The shuttle went through a couple of detours before slipping through a hidden tunnel built inside a frigid mountain range on Robach VI. Powerful sensor arrays built into the tunnel subjected the entire shuttle to extremely powerful scans. Ves could feel their power and knew that if they scanned him for a minute or two more, they'd be liable to cook everyone's flesh!
Every passenger let out a relieved breath once the scans finished. Apparently, they found nothing suspicious, because the shuttle continued to fly through the tunnel until it ended in yet another expansive underground parking hall.
A man in uniform greeted their arrival. "Welcome to Frozen Point Research Base. This isn't the coldest base in the Republic, but we'll make sure you'll have a frosty stay."
As the passengers followed the man, Ves looked around the parking hall and saw that most of the people employed in this base consisted of various people in uniform.
They went through a very thorough security checkpoint where scanners and frisky guards both ensured that none of the new arrivals carried anything they shouldn't. Once that was over with, they headed to administration where they registered their arrival and received special comms that served as their all-in-one access key.
"Don't lose them while you are in this base." Their guide told them. "There are hidden turrets and other security measures integrated in each room and corridor that won't hesitate to turn against you should you fail to be recognized as an individual authorized to be in a particular area."
Everyone nodded in acknowledgement. Even though Frozen Point seemed like a plain and rather dull underground base, it was obviously a site of some importance considering all of the safeguards in place.
After Ves completed his induction, his comm guided him to a section of the base called the Mech Design Department. This boring name didn't really describe its role all that much, so Ves was curious what mech designers actually did at Frozen Point.
He entered the department and met a receptionist who flicked him over to an office of a Senior Mech Designer.
"Ah, Mr. Larkinson, I have been expecting you." An older man greeted him as he looked up from his terminal. "Please sit."
Ves sat down on a chair on the other side of the desk and tried to look attentive. It appeared that this mech designer would be his immediate boss for the foreseeable future.
"I am Professor Bolsa Enoch, a Senior Mech Designer as I'm sure you already know. Here at Frozen Point, we perform various clandestine research and analysis on mechs under the umbrella of Flashlight's Mech Research Division. While your record hasn't stated much about your previous deployment, I understand that you've distinguished yourself in the frontier of all places."
"I don't think I'm allowed to say anything about that, sir."
"I understand. Here at Flashlight, we don't ask questions that we aren't allowed to know the answers to. Many of us have been involved in matters best left in the dark. What is more relevant to me is that you appear to have some friends in high places. While Frozen Point isn't the most well-funded or critical research bases of the mech Research Division, it is a very desirable place for young mech designers like you. Care to take a guess?"
Ves thought for a moment. "Frozen Point is well behind the frontlines and has likely never come under threat during its existence. Any mech designer drafted to the war will probably like it here because their life won't be at risk."
"Correct, although they are rather misguided." Professor Enoch shook his head. "Your transfer to this base has surprised us all at the Mech Design Department. Your record may have left out what you have done prior to your arrival, but the awards you've received... it has baffled us. Receiving the Golden Mech is especially contentious among us Seniors."
Ves suddenly frowned as he realized the negative implications of receiving such a coveted award. "Are the other Seniors... dissatisfied with my awards?"
"Officially, the Bright Republic and the Mech Corps has the right to recognize the contributions of its loyal citizens." Enoch stated perfunctory. "It is not in our purview to question the decisions of the brass. I am sure whatever distinctions you've made has made you worthy enough to receive such recognition. It is only..."
"I'm just an Apprentice Mech Designer." Ves replied with a sigh. "I don't know if a Golden Mech has ever been awarded to a junior of my rank."
"Indeed. Even if you are deserving, many of my colleagues can't help but wonder if what they have done in the service of Flashlight and the Republic can measure up to your 'contributions'. You are lucky that I am beyond such vanities. That is also why someone very interested in you has made sure that you are assigned under my watch."
It could be the influence of Colonel Lowenfield and Major Verle. Probably not. Someone that high placed would have only listened to someone like Senator Tovar.
"I am ready to work wherever I'm assigned to, professor." Ves stated.
From what little interaction they had so far, Ves got the sense that Enoch wouldn't be inclined to be so friendly and accomodating to an Apprentice like him without the intervention of someone above.
Enoch sniffed at his response. "That's nice to hear. In any case, your assignment here at Frozen Point will be to assist the Mech Analysis Work Group in our core purpose, which is to analyze and process the vast amount of scattered footage and sensor readings of Vesian mechs in order to pick out their strengths and weaknesses. I've been informed that this is not an unfamiliar task to you, is that correct?"
Ves tried to suppress a smirk. He was so good at it that in one instance he managed to scare away an entire pirate gang by exposing all of the shortcomings of their mechs!
"I have a decent amount of experience in this area, and I think I am quite capable of analyzing most standard mechs."
"Hm, you sound honest enough." The professor nodded in satisfaction. "You pass. Compared to my other subordinates, I'm pleased by your modesty. I feel easier to appoint you as a supervisor of the Second Analysis Team. A Journeyman who used to hold that position has been transferred to a more promising position, so you'll have to fill in some very big shoes, do you understand?"
It wouldn't be the first time Ves took up a position ordinarily held by a Journeyman. "I am confident that I can fulfill your expectations."
Professor Enoch looked a little skeptical at his boast. "We'll see. The Second Analysis Team can be a bit of a handful. I hope you won't come to me for any complaints. As the recipient of the Golden Mech, many of us have placed high expectations on you. Do not disappoint us."
After receiving a bit more instructions on what his new job actually entailed, the Professor transferred a lot of documents to his comm and ordered him to read them all before he started his new job.
"One more thing, Mr. Larkinson."
"Be sure to wear the right uniform while on the job. We have already supplied your quarters with the right outfits."
After that, Ves left the office and followed the guide on his comm to another section of the base which housed all the accommodation.
Ves entered the quarters assigned to him. The small and basic-looking room did not offer too much space, reminding him of the cabins back on the Shield of Hispania. He checked the closet and read up on the relevant regulations and saw that he needed to wear his so-called 'service dress uniform' during his stay in the base.
If Ves had been assigned to serve aboard a ship, then he could still keep wearing his unobtrusive work uniform. Yet now that he was formally transferred to Frozen Point, Ves needed to wear the service dress version of his uniform.
Overall, the uniform of mech designers didn't really differ all that much besides their cut and some embellishments. The only point where Ves had issue with was that he was obligated to wear his awards, though fortunately just in ribbon form so he could leave out the shiny metal. Apparently, the Mech Corps did give way to some practicality, unlike the Mech Legion which encouraged their servicemen to show off their bling.
"Damn, I'm going to catch a lot of attention again regardless." He cursed.
Mech designers generally didn't earn that much awards, especially ones related to combat.
After resigning himself to his fate, he spent the rest of the night going over the documents regarding his new duties before turning in for the night.
The next day, Professor Enoch brought him to the workplace of the Second Analysis Team.
An expansive bank of terminals and projections of various Vesian mechs dominated the expansive room. Around forty mech designers of various ages but mostly on the younger end worked behind the terminals.
Each of them halted and stood up at Professor Enoch's entry.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your new supervisor. Ves Larkinson is a distinguished Apprentice Mech Designer who has received special attention from the higher ups. Please afford him the respect that he is owed. That is all. I will let Mr. Larkinson take over from here."
As Professor Enoch left him to the wolves, Ves suppressed his irritation at the professor's overly short introduction. Obviously, the Senior wanted Ves to prove himself to his new subordinates and added some difficulties by mentioning that Ves got to this position only because someone pulled some strings behind the scenes.
The mech designers all waited for Professor Enoch to leave the work room before relaxing their guard.
"Are you really just an Apprentice?" A young man questioned.
"Wait a minute! Look at his chest! That... That's the Darkness Eater!"
"Hell, he's wearing the Torchbearer as well!"
"That's not all! He's also carrying the Golden Mech!"
That caused the entire room of mech designers to grow from shocked to numb. All the other ribbons that Ves wore on his chest didn't catch as much attention as the three biggest ones, something which none of the mech designers would ever be able to touch in their lives!
The sight of those awards sparked a wave of disbelief. "This is absurd! There's no way a mech designer like him earned those medals for real!"
"He cheated! He cheated!"
"How many generals did he seduce to obtain those decorations?!"
Seemingly spontaneously, the prevailing theory among the mech designers of the Second Analysis Team was that Ves somehow had an affair with half the generals of the Mech Corps in order to obtain the three big awards.
This entire show exasperated Ves because he knew exactly what kind of mech designers he was dealing with right now. Their young age, their soft demeanor and sense of entitlement in their voices told him that they were the lucky ones who had been drafted by the Mech Corps but assigned to rear-guard duty.
These were the people with enough talent, wealth or connections to be spared from the ravages of war. No wonder Professor Enoch mentioned that Frozen Point Research Base was a highly desirable place to work at for mech designers. There was hardly any risk of danger here!
From the looks of it, the mech designers here were used to a looser and more tolerant work regime. It wouldn't have been much of a problem is a genuine Journeyman Mech Designer took charge of these high-ranking Apprentice Mech Designers, but the problem was that Ves was technically one of their peers!
Fortunately, Ves didn't entirely come unprepared. Along with his prior leadership experience, he also brushed up on some management theories under the direction of Professor Velten.
Ves started to take on the bearing of a leader and threw them all a sharp glance. Some of the mech designers couldn't help but falter in their disrespectful banter.
"If that is all, please follow me to the virtual workshop. Let us get acquainted with each other."
His voice cut through their irreverent banter. Even though he hadn't raised his voice all that much, it contained a magnetic quality that attracted their attention no matter how much they initially dismissed him. Ves expected his orders to be obeyed!