Ves smirked as the aspirants who wanted to take over his position tried to weasel their way out of a design duel.
He had to admit that he worried about the issue before he came up with the idea of a duel. He anticipated some of the reasons that others might bring up, and he couldn't completely retort them all.
The main sticking point lay in the seniority argument. Though the oldest and most experienced mech designer wasn't necessarily the most qualified one for the job, they offered a lot more assurances to everyone compared to an external mech designer that had been drafted into the Mech Corps.
Ves spent hours wracking his head on this issue when he first got the news. He came up with various arguments, lies, schemes and tricks before he metaphorically smacked himself on the head.
"Why am I trying to accommodate a bunch of weaklings? As far as I'm aware of, I'm the best mech designer within a range of several light-years. In terms of knowledge, design experience and skill, nobody can hold a candle to me. They want to pick a fight with me? I'll show everyone what fools they are for challenging me!"
He really needed that kick in the butt. Ever since then, he dropped most of his schemes and simply aimed to steer the gathering into a design duel.
Ves ignored the half-hearted arguments between the most ambitious mech designers and threw his gaze at the high-ranking mech designers that kept themselves out of contention and the low-ranking mech designers who formed the silent majority.
Both these groups appeared to be unconvinced by the counter arguments put forth. A mech duel might inherently benefit Ves, but that did not mean it was a bad choice. It was the most direct and uncomplicated option available, and relied directly on the personal capabilities of the mech designer to get ahead.
As for votes or other means of deciding the winner? All of them looked weak in comparison. How could anyone think to take over the position of head designer by currying favor among the mech designers?
No matter how good the likes of Mercator and Trozin built up their reputation among the mech designers, their refusal to accept a duel marked them as a coward.
Ves maintained his ever-present smirk as he sat back and let his rivals come to terms with the inevitable. Once he threw out the suggestion of a duel, nobody would be able to retract from the challenge without affecting their reputation.
Personally, he never liked duels. It was a barbaric practice that had initially been revived by mech pilots wanting to prove their mettle.
Mech designers picked up the tradition and tweaked its format to allow for an even playing field for competing designs.
Design duels formed a controversial means of settling an argument, because it could never be completely fair. Nonetheless, it wasn't outwardly unfair either, and the outcome would always be clear and unambiguous.
Once the mech designers in the crowd started to nod off, Ves decided that he let the aspirants prattle around long enough. He clapped his hands, forcing everyone into silence.
"If my esteemed colleagues are finished, let's proceed to the design duel. I've already prepared the venue."
He spoke of his rivals as if they were children, causing their faces to sour even further. Compared to their evident frustration, Ves looked like a beacon of calm. His confidence oozed out of his body. It was as if he never doubted he would lose at anything.
"Come along now, we don't have all day."
In actual fact, Ves booked eight hours in one of the large-scale training rooms. When he booked the training room, a ship officer immediately got on the line and asked him why he needed so much time.
Training rooms were very valuable because they allowed for extensive simulations with high-quality projectors. The mech squads aboard the Shield of Hispania competed against each other for time in the training room, and here came Ves to snatch their favorite cookie from their grasp.
He answered the ship officer in the simplest terms. "I need this training room to put some unruly children in their place."
Once the Vandal officer heard that Ves intended to hold a design duel, the man smiled in understanding and wished him luck.
The duel was sacred and enjoyed a lot of respect in human society. That was why none of the mech designers retreated from the challenge. Backing out before a fight brought a lot more shame than suffering an outright loss. At least in the latter case, the losers proved their valor to go through with a fight.
Over the next eight hours, a slow-moving tragedy took place. The mech designers looked on from a distance as Ves and four ambitious mech designers took the time to design a mech out of a selection of random parts and mech sections.
From time to time, small groups of off-duty mech pilots and servicemen strolled into the training room. Word of the duel spread throughout the entire ship, and everyone who arrived expected to witness a riveting battle.
All they saw were five mech designers meticulously putting their designs together. To those who lacked a technical background, it was as exciting as watching paint dry. Though some of the ship engineers chose to remain, the disappointed mech pilots always left immediately after.
In the interest of maintaining a veneer of fairness, Ves set a completely random selection of parts at the spot. This way, Ves proved that he hadn't prepared a complete design beforehand.
He wouldn't be able to prepare beforehand because the selection process only picked out a couple of hundred components out of a basket of billions different options. Each new scramble drew out a completely different selection of parts.
All of the parts came from mech and component designs published over two-hundred years ago. Their simple and outdated nature allowed his competitors to work with them more proficiently as they didn't need to spend too much time trying to figure out.
Of course, Ves enjoyed a more lopsided advantage as nobody could match his knowledge and raw Intellect.
He also let the duel take place over a fairly lengthy period of eight hours in order to give everyone plenty of time to go through their design process. While he could have cobbled up a design in two hours or less, his rivals would cry out if he went through with that. Most designers needed at least six hours to come up with a decent duelling mech.
The generous conditions failed to close the gap. Ves designed a simple but exquisite space knight. He thought about designing a hybrid mech instead, but rejected it because a space knight could handle ranged attackers by closing in with its flight system.
Ves limited the design duel to spaceborn mechs because most mech designers possessed more proficiency in this mech classification. That became evident when most mech designers presented mech designs that shamelessly ripped off the Inheritor and Hellcat designs.
"As expected." He smirked.
The design duel happened entirely in a virtual setting. They couldn't afford the resources nor equipment to test their designs in the physical universe.
To avoid complications, Ves also stipulated that the duels proceeded with non-iterative piloting AIs. This meant that they would reset after each duel and negated any learning advantage when the next duels took place.
Though the AIs piloted the simulated mechs like overactive teenagers, the distinct strengths and weaknesses of each design sprung forth.
Each design dueled with every other design, so four duels took place in total.
His design easily beat the Hellcat ripoffs. While he had to admit that the two designers who chose to design a hybrid mech understood the mechanics of the design, it remained a fact that hybrid mechs was exceedingly complex and introduced many inefficiencies in their construction.
The designers completely disregarded the fact that hybrid mechs derived their value from their ability to affect morale. The Hellcat worked great in larger skirmishes and pitched battles, and only against human opponents.
Against an emotionless AI that lacked the capability to feel fear, the Hellcat ripoff strong burst performance crashed against the indomitable shield of the opposing space knight designed by Ves.
Frankly, Ves was disappointed in the performance of the Hellcat imitations. Mech designers like Trozin who aimed for a promotion should have known better than to resort to hybrid mechs for a duel.
If Trozin became their head designer, Ves predicted that she would eventually screw up in a catastrophic manner. Her blind spots could compete against black holes in how much space they distorted!
"They're so stupid." He whispered softly to Iris as they stood at the side while he projections of the virtual duels proceeded apace. "The Hellcats are meant to rally allies and intimidate enemy mech pilots. Their greatest strengths are entirely negated by the duel format."
Iris shrugged. "They only know to design something familiar to them. They've been exposed to the same three designs for several years, with few opportunities to develop any other designs. The Akkara heavy cannoneer isn't suitable for a duel in space, so that effectively leaves only two design templates."
The Inheritor ripoffs put up a better fight. The light skirmishers possessed the speed advantage. Against the medium space knight that Ves designed, his creation could never catch up if the skirmishers insisted on staying out of range.
Yet according to the standard mech dueling conventions, the faster mech needed to take the initiative to attack. An endless chase where the slower mech tried to catch up to the faster mech in vain was more of a farce than a proper duel.
The AIs piloting the dagger-wielding skirmishers wasted a fair amount of fuel before they got it in their heads that they should initiate the attack. They switched from evasion to offense and tried to charge his space knight which took up a basic but solid defensive stance.
None of the skirmishers ever got in more than surface scratches. Knights formed the bane against skirmishers no matter if the battle took place on land or in space. Their comprehensive armor coverage meant that skirmishers couldn't sneak around the back and get an easy kill.
In fact, Ves anticipated that his space knight faced a light mech, so he deliberately lightened the frontal armor in order to free up the capacity to strengthen the rear armor. This wasn't a good idea under normal circumstances, and even without this tweak his space knight would win, but the victory became a lot more lopsided as a consequence.
Mercator's expression grew uglier and uglier as his pride and joy ineffectually danced around the space knight designed by an external mech designer. The pathetic performance of his Inheritor imitation reflected back on him. Some of his allies even started to back away from him, as if they were afraid that others would associate them in the same group.
"This isn't fair!" He hissed. "A spaceborn skirmisher is naturally restrained by a space knight! My design never stood a chance from the start!"
"What is it with you and fairness?" Ves jabbed back. "I've iterated the format and all of the rules beforehand in a transparent manner. Nobody forced you to design a skirmisher."
"This doesn't count! Trozin is just incompetent for designing such an awful hybrid knight." Mercator incisively stated. "You may have won one round, but I demand another duel with landbound mechs! The design I've worked on most is the Akkara heavy mech! Do you dare to pit yourself against my land-based creations?"
"Hahahaha!" Ves laughed. "There are no do-overs here, no second chances. As I just said, I've stated the duel format before and nobody brought up any objections. Mr. Mercator, I sincerely ask you to temper your ambitions. Right now, the Verle Task Force depends on their spaceborn mechs to escape from the Kingdom. A mech designer who can't design a decent spaceborn mech is wholly unfit to become their head designer!"
This argument practically formed the death knell of Mercator's ambitions. The majority of the mech designers knew what was at stake and which kind of mechs they needed to depend on to survive.
The day ended in an anti-climactic manner. It went without saying that Ves was the only one who won every duel. No rematch or runoff duel was necessary to prove the crowd who won.