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Ves could have worn one of the masks he prepared as a backup, but his intuition advised him against doing so. Masters emerged from the most capable, hardworking and smartest Seniors.

Each Master was an exceptionally grand figure within the mech industry. Though Star Designers still hovered above their heads, a Master wielded enough clout to influence the political direction of an entire state!

Such eminent figures did not get to reach their current rank by being easy to fool.

There was another reason that restrained Ves from resorting to his usual antics. Of every mech designer he met, Master Olson was not a bad person by any means. She never mistreated or exploited any of her Apprentices and subordinates that he knew of. Oleg and Horatio seemed very happy to serve their Master.

Master Olson had already reached a very enviable height in her career by following her own path. Even if she suspected that Ves benefited from some unusual help, which successful mech designer didn't enjoy some advantages?

Ves decided to be a little bit more forthcoming this time. He knew he couldn't hide his secrets completely as he continued to rise up the ranks, especially if it happened quickly. To do so against an eminent Master Mech Designer who devoted her full attention to Ves was folly!

"To be honest, I received a little push. At the start of my career, my father left me.. a little gift of sorts. The gift pointed me in a certain direction and I followed it, hence why I developed such an unusual design philosophy."

All of this was true, but Ves employed as much vagueness and misdirection he thought he could get away with. None of his words hinted that the 'little gift' was the monumental Metal Scroll of the Five Scrolls Compact!

A few seconds of silence ensued as Master Olson's incredible mind started processing and extrapolating his words.

This was what Ves wanted to see. He knew that overly-smart people tended to overthink and come up to conclusions that weren't necessarily true. He himself engaged in this behavior plenty of times when his paranoia got the better of him at times.

Master Olson probably figured that Ves received a dead Senior's legacy or something that gave him a head-start.

Gloriana's patient explanations helped a lot in helping Ves come up with this solution. She helpfully informed him of Seniors who wanted to pass on their unrealized design philosophies to a younger mech designer in order to leave a legacy behind. Ves realized that he could take advantage of an ambiguous explanation to send Master Olson in this direction, thereby avoiding more radical possibilities such as the existence of the System.

As a mech designer, Ves firmly knew that mech designers often applied Occam's razor in terms of probabilities.

What was the chance that Ves received and took advantage of a dead Senior's legacy? Maybe twenty-five percent.

What was the chance he received the presumed-destroyed incarnation of the Metal Scroll in the form of the Mech Designer System? How could his father, a space peasant and a nobody on the galactic level, obtain such a miraculous asset?

The chance was probably less than 0.000000001 percent! With such low odds, any calculating mech designer should never arrive at such an inane conclusion!

Indeed, as the seconds went by, Master Olson calmly nodded. "I see. That explains it. Whatever aid you have received seemed to be very helpful. Even if mech designers receive a formidable amount of assistance, those who reached Journeyman all do so by their own efforts. No mech designer has ever reached this height by riding on the accomplishments of others."

Ves sighed in relief. Though Master Olson hadn't been explicit, it seemed she had indeed come to a less drastic conclusion about the secret behind his rise. As long as her guesses did not stray anywhere near the System, everything else was fine!

"I know. Although I've been given a push that set me on my current specialization, all of the progress I've made since then has always been my own. The help that I've received mainly came in other forms, such as improving some of my mental attributes and to accelerate my learning of the fundamentals of mech design."

Naturally, Ves vastly understated the assistance he drew upon from the System. A Senior may be quite generous when they passed on their legacies, but even that had limits!

Fortunately, Master Olson did not seem to be interested in the specifics.

"Very well. I'm satisfied with your forthcoming. Admitting that your rise is not solely due to your own effort is important for your mentality. I have seen too many mech designers who enjoyed various advantages stall in their rise because they mistakenly believed they are heaven-sent prodigies. Misjudging their own capabilities has left many of my former rivals and peers far behind as they are unwilling to adjust and work harder to do what is necessary to progress."

Ves nodded, accepting the wisdom in her words. "Nothing comes for free. The more you depend on outside help, the less you are capable of climbing up yourself. To reach Journeyman and Master, nobody can help you climb the last steps."

"That is very much true. It's a shame that too many mech designers have yet to realize this truth." She smiled. "Still, mech designers aren't able to get off the ground without at least some assistance. You are a good example of that. While I wanted to give you space to develop your personal design philosophy, in hindsight, I could have done more for you. Now, I feel I have contributed very little to your growth. That is my failing as your Master."

"I disagree." Ves shook his head. "The help you have given me might not be enough, but I already enjoyed plenty of help. Giving me more would only coddle me and make me complacent. I'm very thankful for benefiting from the umbrella of your name and reputation. It probably helped me out of numerous sticky situations."

Master Olson curled her lips downwards. "It is still not proper. To be frank, I estimated that you would take much longer to grow. I planned to leave you to your own devices since you were already doing well enough. I would have confined myself to occasionally giving you the guidance that you needed the most. You upended all of that by advancing to Journeyman before I could even give you your second tutoring session."

Even Masters could be wrong. They may be amazing mech designers, but they were still fallible in many ways.

"This outcome is even better. I don't see any reason to regret how I've turned out." He opined.

"What is your design philosophy, exactly?" Master Olson asked. "I have referenced the MTA's record on you, but the information there.. is not very clear."

Ves looked a little sheepish. Did she actually witness him rave about creating gods and such? That was so embarrassing!

"I may have.. been a little too hyperbolic. If you leave aside my overly-optimistic fantasies, the truth is much less.. exaggerated. At the heart of it, metaphysical man-machine symbiosis is simply a means of leveraging an unheard-of connection between mechs and their mech pilots."

He offered her the basic and limited explanation of his design philosophy. He did not refer to anything sensitive such as the X-Factor or spirituality.

Master Olson took in the explanation with hardly any questioning.

"I have studied your mech designs." She said. Of course she would. "Each of them are quite remarkable, especially since you were still an Apprentice when you designed most of them. Nonetheless, how much of the extreme variation is due to the instability inherent in most Class IX design philosophies?"

"I… my design philosophy is not exactly the easiest to work with." Ves massaged his words. "If I invest a lot in a mech design, I might be able to produce a work equal to my Aurora Titan and Transcendent Messenger. If I'm under a stricter time limit or something, then I'm not going to be able to express my full potential."

"That applies to almost every mech designer." She noted. "Nonetheless, instability is not inherently bad. It at least allows you to design mechs with qualities that are far beyond the reach of a typical Journeyman. However, inconsistency is no recipe for the future. If you want to become a Master, you will need to work towards defining the rules of your design philosophy and increase its universality."

Ves immediately became more attentive. "What exactly do Seniors have to do to become a Master? Why do so few Seniors succeed despite pouring all of their hearts and minds into their research?"

"It is not relevant for you to know that yet." Master Olson softly shook her head. "For now, you should be focused on expanding your design philosophy and developing new applications. Journeymen must adopt a curious, inquisitive and open-minded attitude to become a Senior. A substantially different mindset is needed for Seniors to advance to Master."

In other words, adopting the mindset of a Senior while he was still a Journeyman would affect his rise.

"Fair enough."

"Let us move on." She gestured with her arm. "Now that I've heard you describe your circumstances and your design philosophy, I've come to a number of decisions with regards to our future association."

The meeting arrived at the pivotal moment. Ves had a feeling that something important was about to take place.

"While you are officially registered as my apprentice, the aid that I've given you has never been very substantial. While I've given you some toys and access to the Clifford Society, I believe you would have been able to gain something similar through your own efforts."

"The stuff you've given me has been very useful, ma'am!" Ves refuted. "For example, your shield generator saved my life plenty of times!"

"That is just an insignificant gift." She waved her hand dismissively, as if shield generators were just cabbages that she could pick up from the streets! "Let's not mince words here. You were never really my apprentice in the first place. Someone or something else has already taken that place even before you came to my attention."

"That is.. true." Ves admitted. He never really looked up to Master Olson all that much either. "I still consider you to be a very helpful teacher."

"That is a more appropriate way to describe our relationship. I have taught you, guided you and lent you a hand, but many other professors at your university can boast of doing the same."

Ves silently shook his head. The professors at the Rittersberg University of Technology were nowhere near as impressive as Master Olson!

"For this reason, I've come to a decision." She continued. "The proper course of action is to dispense with the fiction of our current association and declare an end to your apprenticeship."

Her bombshell startled Ves and put him on the backfoot. "I'll.. no longer be your Apprentice?"

"You're a Journeyman. You are more than capable of standing on your own. Don't consider my decision to be a cancellation of your status. It is actually a form of graduation. Concluding an apprenticeship upon reaching Journeyman is a regular occurence in the mech community. It signifies that I no longer believe it is necessary for me to impart you any further knowledge. This has already been the truth for a while, but now that you have reached your current level of success, this is a good time to take this course of action."

Although she explained it in positive terms, Ves still felt as if he was being cut off. It was as if he was a teenager living with his parents, but they decided to kick him out of the house as soon as he turned eighteen and became a legal adult!

Nonetheless, this outcome was very abrupt! Why did Master Olson decide to put an end to his apprenticeship? There must be more behind this decision!

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