The first couple of days since the start of the talks passed uneasily. Everyone involved in the beginning stages stormed out of the conference room in anger or frustration as they failed to come to a common understanding on the first items on the agenda.
Sunny Kester Hills became wracked by a cloud of tension and uncertainty as neither side managed to make a breakthrough on anything.
Still, this was just the start. It wasn't so easy to force the Brighters and Vesians to agree on anything. Just getting them to sit in the same room without drawing out their weapons was already a win in everyone's eyes.
Unfortunately, some people noticed that he spent some time with Venerable Foster in the first day. Secretary Lowe dropped by his quarters just as he turned in for the night after a fruitless day where he tried to avoid Venerable Foster's odious company.
The expert pilot still wanted to confront him for his alleged misdeeds against her comrades.
"Secretary Lowe, what brings you here?"
"I've arrived with instructions for you, Mr. Larkinson." The diplomatic aide responded. "You have been spending time with Venerable Foster, correct?"
Ves narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "I have, though not entirely willingly. Are you aware that we once stood opposite to each other on the battlefield?"
"That is quite clear to both the senator and myself. While we are aware that you do not enjoy the best relations with the Vesian expert pilot, it is better to keep talking with her than doing nothing. In fact, Senator Tovar expressly instructed me to tell you that while you don't need to become friends with her, it would be beneficial if you manage to remain on speaking terms with her.
"You do know that she hates my guts, right?"
"Enemies don't have to set aside their difference to be on speaking terms, you know." Secretary Lowe replied in an airy tone. "The art of diplomacy also encompasses methods to smile at your enemy even if you wish for their demise."
"If you can't tell, I'm not versed in those methods. I'm a mech designer first and foremost. Give me a mech and I can tear it down and point out all of its weaknesses."
Lowe shook his head. "You will not be able to demonstrate your technical prowess during the peace talks. Professor Ventag is already responsible for matters concerning mechs. We have already explained our expectations for you. Make nice with the Vesians. If you can't manage that, just keep talking to them. The Vesians are very stubborn and predisposed against us. However, they've been invited by Prince Colchester to take part in the talks because they are more open-minded than many other Vesians."
Ves smiled sardonically at that remark. "I can hardly tell, considering how abundantly clear Venerable Foster makes her dislike for me known to all."
"Just like you, she is not a diplomat. None of us holds her to a higher standard in that regard. It is not that beneficial to have a delegation be made up of political and diplomatic animals. Sometimes bringing along a blunt object such as Venerable Foster can deliver the prince a pleasant surprise. She's a wildcard, just like you. There is no attaché in our delegation that is more fitting than you to interact with her. Your shared history with her might even prove to be an advantage!"
In other words, both delegations wanted to play their respective wildcards against each other and see what resulted from the ensuing confrontation. If a fight broke out, well, at least they tried. But the hope of making a breakthrough and coming to some sort of accord, however fragile and tenuous it may be, gave both sides ample enough reason to encourage Ves and Foster to continue their interaction.
"How are the peace talks going?" Ves asked, wishing to divert to another topic rather than continue to hammer on the previous point. He had already resigned himself to meeting Venerable Foster once again. "I heard that they're not getting off to a good start."
Lowe shook his head in regret. "It is not an entirely unexpected outcome. Both sides need an outlet to vent their grievances. How can any gathering between Brighters and Vesians proceed without issue? Harsh feelings and clashing egos may be posing a hindrance right now, but the most surprising results may be achieved from heated moments. We are unlike soulless bots who can come to a consensus in a matter of nanoseconds, but our irrationality is also our greatest hope of temporarily reconciling two diametrically-opposed states."
Ves found that to be an interesting perspective. It made sense to him in a strange fashion, though it was easier said than done to achieve the impossible. It felt too much like the delegates just threw random stuff at a wall to see what stuck.
"I will try my best." He promised in a perfunctory manner even if he did not hold out much hope for a breakthrough. "I don't think Venerable Foster is eager for small talk with me, though."
"You don't need to be concerned that she will refuse to talk. If our expectations are correct, she will be receiving similar instructions to yours. Prince Colchester wants to establish peace just as much as Senator Tovar."
It would have been great if they could gather in the same room and hash out an agreement in a single afternoon. Both leaders and statesmen shared the same goal, after all.
Yet this kind of backroom deal would never be accepted by the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom. They at least needed the illusion that their interests had been taken into account when forging the deal. This was why both sides brought an extensive collection of attachés.
While establishing ties between the two sides was all fine and dandy, their main purpose in taking part was to bring any agreed-upon peace treaty back to their states and convince everyone to abide by the terms.
Someone respected like Venerable Foster would be able to display her true value then. Her identity as a young and rising expert pilot gave her a lot of clout, even if she seemed a little too impulsive to make deft use of it at the moment.
After Secretary Lowe passed on the messages that Ves needed to hear, he departed the quarters.
Ves idly stared at a wall in contemplation. How could he possibly stay on speaking terms with Venerable Foster? He doubted that all of the advice provided by Lord Javier applied in this case.
"Even if she's a baroness, she's no typical stuck-up Vesian noble."
Her bearing made it abundantly clear that she considered herself as a soldier of the Mech Legion first.
"Well, I'll see what happens tomorrow."
As Ves went to bed, he began to think back on his current design project. Even though a couple of days had passed, he still hadn't managed to overcome the most pressing issue concerning his vision for his next creation.
Not every mech concept was viable. Some mech designers commonly came up with several ideas and picked the most practical and profitable of them out of a selection of choices.
Should he give up his intention to design a defensive space knight and put the idea aside in favor of another idea?
"I'm not under any obligation to insist on designing a space knight. Every burden is brought about by myself. Only I'm to blame for becoming stuck with this problem."
Attempting to design a mech that recreated some of Qilanxo's majesty got his passion fired up like nothing else, but practicality continued to stand in his way.
Ves felt an enormous amount of frustration at this impassable hindrance. It was as if he possessed urges but no outlets to release them! How did other mech designers deal with this issue?
"They'll probably give up." He guessed. "An unattainable dream isn't worth pursuing when you'll only ruin yourself if you vainly try to pursue it. Every mech designer wants to design a great mech. That doesn't mean they have the funding and means to do so. Many of us aren't in a position where we can ignore practical constraints!"
Rationally speaking, he should have given up on the idea to design a defensive space knight that paid homage to Qilanxo as soon as he learned how unfeasible it was. Incorporating genuine shield technology was out of the question. Polarizing technology offered a more viable alternative, but even then it took up way too much space to fit comfortably in any medium mech design.
Yet Ves did no wish to give up. His passion kept burning and he would hate to put it out by abandoning this mech concept. Some part in him urged him to continue to work on his current idea. If he succeeded in designing a workable mech along these lines, the magnitude of his achievement might even be enough to propel him directly into the ranks of Journeymen!
"This joint design project is a turning point in my career. How can I walk back from the challenge for fear of practical concerns?"
Logic and emotion clashed against each other, and emotion won out. What was best for Ves did not necessarily match with what he really wanted. He believed that if he ever turned away from this idea, he wouldn't be able to regain his motivation which had reached its height right now.
"Sometimes, a mech designer has to lay down their foot and pursue their passion despite the entire galaxy being arrayed against it. There must be some way of overcoming the problem."
The polarizing module simply took up too much mass and volume. I was too big compared to the capacity of a regular space knight. Trying to fit such a component into a mech without sufficient space was like trying to stuff his head into a sock.
He took a step back and contemplated the problem at its most basic level.
"My head is too big and my sock is too small. What can I do to make my head fit into my sock?"
Two answers immediately came to mind. The first answer was to shrink is head.
Ves chuckled a bit at the thought. "That's impossible."
His head, and the polarizing module for that matter, came in a given set of dimensions. The developers of the polarizing module already tried their best to minimize their volume and mass. There was no way Ves could ever shrink that even further.
Therefore, he moved on to the second answer. That was to enlargen his sock to a size that would just be able to slip over his head.
That sounded fine and dandy in this funny metaphor, but when Ves came back to his mech concept, that basically meant increasing the size of the mech frame!
"The space knight doesn't have to be as large of a heavy mech, but it will already be well beyond the boundaries of a medium mech by the time it is able to fit the polarizing module!"
Ves performed a series of mental calculations in his mind. He estimated that his space knight needed to surpass the size of a regular space knight that already pushed against the limits of the medium weight class by about twenty percent.
This essentially made his proposed mech concept at least twenty percent oversized and overweight!
"It's essentially an obese medium mech!"
From a conventional perspective, a fat mech did not offer any good performance. A medium mech that was too large and heavy didn't possess the mobility to dodge incoming fire and didn't possess the resilience to withstand it head-on for long.
Yet... did this rule of thumb actually apply in this case?
"I automatically thought it does out of habit, but is that really the correct assumption to apply in this situation?"
Even if he designed fat medium mech, did that really detract from core functionality of his space knight? From the start, it was mainly intended to serve a defensive role. A mech did not depend too much on mobility anyhow.
The real question was whether the tradeoff in mobility would be worth the gains in defensive ability.
"Cost is also a major issue." Ves recognized. "A mech that's twenty percent larger is at least twenty percent more expensive. Will anyone still be willing to buy one? I have to offer a compelling reason for people to buy my mech. What can my mech do that most defensive knights can't do as well?"