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 Now that Ves took care of his immediate business, he turned his attention to a project that had been on his mind for a while.

"It's time to design my fifth original mech."

This would be a milestone for Ves. As long as he completed this project to the MTA and the market's satisfaction, he met all of the conditions to be recognized as a Journeyman!

With his thirtieth birthday within reach, Ves needed to design his next mech at a brisk pace in order to earn the much-coveted achievement of advancing to Journeyman while young!

"Mech designers who are older than thirty aren't young anymore in the eyes of the MTA." He muttered to himself.

Although Ves and everyone else already regarded him as a de facto Journeyman, the MTA did not compromise at all when it came to enforcing their rules on others. If they say a Journeyman needed to design at least five original mechs, then they better have at least that much designs under their belt before they applied for recognition!

"If the MTA isn't so insistent on this point, I wouldn't be so much in a hurry to finish this project!"

The most important implication of his lack of time was that the quality of his next design would not be as good as his previous design.

Aside from the lack of time, Ves had also been deprived of a crucial advantage that helped elevate the quality of the Aurora Titan design by a substantial degree!

"I won't have the benefit of Professor Ventag by my side this time!"

They collaborated on only a single joint design project. Now that they published the Aurora Titan design and put the model on the market, their cooperation came to an end.

Ves deeply benefited from collaborating with a Senior Mech Designer! Not only did Professor Ventag act as a sounding board for his ideas, the Senior also contributed substantially to the Aurora Titan's internal design!

"If that isn't enough, gaining access to his company's expansive library of component licenses is a massive convenience!"

Now that Ves returned to designing a mech on his own, he no longer enjoyed any of these advantages.

"The only two mech designers I have on hand is Ketis and Carlos. They won't be much help to me at this point."

While Ketis made a lot of strides over the past few months, she still had ways to go before she met the standard of becoming a contributing designer in any of the LMC's major design projects.

As for Carlos... Ves slowly felt the onset of a headache as he thought about how extensively the war had changed his friend.

Right now, Carlos took his advice and went back to the Rittersberg region to stay with his parents for a time. Ves hoped that returning to his familiar childhood home would put some perspective in the man.

Privately, Ves already made some preparations to write Carlos off. If his friend couldn't let go of his envy towards Ves, then it was best that they went their separate ways.

"Time changes everything, and not always for the better."

He put his two subordinate mech designers out of his mind for now. Right now, he was back on his own when it came to designing another mech.

"My fourth original design was a grand project and a marvel of innovation."

Ves wanted to make his fifth original mech design an innovative work as well, but he had much fewer means to work with this time. Without Professor Ventag and more important a powerful spiritual fragment from Qilanxo, it was inevitable that his fifth original design would disappoint him in many ways.

"It's as if I enjoyed a taste of heaven before descending back to reality!"

He only managed to reach that height with assistance. On his own, he could never jump high enough to enter the gates of heaven!

The only way to design a mech as good as the Aurora Titan was to keep improving himself until he became capable enough to make up for the shortfall!

Therefore, Ves did not wish to place too much expectations for his upcoming design project. "My next mech has to be good enough to uphold my reputation, but that is all. It doesn't have to sell thousands of copies a year like the Blackbeak and the Crystal Lord. It also doesn't have to be as innovative and groundbreaking as the Aurora Titan either. Perhaps my fifth design will share the most in common with my third original design.

The short-lived and underutilized Enduring Protector design was very different from his other original designs. Developed specifically for the Flagrant Vandals, only a handful of copies had been made before the circumstances at Aeon Corona VII quickly made them irrelevant.

Ves always regretted that his Enduring Protector never received the opportunity to fulfill its purpose. It never got the opportunity to fight back against the Vesians in the hazardous red zone around the Starlight Megalodon where the breakdown effect was the strongest.

"It would be great to design a mech that doesn't have to appeal to the market."

One of the most enjoyable aspects about designing the Enduring Protector was that Ves only needed to please the Flagrant Vandals. It was a lot easier to design a mech for a single client than to attempt to make it as appealable as possible to a wide variety of potential buyers.

With all the renown that Ves and the LMC had earned, perhaps completing a private commission wasn't out of reach anymore!

Ves summoned Gavin to his office.

"You called, boss?"

"Yes. Let's say I'm in the mood to accept a private commission to design a mech for a specific client. Has the LMC received any inquiries of that nature?"

"We have. Not a lot, and they're mostly fishing attempts. The majority of the people who sent these requests to us have approached hundreds of different mech companies. To them, it doesn't matter how many mech designers they annoy. If at least one of them accepts their request, then they're already happy!"

"I see no value in working for undiscerning clients like these. If I am about to design a mech that is tailored to a specific client, then they better be sure about what I can bring to the table!"

A client who didn't care about which mech designer fulfilled their request would never fully appreciate his work. Ves wanted his work to have meaning, and to do that he needed to make sure they fulfilled their purpose.

The case where he poured his heart and soul into designing the Enduring Protector, only for it to become irrelevant should never happen again! Not if Ves had anything to say about the matter!

This time, Ves had the luxury of choosing his own clients and commissions. Out of all the requests he received, some of them should meet his standards, right?

"Tell me about the most promising or the most meaningful commissions. They don't have to offer the most money or result in the most mechs."

"Well, we've received three possible commissions that are both interesting and promising." Gavin said. "Given what I understand about your personality and your standards, only these three options are worth your time."

"Okay, then. Let's hear it. Tell me about the commissions."

"The first commission is to design a mech for a mech athlete. Not just any mech athlete, but one with prior ties to our company. Do you remember back in the day you designed virtual mechs? The team captain of the Mosville Fireflies fell in love with your DarkSpear virtual design."

It took a second for Ves to refresh his memory. "I remember. Jarle Brenthill. We sponsored him to showcase my old DarkSpear assassin mech in Iron Spirit. That was a long time ago."

"It seems like Jarle Brenthill fell in love with your design style. He wants to commission a dueling mech designed by you. He specializes in piloting landbound light skirmishers, but he's okay if you incorporate some elements of the DarkSpear design into the commissioned mech."

"So he basically wants a single custom mech?"

"Yep. Mr. Brenthill doesn't plan on adding another light skirmisher to the roster of the Mosville Fireflies."

That basically meant that Ves would be designing a mech for a single person. In other words, a custom job in the most traditional sense.

Even so, as long as Jarle Brenthill made use of the mech in a serious capacity, it qualified as a serious mech design that enabled Ves to meet the MTA's quota.

Gavin was right. Ves became intrigued by this commission. Even though its scale was on the small side, Ves felt that it might be helpful in his development if he branched out to designing a dueling mech for a professional mech athlete.

"The Mosville Fireflies are big on Bentheim. If you are credited with the design of the mech used by the team captain to crush his opponents in the mech arena, then your reputation will definitely soar!" His assistant enthusiastically gushed. "While designing commercial mechs is all well and good, it's mostly geared towards the more serious mech insiders. Your reputation hasn't penetrated into the massive audience of the mech games as of yet! Fulfilling this commission can help you break new ground!"

"It can also backfire on me." Ves noted with much less enthusiasm. "Designing mechs for the market is difficult because I have to appeal to many mech pilots. However, the advantage is that a single bad mech pilot in the wrong place and the wrong time won't be able to do much damage to my reputation. For every bad mech pilot, there is at least one good mech pilot who is able to showcase the potential of my products."

"I don't think you have to worry about incompetence, boss. We're talking about the Mosville Fireflies here! Jarle Brenthill was already good enough to become the team captain when he worked with us on promoting the DarkSpear virtual model, but he's even better now that he's had more seasons under his belt!"

Perhaps a bit paradoxically, the mech games still took place during the war. Even though much of the Bright Republic became consumed by the war, the citizens still needed their regular dose of entertainment. The mech games was by far the most popular sport in the state!

If the Bright Senate ever tried to abolish the mech games during wartime, at least half of the Brighters would rise up in rebellion! If the Vesians came and promised to restore the mech games, then the most ardent fans of the sport would definitely defect!

This extreme example showcased the importance of the mech games in the lives of many average citizens. The Bright Republic was no exception to this either. Practically every state hosted their own professional mech dueling circuits to please the masses!

As one of the mainstays in the Bentheim duelling circuit, Ves knew very well that the Mosville Fireflies possessed a lot of reach. While their hometown of Mosville on Bentheim was their strongest bulwark, they attracted fans from every corner of the Bright Republic, including Cloudy Curtain!

For Ves to design a custom mech for the team captain was to undertake a very major responsibility. If Ves screwed it up or if Jarle simply didn't pilot his new machine well enough, then both of them would suffer the consequences!

While Ves normally loved to gamble every now and then, the stakes were so high now that he visibly hesitated whether he should take this opportunity.

"Tell me about the other two commissions." Ves requested.

If the first commission was to design a mech for Mr. Brenthill, then the other commissions should be interesting as well!

Gavin outlined the second commission. "We've received an offer from a basic mech academy in the Green Nebula region. The Astreya Mech Academy has noticed a trend where many of their mech cadets are piloting your Young Blood and Old Soul virtual mechs in their free time. The teachers have even had some success in incorporating those virtual mechs in their simulator lessons!"

"I'm very glad to hear my virtual mechs remain relevant."

He designed the two virtual mechs as training mechs for young mech cadets. It gratified him to hear that many mech cadets still polished their skills with his two old designs.

"The teachers aren't content with working with virtual mechs. They believe they can achieve better results if they incorporate your physical mechs into their classes! They want you to adapt the Young Blood and Old Soul designs to make them practical and workable to be put into use in reality!"

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