"You went too far, Ves. You demolished them completely. You showed no mercy to Bovis."
"Mr. Mercator had it coming." Ves waved his hand dismissively as they returned to their shared office. "
"It's one thing to put down a rabid dog. It's another thing entirely to torture the poor creature all the while you laughed like a maniac! Did you see your face at the end? You reveled in your bullying, and don't say it's not! You crushed them by abusing your superiority!"
"And that's supposed to be a bad thing, sir? It's not my fault they're so incompetent. For all of his ambition, Mr. Mercator doesn't have the skill to back it up. I'm sure he can give me a run for my money if we competed on designing heavy cannoneers, but the Akkara mechs only take up a small part of the Vandal mech roster."
The design duels exposed the inadequacies of his challengers. This was the privilege afforded by strength. Though he did not measure up to a genuine Journeyman Mech Designer, out of all of the mech designers in the task force, he came closest to meeting this standard.
The entire spectacle revolving around the duel showcased his strength in a way that a boring resume never could. He could talk and boast about his accomplishments all he wanted, but humans but the lesson only hit home when Ves smacked his superiority in their faces.
Unfortunately, Iris brought him back to reality. "They're not resigned to this loss. You can see it in their faces. They think you cheated somehow, or stacked the deck against their favor from the start. I can imagine that Bovis will quickly try to stir up trouble to destabilize your position."
"You do, sir?"
"Yeah, that's why I stomped them all so hard. These ambitious mech designers can try to build up support all they want, but their standing among the Vandals and the other mech designers has taken an enormous hit. The perception of their strength is their foundation. Now that I've undermined their basic qualifications, they'll face an uphill battle trying to pull people in their camps."
Iris sighed and shook her head. "That's not sufficient to silence dissent. People are impressed with you, but there's a long road ahead of you if you want to make them loyal to you, boss."
"I'm not thinking that far ahead. The Verle Task Force will only take two months to reach the Reinald Republic. They'll dither around for a few weeks perhaps before they return home. A round trip will actually take a shorter amount of time since we don't have to worry about sneaking through enemy-occupied space. So in total, I expect this arrangement to last four months at most. Once we reunite with the main fleet, my position becomes redundant."
"Regardless of how short you get to enjoy your temporary powers, it will be a valuable boon on your record. As long as you do a decent job, you'll be on the shortlist whenever Professor Velten needs someone to take charge of something. That's what Bovis and Emlanin are scheming for. They'll do anything to secure this opportunity."
"Then it's good that I've appointed Mr. Mercator and Miss Trozin as my deputies." Ves grinned. "After all, even if they lost their duels, they achieved the best overall results. It's only fair to assign some responsibilities to them, and that's the key. I've curtailed most of their options, since if they try to screw something up, it will inevitably reflect on their performance instead of mine."
Iris hummed on that. "Keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer. That's a double-edged sword, you know. Enemies this close can easily stab you in the back when you least expect it, sir. I'm not saying you've taken the wrong course of action, but your approach leaves you with few friends and even fewer allies."
"That's a fair point." Ves grunted. "At first, I wanted to elevate Pierce as one of my deputies, but he doesn't have the stomach for it. He would do an awful job if I forced the responsibility on his shoulders."
While Ves couldn't call Pierce his friend, he felt he could trust the man somewhat. It was too bad that Pierce wasn't up to the task. He grew up under his father who was a mech designer from the Friday Coalition and enjoyed an enormous advantage in his upbringing that others would kill for. Despite his generous endowments, Pierce turned out to be no better than a mech designer from the Republic.
This basically proved that Pierce lacked the drive, talent and ability to be a good deputy to Ves. Forcefully elevating him to a position beyond his means would invite a lot of criticism about nepotism. It would also undermine the principle of strength that Ves leaned on to secure his leadership role.
Ves rubbed his head. "All this politicking is a pain in the butt. Why can't people accept my appointment with grace? From what I've witnessed, the Vandals never question their superiors."
"It's because mech pilots are simple brutes, sir. They don't have any complicated thoughts. Mech officers gained their position because they're better pilots or better commanders. Their strength in these qualities directly affect the survival of their subordinates. In the perspective of mech pilots, if their mech officer screws screws up, they die."
"In contrast, if the designer screws up, other people die." Ves added succinctly. "My screw-ups won't affect Mercator and Trozin's lives. They'll be rooting for my downfall regardless of the human cost."
"I can see Bovis might be ambitious enough to do that, but Emlanin definitely won't. She's too attached to the Vandals to put their lives at risk. That's not to say that you shouldn't worry about her. I'm acquainted with her enough to know that she's like a viper in the grass. She won't attract any attention while she lies in wait, but she'll deliver a fatal blow when the time is right."
That sounded somewhat worrisome to Ves, but not to the point where he felt ill at ease. Whatever crisis may come his way, he'd deal with it like he dealt with every crisis.
Ves turned his attention back to his work. The recent conference meeting settled the leadership issue. Not only did he introduce some new policies, he also issued a set of preliminary orders. Right now, every mech designer should be facilitating the transition to a new resource management system.
The new software shared the similar capabilities to the old one, but put more emphasis on different priorities. In particular, the new software offered better tracking of the input and output of a production process.
For example, if someone put 100 tons of raw material in a machine and spat out 20 tons of product and 79 tons of waste, there was an obvious discrepancy of 1 ton of materials. Where did missing ton this end up? The new software wouldn't let the operators get away with this without immediate alarm.
Of course, this was an extremely simplified example. In practise, the perpetrators wouldn't be stupid enough to leave such an obvious trail. Nonetheless, the new software had seemingly been geared against untrustworthy subordinates. It left the machine operators with much less leeway to pull something off.
Ves hoped that everyone got the message that he tried to convey with this change. It wasn't a coincidence he opted for this particular software package.
"Now that all of the distractions are out of the way, it's time for me to start my planning."
His main responsibility as a head designer was to plan out the task force's mech composition. This was an exceedingly complex task as Ves needed to take into account the skillsets of each mech company, the resources at his disposal, Major Verle's priorities and the mech composition of their opponents.
The latter element introduced a lot of complexity to the challenge. Its introduction turned the chessboard from a solo game to a competitive game. Ves needed to anticipate the mech models that the different duchies would bring to bear against the task force.
"Iris." Ves turned away from his terminal. "Can you tell me about the territories that the Vandals will likely pass by on their way to the Reinald Republic?"
"You're curious about the duchies, sir?"
"Yes. I a better understanding of their traits and mech doctrine in order to plan against their retaliation."
"Hm, I've been thinking about that as well." Iris said. "While I can't say for sure which territories we'll cross, there is only one practical route if we wish to reach the Reinald Republic within two months. We'll encroach upon the territories of four duchies in total."
She sent him some files that enumerated these duchies.
"First up, there's the Imodris Duchy. They form one of the pillars of the Vesia Kingdom because of their strength and core position. Imodris is also very prosperous because it jointly controls one of the Kingdom's two port systems. This has led them to pursue a balanced mech doctrine. The Duchess of Imodris feels that she doesn't need to focus her budget and research initiatives on only a handful of mech types. Her territory has the resources to pursue everything."
Ves nodded in understanding. Bentheim was the same. The sheer amount of prosperity and the abundance of private industries fostered a very diverse development climate climate. "That lack of specialization will still have consequences, though. A jack of all trades is strong at nothing."
"True, but you shouldn't underestimate the Imodris Legions regardless. Each complete legion is capable of fulfilling any role on the battlefield."
"I'm fairly familiar with Imodris already, you don't need to explain that. Since we struck their star system, it's likely that they've got a fire lit under their butts. The Duchess of Imodris is a ruthless lady from what I heard, so she'll definitely try to catch up to us."
"While that's true, the Duchess sent her strongest legions to the frontlines. While she's still holding back her crack troops, she needs them to defend her powerbase."
The Vandals needed more time to recuperate. They just completed a massive operation, and while they achieved all of their objectives, they also faced some unexpected setbacks. The mech pilots needed rest and the mechs needed to be fixed up.
"I really hope she's not crazy enough to send in her elites, then. We're almost out of her hair anyhow." Ves sighed. "What's the next territory in our way?"
"Next up is the Venidse Duchy, which is another Vesian core territory. They're almost as strong as the Imodris Duchy. The two territories are rivals in fact, but the difference is that the Venidse Duchy doesn't have the advantage of a port system."
"How come Venidse can match up to Imodris then?"
Iris smirked. "That's because the Vendise Duchy enjoys a high endowment of natural resources, though not to the point where they can match the benefits of a port system. Nevertheless, Venidse holds their own against Imodris because the duchy adheres to a very disgusting mech doctrine."
"That's an interesting choice of words." Ves chuckled. "Tell me more about this disgusting doctrine."
"Well sir, their rationale is like this. No matter what kind of mechs Imodris throws at them, the Venidse Mech Legions will always be able to come up with a response if they slow their opposition down. Venidse is all about attrition warfare. They will do everything in their power to pull their enemies into a quagmire. Once their opponents fall into their trap, the Venidse mechs will grind them all to pieces."
"Okay, I see now why you call that disgusting. If that's their main mode of combat, then every skirmish against Venidse will always spiral out of control. Their enemies need to think twice before they decide to engage in combat against their forces."
"It's a good thing that their doctrine has a lot of holes. Their mechs are geared towards endurance, so their burst performance is atrocious. They highly lean on laser weapons because they last longer, but that also means that you can prepare an easy counter against them."
"I suppose it's not as easy as that." Ves commented. "If their strategy is so one-dimensional, they don't have the grounds to compete against Imodris."
"That's right. There's a tricky aspect to Venidse's mech doctrine."