Ves started selecting his parts, all the while keeping his intentions honed to a specific image. He wanted to build a versatile workhorse, a mech that doesn't have flashy features but is able to use the tools it has to their fullest effect.
Building a mech started with the internal frame. As the basic skeleton of the mech, it determined the mech's shape, height, and weight capacity. A sturdy mech not only demanded strong armor, but also a robust internal frame that could hold up its weight under pressure.
There were many frames to choose from. Most adopted a standard humanoid shape of two arms, two legs and and upright posture. Some looked like cats, others like birds and reptiles. Each form had its advantages and disadvantages, but generally the humanoid mechs offered great balance as long as its two legs remained intact.
As Ves wanted to design a mech with flight capabilities, he chose to pick a medium frame that was on the lighter side. The frame's construction featured a clever arrangement of gaps, hollows and grooves. It saved a lot of weight while keeping its structural integrity intact as much as possible, though not always succeeding. Nevertheless, the frame held up to stresses as long as it wasn't used to heavily for years.
Fortunately, the contest also automatically supplied the compatible artificial musculature. Though for the best original designs, it was best to form it from scratch, the amount of time it took was immense compared to borrowing an existing design scheme.
Next up Ves considered the contour of the mech and the configuration of the limbs. Humanoid mechs differed widely in size, bulk, thickness and so on. While some designers preferred to complete the internals first before considering the exterior, Ves wanted to do the opposite in order to set his limits beforehand. He already had a purpose in mind for his mech, so it was important he get the outer appearance of the mech done first in order to make it easier for him to visualize his intentions.
"First up, the legs."
As the mech's base, the legs determined the machine's speed, weight limit and stability. Humanoid mechs boasted a wide variety of legs, from ones that specialized in long-distance efficiency to those that came built-in with boosters to facilitate powerful jumps. Ves envisioned a mobile medium mech, so he kept his selection limited to the lighter armored legs. He patiently dug through the pile of junk for a suitable pair of leg design schemes.
"God, these legs are shit." Ves muttered as he dropped the next pair of legs in disgust. Most legs he encountered were either light but frail, or sturdy but too heavy for his tastes. It was as if the organizers didn't want contestants to settle for boring, mediocre legs with the most optimal compromise between armor and speed.
"It's impossible for me to pick a heavy pair of legs if I want my mech to be capable of at least a modicum of flight. I would either have to pick a pair of skinny legs, or..."
As Ves looked at the pile of animal-shaped legs, his newly upgraded jury rigging sub-skill tingled in excitement. Mech components and parts had always been designed to accommodate a certain level of modular compatibility, but Ves had seldom heard of cases where a designer attached animal legs to a humanoid upper body. Such things were possible, but it brought a lot of problems concerning reworking the musculature and making sure the mech's walking and running posture remained balanced.
"These raptor legs look ideal."
He approached the pile and highlighted a pair of fairly robust raptor legs. Raptor shaped mechs usually featured powerful running gaits that provided fairly good speed at a good amount of endurance. However, they were designed in a way that attached them to the sides of the waist instead of the bottom. Trying to mate the legs to the torso of his mech would take a lot of thinking.
"Let's finish the rest of my selection before I figure this out."
The size of the torso determined the maximum size of the engines, power reactor and cockpit. Larger components were generally more powerful, but Ves had to keep the total weight below the total lifting capacity of the legs. Furthermore, certain shapes offered more advantages than others. Lean feminine torsos were light, barrel-shaped torsos offered lots of volume, V-shaped torsos looked incredibly masculine and offered expanded volume at the upper end of a mech.
What Ves ultimately chose was a fairly broad torso out of the available parts. It provided a good amount of space at the bottom side of the mech, allowing for more extensive modifications in order to make it compatible with his raptor legs. While the torso weighed heavier than Ves would have liked, it was still within tolerance.
The arms followed next. Raptor mechs usually chose to work with smaller arms or converted them to weapon mounts. As the unfinished design needed to be capable in both melee and ranged combat, Ves started looking for a fairly robust arms that were capable of mounting wrist-mounted weaponry.
"There's nothing suitable here. The selection is too limited."
Most of the humanoid arms in the junk pile were bare arms. Cheap, sturdy and a form factor that allowed for pilots to synchronize with them to up to 100%, these arms specialized in wielding mech-sized firearms. Some arms also specialized in wielding melee weapons, featuring strengthened musculature and higher gripping strength.
"I think I'm going to have to clunk something together again." Ves concluded as he skipped the unorthodox-shaped arms. He lacked the time to work on fitting both the animal-shaped arms and legs onto a humanoid mech.
He settled with a pair of thicker arms that performed well in melee combat. With some effort, he might be able to attach some sort of ranged weapon to it, though its performance would suffer if he rushed the implementation.
Next up was the head. It was the least important limb of a mech, since all heads pretty much offered the same options except for the lightest and heaviest configurations. Ves toyed with picking a reptilian head, but he discarded it and picked a human one in order to avoid making his mech too flamboyant and ruin its theme. A regular human head did the job just as well.
"Now, the flight system."
What Ves had in mind was a mech that could traverse short distances quickly. The gauntlet only lasted a short time, so the flight system would not need to focus on efficiency and reaching high speeds. Unfortunately, the ideal flight system that Ves wanted were not available. What he saw were mostly large, sweeping wings that provided a great amount of aerial mobility, but also painted giant targets on the mech's back. It wouldn't survive a 10 km gauntlet intact.
He eventually picked a sturdy but large pair of wings designed for medium mechs. Ves preferred it over the others due to its lift-off power and its ability to operate even under heavy damage. He had a use for that last attribute.
"I'll have to finish picking parts first."
For the internals, his design called for prioritizing durability. It had to hold up even when the mech was being banged around a lot. He picked a powerful engine, one that provided lots of power at the cost of horrible energy efficiency. For the power reactor, he went for a slightly under-powered one, but it was the only one that left enough space for the engines within the mech's internal structure.
In order to power the mech sufficiently for the entire gauntlet, Ves added in lots of capacitor energy cells for a quick boost of instant energy. The sensors he chose were some of the most durable ones available, meant for a heavy gorilla mech. They provided no guidance or targeting assistance, but their viewing range was decent and besides their toughness was almost as good as armor.
"That should do it for the basics." Ves thought as he scanned the components again in order to make sure he hadn't missed anything. "I'll look at weapons later."
First, he had to put the basics together. First, he needed to make adjustments to the internal frame in order to accommodate the raptor legs. If Ves wanted to do it perfectly, he'd use the Mech Designer System's many tools to redirect certain mechanical components in order to achieve a sideways attachment. Unfortunately, his comm was disabled, and even if it were not, he'd be stupid to reveal the System.
So he used the basic designer program provided to every contestant and made some crude and drastic changes. He creatively applied his jury rigging skills to clunk something up between the legs and the lower torso. It took a little more time than expected, but by the time he finished the legs appeared to work decently in the simulator, though there was a higher than expected loss in the conversion of motive power.
Still, Ves shrugged off the losses, focusing instead on his gains. As long as his vision of a versatile workhorse mech could be achieved, the sacrifices were worth it. "Though this mech is going to look like a very strange horse once I'm done with its design."
He spent the next two hours carefully integrating the engine, power reactor and cockpit inside the torso. After adding in some other minor components such as the energy cells, he attached the torso to the modified raptor legs. The balance was a little off, but Ves could adjust it later. First he had to finish attaching limbs.
After the troublesome legs, it was a breeze attaching the head to the torso. Ves only made minor adjustments to the bog-standard human head in order to accommodate the gorilla sensors.
The arms took a bit of effort to attach to the torso. Though not as extreme as with the legs, the arms were designed to accommodate a different chest profile, so Ves had to shave off and flatten a few bits in order to clunk the disparate parts together.
The designer provided by the organizers locked a lot of advanced features. However, it did automate a lot of the most tedious and time-consuming work that did not really showcase the strengths of the designers working with it. The software's powerful processors automatically took care of laying down power cables and piping according to industry standard.
What the designers could do after that was spend some time adjusting them in order to optimize their placements. In his case, Ves had to rework major sections of cabling between the waist and the legs. Somehow the standard software got confused when it tried to mate the connections between the two incompatible components.
Only four hours remained after he finished putting together the limbs and the internals. The mech possessed the minimum qualifications to present itself as a complete machine, but it wouldn't survive the gauntlet this bare.
The flight system came up next. Ves wanted his mech to be mobile in order to add to its options, but he didn't want the wings to dominate the mech and burden it excessively. So he straightforwardly cut off major portions of the wings, especially the parts that extended too far from the back. It left the flight system looking clipped.
"I cut over sixty percent of the parts but still managed to retain thirty percent of its thrust."
It was a fairly generous ratio, helped by the fact the manufacturers paid attention to this issue. Most wings that lost so much length only provided enough flight capability to allow the mech a controlled crash. The wings Ves was left with weren't powerful, but they provided a sufficient amount of traversing speed, though he shouldn't expect the wings to let the mech fly high.
Attaching the wings to the torso provided little trouble. Despite the fact that the torso wasn't built for flying, it still possessed all the modular connectors that eased the fusion between the two parts. The flight system looked remarkably compact compared to the larger and heavier torso, but that was the image he was going for. The smaller the wings, the longer they stayed intact.
"It kind of looks like a dragon bred with a human who delivered this mech into the world."
The raptor legs provided the mech with a lot of leg power and mobility while still able to bear a generous amount of weight. Together with the hefty torso and arms, the mech's weight classification was approaching the upper limits of the medium standard, though it was not as bad as the Caesar Augustus and its variants. The wings provided enough thrust for the mech to help it move around as long as its weapon load-out wasn't excessive.
The great thing about the junk pile was that Ves could pick the best weapons from it without worrying about licences and fabrication. He rummaged through the pile and found a fairly thin but serviceable sword. He added a pair of lightweight backup knives before picking up a medium-sized round shield for defense. This took care of the mech's close-quarters combat needs.
The ranged options were bound to be trickier. The mech only had two arms, enough for it to carry the sword and shield. He'd either have to resort to external add-ons, or force the mech to holster its unused weapons on its lower back, which did not offer much space due to the wings.
Ves also wanted the ranged option to be something other than an afterthought. Unfortunately, that was difficult if he wanted a weapon that could pack a punch while simultaneously keep the mech light enough to maintain its mobility. His experience with the Caesar Augustus and the Marc Antony taught him that a pair of mid-powered laser cannons did not kill opponents fast enough, so for a ranged option he also needed a weapon that packed a punch.
This was very difficult to deal with. As the time limit grew closer, Ves felt a little anxiety infect his mood, which he absolutely did not want. He took a small break from tinkering and refreshed his mind by having a small meal and taking care of his bathroom needs. Once he exited the toilets, he regained sufficient calm that he was able to focus on envisioning his desired mech again.
He thought up a bold idea when he took a leak. It would test his jury rigging as well has many of his other skills, but if it worked, the mech could gain a short-term ranged kill capability.
As ballistic weapons weighed too much and missile weapons lasted too short, Ves chose to take a pair of high powered laser rifles as his weapon of choice. The rifles the junk pile offered packed a lot of punch, but were prone to overheating and gobbled up energy like there was no tomorrow.
The first thing he did was strip their stock, optical sight and other useless doodads. Then he took a pile of light armor plating and crafted a rectangular shell around the rifle as protection. He then stuffed as much energy cells as possible within the casing, and linked it all to the rifle as its primary energy source.
He then took a pair of turreted ballistic cannons, cut off their swivels and crudely welded the armored laser cannons onto it. After that, he installed the slightly over-sized pair of boxes onto his new mech's shoulders. The mech had reached its limits in terms of weight, but the shoulder-mounted laser rifles offered substantial firepower at a distance as long as they didn't overheat.
Ves spent the remainder of the time refining the coordination between the different parts. He especially had to recheck the programming of the swivels, and made sure that it acted according to the characteristics of energy weapons instead of ballistic weaponry. As his strange, crude Frankenstein of a mech came into being, he attracted a fair amount of unflattering attention.
"Compared to the elegant lines of Patricia's mech, this boy's work is a total mess."
"I don't know why he even bothers with the runty wings. It's not like the mech's going to fly in the first place with all that weight."
Ves took no notice of the jeers. He knew his mech better than anyone else. The mech would work as advertised, at least for the duration of the gauntlet. Alongside its formation, Ves tried to keep his intent focused on one single concept, and he felt he did a decent job with all the limitations surrounding this contest. He wasn't able to fabricate the parts by hand, and most of them were also designed for mechs fulfilling different purposes. Such a disparate gathering of parts might even nullify the X-Factor entirely.
"I'm taking a big gamble here, but I'm confident I'm not wrong in taking this route."
His strange mech married a humanoid upper form with a pair of raptor legs and some limited flight capabilities, so he named it the Drake. The mech carried his hopes of a victory in the qualifiers, and therefore allow him to come up to the big stage tomorrow where he could gather plenty of attention. Enough to attract a customer, Ves hoped.
"Time is almost up. Please finalize your designs."