The perpetually-cloudy skies yellowed and redded as the local sun began to fade over the horizon.
In the idyllic Cloud Estate, a group of children giggled as they huddled around and played with a pair of cats.
Lucky purred as a bunch of girls caressed his bone-white smooth exterior.
Clixie attracted a bit more attention due to the fact that she possessed actual fur.
Meanwhile, a pair of lovers comfortably leaned against each other as they sat at the porch in front of their mansion.
"I love it here." Gloriana sighed. "There's no pressure at all, unlike back at home. Your Larkinson relatives are so relaxed around each other."
"That's because most of the Larkinsons who reside here are either children or old dogs who have seen their fair share of battle." Ves replied while caressing her dainty hands. "We Larkinsons have learned early on that peace, tranquility and family are the best ways to mend the wounds of war."
"If only more families adopted the ways of the Larkinsons."
"To be honest, I'm not sure if we can sustain this tradition. Our Larkinson Family used to be well-off, but not extravagantly wealthy. There is little point in competing for money and resources when the prize pot is small."
Gloriana curiously turned towards her lover. "You're afraid your family will abandon this tradition?"
"I am. Peace and tranquility will be a thing of the past, and part of the blame lies on me. Already, many Larkinsons who used to spend their idle days in peace have returned to work. I've presented them with a new future, one that offers more than serving the Mech Corps or running the modest holdings of the Larkinson Estate."
"So what you're truly worried about is that your relatives will give up their happiness in order to pursue greater prosperity."
"Prosperity can make people happy as well." Ves spoke. "It's just that I don't want the Larkinson Family to transform into a noble house where competition is rife and backstabbing is not unheard of. That's not who we are, yet every day I see my family taking another step towards this future."
He cherished the Larkinson Family he grew up with. Their core identity used to center around serving the Bright Republic.
Now, those simple days were beginning to fade. Almost every Larkinson found something to do and something to chase after. Parents already started to encourage their children to join the LMC or one of the mech forces under his control.
Less and less Larkinson mech pilots enlisted into the Mech Corps. While joining the military was a noble decision, it didn't earn them that much money. Only the expert pilots among them enjoyed special treatment.
As for the regular mech pilots among the Larkinsons, they fought and died over abstract ideals.
Now that a more attractive and more rewarding alternative became available, who wouldn't want to pass up the opportunity to join an outfit run by a Larkinson?
Gloriana smiled and kissed his cheek. "I think it will be fine as long as you take control and insist on preserving the family's traditions. The Larkinsons are pretty much eating from the palm of your hand at this point. They have no choice but to take your wishes into account."
"That's true." Ves tiredly sighed. "Let's discuss something else. Have you thought about the four variants that the government wants us to design?"
"Three out of four variants will take a lot of time to design. It won't be like the Holy Soldier where you just made some cosmetic changes. The deviances are so great that we need to overhaul the internals and replace existing component models with other component models."
Both of them shared their thoughts on the four variants.
The Prideful Soldier was the simplest to design. Ves merely had to make the mech a little more affordable and tweak its aura. The goal was to offer a more fitting choice for gangs and other underground organizations that disliked the base model's aura.
The Militant Soldier had to be designed according to military standards. This meant that Ves needed to replace commercial components with military components. He also needed to alter the configurations of all of the systems so that the mechs worked well alongside other mechs of the Mech Corps.
The Worthy Soldier was similar to the previous variant, only this time it had to be tailored to elites. MinDef wanted a mech that cost ten times more than the Desolate Soldier that provided much more elevated battle performance while retaining the same strong aura.
As for the Peaceful Soldier, Ves had to make it suitable for landbound combat in order to meet the hot demand for a Desolate Soldier variant that could fight adequately on the ground.
"Each of them aside from the Prideful Soldier will require at least a month for us to design." Gloriana remarked. "In fact, the Worthy Soldier and the Peaceful Soldier are so different from the Desolate Soldier that they might as well be part of an entirely new product line."
"That's what I think as well. While MinDef really wants us to design all four variants, I think they won't kick up a fuss if we give up on one of their demands. It's not like we're the only mech designers who are supplying emergency designs to the government."
In fact, the Ministry of Defense probably wouldn't have approached him in the first place if his product wasn't so useful. The Desolate Soldier's aura kept winning over more and more people.
After a brief discussion, they made their choice on which variant to remove from their consideration.
Ves blissfully enjoyed Gloriana's scent while he explained his choice."I originally envisioned the Desolate Soldier to be a disposable mech. It's a mech borne out of duty and necessity. The word 'desolate' in its name is my attempt to emphasize that performing a duty is difficult. Much is asked of the mech pilots of this mech model. They might find themselves alone, either because they lost all of their comrades to the sandmen or because they have passed on to the afterlife."
A variant did not necessarily have to share a close resemblance to the base model. However, if the divergence turned out to be incredibly wide, then a variant stopped being a variant. It became an entirely new product line.
From a conceptual viewpoint, the Worthy Soldier was everything the Desolate Soldier was not. One was disposable while the other one was valued. One was cheap while the other one was expensive. One crumpled after suffering a single heavy blow while the other one possessed advanced survival mechanisms.
All of these contrasts made it clear that they simply didn't belong to the same family!
Gloriana agreed with Ves and had her own objections. "There is little for us to gain in wasting too much time on developing variants. You need to design a lot of new mechs and prepare to complete my mother's challenge. We need to make the most out of the three years we have to get you ready to design and fabricate a second-class masterwork mech!"
Ves briefly grimaced at the thought. Gloriana was so confident in his ability to repeat his earlier feat that he was afraid what would happen if he failed to meet her expectations.
He didn't welcome the pressure she heaped upon his shoulders.
While he ordinarily thrived under pressure, he always set achievable goals for himself. Now that Gloriana set the goal this time, Ves struggled to cope with the urgency of creating another masterwork mech.
Such a demand was as difficult as winning the lottery two times in a row! While Ves could increase the odds of making a masterwork mech through putting his heart and soul into designing a mech, he couldn't control all of the factors.
Chance and serendipity remained out of his control. The importance of these factors in the creation of a masterwork mech enormously complicated Gloriana's fanciful goal.
No mech designer adopted a business model that centered around making masterwork mechs on demand!
While Ves heard rumors that only very good Masters and Star Designers were capable of making masterwork mechs on demand, he wasn't sure whether they had any merit.
As Ves worried over his chances of success, Gloriana smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. Her long, black hair brushed softly against his cheek.
"It'll be okay, Ves. You're not alone in this. Together, I'm confident that we can meet my mother's expectations."
The two snuggled closer together.
Ves sighed as he enjoyed her warmth. "They say that when someone reaches the point where they can design and make the best mechs, they have reached a legendary state."
"At that point, a mech designer has fully transcended their human roots and become a god."
His lips twitched. "I'm not so sure about that, Gloriana. I much prefer to believe in the legend that a mech designer who has reached this height has acquired the mech touch!"
What did it mean to possess the mech touch?
In legend, a mech designer only had to touch the air in order to design the mech in the galaxy!
With another touch, a mech designer could realize this design into reality in its most perfect form!
Both of them recalled these claims and fantasized about reaching this height.
"A single touch to design a mech! A single touch to make a masterwork mech!" Ves recited while poking his finger into the air.
Ves used to believe that it was impossible for mech designers to accomplish this feat, but now he wasn't so sure. Humanity mastered a lot of high technology, many of which Ves couldn't even imagine they existed!
To achieve a state of drawing a complete mech design with a single touch was not as ludicrous as it sounded at first.
The mech designer simply had to be good enough to design the mech from scratch within their heads in a matter of seconds! The use of implants was probably essential to project a design that was locked within the mind into the air!
As for making an entirely new mech through a single touch, that was a bit more fantastical to Ves. He believed it might be possible to create a mech from nothing with the help of materialization technology.
Certainly, the System was already capable of doing so.
The only problem was that the mech had to be better than a cold, unfeeling reproduction of a mech design. It needed to be a masterwork, which materialization technology had never produced.
Of course, the mech touch held multiple meanings. Some mech designers believed that the mech touch was something more metaphorical than literal. To them, possessing 'the touch' was merely an allusion for mech designers who were so good at designing and making mechs that they might as well be gods!
Right now, Ves and Gloriana were too far removed from the pinnacle of mech design to know for sure. Perhaps even Star Designers lost a lot of sleep over achieving this state!
"Let's just focus on the present for the moment and think about our immediate problems." Ves noted to his daydreaming girlfriend. "We have plenty of design work to do and only a limited amount of time to fulfill them all."
From finishing William's custom mech, designing three out of four variants requested by MinDef, designing other mechs to assist in the fight against the sandmen and learning how to design a high-quality second-class mech, Ves and Gloriana had a lot on their plates!
Ves fully realized the lessons he received from old mech designers who regretted wasting their time when they were his age.
Not a single mech designer enjoyed enough time to fulfill all of their goals!
Still, no matter how much time he wanted to spend on designing mechs, Ves also wanted to reserve some time with his friends and family.
He never realized what he was missing when he was largely working alone. Now that he had Gloriana in his life, he realized what a difference love could make. The fulfillment he gained from their relationship made his design work a bit more meaningful than before.
What was the point of life if he didn't live it to the fullest?
To Ves, it was not a waste of time to spend hours with his loved ones every day!