The Mech Touch

Chapter 106: Advancement

The Arkon Mark I was 100 meters of pure craftsmanship. As a mech designer, Ves appreciated mechs the most, but he had a decent eye for ships.

The Arkon model had a sleek, curving shape. Her outer plating gleamed in white. A predatory pattern of sky blue accents broke up the monotony. If Ves had to describe it, it looked like a fish with its tail chopped off. Massive thrusters at the aft allowed the ship to traverse space with speed, while its stubby wings helped balance the ship if it descended onto a planet.

The ship did not come with a name. For now, she merely held a numerical designation. Ves could think up a name for the ship and register it later at any Coalition port at any point.

Compared to the gigantic but sluggish passenger ships and the smaller but 'economic' transports, the Arkon Mark I was built to satisfy the vanity of the rich. The designers of this luxury vessel pretty much picked the most expensive options available.

This meant that the Arkon was faster and more resilient than any other ship of her size. In formal terms, the Arkon was classified as a corvette. These vessels ranged from fifty meters to two-hundred meters. They were built for speed, evasion and sometimes stealth.

Compared to a regular corvette, the Arkon featured extensive automation. Leemar even included a complementary navigator bot, so Ves could theoretically operate the vessel without a single crew member.

"Not that it's a good idea. A man should never rely on bots."

A vessel controlled by bots and programs was highly vulnerable to malicious digital intrusion. Ves intended to hire a human pilot in the future.

The luxurious furnishings made up for the cramped interior. Dietrich's eyes widened at the fully stocked bar and instantly swiped a bottle of liquor. "Do you realize how much I can sell this bottle of Doomsday No. 8? It's worth at least a hundred-and-fifty thousand credits back home!"

While Dietrich slobbered all over the complementary booze, Ves inspected the three decks for any other surprises.

The cargo bay was situated at the lower deck. As advertised, it contained enough space to hold four standard-sized containers. The bay came with an integrated lifting system that allowed for effortless loading and unloading of any cargo. For now, Dietrich's refurbished mech took up much of the space, so Ves had no opportunity to test this system.

Other supplies took up the rest of the space in this deck. For example, Ves bumped into large barrels that stored the ship's water, air and fuel. As the Arkon ran on high-density fuel, the designers put a lot of effort into securing the volatile mixture. The protective shell around the fuel tanks could take a dozen hits from a mech-sized weapon.

A lot of compartments operated out of the middle decks. The all-important engineering compartment regulated both the FTL drive as well as the standard thruster engines. It also regulated the power reactor.

Ves could imagine if pirates boarded his ship and wrested control of engineering, they'd practically be in effective command of the entire corvette.

Besides some boring systems such as the air and water recyclers, the middle decks also came with a fully furnished lab and miniature workshop. Leemar generously furnished both compartments with state-of-the-art devices.

Though Ves lacked the expertise to fully utilize the lab, he handed off the chunk of mineral to the lab's expensive lab bot. While it was fairly stupid compared to a human scientist, it was better than nothing. With the ore in its hands, the bot should be able to find out a couple of things about the ore.

While Ves had nothing to do in the workshop area, he still went over all the supplied gear. The workshop enabled him to do some basic maintenance and repair on mechs. The ship's engineer could also borrow the workshop's tools to keep the Arkon running.

What Ves found particularly surprising was that the workshop came with a mini-sized 3D printer. The model was recent and came with many advanced capabilities.

Unfortunately, due to its scale, Ves couldn't replace his old 3D printer with this state-of-the-art device. The small printer simply couldn't fabricate anything larger than a person, and if Ves wanted to print something advanced, he had to wait a long time.

The mini printer still provided Ves with another tool. If he ever needed to fabricate an advanced component, he could turn to this device instead of seeking outside help.

The bridge of the Arkon was placed at the bow of the middle deck. Ves had no clue how to pilot the ship, so he entrusted the controls to the expert hands of the navigator bot.

The top deck took up less space due to the Arkon's sloping form. The deck mainly offered comfort and accommodation to the passengers and crew.

The smaller cabins held enough space for four. The beds could be expanded into double bunks if Ves ever took in more crew.

The mess hall offered a comfortable place for people to eat their meals. In its standard setting, the dining area looked like an austere cafeteria. Crew members could eat their meals in peace.

When Ves changed the dining area's mode, the normal furnishings receded and the room turned into a classy dining room that could also function as a conference room. The wooden furniture and soft carpets gave the transformed room a sophisticated ambiance that would certainly help in impressing any guests.

The food preparation system was state of the art. The hall also came with an automated food fabricator that prepared any meals programmed in its systems. The food fabricator took in standardized nutrient packs as input and fabricated natural-looking meals such as spaghetti bolognese or instant noodles.

If Ves ever grew tired with fabricated meals, he could hire a cook to man the attached kitchen.

The observation chamber came with a retractable roof that allowed the occupants to gaze at the stars. The chamber also functioned as a leisure room. It came with programmable seating that allowed Ves to summon up sofas or bar stools as he needed. Dietrich currently monopolized the bar set to the side while Lucky cautiously sniffed at fish swimming lazily inside the aquarium set on the other end.

The final two compartments at the bow of the ship turned out to be the ship's best cabins. The staterooms offered enough space for the captain and the owner to take care of some paperwork. One of the extensive secure closets already came with a new set of clothes.

"Are all of these antigrav clothes?!"

The freebie certainly came as a surprise. Though all of the sets looked simple, Ves quickly realized there was more under the surface. All of the sets could be reprogrammed, allowing them to change their shape and color.

Not that Ves thought to play around with this function. To his underdeveloped fashion sense, the clothes were already miles ahead of his old wardrobe. He quickly changed to a set but left the float function for later. The last thing he needed was to bump his head onto the ceiling.

He retrieved another set of antigrav clothes and left it onto the bed of the spare stateroom. He already received more than enough gifts. Dietrich deserved a share as well.

Once he finished his tour, he entered his stateroom. In the privacy of his office, it was time to reactivate the System and retrieve his rewards.

The System inundated him with notifications once he ran the program. Ves quickly glanced through most of them, only bothering to pause at the most important messages.

He held up the mech evaluation report for the Unicorn, his rushed design for the free-for-all.

X-Factor: C+

He indeed broke through, though sadly he couldn't replicate the result. His Sword Dancer and Executioner designs only received a middling score of C- by the stingy System. He wasn't too worried. Once he had a taste of a higher boundary, he could still recall the sensations.

After pushing all of the evaluation reports along with the handful of DP the System rewarded, he finally got to the most important messages.

[Congratulations for upgrading your status to Apprentice Mech Designer. You have taken your first step into the path of a supreme. The Mech Designer System will now initiate an upgrade. Please stand by.]

"What are you doing!?"

His comm unit physically changed shape. The thin armband-shaped device started to melt in front of his eyes. For a moment, Ves panicked at the sight. Would his wrist melt off?

He calmed down a few seconds later once he realized his comm did not melt into a hot piece of metal. Instead, it merely broke down into tiny nanomachines of some sort.

It first spread out an ultrathin layer of metal until it engulfed his entire hand. Ves stood uncomfortably still while the metal constantly poked at his skin. After completing whatever it did, the metal receded into an unobtrusive brace. When Ves poked at it with his fingers, he found the comm to be surprisingly pliable and springy.

"Smart metal?"

Whatever its composition, Ves was sure the System massively upgraded his previously average comm unit. He'd dig through the changes later. First, he had to go over the rest of the upgrades.

[Your access to the Store has been expanded. You are now able to exchange more advanced items with Design Points.]

Considering that even the cheapest junk in the Store cost a fortune, Ves was not that eager to throw more DP in this bottomless pit.

[You are now able to purchase copper lottery tickets at the Lottery at the preferential price of 500 Design Points.]

That might be something interesting. Ves remembered he used up three of them at the start. While they gave him nothing, the lottery might hide something useful. The question was if he wanted to test this assumption by throwing away lots of DP.

[The Designer module has unlocked the Superpublish ability. When completing any designs, you are able to Superpublish them. In exchange for forfeiting all your current and future rewards, the Designer will automatically enhance your design by a factor of ten percent. You are only able to Superpublish a design once every standard year.]

This was a massive reward. Ten percent might not sound like much, but every percent mattered with regard to designs. The only snag was that giving up all of that DP certainly hurt a lot. The System obviously did not encourage him to use this ability often, given that the cooldown lasted an entire year.

"I should keep this trump card in reserve. I can learn a lot by watching how the System surpasses my design."

The messages ended at that point. It seemed the System did not intend to lavish Ves in riches for his successful promotion. Ves awkwardly scratched his head. He expected more.

"Well, I still have my new master's gifts."

He received two physical presents from Master Olson. The lab was still busy analyzing the mysterious piece of ore, so Ves turned to the secure suitcase resting on his desk.

As an engineer, he recognized its extraordinary construction. The metal surface had been treated with advanced alloy compression. The material worth of the coffer alone exceeded a million bright credits. To Master Olson, such an amount was chump change.

Unlocking the case took quite a bit of effort. Leemar somehow got a hold of his biometrics, so he had to let the digital lock scan his retina, sample his blood, measure his breath and read a random article aloud.

The lock disengaged after making sure that Ves was not some kind of shape shifting alien. The padded interior only held two distinct items. Ves first picked the item placed on top. He recognized the device as a miniaturized shield generator. A recording of Master Olson's voice popped up from nowhere.

"What you are holding is a life-saving treasure. This shield generator possesses enough power to withstand a single large-caliber railgun projectile. Its development is a closely guarded secret and you should never reveal it to anyone. It possesses its own methods of concealment, but for your own good, you should better keep it out of sight."

Ves thought such devices were exclusive to the upper crust of first-rate states. Perhaps his cognition of high society needed to be revised. Regardless, such a small and amazing shield must have cost his master a lot. He appreciated her generosity.

When Ves turned to the second object, his eyes turned a little weird. After removing the strange foliage, he held a medical injector. The vial inserted in the injector contained a strange, glowing green liquid. The label on the vial only displayed a single code:


"What you are holding is an even greater secret than the shield generator. This secret is so well-kept that you should extinguish any thoughts of leaking it to the public."

Ves already had a good idea what the mysterious vial contained. Holding it meant he had finally stepped into the upper ranks of society.

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