Over the course of several weeks, Ves fabricated eight gold label Crystal Lords.
Together with the first production model, the LMC would be able to show off nine of them at once at the looming press conference.

A while ago, Ves tentatively settled on holding the press conference in a couple of days.
Though the announcement didn ’t leave much time for everyone else to arrange their schedules, he believed that a lot of people still planned to attend.

”Interest in our new model is has peaked. ” Gavin spoke as he reported the matter to Ves in his private office.
”The teasers have done their job, but without showing anything more solid than a silhouette, it ’s extremely hard to generate new fans. ”

”We ’ll make do with what we have.
How many confirmed guests are we talking about? ”

”We ’ve roped in over two-dozen local publications.
None of them are major players, and only a couple of them have state-wide reach. ”

Ves frowned.
”Nothing bigger has shown any interest? ”

We tried our best and even offered a substantial amount of bribes, but those huge publications that are followed by people throughout the Komodo Star Sector hardly pay attention to Apprentice Mech Designers.
You have to be an extremely talented Journeyman Mech Designer in order to rouse their interests. ”

Though he found it disappointing, Ves did not expect anything else.
It had already been an extremely rare occasion for a publication such as the Rimward Star Herald to do a feature on him.
Even that got quickly ignored and buried underneath all of the major news that popped out shortly afterwards.

”Have you gathered any more intelligence about the second wave? ”

”According to the latest rumors circulating in the mech industry, the Mech Corps has almost finished settling the first wave of mech designers.
They ’ll likely call up the second wave early next week. ”

”Ves tapped his fingers.
I ’ve done what I can in Cloudy Curtain.
The Barracuda arrives in orbit tomorrow morning.
We ’ll depart for Bentheim to prepare for the press conference.
Make sure you finish everything that needs to be done on this end before you go. ”

”Will do, boss! ”

As Gavin left his office, Ves contemplated how the LMC would fare in his absence.
Right now, a lot of tiny mech workshops and mech boutiques shuttered their doors by the thousands.
Hardly a day went by without reading up on the doom and gloom among the tiny mech manufacturers.

These marginal companies only managed to cling onto solvency as long as their only mech designer remained in charge.
The sudden absence of a vast majority of of mech designers caused most of these businesses to shutter their doors, sometimes by the founders themselves.

This in turn disrupted plenty of supply chains and caused a deluge of unemployed people who used to work for these small mech manufacturers to end up on the streets.

Fortunately, the LMC remained steady throughout all the turmoil.
With two currentgen product lines in its catalog, the company would be able to remain relevant for at least eight more years without any further input by Ves.

”This is a good time for my company to grow and accumulate more wealth. ”

Unless someone else published a design that competed directly against his mechs, the LMC should be able to sustain a regular cash flow.
It mattered little whether Ves published more designs or not.
His current two designs already covered a decent swathe of the market.

Ves spent his final day in Cloudy Curtain meeting his people one more time and saying goodbye to them.
He even took a shuttle trip downtown and visited Dietrich to get in touch with the Whalers.

Ever since they helped out in repelling the Vesian raiding force, their prestige enjoyed a substantial boost.
Their rule over Cloudy Curtain had solidified and couldn ’t be shaken anymore.

Dietrich obviously looked like he was having a good time.
Ves entered a recently constructed night club that the Whalers had demolished and built from the ground up with all the bells and whistles.
It made heavy use of wide-area projectors to cast an illusion of walking among the stars.

The view disoriented Ves somewhat, but he slowly got used to walking in the middle of space.
Comets zipped by while stars emitted light and heat.
He eventually reached Dietrich who nursed an expensive drink.

”Are you off to join the war? ” He asked with a bit of alcohol on his breath.

”In a way.
I ’ll likely be allocated to a design team. ”

”I heard about that! My mates tell me that they ’ll gather a hundred or so mech designers and put them in a single base in some forgotten corner of the Republic and let you guys sort things out from there. ”

”It ’s not quite as simple as that.
Mech designers like me will be joining the existing design teams as extra manpower.
They can never have enough mech designers to do all of their grunt work. ”

Most of the time, people like Ves would be granted the privilege of running loads of simulations or repetitive computations.
Some jobs could be left to AIs while other jobs required a lot of creative judgement.
Mech design was both an art and a science, after all.

Ves hoped that publishing the Crystal Lord design would enhance his status just enough to avoid the lowest level of grunt work.
It remained to be seen whether the Mech Corps took note of his work, but it couldn ’t hurt to try.

Ves ordered a light drink and sat on the opposite side of the table to Dietrich, who dismissed his hanger-ons.
As Ves enjoyed the imported liquor, he turned to an important topic.

”What ’s in store for the Whalers in the next few years? You guys are expanding like crazy.
Cloudy Curtain alone won ’t be able to hold you all. ”

”Hahaha! ” Dietrich burst into laughter.
”It ’s that obvious? Well, since you already guessed, there ’s no need for me to hide.
We ’re planning on branching out, but not in the way you think.
All the neighboring star systems in the Bentheim region is spoken for.
The gangs who occupy these systems all have backers just as troublesome as Monty the Beheader.
We can ’t just fob them off without provoking a lot of formidable existences. ”

”So you ’re looking for places further ahead? ”

”Exactly! Right now, we ’re eying a quiet star system that ’s closer to Rittersberg than Bentheim, but not too close to make things difficult.
You know what everyone is saying about this war.
There ’s always a chance the Vesians might accomplish the impossible and conquer the Bentheim System.
Having a few fallback options ready would be really handy. ”

”The chance that the Mech Legion actually manages to break through is small.
They first have to crack Fort Havensworth before they can even think about moving further inward, That ’s never happened before. ”

Both of them nodded.
Neither appeared to seriously entertain the thought of a Vesian upset.
Walter ’s Whalers only made some preparations in order to calm the nerves of its own people.

”So what are you here for, really? I doubt you visited to sample our drinks. ”

Ves nodded and put down his half-empty glass.
”In truth, I wanted to ask some favors from the Whalers.
Basically, I want you guys to watch over the LMC and take care of them if it ’s convenient for you guys.
I hope you can help my company out again if the Vesians for some reason try to raid the Mech Nursery again. ”

”That ’s difficult for me to promise, you know.
We ’re in the middle of our transformation.
Our combat effectiveness isn ’t all that great right now. ”

”At some point, your rookies will stop being inept.
I ’m confident the Whalers will become a force to be reckoned with.
At that time, I hope you haven ’t forgotten about me and my company. ”

”That won ’t happen! You can count on us! ”

They subsequently discussed more concrete matters.
In exchange for explicit support, the LMC would occasionally supply the Whalers with silver label mechs.
Though they could still afford to purchase these mechs at market prices, Dietrich never turned down free stuff, especially mechs of this caliber.

”Great! It ’s always troublesome to order a homegrown mech of yours.
Sure, we can place our orders to another company, but we ’ll only be able to get our hands on the crappy bronze label mechs.
Getting them directly from your factory will save us a lot of trouble! ”

For the rest of the evening, Dietrich showed him around the newly erected bases erected by the Whalers.
Gone was the stink, the rusting walls and overgrown ground.
The new bases looked every bit as formidable as the smaller bases maintained by the Mech Corps.

Even if the Vesians returned in greater numbers, the Whalers would still be able to hold them off with these new bases.

The next day, Ves packed his luggage, which wasn ’t much, and boarded a shuttle to the temporary spaceport set up just outside of Freslin.

Strictly speaking, with the self-destruction of the old spaceport in Orinoco, Ves did not have to make this detour.
He could have chosen to lift off into orbit directly from his doorstep.

It would be bad form to do so, though.
Traffic heading up into orbit or down to the surface would become a chaotic mess without a spaceport acting as a central hub.
They also played a vital role in inspecting ships and cargo for any untoward surprises.

Only smugglers and other criminals ignored spaceports.
If Ves followed suit, he would be painted in the same brush as them.
Therefore, Ves endured time being wasted on this side trip.

Once his shuttle finally lifted off into space and docked next to the Barracuda, Ves along with Gavin and a handful of key personnel boarded the corvette and made themselves at home.

”Set course to Bentheim and depart whenever you ’re ready. ”

”Aye aye, sir! ” Captain Silvestra responded curtly from the bridge.

Ves headed up to the tiny observation room at the uppermost deck of his ship and looked down on the greyish globe that represented Cloudy Curtain.

He was leaving Lucky, the System, his shield generator, the Vulcaneye and his anti-grav clothes behind.
Ves felt awfully vulnerable without these possessions.

Only the Amastendira remained by his side.
The System granted Ves the option to store the high-grade laser pistol into his Inventory.
Surprisingly, Ves was able to store and retrieve the Amastendira from the Inventory even without the System.

This was very good news to Ves.
While he didn ’t expect to resort to the weapon at all, he still found it reassuring that he could count on at least one way to get out of a crisis.

The Barracuda quietly engaged her thrusters and joined the convoy of cargo haulers making for the nearest Lagrange point.
Among other cargo, they also held eight of his Crystal Lords.
The first production model had already reached Bentheim long ago and recently finished its validation trials.

There was no suspense at all.
The Crystal Lord design passed with very high marks.
The MTA even generously valued its licensing contract at 5 billion bright credits, which was 2 billion more than the Blackbeak!

The high value attached to its licensing contract would certainly help burnish its credentials.
Right now, the MTA kept the news confidential to anyone but Ves, but he could certainly imagine everyone ’s surprise the moment he revealed the sum.

”I ’m not just an average Apprentice Mech Designer anymore. ” He smirked as he turned away from the view of the shrinking planet.

He already set his sights beyond the Crystal Lord.
At this time, Ves thought about the years ahead of him.
Mech designers never stopped learning.
Getting drafted into a design team shouldn ’t be an excuse for him to stop his progression.

”Even without the System, I can still find a way to become a Journeyman Mech Designer. ”

With his abundant amount of Skills, Ves more than satisfied the knowledge requirement to advance to Journeyman.

The other two requirements set him back.
He lacked experience in designing original mechs and he was still in the process of developing his design philosophy.

In a way, Ves could still work on those two requirements as part of a design team, but he could only do so if he was entrusted with greater responsibility.

”Mindless work won ’t cut it for me.
I ’ve got to be in a position where I can truly contribute to the designs in development. ”

Ves already imagined the challenges he would face.
With Senior Mech Designers calling the shots, a junior like him possessed no status at all.
Right from the start, he faced an uphill battle trying to earn everyone ’s acknowledgement.

”I ’ll see how I can proceed once I get there.
I can ’t completely rely on second-hand stories to form my plan.
I have to see how a design team is run with my own two eyes. ”

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