The Mech Touch Chapter 119: Hoplite
Many mech manufacturers boldly entered the market with a superstar designs. Only a few companies demonstrated enough staying power to persist until today. The Lindholm Armament Company outgrew its modest roots to become a giant trans-galactic corporation. Lindholm was a household brand name in the mech market, to the point where loyal customers brainlessly bought their latest products.
Ves normally disdained mainstream mechs, but their introductory model deserved a look.
The story of Lindholm started with their first commercially available design, the Hoplite HPL-100P. Two-hundred years ago, the introduction of the Hoplite propelled a small and obscure company to galactic prominence. Its design deviated significantly from convention.
First, the Hoplite used a spear instead of a sword as its main armament. Lindholm was not content with a simple spear.
Instead, they introduced an innovative weapon capable of adjusting its own length. Through a sturdy layered tube design, the Hoplite could extend or shorten the length of the spear at will. The only downside to this structure was that the spear could not withstand as much force.
"It's still a daring innovation." Ves said admiringly.
True, the weapon had flaws, but it worked out for the model. It proved a design didn't have to be flawless in an engineering perspective in order to sell well. "
The Hoplite also made use of an unconventional heavy shield. Its large round shield sported a flat, broad spike in the center, allowing it to pierce through armor when used as a weapon. Lindholm expressly designed the shield for offensive use by adding a couple of unconventional augments.
First, they attached miniature boosters to rear of the shield. They automatically ignited their charges when the Hoplite initiated a bashing motion. The boosters only burned for a quarter of a second, but that was sufficient to magnify the impact by up to fifty percent.
If that wasn't enough, the Lindholm designers also stuffed in an inertial manipulator. Normally, it remained inactive. The module only took effect when the Hoplite started to bash. It only reduced the shield's weight by thirty percent, which sped up the bash.
At the last instant before impact, the module reversed its settings, making the shield thirty percent heavier. This slowed down the bash but that hardly mattered when the shield impacted its target an instant later. The extra weight gave the bash more momentum, making the shield harder to fend off.
Hoplite pilots usually followed up by striking their target with an extended spear. This was the Hoplite's staple combo, one that propelled the design to prominence.
There were downsides to the augments. While Lindholm reinforced the boosters and inertial manipulator against shocks, they were still prone to malfunction. The augments also only carried a limited amount of charges, enough for three times.
The critics called it a gimmick. The mech pilots who performed the move professed their love for it. Despite the controversy, Lindholm aggressively marketed the ridiculous move and sold hundreds of thousands of Hoplites. The hype eventually faded out, but by that time Lindholm earned enough of a killing to fund the development of better designs.
If that was it, then the model should be forgotten by now. Instead, the Hoplite enjoyed enduring popularity in Iron Spirit due to its final feature.
Lindholm wanted to design a knight with offensive prowess. Upgrading the weapons wasn't enough. They also wanted to give their mech the ability to rush forward at high speeds. To do that, they extensively modified the Hoplite without relying on boosters.
Installing boosters was the conventional way of enhancing a mech's short-ranged boost. While powerful, they also imposed many limits on the design. Instead of dealing with issues such as fuel storage and heat management, Lindholm instead augmented the legs.
While the legs still appeared humanoid, the designers massively strengthened the artificial muscles. No one knew how they did it, but they introduced an original muscle scheme that allowed mechs to push off the ground in an extremely powerful burst. Extendable claws embedded in the feet helped maximize the Hoplite's grip, which prevented it from slipping.
Overall, Ves admired the original developers of the Hoplite. They were not afraid to implement their own vision onto the staid old knight archetype. The work done on the spear, shield and legs all complemented each other's strength, amplifying their effects when combined together. The designers succeeded in turning their outlandish vision into a practical product.
"The Hoplite is a masterpiece."
In design terms, the model was difficult to improve but easy to ruin. Many mech designers tried and failed to develop variants that significantly improved upon its performance.
Ves did not fear a challenge. He wanted to prove he could handle a difficult model like the Hoplite. The way to to that was to succeed in creating a new variant that was not some minor rehash of the base model.
[Lindholm Armament Company Hoplite HPL-100P]: 1.2 million bright credits
He winced at the price. While he still possessed a substantial amount of savings, he hadn't been earning any money lately.
"I still need to make another purchase."
Ves had a very simple plan in mind. He wanted to design that took advantage of the current trend. Many teenage potentates were currently flocking to Iron Spirit in order to polish their piloting skills.
Mastering a knight was one of the basic classes offered by mech academies and mech institutions. It was the simplest mech type and one that offered beginners an excellent starting point in piloting mechs.
One reason the base model only enjoyed a limited amount of popularity was that it was built around the spear. Trainee pilots only practiced with sword-wielding knights.
He intended to meet their needs by designing a sword-wielding Hoplite variant. While several such variants could already be found in the catalog, Ves thought he could put his own spin on the concept. After browsing the catalog, Ves found an appropriate weapon and added it to his shopping cart.
[J.J.V. Limited Imperial Sword ISX34]: 250.000 bright credits
The so-called Imperial Sword sounded fancy, but shared the same shape as the weapons used by trainees. The one-handed sword was not too long, not too short, not too heavy, not too light and so on. It had no distinguishing features due to the need to accommodate every possible mech pilot, at least at the start of their training.
Ves chose the Imperial Sword because it was a well-designed upgrade from the cheap and sub-standard training swords. J.J.V Limited poured a lot of research into improving the simplistic sword design, from changing its composition to adjusting its shape and center of mass. It led to a weapon that many recruits loved to use at the start of their careers.
"It's not a very exciting sword, but it is a time-tested design. It's sharp, tough and not too expensive. That's good enough for most mech pilots."
After confirming his purchase, his savings shrank. He now owned two 3-star licenses, enough to design a decent variant. Sat back in his chair and thought about what kind of vision he wanted to imprint onto his design.
As always, he tried to seek an example from ancient history. "A gladiator? No, I don't want to create a showboater. A viking? Too aggressive and undisciplined. A medieval knight? That might work, but I still feel it comes up short."
After a couple of minutes of fruitless digging, Ves gave up on referencing history. "Do I even need to draw on reality in the first place to form a coherent picture?"
He thought about his designs so far. Ves always let his mind drift to dramatic actions when he tried to form his intent. When he thought back on designs like the Marc Antony or the Mist Prowler, Ves automatically constrained his imagination to obey reality.
What if he broke this rule?
"The X-Factor is something that is alive but intangible. Something that isn't anchored in the physical plane has no obligation to be bound by its rules."
It sounded simple, but how could an engineer like Ves ignore the laws of the universe so easily? A mech was a machine. Their structure and composition was nothing magical. So long as mech designer obtained its blueprint, they could replicate the mech without problem.
All except for the metaphysical. The apparent existence of the X-Factor had long since convinced Ves that mechs might have a proto-spiritual presence. He never explored the full implications of this premise.
"A spiritual existence can take any shape."
Ves recalled the time when he achieved a minor breakthrough in the X-Factor. Back then, he was competing in front of the entire Star Sector for the first time. He had to design a mech as fast as possible in order to claim a high-ranking mech pilot in the free-for-all stage.
The mech that resulted from his heated efforts was the Unicorn. Despite the frame's many technical flaws, Ves imagined its design as a proud and inviolate mech that wielded its spear like the horn of its namesake. To be honest, he had no time to consider its fantastical background.
"A unicorn is a mythical creature. Everyone has their own ideas about what a unicorn looks like and what kind of powers it possesses. In this case, the only perspective that matters is the one held by the mech designer."
If the X-Factor needed to be grounded by reality, then a fantastical image should be detrimental. Somehow, Ves did not believe the Uniform suffered any ill effects. It performed exceptionally well in Lovejoy's hands and slightly exceeded the limits of its shoddy construction.
"Is it really so simple?"
A single example did not prove his assumptions. Yet Ves instinctively believed he was on the right track. "The question is, am I willing to test it out?"
He strongly wished to test this new approach. The risks were great. If he screwed up his first new design after winning the Leemar Open Competition, then he might not be able to drum up enough sales.
Yet what if he failed anyway? Nobody knew how to observe and measure something as ethereal as the X-Factor. At most, those who entered the cockpit had to endure an unpleasant vibe.
Ves was in an exuberant mood. Like a child stepping out of the house for the first time, he wanted to explore this new world. He was only limited by his own imagination.
He did not even need to reference an existing myth. Why not make up something on his own? Something that meshed with the components he had to work, instead of trying to stuff a pre-existing image into a mold that didn't entirely fit.
"Let's go with something strong but not too complex."
His active imagination branched off numerous possibilities. Some were thinly veiled derivatives of existing myths, while others sounded too radical to be useful.
He chose to base his design around the image of an immortal known as the Instructor. He used to be a daring knight and swordsman in the past, having distinguished himself in battle against man and beast alike. He gained strength from every victory and refined his swordsmanship to greater heights.
In his quest to be the pinnacle, he even sought to learn different styles from other masters of the art.
The Instructor finally achieved enlightenment. The warrior grasped the secrets of immortality and joined the ranks of the exalted among men.
The years went by and the wars died down. Eventually, the Instructor shed the passion of his youth. He settled down as a guard for an esteemed emperor who granted him with a sword of office. He wielded his blade not to kill, but to protect.
As the Empire he served reigned supreme, the Instructor lacked the opportunity to prove his worth. With nothing else to do, he started instructing the younger generation in swordsmanship.
Slowly, he became known for his teaching. The Instructor not only excelled at explaining the essence of swordsmanship, he also gained many insights in the process. He slowly cast off all the flair and excessive moves in his repertoire, and distilled his swordsmanship into a purer form.
"Am I being a bit too vague?" Ves suddenly asked. He was very satisfied with the story he built up, but he did not wish to waste too much time fleshing out the setting. He might as well become a novelist if that was the case. "I didn't think too much when I designed the Unicorn, so it's probably okay."
The details probably didn't matter too much. What Ves actually needed was a myth to support the shaping of his intent. With a strong and distinct image, it became easier to hold on to the main points and maintain a cohesive intent for hours. A complicated backstory made it harder to keep the threads together.
The story was not without purpose. Ves hoped to accomplish multiple goals with this specific myth. First, the Instructor was old. He experienced much in his life and fought in many battlefields. He mellowed out in his later years but still retained his edge for battle.
Hopefully the trait translated to cool-headedness in the heat of battle.
Ves also wanted to pass on the Instructor's love and obsession for swordsmanship. He did not make the Instructor a master of a single style, but instead exposed him to many different forms. While flexible, the Instructor thoroughly mastered the fundamentals due to his extensive teaching experience.
What Ves wanted to accomplish with this was to make his customers more susceptible to breakthroughs. He did not expect to create a miracle. Just a gentle push was enough.
"This is all too vague. I don't even know if I'm deluding myself with all these assumptions" Ves chuckled a bit. "Fantasy or not, it doesn't hurt to try."