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 The visit to Jannzi capped off a fantastic week for Ves. With orders for the Aurora Titan continuing to pour in, Ves believed he had done all he could do to maximize the exposure of his mech model. After achieving a sufficient amount of saturation in the public sphere, further interviews and publicity stunts wouldn't be of much use.

While most of the public heard of the Aurora Titan's existence, they still reserved their judgement on its design. Only through seeing it in action would they truly make up their minds on whether this eccentric mech possessed any actual merit!

In fact, as Ves boarded the Barracuda along with Lucky, Ketis and Gavin, his assistant handed him a datapad containing the first reports of what his first customers were doing with the first batch of mechs that had already rolled off NORA Consolidated's formidable production lines.

"This looks quite bad." Ves remarked.

"A lot of your customers overestimated their skills or the skills of their space knight specialists." Gavin shrugged as they secured themselves to their seats as the Barracuda lifted off from Dorum's spaceport. The corvette would quickly be joining the Greenfeather on their way back to Cloudy Curtain. "While the LMC and NORA Consolidated attached plenty of warnings to the Aurora Titan, the reality is that the majority of our customers are woefully ill-prepared to make use of such a machine."

The lack of mobility didn't seem so bad when viewing Jannzi Larkinson's brief performance in her Shield of Samar, but it was a lot more glaring in practice! In addition, the operation of the alien crystals and the polarizing module both required a lot of extra effort on the part of the mech pilots. It took Jannzi months to become proficient in their uses!

"I hope our companies have made it clear that the Aurora Titan comes with a steep learning curve. We don't take refunds and I don't want to see our customers begin to second-guess the Aurora Titan and cancel their outstanding orders."

"We're aware of how much this problem can blow up in our faces." Gavin said. "The LMC and NORA Consolidated already joined hands to tackle this problem and nip it in the bud before it grows into a major problem. Right now, we're rapidly developing a number of virtual and realspace training programs. The mech pilots of the other four show models are already being employed as trainers."

"All of that sounds good. I'm very pleased with the initiative being shown. Good work, Gavin."

The LMC did not require any intervention from Ves when it came to addressing problems of this nature. Phase 2 not only set the tone of the company's corporate culture, but also introduced many organizational changes that decentralized the different departments of the company.

In some sense, the organizational structure of the LMC resembled the way the Starlight Megalodon organized her own departments, if not as dysfunctional and prone to tribalism.

As much as Ves held some misgivings over this decentralized approach, it was the most appropriate one to take when it came to larger companies. As the LMC grew larger and larger, delegating more responsibilities became a necessity as Ves and the top management of the company couldn't possibly micromanage its massive day-to-day operations.

Therefore, the LMC transitioned to an organizational model where the departments gained more autonomy to make their own decisions. Supervisors at the top and inspectors rotating among the different departments of the company made sure that they did their jobs, but other than that Ves did not care too much about the direction they took.

At this point, Ves was not exactly the most active CEO of his company. His only two responsibilities was to lead the design team and pump out more mech designs.

"What about the pushback we received from Ansel? Has Professor Pendleton and his ilk made any notable moves against the Aurora Titan?"

"Not as such." Gavin shook his head. "So far, they've only been content with publishing nuances critiques of the Aurora Titan design. However, their reviews have a very wide reach in the Bright Republic's mech community. Although our marketing blitz has managed to overshadow the unflattering reviews for the moment, after the immediate excitement dies down the reviews will gain a lot more weight!"

Many people blindly followed the reviews from authoritative mech designers. The Ansel mech designers learned the hard way that it was best not to engage in a debate with Ves directly, so they decided to address the many shortcomings of the Aurora Titan design through numerous reviews and evaluations.

Ves could hardly rebut the criticisms directly. He'd have to go through the trouble of writing up a formal rebuttal which the mech publication could opt to publish it or throw it in the trash can.

"I believe plenty of customers will come to learn to appreciate the Aurora Titan in time." He said. "All the negative reviews only pay attention to the specs of my design. They aren't evaluating it holistically or mention anything about well a mech pilot is able to mesh with the mech. As long as word of mouth about the remarkable properties about my mechs are spreading, the reviews won't hold as much weight anymore."

The Blackbeak and the Crystal Lord models already underwent something similar, if to a lesser degree. The mechs of the LMC always turned out to be more remarkable than met the eye!

While many mech buyers put a lot of stock in mech reviews, they were also highly susceptible to the recommendations other people who boasted about their fantastic experiences with their new mechs!

"Has the Ansel crowd done any more than that?"

"We haven't seen any signs." Gavin said. "According to Marcella, you're protected by the halo of your recent achievements. It's not wise to attack you at your current peak."

"Are they planning on retaliating when the dust dies down?"

"Maybe. We're not sure. There isn't much point to it. Usually, the main way the Ansel mech designers puts down their competitors is to publish a competing design with the same mech concept!"

The mech designers who graduated from the Ansel University of Mech Design possessed so much confidence that they weren't afraid of direct competition!

If Professor Pendleton really wanted to hit back at Ves, then he would surely be designing his own version of a super-medium space knight at this very moment!

Nonetheless, Ves did not express any apprehension towards this possible threat! Instead, he grinned with excitement.

"The Aurora Titan can not be matched so easily. No one can replicate the special sauce I've added to my own mech designs. Even if the specs of the Aurora Titan's competitors are a little better, the piloting experience will still differ by a drastic margin!"

Competition was the prevailing rule of the game. Mech designers constantly competed against each other. Nothing forbid any mech designer to compete directly against the LMC's products.

Perhaps any other mech designer would be shaking in their boots at the thought of publishing a fantastic new mech design, only to be overshadowed by a superior mech of the same type a couple of months later!

Heck, the competing mech model didn't even need to take that long to enter the market. Corporate espionage allowed a competitor to get wind of what another mech designer was designing early. As long as the competitor worked harder and better, they could publish their design first!

Although these kinds of shenanigans took place a lot of times if the sensational stories in the mech publications were true, none of it was forbidden. As long as a competitor didn't get caught with engaging in corporate espionage, they could publish all the competing mech designs they wanted!

As Ves kept himself up to date on the market reception of the Aurora Titan, the Barracuda and the Greenfeather quickly arrived at Cloudy Curtain. Ves, Lucky, Ketis and Gavin departed from his personal corvette after landing at the Mech Nursery.

Ketis took Lucky and quickly ran off, leaving Ves and Gavin to their business.

Since he had just returned to the company, Ves wanted to check by his office to see if anything new had been placed on his desk. He entered the headquarters and rode the elevator to the top. Once there, he encountered a surprising old face.

"Carlos!"

His old friend and classmate finally returned to the LMC after the Mech Corps released him from his draft!

Ves and Carlos immediately hugged each other before separating and taking in each other's appearances.

"You look a lot more formidable than last time, Ves." Carlos said with a slightly hoarse but impressed voice. "Wow, so this is what becoming a Journeyman will do to you!"

"You look different as well, Carlos. You're much more fit and mature. I see the war has left a heavy mark on you as well."

Carlos wore simple work clothing while sporting a plain buzz cut. His skin had tanned by quite a bit and it appeared he also seemed to be a little jumpier than usual.

Most notably, one of his arms wasn't as tanned as the other!

"That arm.. Is it cloned?"

"Yep." Carlos shrugged. "It's nothing compared to what you've been through. I heard you got shot in the heart on Bentheim and that your entire chest needed to be replaced."

Ves chuckled a bit. "Yeah. I enjoyed some of the best medical treatment in the Republic, so hardly any mark is left behind. The doctors even made sure to match my cloned skin's pigment with my original skin!"

The disparity in the quality of their treatments reflected their importance to the Republic. While Ves enjoyed the attention and favor of Flashlight, the Tovar Family and Professor Ventag, Carlos had been left on his own!

As a low-ranking Novice Mech Designer, his status among all the drafted mech designers was firmly at the bottom! This made Carlos no different from cannon fodder in the eyes of the brass.

From the glimpses of haunting gazes that Ves sensed in the eyes of his friend, Carlos must have endured a lot of traumas during the war!

"The LMC will always welcome you back, Carlos." Ves gently said and invited him inside his office. "Let's go inside. You're welcome to share your story if you want."

"It's nothing special, really." Carlos wearily said. "I spent most of my time during the war assigned to supervise a maintenance division at a landbound mech regiment deployed to the frontlines. It was a very hectic three years."

Having gone through a lot of dangerous encounters himself, Ves recognized that Carlos didn't want to bring up painful memories.

Ves quickly changed his tack. "That's fine. Just know that Cloudy Curtain has always been very far away from the action. It's the perfect place for you to recuperate and integrate back into society."

His parents chose to settle on Cloudy Curtain for a very good reason that Ves only realized after he returned from the war itself.

The planet was very tranquil! While it was conveniently positioned close to the Bentheim System, it was also an unimportant, rural backwater where nothing exciting happened!

To people haunted by the war such as his parents, himself or Carlos, spending their placid days on this underdeveloped planet was a great way to heal from the mental scars left behind by the war!

As Ves tentatively managed to engage Carlos in casual conversation, he carefully asked an important question.

"How far have you progressed in your mech design career? Have you learned a lot."

"I have." Carlos nodded with a bit more energy. "My recent improvement in learning ability quickly caught the attention of more senior mech designers. They assigned a lot of reading material to me over the years! While I don't claim to equal your knowledge, I'm sure I can be of use to you now!"

"That's good to hear. Have you found your specialty yet? Deciding upon the basis of your design philosophy is an important step to take for a mech designer."

Carlos tentatively nodded. "I've almost settled on an idea, although I'm not entirely comfortable with it yet. I keep coming back to it despite my reluctance to embrace the idea."

"Are you willing to describe your potential design philosophy?"

"Alright, but please don't laugh. Simply said, my design philosophy revolves around big guns. There's just something about unleashing powerful physical impacts and explosions at range that fascinate me. If I ever design my own mechs, I want them to be armed with the biggest and most powerful rifles and cannons I can hook up to their frames!"

"That is.. certainly a very specific idea." Ves answered while doing his best not to look nonplussed. "If that is where your passion leads to, then you should pursue it without hesitation."

"That's the thing.. I don't know if it is something I want to focus on for the entirety of my mech design career. What if I regret the decision?"

"Only you can resolve the doubts in your heart, Carlos. Take all the time you need. I'll be waiting."

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