502 Balancing Ac
"The buck stops with you." Professor Velten stated to Ves over the channel. "Don't let anyone else dictate the mech composition of the task force. Every single mech company must match the specifications set by you. In fact, if you strongly believe you are right, you may even disregard my instructions!"
Ves almost became floored after she said that. Though he knew that the professor was fallible, he still couldn't fathom why he should reject her instructions. Her wisdom as a Senior far outclassed his limited perspective as an Apprentice.
"Why should I trust my own judgement over yours?"
"You're the man on the ground, as it were. I am far away from the task force, and the distance will only widen with time. Even if I can gather all manner of information through the quantum entanglement node, it is dangerous to transmit so much sensitive data over a distance. As the mech designer who is closer to the action, the information and impressions at your disposal exceeds my own."
"How far can I go with this, professor?"
"As far as you want to. You're the head designer, remember?" She sent a brief smile to him. "I am not in the habit of micromanaging my subordinates. Though I am not as familiar with you as Alloc, your record and the capabilities that you have shown has given me enough confidence that you can fulfill your duties to the minimum extent. As long as the mechs of the task force aren't falling apart, you will have the leeway to structure their mech composition as much as you like."
"That's… a lot more extensive than I thought. Isn't it dangerous to put so much decision-making power at my disposal, ma'am?"
She shook her head. "You are but one cog in a great machine. A head designer never works in isolation. If the mech designers under your command think you are making a drastic mistake, they'll work to obstruct you in many ways. While you can arrest them and throw them into the brig if they become a thorn at your side, you'll lose a valuable resource that way. You can't possibly arrest every mech designer."
Less than ten high-ranking mech designers accompanied the task force. All of them including Ves, Iris and Pierce participated in the development of the core designs of the Flagrant Vandals. Their mastery and depth of knowledge was crucial in solving complicated problems.
Ves couldn't afford to fall out with his former peers.
"There are also the main institutions of the Flagrant Vandals. You have the line officers which mostly encompass the mech officers such as Major Verle and the various mech captains that lead their companies into battle. As the people closest to the action, they are burdened with the responsibility of shepherding their mech pilots through thick and thin. Their approval is essential for any plans you might have in store."
That made sense. If Ves turned crazy one day and insisted every mech in the task force replace their armor with pig iron, then he would instantly be beset with mutiny among the mech pilots. Major Verle himself may even barge into his cabin at night and butcher him in his sleep!
Ves shivered a bit. "I understand, ma'am. I'll be sure to take their opinions into account."
"The line officers care most about the specs and the concrete fighting capabilities of their mechs. These are highly trained mech commanders who wants what is best for their men regardless of the cost. However, the Flagrant Vandals aren't in a position where we can disregard our budgetary concerns."
"Good mechs tend to be expensive."
"Exactly, Mr. Larkinson. Keep in mind our current circumstances. We are knee-deep behind enemy lines, with not a single safe harbor in sight. The nearest neutral star system is months away. Acquiring the right materials is a challenge under these conditions is a challenge in itself."
Ves knew that to maintain a thousand mechs required an ungodly amount of materials. Though the Vandals looted a lot of valuables from the Detemen System, they prioritized the most valuable materials instead of the most relevant materials to maintain the mechs they currently fielded.
It was like a hungry man robbing a luxury handcrafted bag store. The robber may have come into possession of valuable bags, but that wouldn't satisfy his hunger!
This pretty much described the current state of Major Verle's task force.
"This is a lot of work." Ves frowned. "There should be others who are responsible with procurement, right?"
"That is correct. The staff officers are responsible for logistics and more. Most relevant for you is that they keep track of what the task force currently lacks and draw up plans to replenish any shortages. They also maintain relations with the VRF. In your current condition, you should lean on them to initiate trades with the rebel group. Within enemy space, only they can quench the task force's thirst for essential resources."
Ves felt as if a boulder lifted off his shoulders. He would truly tear his hair out if he needed to be responsible for supplying resources as well.
"So I need to work together with logistics to supply the task force with the materials to repair and maintain their mechs, right?"
"That is correct. They favor their own priorities, of course. The planners in charge of resource management wish to expend as little money or resources as possible. Their desire for efficiency grossly outweighs any other concerns. In truth, if not for their tireless efforts in maximizing every possible means at our disposal, the Flagrant Vandals might have long gone insolvent."
Back when Ves worked at the Wolf Mother, Professor Velten assigned him to the planning department for some time. Back then, he thought that the professor merely wanted someone sensible to act as a liaison between the logistics officers and the mech technicians, but now he realized that the professor was a lot more farsighted than he thought.
Did she nurture him for this role beforehand? Even as a contingency, the professor could never imagine that he needed to take on the role of head designer so soon!
Still, reality never cooperated with anyone, and Ves got thrust into the job long before he was ready to take on this responsibility. The brief amount of time he spent in the core of the Wolf Mother exposed him to the perspective of the logistics officers whose job was to make sure that every ship and every mech received adequate supplies.
Whether the professor deliberately groomed him or not, that exposure filled up a critical hole in his experience, thereby rounding out vision so that he could encompass everyone's perspective!
Though this did not bolster his confidence too much, he at least felt some reassurance that he wasn't working alone on the problems plaguing the task force.
The professor pointed something out to him. "Major Verle will have a staff at his disposal that leads the various sections of his command. One of them is certainly responsible for logistics, so that is your first contact point if you need to acquire specific resources."
"As you can see, the role of the head designer doesn't necessarily entail any hands-on design work. Maybe you feel that a critical job can only be performed correctly by you, but I advise you not to intervene in person too often. Your time is better spent on the primary task of your position, which is to act as the coordinator that brings different parties together to insure that they have the appropriate mechs on hand for their next missions."
In truth, being a mech designer wasn't necessary to act as a coordinator. It only helped with making the right judgement in drawing up the task force's mech composition.
If someone changed the job name from head designer to mech coordinator, anyone could perform this job really, though they needed to be proficient in many technical matters.
"There is one more responsibility that you should take note of. Are you aware that there is an expert mech pilot attached to your task force?"
"Ah, yes, ma'am. I was there when Major Verle asked Venerable O'Callahan to deploy. The venerable… refused."
The professor sighed and grunted in frustration. "That stubborn old coot! Venerable O'Callahan is a special individual. He has his eccentricities. In truth, his relationship with the Vandals is less than stellar. Rather than a comrade, he is more of a mercenary of sorts."
In other words, Venerable O'Callahan was only a member of the Flagrant Vandals in name. Having heard his story, Ves knew that the expert mech pilot bounced around in the Bright Republic and the Friday Coalition before being kicked to the Vandals.
O'Callahan was undeniably an expert mech pilot. However, much like Professor Velten, the man went through a botched life-prolonging treatment. Combined with the fact that he was as old as the professor and that his growth potential had long been exhausted, nobody really valued him anymore.
It was no wonder the man degenerated into a cynical old bastard. Not every venerable lived up to their title.
A feeling of dread crept up to his body. "Do I need to be responsible for O'Callahan as well?"
"In short, yes. To be more exact, you are responsible for the upkeep of his custom mech. Every expert mech pilot in a mech regiment is accompanied by his own personal design team. You haven't met them before, but with your recent elevation to head designer, they answer to you as well."
"I take it that maintaining a custom mech is not very easy."
The professor smiled awkwardly to Ves. "I'm sure you're familiar with the saying that you get what you paid for. Behind the eye-dazzling performance of expert mechs, there is an enormous cost. To put the burden into perspective, a mech fit for an expert pilots cost as much as a combat carrier to build and maintain."
Ves wanted to puke when he heard the sum involved with maintaining a single mech. Even the Lord Javier's Loquacious Raphael wasn't that perverse!
"How… bad is the problem?"
"You do not have to take care of the design of his lancer mech. This is my own duty, and the responsibility to modify the mech to my latest iteration lies with O'Callahan's design team." She answered.
It would have been ridiculous if Ves needed to takeover the design of an expert on his own.
"Nonetheless, O'Callahan can be… demanding. The custom mech I've designed for him does not adhere to any single design. In actual fact, I've developed and maintained over twenty different variants of the same design. Each of them differ in minor ways to accommodate different environments, counters, cost and resource demands."
"Some variants are more powerful than others." Ves ventured out a guess. "Of course, the best is also the most expensive."
The professor nodded. "Venerable O'Callahan wants the best of the best. He has made that very clear to me and every mech designer that he has worked with for years. When he doesn't get his way… there is little we can do to compel him to follow orders."
An expert mech pilot was a demigod among men. Even a cranky grandpa like O'Callahan received the worship and veneration of the rank and file. From the stories of the Larkinsons, Ves knew that all of this hero worship tended to inflate the heads of expert mech pilots to a ridiculous degree.
"So when it comes down to it, I'm indirectly tasked with managing our only expert mech pilot's ego."
"You must carefully balance the needs of Venerable O'Callahan with the needs of the rest of the task force. However, no matter what you decide, you cannot afford to neglect either of them. Your escape from Vesian space depends on both numbers and quality."
Perhaps this was the most challenging and essential responsibility on his shoulders. Ves realized that managing O'Callahan formed the critical factor in keeping the mechs of the task force going. If he screwed it up entirely, their chances of escaping the Kingdom and completing their next mission would drop to nil.