Ves lacked many advantages that could shore up his position.
First, he wasn't a genuine Journeyman, so he wouldn't be able to command respect by virtue of his status. Even if he had the biggest fist at the moment, many mech designers subconsciously believed that this would be a temporary state.
It was much like how older advanced mech pilots all considered themselves as equals in skill. They all ran into the bottleneck that barred their way towards metamorphosing into an expert pilot. Even if they excelled in different skills, all of them were the same in the eyes of an expert pilot.
Second, Ves was an outsider. He didn't know anyone from before the Mech Corps drafted him and even his fellow alumni from the Rittersberg University of Technology didn't know him. To be honest, back then he was so mediocre that no one bothered to pay attention to him. He wasn't like Patricia Schneider, who stood out as a genius out of place from the start.
Bandying out his connection to Master Olson didn't help much either. It explained his superiority to them, but rather acknowledging his accomplishment of gaining a Master's attention, they envied him instead. Jealousy was a powerful human emotion that motivated countless people to irrational decisions.
Third, their current conditions made it hard to form any bond. With the fleet moving through FTL for most of its two-month journey, every mech designer needed to interact with each other through comms and projections. Though virtual technology made it easy to connect to each other, it was no substitute to being physically present in the same room.
Besides, with the work schedules that Ves planned to hand out week by week, everyone would be too busy to socialize. Those who reached their work targets faster than scheduled might squeeze some moments together, but those would be few and far in between.
He thought back on his resolve to leverage what he possessed in order to get what he wanted. If he could leverage his unique talents in mech design to trade for the assistance of a biomedical institution to figure out his body, then why not use those same talents to achieve other goals?
Mech design was the only thing he was good at, and for a long time Ves thought himself as an ant among giants. With the existence of higher-ranked mech designers such as Journeymen, Seniors, Masters and Star Designers, Ves truly felt as if he had been playing with the sand.
Even if he had the fortuitous assistance of the Mech Designer System, the device only let him catch up a little faster.
It was only recently that his opinion of himself had undergone a shift. Interacting with so many different mech designers during his tour with the Flagrant Vandals allowed him to understand his place.
"I am more than an Apprentice but less than a Journeyman."
He wasn't close to advancing. He could feel that deep within his bones. Yet he happened to be closer to the threshold than anyone else in the Verle Task Force, so Ves happened to possess the most qualifications to be a teacher.
What did other mech designers desire the most? They shared the same dream as Ves. They wanted to reach past their limitations and progress their ability to design mechs until they reached the pinnacle in their profession.
To do that, they needed to learn and improve. Studying textbooks was one way they would be able to absorb new knowledge, but having someone more knowledgeable teaching them the essence of what they missed was of incredible value.
Ves liked to think he would make for a great teacher. After all, his unorthodox learning process through the System crammed him with an extensive understanding of several fields. It lacked the holes, biases, misunderstandings and outdated theories that everyone else had to struggle with as they read their way through stuffy textbooks.
As Ves announced the option to choose for an hour's worth of tutoring from him, most of the higher-ranked mech designers adopted a disdainful look. What he achieved, they could achieve as well. That was what they believed in their hearts.
Only a couple of people that knew him better possessed an inkling of its value. If they could let go of their pride, they definitely stood to benefit a lot.
As for the lower-ranked mech designers, they didn't have much pride to begin with. In front of their colleagues who achieved substantial success, their self-worth had long been ground to dust. As far as the Vandals were concerned, these bunch of failures never got off the starting line.
They weren't 'real' mech designers, not like Ves or Pierce or even the likes of Mercator.
Yet because they never got a proper start, they desired what their more successful peers achieved more than anything else. Ves could see the hunger in the expressions of their projections. Some hid it better than others, but almost every mech designer sitting in the back seats felt their long-dormant hope beginning to ignite.
Ves smirked inwardly at that. He successfully planted the seeds within their minds. Time would tell whether they germinated.
The rest of the meeting didn't contain any more bombshells. He handed out schedules of the work that needed to be done in the next few days. He tasked Mercator and Trozin to keep track of every mech designer's progress on top of their current duties. Ves didn't care if it ate away at their time.
He threw out one more warning before he ended the meeting.
"Be careful when the task force arrives at our next destination. It's our last stop before we leave the Imodris Duchy, so it is the only star system where our pursuers have a hope of stopping us. Everyone will be called to battle stations anyway, but I hope you realize there is a chance we'll be plunged into combat as soon as our ships emerge from FTL."
Some of them shrugged them off, inured to their positions as non-combatants who wouldn't be exposed to much danger. What happened to Ves and Alloc was an exception. Maybe a few of them would take his warning seriously, but Ves didn't bet on it. In any case, he performed his due diligence.
The projections winked out at the end of the meeting. No doubt everyone hurried to study the work schedule that Ves just sent to their comms.
Over the next days, every mech designer settled into a new routine. Some still worked on spaceborn mechs while others started piecing together landbound mechs. Through various indicators that directly fed into his terminal, Ves kept a good gauge on everyone's progress.
Compared to past performance, at least half of the lower-ranked mech designers achieved more results. They acted like they had a fire lit under their butts and obviously attempted to exceed their weekly quotas.
When Ves showed the changes to Iris, she whistled in appreciation. "Your little offer works better than I thought, boss! I never realized how desperate these Novices are. Just an hour's worth of tutoring is enough to increase their productivity by a third!"
Perhaps not everyone would be able to maintain this level of hyperactive work, but that was good for Ves as well. He didn't relish staying stuck in his office tutoring over a dozen individual students.
"Not all of them are aiming for a tutoring session." Ves added. "Some value the privilege of being able to borrow a textbook for half a year. Personally, I would go for this first before opting to receive a tutoring session, as the tutor can help me understand the contents of the book."
A tutor only helped when the student already progressed their studies to a good extent. Only a full-blown teaching course would be able to help them understand a complete field from scratch.
As much as Ves was willing to be a teacher for a period of time, he didn't have the time to spare on such distractions. Maybe once the war came at an end, Ves would reconsider the matter.
In fact, the idea appealed to him in a way. Though Ves was never one for lofty thoughts such as feeling the obligation to contribute to the growth of the next generation, he at least felt some understanding for other mech designers that decided to take up a teaching position.
"I don't think you've offered to teach them out of a whim. What are you getting out of it, if I may ask?"
"Teaching is a good way to get in touch with some good seeds." Ves responded. "If work at it hard enough, I can begin to build my own network."
Even Professor Velten used to teach at an institution in the Republic before she worked for the Flagrant Vandals. The MTA provided incentives to anyone that took up a teaching position, but even without that carrot mech designers still sought to pass on some of their knowledge.
Now that he reached a height where he could tentatively call himself a qualified teacher, Ves already started scheming on what kind of advantages he could get out of this side activity.
"Ah, so you're aiming to build your own influence among the Vandals." Iris nodded.
"To be honest, forging some relationships during my stay with the Vandals is a bonus. A friend who is just a Novice Mech Designer isn't very useful to me. What I'm really trying to do is to reel in some promising seeds and invite them to join my ventures after the war."
Iris looked at his with widened eyes. "That's really far-sighted of you, sir. This is an excellent idea! Comrades who've gone through thick and thin during a war share the most lasting bonds."
Ves thought back about his uncles and aunts who told him stories when he was young. Those veterans often spoke fondly of their unbreakable connection with their comrades in arms. Some even visited them regularly to catch up on old times.
If the Mech Corps hadn't dragged him into the war, Ves would have resorted to cultivating relationships through teaching sooner or later. It was a good means to get in touch with promising mech designers that deserved some investment.
Naturally, there was always the possibility that Ves would pull out a gem from the rough, however minute this possibility actually turned out to be. If he taught someone half as smart as Oleg, he would quickly have a capable assistant at his beck and call.
Still, there were risks involved with teaching as well. Some might abuse his trust or aim to steal his secrets. If someone knew about any of his major secrets such as the existence of the System or his one attempt at breaking the taboo against weapons of mass destruction, Ves would instantly be hunted down by the most powerful organizations in the galaxy.
Others might turn out to be so talented that they might quickly surpass Ves. Before, they lacked the opportunity to show of their excellence. Poverty, lack of connections or just being a late bloomer doomed them into lowest echelons of mech designers. Once Ves recognized their talents pulled them up to his level, they would finally be able to spread their wings and show off their brilliance.
Ves didn't fear these occurrences, though he would definitely feel uneasy if any of these occurrences happened to him. That was the extent of it. "If I feel uncomfortable about something, then it's not something to reject."
He believed he protected his secrets well enough. Also, if some prodigy managed to shoot up and become a Journeyman Mech Designer in record time, then that was nothing shameful. He wasn't petty to the point where he couldn't tolerate someone being better than him in mech design.
"There are already so many Senior and Master Mech Designers in the Komodo Star Sector alone. What is the harm of one more addition?"
Ves believed that with the help of the System, he could definitely become a Master within a century. He set his sights much higher, so it was more important that he laid the best foundation possible than to race up the ranks with no regard to the end run.
He couldn't help but think back on Morgan's theory that Apprentices shouldn't rush to advance to Journeyman. The mech designer that Ves briefly acquainted back at boot camp might possess some very odd ideas, but this one kept lingering in the back of his mind.