"Too much repetition isn't a good thing." Ves eventually concluded.
Though the mech industry predominantly divided mechs into two-dozen mainstream archetypes, this did not mean that Ves had to design that many mechs to advance. In particular, designing heavy mechs was out of reach to most mech designers, yet plenty of mech designers had reached Master Mech Designer or Star Designer without ever designing a heavy mech.
This told Ves that in order to advance smoothly, the process mattered rather than the outcome. Ves could design an absolute garbage mech and still gain some progress as long as he learned something.
"Technically speaking, all of those competition mechs I've designed in a hurry are crap mechs. Even my latest New Sentinel is a travesty compared to the Blackbeak and the Crystal Lord. Yet designing the New Sentinel was just as satisfying as designing the latter two."
Ves had absolutely gained a lot of insights from designing and constructing the frankenstein mech. The immense challenge in delivering a much-improved mech in just a couple of days forced him to exercise his imagination and seek for solutions to problems he had never considered before.
"That's the key to advancement. As long as I'm working on something new, I can train my problem-solving skills."
The System didn't track those skills. Ves realized that every time he looked at his Skills page, he reinforced his bias that only the Skills defined by the System mattered. In actual fact, a mech designer was far more than a moving library of science and engineering.
"It's just like Spirituality. Before, the System couldn't quantify this phenomenon, so it had to observe my development on this matter."
In other words, Ves took the System as gospel and developed a tunnel vision concerning his Attributes and Skills. It was a good thing he became aware of this shortcoming early.
That said, the benefits provided by the System could not be replaced, but Ves had to remind himself that it was just a tool at his disposal. His own development mattered the most. Something which might benefit the System may not be beneficial to himself.
It turned out his separation from the System had inadvertently been a boon to him. If he continued to slavishly devote his life to the Pavlovian reward mechanisms of the System, he would have lost the ingenuity and flexibility of thought that defined a real mech designer.
Right now, Ves believed that even without the System, he could work on his own to advance to Journeyman!
In contrast, if he continued to become addicted to the System to the point he only thought in terms of Skills, Attributes and Design Points, he would have become a hollow mech designer at some point. The only way he would have been able to advance to Journeyman was through external assistance.
Perhaps the System offered Ves the option to advance without pain by exchanging a lot of Design Points, but such an easy method doubtlessly resulted in many repercussions!
Ves formulated another goal at this time. He wanted to advance to Journeyman Mech Designer before the Mech Corps discharged him!
"Every Bright-Vesia War lasts for five years, more or less. Within this time, if I work hard and develop new designs, I should be able to make it more or less."
With this decision, he directly rejected Morgan's theory that a mech designer who hoped to advance to Star Designer should spend decades on designing mechs.
There was a risk that Ves made the wrong decision, but he shouldn't believe every theory spouted by a random mech designer. In any case, he felt better about this decision than the alternatives.
"If pure volume is king, then all of those worked-to-death mech designers working like bots for design studios should have become Star Designers by now."
During his time on Harkensen I, he mentally constructed a plan for his future. His first objective should be to advance to Journeyman within five years. It didn't do him any harm if he failed, but becoming a Journeyman was enormously helpful to his subsequent goals.
Once he returned to civilian life, Ves planned to develop a reasonably rounded catalog of mech models. He didn't need to develop over two-dozen separate mech models. Making do with just enough to allow the Avatars of Myth to become a comprehensive fighting unit should be sufficient.
"By the time I'm finished with that, the next mech generation will arrive. I'll definitely have to reach Journeyman Mech Designer by then, or it will be hard to join the first wave of new generation mech model releases."
As long as he joined the race at the start, his company would doubtlessly grow like a rocket.
However, he shouldn't be complacent at that time. The extremely stiff competition meant that Ves had to design an exceptional mech that stood out from the market.
If Ves intended to sell a lot of mechs by relying solely on the new generation's wave of innovations, then the mech market would definitely tear him apart.
"Leeching off those innovations that are in the hands of every major mech manufacturer won't improve the competitive advantage of my designs. It merely allows me to start at the same level as the other premier mech companies."
Such behavior was akin to drifting downstream. If Ves wanted to dazzle the mech industry with a best-selling mech model, then he would certainly have to swim upstream. That would be the time when the Avatars of Myth provided a return on his investment.
Funding five mech companies was not a trivial matter. However, once he covered the start-up costs, Ves was confident he could maintain the running costs with the help of his earnings from the LMC.
Every mech designer was a money making machine as long as they possessed some ability. If Ves broke through to Journeyman as planned, money became more of a number than a scarce resource.
At that level, mech designers valued other assets over money, such as access to exclusive knowledge, gene elixirs, life-prolonging treatments or strategic exotics. Many of these assets couldn't be bought with money in the open market. Ves would inevitably have to deepen his engagement with the Clifford Society and Master Olsen's influence network in order to obtain access.
As their holiday on Harkensen I soon came to an end, his group longed at a bar. Ves had been absent-minded throughout the trip. Fortunately, the planet offered many sites for relaxation, so he simply pretended to take a nap while spending most of his attention on putting his plans together.
Just as Ves thought this day would end on a leisurely note, the group suddenly stopped their chatting as a number of strangers walked to their table. None of their group members recognized them. They were unlikely to be Vandals since only five people approached.
"Do we know you?" Nolsen asked with a wary look in his eyes.
"You ought not to." The lead woman spoke. "You might not have heard of us, but you people are famous across this entire star system. After all, haven't you pulled our reputation through the wringer recently?"
Every Vandal became tense at her words. Though she might have sounded restrained, the implications of her last sentence hinted that she definitely didn't come as a friend.
More than that, several of the Vandals recognized her accent. The people who spoke like her only came from one place in the Komodo Star Sector.
"You're Vesians!" Tiss exclaimed.
The group of ten put up their guard and put their half-empty drinks on the table. All thoughts of relaxing and unwinding was gone from their heads.
"My name is Calabast Arnlend. As you've just declared, we are Vesians." The woman responded with a coy smirk. "Do you mind if we sit next to you?"
"Actually, we do mind." Nolsen said.
"Oh, come on, don't be a spoilsport. This is a neutral star system. Even if our brothers and sisters are locked in a harrowing war at the frontlines, in Reinald space we are all friends with each other!"
Nolsen pressed his lips into a thin line. "Whatever you say, Miss Arnlend."
"Call me Calabast, like you Brighters always do. It's not as if we are in uniform right now."
Ves quietly turned to Trian Earls. "Are they mech pilots?"
"Not sure." The Vandal mech pilot whispered back. "Some of them have the build for it, but I don't feel any sense of aggression in their eyes. They're more like Nolsen than me. They are definitely trained and aren't afraid to show it off."
If Trian was right, these Vesians underwent combat training. Ves probably guessed that Calabast and her ilk were deadly at the infantry level.
One question kept nagging Nolsen. "How did you recognize us?"
This was a very good question. The entire planet was under the control of the Reinaldans. Tracking the Vandals on this planet wasn't impossible, but it definitely wasn't something a random group of Vesians could do in a snap.
"The Harkensen System is a supremely important point of interest to my state. As their neighbor, how could we not keep an eye on what is going on here?"
This shouldn't have come as a surprise. The Vesia Kingdom possessed a very strained relationship with the Reinald Republic. Though the Harkensen System wasn't the most important star system in Reinald, it attracted the most foreigners by far. This was Reinald's main interface to the rest of the star sector.
Calabast and her ilk outright ignored Nolsen's declaration and rudely sat next to their table. Each of them ordered a drink from the list projected by the table. In a short instant, a floating bot arrived to deliver their drinks.
"Ah, that hits the spot!" The woman pepped up. "I have to hand it to the Reinaldans. If there's one thing they're good at, it's collecting an enormous amount of imported drinks."
"Why are you here, Miss Calabast?" Nolsen asked with a persistent tone.
The Vesians all grinned back. "We're just curious, that's all."
"Curious about what?"
"Why you bunch of losers managed to flounder your way out of the Kingdom without getting annihilated." Calabast spoke with the most poisonous grin of them all. "You're not the first collection of Vandals I've met. So far, I've seen nothing different. You Vandals are the louts and brutes of the Bright Republic. It's no wonder your mech regiment is treated so poorly by your own military."
Her words touched on a nerve of the Vandals. Everyone looked angry, but Nolsen quickly gestured them to calm. Starting trouble on Harkensen I was a sure trip to jail.
"We don't appreciate your provocative words. We have no interest in conversing with you. Would you kindly leave, please?"
"What's the hurry! Can't we get to know each other better?" The woman responded.
As Nolsen and Calabast verbally sparred with each other, the rest of the Vesians and Vandals watched on in silence.
Ves had the feeling some kind of hidden battle was taking place. By now, Ves surmised that Calabast was likely some kind of Vesian spy. Her gorgeous face might not even be her true facade. In fact, he was ninety percent sure it was wholly faked.
In any case, the Vandals had always been aware that some people followed them throughout their holiday. Knowing that they were being stared at by observers didn't impact their lives that much. It wasn't much different from being subjected by the omnipresent surveillance system keeping watch in the interior of every Vandal starship.
While the Vandals could tolerate someone staring at them at a distance, it was a very different matter when the watchers walked up to their face.
Ves tried to figure out the motives of Calabast and her goons. Why make their presence known to them? Why did they reveal their identity as Vesians? Was that faked as well? Were they talking to Reinaldan intelligence agents masquerading as Vesian intelligence agents?
It was too bad that Ves was not into spy games. Nolsen appeared to be more aware than the rest of them, which was no surprise since he served as a security officer. One of their major responsibilities in a mech regiment was thwarting spies.