The Mech Touch Chapter 72: Awkward
To planetbound people, the notion of space travel required a bit of explanation to figure it out. Despite the immensity of the galaxy, it mostly consisted of empty space with a couple of stars in between. The sheer scale of it caused those 'couple' of stars to pile up into many billions.
It took a lot of time to travel from one star to another, even with FTL. It was not as if FTL travel was too slow, but it took a lot of calculations and precision to nail the right destination. A single percent deviation in the coordinates could throw a ship off-course by hundreds of light-years.
Only through vital port systems could ships speed up their navigation. Like lighthouses in the dark, they allowed distant ships to hone in on a location much easier, with much less risk of overshooting their destination.
A highly advanced vessel such as the Torch of the Vanguard was capable of performing the monstrous calculations necessary to jump over entire states. The moment she entered FTL, she was on course to a star system from a neighboring state. Her modern FTL drive compressed an awe-inspiring distance of dozens of light-years to a mere two-day journey.
Not that Ves, Dietrich or any other passenger paid attention to the ship's incredible speed. Technology such as this was commonplace, though on the expensive side.
Instead, Dietrich half-dragged Ves into one of the vessel's many bars. As it was still universal daytime, the rather plain-looking drinking hole looked rather sparse. Most of the patrons wore the uniform of Townsend Spacelines, their tight collars unzipped and faces relaxed as they enjoyed an off-shift moment.
"Hey there! Two Crincho's please!"
The human bartender poured a couple of beers from the tap and slid it over the counter. Dietrich grabbed one mug and gulped down a generous amount. "Ah, this Crincho is a lot better than the swill in our local joint. Our supplier is ripping us off!"
"It's not very cheap to ship goods over to our planet." Ves said as he took a modest sip, still a bit uncomfortable. "And it's not like our planet is loaded. We can't afford to spend as much as a Bentheimer."
Both of them commiserate for a moment over Cloudy Curtain's pathetic economy. The backwater system lacked a robust industrial base that transformed cheap raw materials into expensive end products. In terms of resources, its asteroid fields only held common junk such as iron ores and ice. The planets also failed to distinguish themselves.
In a universe with billions of stars, humanity did not lack basic resources. Any random corporation could hire a bunch of miners and drop them at a random unclaimed star system. No, what most people paid attention to nowadays were exotic resources, something that became scarce as one left the center of the galaxy. The Bright Republic happened to be situated at the very end of a galactic arm.
"Pssst." Dietrich bumped his elbow into Ves as he nodded towards an incoming pair of passengers. "Chicks spotted at three o'clock."
Ves raised his eyebrow and wanted to say something like 'so what?', but a hand suddenly dragged him from his barstool. The two young men quickly approached the pair of girls.
Though dressed informally, the pair of women looked resplendent. The pair of raven-haired goddesses resembled each other so much they must be sisters. The taller one was sportier and not afraid to show her abs with her exposed midriff. The shorter one dressed more conservatively but had a curvier body. Both of them stopped their conversation and regarded the approaching hunters.
"Hey there beautiful ladies, what brings you here to this fine vessel?"
The girls both giggled behind their raised hands. The elder sister took the lead. "Oh you know, worried parents wanting to send us to somewhere safe."
Dietrich continued to put the moves on the elder sister, obviously leaving the younger one to Ves.
Gulping a little, he said, "Hey. What's your name?"
"Rose. Rose Allemaier."
"What is it you do in life?"
"I'm in my last year of finishing my degree in Terran Ecology. And you?"
"I'm an independent mech designer. I just started my business a few months ago and managed to achieve a couple of sales."
Ves boasted a little about his accomplishments, but Rose's eyes slowly glazed over. Sensing the disinterest, he changed topics. He struggled to catch Rose's interests but couldn't judge if he succeeded.
Meanwhile, Dietrich and the older sister named Piper got along swimmingly. He even put his hand around her hips and drew her closer.
He wished he had brought Lucky along instead of letting him laze about back in the cabin. As Ves conducted a halting conversation with the demure Rose, not making a lot of headway into learning more about the girl.
"It's been fun, but we gotta go back to our parents." Piper said as she bumped her comm against Dietrich's wrist, exchanging contacts. "See you around!"
As the two women left, Dietrich stared at Ves while scratching his head. "Man, seeing the two of you stumble around makes me embarrassed to say you're my friend. Did you grow up in a cave or something?"
"I spent most of my energy on my career. I couldn't afford to get distracted by girls."
The Little Boss gazed at Ves as if he was an alien. "Man, that sounds sad. You should get out more. This is the best time of our lives. Don't wait until you grow wrinkles before you start entering the dating scene. It's far too late by then!"
He blathered on about the art of picking up girls. The man talked with gusto, attracting a couple of other same-minded men who shouted liberal amounts of advice. It turned into a small show where they all attempted to teach the nerd how to get along with the opposite sex.
Ves only half-listened to everyone's drunken words as he focused more on how he should spend his steadily accumulating Design Points. With the infamy of his model driving his sales, he could afford to round out his foundations. Forget about getting in bed with girls, he'd rather jump into a pool of DP.
"Heavens, you're pretty much hopeless. Nevermind." Dietrich concluded as he threw down his empty mug. "Let's go explore the shops. I'm itching to see what fancy things are available here. There might even be some goods that can only be found in the Friday Coalition."
The boulevards lining the main passageways offered high-end products at even higher prices. Every store quoted their prices in coalition credits, or cols for short. One clothing store charged fifty-thousand cols for a single men's outfit, while an ice-cream store offered deluxe flavors at a thousand cols per scoop.
"What's the exchange rate?"
Ves opened his comm and programmed the device to automatically convert every col price in his sights. An overlay inside his eyes unobtrusively added the prices in bright credits.
He swore a bit at the ridiculous rate. "It's almost a hundred to one. Just add two zeroes to every col price you see."
That meant that men's outfit cost five million bright credits. To put it into perspective, Ves could build a quarter of a mech with that much money.
"These guys are fucking extravagant. It puts the money we paid for passage to shame."
"I have a feeling this spaceline never intended to earn a profit from ticket prices in the first place. This is practically a floating city in space. The passengers here are paying to experience life in the Coalition."
If the Torch of the Vanguard was a microcosm of the Coalition, then that meant their total wealth placed them in the lower-middle class in terms of affluence. In other words, they were nobodies.
"With this much money being spent on luxuries, it's a wonder why those second-rate states haven't cleaned up all the third-rate states in the vicinity."
"It's not worth it. The money needed to maintain their standard of living is unsustainable when compared to the amount of wealth they are able to generate from our poorer territories."
That was the simple explanation. Ves had no doubt other concerns held back these second-rate behemoths. Still, the words he said still rang true. Without sufficient exotic resources, the second-rate states had no reason to expand their territories. It was like annexing a trash heap. It stank and ruined their views.
The high prices ruined their mood for window shopping. They separated from each other as Ves wanted to return to his cabin. With his safety guaranteed to an extent, Dietrich was free to explore the underbelly of the ship where various kinds of bloodsports and duels were held.
"Have fun down there, and don't get pulled into any bets. I still need you to accompany to Leemar and back you know."
"Sure, sure, I'll be fine mom." Dietrich rolled his eyes. "You've got my comm, so holler at me if you need some muscle."
"I'm sure the ship's security can handle most incidents. Though the chances aren't big, I'm more concerned about pirates and other raids. If you haven't noticed, the local star sector seems to be growing more unsettled."
Having followed the news, Ves learned the incident in Bentheim was not an isolated event. Various other third-rate states suffered from similar unsettling incidents. One planet had its fuel refinery explode, causing massive damage along with an excruciating loss of life.
What Ves found peculiar was that the groups that executed these terror attacks all looked different. The group that struck Bentheim agitated against the corrupt galactic corporations that supposedly puppeted the Bright Republic from the shadows. As for another terror group in another state, they fought for the rights of exploited miners.
"If anyone believes these guys are not related to each other, then I'll eat my comm."
He stopped wasting time on catching up with the news and turned to the MTA instead. As an organisation that dealt with all things mechs, it offered plenty of services to mech designers. Ves had already dealt with certification. Now he planned to access their open library.
"It's already generous for Director Chandler to give me a couple of books for free. He taught me there's still much to learn about the universe from books."
Naturally, knowledge taught by an able teacher could not replace rote memorization. The books available in the open library also had its limits. As Ves logged in the MTA's virtual library section, he had access to many books. However, he already saw that most focused on the fundamentals and core knowledge. Cutting-edge proprietary knowledge was wholly absent from the library.
"Luckily I don't have to rely on others to develop my specializations. The basics are good enough for me. Referencing the library will also create a paper trail for me to explain my sudden improvements in mechanics and other skills."
As he recently improved his Mechanics skill to journeyman, he wanted to stabilize his newly achieved realm by reading supplementary books. He filtered out most books concerning other topics and only limited himself to the best-selling primers at journeyman level.
ARTIFICIAL MUSCULATURE - HOW TO GO FASTER, by Master Ricardo Takanata. Price: 153,623 bright credits.
THE FORCES PROPELLING BIPEDAL MECHS: A BALANCED APPROACH, by Master R.I. Ulmer and Master F.M. Smith. Price: 346,535 bright credits.
THE JOURNEYMAN'S GUIDE TO MECH ENGINES, 74th EDITION, by Master Elia James, Master Alice Coventry and Master Christopher Lin. Price: 86,232 bright credits.
Ves practically bled out his heart when he spent his precious credits on those books. Most of the masters who authored or edited those books were renowned mech designers sitting at the top of the mech industry. The three books Ves selected formed the core of journeyman-level mechanics and even with his System-enhanced memories, he could still learn a lot from those books.
The prices were originally expressed in different currencies. Perhaps to those who lived in second-rate states, the prices were reasonable. But for He was certain the purchases would eventually pay off when he assimilated the knowledge, but it still represented a large chunk of his savings.
"It feels like I'm back in college. Well, as long as the ship is still in transit, I have more than enough time to digest these books."
Just as he was about to dive into his purchases, the front door of the cabin slid open. "VESSIEBOY! You gotta come downstairs! There's a pair of nextgen mechs about to duel each other in an hour! Gather up your credits and let's go bet!"