The Flagrant Vandals slowly emerged out of the rut they fell into after reaching the Reinald Republic. Like a wounded bear emerging out of a fight, they emerged stronger and more resilient.
Captain Orfan's performance in the underground arena became a point of pride with the servicemen. Her demonstration of her individual fighting prowess propped up the other Vandal mech pilots. This not only lifted everyone's pride, but also increased their bond of brotherhood with their fellow Vandals.
Though these effects fell short of turning the Flagrant Vandals from a regular mech regiment into an elite mech regiment, the shift in mentality nonetheless formed a point of evolution in their martial tradition.
Many armchair generals spoke about martial tradition. It not only rose through steady accumulation, but also through major battles and sudden turning points. Each event deepend the history of the mech regiment, causing it to become more distinct.
Ves had mostly been out of sorts lately. It was a good thing that Harkensen I offered the perfect opportunity for him to relax and contemplate his recent insights.
Different from Harkensen III, the first planet from the sun aimed to create an entertainment paradise that had nothing to do with mechs. Practically no one received a permit to operate a mech on the surface of the planet. The only mechs around bore the colors of the Honored Ones, and these machines only patrolled the most strategic centers.
In every other place, the Honored Ones adopted a more discrete countenance. They toned down their physical presence on the streets and made do with much less heavy gear. Overall security was still good, but it became much less overt on the planet.
Pleasure, entertainment and fun became the focal points of Harkensen I. From its famous stretches of beaches, to the endless casinos and nightclubs, the planet touted itself as a famed holiday destination in the Komodo Star Sector.
The planet attracted two kinds of tourists. The regular kind made up the bulk of the visitors. The other kind consisted of mech pilots that needed to wind down. Though the latter category didn't spend as much as the whales, their presence on the planet attracted many people fascinated with mech pilots. As long as someone wasn't too rude, they would be able to interact with mech pilots on a daily basis!
The lack of overt militarization on the planet made it a prime therapy planet to mech pilots that experienced traumatic events.
With its proximity to Harkensen III, it was no surprise that many outfits tended to stop by in the Harkensen System. Just like the Flagrant Vandals, they found it convenient to service their ships and mechs while allowing their crew to decompress at the same time.
"The Reinaldans really take their no-mechs policy seriously here in Harkensen I." Ves noted curiously as his group strolled through a boulevard looking over a stretch of golden beaches. Thousands of vacationers dotted the area, each of them trying to forget about the worries of their daily lives. "On Harkensen III, it's impossible not to bump into a mech, but here you have to go to a military base to spot the mechs."
"Don't think the streets are unprotected." Nolsen cautioned them all. "I've spotted countless Planetary Guard patrollers in plainclothes. There are hidden turrets and defense fixtures all around. Though they can't withstand a determined attack, fending off a few random mechs is easy enough."
The security officer's words revealed that Harkensen I was nearly as well-defended as the mech-crazy Harkensen III. The vacation planet simply camouflaged its fangs.
"That's a lot more security than normal I think." Another Vandal said.
Ensign Tiss nodded at that. "It's no surprise that the Reinaldans are strengthening their security presence. All of the gang warfare and outbursts of random violence has thrown Harkensen III into turmoil."
Everyone's faces glowered for a moment. The so-called gang warfare that wracked the underbelly of Harkensen III disrupted an decades-old pact of keeping the fighting on the down-low. Even if a gang needed to hit their rivals, they should at least do it out of sight. Too much violence was bad for business.
"This is Harkensen I. There's no industry here and no mechs that can rampage around." Ves reassured everyone. "The gangs at sway on this planet leech off the tourists. There's no way they are willing to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs."
That lifted everyone up again. So far, none of the fighting had spilled over to Harkensen I and Harkensen II. Both of them were very different planets, and the Reinaldans had a better hold over security on those two planets.
"Look! There's a race going on!"
The group walked towards a crowd of beach goers surrounding a group of young men and women preparing for a boat race. Technicians surrounded the boats and continuously tuned them up.
Ves ignored the boastful talks and exaggerated claims of the racers. Instead, he swept his gaze over the boats. "They're kind of simple."
Maybe before, he would have dismissed the boats out of hand. The technologies involved were highly refined, but the principles of propelling a boat on water remained unchanged for thousands of years. Ves did not even need to study a manual to design a boat with nearly identical performance.
Yet he did not dismiss the water vessels out of hand. Perhaps before he would have thumbed his nose at simple constructions, but ever since the honor duel, he gained a new conception of utilization.
As his eyes raked over the technical construction of the boats, he found that he could spot a subtle difference between each vessel. Ves could vaguely determine which technician was simply going through the motions and which ones pursued greater perfection in their craft.
"Even if they are just boat technicians, there's a difference between a passionate one and a passionless one."
None of the boat technicians impressed Ves in terms of their technical prowess. If they had the ability to become a mech technician, then they wouldn't be out here tinkering with boats. Yet Ves had seen many mech technicians who were worse than some of the boat technicians at work right now.
"Ves! Let's head over to the betting station!" Tiss called as Ves was lost in thought. "I'm putting my money on Handsome Martinez! Just look at his smile! He's a total winner!"
Ves absentmindedly followed the group towards a betting station that was probably responsible for handing out the prize money to the winners of the race. He put a hundred marks on Handsome Martinez without much consideration.
"I'm telling you, Goosewing Red is definitely going to end up first! Just look at how hot she is!"
"No way, man! Mimi Stellion is the best babe around! I've put five-hundred marks on her name!"
After several days of contemplation, Ves could finally identify the crux behind utilization. Studying the boats and comparing the handicraft of the technicians against each other was no different than comparing different mechs. This was because the principles governing utilization applied to the entire engineering field, whether it was crafting toys or crafting mechs.
"The difference lies in passion!"
To be more accurate, the difference in quality came from the drive or motivation to improve. This was such a simple idea that most people instantly dismissed it as a platitude after hearing it. After all, wasn't it already common sense that more motivated people produced better results?
"There's a difference, though, especially when it concerns craftsmanship."
As the techs finished up their tuning and the boats raced off into the water, Ves watched the performance of the boats. Though the skills of the individual boat racer was the prime factor in whether they gained a lead, the quality of the boats played a major role as well.
Ves experienced a quiet breakthrough in thought. As most people around him cheered for their favorite racers, he alone focused on nothing but the boats.
"The will to improve! The desire to progress! That's it! That's the key!"
Every passionate craftsman desired to improve their craft. As long as they persisted in this motivation, they would eventually widen the distance between themselves and those with other motivations.
Having gotten in touch with many mech designers, Ves recognized the differences in mentalities between them. If Ves disregarded their ranking and ability, the underlying difference became very clear.
The most impressive mech designer Ves had recently met was undoubtedly Gabriel Creta. The man not only refined his craft to a very high level, but from their brief talk Ves had sensed that the man constantly strived for more!
"This is how a mech designer ought to behave!"
Though his learning ability held him back from breaking through to Journeyman, the man's indomitable motivation kept driving him forward. Ves estimated Creta would certainly able to advance in the next five years. His mentality and breadth of experience was too abundant to remain stuck in the Apprentice stage.
In contrast to driven men like Mr. Creta, Ves also encountered scores of low-ranking mech designers who had given up. Some of them had been drafted in the Mech Corps and currently served under his command. Others eked out a unprestigious existence in the private market as mech appraisers or mech repairers.
"These sideline jobs aren't enough to advance a mech designer. Only by designing mechs can someone of our profession truly improve."
The hierarchy of mech designers resembled a very wide and short pyramid. It only possessed a few layers, but the base was enormous compared to the tip. Too many mech designers lingered at the bottom level and never saw any hopes of advancing to a higher level.
Some mech designers only took months to advance from Novice to Apprentice. Others needed decades to reach the same height, while the vast majority never succeeded in taking the first step at all in their lives.
This highlighted the need for opportunity as well as motivation. Those with no ability or connections wouldn't be able to survive in the mech market. Ves had always fallen into the trap of thinking that his System-granted gifts would be sufficient to ride the tide to success.
Now he realized that such a mentality wouldn't gain him much in the larger scheme of things. Passively accumulating libraries-worth of knowledge was like depending on brute force to open a vault. He could smack the vault door with his fists all day and not even make a dent on the surface.
What Ves really had to do was to open the vault doors through the correct procedure, whether that was deciphering the right entry codes or fashioning the right keys.
Between brute force and finesse, mech designers always emphasized the latter over the former. The key to designing a mech that was far more than the sum of its parts was to employ the greatest amount of finesse.
"Utilization, motivation and opportunity all comprise the essential keys to advancement."
Ves understood a little better why the mech industry only started to take a mech designer seriously when they reached Journeymen. It wasn't just a matter of knowledge. Ves wasn't conceited enough to think he was the only Apprentice in the galaxy with an overabundant supply of knowledge stuffed in his head.
Why were many Journeymen able to advance despite possessing a much more shallow foundation in knowledge?
"It's because they've tempered themselves to the point where they can already design great mechs with only basic knowledge!"
Ves did not share the same opportunities as genuine talents such as Oleg or Patricia, but he possessed an even greater chance in the form of the System. He always thought that as long as he milked the System, he would eventually be able to catch up and surpass his peers.
"Riding the river downstream will only lead me to the sea. There's no challenge to overcome if I ride the current. In order to temper myself and polish my utilization, I've got to swim against the current! Only by going upstream with I be able to reach a higher elevation!"
Ves had found his way.