Ves scheduled another comprehensive meeting. Every mech designer in the task force had been ordered to attend it, though it was sufficient for them to show up as projections. They could hardly enter a shuttle and transfer over to the Shield of Hispania while the entire task force entered FTL.
In the meantime, Ves fulfilled some of his other responsibilities. He paid a visit to each of the Shield of Hispania's hangar bays to provide consultations for the resident mech pilots and mech technicians.
He spent days drawing upon the full potential of his formidable mind to fill out an expansive but fairly abstract plan. Staring at the developing mech roster all day disconnected him from the mechs and people that the numbers represented. Ves couldn't let himself become too detached to reality.
"Mr. Larkinson, can you teach us how to increase this laser rifle's heat capacity?"
"I don't understand why this mech glitches out whenever its power reactor reaches twenty-seven percent capacity! We've been thinking about replacing it with another one, but it's too costly if we proceed with this solution!"
"I heard you've got a good touch for mechs! Every mech you laid your hands on feels great for every mech pilot! Can you bless our mechs as well?"
The low-level problems didn't require much effort for Ves to address. He found it relaxing in a way to forget about his heaviest responsibilities and return to basics. Ves always believed that the best mech designer needed to rely on both theory and practice to advance their understanding of the craft.
"Knowledge advances our technical understanding of mechs, but practice allows us to develop our artistic side."
Not every mech designer agreed that their profession incorporated art or craftsmanship. This was different from other design professions such as architects who constantly try to influence the people that inhabited the structures they designed.
Ves found it kind of sad that most of the mech designers he had met among the Vandals ascribed to a different school of thought. They leaned more towards a functional or utilitarian perspective of mechs.
This viewpoint expressly rejected any subjective attachments to mechs and only cared about their objective performance. The spec sheets were holy and the numbers never lied.
Having corresponded with the likes of Iris, Pierce and Laida, Ves understood that this was common among the mech designers who worked as grunts in design teams.
"They don't have the power to exert any influence on the designs they are working on. They are only there to perform some menial tasks."
Only the highest-ranked mech designers that led the design teams had a use for their artistic side.
"The high-ranking mech designers among us don't just need to reach the rank of Apprentice, they also have to develop their first original design by themselves. How did they even manage to accomplish this?"
Independent mech designers like Ves who founded their own businesses turned out to be very rare. While Ves himself knew that most mech designers shied away from the risks and the high barriers to entry associated with going it alone, too many mech designers opted to go for the easy road.
While these mech designers pursued honest careers, their overspecialization atrophied their ability to design a complete mech by themselves.
"A mech designer who specializes in legs won't know what to do when they have to design the other portions of a mech."
At the very least, there would be a noticeable imbalance of quality. Yet even then, mech designers like Mercator and Iris somehow made the cut. How did they do it?
Ves checked the MTA's expansive archives and looked up their first original designs. He quickly found out that they used the same strategy they employed during the design duel.
"They ripped off another design."
Truly, the definition of what constituted an 'original' design was hard to pin down. If Ves copied the Caesar Augustus but coated it black instead of white, then nobody would accept he designed an original mech. Yet if he attempted to design a vague copy of the Caesar Augustus while making use of different component licenses, then he arguably designed an 'original' mech.
Even if the imitation possessed highly similar specs to the original, it still constituted an original design to the MTA. Their exact criteria on the matter was a secret. Suffice to say, the actual hurdle wasn't very high to most mech designers.
"Did I make too much of a fuss when I debuted my own work to the public?"
No. A proper first original design attracted a fair amount of publicity. Ves followed the tradition sincerely and got rewarded for it with plenty of coverage that boosted the marketing for his Blackbeak design.
As for the poor imitations and ripoffs designed by his colleagues within the mech regiment? The MTA may have validated their designs, but their only practical use was to collect dust in the archives. No one spared a glance at their so-called debut works, and this lack of distinction would certainly become a hindrance to their careers if they tried to make something of themselves in the private sector.
"They may be able to get past the MTA, but they can't fool the market."
Time passed until the time for the meeting began. Ves sat himself at the front of the conference room. The seats had been constrained in concentric circles this time to foster a sense of equality. The main reason why he called for this meeting was to address the concerns of lower-ranking mech designers who did most of the actual grunt work in the fleet.
Emitters flared up as lifelike projections of people appeared inside the conference room. They quietly took their places and wondered why he scheduled this meeting.
Familiar faces such as Pierce, Mercator and Trozin sat in the inner circle. Numerous amounts of lower-ranked mech designers sat in the outer circles. Ves focused his gaze on each and every one of them. Some met his stares, others instantly bent their heads or shield away.
This was what he expected, and frankly hoped for. Ves placed much stock on these Novice and fairly junior Apprentice Mech designers that revered him. In his eyes, they were like loose clay, ready for him to be shaped in any form he wanted.
As for the higher-ranked Apprentices, none of them really looked at him with reverence. Oh, they respected his skills and acknowledged his prowess, but they never thought he was better than them. Only Pierce feared him a little bit because he witnessed what Ves was fully capable of during their boot camp.
Iris didn't fear him at all, but Ves already had a good rapport with her. As the only physical mech designer present, she stood out from the other occupants as her body appeared just a bit more real than others. Despite the excellent quality of projectors, human eyes were much more capable in certain aspects than machines.
When everyone's virtual avatars arrived, Ves stood up and began the meeting. "Thank you for coming here today. We've got a number of points on the agenda to go through. First, let me announce to you that a provisional plan for our mech roster has received Major Verle's approval. I don't expect any major changes to the plan, so it is essentially a done project."
"Can we obtain copies of the plan, sir? It's hard to work while blind! I don't know if I need to enhance a mech's speed or armor for the next deployment."
Ves shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't do that. A lot of sensitive information can be derived from the full plan. Even the summaries are enough to plunge the Vandals into a crisis if someone leaks them out to the Vesians. For now, I'll only release information to you on a need to know basis."
Mercator raised his hand. "Head designer, as your deputies, it would be helpful for us to be acquainted with your plan. Will you allow us access to some of the details? We only need enough to make some preparations."
"As I've stated before, you'll be informed when you need to know at that point in time." Ves glibbed while trying to keep his smile hidden.
He really didn't like Mercator, but he thought it would be unprofessional to show his displeasure at his own deputy. He wouldn't give Mercator or any snake the satisfaction to see him make a blunder. In any case, words were cheap, and Ves felt no guilt in answering with a lie or non-answer.
In any case, Ves could tell that Mercator hadn't been taken in by the nonsense, but wisely refrained from making a fuss.
"Mr. Larkinson, if nobody gets to access the details beforehand, will all of us be working blind?" Trozin asked her own question.
"I'll essentially drip-feed your assignments when they need to be done. It's not ideal, but it minimizes the damage should any of this leaks out. I don't want to hand over our entire itenary for the next two months to the Vesians.
Everyone chuckled at that, though the prospect wasn't all that funny.
Ves explained a few more things and even revealed the first step of the plan, which wasn't too complicated. "A possible landbound deployment is in the air, so make sure you divert at least half of your focus on landbound mechs that can be fixed with ease. Prioritize the easy cases first and leave the heavily damaged mechs for later."
Some of them looked surprised that they needed to work on the landbound mech. After all, wouldn't a straightforward flight from Vesian space be a straight run to the border? Ves didn't let out anything about the topic after that, but he figured the inquisitive mech designers would figure out the motivations on their own soon enough.
"Now, I'll be demanding that you work as hard as possible for the next two months. We need to maximize our productivity and minimize our waste. Anyone who slacks off or fobs off their assigned to a mech technician or something will be punished harshly!"
Ves emphasised the importance of hard work because the plan demanded a lot of changes to be made at critical intervals in the next two months.
Perhaps someone foresaw the sheer amount of work Ves would soon pile up on their shoulders. "Sir, we aren't bots who can't work all day! We need our rest moments!"
"Tough luck, then. We're at war, and we're knee-deep in enemy territory. Relax when you sleep. Otherwise, go to work. The more we get things done, the stronger the Vandals become."
More people started to furrow their brows. They faintly suspected that Ves would start to become their slave driver.
Ves grinned and gestured towards Mercator and Trozin. "My deputies will keep an eye on your productivity. If you haven't been meeting your targets, they'll be sure to whip you back into shape!"
The two deputies looked surprised at Ves for giving them this duty. However, it made sense for them to be their supervisors because that was what deputies should do. In any case, Ves wouldn't have to bother with the tedium while the other mech designers became a little more guarded in front of the deputies.
Naturally, since Ves showed off his stick, he should also introduce the carrot. "I don't expect you to work for nothing. Anyone who meets their targets for the week will receive the right to borrow one Journeyman-level textbook from the central database of the Mech Corps. It'll be yours to peruse for an entire month!"
That lit a fire under their butts. No mech designer wanted to stay stagnant, and for most of them, a quality Journeyman-level textbook from the Mech Corps was a highly sought-after commodity!
"That's not all! Those who exceed their targets by a fair margin will receive greater privileges. Those who are eligible can either exchange it for the right to borrow another textbook for half a year, or the opportunity to receive my personal tutelage for an entire hour!"
That caused the mech designers to really take notice. Textbooks weren't easy to digest, and the mech designers also needed to fulfill their other duties before they had time to study new knowledge. Being allowed to borrow a textbook for half a year would be enough for them to understand at least ninety-five of its contents!
As for an hour's worth of personal tutoring from Ves, this potential reward turned out to be very polarizing!