on you, especially since I only have fifteen opportunities to obtain variants of my designs from your hand.
They got down to the nitty gritty details. As if to compensate for his less-than-stellar deal, the Skull Architect imposed numerous harsh demands and conditions on the work that Ves had to perform on his behalf.
First, the deal needed to be kept a secret from both sides. It didn't benefit Ves at all to be connected to designing pirate mechs. Getting booted out of the rolls of the MTA and being ostracized by the entire mech industry was virtually guaranteed in that event.
Though the repercussions were less severe to the Skull Architect, his deal with Ves may be construed as weakness since he was chasing after the abilities of an Apprentice Mech Designer of all things. For a pirate designer that constantly needed to project strength, it was in his best interests to keep quiet.
Still, out of the two of them, Ves was in the worse position. In some way, Ves had entered a situation where the Skull Architect could possibly blackmail him by airing their dirty dealings to the public.
The risk was only tempered by the fact that evidence was easily fabricated, therefore Ves could still fight back by doubting the evidence or flooding the galactic net with similar stories. In recent days, he learned the best way to fight an accusation was to flood the media space with as much nonsense as possible.
In the flood of data, hardly any useful information could be found!
Besides, if the Skull Architect had any integrity as a mech designer in his bone, then he wouldn't resort to such an unprincipled method. The man's own warning earlier reminded Ves that Master Olson would likely intervene in person if necessary.
He still enjoyed backing of his own, though it was easy to forget that crucial fact.
In a situation where both sides stood to suffer severe losses if they breached the contract, the best option was to play within the rules.
Ves briefly wondered what relationship Reno Jimenez used to have with Master Olson. A few decades ago, they were both Seniors, and from his own words they collaborated on some unregistered designs, likely for the Vermeer Group.
Perhaps they regarded each other as peers back then, but now their statuses couldn't be more different. One was a fugitive pirate designer, while the other advanced to the ranks of an exalted Master.
There was a lesson in their divergent career paths.
The Skull Architect quickly moved on to enumerating his other demands and conditions, with Ves occasionally putting in his own requests.
Time became the second-most important factor. The Skull Architect really didn't wish for Ves to take his sweet time in formulating his variants. Each time Ves received a design, he needed to complete it and send it back within three months.
The entire duration of the contract only held for fifteen years. Within this period of time, Ves needed to complete the handover of fifteen variants of the Skull Architect's designs, or else be regarded as a contract breaker!
Ves was expected to complete his work if given a design, but only one at a time. This obligation would be paused if Ves became indisposed due to his obligations. For example, Ves was still expected to travel with the Vandal fleet for a couple of months, and they would certainly be shutting down their quantum entanglement node and maintain a total communications blackout.
In such a harsh environment, Ves gained some leeway.
Besides time, quality was another major factor. This criteria was harder to determine, but overall the Skull Architect needed to be satisfied with the end product. The performance hit shouldn't be too large.
The mech types being considered in the designs encompassed almost every possibility. The only classifications of mechs that Ves managed to strike from the list of contenders was aquatic mechs and heavy mechs. He possessed little depth in both, and for the former he didn't even master the most preliminary designs.
The only reason why the Skull Architect conceded on those points was because heavy mechs and aquatic mechs never sold well in the underdeveloped frontier region. Setting up an aquatic mech unit was a huge hassle for pirates and the only users of heavy mechs consisted of the larger pirate blocs who relied on their own in-house mech designers.
Overall, the Skull Architect expected Ves to meet every challenge coming in his way without complaint. No matter whether the mech consisted of a spaceborn medium striker or an aerial medium multipurpose rifleman mech, Ves ought to deal with them all with the same level of proficiency he showed with the Leiner Grey.
That might be a tall order to fulfill, but Ves actually looked forward to working with different mech types.
He already benefited hugely from working first-hand with the Leiner Grey! The limited freedom of the previous test provided him with vastly more leeway than he ever enjoyed when he worked with the Inheritor design of the Vandals.
Having worked with two Senior-level light skirmisher designs in pretty great depth, Ves felt raring to go to design his own light skirmisher mech!
Getting a taste of different mech types and gaining proficiency in designing them therefore became a hidden benefit to him. Though the risk was high that he would inherit many of the Skull Architect's design traits, in essence turning him into his second teacher in proxy, the benefits outweighed the costs. Without the guidance of those designs, Ves would have to fumble through each design in an attempt to understand their essence.
The only way to take a shortcut in this comprehension process was to undergo another Mastery process. This might be fine for the first few times, but the ruinous DP cost started to grate on Ves. The things he learned from each subsequent Mastery would be less as more and more of his gains started to overlap with his existing insights.
If Ves wanted to round out his catalog with at least twelve mech models, then he didn't need to acquire a mech mastery for each mech type. It might instead become an easy crutch for him. Becoming dependent on this tool would cripple him if he somehow lost access to it or didn't have any time to go through it in the first place.
For some reason, his profound discussions with the Skull Architect prompted him to reevaluate his entire outlook on mech design. Ves never had any cause to doubt his dependency and faith on his Masteries, but the arguments he heard planted some suspicions in his mind.
A mech designer ought to accommodate mech pilots, but at what point did this priority become a detriment?
Too much coddling turned mechs away from their role as brutally efficient killing machines. The last outcome Ves wanted to achieve was to become known for designing big giant cuddly pilotable teddy bears!
Almost an hour passed before they finalized their contract. They covered almost every term and Ves barely had the opportunity to argue against some of them. In any case, working under these restrictive terms was a necessary price to pay to placate the man's anger.
"By now, the transfer of all the files should be done." The pirate designer stated. "In account of your military duties, I have refrained from passing along a design to you. Do note that the fifteen-year timer starts now, and you better find a way to start collaborating with me on my designs as soon as possible."
Ves nodded. "I shall try my best, sir. The Bright-Vesia Wars have never dragged on for more than five to six years."
"Wars are inherently unpredictable, boy. Don't ever make the mistake of seeing patterns in them. A war that operates like clockwork is no war at all. It is a very lethal form of theater."
"Isn't that a point of favor in its predictability?"
"You see, even the best theater performances can sometimes go awry. Minor deviations in the script happens more often than you think, and there may come a time when the plot is derailed completely."
After that ominous note, they finally ended the call. Ves looked up at how long they spoke and saw that he was pretty much engrossed in the conversation for over two hours!
"Damnit, the total bill for this call is almost eighteen-hundred K-coins!"
That didn't sound like much until the strength of the currency came into play. Each coin was worth more than a coalition credit, so the final bill amounted to more than half a million bright credits!
"The beancounters over at the Vandals are going to be annoyed at this expense."
Still, he got what he wanted, so this conversation was definitely worth the money. Ves drew out an encrypted data chip and inserted it into a slot on the console. A short second later, the files sent by the Skull Architect finished transferring through. He put the data chip into a secure pocket on his toolbelt hanging around his armor and began to wipe away his traces on the console.
He outright removed the storage banks that served as the interface's temporary data storage location and crushed it within his armored grip. The storage banks may have been designed to take a beating, but it couldn't withstand his extraordinary strength boosted by the servos of his light combat armor.
He considered chucking it to the nearest garbage chute, but held off. His paranoia warned him that someone could intercept the crushed remains of the databanks and reconstruct them from their fragments.
"It's best to hold on to this junk until I return to the ship where I can melt the pieces down in the workshop." He stuffed the fragments into the empty pockets of his toolbelt.
A deal of this nature and the data he just received was enough to plunge this space station into chaos. Ves needed to let as little people know about it as possible, though this would be hard to achieve against the Vandals whom facilities he needed to borrow to build his gadgets.
"I'll cross that bridge when it comes to that. Besides, I didn't gain anything they already know."