The Mech Touch Chapter 680 Rebuked
The matter about the life-prolonging serums never came up as a focal point of the conversation. In fact, Verle never even released those words from his lips in the first place!
The rest of the meeting devolved into a lecture on the policy changes, the need to keep the rank and file calm and complacent, and the possibility of encountering a pirate ambush at every FTL transition.
"Make no mistake. We are traversing the true breadth of lawless space. The Mech Corps has always recommended that only entire mech divisions are strong enough to withstand the predation of the pirates and the sandmen in the Faris Star Region. Since our combined allied force is far short of matching the firepower of ten-thousand mechs, we shall have to lean on the connections and expertise of Lydia's Swordmaidens to tide us through the untamed stars."
Shortly after that, Major Verle dismissed his cadre and ordered them to return to their stations to enlighten their subordinates with a shortened version of his spiel.
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"Mr. Larkinson, a moment if you will." The major called out.
As the other officers and chiefs left the conference room, Ves was left alone with the major. He had no idea why the mech officer called him out specifically this time. Did the man suspect that Ves had spoken with Calabast? He might land in hot water if that were true.
"Lieutenant Nolsen Feray told me that you spent your time on Mancroft Station pursuing private pursuits. By private pursuits, I mean objectives that have no discernable relation to your current responsibilities as head designer of this task force. What do you have to say for yourself?"
If Ves was still the slightly fresh-faced rookie mech designer who arrived aboard the Vandal fleet at the start, he would have stammered or put out some lame excuse or something. The guilt would be evident in his expression.
It was different now. He became a lot more jaded after being exposed to the realities of how the different parts of the galaxy was run. The fleet's entry into the frontier only emphasized the fact that Ves was moving to a place far removed from the ideals he held at the start of his service.
So his chosen form of response was to be nonchalant about his indiscretions. He disrespectfully shrugged his shoulders and plainly spoke out his reasons.
"With all the danger I've been subjected to lately, I feel that I need to increase my ability to preserve my life. It's not that I don't trust the Vandals, but they are first and foremost a mech regiment geared for raiding and harassment operations. At best, they can moonlight as a mixed reconnaissance unit. The fact of the matter is that you Vandals are ill-suited to face the many unorthodox threats we have barely overcome up to now and that we will continue to face in the frontier."
If Major Verle was expecting an excuse, he didn't expect this kind of answer delivered in this manner.
"We may have let you down a few times, Mr. Larkinson. I admit that you have saved us just as much as we saved you, but that is the nature of service. I cannot have you run around pursuing your private errands while your official duties to the Vandals is starting to backslide. Some mech designers have expressed concerns that you are spending less and less attention to your basic duties. You are failing the expectations we have placed on your shoulders."
Urgh. Ves knew exactly who these unmentioned-by-name mech designers were. Mercator or Trozin or both had stabbed him in the back yet again. Perhaps he needed to sic Ketis on them and tell the enthusiastic Swordmaiden that they have volunteered themselves for sparring practice.
"Major Verle," Ves breathed deeply. "Before you believe the words of political animals in the form of mech designers, perhaps you should ask your chief technicians and the other mech designers what they think about my leadership. You'll undoubtedly hear that the situation is well in hand, and that my well-crafted schedules and timetables is keeping the entire maintenance department on track with finishing the high-g modifications to the landbound mechs within a standard month. If you place any of the other overconfident mech designers in my position, they'll almost certainly falter and screw up, delaying the modification work by at least a month, if not two."
Major Verle had no way of confirming his retort at this moment, but he was sure to follow through in his investigation.
Ves wasn't worried. He might have embellished some matters here and there, but the fact that the mech designers and mech technicians all worked at high levels of productivity couldn't be denied.
"So you claim that the design teams and the maintenance department can do just fine without you? Doesn't that make your position redundant?"
"I'm a delegator, not a micromanager." Ves calmly replied. "Every mech designer is kind of a geek by nature. That doesn't necessarily make them good leaders, but they are perfectly capable of following a set list of instructions if presented with one. My leadership style is to draft those instructions beforehand, implementing several what-ifs scenarios and I've incorporated some decision trees if they ever face the issues I've predicted beforehand. If they can't handle a problem, they've been instructed to kick them upstairs. As the mech designer at the top, I'm always ready to tackle the thorniest issues that crop up."
This was the way he ran his current posting and it was also how he ran the LMC. An argument could be made about the merits of this hands-off leadership style that depended heavily on delegation to keep the entire machine running.
Sometimes, a problem started small in the early stages, but snowballed into a complete calamity by the time it came to the attention of Ves. Other times, a chronic problem became a serious issue, but never escalated to the point where his subordinates brought it up to his attention despite dealing massive damage over time.
Ves simply consoled himself that he would make a thorough inspection once a month or something. With so many side projects demanding his time, he didn't feel the need to babysit the Vandals that much anymore.
His short meeting with Major Verle ended on a slightly disharmonious note. He made it clear that the Vandals were aware of his distractions and lack of attention to his core duties. All the while their combined fleet was traveling through one of the most perilous parts of space.
For his part, Ves spoke some platitudes about being more attentive to his duties. He intended to follow through with that statement, too, though in truth it was mostly lip service. His current responsibilities hardly required more attention than he already gave them. He expressly arranged matters so that he would be able to affect the most change with the least amount of work.
"I am one of the most productive mech designers in this fleet." He boasted shamelessly, and even employed his Spirituality to enhance his aura of sincerity. "There is nothing I care about more than to insure that we make it to the Starlight Megalodon alive."
Ves displayed the appropriate amount of surprise and uncertainty at the mention of the battleship's name. He acted just like someone who had just heard about the lost ship for the very first time.
Verle placed a hand on his shoulder. "The Starlight Megalodon won't be found so easily, and we will meet plenty of dangers along the road. The most acute threat comes from a handful of outfits who are in the possession of the same information that we've obtained. Every meter of the Starlight Megalodon is a treasure to us. Prepare yourself and prepare our mechs for what may arguably the hardest battles in the war."
Ves stared at the mech officer's solid back as he marched out of the conference room with a stoic gait. "I'm not the only one who is shouldering everyone's expectations."
He couldn't quite figure out whether he successfully fooled Major Verle. He didn't even know if the mech officer forgave him for his recent inattentiveness.
Despite his lackadaisical attitude towards his official duties, he very much looked forward to his impending transfer, which sounded by all accounts like a promotion.
"I can't ruin my opportunity by slacking off at the last moment."
He mentally shifted his own schedule around so he spent a little more hours on his so-called duties and a little less time on his side projects. He hadn't abandoned any of the latter, though. Completing them yielded him a vast understanding of many new matters and directly enhanced his ability to survive whatever the frontier threw at him. Ves was determined to survive his second excursion to the frontier!
He left the conference room and returned to his regular office compartment and met an irate and impatient Ketis. He did as promised and gave her the rundown of the hunt for the Starlight Megalodon.
"Hey wait a moment." She spoke, furrowing her brow due to the shock of the news. "So what you're saying is that the Vandals and the Swordmaidens and some other outfits found traces of a crashed but INTACT battleship, and they think they can just rob it blind while keeping the CFA out of the loop? Are they crazy?!"
"Hush now. Don't raise your voice. I know it sounds dubious. I'm holding back a lot of questions on my own. However, in sensitive operations such as this, it's not wise to voice out too much of your doubts. We have to trust in our superiors and make sure they can rely on us to follow their orders. Do you understand? You have to be a good soldier to Mayra and the rest."
She understood the seriousness of the matter when phrased in that particular way.
"Okay. Whatever you say, teach. By the way, isn't it about time for you to teach me something? I've been spending my time with you Vandals for more than a week, and practically everyone I've met on this vessel so far is either a brute or a boor! I'm bored!"
Ves sighed. "I suppose that's another matter I've neglected. Sit down. Let's have a discussion today."
They both sat down at their seats. Ves called up a diagram of the incomplete Caesar Augustus variant that she had recently worked on. "Remember this?"
"Yeah." She instantly scowled. "That hybrid knight is one of the most awful designs I've ever worked upon."
"Describe to me your biggest frustration with this design."
"It's that overstuffed internal structure! Whoever came up with this design is a moron who wants to have it all for his design but doesn't have the space to stuff it inside the frame! It's a miracle the mech is barely able to work at its basic state."
Her frustrations echoed his own back then. "You should cut Jason Kozlowski some slack. This was his first original mech design and he published it amid great expectations. Although his first published design fell flat within the mech industry, he eventually managed to climb back up and went on to have a successful mech design career. He's accomplished far more than what you achieved at your age."
"Didn't you tell me he some kind of rich playboy who's backed by his daddy's company? If I had his advantages, I could have designed a mech that's ten times better than that monstrosity!"
Ves shook his head. "It's easy to boast. If you are so certain about that, why not prove it to me? I'll put you into a virtual workshop and let you go to town with a set of stock component licences. Will you be able to cobble together a mech design that's at least equal to the Caesar Augustus?"
She fell silent at that. Of course she couldn't back up her words.
"Designing your first original mech is an intimidating process that has halted many young mech designers in their tracks. Yet it is the first hurdle they must overcome if they wish to achieve greater things." Ves leaned forward over his desk and stared at Ketis with eyes burning with intensity. "My plan is to whip you into shape and make you ready to design your debut original mech!"