The Barracuda slipped into FTL in a blink.
Having left the Leemar System, Ves felt as if he left the paradise for the wasteland. He became enchanted by Leemar's high level of development. The products that second-rate states like the Friday Coalition took for granted could hardly be found in the poorer states.
It wasn't as if the Bright Republic had no means of getting access to high technology. However, the higher tiers incorporated a lot of exotics or exclusive research that made them too expensive for the poorer states to adopt at a wide scale. Only the upper echelon enjoyed a couple of gadgets at a ruinous cost.
The distribution of wealth in the galaxy came down to resource endowment. Even if the poorer states acquired a couple of pieces of high technology, they'd be bankrupting themselves in the long run if they went overboard.
Even if Ves acquired some fantastic component licenses from Leemar, he'd be pricing himself out of the market due to the ridiculous cost of his products.
That didn't mean that Ves had resigned himself to this remote corner of the galaxy. In his burning ambition to reach the pinnacle of mech design, he intended to use the Bright Republic's market as an incubation ground for his nascent business.
"At my current level, I won't be able to make a splash in the Coalition."
Too many geniuses like Oleg already occupy the entire market for innovative mechs designed by newcomers in the industry. In addition, Ves also had to contend with his rivals who emigrated from the surrounding third-rate states in order to seek out a better future.
To someone like Ves who possessed no innate advantages but a very high growth rate, the Republic's mech market provided him with enough demand to meet his needs.
For now, Ves had some free time in his hands as it took his corvette several weeks to return to Cloudy Curtain.
"What shall I do?"
He could study some textbooks in order to broaden his perspective, or he could design a virtual mech so that he earned some much-needed DP. Currently, Ves hadn't checked in with the virtual economy for a while, so he turned on his terminal and checked his Iron Spirit account.
Surprisingly, in the past few months, his mech sales experienced a continuing surge of sales. While the market in Cloudy Curtain had pretty much been tapped out, his two principal models started gaining a tiny amount of traction on Bentheim.
"It's not only the Young Blood and the Old Soul that are doing well. Even the Mark Antony Mark II has sold over a thousand times."
That explained much of the growth in DP during his time on Groening IV. Without this persistent trend of sales, he would never been able to spend so much DP on acquiring the essential skills and gadgets to get out of Doctor Jutland's clutches.
Ves poured into the comments that his Bentheim customers left behind. He found out that nothing in particular had been driving his sales except for his budding reputation for selling mechs that did well with fussy mech pilots.
"This one feels like a cold beer in a warm evening! Thumbs up for this mech!"
"I have a neural condition that makes me allergic to almost every kind of mech. My brain just spasms out if I force myself to pilot them! I thought I had to abandon my hobby of piloting mechs, but thankfully I found out about this AMAZING model! Please design more mechs!"
"I bought the famous Mark II. It's everything my buddies promised. There are no words to describe how deep your mind can meld with this model. Don't pilot this mech if you want to compete. Buy it when you want to relax."
Ves found a common strain among the comments. In the virtual community of Bentheim, he started making a name for himself as a niche designer who specialized in so-called 'recreational' mechs.
He didn't feel flattered. As a serious mech designer, Ves aimed to build up a reputation for designing battlefield-viable mechs. If he started acquiring a reputation that his mechs were no good except for a couple of rounds of fun, then he'd face an uphill battle trying to persuade the market to purchase his mechs for their primary purpose. That is, to deploy them in battle.
Fortunately, the phenomenon hadn't reached the point of no return. To the larger community, Ves and the Living Mech Corporation remained largely unknown.
He'd be able to shape his reputation once he released his first original design. That day came closer and closer now that he fulfilled most of the prerequisites for doing so. The road ahead had been paved. All he had to do was step forward.
"It's still not time."
His intuition told him that he had to wait before he embarked on this ambitious project.
Somehow, he lacked something vital that could elevate his original design into something great. He didn't know what he currently missed. Could it be an obscure skill, or a unique component?
In any case, if he designed his original mech at his current state, he'd be introducing an average and unremarkable design in an already bloated mech market. The LMC might not even be able to meet his current goal achieving at least a thousand sales a year if he published a boring design.
He shook his head and turned his attention back to designing a virtual mech. Despite his worries, the galaxy still moved on. "Earning more DP is never wrong."
Ves wanted to break the mold this time by designing something very different. In truth, he began resenting the act of designing variants.
It was as if he took an existing piece of art and fiddled around with its appearance. Even if he improved upon the original work, most people would think he borrowed from someone else's efforts.
There was actually an element of truth in that statement. Modifying an existing mech skipped several vital processes in the art of mech design. Many mech designers tend to rely too much on these crutches and slowly became unable to transition to designing an original mech.
"That said, I'm still not ready to design an original mech myself."
As long as he kept this problem in mind, he wouldn't fall into this trap.
Before he embarked on designing a mech, Ves studied the market trend in the game for inspiration.
This time he decided on designing a 4-star variant. Different from the lower starred virtual mechs, the 4-star designs usually catered to a more mature audience in the Gold League. They consisted of senior potentates who decided not to pursue a career in mech piloting and young adults who started their advanced training at an academy like Abelard.
"If I want to correct my reputation, then it's better to aim for the young professionals rather than the leisurely elderly."
Most of the older potentates who got stuck in the Gold League only played the game in order to meet the minimum proficiency standard to qualify as a reserve pilot. Those with the potential to pilot had the obligation to keep their skills somewhat sharp. Those who acted lazy started to lose their much-cherished privileges.
Ves knew the crowd. They were the old geezers and has-been pretenders who cared more about getting their hand-outs from the state than actually contributing something to society. They usually ended up squealing when the war erupted and progressed to a frightening degree. That was when the Mech Corps came knocking at their doors.
Rather than aim for that group of leeches, Ves would rather design a mech for the likes of the young pilots he knew. "Like Charlotte, or Lovejoy, or even Melkor."
He wondered how they were doing these days. Charlotte must be having a great time at the Republic's branch of the MTA, while Lovejoy still underwent rigorous training in order to make the breakthrough from advanced pilot to expert pilot.
"If I want to design a mech that calls out to advanced pilots like them, I'll have to design something challenging."
Ves excluded the basic archetypes such as the knight and rifleman mechs from his consideration. He wanted something with a lot more nuance, though it also had to fall within his skill range.
Each increase in stars came with a lot of added complexity. For example, Ves easily designed a flying light mech like the 1-star Seraphim due to that era's primitive technology standard. Such a slapdash attitude to mech design couldn't be applied so easily with several hundred years of progress in the picture.
After leaving aside the more exotic categories such as aerial mechs or heavy mechs, Ves began to consider his remaining options.
"A striker mech is too similar to knights, while skirmishers and ambushers are a bit too similar to my previous virtual designs."
He started to consider some of the less commonly produced designs such as medium scouts or medium artillery mechs.
"Hmm. What about an assassin mech?"
It sounded like an interesting challenge. As ridiculous as it sounded, assassin mechs actually existed in recent times. They saw a lot of use in the first-rate superstates as a way to take out highly valuable cutting-edge mechs before they showed their strengths.
While active cloaking technology had slowly diffused from the first-rate states to the rest of the galaxy, it remained fairly expensive, so the rim rarely used these types of mechs.
Fortunately, the game made everything more convenient. While Ves would probably have to pay a higher price to get access to the right virtual licenses, he'd still be able to play around with cloaking technology.
Ves browsed the catalogs of the game and saw that assassin mechs could be divided into several ways. Light assassins usually excelled in stealth while their medium cousins packed more punch. Some assassins came equipped with a powerful ranged weapons while others relied on a good melee weapon.
Naturally, this was just a general trend. Plenty of exceptions still existed.
Considering his specialties and his interests, he narrowed down his choice to a medium melee mech. It presented more of a challenge and benefited him more. The act of exploring a way to maximize the assassin mech's ability to deliver a fatal blow in a single strike would advance his understanding of Master Olson's teachings.
He didn't spend too much time on selecting a good base model. Due to the pricy nature of the technology, the virtual licenses of the cheapest models started selling at a staggering price of 2 million bright credits!
Still, Ves had money to spare, with well over six-hundred million credits in the bank. The higher investment would also pay off, for the Mech Designer System capped the limit of his DP earnings for 4-star mechs at a much higher bar.
"If I can succeed in designing this variant, I'll be able to earn up to 100,000 DP in total from its virtual sales."
What did 100,000 DP represent? It was one of the most difficult prerequisites to upgrade one of his Journeyman-level Skills to Senior-level. While Ves didn't plan on upgrading any of his skills just yet, he could sure use the DP on other goodies, such as upgrading his mental attributes or acquiring the next tier of stealth augments from the Shop.
After a couple of hours of casual browsing, Ves settled for a fast and silent model from some obscure company called Carrera Designs.
Rather than a traditional mech business, Carrera Designs made their living by selling their designs instead of mechs. These design studios pumped out hundreds of designs a year. Most of them ended up forgotten in some shelf, but savvy mech manufacturers snapped up some of their more successful designs for quite a bit of money.
The DarkSilver FFL-25 happened to be one of their unsold designs. One of the mech designers under the employ of Carrera Designs had been tasked with exploring the relatively new phenomenon of active cloaking.
As its code number suggested, the FFL-25 represented the twenty-fifth iteration of their exploration. Due to the poor track record of the previous versions of the DarkSilver line, Carrera Designs never managed to sell the FFL-25 despite its high level refinement.
Unknowingly, they slept on a hidden treasure. It only came into prominence several generations later.
It possessed a short-lived but highly effective cloaking system for a medium mech. For about three minutes, they remained undetectable to the most commonly employed sensors that measured light, sound and various other kinds of signals.
As long as the unsuspecting targets weren't actively scanning for cloaked mechs, the DarkSilver model had a high chance of sneaking up to their backs.
In comparison to its excellent but quirky stealth system, the FFL-25 happened to be slightly lackluster in making the kill. Its extreme devotion to stealth left little room for actual combat capability. The model had a lot of trouble trying to pierce through thick sections of armor.
It also possessed paperthin armor that solely existed to enhance its stealth. Actual protection from enemy attacks remained a distant second priority.
Many mech designers today used the excellent base provided by the DarkSilver design and worked to mitigate its flaws. Overall, they achieved mixed success as the base model truly left little room for enhancements. If they went too far, its supreme stealth system started to suffer.
"It's an interesting puzzle. I like it."
Ves forked over the two million credit fee for the virtual license. He already looked forward to putting his own spin on this design.