Ves turned to Chief Carmon. "Have you ever seen a superior version of the Inheritor?"
"Not even close." The chief shook her head. "I've been a Vandal for over twenty years and been posted on more than eight different carriers and I've never seen any other version of the Inheritor than the one we're currently looking at. I know this model like the back of my hand and there's no tolerance for improvement besides using better materials."
That caused Ves to look at the frame of the Inheritor in a different way. The design might not be all that good, but what would happen if he replaced the low-quality materials with better ones.
He performed a brief visualisation of the result. His conclusions led to the a similar route to the road that his Crystal Lord design had taken.
"What is the Inheritor design is clad in compressed armor?" He asked. "The main advantage of the Inheritor is that it's fast even for a spaceborn light skirmisher. The downside to that is that its armor is extremely flimsy. Replacing its lightweight armor with compressed armor plating will substantially negate this disadvantage."
"That's exactly right." The former mech designer said. "You can also replace the core parts with better versions."
It would be a completely different design. The performance of such a machine would be a multitude of times more effective than the cheap hunk of alloys the Vandals relied on as one of its workhorse models.
Yet none of it mattered.
"This design you're describing doesn't exist." Ves said. "Not if what Chief Carmon said is true. It might be that the original designer had a quality mech design in mind when he originally developed a premium mech, but he never made it into fruition. Afterwards, when the Vandals commissioned him to design an affordable light skirmisher for space battles, he must have recycled some of his old work."
Every mech designer created more designs than they could put to use. They usually archived their unused designs and utilized some of its elements in other projects to cut save a lot of time and effort.
The more Ves thought about it, the more this conclusion resonated to him. Maybe that was why the Inheritor was a little unsuited in its role as a disposable mech.
"It sounds possible, but without any proof, we're guessing in the wind. Besides, even if it turns out to be true, that doesn't make this model any better."
Ves wanted to get the conversation back on track. He steered the conversation away from baseless speculation and turned back to his original job of gathering feedback on the Inheritor mech.
He didn't learn much new after talking with all of the mech technicians. Sometimes, they described some problems concerning the difficulty in assembling or repairing certain sections, but fixing those issues required a lot of time and didn't measurably strengthen the mechs at all.
Still, in the back of his mind, Ves could fathom the reason why the Vandals possibly utilized a heavily downgraded version of an excellent design. It made no sense. Someone as skilled as Professor Velten or any of the Senior Mech Designers that used to work for the Vandals should have been able to design an optimal spaceborn light skirmisher from the ground up.
Ves left that question to the side and concentrated on his work. He also didn't forget about observing his surroundings. He hadn't forgotten his earlier desires to figure out what made the Vandals tick.
At the end of the day, Ves returned to his cabin and summed up the feedback he received in a bland report. Ves didn't focus too much about what he put into words because they mainly echoed all of the existing problems known by the design department.
Instead, he focused on his other observations.
The main takeaway from his walk around the ship was that the Vandals acted with less discipline than they should have behaved, but they made up for it in their sense of unity and their trust in their leadership.
Besides the malcontents who piloted the Inheritor, everyone else displayed no displeasure at being assigned to one of the least desirable mech regiments of the Mech Corps.
"The Vandals maintain a true esprit de corps."
This identity that set them apart from everyone else lifted their hearts and gave them strength. Ves had seen similar beliefs in outfits like Walter's Whalers. Their esprit de corps arguably made them fifty percent stronger, if only because they wouldn't cut and run at the first sign of trouble.
This strong collective belief made it even stranger that it did not extend to the pilots of the Inheritor mechs. Their relationship to the Vandals was akin to the status of Pierce and Laida in their design teams. As temporary workers, they would only stay for a stint or two before being assigned somewhere else.
The difference between the two situations was that mech designers transferred away in peace, while the mech pilots most often had had to pay for their lives.
The possible kept nagging at Ves to he called to Laida for them to meet at the canteen.
When he arrived at the place, he ordered a quick coffee and some snacks and sat down on the opposite of Laida. The young woman looked tired.
"Did I call you up when you were about to go to bed?"
"I'm sorry about that." Ves sheepishly scratched his head. "I didn't think about the time."
"It's fine. You wanted to talk about the Inheritor, right? I've been having many restless nights due to this design. It doesn't make sense."
Laida spoke about some of her issues. Different from what the mech pilots brought up, she addressed more technical issues.
"The root of the problem lies in the demand that the Inheritor has to meet a standard in terms of speed and acceleration. This is forcing us to design the Inheritor as lopsided as possible to accommodate these wishes. It's the entire reason why its flight system is rather overpowered for a design of that stature, and why we don't have any weight capacity left to thicken its armor. They're asking us to do the impossible, so we only delivered half of what was promised and forgot about the other half."
"So you believe it's not a deliberate choice to make the Inheritor so fragile?"
"Not really." Laida replied after a momentary pause. "It's due to helplessness from our design team, mostly. Did you know that in the last twelve months, we've only been able to increase the durability of the Inheritor by two percent? That's miniscule!"
A two percent increase in durability without resorting to more expensive materials was an impressive achievement depending on the starting point of the design in question.
Increasing the toughness of a heavy mech by two percent meant that it could withstand a lot more firepower in absolute terms.
Increasing the toughness of a thin light mech by the same proportion hardly made no difference at all. It wouldn't even let the mech endure one additional ballistic rifle shell.
So the progress the Inheritor design team had made over the past year really amounted to squat. "Has all of the potential in this design been exhausted?"
"As I said, it's mainly because of orders from the top that we can't improve this design. If you ask my entire design team, they'll say that the Vandals should have switched over to a different design a long time ago."
As Ves discussed the issues of the Inheritor design a little more, Ves increasingly got the suspicion that the Inheritor was indeed derived from a better design. Ves still didn't know the reason why, but he increasingly believed that this was a deliberate choice from Colonel Lowenfield or Professor Velten.
There was something more a stake behind this seemingly inane choice to stick with the Inheritor design.
After finishing the meeting and letting Laida return to bed, Ves retired for the night and returned to work the next day. His new assignment didn't entail documenting the same old complaints by the mech pilots. The professor tasked him with coming up with concrete improvements in the designs the Vandals developed on their own with the help of his unique strengths.
Ves had no clue how to do this after hearing about the awful state of the Inheritor.
"The Hellcat and Akkara designs are a mess, but at least they have a lot of room to improve. The same can't be said about this stupid piece of junk."
As Ves made his rounds to the other hangars of the Wolf Mother, he heard the same things over and over again. It really made him question Lowenfield and Velten's sanity for persisting with this inadequate design.
Not that any other light skirmisher would do much better, but with a minor bump in cost, the longevity of the mech would increase by a significant amount. Ves found it strange that the Vandals refused to accept this generous trade-off. After all, the law of diminishing returns didn't bite so hard at the start of the curve.
While his prospects of coming up with effective solutions diminished, he at least tried to do his best. Ves particularly took advantage of his freedom of movement to stroll through as many ship compartments as possible as he passed from hangar to hangar. He got to see how every other section of the factory ship looked like and how many people worked to keep the mech regiment running.
It humbled him in a way. He passed by a lot of enormous machines the size of a couple of mechs jumbled together. The scale of these machines caused him to fall into an illusion that it wasn't the Vandals driving the Wolf Mother, but it was the Wolf Mother dictating the actions of the Vandals.
Ves shook his head. "What kind of nonsense is that?!"
He quickly turned back to his work. As Ves met with many mech pilots and mech technicians and personally performed a deep inspection of a disassembled Inheritor mech, Ves continued to perceive the intangible qualities of the Inheritor.
"Too bad it's hardly there."
These mechs had never been truly valued since their conception. Their designers intended for them to last a couple of years at most, while the Vandals obviously didn't take any special care of them despite fielding them by the hundreds.
This led to the formation of dead or stunted spiritual existences within the mechs. With hardly anyone showing any care for these mechs, it was no surprise that they couldn't fully mesh with their mech pilots.
Most of the mech pilots Ves had questioned described the piloting experience in awful terms. One mech pilot described it as landing on a bed of nails, trying to flail your limbs in order get out, only to suffer more injuries as a result.
"Maybe that description is a little too extreme."
After experiencing so many Inheritors through sight and touch, Ves realized its design failed to live up to its promises due to a common thread.
The Inheritor was unloved.
Seemingly no one appreciated this design. Its designers regarded it as a throwaway mech. The technicians who fabricated it en masse tried to rush the work as fast as possible. The mech pilots who had been assigned to pilot these death traps all hated spending one more second in its cockpit than was necessary.
Ves honed in on this observation and thought that this might be the opening he was looking for. Could he turn this difficult and unloved design into something that people could be proud of working with?