Chapter 158: Old
While Marcella’s comment about the crew aroused some worry, Ves decided to deal with it later. His newly hired crew used the trip to Cloudy Curtain as the Barracuda’s shakedown cruise, so Ves expected them to arrive a bit later than usual.
First, he had to finalize his latest design. He mainly dedicated his time with testing his semi-finished mech’s stealth systems. After optimizing its stealth armor as best Ves could manage in a few days, he turned his attention to the detachable particle generator.
Ves intended to employ the particle generator as a smoke generator. Once the rifleman mech fired its high-powered laser rifle, it exposed its position. Even the most ramshackle thermal sensors would be able to sense the incredible amount of heat projected by the laser beam and track it down to its origin point. His mech might as well be waving around a gigantic signal flare.
Once its enemies zeroed in on its position, the rifleman mech would have to flee. Throwing up a giant cloud of interfering particles at the right time should allow the vulnerable mech to evade pursuit.
Ves mainly had trouble with getting the particle generator to disperse its cloud quickly. If it released its payload too slowly, then the mech’s opponents could catch up before the module hit its stride.
His handy Jury Rigging sub-skill came to use as Ves employed a handful of unconventional means to enhance the spread of the particles. He also tinkered with the Festive Cloud Generator, forcing it to release a massive cloud of black vapor once activated.
Once he put the latest iteration to the test, the entire area within fifty meters became engulfed in a soot-like black miasma.
“It’s like an exploding ancient chimney.” Ves noted as he nodded his head in satisfaction. The speed, reach and density of the miasma finally met his standards. Unless the rifleman mech ran too hot, it should be able to use the cloud to withdraw.
Such a clever means conformed to the Dogged One’s methods. Unlike the Instructor, the Dogged One lacked the fortune and destiny that could elevate him into a pinnacle fighter. He only managed to survive through stacking the deck in his favor by making his preparations beforehand.
“Honor is a luxury for the strong. The weak can only fight the strong through dishonorable means.”
So what if it was shameless? All’s fair in love and war! Different from the standard rifleman mechs, his mech only truly showed its strength when it had the initiative. The moment his variant lost its advantage, it should immediately run and shake off its enraged pursuers.
Once he became somewhat satisfied with the design, he put the finishing touches on its appearance. He left the coating alone but added in a diminished version of the LMC’s logo.
While Ves might not have spent a lot of time on this design, he was proud of his work. He almost finished this project. It just needed a name.
He didn’t think too much about it. He tried a few conventional ones but when he thought back on the Dogged One, they didn’t fit. Ves spent half an hour wracking his mind on the issue before he ultimately settled on Old Soul.
“It contrasts nicely with the Young Blood.”
As an immortal, the Instructor might be older than the Dogged One, but in terms of mentality and life experience the bounty hunter had an edge over the pampered former knight.
The name also reflected the Dogged One’s lack of apprentices. He had never taught anyone the tricks of the trade, mostly because he couldn’t teach others to survive without putting them through torment. He was destined to live out his life without family or friends.
Ves shook his head. He kept getting the feeling he went a bit too far with these myths. Even though they didn’t exist for real, he still felt somewhat bad for giving the Dogged One such a joyless life. He couldn’t come up with anything better with his average creativity.
He considered upgrading the attribute since he suspected it might come in handy when he designed more complex mechs. “Let’s sit on it for now. First I have to increase my ability to survive.”
Among other reasons, he designed the Old Soul to acquire some toys. While he might have to wait a few weeks or months until his DP earnings reached its cap, Ves was determined to purchase a permanent augment to his handy Privacy Shield.
“The Privacy Shield is pretty much a life saver. A good enough Privacy Shield will allow me to escape any threats once my shield generator fizzles out.”
He still wore his partially depleted shield generator on his body. Its extremely compact energy cell only retained an eighty percent charge, and Ves had no way of topping it back up. His master had already warned him of the consequences should he tamper with it in any way.
Ves activated the Privacy Shield and rubbed his hands. “Well, let’s get to it. System, please evaluate the Old Soul for me.”
[Design Evaluation: Old Soul.]
Variant name: TOC-1S Old Soul
Base model: TOC-1 Tryops
Original Manufacturer: Rickshaft Conglomerate
Weight Classification: Medium-Light
Recommended Role: Ambush Rifleman
Carrying Capacity: D-
Energy Efficiency: D
Performance improvement: 17%
Cost efficiency: -17%
Overall evaluation: The Old Soul is an extreme ranged ambusher variant of the Tryops. It eschews frontal combat entirely in favor of ambushing unsuspecting enemies from a healthy distance. Its firepower and accuracy peaks at the extreme end of medium range, but it is also able to pose a threat at longer ranges. Its passive and active stealth systems provides the Old Soul with much-needed survivability.
[You have received 75 Design Points for completing an original design with a performance improvement of over 10%.]
[You have received 500 Design Points for designing a mech with a moderate presence of X-Factor.]
The initial DP reward lifted his mood, but he didn’t particularly pay a lot of attention to it. With his growing fanbase, he mainly relied on sales to increase his points.
Now that he finished a virtual mech, he uploaded it to Iron Spirit and filled in the required paperwork. Ves held off on publishing it onto the game’s virtual catalog. Instead, he leaned back in his chair and hailed his publicist.
“Gavin Neumann here.”
“It’s Ves. How is our publicity campaign doing so far?”
“It’s going fairly well, though I’m starting to encounter some pushback. Around twenty-four percent of all game centers have adopted your training knight as a promotional mech. That’s less than I thought but it’s proven to be an effective draw for those businesses. The other game centers will budge sooner or later.”
“What about this pushback you’re mentioning?”
Gavin sighed over the comm. He sent a few documents over the link. Ves read through the messages and found that they contained all of the responses sent by the game centers.
“You can see that they are trying very hard to sound polite about it. Reading between the lines, the local managers know the value of the Young Blood to the locals. It’s their superiors in Bentheim or Rittersberg who are putting a stop to their moves.”
His publicist listed the parent companies involved and found that quite a few of them had connections to the Ricklin Corporation. “It’s the stupid Ricklins again. They really hate my bones.”
They couldn’t do anything about the invisible suppression. As long as the Ricklins kept blaming Ves for what their wayward descendant had done, they’ll just keep finding ways to inconvenience him. He also suspected they had a hand in the kidnapping and assassination attempt on him, but he couldn’t prove anything.
“It’s too difficult to come up with an explanation why the BLM and the Ricklins coordinated with each other. They should be enemies.”
Or were they? The Ricklin Corporation was a quintessential Bentheim tech behemoth. Though it had ties throughout the entire Bright Republic, its headquarters and its main production facilities operated in the Bentheim region.
Thinking about it gave Ves a headache, so he stopped speculating about matters beyond his head. If anything fishy went on, the Republic would surely have their eyes on it already. Despite his minor prestige, Ves still remained a private citizen in the eyes of the Republic. People like him should keep their heads down.
“Why did you call me, boss?” Gavin prompted when Ves fell silent.
“Ah, I wanted to inform you that I’ve finished designing a virtual mech. It’s a training mech that will round out my modest portfolio of training mechs.”
Ves proceeded to introduce the Old Soul to his publicist. He particularly emphasized its extreme and somewhat unconventional fighting style.
“What are your thoughts, Gavin? Is it viable enough?”
His publicist paused to consider the matter. Ves already expected him to be taken aback. The concept of the Old Soul truly stretched the definition of a training mech.
“To be honest, the Old Soul doesn’t sound like a training mech.” Gavin finally replied. “It’s too niche and one-dimensional, but perhaps you have a point that limiting the pilot’s options will enhance their immersion. The only way to tell for sure it to release it onto the market.”
“You hated mechs, right?”
“Yeah. That’s why I know your mech will sell. I don’t know if you’ll only sell a couple of thousands or if it will catch on like the Young Blood and surpass a hundred thousand sales. Whatever the case, I’m sure you already have a brainless following of fans who eagerly snap up any design you publish, even if it’s shaped like a walking turd.”
As much as the mech industry focused on specifications and performance, the people who piloted them remained human. Gavin indirectly disparaged their irrationality when it came to deciding what kind of war machine they’d like to use.
“Be glad that mech pilots are human.” Ves responded with a light reprimanding tone. “If every customer behaves rationally, they’d only purchase the mechs sold by the trans-galactic corporations. Small-time companies like mine don’t stand a chance in this aspect.”
Even if Ves charged less for his mechs, he still couldn’t have pulled off so many sales in normal circumstances. Through a variety of good publicity, Ves managed to carve a small niche in the notoriously hostile mech industry.
Ves proceeded to give out his instructions to Gavin. He wanted to maximize the early sales of the Old Soul in order to obtain DP quickly. He increased his publicist’s discretionary funds for this purpose so that he could start promoting his latest design.
“I don’t care how you do it, but try to drive sales as fast as possible within a month. I don’t care about its long-term performance in the sales charts, so don’t hesitate to pull off a trick or two.”
Once Gavin understood his intent, Ves hung up. Now that he finished his work, he should get around to accepting a mission.
He entered Clifford Society’s Mission Hall after logging in to the organization’s virtual portal. Its interior evoked a martial feeling. From the bare walls to the flickering torches, everything seemed primal. Clusters of Society members had gathered in the giant hall. They all looked at the large displays and engaged in heated discussion on which mission to take.
A lot of missions allowed for teams. Many Society members banded together when they faced a challenge they could never complete alone.
Unfortunately, the Society’s heartless Mission Hall refused to adjust its merit payout whether a single person or a massive twelve-man team completed the mission.
For example, if a mission rewarded a hundred merits, then if one person completed it, he received the entire amount. If a team of five happened to complete it, then they’d only get twenty each.
Sometimes, the teams decided on a different merit distribution. A team of four Squires and a single Knight might reserve eighty merits to the leader and only five merits each to the Squires. This highly unequal distribution illustrated the power of a Knight. Ves truly appreciated the opportunity of starting out with this lofty rank.
As an apprentice of a Master Mech Designer, Ves stepped forth in public with a measure of confidence. Even as other Society members started to note his presence, he approached one of the displays and browsed the missions suitable for Knights.