"My man Ves, I received your files. I can't say I'm entirely satisfied with your work. The cape doesn't have any frills and the surface lighting schemes don't seem impressive at all. The only thing I found cool is the red lights installed underneath the armor."
Ves was afraid of that. Not satisfying his client meant his rewards for the mission could be reduced. "I have made my design choices with resilience in mind. Excessive frills will be the first thing that gets lost when your mech receives damage. It's better to keep a clean appearance that looks great both when it's pristine and when it has survived a battle."
The excuse was enough to cause Vincent to pause in his tirade. He frowned and thought over his words. "Alright, but I'm consulting a pro shuttle customizer artist for the lighting scheme. I still feel your designs are too basic. Heh, why didn't I do that in the first place. Your not an artist."
"If you are unsatisfied with my designs, feel free to turn to someone else." Though the System wouldn't like it, Ves agreed with Vincent's choice. "Just make sure the artist knows that mechs are machines that are meant to be put in the frontlines."
"Yeah yeah, whatever you say. As for getting permission and sourcing the materials, I'll let my assistant handle the details."
"That would be appreciated." Though he could purchase the extra materials himself, he'd be liable to get ripped off in the process. "In any case, I'm still in the conceptual stage of working out a design to meet your third demand."
"I'm expecting to see your proposal by tomorrow. I need you to work on my new mech as fast as possible, within two weeks at least."
That knocked Ves off course. This was the first time he heard about any deadline. "Is it very urgent that I deliver your mech in that time?"
"Yes, it's super urgent! I've already got a bet going on. I'm going to show that bastard that I'm not scared or anything! I'm NOT a coward!"
"Yes, yes, you're very brave!" Ves said quickly, trying to avoid getting on the receiving end of a tirade. "Vincent, I'll get it done today and have a potential design for you to peruse by tomorrow."
The signal cut off abruptly, causing Ves to sigh with relief. He had been a little negligent in his duties. He thought he had plenty of time to consider all of his options and refine Vincent's dream mech step by step. The sudden hard deadline of two weeks put a sudden stop to his leisurely vacation on Bentheim.
He took Lucky with him and left the arena and its cheering fans behind. He hailed an aircar straight back to the MTA. After going through several security scans, he finally ended up at a design studio similar to the last one. He was ready to get back to work.
"Hm, a bulge, huh?" Ves considered as he summoned the image of his mech, now with a cape and some rudimentary light system. In his eyes, the mech already looked pretty masculine, in a knight in shiny armor kind of way. Adding an obvious bulge to the front waist would ruined the entire feel of the mech.
"Men who wore armor in those days never exposed their private parts to any danger. It's one of the most vulnerable weak points in a human body."
Mechs were pretty much the same way. Its central position just on top of the mechanically hungry legs made it a prime position to place the engines. As such, the waist and lower torso portion of a mech possessed plenty of armor already. It would be highly challenging to elongate the front section without impacting a mech's maneuverability in some strange fashion.
Unless he stuck something on it at a right angle. But then he'd ruin his reputation and get Vincent get arrested for indecency.
"I shouldn't be the only person who is dealing with this problem."
The mech is an imitation of the human form. Yet mech designers were content to wholly minimize any waist protrusions as much as possible in the name of efficiency. Perhaps Vincent had a point where he said that the lack of gender expression in a mech presented an obstacle to fully bonding with it in the process. If Ves simply put something subtle there, it might even improve the mech's X-Factor.
"But what if the pilot is of another gender?"
Ves could imagine a dissonance between the mech and the pilot should occur, but not too strong. Plenty of female and other gendered pilots pulled off fantastic performances in very masculine mechs. And while they are less common, his own feminine-looking Fantasia variant also showed that no male pilots ever performed much worse than the female pilots.
Still, he couldn't help but feel that gender did matter. Maybe this was the great wall that held him back from scoring higher than an E in terms of X-Factor. The instance that he earned a C-rating from the System must have been attributed to other factors. It might even be higher if Ves paid attention to his mech's gender in the first place.
"Is this the secret to obtaining a higher X-Factor?" Ves asked himself, and with the knowledge he mastered so far, he guessed that it might very well be a viable direction to pursue.
He then recalled some strange skills and subskills in the System's Skill Tree. They mostly pertained to replacing a mechanical mech's parts with biological equivalents. So instead of using artificial muscles made out of alloys and polymers, these researchers cultured living muscle tissue with the same shape and function.
A mech is an imitation of the human body.
"There are some people out in the galaxy who believe in the phrase a bit more literal than others."
Ves imagined he touched upon one of the great secrets of what humanity's elite are pursuing. He realized the Mech Designer System's unintentional reveal of what other researchers are pursuing in their dark and hidden laboratories were dangerous secrets. This was so far above his level that if he ever revealed any of his suspicions, that he might draw an entire battlefleet from some first-rate superstate upon his head.
"I better keep all of these thoughts locked up for the moment." He quickly concluded, and turned his attention back to the matter of portraying a certain piece of male anatomy.
He referenced the galactic net again and took a look at how ancient pre-space flight civilizations dealt with the matter of armoring the crotch.
A lot of ridicule-inducing images appeared. Some ancient armorers literally shaped a form-fitting codpiece that looked like they could snugly fit the member. In today's age, if Ves implemented such a thing onto his mech, he'd literally get hounded from his profession.
The slightly larger and subter codpieces were not much better. They still bulged out so obviously that they never failed to call an observer's gaze to the person's waist. Sure, they offered a lot of protection, but the way they drew the eye just caused them to look like flaunting peacocks.
"Then again, it's not like Vincent is any different."
Still, Ves sought a more decent example. He found a couple of interesting images. Some armor designers neatly avoided this issue by adding a chainmail or plated skirt. While that would work brilliantly with certain mechs, he was sure to draw Vincent's ire. A man never wore skirts, after all, and his client wanted to flaunt his masculinity, not negate it entirely.
He eventually spotted some codpieces that looked a bit more fitting for modern times. These codpieces skewed rounded shapes and instead used sharp angles in a combination of triangular and rectangular forms. These examples evoked the suggestion that they were there to do their job of protecting the crotch without attracting undue attention.
It looked sharp, modern and most importantly did not cross the line into indecency. Ves liked the concept very much that he immediately turned on the design studio's designer program and put his inspirations into form.
He hit some snags along the way. The Marc Antony was a frame based on the heavily-armored Caesar Augustus. Both mechs weighed at the top end of the medium weight class. As the legs and the waist were some of the most heavily-armored portions of any mechs, this meant that it was highly unusual to add additional layers on top.
Ves had to consider the range of motion of the legs. Extreme contortions could very well bump into the mech and crush any rigid obstacle in its way. He doubted Vincent wanted everyone to see him destroy his facsimile manhood while inside the cockpit. Shaping the codpiece in a triangular shape so that its bottom portion was minimized could only go so far.
"If I can't avoid any collisions, then it needs to have some give."
He thought back to yesterday and recalled his conversation with Vincent. He casually mentioned using a sponge-like material to build this part with. Such a method could allow Ves to avoid the problem of leaving his mech open to destroying its own gender.
He took an hour to design this simple part. He first took a resilient sponge-like composite from the market and shaped it in a roughly triangular form that protruded sufficiently from the lower waist. He undersized it in order to leave enough room for armored plates to cover up the soft and flexible composite. He didn't want to resort to a different material so he chose to stick to the same HRF armor plating.
After stepping back, he took in the entire projection of the mech. The Marc Antony still looked awe-inspiring and ready to fight. The triangular armored codpiece nonetheless attracted a substantial amount of attention, but its design was sufficiently different from the more obscene examples in history. It looked tasteful, even if Ves would never admit it. Still, he hoped Vincent accepted this addition.
His Marc Antony variant somehow looked more complete with the codpiece. Well, Ves personally preferred it to be smaller and less attention grabbing. Nevertheless, now that he considered the question whether it made any difference if mechs had genders, it looked more fitting.
When Ves contacted Vincent in the morning, he showed the groggy-looking scion the projection of his work.
Even Vincent adopted a stumped expression. His jaw practically dropped as he admired the augmented form. "It's great! That's exactly what I was going for! It's a bit classier than I prefer, but absolutely nobody will ridicule me for hiding my package any longer!"
Ves questioned who exactly lacked the sense to criticize a mech's exclusion of unnecessary additions. Still, he kept his mouth shut, not willing to disparage any powerful heirs and step on Vincent's toes at the same time.
After ranting about the genius of the codpiece for several minutes, Vincent finally gave Ves the green light. "I want you to go back to whatever dirtball you're based in and produce my mech according to this design! Make sure you coordinate with my assistant if you need anything extra. Don't call me back until you finished the mech."
His personal assistant took over the line. Ves asked a bit about the progress of procuring the materials for the cape, the lighting system and also the codpiece, and got a reassuring answer.
"Our logistical department has fast tracked deliveries to your workshop in Cloudy Curtain. They will arrive long before your flight back to your home planet."
Ves then referred the personal assistant contact his broker to sign a contract for a commission. Marcella was much more capable of handling the sales portion of the negotiation. Once he received his advance payment, he could ship all the other materials he needed to his workshop.
As Ves packed up his meager luggage and brought his cat back to the spaceport, he wondered how he should actually build his mech. Vincent's product had to be in his hands in around thirteen days, which sounded a lot, but certification and shipping took a lot of time and so did acclimatization. He couldn't expect Vincent to master his new mech in a day.
The first time he fabricated the Marc Antony, he took over a week, and that was when he worked with maximum care. Now that he grew a little more familiar with the fabrication process, he could skip most of the excessive caution and work a little more briskly.
"Ideally, the fabrication shouldn't take longer than a week including the additional parts. Any longer and it calls into question why I even bother fabricating the mech personally in the first place."
He could definitely imagine hiring a full-time fabricator to take care of his production, but now was not the time. He mentally apologized to Carlos for putting his job offer aside. Once he received more demand for his product, he could revisit this issue.