No one made any rash moves. Ves held Barakovski tight against his body. He hadn't embraced a lot of girls in his life, so the feeling of having a pretty girl in your arms distracted him. The other males in the group appeared outraged while the girls looked scandalized.
"You bastard mongrel! That's the class princess you've injured!"
"Your dead now! B&F Integrated isn't a company you can offend!"
The commotion even attracted the attention of their neighbors. Most of the conflicts happened at the start of the design period. Ves surprised everyone by making his coup with only a few hours remaining until they had to submit their design.
"Don't push me!" Ves growled angrily while he tightened the hold on Miss Barakovsi's slender neck. He attempted to channel a bit of his state of mind when he fought back against the pirates on the Saint Hearst. The designers drew back in fear as if scalded by hot water. They were as green as the flowers in a garden.
"You guys are trying my patience. Can you stop ignoring me all the time and listen to my suggestions?"
The eight other designers stood helplessly as they remained undecided. Ves was glad to see that none of the people here had a clue on how to liberate Barakovski. It seemed like every mech designer received only perfunctory self defense training during school.
As the mech designers argued about, the hostage had enough. "Quiet! We are not a brood of headless chickens. We are mech designers. Let us talk it over rationally."
"There's no value in negotiating with that brute!"
No one treated her latest words seriously. They all thought she just wanted to free herself from her captor's clutches. While the mech designers kept bleating and insulting Ves, he lowered his mouth to her ear.
"Look, I'm sure you're a great mech designer, but it's clear you haven't specialized in mechanics. I've got a much deeper foundation in this field."
"Huh, is that so?" Barakovski huffed as she tried to untangle herself from his grasp. Her movements only rubbed her slim body harder against Ves. "While I might not have received any tutoring from a Master, I can assure you that I've achieved some very good grades in my mechanics classes."
Ves shook his head. "This is the big leagues. We're not in class anymore. Have you attempted to develop your mechanics since your graduation?"
"Hmph! It's only a few months. Are you any better?"
"As a matter of fact, I've devoured three journeyman textbooks on my way to the Leemar System." Ves smirked. "And I haven't skimmed over them either. I understand the essence of all of them pretty well. If you'd just let me access the terminal, I can show you how much better our mech can perform."
Barakovski paused a little at that. Her expression still radiated skepticism. "You really claim to master not one, but three entire journeyman-level books?"
"Yup, and they're all credible books from credible authors. Does Takanata, Ulmer, Smith, James, Coventry and Lin ring a bell to you?"
While some of those surnames were common, every mech designer should be able to link them to the most renowned academics in mech design.
"I see." She said flatly as she reconsidered her stance. "Even I can't claim to master three journeyman books this fast. You're either boasting shamelessly or you may be an undiscovered genius."
"I prefer to think myself as the latter."
Barakovski giggled a little, surprising Ves. Even in such a tense situation, she displayed no fear. He even suspected that her anger had already subsided. She sighed a little and leaned back against his skinny chest.
"I don't know which one describes you best, but I suppose an apology is expected. I'm sorry for disregarding your perspective. If you really do claim to be a genius in mechanics, then there's little harm in letting you work on my design. I'm tired anyway. I'm not at my best anymore."
Truly, Ves enjoyed talking with intelligent people. Barakovski was the only person in their group who actually behaved as if they graduated from college instead of from a pigsty. He had more than enough of the overweening pride of these entitled Coalition citizens.
Deciding to trust her words, Ves let her go. Both of them quickly rose up from the ground and dusted off some of the dirt and grass that clung on their clothes. The other designers stopped arguing when they saw that Ves and Barakovski acted cordially.
"Did you give up, loser?"
"Be silent!" Barakovski barked and crossed her arms over her chest. "Look, we don't have the time to squabble like children. While my friend here was a little extreme, we've talked over our issues and I've decided to give him a chance."
"He'll ruin our design!"
She clapped her hands, causing them to quickly shut up. "Do I have to repeat what I said? Just shut up if you have nothing useful to say. I'm just as skeptical as you are, but this matter directly concerns our chances of passing this round. If Ves here is truly better than me in mechanics, then he deserves a chance to contribute. That goes for all of you as well. I've been negligent in considering your skills. If you've been holding out on us, now is the time to step forward and make suggestions."
Sadly, the entire crowd disappointed her by remaining silent. No one had the guts to claim they knew better than Barakovski. Besides Ves, it really appeared that none of their group specialized in mechanics. It truly was a bitter state of affairs when almost everyone in the group wanted to sit back and sleep their way through the qualifiers.
With her tentative blessing, Ves approached the terminal slowly. If anyone wanted to jump on him, he'd be ready. Fortunately, no one had the spine to contest their intentions, so Ves reached the controls without hindrance.
"There are a number of things that can be improved that I can point out immediately." Ves began to explain in the hope of getting everyone's acceptance. "First, the engines. While Barakovski chose to go with a conventional high-efficiency engine model, our mech's loadout is a bit light due to the inclusion of compressed armor. This gives us a bit more leeway with regards to capacity, which in my opinion is best spent on a more powerful engine model."
"That will make our design less efficient. A powerful engine burns more fuel." Barakovski pointed out.
"That's true, but remember what kind of battles our mech will face. We're sending our design off to a series of one-on-one duels. Do we really need to stuff so much endurance in our design when it's only expected to last one single encounter?"
"Our mech is built to outlast any opponent. There's no such thing as too much endurance."
"That's true, but I also think that there's a point where sacrificing power in favor of endurance isn't worth it anymore. Our light mech's top speed is below average for an endurance-focused design."
When Barakovski stopped arguing, Ves took that as permission to replace the engines. He chose to install a slightly more powerful engine model from the list of available components. Naturally, the new engines also added more weight, but the additional power was worth it as its top speed gained a substantial boost.
"What else do you want to change?"
Ves started reversing some of her decisions and worked methodically on areas that haven't been touched. Though Barakovski never admitted defeat, she tacitly allowed Ves to implement his own decisions. With his intervention, the integrity of their design gained a massive increase. The mech's performance slowly stabilized. The chance of suffering critical damage decreased due to his skillful work.
In the end, Ves monopolized the remaining hours of the clock. Even when Barakovski showed some discontent at some of his decisions, she kept letting his run amuck. He appreciated her inaction. Somehow, he even suspected she only maintained a negative attitude in order to placate the other group members. The others still did not trust Ves even if he implemented better solutions than anything they could come up with themselves.
"Five minutes remaining! Please finalize your designs!"
Ves already finished his design. After checking over the entire mech once again, he stepped back and gestured at Barakovski. "I'm done now. You can check over our entire design if you want."
She shook her head. "I've followed your every move. Nothing you've done is egregious enough for me to intervene. Besides, even if I want to change something, there's hardly any time left on the clock."
Indeed, as the counter ticked down, many groups had laid down their work. Not all of them were as relaxed. Some groups that suffered from extensive infighting kept fiddling with the terminal.
Even now Ves could see that a handful of groups hadn't even completed their designs. They were the abject failures in this round. He admired the LIT for coming up with such a deep and challenging test.
While working together as ten to come up with a single design sounded simple, the reality proved much different. The audience had a field day when arguments and fistfights broke out. All of the mech pilots and bodyguards sitting on the stands painfully looked away when these nerdy engineer types showed off their pathetic skills.
Only a few designers had a passable proficiency in self-defense and martial arts. Those who paid attention to their physical training dominated their groups, though whether their design skills was just as good as their fighting prowess was another matter.
If any groups understood the essence of this round and genuinely worked together as ten, Ves had no clue. At least he hadn't seen any enlightened teamwork among the groups surrounding his own.
His heart pumped faster as the duels commenced. Just like the last round, the projections sped up the simulations in order to save time. As Ves had worked intensively for a couple of hours straight, he had no energy left to concentrate on the action. The duels fast-forwarded so quickly that Ves hardly registered each win and loss.
"Impressive work." Barakovski praised as she sat down next to him. "It looks like we're winning most of our matches."
"Is that so?" His anticipation grew as he tried to register their mech's performance. It did manage to dance around almost all of the opponents it encountered. It only ran into a wall when it faced a flying opponent. "That's great! We're winning!"
In actual fact, their mech performed so well that it constantly climbed higher in the giant ranking projection. Half of the designers were too scared to watch the duels. Instead, they kept their eyes peeled on the ranking list. Every time some groups changed positions, the designers groaned or cheered.
The third round finally ended in a crushing victory for Ves and Barakovski's mech. While their light mech might be lacking in firepower and armor, its prodigious mobility and impressive endurance allowed it to keep teasing around any opponents it encountered. It only lost when matched against its hard counters, such as sprinters, fliers and marksmen. Any other mechs proved too sluggish to match the nimble mech.
"Yes! We've ranked 16 out of 500! We've qualified!" Ves cheered as he saw the final results. Their group only had to reach the top 50 to pass. Reaching the sixteenth rank meant they possessed ample strength to compete in the main event that started in the following day.
Barakovski suddenly glomped him in order to give him a quick hug. "Thank you! Without your help, our mech couldn't have lasted this long."
"No problem. I'm glad you gave me a chance."
Both of them quickly separated. Ves coughed a little. He hardly ever got close to a woman. Her closeness made him a bit uncomfortable.
"I guess we might encounter each other again in the days ahead."
Her smile disappeared. "You're right. I won't show any mercy if I end up on the opposite side."
"The same goes for me. Best of luck then."
They shook hands before parting the group. Now that the qualifiers came to a close, the designers had no reason to stick together with those they despised. Of their entire group, only Clark had the decency to thank him for pulling their group ahead. Missy simply huffed before running off and the other designers flocked to Barakovski, completely ignoring Ves.
"All in a day's work." He sighed and left the fields in order to meet up with Dietrich and Lucky.
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