The work put his new capabilities to the test. If he hadn't pushed his Intelligence and Physics to the next level, Ves wouldn't dream about reverse engineering the alien crystals.
However, he long stepped out of the confines of what an Apprentice Mech Designer should be capable of. His leapfrogging into Senior-level Physics provided Ves with a rudimentary ability to play around with exotics.
Naturally, he wouldn't be able to match the capabilities of a seasoned Journeyman or newly-advanced Senior. The main reason why Ves maintained his confidence was because he could reference his detailed scanner readings as well as a live sample.
He carefully opened the box that held the corpse of the crystal builder he found in the crystal garden. As the supposed leader of the crystal garden, his cyborg corpse incorporated the highest quality of crystals. It varied only minutely with the composition of the crystal city, which in itself served as some sort of capital or refuge for the alien race.
Ves treated the undecayed remains with reverence and respect. "I can't imagine how many millions years it rested beneath that strange mass of plantmeat."
He tried to date the remains, but failed to do so. His lab equipment didn't come with this kind of capability. After all, why would a mech designer need to figure out the age of an alien artifact? He wasn't an exobiologist nor a treasure hunter.
All of the organic bits in the crystal-laden corpse had long decomposed into nothing, leaving only the resilient crystals that served as the body's armor and mechanisms.
Ves couldn't imagine what kind of powers these augmentations bestowed to the leader. He must have been a formidable alien when he was still alive.
He continually speculated on the alien leader's story as he studied the crystal remains. He didn't do so on a whim or because he was bored, but because he had a use for it later on. While he worked on deciphering and decomposing the exact nature of the alien crystals, he already branched out a part of his mind on the next phase of his design project.
Now that he set a vision for his rifleman mech, he was ready to proceed with the construction of the images that powered its X-Factor.
"It's been a long time since I last worked on the X-Factor."
His stint with the Whalers in the Glowing Planet campaign exposed him to a lot of mechs, but he didn't get to design or produce any new ones. He mostly spent his efforts on repairs and modifications. These situations didn't allow him to bestow any spirituality to the mechs he worked, except for maybe the Blackbeak he gifted to the Whalers.
"I wonder how my first production model is faring."
The potentially historic and priceless mech could have been saved up and sold for a massive fortune, but he gave it away without hesitation. It was a shame to part with such a valuable treasure, but Ves needed to prove his sincerity to the Whalers and couldn't bring out any other mech at the time.
He thought about asking Walter's Whalers to hand back the first production model, but didn't do so in the end. Now that the Whalers became one of the few small-scale gangs that earned a handsome reward for their efforts, they would soon grow in power and influence.
Ordinarily, such a small but obscenely wealthy gang wouldn't be capable of holding on to its assets. However, their previously-hidden relations with the Blood Claws scared away the vultures eying all of their wealth.
From the latest weekly reports sent by his subordinates, Ves remained apprised of the gang's current situation. It was no secret that they recruited a whole bunch of mech pilots and issued large amount of purchase orders for mechs as well.
Strangely enough, this time they set their sights higher. Instead of buying bargain bin mechs valued at 3-5 million mechs, they started buying more expensive mainstay mechs with an average value of 30 million credits.
Furthermore, they also ordered a handful of advanced mechs for their veteran pilots. They even placed a generous order for a handful of silver label Blackbeaks at the LMC. Ves sent back a message to prioritize the fabrication and delivery of the Blackbeaks to the Whalers.
At this point in time, the interests of the LMC and the Whalers intersected with each other. They both occupied a vital position on the sleepy planet of Cloudy Curtain.
Ves had even broken his rare isolation and initiated a call of Calsie through the isolated terminal to apprise himself of the latest news.
"Calsie, what are the Whalers up to right now?"
"They're doing a lot of things at once. The Whalers are continuously expanding their numbers. They're also upgrading their bases into highly defensive fortifications. I can tell that once they've finished their expansion, they'll start to swallow some of the neighboring rural star systems."
"That's an ambitious plan! They sure have a big appetite!"
In a time of war, the Whalers opted to spread their wings and expand their influence. It was a bold and risky action, but if they succeeded, they would no longer be putting all of their eggs in a single basket. If the Cloudy Curtain System fell, they still had a number of escape routes available to themselves.
"How is the rest of Cloudy Curtain faring under these changes?"
"Support for the Whalers have never been higher. The increased recruitments means that a lot of locals are joining up with the Whalers. Even if they aren't very good mech pilots, the Whalers have hired a large number of trainers to shore up their new recruits. Right now, they only have numbers on their side, but after a couple of years of training, their strength will enter a whole new level."
This meant that the Whalers would transition from a small an inconsequential rural collection of thugs into a true interstellar gang. Such a shift in scope brought a lot of prosperity to the Whalers, but only if they successfully pushed out their surrounding rivals.
Ves turned to another topic once he finished asking about the Whalers. "Has anything changed in the political landscape? I don't believe the farming consortiums are resigned to let the LMC and the Whalers take over their home planet."
"I'm afraid you're correct." Calsie regretfully sighed. "The farming consortiums along with the White Doves and the Greens have been collaborating quietly behind the scenes. It's hard to keep track of their movements when the LMC and the Whalers make so much noise. Once they sprung their plan, it's too late for the Pioneers to intervene."
That sounded serious. Ves began to frown. "What happened?"
"Our opposition pulled back their influence from Freslin and concentrated all of their strengths in Orinoco. Politically, they've abandoned Freslin to the mech fanatics and the supporters of the Pioneers in favor of turning Orinoco into their bulwark. It's become impossible for us to penetrate the capital."
Ves was taken aback at this news. With the onset of war and the increased prominence of mechs, he never imagined the ossified elites who long ruled over Cloudy Curtain like their own fief to stop the bleeding in this fashion.
The more he thought about it, the more he admired whoever came up with this plan. By relocating their headquarters, businesses and supporters to the capital city, they maintained an impregnable position that couldn't be assailed.
Their decision had split Cloudy Curtain in half.
"So right now, our influence is near absolute in Freslin, right?"
"That's correct, but that's not as valuable as holding the capital. They still control the spaceport. They can implement any number of rules or collect any number of fees for every shipment that comes in and out of Cloudy Curtain."
Ves scratched his chin in consternation. "It's unlikely they'll do so immediately. They'll face a backlash if they purposefully hinder the LMC."
"That's what the Pioneers think as well. They're keeping the White Doves and the Greens in check for now, but that's no guarantee for the future."
Calsie looked at Ves as if she hoped he would relent on his stance of maintaining his neutrality. The young law graduate had always made her allegiance to the business-friendly group very clear. Ves indeed continued to retain her for her connections. That didn't mean he was inclined to change his mind.
"Monitor the situation for now and inform me of any changes."
Ves cut off the conversation and threw the local situation from his mind. Right now, what happened on the surface had little bearing on his work in the labs.
His studies into the crystals had progressed to formulating different compositions of crystals. Using the machines in the lab, he produced more than a dozen attempts to reproduce the essence of the alien technology.
He didn't have any high-value exotics on hand, but the lab did come stocked with all manner of regular exotics in regular supply. All of his attempts so far resulted in outright failures. Every crystal he cultivated so far ended up as brittle as glass. If they possessed the strength to propagate a laser beam, then they only emitted enough energy to light a closet.
"Difficult! Difficult! Difficult!"
Ves did not expect to succeed in a single day, but he hoped to make an early breakthrough. The more time he wasted on trying to get this gimmick to work, the more he delayed to completion of his second original design.
He set a solid deadline for himself. If he couldn't produce a satisfactory result in two weeks, he would abandon any plans on implementing this gimmick in his design.
In the meantime, he continued to ponder on the construction of the images.
The Triple Division technique lay at the root of his current methodology in fostering the X-Factor in his designs. The strongest result he had ever achieved only scored into the C's. Ves had always strived for breaking through the invisible barrier that held him back from scoring a B.
Right now, his recent breakthroughs in spirituality showed him a light in the dark. It remained a possibility for now, but the idea in his mind presented a possible way to finally break through that persistent barrier.
"The Triple Division technique is a way to superimpose three distinct images into a single amalgamation that's stronger than the sum of its parts. Although it's not possible to stuff three material objects into one, the rules in the imaginary dimensions are much less strict."
The three images consisted of the base model, the totem animal and the human myth. Up until now, Ves treated the latter two as something completely within his mind. He could invent any number of imaginary creatures or persons with the traits he desired.
However, their strengths remained largely in his mind.
He only deviated from his pattern when he used the Triple Division technique on the Blackbeak. For the human myth, he took inspiration from Jackknife Jake, the deceased captain of the Velton Myrmidons of Moira's Paradise.
The aquatic planet lively mech scene and intense underwater mech duels had a profound effect on Ves, and Jackknife Jake's tragic ending inspired Ves to incorporate the captain's dauntless courage into the Blackbeak's human myth.
Ves hadn't thought about it at the time, but now he realized he missed a precious opportunity to elevate the human myth.
"The realm of the imaginary is powered by thoughts and emotion. Something which only exists in my mind can only hold so much strength. What if I use an image that's shared by many, or carries the weight of history?"
Ves eyed the miniature husk of the crystal leader that had endured a countless number of years. How many aliens looked up to this leader? How much influence did this alien wield in his lifetime?
When Ves focused his sixth sense on the corpse, he could faintly sense a desolate flavor. The ancient alien corpse carried a unique strength that Ves hoped to borrow for his upcoming design.
What would a rifleman mech look like if it carried some of the spirit of a long-dead alien leader?