The addition of Jake and Primrose set the LMC's household in order. Ves granted them a liberal amount of authority as the newly seated COO and CFO of his company. They utilized their power immediately by setting up a couple of departments and staffing them with young hires from Cloudy Curtain and Bentheim.
"How many departments are you setting up?" Ves asked Jake as he drew up an increasingly complicated organization chart.
"I'm only thinking of six so far. I'm setting up the Human Resource Management Department first to expand on our recruiting. Once we get that going, Primrose will be setting up the Finance Department while I'll be hiring or appointing the people who can head the Marketing Department, the Research and Development Department, the Relations Department and the Production Department. I'll be taking care of the Administrative Department myself."
Ves practically leaned backwards when he heard his COO's ambitious plan. "Don't you think that's a little much?"
"Frankly, I'm surprised the Living Mech Corporation has made do with a handful of people so far. It's not appropriate to run a company that's worth a couple of billion credits with automated software and a few young enthusiasts. It's time for the LMC to grow up and act like an adult."
Even if Ves didn't see the need to expand his administrative overhead right now, he sorely needed it once he unveiled his original design. "I can see the rationale for all of the departments you've mentioned, but It's going to be a huge problem keeping everyone under control if you hire fifty people at a time. I want trustworthy people under my wing."
He continually hammered on this priority. Ves would rather be understaffed than let a bunch of strangers get close to sensitive data and equipment.
"There are methods we can use to minimize the risks. For a fee, we can resort to employment agencies that specialize in vetting job seekers. You're not the first person who harbors these kinds of concerns. Corporate espionage is very prevalent in the mech industry."
Unpleasantries like this could never be fully prevented. Rather than quiver in fear, Jake went on with his hiring spree, trusting his newly setup management systems to contain any attempts at sabotage or espionage.
"A malicious actor can't do much damage anyhow." Jake observed. "You're a step ahead in terms of securing your software and hardware. Sanyal-Ablin enjoys a stellar reputation in this front."
"They better be. I'm paying out of my nose for their services."
His workshop's office space had always appeared rather spacious, but within a matter of weeks, it became filled to the brim with new administrative recruits. Jake hired a bunch of flexible middle management types from a renowned employment agency in Bentheim to take charge of most departments.
Besides a clean background, the managers also had to possess untapped potential so that they could grow with the company.
New faces appeared in the office every day that Ves stopped bothering to learn their names. The officers of the various departments coordinated with the chief human resources officer to entice the right kind of people to join the company. Despite Cloudy Curtain's lack of development, HRM managed to attract a lot of talent.
"Bentheim isn't a very pleasant place to live once you think about it." Jake explained to Ves. "Prices are high and public security is low. If criminals aren't running roughshod around the streets, they still have to contend with the Bentheim Liberation Movement."
"I thought the Mech Corps succeeded in containing the BLM."
"Their off-world assets are diminished, but their roots will always be Bentheim itself. No one knows how many people they recruited and how many supplies they managed to scrounge up. Their leadership is in disarray right now, but they'll hit back hard once they get their act together."
That sounded very ominous. The news portals only published encouraging news that the BLM had been neutered to the point of barely being able to muster up a suicide bomber. On second thought, Ves considered that the government engaged in a very deliberate messaging strategy in order to sap momentum out of the rebels.
"I see. What we see and hear in the news doesn't always match up to the facts in the ground. How did you know?"
"You can thank our new officers for that insight. Most of them are aware of the real circumstances on the ground when they still worked in Bentheim."
A touch of worry appeared on his face. Ves did not know what to think about the backgrounds of his unfamiliar officers. The need for competence meant that his HRM department took on managers who previously worked for his competitors. Even if they officially cut their ties to their old company, they might be keeping in touch.
Still, the added workforce already made a difference. They eased the procurement of materials and set his inventory straight. They straightened up his accounting and made sure they complied with the law. The chief relations officer even started probing various suppliers for the possibility of entering a mutually beneficial relationship with each other.
Maisie Duval, his CRO, put it this way. "It's much like dating if you think about it. There is plenty of fish in the sea, but you have to make an effort to find the right partner in the dark. Right now, I'm sending out a signal that tells the fish we're interested while simultaneously looking out for potential partners that are doing the same."
"What about the insular nature of the relationships at the top? Much of the resource market is kept in a stranglehold by the major industrial players."
"It's an ongoing issue, but I'm confident we can elbow our way into the periphery of their circle. We're too small to threaten their core interests."
In the meantime, Ves didn't sit back and do nothing while his workforce expanded. He turned his attention back to his design project. Before he embarked with the next phase of his project, he decided it was time to spend his generous savings of DP on upgrading his various Skills. He holed up in his private office and turned on his Privacy Shield before starting up the Mech Designer System in his comm.
"You're still my secret weapon, baby. With you around, I'm certain to make a splash with my new design."
The System had remained dormant all this time. Ves thought that he had been on the right track lately, so the System didn't prompt him with annoying Missions to get him to progress his career. He had no doubt that once he slacked off, the devious System would slap him with an impossible task.
"I love you, but you're still a bastard."
As usual, the System pretended to be a soulless AI and declined to respond. Ves knew the real score, however. Of all the wonders he witnessed so far, he refused to believe the System was as dumb as it sometimes looked. He would wring the truth out of the System once and for all one day.
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Apprentice Mech Designer
Design Points: 97,279
Neural Aptitude: F
[Assembly]: Apprentice - [3D Printer Proficiency III] [Assembler Proficiency III]
[Battle Mechatronics]: Apprentice
[Computer Science]: Incompetent
[Electrical Engineering]: Apprentice - [Structural Pathway Configuration II]
[Mechanics]: Journeyman - [Jury Rigging III] [Speed Tuning III]
[Metallurgy]: Journeyman - [Alloy Compression II]
[Physics]: Journeyman - [Directed Energy Weapon Optimization II] [Lightweight Armor Optimization I] [Mediumweight Armor Optimization III] [Melee Weapon Optimization II]
[Signals and Communications]: Apprentice
[Superpublish]: Available. Can be activated once a year.
Evaluation: A post-human mech designer with a random collection of Skills.
"You're hinting something at me, right? That remark on my evaluation isn't a random statement."
The System sneakily expressed its opinion about the depth and breadth of his Skills. It thought that Ves lacked focus in any particular area.
"Most of my major Skills are Journeyman-level, so at least I have a solid foundation."
However, no mech designer truly excelled with only a good foundation. They had to offer something special to differentiate their products from the competition. The key lay in the Sub-Skills, which Ves had to admit he spread his attention somewhat. He possessed Sub-Skills that covered both ranged and melee mechs, for example.
Since Ves prioritized the development of an offensive knight, he decided to spend over 80,000 DP on Skills related to this archetype, leaving 20,000 DP as an emergency reserve.
"It will be a bit dangerous to drain my pool of DP, but I don't think there are any threats on the horizon that will push me to the brink."
Ves had no intentions of leaving Cloudy Curtain for the foreseeable future. He already felt quite secure with Raella and Melkor taking up routine patrolling duties around the perimeter of his compound. Sanyal-Ablin prevented assassins and saboteurs from getting in while Walter's Whalers deterred the criminal elements of society from disturbing his work.
"There's a time to save and there's a time to spend. I can't hold back when I'm about to design my first original mech."
He proceeded to spend his DP like a man who won the lottery.
[Assembly - Journeyman]: 2,000 DP
[Electrical Engineering - Journeyman]: 2,000 DP
[Signals and Communications - Journeyman]: 1,600 DP
First he upgraded a couple of his Major Skills that stalled in the Apprentice-level. All of them played a very integral role in enhancing his ability to design a good mech.
The upgrades enlightened him to many insights. Ves had to take a break for a couple of hours to digest the influx of knowledge. Even with his augmented mind, he still had to sort out the complicated theories and mountains of practical know-how all at once.
[Melee Weapon Optimization III]: 2,000 DP
[Melee Weapon Optimization IV]: 4,000 DP
[Mediumweight Armor Optimization IV]: 2,400 DP
[Speed Tuning IV]: 1,600 DP
After that, he gradually upgraded the related optimization Sub-Skills. At the fourth level, these Sub-Skills started to show their strength, granting Ves many little nuggets of knowledge that took Journeyman Mech Designers years to figure out on their own.
The optimization Sub-Skills didn't necessarily widened his options, but they allowed him to make the most of what he already got. They helped him spot more flaws and provided him with a little more solutions to squeeze out more performance out of his design. Reaching the fourth level in those Sub-Skills practically doubled his library of tricks.
Ves knew the value of this knowledge. "It's like I've apprenticed to a Journeyman Mech Designer for years and accompanied him as he designed his mechs. This isn't something I can learn from any book."
[Structural Pathway Configuration III]: 4,000 DP
[Alloy Compression III]: 4,000 DP
The following two Sub-Skills enhanced his ability to design the interior and exterior of his knight. Unlike the optimization Sub-Skills, Structural Pathway Configuration and Alloy Compression came with a lot of heavy theories that required Ves to employ his Major Skills to the limit to digest them all. The burden they placed on his Skills discouraged him from upgrading them to the fourth level.
"It's already sufficient for me to reach the third level in those two Sub-Skills." Ves decided after he recovered from the burden placed on his mind.
Now that he upgraded his existing Sub-Skills, Ves turned to acquiring some new ones, trusting in his instincts that it was better to acquire them now than later.
Since he had the DP to spare, Ves skipped over the cheaper Sub-Skills and started to consider the more exotic ones. One particular Sub-Skill for Battle Mechatronics stood out like a torch in the dark.
[Knight Mech Mastery I]: 40,000 DP
The extravagant price tag already hinted at its value despite its entry-level status. Every Sub-Skill that possessed the word Mastery came with a correspondingly high price. Ves had the sense that only Journeyman Mech Designers embarked on the road to developing their Masteries.
"There's got to be something special about a Mastery if the System feels obliged to demand so much DP."
What did Masteries entail to make them so valuable?