402 Final Sprin
Too many people tried to make a living as a mech designer. Due to a low barrier of entry combined with substantial capital requirements, most people who graduated with a degree in mech design managed to to get one foot through the door.
That did not mean they immediately became full-fledged mech designers. Getting the other foot through as well took an extraordinary amount of effort. Without talent, wealth or connections, most mech designers turned into overqualified mech technicians or marginal businesspeople who only sold two mechs a year or so.
Obviously, these low-ranking mech designers really didn't do anything useful, so by and large they wouldn't be missed if they were pulled out of their current jobs.
Like any state, the Bright Republic faced an abundance of mech designers and a shortage of technical personnel. Using an abundance of one resource to make up for the scarcity in the other made a lot of sense.
The truth was that low-ranking mech designers used up a lot of resources that could have been spent more productively. For example, property prices in Bentheim reached insane levels due to the sheer amount of mech designers setting down their workshops on the same planet.
Bluntly said, without culling them every once in a while, the Bright Republic's mech industry would eventually turn into a stagnant and lethargic environment.
Due to his upbringing, Ves understood some of the opinions policy makers held towards mech designers. After enlightening Carlos with what he knew, his friend fell silent.
"So they're treating us as a nuisance, is that right?" He asked.
"It's not so bad. In the previous wars, many mech designers died, but those who thrived during the chaos went on to reinvigorate their careers after the war. Don't see it as a burden, but instead, look at it as a precious opportunity to polish your abilities under the most ruthless training program imaginable."
While neither the Bright Republic or the Vesia Kingdom ever admitted it, the Bright-Vesia Wars invigorated the states and ceaselessly improved their military might. The cost was great, but the consumption of less well-performing assets gave ample room for things that worked better.
This applied to both mech pilots and mech designers. States that rarely engaged in war always lost their edge over time as their underlying inefficiencies spread through their ranks like an incurable disease.
"You sure see the bright side in everything." Carlos chuckled. "If you ask any other mech designer, they want to do everything they can to avoid being sent to the frontlines."
While Ves believed in what he said, he mostly wanted to console his friend and shift his mindset to a more productive mindstate.
"That's the difference between you and the rest. Mech designers should never stop improving their skills. Every challenge is a valuable experience that can enrich your skills and your design philosophy. I hope that by the time you return to the LMC, you can assist me in designing its next mechs."
Carlos immediately perked up. "Is that a promise?!"
Haha! I knew that would catch your attention." Ves smiled and retrieved a small box before passing it to him. "It's not a promise, but a possibility. As long as you can show you've progressed, then the LMC will open its doors to your design input."
That meant a lot to Carlos. He knew more than anyone else how much Ves obsessed over the quality of his products. Ves always took control over the entire design process because he trusted no one else to do a good job.
"What's in this box?"
"Open it up."
Four shiny pills rested in the box. The glimmered in yellow and it appeared as if they had been shaped by the sun.
"Wow! What are these?"
"They are special pills meant to give you a boost in mental capacity. They're extremely rare and very hard to get a hold of. It's already generous for me to supply you with four of them. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and ingest them in the right order."
What Ves gifted Carlos was in fact a handful of Intelligence Attribute Candies. He spent a significant chunk of his limited reserve of DP to acquire four of them at once. The System conveniently tailored them for Carlos too, so there shouldn't be any incompatibilities.
While Ves wanted to boost Carlos' Intelligence all the way to 2.0, it would have raised too many flags if that happened.
Increasing his Intelligence by 0.4 should give his friend enough of a boost to unearth his potential during his tour of service without attracting too much attention.
After sending Carlos off, Ves took a brief rest before throwing himself back to work. After the Mech Corps processed the low-ranking mech designers, they would certainly call up the next tier of mech designers. Ves did not have much time left to publish his second original design.
The LMC's testing grounds never stopped putting the modified prototype to its paces. Day and night the operators worked in shifts to explore the range of capabilities that the rifleman mech offered.
Especially in the last days, the mech continued to get beat up by a combination of physical force and energy attacks. Even then, its frame remarkably held up even as its compressed armor started to peel apart. His second design inherited a portion of the resilience of his first design, which would make it one of the more durable rifleman mechs at this weight class.
Weaknesses still remained. Though the mech could operate for an extensive amount of time with the fuel-based Trailblazer engine, heat management remained an issue during intensive combat.
This was a mech that performed best in low-intensity battles that dragged out over time. It did not excel in short bursts of combat such as duels where mech pilots demanded peak performance and immediate impact out of their mechs.
Ves did not set out to design such a mech in the first place. At its current configuration, his rifleman mechs neatly complimented his Blackbeak offerings. Both mechs fulfilled different roles but could go on the same missions without worrying about a mismatch in capabilities.
As one test operator put it, they shared a very deep bond. "They're like brothers and sisters."
Ves held an ambitious dream of filling up the LMC's catalog with an entire family of mechs that all shared the same core traits. However, the coming war and the demands of the Republic put a wrench in his plans. He'd be lucky enough to complete his current design before the Mech Corps called him up.
The issue worried him to such an extent that he broke from his estrangement with his grandfather and sent him a call.
"Ves, this is not a good time for me to speak to you." Benjamin Larkinson answered gruffly as he scratched at his collared neck. "You're lucky you called me during a recess in a conference. I don't have much time."
"I just wanted to ask you if you can tell me when the second wave of mech designers are going to be called up. I'm in the middle of finishing my second original design, but I still need a couple of weeks."
His grandfather grumbled underneath his breath. "You know I can't tell you that. Even if I knew, the Mech Corps will scorch me over a fire if I leak out the date. All I can tell you is that you better hurry up."
After Benjamin hung up, Ves nodded in satisfaction. He knew that his grandfather couldn't explicitly tell him the date, but he was better off after the call. The hint at the end told him enough.
"I can still make it in time."
The testing grounds accelerated the final tests and brutally treated the prototype like a disposable piece of metals. The mech eventually succumbed under all of the damage, turning most of its internals scrap to be sent for recycling.
Ves gathered all of the data gathered by the testing grounds and used them to spot out any remaining flaws in his current design.
At this stage, he largely smoothed out the major flaws in the designs. Most of the data only indicated that the design contained a number of issues that would be very difficult to resolve. Most of them already consisted of compromises that Ves had made in order to achieve a balance between different priorities.
Swinging one way or the other only solved one problem while making another one worse.
"It's too difficult to optimize this mech any further."
He only made a small number of tweaks, ones which he was sure wouldn't affect his mech in an unpredictable way. His focus on haste meant that Ves couldn't afford to make any additional design choices. A drastic change that affected the integrity of the entire mech demanded the construction of another prototype.
His grandfather told him to hurry up, so where would Ves be able to find the time for another round of tests?
Ves felt rather bad about leaving his design in its current state. It wasn't quite the perfectly polished machine he was hoping for. Its limited weight and volume capacities combined with the complexity inherent in rifleman mechs meant that his design required a lot more time to perfect.
"I'm running out of time."
Once he reached the point where he no longer found a way to improve his design in a short amount of time, he was ready to enter the final stage.
"It's time to give you a name." Ves spoke out, addressing both his nearly-complete design and the spirit of the crystal golem resting in his mind.
In the past few months, as he worked to bring his vision into fruition, Ves constantly thought about the appropriate name for his rifleman mech. His heart told him that his second original design required a lofty name to do it justice.
Since he constantly channeled the spirit of the crystal golem when he designed this mech, he came up with a simple but succinct name for his design. It was one which he had been weighing over together with the crystal golem. Eventually, the spirit gave out its stamp of approval.
"From now on, you will be known as the Crystal Lord."
The name not only described the mech, it also harkened back to the roots of the crystal golem which would soon inhabit the design. Ves did not forget about the crystal garden and the corpse of the alien leader which he retrieved from that magical but fallen place.
Something seemed to have changed when he uttered the name. Speaking it out loud somehow infused it with some weight, as if it had gained a life on its own. Ves felt as if he was at the cusp of making history in the field of mech design.
He certainly looked forward to the end product. He had a very good feeling about his second original design. Working with a spirit derived from a powerful being of the past was a very novel experience, and one that would certainly impact the X-Factor in a powerful way.
"Will I finally break into the B grade with the X-Factor?"
He was about to find out. Ves looked around in a conspicuous manner, even though nobody else was present on his private workshop floor.
After scanning his surroundings, he turned to his comm and activated his Privacy Shield before engaging the Superpublish option.
[Are you certain you wish to Superpublish the Crystal Lord CL-A-01 design?]
[Superpublishing in progress. Please wait…]
[Design Evaluation: Crystal Lord CL-A-01]
Model name: Crystal Lord CL-A-01
Original Manufacturer: Ves Larkinson
Weight Classification: Medium-Light
Recommended Role: Mobile Rifleman Mech
Carrying Capacity: D
Energy Efficiency: C+
Cost efficiency: D
Project involvement: 100%
Original component composition: 18%
Overall evaluation: The Crystal Lord is a speed-oriented third-class rifleman mech design that, like its knight mech predecessor, excels in lengthy conflicts. The crystal technology embedded into the frame and the rifle of this design is novel and can be an asset to the design in certain circumstances.
[You have received 1,000 Design Points for completing an original design that has no other equivalent.]
[You have received 1,000 Design Points for designing a mech with a substantial presence of X-Factor.]