Ves looked at his Status page with pride. After more than a week of studying a couple of books from the Clifford Society, he managed to acquire a new Sub-Skill on his own.
[Rapid-Fire Laser Weapon Operation I]
This Sub-Skill enhanced his understanding of laser rifles and was much more specific and comprehensive than Directed Energy Weapon Optimization II. While the latter only allowed him to optimize an existing energy weapon design, his new Sub-Skill enabled him to design a laser weapon from scratch.
Specifically, Rapid-Fire Laser Weapon Operation I focused on delivering quick pulses of laser beams. A series of pulses as opposed to a single, long-burn beam. This mode of firing came with its own challenges, but it enabled laser rifles to use up less energy and slow down the buildup of heat.
The books he read also inured him to the perspectives of the authors, both of whom reached the Senior-level in their lifetimes. One author advocated that that laser rifles should be as efficient as possible, while the other author preferred to unleash as much power as possible with each pulse.
Both of them approached laser rifles from different directions, allowing Ves to make up his own mind about the topic.
"Laser rifles have a bad reputation for being unable to penetrate the shell of a heavily armored mech. That will certainly change in the next generation, but for now it's too hard for laser rifles to punch though the armor of a striker or a knight."
In his opinion, laser weapons excelled at outputting a steady amount of damage. Heat concerns limited their ability to burst down an opponent, but they generally lasted longer than ballistic and kinetic rifles Both used up bulky ammunition, and mechs only possessed a limited amount of carrying capacity.
"There are some who believe that laser rifles will replace kinetic rifles entirely."
Many wide-eyed theorists prophesied the phasing out of melee weapons in favor of ranged weapons. They also stated that the relatively low-tech ballistic rifles had no more place in this day and age because their fundamental principles hadn't really changed since their initial emergence on pre-space Earth.
"Too bad they're wildly wrong."
Even as laser weapons continued to grow in power and efficiency, those who specialized in armoring mechs had also tried to keep up. They blended various exotics together into unique formulas that underpinned the rise of energy resistant armor. Mechs that specialized solely against countering laser weapons performed extraordinarily well against a barrage of lasers.
Sadly for the armorers, most energy resistant armor proved to be highly vulnerable to physical damage. A couple of cheap, low-tech explosive shells would easily be able to tear down such a fragile shell.
Low tech weapons still had a place in the Age of Mechs. From the lowest rung of third-class frontline mechs, to the highest reaches of cutting-edge mechs, mechs of all shapes and sizes found a use for barbarically primitive weapons.
Besides, these weapons had progressed with the times as well. Even though they hadn't experienced a lot of changes in their fundamental workings, the development of smaller technologies and the use of exotics enabled these arms to compete favorably against laser weapons.
"Laser weapons are only a single means to damage a target." Ves scratched his messy black hair. "Even while I'm focusing on them, I shouldn't buy into the viewpoint that they are highter tech than ballistic weapons."
Besides working to acquire Rapid-Fire Laser Weapon Operation I, Ves also sneakily reread the research notes on Graser Rifles he stole from the underground base a long time ago. With his enhanced Intelligence and Journeyman-level Physics Skills, he easily grasped the points that eluded him the previous times he read the disparate collection of notes and data.
It helped that the researchers who produced the documents started from roughly the same foundation as him. While they possessed a much deeper foundation in this field, Ves still managed to keep up with the theories mentioned in their analyses.
The textbooks he perused earlier proved to be the key that allowed him to fully decipher the contents of the research notes. At a certain point, everything clicked in his mind, allowing him to fully follow the trains of thoughts of the researchers.
"It's pretty admirable what they've accomplished in a couple of years. They started out with a conventional laser rifle and enhanced it step by step until it became capable of firing gamma lasers."
The amount of engineering challenges they faced required a cross-disciplinary approach to solve. Ves benefited hugely from reading about the development of specialized components such as high-capacity energy cells and extended heat rods.
"Heatsinks shaped like rods fit a long narrow object such as a rifle better than a thick rectangular block."
The researchers opted to make the heat rods disposable. This meant that mechs could eject them from their rifles once they became too hot and replace them with a fresh one which they carried on their backs.
Personally, Ves understood the necessity, but he wasn't a fan of this solution. "Their gamma laser rifle design needs to be fed with both energy packs and heat rods. It's going to be an awful mess trying to cycle both of them during a pitched battle."
The actual rifle was more impractical than practical. While it functioned well enough in space, it hardly lived up to the likes of actual taboo weapons such as nuclear bombs and biological plagues.
"Well, the researchers did work from scratch, and with the technology level of a third-rate state. I'm sure that researchers from a first-rate superstate can develop something much more destructive."
Whatever the case, the System demanded that Ves design and fabricate an actual working graser rifle. He guessed that the System didn't care too much about its actual performance so long as it worked.
That still didn't mean that Ves planned to skimp on the design. He suspected that the lessons he learned from developing his graser rifle could be put to use when he designed his second original mech.
So with a renewed focus on laser weapons, Ves fully digested the research notes until the System deemed his studies sufficient and updated his Status page.
[Gamma Laser Weapons I]
"Finally." He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I was hoping I could make it before my ship makes it to my destination."
He turned off his Privacy Shield and removed his comm before placing it on his desk. Ten seconds later, the comm regained its full charge, allowing Ves to place it back on his wrist.
After freshening himself up, he stepped out of his stateroom and headed for the bridge. Once he entered it, he looked at the projected screens and saw that the Barracuda still had two hours left before it reached the lifeless planet in this generic abandoned star system.
"Welcome back to the bridge, Mr. Larkinson."
Ves tipped his finger on his chin. "Has there been any activity in NCJOEV-646?"
"Nothing has pinged our sensors as of yet. That doesn't preclude any stealth drones or ships that are masking their emissions, but I'm fairly certain this system is as quiet as a mouse."
Nothing ever happened in NCJOEV-646, or the Joe as everyone called it. Joe consisted of another run-of-the-mill red dwarf. What was special about Joe was that the star system contained no planets at all.
Instead, it featured a rather extensive asteroid cloud, although it was largely flat. This meant that ships positioned above and below the 'disk' would have no trouble navigating in the vicinity of Joe.
Currently, Ves ordered the Barracuda to head in-system through the sparser portion of the asteroid cloud. While the loose-flying asteroids posed a significant risk to the corvette, the sections she flew through wasn't so dense that she wouldn't be able to escape any sticky situations.
Ves had decided upon Joe as his final destination because the asteroids contained a lot of junk metallic contents. This would scramble any sensors trying to pick out ships. While a larger transport or carrier would still stand out somewhat, a slim and tiny corvette was virtually indistinguishable from an equivalent-sized asteroid as long as it didn't generate too much heat.
Joe would have been a perfect smuggler's hideout if it hadn't been situated close to the center of the Bright Republic. It neighbored several major star systems with substantial military patrols.
There was very little opportunity for smugglers and pirates to do business out of Joe in these circumstances. Perhaps only desperate criminals escaping the law from those major star systems took advantage of the asteroid cloud.
Much like Ves in this case. He did intend to break one of the most fundamental taboos of human society, after all.
"Have you fixed the location of my end stop?" Ves asked.
"As far as we are aware of, the asteroid you're looking for is still orbiting close to the red dwarf. It hasn't been bumped into for thousands of years."
He nodded. A lot of collisions happened in the asteroid field, but it happened less in certain places. Surveyors paid to scan desolate star systems had partially mapped out the asteroid field, though they didn't even try to register each and every single floating rock. A couple of collisions would make their overly detailed map out of date anyway.
Instead, the surveyors focused on mapping out the largest asteroids. They eventually recorded over a hundred-thousand asteroids with cavities, valleys or holes large enough to hide a corvette.
Ves picked out an asteroid that carried the abbreviated name of Joe-2364343 as a place to work on his gamma laser rifle in peace. The large asteroid just happened to offer a deep cave from which Ves could spend his next weeks out of sight of any peeping sensors directed at the asteroid field.
Even if someone placed some sensors inside the cave, he trusted that Lucky would be able to sniff them out beforehand.
Almost two hours later, they arrived at the asteroid in question. It loomed over the Barracuda like a cruiser. Its dark, rocky exterior appeared ominous in the dim light of Joe's red dwarf star.
Nothing had changed since the last survey. Joe-2364343 hadn't suffered any impacts that pushed it off-course. The cave also looked intact enough for Ves to inhabit.
"Everything looks okay." He nodded as he finished studying the sensor readings. "Let's get closer."
The Barracuda maneuvered close to the cave in reverse. This allowed the corvette to orient her rear cargo bay hatch with the entrance of the cave. Once they came as close as safely possible, the hatch opened up, revealing the cargo bay that had been depressurized beforehand.
Several sensor bots emerged from the cargo bay. They swiftly entered the cave and scanned it for any unpleasant surprises left behind by someone else.
Following that, a series of hauler bots began to lift the cargo containers from the bay and into the cave. Once they finished with the smaller containers, they returned and carefully brought out the old second-hand printer that Ves had been prepared to write off after this impromptu expedition.
"Careful now, bots!" Ves called out even though the bots weren't smart enough to understand his words.
He floated out of the open cargo bay in a hazard suit. Lucky floated alongside him. During the previous week of travel, his pet finally managed to get the hang of flying. The white cat nimbly drifted up and down and back and forth.
"Go on ahead and track down any hidden recorders or spy drones!"
Lucky didn't slack off and began to dart into the depths of the cave. Ves believed that Lucky's recent advancement had improved his intelligence and detection capabilities.
"He should be alright." Ves muttered to himself as he floated above the asteroid.
The asteroid was large enough to dwarf the corvette, but exerted practically no gravity at all. Ves had already prepared some anti-gravity platforms beforehand for him to do his work, but it would be difficult for him to last more than a month. He only brought enough fuel to feed the power generator for a month.
"Let's hope nothing happens in Joe while I work."