The emergence of the Lady Death's Heel slightly disturbed the Bright Republic's virtual mech community. The controversial mech gained notoriety as more and more women flocked to the mech.
Mech industry insiders with nothing better to do started to investigate Crazy War Criminal's background. His sole mech alone aroused a fair bit of attention due to its uneven design.
The account's identity had quickly been traced back to a nobody called Rabant Clearwater. According to the Bright Republic's own records, the man was a Novice Mech Designer that had never joined an influence nor studied at a prestigious institution.
This stumped those who checked his background.
When mech designers studied the Heel's design, they found that it contained a number of very profound traces that only very experienced Journeymen and newly advanced Seniors understood.
"This isn't the work of a Novice Mech Designer!"
However, interspersed with pieces of profound design elements, most of the design adhered to the standard of a well seasoned Apprentice Mech Designer. The dichotomy of profoundness led the researchers to conclude that two different mech designers had worked on the design.
"The lead designer must be a newly advanced Senior Mech Designer. He set the framework of the design and personally worked on detailing a number of key components. After that, his assistant performed most of the grunt work in a brief amount of time. There are too many traces of sloppiness in the design for it to be a deliberate project."
Due to the lack of evidence, the people who investigated the design came up with an overly elaborate backstory. Crazy War Criminal was obviously a fake account that didn't even try too hard in obscuring its dubious status. No Novice Mech Designer could design a mech of such a level.
Instead, they considered the Lady Death's Heel to be the product of a training exercise of some sorts. The Senior laid down the groundwork while the Apprentice had to complete the design as fast as possible.
As for the reason why the pair decided to publish the aerial light mech design onto Iron Spirit, nobody knew. Anyone who tried to dig any further eventually reached a dead end as the people behind the account left very few traces.
This mystery only formed a tiny interlude in the local mech community. Ves had no idea that people completely mistook second account's identity. Instead, he prepared himself for the upcoming ritual.
Ves first took care of some routine matters. He took care of some overdue paperwork while issuing new instructions to his subordinates in the company.
Ever since the LMC got the new Benson production lines to work, its production capacity almost tripled overnight. The Mech Nursery pumped out three silver label Blackbeaks every two days.
Although the increasingly experienced mech technicians could speed up their rate of production, Ves opted to control the pace and increase the level of quality control. The third party manufacturers may be able to play fast and loose with the rules, but the LMC could ill afford a scandal resulting from delivering faulty products.
"My men can do more." Chief Cyril argued when Ves paid a visit to the fabrication floor. "If we slow down too much, the mech technicians will start to lose their edge. They won't feel challenged anymore."
Ves looked sympathetic at that argument, but stuck to his course. "Even if the men are willing, the machines won't be able to keep up. Neither the Dortmund or the Benson machines are optimized for speed. Pushing them harder than now will certainly lead to errors."
They discussed a few other practical matters as well. Ves wanted to add another testing and quality control phase at the end of the fabrication process in order to ensure that each mech truly performed up to spec.
Chief Cyril actually approved of that. "It's about time the company implements something like that. Almost every medium mech manufacturer tests out their mechs before they send it through their channels. It's going to delay our delivery for at least a day or two, but our products will carry a lot more assurance to our customers."
Setting up this kind of procedure entailed a lot changes in the company's production cycle. Not only did they have to hire a bunch of test pilots to pilot the freshly fabricated Blackbeaks, they also had to hire the supervisors and support crew.
The LMC also needed to clear out a large area and erect an indoor/outdoor testing ground. Without the right facilities, the test pilots wouldn't be able to push the Blackbeaks to their limits. The supervisors also needed a lot of equipment to measure the exact performance of the mechs and catch any alarming deviations before they led to disaster.
Ves threw the problem at Chief Cyril and Jake. "Draw 300 million credits to build up a basic testing ground. We don't need anything too elaborate at the moment."
With that taken care of, Ves wrapped up his work and prepared to go under for a few days. He returned to his private workshop floor and sealed it tight. Lucky followed him up until he reached his bed and laid down.
"I'm going to be experiencing another out-of-body experience for a few days, Lucky. Just keep an eye on my body and don't let anything come close."
"I'm sorry, you can't come with me. The System is already exerting a lot of its energy to transport my mind across space and time. I don't think it can spare the effort to bring you with me."
"Meow!" Lucky huffed and turned his tail to Ves and flew through a wall.
Ves sighed and turned his attention to his comm. He already possessed more than enough DP to purchase another Mastery.
Just the first tier alone cost 40,000 DP each. Ves did not even consider purchasing the second tier of Masteries at this point. His DP income wouldn't be able to bear the expense.
"Alright, enough stalling. Let's get this over with."
Ves activated the Mech Designer System and entered the Skill Tree. He navigated the all-encompassing trees until he reached the Mastery section.
Each Mastery Sub-Skill offered Ves the precious opportunity to jump in the mind of a mech pilot.
As someone who always prided his secrets, Ves did not feel very comfortable about sharing his mind with another person. When he acquired Knight Mech Mastery I last time, he happened to have clicked with Barley. They worked so well together that Ves looked forward to meeting the mech pilot again.
Too bad he went missing about a decade ago.
Ves sometimes tried to search for Barley's whereabouts but encountered nothing. He started to suspect the System about its choice of pilots. Of all the knight pilots across time and space, why did it pick Barley of all people?
"Can it be that the System deliberately chooses someone who won't be around in this timeline?"
That sounded exactly what the System might do. It would neatly avoid all the inherent paradoxes that ensued whenever someone traveled back and forth in time.
Even with his Senior-level Physics, Ves did not wish to touch the subject of time travel for even a second. The amount of headaches and arguments that ensued from that topic alone could fill an entire galactic library.
For example, what if his mind traveled back in time to a Vesian mech pilot who faced a Larkinson on the battlefield? And what if that Larkinson turned out to be his grandfather Benjamin when he was young?
If the Vesian mech pilot somehow vanquished over Benjamin and killed him off, what would happen to Ves in the future? Would his father and himself still be born? Would a parallel timeline ensue the moment the System brought him back in time, or would the main timeline automatically correct itself and wipe Ves who came from the future out of existence?
Even with all of the wonders of the galaxy, time travel proved to be one of the most elusive phenomena. As far as Ves was aware of, no person, alien or machine successfully traveled back in time.
That did not mean that it couldn't be done, but if some organization managed to do it, they certainly kept their mouths shut.
Some conspiracy theorists spread out rumors that their current timeline had been skewed out of its original trajectory through the constant meddling of time-traveling agents. A lot of popular dramas revolved around this premise, but everyone dismissed the possibility out of hand.
Ves did not know if he could dismiss the possibility as well. Unlike nearly everyone else, he knew that time travel was definitely possible. He experienced it himself!
From his experienced with Barley alone, he knew that what he influenced in the past would definitely reverberate back to the future.
Before Ves embarked on his next Mastery, he thought about making use of this circumstance. After all, traveling back in time was an extremely rare opportunity to influence the past and correct someone's mistake.
He thought about trying to send a message to himself when he was young. The one thing that Ves had always regretted that he fell into a rut once his mother ostensibly died. He turned into a living zombie who wasted his remaining youth and hardly applied himself in school.
If he got some sort of reality check back then, he might have been able to focus on his studies well enough to attend an upscale institution such as the Leemar Institute of Technology.
"Even if it's possible, should I even do such a thing?"
What would happen to Ves if he induced a major change in his past? Would Ves still be the same Ves, or would he turn into another 'Ves'? What happened when Ves returned to the present timeline. Would he remain the old Ves, or turn into the new 'Ves'?
"What a headache."
His Senior-level Physics taught him a lot about how to improve the components of a mech, but it taught him nothing about the fields that fell outside of this scope. He still didn't know how an FTL drive worked, let alone figuring out the secrets to time travel.
The only way he could become proficient in those fields was to study them by himself. With his superhuman Intelligence, it wouldn't even take him very long to gain a shallow proficiency in those fields.
"Much of the galaxy revolves around starships. It's useful for me to understand some of the engineering related to these vessels."
Ves always admired the interstellar craft that brought humanity to the stars. However, it always took an extreme amount of learning to become slightly familiar with their systems.
In general, mech designers stayed out of the way of ship designers, and vica versa. Neither occupations spared enough energy to branch out in the other one.
The time that Ves spent on studying starships could have been spent on deepening his knowledge on mechs. In the end, it wasn't beneficial for Ves to allocate more than a couple of hours of spare time to become familiar with ships.
"I can do something about that later. Right now, I have another Mastery to experience."
Ves found the relevant Sub-Skill in the Skill Tree and tapped it with his finger to purchase it. The System instantly deducted 40,000 DP from his account.
[Rifleman Mech Mastery I]
The System counted down the time. Ves breathed deeply and tried to lay comfortably in his bed. His body would be undergoing stasis while his mind left his body, so Ves did not worry too much about his body''s health.
Ves hoped the System would pick an entirely different type of mech pilot this time. Barley had been a rather stodgy knight pilot who bought into the whole pomp and circumstance about knights. Ves hoped to experience a more daring pilot who thought offensively instead of defensively.
"Hopefully the System won't pick a woman this time."
While he had nothing against women, Ves did not wish to deal with a cranky host and make her feel uncomfortable about hosting a male mind.
On the other hand, experiencing a female's perspective on piloting mech would also enrich him in many other ways. Female mech pilots possessed different habits and concerns, and if Ves became familiar with their gripes, he could make his mechs more compatible with women, who made up around thirty percent of all mech pilots.
A suction force pulled his consciousness from his head and carried it along an incomprehensible tunnel that warped through time and space.
After an indeterminate moment of time, his consciousness forcefully entered the mind of a mech pilot at a different time and space.
Thankfully or regretfully, Ves ended up in the mind of another man. The only problem was that the mech pilot currently fought against an overwhelming force of enemy mechs.
The entry of a new consciousness momentarily disrupted the mech pilot's concentration, and an explosive shell impacted against his rifleman mech, knocking down while heavily damaging its chest plate.