Their stay in Cava City came to an end. Ves, Raella and Lucky boarded the Nautilus of the Deep with memorable moments of their stay.
“The play is fun and all, but I don’t get why it’s so highly rated.”
“With parodies, you have to look underneath the surface to get the message.” Ves responded to Raella. “Have you noticed how the humans appeared more dimwitted than the aliens in the performance? My take on the play is that if humans for whatever reason lose their drive for war, they’ll eventually turn into harmless monkeys who are only good for comic relief.”
“Hah! As if that will ever happen. Too much blood has been shed for us to go all lovey dovey all of a sudden.”
“You never know if the prevailing winds will change. There’s always a portion in our society who are advocating for peace and understanding.”
“That sounds pretty bad for you. Without all the fighting, who’s going to buy your mechs?”
Who would buy his mechs indeed, Ves thought. For better or worse, the mech industry depended on the continuation of humanity’s thriving martial culture. The amount of mechs that got wrecked and needed to be replaced in the Komodo Star Sector reached an astounding sum.
“Did you enjoy the holiday?” Ves asked.
“Well, it’s not an adventure, but it’s okay. Moira’s Paradise is so different, it’s like the people here are aliens. I don’t get their fascination for living under a fragile dome all year long. The moment it cracks, all of that water will come crashing down on their heads! I’d rather live underneath the open sky.”
Ves enjoyed the holiday as well. Besides the inspiration he received, it also felt refreshing to forget about his job, if only for a couple of days.
After the Nautilus returned to the surface, a large number of passengers departed the luxurious cruise ship. Ves and his entourage spent a short time on the artificial island before boarding the Barracuda.
“Back to Cloudy Curtain?” Captain Silvestra asked.
“Yup. Take your time, you don’t have to hurry.”
Before he returned to his workshop, Ves intended to do some market research as a final preparation for his draft design. While he could start to draft a design right now, he risked a disappointing reception if he disregarded the demands of the market.
“What do people in the Republic want from a knight mech?”
Ves already read up on the subject. Marcella had been very helpful in sharing some of her market research and industry reports. To make the long story short, the private market mainly geared up for a brutal slog against the Vesians.
Everyone expected the upcoming war to proceed in the same vein as the previous conflicts between the two rival states. The Bright Republic would be put on the defensive while the highly motivated Vesians did their best to break through.
The irreconcilable hatred between the Vesians and the Brighters ensured the war could drag on for up to five years or more. The mercenaries and company security forces that made up the bulk of the private market demanded robust designs that could potentially last them the entire war.
This fell into his niche, as his phoenix concept centered around extending the life cycle of his upcoming design. Still, his knight needed something more in order to distinguish his product from the masses.
Ves took inspiration of the late Jackknife Jake. While his dauntless personality made a profound impression in his mind, he also admired the semi-modular nature of his fish mech. To design a mech that continued to function bereft of most of its surface components took a lot of guts and skill.
He wanted to adopt such a feature into his own design to complement its undying nature, but practical concerns prevented him from going through with this idea.
“It’s a lot easier to pull this off in the water than on land. The diminished form will have to come with its own miniature engine and power source, as well as a form of mobility.”
Such demands took up too much space to make the concept feasible with the means at hand. Nesting mechs like the fish mech became more prevalent in the galactic center, where superior technology and materials brought about significant gains in performance while requiring relatively little space.
He turned his newly invigorated imagination in another direction. What do mech pilots want in their knight mechs? Ves poured into his research materials to look up the answer.
Ves spotted a tiny detail hidden beneath the personal testimonies. Besides the usual demands for power, armor and speed, the mech pilots wanted to own a mech that could dig.
He played a clip of an interview with a veteran mercenary pilot.
“How often did you find yourself huddled underneath the ground?”
“More often than I liked. The noble armies of the Vesians generally consists of a hodgepodge of designs, but one thing that’s very consistent is that they bring lots of artillery, particularly missiles. They ship them in by the bulk and fire off their entire magazines in our direction to soften us up. Sometimes, the Vesians don’t even care if they don’t hit anything, because the bombardment has already frayed our nerves.”
“If you know that they will be throwing missiles at you, why not prepare a portable bombardment shelter?”
“Those things work well, but they’re only good for a single time. The cheaper ones weigh a lot so it’s a massive pain to lug them around. The more expensive ones don’t last long enough to pay for their expenses. It’s better to take advantage of the natural soil around us and put a lot of earth between your mech and the missiles raining down in your sector.”
“What about bringing in a digger module?”
“Are you kidding? Those things take up even more space, and they’re finicky as hell! No, forget about those stupid gadgets. The only thing I need is an old-fashioned spade.”
The veteran proceeded to detail the intricacies of digging a makeshift shelter. Different planets and climates led to different soil conditions. It took a lot of technique to dig out a semi-enclosed trench in a reasonable amount of time.
Ranged mechs that formed the mainstay of any squad often broke down easily if they helped with the digging. The arms of a rifleman mech specialized in aiming the weapon as accurate as possible. These types of limbs easily exceeded their maximum carrying limits if they went too far with digging.
More often than not, squads designated knight mechs as their go-to diggers. While knights possessed a lot of strengths, that didn’t mean they excelled at digging. Many mech designers overlooked such demands when they came up with their knight designs.
“Interesting.” Ves spoke to himself. “Could this be a gap in the market?”
In truth, many mercenaries preferred to be deployed in areas with readily available cover. If they couldn’t find anything nearby, they would rather retreat and avoid the bombardment entirely. Only rarely did they decide to stay and ride out the storm.
However, his research into this topic revealed that digging became more prevalent in the later stages of the war. Most battles shifted from well-prepared fortifications to bombed-out ruins and temporary encampments in the wilderness. As everything started breaking down, a mech could only rely on his simple spade for suitable cover.
“So am I going to design a mole mech now?”
Ves wouldn’t go that far. It became tempting to believe in the market research and try to form a response to every issue, but Ves only had so much space in his design.
“It’s enough to take the possibility into mind.”
A mech that could dig efficiently required a specialized set of limbs that diminished its ability to fight. Ves decided to make due with half-measures that made the digging a little easier while preserving the combat effectiveness of his design.
“This should be the base role of my design. A scrappy knight that also makes for a decent entrencher.”
With this decision, Ves formulated the three required images for his Triple Division Technique.
The totem animal consisted of the mythical phoenix. This image represented his desire to design a lasting mech that would grow over the years and become more distinct with each round of repairs.
Ves decided to dedicate the human myth to Jackknife Jake. It saved him the trouble of formulating a fictional character. As a mech athlete, Jackknife Jake possessed keen instincts and a great sense for risk taking. Even if he lost out at the final moment of his career, the preceding feats in his career showcased his talent in this area.
“I need something with the drive to win no matter how frigid the situation has become.”
This kind of motivation sounded rather dangerous. If Ves went too far with embedding this message into his design, his customers might be tempted to dive head-first into danger.
After a brief internal struggle, Ves decided to integrate this image into his design. “A knight has to possess a lot of courage to perform their roles. Otherwise, how will my design be able to excel in the field?”
The reality of the mech business was that the market paid attention to a design’s performance in the field. Word of mouth spread quickly about good and bad designs. Mechs that performed poorly quickly resulted in cratering sales, while mechs that excelled on the battlefield exploded into popularity.
Much of this phenomenon depended on the habits and perception of the mech pilots in the field. Perfectly decent designs on paper might inexplicably be regarded as a harbinger of bad luck if a single pilot suffered from consecutive breakdowns.
Even if a lazy mech technician carried the actual blame for the mishaps, rumors always trumped over facts. Sometimes, investigators even found proof that a mech pilot deliberately made a fuss about their mechs at the behest of a competitor.
These days, the MTA came down hard on these kinds of practices, so Ves didn’t worry too much about getting bad mouthed. What he actually concerned himself with was whether his design could stand out from the other knights in the market.
“With my reputation, it should be fairly easy to generate some initial sales. It’s what comes after that I have to focus on.”
The buyers in the mech market spent their money wisely. If Ves could influence his designs in such a way so that his customers used them in flamboyant ways, he’d be able to generate a lot of buzz for his designs.
He only hesitated because it could also backfire on him. If his design gained a reputation for driving his pilots into reckless action, his mechs would cease to sell as well as he hoped.
In the end, he decided it was worth the risk, and confirmed the concepts that he would use for his design.
“Two of my images are focused on different aspects of survival, while the remaining one prioritizes victory.”
The lack of balance in the images had been a deliberate choice on his part. There was no point in employing seperate images if they all fulfilled the same role. By splitting the ratio from defense to offense in this manner, Ves emphasized the defensive aspect of his design while leaving room for offensive action.
“I’m ready to start my draft design.”
Designing a draft meant he’d sketch out a loose outline of his mech. It fixed the general shape, type and weight-class of his mech and allowed him to figure out what type of components he should license for his final design.
Ves hunkered down in his stateroom aboard the Barracuda and projected his design software into the whole room. He took a deep breath and composed his mind, employing the Triple Division Technique at full strength.
His images showed signs of stirring up. As Ves infused the hungry concepts with his mind, they started coming to life. He held back his full force as he did not wish to wake them prematurely before he started with his actual design.
“This should be enough. Let’s go with a medium mech.”
He held out a finger in the air and slowly slided it downwards, leaving a single projected line. His finger turned direction, leaving behind another line, this one in a different angle. Ten minutes went by as Ves flicked his finger left and right, back and forth, up and down.
The resulting three-dimensional sketch looked like a mech doodled by a six-year old child. Yet in the eyes of Ves, it looked beautiful.