Even Ves hadn't understood why Horatio favored him over Oleg. His design looked decent, but paled in comparison to Oleg's hasty creation. The younger mech designer managed to create a miracle in only half the time.
"I know you're confused. You shouldn't be." Horatio said and swept his arm towards the mech cadets who stood silently at attention all this time. "First, let's hear our test pilots out. What are your thoughts on the mech designed by Oleg?"
The pilots gave out a smattering of opinions.
"It's powerful. I can feel the difference in performance. Most of the training mechs don't feel as powerful as this frame."
"Slow but protective. I feel I can take on the entire galaxy with the amount of armor it carries."
"It corresponds to what a knight should be. I don't mind the lack of speed since it's supposed to be a defensive mech anyway."
"I can do anything with this machine! In the right hands, I can overpower anyone who dares to get close."
"I can't get used to its sluggishness. It's as if my body is moving under water. It's too slow."
When Horatio asked them what they thought of the design made by Ves, they gave out a distinctly different opinion.
"It feels like home. The mech just clicked for me."
"It's one of the few mechs I've piloted that actually worked together with me."
"The performance is a little lackluster compared to the other one, but when I'm in the cockpit I don't feel that way."
"It's very responsive. I don't have to fight against the controls to make it do what I want. There's hardly any learning curve with this mech."
After the pilots gave out their opinions, Horatio clapped and attracted everyone's attention. "You can see that the first thing that pops in the minds of the pilots differs drastically between the two mechs. Oleg, considering the terms of your mech design duel, do you truly believe you've overcome Ves in this regard?"
"I still have five votes." Oleg stubbornly replied. "Even if I hadn't focused much on comfort, does it even matter?"
"You've chosen a crooked path to compete on comfort. Whether it's important or not, the fact of the matter is that you've agreed to compete against Ves on the matter of designing the most comfortable mech. Ves is the only participant who worked earnestly on this area and the comments made by the test pilots makes this clear."
"The mech pilots haven't received a lot of clarity when they were asked to evaluate our mechs." Ves spoke up. "If they had a clearer idea on what they should be judging, then I might have received more votes."
"Maybe, maybe not." Horatio said. "Oleg's viewpoint can't be discounted. A superior mech will always be valued more than a lesser mech. However, the rules for this design duel explicitly leaves out any comparison on performance. In this regard, none of the mech cadets have praised Oleg's mech for its level of accomodation."
Oleg wowed half of the mech cadets through delivering a better mech despite performing worse in the aspect of comfort. He might have missed the point on the duel, but he still succeeded in forcing a tie. That couldn't easily be changed.
"Don't set your eyes on the present. Think of the future. After a couple of years, the both of you will be developing in different directions. If you hold the same duel at that time, who will prove to be more superior in the aspect of comfort?"
By that time, Ves would have probably accomplished a breakthrough in the X-Factor. In addition, he'd also advance much further than anyone here expected. After all, they couldn't have known about the heaven-defying nature of the System.
Still, if he hadn't advanced his other skills through the System, then Ves would still win on the matter of comfort. Only he possessed the requirements to work with the X-Factor.
"If you put it that way, you have a point." Oleg reluctantly admitted. "But that's in the future. We're still in the present."
"Yes, we're still in the present. Therefore, I believe that you should demonstrate your magnanimity and offer a concession to Ves. Don't forget that you are one of Carmin's direct disciple. With regards to age, you're junior to Ves, but with regards to seniority you enjoy a vastly higher position than him. To employ all your gifts to bully a junior who only received a few pointers from Carmin is not good form."
Even Ves forgot about this point. Oleg behaved like a teenager but as a mech designer he enjoyed a very privileged status. Many older mech designers had to make way for the direct disciple if they met him on the street.
"Besides, look at the stakes for this duel. If Ves loses the bet, he'll have to give up a precious companion of his. Don't think that Ves won't start to resent you. They are lifelike creatures meant to bond with their owners."
"On the other hand, if I lose the bet, I won't lose anything substantial. A license is very valuable to Ves, but it's nothing special to me."
Licenses only held value to those who lacked the capability that it offered. It cost Oleg nothing but a potential loss in earnings if he gave one away without demanding anything in return. That was because licenses only granted the mech designer who received it the right to use a design.
This was the nature of intellectual property. If someone wrote a virtual book, he could easily give it away to his friends for free. A couple of handouts didn't really impact his sales in any meaningful way. However, if he became a bit too liberal with his generosity, then he'd be shooting himself in the foot by missing out on a lot of sales.
Did Oleg look like someone who cared about giving away a free design? As a direct disciple, he enjoyed almost unlimited resources! A single engine license worth billions of bright credits was actually worth only a couple tens of millions of cols in Coalition space. For such a small amount of cols, Oleg would be too embarrassed to quibble about this sum of money.
In the end, Oleg conceded the match to Ves. Though he still felt unresigned, he felt that as a senior he had to show off his good side to Master Olson's latest apprentice. They both signed a couple of contracts on the spot that officially granted Ves the right to incorporate the Trailblazer engine model in any of his designs for a period of ten years.
"It's a really good engine." Oleg boasted as he swiftly recovered from his loss. "The Trailblazer is ideal for mechs focused on endurance and efficiency. Just take care not to push it too hard. It doesn't handle peak loads very well."
As Horatio left for another appointment, Ves had a suspicion he'd been used. Horatio obviously didn't need to mediate the design duel in person. He must have used the opportunity as a teaching moment for Oleg. He not only learned to be generous, he also opened his eyes to another perspective on mech design.
Ves shrugged. As the 'winner' of this duel, he benefited from this moment as well. Besides his material rewards, this event also taught him about a hidden danger inherent in his design method.
"Pursuing harmony at the cost of performance is not always the right solution." He concluded.
In the Age of Mechs, an endless number of mech designs came into existence. While the market for mechs ensured that plenty saw sales, most models failed to attract any sales due to poor design choices.
An optimized mech delivered much greater performance than a similar mech at the same cost.
"I've been focusing too much on harmony at the cost of synergy."
Harmony and synergy sounded the same, but they were actually very different concepts.
As Ves understood it, harmony represented how well the design and its components agreed with the images he held in his mind. A good harmony ensured he'd be able to impart a strong and life-like X-Factor to his mechs. Few designers should be able to match his prowess in this area.
On the other hand, most mech designers focused on maximizing synergy. This had nothing to do with metaphysics. Instead, it required both art and science to bring out the best performance out of every part.
"Harmony and synergy doesn't necessarily have to conflict with each other."
Once his capabilities grew, his selection of design choices should also grow with him. More choices allowed him to make more optimal decisions without adversely affecting the overall harmony of the design.
In any case, Ves got away with a massive win. After the end of the duel, Ves decided to wrap up his trip with a visit to the Clifford Society.
Oleg begged off accompanying Ves. Ever since Horatio declared him the loser, the air between them grew a little awkward. Both of them needed some time away from each other.
"I'll be going now." Ves said as he held Lucky in his arms and left the estate.
He took an aircar that brought him from the center of the archipelago to the northern region of the planet. Like the virtual version, the real version of the Clifford Society's headquarters had been built on top of a mountain range.
Naturally, real humans weren't gods, so the Society hadn't gone overboard in spreading their structures out. Most of the core buildings had been built around a cluster of twenty mountains. Man-sized floating 'eggs' granted visitors a convenient way to traverse from one mountain to the other.
His first destination was the marketplace. While most members sold their wares through the Society's virtual portal, Ves wanted to take a look at some real examples. He visited the small town built at the foot of the mountains and browsed the largest shop that sold equipment.
"Welcome customer." A floating bot said as it hovered over to Ves. "May I be of assistance?"
"Take me to the alloy compressor and chemical treatment machines. I'd like to purchase a set."
A set basically consisted of a compressor and a CTM that had been designed to work together. Usually, mech manufacturers preferred to link the two machines together with a compatible 3D printer. This allowed them to automate the process of fabricating compressed armor plating as much as possible, though the more complicated formulas still required human supervision.
"Our shop offers thirty-two different sets. Please refer to the projections if you wish to view their specifications."
Ves took a good look at the selection offered by the shop. The prices for the sets ranged from fifty merits to ten thousand merits. He only set aside two-hundred merits for his budget, so he excluded every other set that exceeded his price range.
That left him with thirteen different pairings. As Ves studied their specs in greater detail, he determined that the differences in price directly corresponded to what they brought to the table.
Some compressors and CTMs finished their processes faster than others. Other sets guaranteed higher precision. The newer sets offered automation to a wider range of formulas, while the older sets sold at a discount.
Ves pulled back from his inspection before he got lost in the maze.
"I should determine what I need before I start my selection."
The Living Mech Corporation mainly aimed to for the higher segments of the mech market, so he didn't place too much importance on speed and automation.
However, if he wanted to enable his fabricators such as Carlos to work with compressed armor, some form of automation was necessary. The silver label mechs didn't have to be perfect, but the sets had to offer some conveniences in order to allow his other employees to work with the machines.
Several sets of alloy compressors and CTMs fit hit requirements. He eventually settled on a pair of systems that cost a hundred-and-ninety merits. They didn't offer much in terms of automation, but a decent fabricator specialised in alloy compression should be able to handle the process without problem.
"Even if Carlos can't do it, I can hire someone else who can."
Still, before he decided on the purchase, Ves visited some other stores in order to find out if he could pick a bargain.
While most of the shops offered a similar selection of machines, he did find the same set at twenty merits off.
"Why is this set so cheap here?"
"It's a refurbished set of machines." The cheaper store's bot replied in a dutiful tone. "Their previous owner unfortunately perished on a mission for the Society. Due to his debts, this store has laid claim to his fabrication equipment. Do you wish to view the previous owner's other machines? We offer discounts up to thirty percent depending on their condition!"
The answer momentarily chilled Ves. He could have been one of the poor chumps as well. His trip to Groening might have showered him with merits, but he escaped from death by a narrow margin.
Still, the set hadn't seen much use. Ves checked their condition as well as their production logs and found them to be good enough that he wouldn't get much better if he bought them factory new.
"I'll take this set."