Now that he determined that he could be a lot more open about the applications of his design philosophy, he wanted to design something that could make a splash.

”Starting with my tiger mech is a good idea. ”

He did not intend to proliferate its design.
Merely producing a single copy should be enough for him to complete both of his Upgrade Missions.

For this reason, he began to consider his upcoming design project as something more than a way to explore a couple of unfamiliar directions in mech design.

He saw it as a golden opportunity to perform a bold experiment.

An experiment related to the path of life.

The premise of his idea was simple.
Rather than relegating his design spirits in the background and limit them to influencing the performance of a mech through the X-Factor, why not allow them to control a portion of a mech directly?

”It ’s like automation, but on a different level! ”

Every mech incorporated at least some form of automation.
It was unavoidable as a single human mind couldn ’t possibly control every single variable of a complex war machine.

Yet the automation that Ves had in mind went much further than that.
With the design spirit acting in place of an AI or automated routine, he wanted to give it sole, tangible control over a limb!

”And maybe even more limbs! ”

A tiger mech possessed five limbs.

Its front and rear limbs played an essential role in the locomotion of the machine.
Ves did not intend to mess with the mech pilot ’s control over those essential limbs.

He instead directed his attention to the often-neglected rear limb, the tail.

”Many mech designers even leave that out entirely. ”

Organic tigers used them as means of communication and a way to help them balance their bodies during maneuvers.

Mechs that adopted the body shape of tigers had no need for those functions.
Mech designers could tweak the body structure of a tiger mech to make the balancing function of a tail redundant.
As for the communication function, the signalling function of a tail only played a role in situations where there was very strong jamming or where any conventional communication attempts might signal the enemy as well.

Some mech designers even turned the tail of a tiger mech into a strong antenna that amplified their communication capabilities.

Nonetheless, most mech designers merely added tails to a tiger mech because that was what their customers expected.
Seeing a tiger mech without a tail was a slightly jarring sight so some mech pilots.
Even if it made the mech more expensive, they insisted on adding articulating tails to their mechs because they wouldn ’t have the illusion of embodying a giant tiger machine without this cosmetic limb!

For his current design project, Ves planned to turn the tail of his tiger mech into a smart metal limb.
Not only that, but he planned to give full rein of it over to the design spirit!

”It ’ll be an autonomous tail controlled by an entity other than the mech pilot of the automated systems of the mech! ” He exulted.
”For the first time, my mechs can finally express themselves more directly! They ’ll be able to influence reality without asking for permission from their mech pilots! ”

He called it spiritual automation! Of course, he would refer to it as metaphysical automation in public if anyone asked.

He couldn ’t wait to see what the mech community thought of this novel addition to his mechs.
The new application he came up with was so crazy and radical that Ves couldn ’t help but erupt in laughter!

”Hahahahaha! ”

”Hahahahahahahahaha! ”


”Meow?! ”

Lucky, who was leisurely dozing off on his desk, suddenly jerked up his feet.
After seeing his owner getting drunk off one of his insane ideas again, he decided it was best to go elsewhere for a while.

Who knew what craziness Ves might do next! Lucky wanted no part of his dumb schemes!

”Meow! ”

As Lucky phased through the deck as fast as he could, Ves subsided from his laughter.

It was all well and good to exult in his ideas, but without putting them into action, it was wholly premature of him to rest on his laurels.

”I still have a lot of work to do in designing the mech. ” He stated, centering his focus away from his previous rush.

Though his earlier conduct was a little shameful, the outburst succeeded in invigorating his drive.
With his passion fired up, he deeply wanted his next design project to succeed!

However, designing his mech was easier said than done.
If he wanted to meet the demands of both his Upgrade Missions at once, then he had to turn at least thirty percent of his tiger mech into smart metal.

”Incorporating smart metal shock absorbers in a typical tiger mech will only net me five percent at most. ” He surmised.
”It might be possible for me to double it if I tweak the design to maximize their use. ”

That still left him with twenty percent to go.
He supposed he might be able to turn additional components or subcomponents of his tiger mech into smart metal.

”Certain sections of the limbs can be turned into smart metal as well. ” He thoughtfully rubbed his chin.
”It ’s best if I turn certain sections of armor into smart metal as well, but the cost of doing so is prohibitive for third-class mechs. ”

Smart metal used as armor had to be formed out of exceptional materials.
Their license costs were also high, though Ves didn ’t care since he planned to pirate the necessary licenses anyway.

”Even if I ’m prepared to invest a lot of money in this project, it ’s best to keep it as limited as possible. ”

The incorporation of smart metal meant that regardless of what he designed, it would cost at least 200 million bright credits at minimum to fabricate a copy.

This left out all the overhead costs such as the price of making use of the clandestine facilities that allowed him to fabricate his mech in secret.
It also left out the license costs that would have added billions of bright credits to the total bill!

Trying to stay as frugal as possible was going to be very hard to Ves as he tried to meet his goals.
Everything would be so much easier if Ves invested ten billion bright credits into acquiring the best materials and produce resilient but adaptable smart metal armor plating.

He shook his head.
”It ’s too extravagant! ”

Inwardly, he left the option to splurge his money as a backup option.
If he failed to design his intended mech with all of the limitations he imposed on the project, he had no qualms in spending extra to forcibly overcome an intractable problem.

His pride and his wallet wouldn ’t be happy, though.

”I ’m still spending more money than I make at the moment. ” He muttered.

Though he still possessed a healthy reserve of money, he wanted to save the bulk of it for a rainy day.
Spending billions of credits to forcibly complete a design project was like cheating in a way.

While Ves did not mind cheating every once in a while, doing it in this instance would deprive him of a valuable learning opportunity.

”This design project is a test of my ingenuity.
If my design ability is good enough, I can surely overcome this problem with a reasonable budget! ”

He began to draw up a very loose draft of his upcoming design.
He activated his terminal and drew the contours of a typical tiger mech.

He then modified and tweaked its shape in order to incorporate smart metal components wherever he could get away with it.
Aside from implementing shock absorbers and other minor sections, he also added an oversized tail to the mix.

Even then, Ves only brushed up to ten percent at most, which only represented a third of his target.

”I need more! ”

He decided to convert more components and subcomponents into smart metal.
While this reduced the overall strength of the frame, the mech became a lot more capable of restoring its functions after suffering an impact.

After a few hours of drafting and sketching, he tentatively managed to turn fifteen percent of his tiger mech into smart metal.

This was already a lot.
The substitution of so many strong parts with weaker ones took a toll on his draft design.
If he wanted to squeeze in even more smart metal, then he needed to make a more drastic reimagining of his tiger mech design.

”This is not enough! I need at least double! ”

Trying to increase the proportion of smart metal in his draft design without resorting to replacing the armor plating was immensely difficult.

He decided to take a break and set his design project aside.
Perhaps by allowing his thoughts to precipitate, he might come up with a better way.

”I still have plenty of time before I have to complete my design. ”

He wanted to be ready to fabricate his mech by the time he reached the Sentinel Kingdom, which was still a few months away.
He still had to go through the Chuko Republic first!

Tomorrow, his fleet would be crossing into Chuko space and enter the outskirts of Redwell Province.

This was a risky region of space.
A lot of pirate bands prowled the peripheral star systems due to their distance from major star systems.
Though the Redwell Province ’s military deployed frequent patrols to the border, their forces had already been stretched beyond their limits.
They simply couldn ’t cover enough territory to provide adequate protection over their entire stretch of border systems.

Fortunately, the Barracuda and her escorts firmly stuck to the main trading lanes.
Even if trade had largely dried up, the security around the channels shouldn ’t have deteriorated too much.
The Chuko Republic and the Redwell province couldn ’t afford to discourage any more traders shipping essential supplies and goods!

Ves decided to call Commander Cinnabar on the Ion Tracker to hear his advice.

As the call came through, the red haired man ’s projection appeared in front of the desk.

”Boss, what do you want? ”

”Have you visited the Chuko Republic before? ”

”Eh, I have.
That was a long time ago, though.
Chuko was in a much better state back then.
People didn ’t believe that the state would fall at that time. ”

”Can you tell me anything useful about Chuko that you haven ’t already included in the reports? ”

Commander Cinnabar scratched his scraggly red beard.
I ’m not sure whether I ’m still right. ”

”Just tell me what you think is useful about Chuko or the Redwell. ”

”Well, my first piece of advice is that you should get in touch with the underground faction.
If you aren ’t squeamish about mingling with shady organizations, then you can find a lot of useful goods at bottom prices. ”

Ves raised his eyebrow.
This sounded interesting! ”Oh? Why is that so? ”

”Everyone still needs to make money.
The extraction industry has been in constant decline due to the frequent conflicts, but they haven ’t stopped mining exotics.
The problems the Chukans face is that it ’s becoming very difficult to export them to other states.
Many trade convoys carrying significant amounts of valuable resources never reached their destination. ”

”So there ’s a glut of goods piling up in the state? ”

”Yeah. ” The Kinner mercenary commander confirmed.
”The central and provincial governments regularly dispatch their highly-guarded trade convoys to pick up the accumulating reserves of goods, but the interval between these visits can stretch up to weeks or months.
That ’s a lot of goods piling up in warehouses, you know. ”

”So the people who are close to those warehouses surreptiously skim off the top and sell them at the black market? ”

”Pretty much.
Even the gangs have to make ends meet. ”

Instances like this reflected the malaise affecting the Chuko Republic.
With hardly any private trading vessels diverting to the deteriorating state, it was no surprise that they resorted to these means.

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