448 Guest Designers
The design department gathered in the conference room next day. Professor Velten introduced the three guests from the VRF to everyone.
"I expect you to treat our guests with decorum, but also be mindful of what you are and aren't allowed to say. I'll send you a detailed list after this meeting. Read it carefully and memorize what you are not allowed to tell. I don't need to remind you that the Mech Corps doesn't take it lightly if they see elements of their exclusive technologies ending up in the hands of the Vesians, no matter if they are royalists or rebels."
Once she made her point clear, she moved on to the main point. "With the arrival of the delegation from the VRF, our plans have accelerated. Our main fleet is currently on track to arrive at our target in roughly two weeks. This means there is no time to implement any major revisions for the time being. The main priority of the Vandals is to repair and upgrade every mech that still needs working on. Make no mistake. We need as many mechs operational as possible."
This was it. The first major operation of the Flagrant Vandals since he arrived. And this one was a real doozy. Though his days aboard the Wolf Mother had passed by in peace, in actual fact the factory ship and her escorts dove deeper and deeper into Vesian space.
It was actually a miracle that the Mech Legion hadn't found them out. That and the VRF did a good job securing passage for the Vandals.
One of the other Journeymen raised his hand and asked a question. "What will our jobs be?"
"Your design teams are to continue to seek every possible method of improving the performance of your designs. Our guest designers will offer their services to to your teams on a semi-rotating basis. Try and get a quick fix done within a week so we can quickly propagate those fixes to the current crop of mechs that the Vandals have on hand."
After that, everyone split up and got to work. Florissa, Iris and Lucille all started to advise the design teams on how to tweak or improve their chosen specialties. No matter their motives, Ves had to admit that their specialized knowledge came in really handy.
In particular, Florissa's extensive expertise on flight systems far surpassed everyone else's grasp on this large and complex part. Professor Velten might possess a much broader base of knowledge, but even the old lady hadn't immersed herself into perfecting flight systems to such an extent.
The Vesian Journeyman practically charmed everyone with her friendly demeanor and and openness to answering any questions the Apprentices asked. She rotated between the design teams of the Inheritor and the Hellcat, but due to a lack of time, the professor instructed her to focus most of her efforts on improving the flight system of the Hellcat design.
"The Hellcat is one of our best mechs, and has to be in tip top shape for the upcoming operation. We also have much less Hellcats on hand, so it will be easier to modify them all in time for the Vandals to begin their assault."
When Ves heard about the decision, he winced and shook his head. It seemed like the Inheritor could never earn a break.
As for Lucille, her expertise into heat sinks led Professor Velten to instruct the Vesian Apprentice to spend most of her efforts on improving the maximum heat capacity of the Akkara heavy cannoneer design.
"The Flagrant Vandals will be descending from orbit numerous times according to the latest plans. Since we are rather lacking in the ranged firepower department, it is of utmost importance that our Akkara mechs can output as much firepower as possible to defend our landing zones."
With the two guest designers already veering away from the other designs, the Inheritor design was left with hardly any love. The only guest designer who remained was an odd bird who possessed a specialty that wasn't conductive to quick fixes.
Nevertheless, Ves thought he could use her esoteric qualifications as a vehicle to enact his own improvements.
The good thing was that Iris was remarkably open to his ideas. She smiled at him and touched his shoulder with her palm. "That's great! I was afraid I wouldn't be of use. The VRF has a lot riding on this operation as well, you know. Anything that can make the Vandals stronger will also make our lives easier as well."
Ves hadn't heard anything like that before.
"The Vandals aren't raiding the industrial star system on their own?"
"Of course not, silly." Iris held up a hand in front of her mouth as she giggled. "Industrial star systems are heavily protected by several garrison regiments. While not all of them are mech regiments, their combined strength is more than what the Vandals can handle even if they bring all of their assets to bear. That's why you need us."
"You mean the rebels don't have any qualms with being seen together with the Vandals?"
Something like that sounded truly crazy. Rebels working in concert with their foreign enemies was generally seen as a profound betrayal that wouldn't endear the citizens standing on the sidelines.
"That's we aren't planning on showing up in our own colors. Our organization and its partners have already applied the coatings of a pirate organization to our mechs. Our presence will therefore be explicitly seen as a destructive one, rather than an attempt at liberating the star system. It's too early to attempt such a momentous action."
That was a devious if dishonest plan. Ves had to applaud their daring to moonlight as pirates. They could rain as much destruction as they wanted while their public mouthpieces decried the devastation and put the blame on the fat and lazy nobles that let the pirates run roughshod over their star system.
What Iris revealed to Ves hinted at the magnitude of the next operation. This was no simple smash and grab kind of raid. This was a major assault on a highly developed star system. The ensuing damage would be hard to imagine, but so would the loot the Vandals might be able to abscond.
To his eyes, the Vandals definitely played with fire this time. They took on an unimaginable amount of risk, but if their daring action succeeded, the rewards would be enough to turn around the fortunes of the declining mech regiment.
Besides robbing the abundant amount of riches that any industrialized star system possessed, a victory would also be a major boost to their reputation. Striking the Imodris Duchy a blow that they would continue to feel for generations would definitely be a feat that the Mech Corps had to propagandize as far and wide as possible.
The Vandals definitely aimed to secure a continuation of their existence.
Because the stakes were so high, Iris had been tasked to find any way boost the performance of the neural interfaces in any way possible. Even if the manipulation of neural interfaces was fraught with catastrophic failures, Velten did not have the luxury to keep an expert on the sidelines.
Due to her strange expertise, Ves happened to be a good fit for her. His supposed expertise accomplished something similar to what Iris accomplished, but from a different approach. In the end, they both aimed to increase the compatibility of the mech pilots with their mechs.
Since the Akkara and Hellcat designs already enjoyed the attention of the two other Vesian designers, Ves steered Iris into working on the much less appreciated Inheritor design. She broke her perpetually charming smile upon hearing his suggestion.
"Is the Inheritor not a low-class design? It is hardly worth our attention."
Ves became a little angry at her casual dismissal of a design that hundreds of mech pilots relied on to stay alive. "There are many lives at stake, far more than with the Hellcat and the Akkara mechs. If you care at all about the lives of those poor pilots, then you owe it to yourself to better their chances of surviving the coming battle."
To her credit, Iris noticed his displeasure and quickly turned contrite. She bowed in front of him. "I'm sorry! That was very insensitive of me. I hope you can forgive me!"
He had mixed feelings about her sudden apology. She made a very convincing display of being sincere in her regret, so Ves couldn't it again her. He softened a bit and nodded.
"Don't forget our creed as mech designers. We exist to serve the mech pilots and better their ability to fight. Sometimes I think that some of my colleagues have forgotten this priority."
As someone who grew up among the Jupiters, it was impossible for her to be ignorant of this saying. Otherwise, their family wouldn't have been trusted by the MTA to work on developing new neural interfaces.
"I will take your words to heart." She pressed her hand on her chest. "Please show me around."
Ves brought Iris to the workplace of Inheritor design team. All of the mech designers were somewhat familiar to Ves, but the presence of Iris was a novelty to them, especially since she was a very pretty girl.
However, Iris stuck close to Ves, which somehow made it impossible for the other men to approach her or pull her into a conversation. They all looked back at Ves with mixed expressions.
Ves did not have time to play any games. He immediately broached the topic of coming up with some short-term fixes for the Inheritor. "What kind of fixes have you guys been planning?"
The Journeyman in charge of the team answered his question. "You know our situation as well as I do. We essentially have nothing to suggest."
Ves expected this answer, though he still felt disappointed when he heard it from the team leader's mouth. Every easy fix possible had already been exhausted before. The Inheritor design team had in fact come up with many more solutions, but the only way they could implement them was if Professor Velten lifted the restrictions imposed on the design.
Fat chance of that ever happening.
Therefore, Ves planned to be a little creative this time. "This is Iris Jupiter. As you know, she knows more about neural interfaces than all of us put together. I suggest we allow her total leeway into seeing if she can improve the neural interface of the Inheritor and assist her in any way possible. What are your thoughts?"
No one objected to his suggestion, partially because they didn't have a direction and Ves just pointed one out for them. Even the Journeyman went along with him. Years of working on the frustrating mess that was the Inheritor design had really taken a toll on his confidence.
Meanwhile, Laida sat quietly at the side. She hadn't spoken up even once, but she regarded Iris with an ambivalent attitude. The design teams of the Vandals generally held quite a few more men than women, and the introduction of Iris to their team completely changed their dynamics.
After settling in, Iris immediately went to work. She sat behind a spare terminal and browsed all of the relevant design schematics and documents in rapid tempo. Ves sat next to her and worked on preparing his own solution.
His main issue was that it wasn't easy to foster the X-Factor in a mech. Certainly, the difficulties increased exponentially when dealing with a collaborative project that had already produced many copies of the mechh.
Ves simply didn't think about raising the X-Factor of the Inheritor all the way to a B-grade. Raising it to an F or an E-grade would be enough of an accomplishment, but only if he could find a way to achieve such a feat.
How could he bestow the X-Factor to a design that was already mature? How would he be able to achieve this without overhauling an entire mech?