On the day the LMC unveiled the Crystal Lord design, the tense situation in the Coscos System cast a shadow over Bentheim. Underneath the grey, overcast streets of Dorum, fewer people walked by as everyone worried about their jobs, their safety, and whether the Republic could repel the Vesians yet again.
Ves looked down on the streets from Marcella's office.
"The public is getting more uncertain these days." He spoke. "The Bright Republic fought against the Vesia Kingdom for how many times? And never have we succumbed to their onslaught."
"There's always a fluke. The Vesians might have called up an ally, or the Mech Corps may have screwed up at some point. You know the Vesian nobles keep trying to invade the Republic because they hope they'll eventually get it right and blow past our defenses."
That was the awful thing about living in a state entangled in a generational war. The only reason why the Vesians haven't permanently instituted a state of war against the Brighters was because they didn't have the resources to sustain their aggression.
"Did you fight in the previous war?" Ves suddenly asked. "You obviously haven't started out as a mech broker."
The woman shrugged. She softly caressed her artificial limb. "I took part in the previous war, aye. It's not a pleasant experience and I don't really want to talk about it. I was too young back then. Young and stupid. I still needed five more years to graduate from the mech academy, but the Republic instituted accelerated training programs that attempted to cram everything we needed to learn into a span of only two years."
Ves understood. When the war dragged on and pilots began to grow scarce, the Republic tended to scrape up the young and the old.
These days, it took eight years to turn a fresh potentate into a barebones mech pilot, but they could barely pilot an industrial mech in the basic academies.
In order to gain more advanced fighting skills, the mech cadets also needed to spend some years at an advanced academy. The most well-rounded programs often ran for six years. Therefore, the best and most qualified graduates spent at least fourteen precious years in the academies.
They not only learned how to pilot a mech, but also how to work as a team and how to kill an enemy mech. At the advanced academies, they stopped learning the basics of each mech archetype but chose to specialize in a single role to their utmost.
Practically every state in the human-dominated parts of the galaxy adopted this mech training model. It originated from the galactic center where first-class mechs would also be extremely complex to pilot, but it spread out to the rest of the galaxy as academies in poorer star sectors lacked the resources to provide effective teaching.
Marcella continued her story. "In truth, I only experienced the end of the last war. They put a handful of prematurely graduated mech pilots like me into battle-scarred units where the only mech pilots who survived are those who are the toughest and most resilient men and women I have ever met."
"Did you enjoy your time with them?"
"I sure did. Most of my friendships today can be traced back to my service time. Those who survived formed a bond. We fought and watched each other's back even as missiles rained down on us and took out a hapless colleague. They taught us not to blink and keep on marching forward."
"Your luck must have ran out at some point."
"Yup. It happens to the best of us. The war began to wind down at that stage. The planet we fought over was bombed to hell and back. There was hardly any area in sight where the soil hasn't been disturbed by passing mechs or spent ordnance. Just when I thought I could make it through the end, the Vesians pulled off their final offenses. I barely got into the cockpit of my mech before a surprise attack punched right through the chest of my machine. That was the closest to death I've ever been."
Ves could imagine the horror of getting your cockpit breached by a mech-scaled weapon. "You survived, obviously."
"I was one of the lucky ones. Supplies ran short and the doctors became overwhelmed by the sheer amount of wounded that poured into their treatment facilities. Did you know that mechs are horribly lethal? Anyone facing a mech directly in battle will rarely get away unscathed unless they have their own mechs. It takes many tons of armor to endure a casual attack by a mech."
Both of them fell silent after that. As a young man who never experienced the previous war, he only heard about its horrors from the second-hand stories his aunts and uncles were fond of repeating.
Naturally, most young kids at that age hardly understood the cynicism acting as an undercurrent to their tales. Kids like Ves only focused on the glory and heroics of piloting mechs.
Now that he grew older, Ves felt a little more ambivalent about war. He disliked it, but as someone who designed and sold mechs for a living, his entire business model revolved around conflict.
Without war, who needed mechs?
"Sounds like it hasn't been a pleasant experience for you. Why did you enter the mech broker business then?"
"Well, my ability to pilot a mech has fritzed up due to the wounds I suffered back then. Due to the backlog of wounded, by the time a medical bot arrived at my side, I lost the opportunity to regrow my arm. I didn't understand the weird the science stuff the stupid bot spoke out, but I knew by then that more than ten years of my life is wasted. Think about it. What was I supposed to do with all my years of learning how to pilot mechs?"
"So you continued to get involved with mechs, just in a different way."
Marcella nodded. "After the war, everyone tried their best to forget what happened. The new generation of mechs swept through the galaxy and people needed to make sense of the new designs that rolled out of the mech factories. That's where people like me come in. Just because I can't pilot them anymore doesn't mean my mind has turned stupid. I studied under a mentor at first. I learned all of my business acumen from him. After that, I branched out on my own."
"Mechs have a way of persisting." Ves remarked with a rueful smile. "Now that I think about it, there are many possible careers for veterans such as you to pursue. There is still life after war."
"A lot of mechs get trashed after the war. Salvagers eagerly strip the battlefields and recycle them down into usable resources. Together with the onset of the new generation of mechs, everyone wants better mechs. It's become somewhat of a clockwork pattern for us."
"Ah?" Ves picked up a doubtful tone in her voice.
"It's as if there is a conspiracy behind it all. There's this thing called the military-industrial complex. You heard of it, right?"
"Sure I did, but people always tell me there's no truth behind it. The military-industrial complex is a silly conspiracy theory!"
"Are you sure about that?" Marcella pointedly asked. "You might be thinking that you've joined the big boys now that your mechs sell by the hundreds every month, but you're still a small-time player to the true rulers of the Republic."
"Even if they exist, it's not as if they can do anything about the Vesians. At the heart of it, it's the Vesians who are constantly prodding for war."
Marcella pointed her finger at him. "That's because their version of the military-industrial complex is a lot more simpler than ours. They don't even bother to hide in the shadows. What do you think those greedy nobles are really after? Do they want to help the royal family conquer the Bentheim System? Hah! Even if they lost millions of men and many thousands of mechs, they still accomplished their goals! The Vesians aren't out to conquer our territory in the first place!"
That came as something of a surprise to Ves. For what reason drove the Vesians into such a persistent pattern of war against the Republic? "What's their true goals then."
"They want to cling onto their power! Just think about it. Without war, how much of our populations would explode over time? Every planet would become an unlivable mess after a hundred years or so of uninterrupted growth. Even with the boundless amount of planets in the galaxy, it's too expensive to settle them all!"
What Marcella said sounded vaguely familiar to Ves. "Isn't this one of the justifications people bandy about when they question the MTA and CFA's role as protectors of the human race?"
As the two most powerful trans-galactic organizations, they potentially held the power to end all internal conflicts throughout human-occupied territories.
However, just because they held the power to stop all wars didn't mean it was a good idea to do so. From what Ves heard about the two powerful organizations, they lacked the confidence to impose a unified human order over so many star sectors.
"Is the MTA and CFA in on it?" Ves asked.
"Sure! Why not? They know as well as we do that too many humans are born each years. By the time I end this sentence, another billion or trillion or so babies are born right at this moment. The other alien races liken us as locusts who only know how to reproduce, and I can say they hit the nail on the head. With the growth rates maintained by every state, it's inevitable for planets to become cramped."
"Therefore, states needed to engage in war in order to cull their population?"
It sounded excessively brutal and needlessly convoluted to Ves. "Why not lower the birth rate?"
"Haha!" Marcella laughed. "That's easy to do, but would any state want to? It's fiendishly difficult to crank up the growth rate after generations of cultural brainwashing. And besides, it doesn't help if only a single state institute these kinds of restrictions. Their neighbors will quickly swell in population and manpower and treat them like a poor and easily exploitable territory."
"How does this relate to the so-called military-industrial complex?"
"Well, the most powerful authorities of our race have collectively decided that mechs are good and need to be spread as far as possible. Wars between states form the most convenient way to sell a lot of mechs, and curb the excessive growth in people as well! This exists in every layer of human society, from the galactic level to the level of an individual state. No matter how big of a scale the complex turns out to be, they all want to profit out of death and misery."
It sounded like villainous aspiration, but Ves felt like they made the right decision. The top influences that held sway over human society reigned the fate of their entire race. They could not be soft-hearted nor show any weaknesses to the aliens that lingered at their borders.
The military-industrial complex actually sounded like a bunch of people that Ves could get along with. Where could he sign up?
Marcella read the look in his eyes and signed in disappointment. "You're a mech designer, so of course you take their side. All I can say is that you'll definitely change your tune by the end of this war. It's going to be a very long slog and there will be plenty of times when you get to witness the devastating consequences of war."
"I'm not a sheltered person, you know. I've witnessed first-hand how far a battle can go. I'm also a Larkinson. I've heard many tales about the previous wars."
Ves and Marcella didn't quite see eye to eye on this issue. Mechs gained prominence over four-hundred years ago and would continue to be relevant for centuries to come. Designing mechs and selling them was a noble profession in these times.
"When you step up to the podium this afternoon and show off your new creation, think about what you are introducing to the market. Will your mech be used to destroy, or to defend? You are responsible for how your war machines will be put to use. The blood that your customers are spilling with the help of your creations will inevitably stain your own hands."
Ves tried hard not to think too much about the misuses of his products. Ever since Vincent Ricklin took his Marc Antony Mark I and laid waste to the upper echelon of his own family, Ves stopped paying attention to what his customers did with his mechs.
He only provided the mechs to those that needed it. His responsibility for his mechs ended as soon as they arrived in the hands of his customers.
"I think the crowd will eagerly wish to own a copy my new mech."