Ever since Ves embarked on the path to become a mech designer, he progressed at a rapid pace. He liked to think he learned to see things others didn't. Though his place among the Vandals only allowed him to observe a tiny part of their functioning, what he derived from it worried him a lot.
Ves placed his hand against the surface of the bulkhead and felt its cold metallic touch. The Wolf Mother traveled through a succession of star systems. Each time the ship exited FTL, the entire ship underwent a minor upheaval. It spoke much about the haphazard way the Wolf Mother grew to her current form.
Yet despite this side effect, nothing suffered any ill effects. The resourceful crew of the Wolf Mother timed their most critical operations around the schedule of transitions. They made sure that the production lines didn't work on something delicate whenever the ship entered or dropped out of FTL.
"You're tougher than you look like."
Much of what made the Vandals survive up to now came down to their ingenuity. They scraped by with a fraction of the resources that a proper mech regiment enjoyed. Though he found their design development plans to be perplexing and the legality of some of their actions a little iffy, he had to admit that the Vandals was the top regiment in the Republic in terms of resourcefulness alone.
Having lived among them and observed them up close made Ves a little sympathetic to their cause. Despite their outward displays of cynicism, they still retained a core of discipline and duty.
With regards to his work, his routine remained the same, though Alloc finally started to notice that Ves finished his work faster than others. Now that he ceased to be preoccupied with tinkering with the software of the Hellcat, Alloc finally spent more time watching over the mech designers working under him. Compared to the other Apprentices, Ves stood out in how relaxed he approached his assignments.
At some time, Alloc pulled Ves aside into a private office.
The Journeyman Mech Designer stared at the younger man with a penetrating stare. "Ves, according to the logs in your terminal, the speed at which you are nailing down the right numbers is a little frightening. It's so out of bounds that I've been testing you with a number of different problems. The way you work with math and physics is frankly frightening for a mech designer of your age. Who are you?"
"I'm Ves Larkinson, no one else. As for how I got to be so good, didn't you read my record?"
"I've seen nominal disciples to Masters in action before. None of them have rocketed upwards as fast as you." Alloc frowned as he tried to crack the secret behind Ves' ascent. "Though I don't specialize in Physics, the ease at which you solve complex issues related to this field surpasses what I'm capable of. Are you an alien or something?"
Ves laughed a little. "Sir, though my genes are kind of mixed up right now, I'm still a human in heart and blood. My life experiences are a little different from others."
One thing that Ves was most afraid of was eliciting Alloc's jealousy. It would be extremely depressing if his direct superior wanted to squash Ves down due to being unable to tolerate someone younger being better than an actual Journeyman.
It appeared that Ves did not have to worry about that account. As much as Alloc enjoyed his own status, the dire state of the 6th Flagrant Vandals and the Hellcat design team had left Alloc in a state where extra talent and manpower should be cherished.
"You're an anomaly, Ves." Alloc concluded with utmost seriousness. "I can't quite put my thumb on you. Nothing in your record makes sense.The only way to explain it is if some unknown influence is cultivating you."
Ves could say nothing against that. He couldn't mention anything about the Mech Designer System and how it had been a massive aid to his mech design career. He would rather let Alloc make his own conclusions.
After some time, Alloc nodded and smacked his fist against his palm. "I understand why the Mech Corps sent someone as promising as you to the Vandals. Unlike headquarters, we don't care about your allegiances at all. You're aboard the Wolf Mother just like the rest, so I hardly believe you would do anything that would go against our interests. We are literally on the same boat in that regard."
Though Ves felt a little pissed that Alloc casually questioned his loyalties like that, he was smart enough not to make a fuss about it. This was a critical moment for him. Opening his mouth would just ruin his chances.
"I've decided now. Since we're so short-handed, I'll let you pick your own assignments. I'll increase your privileges so that you can access the planning and the list of issues for the Hellcat design. I don't have the authority to unlock the entire design schematics to you, but you should have plenty to do with the access you already have."
"Thank you, sir! You won't regret your decision!"
"You better not slack off, Ves. The Flagrant Vandals has already joined the main fleet, and we have already crossed the borders. While I can't predict how much time it takes to reach the Imodris Duchy, try to present some solid results within a month. Any longer and we won't have the time to implement any improvements you've made to our existing Hellcats."
Ves promised to respect the confidentiality of the information made available to him. Satisfied, Alloc delivered on his promise and raised the amount of files Ves could access.
Among the miscellaneous documents that Alloc unlocked for Ves, the most important piece of information was the succinct list of issues and problems facing the Hellcat.
They consisted of observations made by the mech pilots that handled the Hellcats and the problems foreseen by the mech designers themselves. All of the problems amounted to a very long list, though most seemed rather trivial.
Still, for a perfectionist like Ves, he became dismayed when he finally realized the extent of the imperfections.
"This is only the tip of the iceberg."
Many more problems wracked the Hellcat design. They just hadn't been observed yet.
"Let's forget about the problems out of sight. The visible ones alone are more than enough to keep me busy for years."
Alloc took a chance in increasing the privileges enjoyed by Ves, but unspoken in that move was that his superior expected more things. Ves needed to prove his chops and repay Alloc's trust.
Not everyone responded well to his increase in responsibilities. Something like this couldn't be hidden from the other Apprentices.
"Sir! I protest! Mr. Larkinson is just a temp! He's the last person among us who should be handling all of that sensitive information!"
Alloc happened to have a very effective response to that argument. "Tell that to me once you can outsmart Mr. Larkinson."
No one dared to make that claim. In the previous weeks, Ves painstakingly demonstrated his competence, which much have surely damaged their confidence. Though he was an outsider who only joined the Hellcat design team due to the war, his presence had already improved their efficiency.
Though the Apprentices didn't look resigned, they could only keep their opinions to themselves. They stared enviously as Ves browsed the expanded database in a leisurely manner.
"What shall I tackle?"
Ves had no time to pay attention to everyone else's stares. Alloc expected great results from him, so Ves needed to pick something impactful that fell within his capabilities to solve. Not a lot of problems met this criteria.
He flicked through each and every problem on the list. Even if he rejected most of them, it was still valuable for him to read this list. "Hmmm... software again, not my cup of tea. Increasing the actuation speed of the legs, sounds more interesting, but that's hardly consequential for a spaceborn mech.
"Enhancing the power of the wrist-mounted nail drivers... that sounds interesting."
The nail drivers served a small purpose to the Hellcat design, perhaps too small. Due to weight and space constraints, the nail driver only accommodated four nails in total. This was highly limiting and only really gave the Hellcat an extra lifeline in certain situations.
"Can I increase the power of the nail driver or overhaul its internal mechanisms?"
He already thought of a couple of tweaks, but a bigger solution remained elusive. Professor Velten must have gone over this problem plenty of times and this time was no different. The nail drivers enjoyed her personal attention for a time and she optimized the nail drivers to the point where she couldn't come up with more gains.
As Ves studied the schematics of the nail driver and some other components, he also perceived the flavor of Professor Velten's design philosophy.
It felt a bit strange.
Since the Hellcat was a collaborative project, the purity of its design was rather muddled. Still, Professor Velten's imprint stood head and shoulders above everyone elese's, including the minor work that Ves imparted on the design up to now.
"Ves found it difficult to describe Professor Velten's design philosophy. "Perpetuance? No. "timelessness, enduring, fading."
One of the hidden dangers in the Hellcat design was that Ves faintly sensed some weaknesses seeping into the heart of its design. For some reason, Professor Velten started to lose her love for the design.
Ves couldn't blame her. The Hellcat's numerous demands tore it apart. It needed to fly, use up three weapon systems at once and it needed to be well-protected as well. It was enough to hear his heart out!
Though he didn't think well of the Hellcat, the way the Vandals made the most out of the design made Ves realize that not all mechs had to be technical masterpieces.
"A good mech isn't necessarily the one with the best specs or the strongest X-Factor. The best mech is the machine that gets the job done.
In this regard, the Hellcat made a definite impression on the enemy. Therefore, Ves found it regretful that Professor Velten started to slide.
"I can't let this downward trend go on. Whatever is going on with Professor Velten, she can't leave her own work in the dust like this. It deserves more."
In choosing where to start first, Ves no longer relied on the data included in the reports. Instead, he closed his eyes and started to commune with the design on a spiritual level.
It was hard, incredibly hard. In order to understand the nucleus of this mech, Ves needed to cut through all of the interference. Too many people used to work on this design. Their mixed sentiments polluted the design and made it harder for Ves to get a read on the design.
Ves continually refined his methods, but they only amounted to a limited amount of improvement.
What Ves got out of the Hellcat design was decidedly mixed. He perceived conflicting emotions from two unknown designers that nonetheless left a huge mark on the design.
"Seems like Professor Velten hadn't designed this mech after all. She inherited from other Seniors."
The imprints of those two echoes were so strong and distinct that they couldn't be anything else but Senior Mech Designers. Though Ves couldn't get a solid read on the design itself, Ves figured he could infer some of its core traits by interpreting the imprints from the Seniors.
This was a very fascinating experience, and despite appearing like a lazy idiot in the presence of the other mech designers, Ves cheerfully plunged into the depths of the two distinct flavors.
Much of the issues surrounding the Hellcat design could be traced back to its original designers. They possessed very distinct outlooks and wanted to pull the Hellcat into two seperate directions.
One designer favored defense, and possessed a lot of experience in designing knights. The other designer emphasized versatility, and must have possessed a substantial amount of experience in designing hybrid and multipurpose mechs.
Both of them somehow ended up working on the same project, and from the looks of it, neither of them possessed authority over the other. They had been forced to cooperate on equal terms.
"What a tragedy."
Whoever ordered them to do so didn't know anything about mech design. With no obvious lead designer in charge of the project, the Hellcat grew in scope and its featured ballooned to its present bloated state. Though they did a remarkable job in slimming down its internals, the interconnectedness of it all hadn't aged the Hellcat very well.
"It's a design that's difficult to update."