Ves toed a dangerous line. He worked faster than ever before using a machine he never touched. If he tripped up even once, he'd fall down the precipice. He made risky maneuvers left and right, all in the name of maximizing performance in the least amount of time.
"I can feel my skills are integrating. There's no better way for me to master my new gains than to push them to the limit."
Despite being one step away from ruination, Ves felt truly alive at that moment. He was made for this. His performance went past a hundred percent as he reached a peculiar state of zen. Only his massively empowered concentration allowed him to enter this special state. Under this remarkable influence, he worked as furiously as a ritually empowered demon, which even managed to attract the attention of the commentators.
"Who is that foreigner? He's working remarkably fast! While he's a little sloppier than the talents from Leemar, he's crushing them in terms of decisiveness!"
Some of the audience even started to divert their attention to Ves. While he had no impressive background or reputation to speak of in the Coalition, his frantic pace still marked him out as an unusual contender.
"According to my files, this dark horse here is Ves Larkinson, a native from the Bright Republic. He doesn't have any achievements to speak of. He graduated from a third-rate university from a third-rate state with average grades. The only two things to note is that he founded an independent mech workshop without outside investment and that a mysterious charity from the New Rubarth Empire has gifted him a couple of lastgen production licenses."
Everything the spectators heard so far failed to impress them at all. Only the involvement of the New Rubarth Empire took them aback. Even if only a tiny and obscure influence from the massive first-rate superstate took interest in Ves, the news was still sufficient to shock the crowd.
Under the rule of the ruthless Emperor, those who lived and thrived under his rule had to possess a certain amount of strength. If not, their wealth and possessions would have been snatched a long time ago. It had to be said that even the most banal powers from the New Rubarth Empire possessed enough might to crush the Komodo Star Sector a dozen times over.
Elsewhere on the stage, Barakovski's smile turned intrigued. "Interesting. Seems like my meeting with him was fortuitous. I always knew there was something fishy about him. The Bright Republic can't possibly nurture a mech designer like him. If there's the shadow of New Rubarth behind him, it all makes sense."
Meanwhile, Patricia's eyes remained tranquil as she steadily built up her design. She took no special note of her former classmate from the Republic. The only thing she had in mind was her design. Her subdued way of working drew no eyes from the audience even if her fingers operated the QuickForge system in a masterful way.
There were also some on the stage who treated the news contemptuously. One graduate from Leemar snorted offhandedly when he heard the commentary. "Truly worthy of the Rubarthans to invest in a random ant from the most backward place in the star sector. Hah, if that influence is truly legitimate, then we'd all heard about it by now."
Though Ves attracted a brief spike of attention, the short-lived excitement died down quickly. In the eyes of the insiders, he was merely a talent who got a lucky break. Whether he could transform the gifts he received into his own strength was another matter. Many dazzling talents who graduated from the LIT and the other elite schools of the Coalition possessed much more substantial track records. Their many accomplishments awed the people present.
The heritage of the various partners in the Friday Coalition could not be belittled. Despite their intense rivalry, they unceasingly produced successful talents year after year. Only a comprehensive education system could pump out an unceasing amount of talents. The Coalition also nurtured them properly by putting them under the wings of more experienced designers.
"Speaking of remarkable designers, who do you favor?"
"Is that even a valid question? There's only one person on stage who deserves to be called an emperor of their generation. If you lived under a rock for the past couple of years, then lo and behold the radiance of Carter Gauge."
No one disputed the commentator's assertion. Even the illustrious household names such as Mortimer Presutti and Cynthia Barakovski had to bend the knee in front of a genuine powerhouse like Carter Gauge.
"As a descendant of the ruling Gauge Dynasty, there is no question Carter will inherit the role of chief mech designer from his father."
The Gauge Dynasty was the strongest partner of the Friday Coalition. They were the first to arrive at the desolate Komodo Star Sector. With their innumerable assets and power, they blazed a trail and colonized the juiciest star systems. If not for the entries of rival powers like the precursors of the Konsu Clan and Hexadric Hegemony, the Gauge Dynasty might have firmly grasped the entire star sector.
Nowadays, their immense strength and unruly behavior often invited universal condemnation. Though the Dynasty could overpower any other partner, even they had to halt if the rest of the Coalition combined together in opposition.
Militarily, the Gauge Dynasty unquestionably occupied the throne. The Konsu Clan was only a distance second. The almost evenly-matched Vermeer Group hounding at their heels, not content with their third-place position.
In comparison, the Carnegie Group's core strength did not even come close. The Group pursuit an economic and diplomatic path to dominance. Their industrial power matched the Gauge Dynasty while their connections spread beyond the star sector. No one belittled the Carnegie Group even if their strength was fairly weak on paper.
"That is interesting! Carter Gauge is disregarding the usual strategies and is calmly designing a medium mech for the late-game! If anyone else is doing the same, I'd call them a loser. If it's Carter, then he surely has a sinister plan in mind."
"His mech will surely be a peerless killing machine, though I wonder how he will gather enough coins. Even if the spawn rate increases bit-by-bit, it still doesn't give him a lot of opportunities to catch up. His mech will also be outplayed by the higher ranking pilots."
There was a remarkable disparity between the top ranking pilots and the ones who ranked beyond the hundreds. Those who dwelled in the bottom ranks still possessed a certain amount of strength, or else they wouldn't be present. Still, they've all exhausted their potential, so it was incredibly difficult for them to grow stronger.
Carter's arrogance gave him so much confidence that he was willing to kneecap himself with a trash pilot. It was as if he taunted every other powerhouse on stage that he could beat them even with his hands tied behind his back.
Despite everyone's praise, the powerhouses among the designers were not convinced of his strength. Even Ves who occasionally heard about Carter's accomplishments did not shrink back. Even if he admitted that Carter likely possessed a deeper foundation, he still wished to clash head-on against the Coalition's best.
As two hours went by, his mech slowly came into fruition. Ves spontaneously adjusted his design when he learned new tricks. Though he still pursued speed, he also wanted to bestow his mech with a minimum amount of self-protection.
"We have our first submission! Who is it?!"
"It's a mech designed by Alyssa Fill, a guest from the Myari Seven Stars! That's not even a proper third-rate state! It's only a fourt-rate minor power!"
"Now that is certainly exciting! Can this quick little rabbit snatch enough coins before the wolves are released on the battlefield?"
Alyssa literally designed a small and nimble rabbit mech. Among the standard beast types, the rabbit shape offered an unsurpassed combination of speed and leaping power, though its agility wasn't anything to slouch at. However, she rushed through the design and fabrication of her mech with excessive haste. Whether the mech could match even fifty percent of its specs if it had enough time for development was still in question.
The bottom floor of the combined arena space came to life. The lights revealed a temperate arboreal forest interspersed with plains and hills. All of the terrain consisted of real dirt and real trees. Leemar spared no effort in making the competition as realistic as possible.
Once Alyssa's rabbit mech entered the battlefield, a large and powerful signal engulfed the modified cockpit. The remote controls of the mech engaged. Hidden several hundred meters below ground, five hundred simulation pods rested silently as the pilots inside waited to be called up. One of the pods lit up, signifying a successful connection.
"He's in! Richard Lovell is in! The top cadet of the Abelard Academy has taken control of the rabbit mech! Look at the movements of the mech. He's testing out the integrity of his new acquisition carefully."
"Only rarely do we see a mech enter the battlefield at the second hour. It should be cruel and unusual punishment to subject a top cadet pilot to such an awfully rushed mech. Just look at its left forepaw. It's practically falling apart already!"
The entire crowd derived a cruel sense of satisfaction every time a talented mech pilot got paired with an absolutely awful trash mech. This was one of the competition format's greatest attractions.
Genius pilots got paired with trash mechs while trash pilots got paired with elite mechs. The struggles between the two wildly different pairings always resulted in impressive fireworks.
"The rabbit mech is hopping away now! Lovell is sniffing after coins! A pity that for a beast type that excels at sensors, Alyssa only installed the most rudimentary sensor system in the rabbit's head. Those large floppy ears are completely wasted as antennas. The star cadet is forced to scramble blindly for coins in this dense and tricky forest!"
Everyone laughed at the spectacle. Rabbit mechs functioned as the scouts in any organized group of mechs. They outperformed humanoid light mechs in that regard alone, though they paid for it by faring worse in a head-on battle.
Still, Alyssa spent all of her time on making her mech functional. She only spent a couple of minutes installing the simplest sensor system, which happened to malfunction right now. Lovell was forced to rely on his visual sensors which massively cut back on his detection range.
Perhaps pressured by Alyssa's daring speed, a couple of designers pulled the trigger a short time later. Six shoddily produced mechs joined Alyssa's rabbit in the battlefield. Just as the elite pilots engaged the controls, three of the mechs instantly malfunctioned.
"Amazing! Three of them suffered catastrophic failure! One locked both legs, another can only actuate about ten percent of its motive power while only while the last one blew up directly!"
"The other three mechs are not faring any better. While they can still move around, their integrity is even worse than Alyssa's rabbit mech. They'll simply collapse at the first blow!"
"The early bird gets the worm. Who cares if they can stand up in a fight? They all entered the battlefield before the first fighting mechs arrive. As long as they gather a couple of coins, they've accomplished their mission."
With a significant chunk of the top pilots taken away, Ves rushed to complete his mech. He cut back on a couple of luxuries such as a sophisticated sensor system and an improved energy transmission system. Only the essentials mattered.
During this sensitive period, only a few more mech designers dared to submit their rushed designs. Most encountered setbacks immediately upon entry in the battlefield. They submitted their mechs way too early, and suffered widespread scorn from the entire star sector.
A mech designer that failed to judge his own work correctly had no place in the upper echelons. They were never going to live down this moment for the rest of their careers. The audience instead lamented the wasted opportunities for the elite cadets to showcase their skills.
In the meantime, Ves finalized his design. He took an incredible two-and-a-half hours to complete a somewhat functioning light mech. It was one of his first works to date where he fully utilized his newly gained Journeyman skills. Gradually, a light shone in his eyes.