172 Peak Performance
In the coming days, the expedition set off with a tumultuous fanfare. The main thrust of the fleet encountered several scouts from other forces along the way. In order to avoid leaking out the location of the untapped Groening System, Lord Kaine employed the mercenary ships to chase away the snooping scouts.
“Destroy every ship that doesn’t make way!”
Some of the bolder scouts tried to play games, but they couldn’t outfox the swift corvettes owned by the Stray Phantoms. They possessed a decisive technological edge against the riff raff of the frontier. Even the advanced Barracuda couldn’t match their performance, which proved the Grey Willow Star Sector’s strength.
Under Lord Kaine’s arrangements, Captain Silvestra jumped ahead of the main fleet. As a civilian corvette, the Barracuda wasn’t suitable to be employed as a combat vessel. Instead, she functioned as the expedition’s own scout and provided advanced warning to the main fleet via a limited transmission through her restricted quantum entanglement node.
Overall, the expedition had a rocky start. House Kaine severely underestimated how much eyes they attracted when they arrived in the Komodo Star Sector.
Back at home, a fleet carrier in the hands of a noble house might be ostentatious but not too rare.
At the frontier, such a phenomenon instantly turned the expedition into the talk of the of the town. Especially considering that everyone knew that to take a capital ship into sandmen space was asking for trouble.
Thus, the first week of the expedition bogged down due to Lord Kaine’s insistence on removing each and every scout. While his measures might have scared away the ships, even he could do nothing against covert sensors hidden throughout every star system in the way.
Still, the amount of stars in the galactic rim couldn’t be counted. No matter how many sensors they planted, they couldn’t have seeded every star, especially the ones deeper into sandmen space. While passive sensors were nearly undetectable in deep space, they lacked the resolution to determine the precise coordinates of the main fleet’s route.
In addition to chasing away the scouts, House Kaine and their mercenary partners employed many methods in order to obscure their route. As an outsider in charge of improving a small number of mechs, Ves didn’t have the right to know anything more.
His minder, Ensign D’Amato, might know more, but the young man carefully kept his lips sealed. Over time, Ves noticed that D’Amato understood a fair amount of engineering principles. He likely specialized in engineering or some or related field. This meant that Ves couldn’t hide too many things from his watchful minder.
Due to his constant company, Ves didn’t dare to access the Mech Designer System. He started working on the Ajax Olympian using the workshop’s existing design suite, which impressed him with its extensive features. It might not match the System in sheer breath and versatility, but it provided a fair amount of conveniences that helped save some time.
After familiarizing himself with the variant’s design, he started asking other people’s opinions on the Ajax. Ves followed Ramirez’s advice and approached the mech technicians who worked on the two heavy knights for years.
Not all of them opened up to him. Captain Kaine still didn’t trust him, so the mech technicians assigned to the hunting platoon adopted the same mistrustful attitude. It took a lot of pestering in order to convince the friendlier ones to throw him a bone.
“The Olympian is a steady mech. It’s built to last. If something happens to break, it takes a lot of effort to replace because the armor isn’t meant to be removed that often.”
“All the flashy marketing states that the Olympian variant excels in wrestling, but they’re exaggerating its flexibility. There’s no way a heavy mech is capable of performing even the simplest acrobatics. The Olympian can barely grapple another mech and force it down against the ground.”
“Heavy knights don’t focus much on speed but the Olympian is slower than the original Ajax! You can’t imagine how many times the mech pilots of the hunting platoon are grumbling about their speed. Chief Ramirez tweaked the Olympians in our hands as best he could, but he’s no miracle worker.”
The feedback from the humble mech technicians proved to be a boon to Ves. Even if they only possessed a shallow technical background, they were well-versed in the Ajax Olympian’s many quirks. They possessed an intuitive understanding of its design that was worth gold to a mech designer like Ves.
Ves heard enough. He considered the hunting platoon’s mission profile and compared that with the current Ajax Olympian’s capabilities. Normally, he’d discuss his findings with Chief Ramirez and Captain Kaine in order to take advantage of their input, but their attitudes made him feel unwelcome.
No matter. He still had Melkor and D’Amato. First, he explained his most critical observation.
“The way I see it, the role of the hunting platoon is a critical one. They’re the only group of mechs that stand a chance of winning against a hexapod king. As the tanks of the platoon, the Ajax Olympians perform an essential role in their hunting strategy. It’s natural for the platoon and the mech technicians to treat is like a treasure, but they’re valuing the heavy knights way too much.”
Ensign D’Amato frowned at this strange remark. “We only have two Olympians in our entire contingent of mechs. Even I know that heavy mechs are very difficult to get ahold of. It would be an unimaginable loss if we lose one of them during this expedition.”
Ves knew what D’Amato hinted at. On average, heavy mechs weighed five times as much as a medium mech, so they normally cost five times as much as well. They could only be fabricated with specialized, expensive machinery and cost even more to maintain.
As a design catered to second-rate states like the Constance Grand Kingdom, the Ajax Olympian came with an unimaginably high price tag. Ves made the calculations himself and found that the Ajax Olympian cost around five billion bright credits!
Five billion credits! Ves could fabricate over two-hundred Marc Antony Mark II’s with that much money! Most of that money had been spent on fabricating the Olympian’s highly sophisticated armor system which consisted of various layers of exotic alloys.
“That is why this entire unit are taking the wrong approach. Mechs are meant to be used. How many hexapod beasts are running around in the underground world? How hard will it be to make up for the loss of an Olympian? What I’m telling you is that everyone is making a mistake by deifying the heavy knights.”
Ves pressed on. “A high-class mech like the Ajaxes are ordinarily built to last several campaigns. It’s hopeful if you think you can keep these big mechs intact, but they’ll be facing extremely hostile conditions on Groening IV. Currently, the Ajax Olympians aren’t optimized to withstand the incredible amount of abuse for forty days straight.”
“What are you suggesting, then?”
“Treat the heavy mechs as disposable tools. I know several ways of increasing their power and speed. It won’t take too much time for me to come up with a modified design that won’t take too much time to implement.”
This shook D’Amato’s mind. As a young officer who aspired to be an engineer, he had always been taught to eschew short-term gains in favor of maximizing stability, reliability and longevity. Ships always cost vastly more than mechs, so everyone expected them to last decades. Ves suddenly introduced a different perspective that went directly counter to what he learned.
“What kind of performance boost are you expecting then? And how long will the models last?”
“I can easily boost its performance by twenty percent. This performance will slowly degrade over time, but the first measurable drop won’t happen in months under normal conditions. Heavy combat will accelerate this breakdown, but even I’ll make sure they’ll last the entire forty day window.”
What Ves proposed frankly astounded the ensign. It took a lot of effort for him to get a grip on the radical suggestion, but once he thought it over, he thought it might have some merit.
“I can accept that the expedition will increase their odds of success if the Olympians gain a short-term boost. However, it won’t be easy to cover the loss of two heavy mechs. I’m not so sure that Lord Kaine will allow such a travesty to happen.”
Ves started to smirk. “It seems to me that Lord Kaine is gambling everything on a single throw of the dice. It’s impossible to succeed every time. Besides, it’s not like the mechs are worthless if they have drawn their last breaths. As long as you can salvage the wrecks, you can recycle most of the exotics used in their construction.”
He eventually convinced D’Amato of the merits of his plan, but he was merely the gatekeeper. A decision of this magnitude went above Felicity Kaine’s head. Only Jeremiah Kaine himself could give the green light on this plan.
When the ensign notified Lord Kaine directly, they waited for hours before they received a simple reply.
“Show me a design.”
Ves took that message as an encouraging sign. While he hadn’t received definite approval to mess around with the Olympians, he finally pried open the door.
In addition, his radical suggestion bypassed Captain Kaine and Chief Ramirez. While he did no favors by going over their heads, he also wouldn’t have to deal with their irrational obstinance.
Once he got the okay, he immediately went to work. Due to the fact that he’d likely be letting the mech technicians do most of the work, he didn’t spend too much effort on nurturing the X-Factor.
After all, he intended to produce a variant of a variant of another design. Not only that, he also planned to modify existing mechs that already possessed an identity of its own. Ves did not wish to spend an excessive amount of time on fostering an X-Factor that would only end up stillborn when he finished he finally laid down his tools.
“It’s better to focus on the hardware this time.”
Ves unintentionally drew on Master Olson’s teachings, but in the opposite direction this time. Her extensive lecture on battle mechatronics obsessed on how to prolong the service life of a mech.
Put simply, he intended to invert these methods in order to squeeze out every bit of latent potential out of the Ajax Olympians.
Many of these methods involved tweaking the performance of a design so that it flattened out. This lowered the maximum capacity of its systems but prevented them from being strained by short but excessive bursts of power.
A normal mech designer striving to build up a solid reputation always designed mechs that were intended to last. No one wanted to acquire a mech that only promised to perform up to spec for a year. Even heavy knights meant to take a beating incorporated many excessive buffers and failsafes in order to prevent a premature breakdown.
By going in reverse, Ves insured that the mechs would be able to exert much more power. While the excessive stresses reduced the effective lifetime of the mechs in question, the sacrifice was worth it if Ves insured the models maintained their peak performance during the mission.
He chuckled a bit to himself. “I don’t think my master thought I’d apply her teachings in this fashion. She’s probably slap me to death if she can see what I’ve cooked up.”
He spent a fruitful week whipping up a hasty but effective design. He kept it fairly simple and avoided any major redesigns. Instead, he tore out a lot of duplicate components that raised the Olympian’s redundancy but only really came into being at the end of the model’s life cycle.
Certainly, Ves risked condemnation for reducing the redundancy of a mech that sorely needed it. Therefore, he tested the design himself and gathered the data to back up his decision.
Once he freed up some space, Ves started to rearrange the internal architecture. He increased its capacity to deliver a higher performance by widening some channels, bulking up the artificial muscles, adding in some amplifiers and tweaking the programming of some of the components.
He ended up with an Ajax on steroids.