The 6th Flagrant Vandals only appreciated the Hellcat design due to its iconic status within the mech regiment. Even then, the Vandals hadn't actually invested a lot of resources into improving the design.
Even if the Mech Corps hardly sent any mech designers to the Vandals, couldn't they have supplemented their design teams by hiring them on their own?
Ves didn't understand why they placed so little importance to the design department. Professor Velten was supposed to be chummy with Colonel Lowenfield. Couldn't the Senior Mech Designer make a better case for her department and stop its gradual deterioration?
"Well, I'll be taking a look at another piece of the puzzle soon."
Once Ves finished his talks with the other two mech designer, he proceeded to take up his first task. This time, Professor Velten wanted him to focus his efforts towards the Inheritor design first.
"It's the most prevalent model of the Vandals." The professor told him. "Therefore, I'd like to see if there is any way you can make a contribution to its design. Even a minor improvement can save dozens of lives due to how much the Vandals depends on this design."
Therefore, his first task was to listen to the people who worked with the Inheritor mechs on a day-to-day basis.
Ves looked down at his comm and set his destination. The device flickered to life and projected a small line that led him through the confusing maze of corridors of the massive factory ship.
"I'm finally stepping out of this cage."
As he went through the corridors and took a few lifts downwards, Ves saw lots of new things. He passed by several important compartments, such as a workshop that repaired broken mech components to a mineral processing area that turned raw asteroids into usable resources.
Each of these sights opened his eyes to what the Wolf Mother hosted. At the size of a capital ship, she could truly be called a mobile factory in space.
"There's so much industry going on inside this ship."
He already knew in an abstract way that the Flagrant Vandals depended on the Wolf Mother along with a couple of smaller logistics ships to keep the entire mech regiment afloat. Yet he never got exposed to the extent to which the Vandals worked to make it possible.
Besides being struck by the scale of these operations was the fact that everyone who worked in these compartments wore the uniform of a Vandal. That basically meant that they were proper servicemen and not some kind of civilian help they picked off the streets.
It made sense for the Wolf Mother to be staffed by so many support personnel, but his estimate on how many people worked aboard the ship had to be adjusted upwards by several thousand people.
"Repairing broken mechs and fabricating new ones is a massive industry in itself."
Ves genuinely admired the entrepreneurial spirit of the Vandals. Without access to external sources of funding, the Vandals managed to scrape by on their own with the help of their factory ship. And besides the whacky FTL engine, the Wolf Mother was very well put together for a vessel that the Vandals constantly worked upon. Ves hardly noticed any flaws in the structural integrity of the areas he walked by.
After a long walk, he finally reached one of the hangars where the Vandals assigned a squad of spaceborn mechs. Though the Wolf Mother always tried to stay out of fights, sometimes the fight came to her. It was imperative for the factory ship to possess some means of defending herself.
As Ves came up to the nearest hangar, he went through a security check before being allowed inside.
The space wasn't very big. Compared to the cavernous hangars of the Ark Horizon, the hangar he entered could only fit a squad of ten mechs and some spare machines. In order to save a lot of space, the ceiling of the hangar was kept as low as possible. This made it rather awkward to move around the spaceborn mechs as they couldn't utilize their flight systems without mashing their heads to pieces.
After looking around, he spotted a Vandal wearing the markings of a chief technician. Ves waved at the woman and approached her as she supervised the modification process of an unknown Vesian mech.
The middle-aged woman nodded her robust-looking head while she chewed a stimulant. "You must be the new kid the old hag told us about. She made you out to be some kind of mech whisperer. Well, you don't look like it."
Chief Jezebel Carmon didn't look to impressed with Ves, and he didn't blame her for that. His official track record was rather thin and he was still very young to be working with designs on this level.
"Are all chiefs supposed to be acting as tough as nails?"
"It comes with the job. You try ordering around a bunch of numbskulls for a couple of years. My men will do the strangest things if I'm not around to keep them in line."
Chief technicians knew their way around with machines a lot better than the average mech technician, but their true value lay in their leadership abilities. Without their steady presence, any mech maintenance department would fall apart.
"I'm here to help with the Inheritor design. First up, can you lead me to a copy of this mech?"
"Sure. Follow me."
A couple of mech pilots milled about. With the Wolf Mother constantly travelling in FTL, there wasn't a great need to keep the mech pilots on hand. Still, in the event the fleet she travelled with entered into an ambush, at least a couple of mech pilots needed to be ready and waiting at all times in order to deploy the moment the Wolf Mother returned to realspace.
Ves imagined the mech pilots of the Vandals to be a little rowdy, the opposite of the mech pilots of the elite regiments or companies. What he actually saw were mech pilots that fell in between.
They didn't look as classy as someone like Captain Vicar, but neither did their appearances resemble the disheveled gang members of Walter's Whalers.
If nothing else, they resembled highly disciplined mercenaries.
Chief Carmon led Ves to the nearest Inheritor, which also happened to be in a sorry state. Its razor-thin armor suffered gashes to its legs and its torso. His judgement told him that this inheritor had been targeted by a single rifleman mech.
A mech pilot stood in front of his mech with a pensive face. Upon sensing someone coming close, he turned around and greeted Carmon and the newcomer.
"Lieutenant Chandis, this is Ves Larkinson, a mech designer from the labs. He's our latest liaison."
"I liked the old kid better." Chandis muttered, completely disregarding the fact that Ves stood in front of him. "That last mech designer was a good listener, and he always promised to convey my wishes to the professor."
"Lieutenant, I am not that mech designer. I'm much better than him, in fact."
The lieutenant chuckled. "Do you, now? We'll see about that."
Ves looked around and tried to change the topic. He settled on the Inheritor that the mech technicians were in the process of beginning their repairs. "What happened to this mech?"
"Our opponents lucked out during the last raid. We steamrolled a Vesian trade convoy a few months back and made it out with a handsome amount of loot. It's too bad the comrade who piloted this mech is still recovering in the infirmary.
"If this mech got damaged a few months ago, why hasn't it been repaired yet?"
"We're short-handed." The chief blunty replied, and waved her arm to encompass the entire hangar. "This is only one of several hangars aboard the Wolf Mother, and her maximum capacity pales in comparison to the dedicated hangars aboard a proper fleet or combat carrier. Hiring has always been difficult for us so we're working at our wits end sometimes. It doesn't help that the factory ship assigns most of the mech technicians to the production lines or the mineral processing machines."
Same as the design department, it turned out the maintenance department suffered from a shortage of people as well. When Ves previously passed through the other compartments, he didn't get the idea that they suffered from a shortage of skilled workers.
Strange. Why hadn't the Vandals managed their manpower better? He would have thought that skimping out on the mech technicians led to many delays and mistakes with regards to servicing mechs. What were they thinking?!
Ves began to ask more questions about the Inheritor. He wanted to know why it looked so shot up after only suffering a couple of solid hits.
"The armor might as well not be there. It's sufficient enough to resist small arms fire, but mech-sized weapons encounter no obstacle when they strike the Inheritor."
"Doesn't it possess enough speed to mitigate most incoming attacks?"
"That's what it's supposed to do. The reality is that there are many situations where we have to slow down or stop. Just think about it. When we raid a trade or supply convoy, we have to match our speeds relative to the transport ships we're aiming to raid. The delta vee will practically approach zero when we come close."
"What about its flight system?" Ves continued his questioning. "The Inheritor is supposed to possess a very high thrust-to-weight ratio. It shouldn't be too difficult to keep jinking back and forth."
The lieutenant scoffed at that. "Jinking around like that all the time will eat up our energy cells and put more stress on the frame. The Inheritor is so fragile that there's a very real risk of breaking something important if we shift our mechs in an abrupt manner."
"You don't think much about the Inheritor, do you?"
"Yeah. Unlike the dumb recruits that trickle in from time to time, I've been a Vandal long enough to understand how badly we need to squeeze our budget. If it were up to me, I'd say we should throw away this worthless design and transition to whatever light mechs the Vesians are using."
"The higher ups already thought of that." Chief Carmon said. "They quickly decided that there's no way they can rely on raiding to supplement our mechs because we can't get enough light skirmishers. Every transport that ships over a batch of mechs always carry a hodgepodge of different designs. It's really difficult to get the type of mechs we need the most."
"That still doesn't mean the Inheritor has to be as thin and cheap as possible!" The lieutenant screamed back. This time, Ves could feel the force of the mech pilot's indignity. "We have so many Inheritors lying around that we don't know what to do with them. Why can't we invest in tougher mechs that are a little more expensive to make than what we have right now?"
"I think it's a numbers game to them." Ves speculated. "A smaller number of more capable mechs won't be able to hold out against a large number of low-quality mechs. This is very important for a mech regiment like the Whalers. They need to spend their money as best as possible."
Ves did not dare to pass any judgement on that scheme. Instinctively, it made a lot of sense, but the constant casualties and the frequency of the mechs turning into floating wrecks in space remained very high.
It was as if this had been a deliberate choice.
The lieutenant showed Ves around the Inheritor after he finished his grumbling. Chief Carmon hovered close and commented on the uncommon features of the Inheritor design.
"You see these arms here? They're one of the strongest parts of this mech, as skirmishers rely on their arms and how much weight they can put behind them to penetrate through armor. It sometimes gets really difficult to peel away the armor plating of a tough ship like a combat carrier."
Ves noticed that. Normally, it didn't really hurt if the arms were oversized, since a spaceborn mech always fought in space. As long as the design balanced out the arms to the rest of the frame, it would still be able to fly in space on a stable trajectory.
"Are there any problems with the arms?"
"Not as such, but I have a couple of pet peeves about them." The lieutenant replied.
Ves nodded as he inspected and touched the arms up close. The scarred and tarnished alloys felt cool to his touch. "Let's hear it then."