Calsie walked past the newly installed walls and turrets with a nervous gait. No one stayed calm when they had to face those ferocious defenses. Various bots patrolled the grounds, making sure to inspect the college girl when they hovered close.
After receiving a final inspection from a uniformed security officer, she finally got to enter her new employer's workshop. Compared to the deadly gleaming turrets, the interior appeared much more down to earth.
She quickly reached a living area where a handful of couches, tables and even a drinks dispenser occupied the room. Ves already sat at one of the couches and gestured her to take a seat while he petted a marvellous-looking mechanical cat.
"Please take a seat."
"Mr. Larkinson, I have your report for the month." Calsie said and slid over a secure datachip. She could have sent it through the galactic net, but considering the sensitivity of the information she put it in a hardcoded form first.
"Give me a summary. Anything going on that I should know about?"
"There are hints that another player from Bentheim has entered the field. A very wealthy corporation is making inroads with the White Doves."
"Have you determined their identity?"
"From what my contacts in the Pioneers have inferred, it's likely to be the Ricklin Corporation."
Ves stopped petting his cat, causing the animal in question to meow in indignation.
"The Ricklins. Sure enough, they're thinking about taking revenge." He sighed, and scratched Lucky's head in order to placate his cat. "A traitor used my second-ever fabricated mech to wipe out at least half of their upper echelon. Shouldn't they be consolidating their assets and reorganizing their ranks?"
"Turmoil is still wracking the Ricklin family, but support is building up around a young genius of the family. The chaos is expected to end as soon as the last holdouts accept a compromise."
"Great. So I'll have to deal with two sources of outside pressure. Not only do I have to worry about the tiger next door, but I also have to guard against the distant meddlers from the Friday Coalition."
Calsie tried to reassure her employer. "Don't underestimate the central government. Cloudy Curtain is one of the many satellite planets that surround Bentheim and keeps their influence in check. Rittersberg will not allow Bentheim to take effective control over one of their critical food sources."
The Bright Republic benefited a lot from the Bentheim System. The population on its only inhabited planet swelled to ridiculous proportions, to the point where its own domestic agriculture couldn't feed their hungry mouths.
"Hopefully you're right, but you never know what might happen in the future."
With all the unrest and terrorist attacks, no one cared about improper influence. If Ves wanted to ensure his safety on the political front, then he might have to bring in outside influence on his own after all.
"Bringing in my family will still tarnish the Larkinson name." Ves concluded. "Involving the Whalers should be my nuclear option."
With nothing else to report, Calsie left after a short talk with Ves with new instructions. Since his troubles only started, Ves expressed interest in joining the Pioneers.
"I can't remain half-hearted and ignore political realities. If I don't join their circle, I'll remain vulnerable to their whims."
Despite what went on, he still had a job to do. Ves resumed his work on the redesign project. He spent a week on developing a highly adjusted armor scheme. To be frank, he could not find many opportunities to improve over the original design. There were only so many ways he could employ the HRF armor plating with his current skills.
Even with his improved skills, Ves was not able to raise any parameters without making tradeoffs. For example, if he wanted to increase the flexibility of the arms, then he could shave off some armor, thus increasing their vulnerability.
If he lost more than he gained, then he simply needed to reorient his goal. More armor? More speed? More flexibility? Not possible! Then what if Ves focused on something he hadn't paid attention to? After a few minutes of consideration, he settled on reducing the armor's complexity.
His current armor scheme consisted of many complex shapes. A flat square plate was the simplest piece of armor a fabricator could produce. What about a plate with a curve? The person who fabricated this plate had to reproduce the curve to its exact contours down to the millimeters.
Ves tried to simplify these shapes as much as he could without affecting the armor's overall performance. It worked up to a point, as Ves never took complexity into consideration before. Though the design unavoidably lost a bit of performance, he successfully reduced the failure rate of fabricating most of its parts.
This might not matter too much to Ves. He knew his design intimately and could fabricate its parts with sufficient confidence. He did it so others were able to do the same without falling flat.
"I've already untangled much of the internal structure. With this, Carlos shouldn't have too much trouble."
After finishing his draft, he subjected the schematic to a barrage of simulated tests. The reduced complexity opened vulnerabilities in his design that slightly lowered the armor's ability to withstand certain kinds of damage.
Ves easily patched most of the holes. Only some needed more attentive care as Ves had to reintroduce some complexity.
When Ves finally reached the end of the armor phase, he sighed and relaxed his concentration. "Armor is supposed to be one of my secondary specialties. It's disgraceful if I can only bring up the armor to this extent."
He was in no shape to design a mech. Ves took a day off in order to clear up his mind. He never enjoyed a full day of relaxation, so he made the most of it. While Carlos diligently mastered the last of his virtual designs, Ves played around with Lucky and browsed the news.
Much of the news revolved around the recent chaos and the steps the Merc Corps took to respond. They increased their procurement and called in some of their reserves. Everyone knew this was just the prelude.
"This is the time when mechs are selling like hot cakes. I have to push my product out as fast as possible if I don't want to miss out."
The next day, Ves returned to his work with a renewed sense of urgency. He spent the next week making adjustments to the self-contained parts. Due to his lack of expertise, he only brushed through most critical components like the engine or power reactor.
Instead, he spent an entire day on customizing the cockpit. Ves wanted to stimulate a better response to the X-Factor by setting the right mood. He changed the shape of the chair and adjusted the displays. He also carved the entire metal compartment with ancient-looking sculptures that alluded to the inspirations for the design.
If nothing else, his customers might appreciate the luxury.
With that done, he turned his attention to the mace and shield. His new Melee Weapon Optimization sub-skill allowed him to recognize that he made a lot of mistakes with the weapon. He deleted the mace and brought back the CA-1's original sword.
"I can't use the same sword shape that's optimized for compressed alloys when I'm actually using an uncompressed alloy."
Ves drastically modified the basic sword shape until he made it shorter but thicker. Without access to a compressor or better performing alloys, he had to resort to various tricks in order to make the most out of the uncompressed HRF alloy.
After finishing the sword, he touched up the shield. He introduced a moderate amount of complexity by applying some creative layers, but other than that it remained a simple rectangular slab of metal.
He tweaked the other weapon systems as last. He adjusted the contours of the missile launchers so that they meshed a little better with the shoulders.
The wrist laser cannons required a lot more work. With his newly acquired Directed Energy Weapon Optimization sub-skill, he recognized various vulnerabilities.
The laser cannons faced a major issue. The HRF's heat capacity simply couldn't compare to the original armor system. Ves had to thicken the wrists in order to prevent the wrists from overheating too quickly. It took two entire days to graft new heat channels in order to spread out the excessive heat generated from a rapid fire rate.
At the end of the phase, Ves dedicated the last hours to optimizing the Festive Cloud Generator. He reduced the size and energy consumption of the joke component in order to minimize its impact to the mech's performance. He also distinguished the vapor crest on the head head by running the distinctive pressurized mist through some lights.
"I'm finally done with this phase. All the components are in place. Up next is comprehensive testing."
After more than a month of redesigning, the revamped Marc Antony looked substantially more refined. The subsequent simulations subjected his new design in various brutal conditions. Ves extensively employed the System's models in order to find every possible fault. The holistic tests exposed various stress factors that in some cases crippled the mech.
Ves had to tread carefully from this step onwards. He encountered many instances where one fix led to another issue. Sometimes he had to revamp an entire section in order to address the root of the problem.
"Two whole weeks of simulation, and it's still not enough." He declared after an enormous amount of repetitive testing. By now he only caught minor glitches that only really came into effect in extremely rare conditions. Without a better proficiency in modeling, Ves reached the limits of what he could expose.
He had reached the end of the road. Ves not only invested eight whole weeks into designing the Marc Antony Mark II, he did it while maintaining three separate images in his mind.
Ves looked forward to the evaluation. He squirreled to his toilet and setup the Privacy Shield before bringing up the System.
"Tell me System, what's your verdict?"
[Design Evaluation: CA-1C2 Marc Antony Mark II.]
Variant name: CA-1C2 Marc Antony Mark II
Base model: Caesar Augustus CA-1
Original Manufacturer: National Aeromotives
Weight Classification: Medium-Heavy
Recommended Role: Shock Trooper
Carrying Capacity: D
Energy Efficiency: C-
Performance improvement: -23%
Cost efficiency: +62%
Overall evaluation: An acceptable variant of the Caesar Augustus. Though very lacking in its armor compared to the base model, it has achieved an admirable amount of cost savings over the original model. The second version of this variant has turned it into a commercially viable design.
[No rewards are issued when updating an existing design.]
"Yes! I did it!" He celebrated. Not much had changed at first glance, but Ves instantly recognized the differences.
The deceptively unexciting evaluation hid a lot of surprising bombs. First, he successfully raised the X-Factor's rating. From C- to C+, it indicated that holding three images at once and using a mech to inspire his design did not result in catastrophic errors.
"It's still a pain to repeat this method without improving my concentration. I'm also unsure if I'm heading in the right direction. If I increase the amount of inspirations, it becomes increasingly difficult to meld different meld together. At some point the X-Factor will simply scatter."
No matter the case, Ves uncovered a lot of avenues for further research. Previously, his total lack of understanding prevented him from doing any focused research. Now, he was brimming with questions.
Integrity also received a major improvement. After all the work Ves had done to increase the Marc Antony's compartmentalization, he deserved the compliment. His design could finally tough it out in the field. Even if its armor got breached, the Mark II could still fight on, though Ves didn't recommend such a reckless act.
The third surprise came from the final two ratings. His various optimizations reduced the material needs to fabricating the mech. Most of the cost savings came from developing an improved internal structure. Reducing the complexity of the armor also helped out by reducing the frequency of producing faulty parts.
In the end, it came down to performance. The Marc Antony Mark II thoroughly eclipsed the base model except for armor. Ves still found it a pity to miss out on compressed armor.
"Still, my mech is a solid performer now. It might not compare to a genuine advanced mech, but it's still a decent bargain."
Since the costs hadn't grown at all, Ves could go in two different directions with regards to pricing.
If he raised the asking price, he could earn a lot more credits per sale.
If he kept the price the same, then he'd surely be able to generate a lot more sales for his improved mech.
Ves shook his head. "Marcella is in charge of my sales. It's largely up to her to set the price."
Now that he finished the arduous task of designing the Mark II, Ves deserved a well-earned rest. He basically took no notice of the outside world for eight straight weeks.
It was time to stretch his legs and see how everyone fared.