Surprisingly, the Little Boss was receptive to the idea. "I always wanted to see the Coalition with my own eyes. My old man always nags about the power of the gangs operating in the center of the star sector. It's about time I take a look."
Ves did not expect Dietrich to offer to come in person. "It's not necessary for you to accompany me. I can make do with any decent pilot."
"No no no, you deserve better! While I'm not as good as the old coots who have been with my father for centuries, I can still hold my own!"
After several attempts to change his escort, Ves gave up. At least the Little Boss offered to accompany him for free. Though his caliber was nowhere near a bodyguard worth ten million credits, he was not a pushover. That should be enough.
"Say, I'd like to ask a favor from you." Dietrich smiled with more than a little slyness. "Since you're a fancy designer, you should know a lot about mechs, right? I'd like you to tinker with my mech. Just a tune-up is okay."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea. It will take time, and I need extra materials-"
"Haha, no worries. We have a small stockpile of spare parts. You can grab anything you want as long as my mech gets better. As for the time, well, we both know it won't take an entire month to reach Leemar unless you take the cheapest spacelines."
Since he was loaded with money for the moment, Ves already reserved a first-class seat aboard a premium spaceline. It took little effort for Dietrich to reserve the seat next to him and also pay for the privilege to bring along his mech. Naturally, the war machine would be safed and stowed in the cargo section of the giant passenger ship.
"Alright, just head over to our base in Freslin. You know where it is. I'll clear you to use anything from our workshop and storage."
As Ves hung up, he sighed. Seems like he was pretty much stuck with Dietrich. Besides, it might not be a bad thing to develop a closer relationship with the heir of Walter's Whalers. His men could keep an eye on his workshop in his absence. He didn't fully trust his basic automatic security systems to keep out determined thieves.
After a brief trip aboard an aircar, Ves arrived at the same dilapidated-looking base where he first met Dietrich. Thankfully Dietrich looked fresh this time, wearing a smart suit that belied the power in his limbs. Unlike Vincent, the Little Boss was a warrior to the core. He did not let his excesses affect his combat capability.
"Right, you're finally here! Lemme bring you to my mech. You're going to love her. She's been my beauty for well over two years. She's a veritable classic!"
Dietrich unceremoniously dragged Ves into the rusting workshop area. Several oil-stained technicians were conducting haphazard maintenance on the mechs stowed inside. They walked up to the very end of the workshop which revealed an imposing silhouette of a medium flier.
Well, Dietrich was right in one aspect. His mech was a 'classic'. It was actually a National Aeromotives Harrier VCX-4B. While it was a currentgen design, the design came out at the very start of this generation's commencement. It was an aged design with a couple of premium features.
National Aeromotives only entered the mech market a generation ago. Its main products were still shuttles and aircars, so their accumulated knowledge concerning flight was very substantial. Besides brief forays into land mechs such as the Caesar Augustus, all the other mechs NA manufactured specialized in flight.
The Harrier was not a typical workhorse unit, though it shared many features with standard currentgen frontline models.
It focused mainly on endurance and therefore relied of fuel rather than direct energy to sustain its airtime. Its beefy flight system was capable of switching between energy saving mode and high intensity flight mode at the cost of weighing a bit more than other flight systems.
This made the medium mech carry only a fairly light amount of armor for a medium mech. Still, NA always excelled in developing heat-resistant armor, so the Harrier fared pretty well against energy weapons.
As for its weapon complement, it mainly relied on its ballistic rifle to dish out the hurt. While it weighed down the mech even more, it allowed the Harrier to devote most of its energy to power its flight. The Harrier was capable of carrying a sufficient amount of shells if it decided to forgo most melee weaponry.
Dietrich proudly approached the mech's foot and slapped his palm against its armor. "Look at this beauty. Can't you see how lovingly I treated her all this time?"
Ves had to admit that the VXC-4B was well-maintained. Evidently the technicians under the employ of the Whalers didn't dare slack off concerning Dietrich's personal mech. It must be the only time they actually earned their pay.
As Ves had little experience working on finished mechs, he might as well take the chance to study the Harrier. He borrowed the workshop's diagnostic tools to scan the Harrier from top to bottom. The readings told him that the mech had over a quarter of its parts replaced, and not all of the new parts were standard. In particular, it was difficult to get replacement armor plates from a source other than National Aeromotives directly. Naturally they charged sky-high prices for replacements.
With his vastly improved Mechanics skill, Ves noted that whoever repaired the armor had some skills, but did not account for every factor. He guessed that the mech's center of balance was slightly out of alignment, which affected a host of things that did not result in anything good.
"I can see it needs some work. If you don't mind, I'll be taking some things apart and replacing them with something else."
"Be my guest, Ves. That why I've invited you here for. As long as you can make my baby run better, I'm okay with anything."
It was reassuring to hear Dietrich place so much trust in Ves. For now, their interests aligned. The bonds between the two tightened as they mutually sought to take advantage of each other. Ves wanted to shelter under the umbrella of the Whalers, while Dietrich sought to enlist a high-end engineer.
Ves went to work on the Harrier. He first took out all of the replacement armor and set them aside. He then inspected the internals underneath and made a few calculations. If he wanted to reset the center of balance, then he had to move stuff around. One bad habit that National Aeromotives never shook off is that it inherited Jason Kozlowski's penchant of stuffing too much goodies in very little space.
Fortunately, the Harrier wasn't so bad in that regard. NA certainly tried to curb their habits as much as possible so Ves didn't have to risk bumping into something delicate when he moved a couple of minor components around.
One limiting factor was that over a quarter of the internals were dedicated to supporting the flight system. Ves lacked the expertise to play around with these components without screwing up the mech's flight capabilities. His background in ballistic weaponry was also too shallow for him to tweak the ballistic rifle, let alone understand it completely.
"I should try to plug this hole a bit once I have some DP to spare. I can't rely on beginner's knowledge concerning weaponry forever if I want to keep up with the higher echelons of mech designers."
Overall, the mech technicians had done a good job keeping the Harrier in shape. Ves did not have to correct any glaring errors, just minor misjudgments.
He did add one little surprise. His hands sneaked into the pouch carrying all of Lucky's gems and withdrew a dusky jasper. The round gem's appearance evoked a layered landscape, though Ves paid little attention to that. The unassuming gem had a property of improving the mech's agility by 1%. He sneakily installed the gem inside a well-protected alcove where technicians were least likely to inspect.
"Hopefully it will do its job." Ves muttered and turned his attention to putting the mech back together.
He took the replacement armor plates to a hammering tool and lightly worked them over so they conformed a little better to the Harrier. The mistake the technicians made was to think it was sufficient picking any random armor plating that weighed about the same and shape it in the exact way as the old one. In reality, each armor exhibited different properties and should always be treated from a fresh perspective.
After Ves put the armor plates back in, he requested Dietrich to enter the cockpit and test the mech. The re-tuned machine moved fluently and with grace despite the large flight system getting in the way of its movements.
"It feels great! It's like all of my aches and sores have gone away."
The improvement was marginal, but every little bit counted. Both Ves and Dietrich were satisfied with the work. While the mech's specs hardly moved, Dietrich piloted his mech more naturally.
Ves realized that tuning existing mechs might not be a waste of time. It took very little effort and investment on his part to bring up a mech back to full functionality. If Ves ever ran into a dry spell of orders, he could advertise his abilities as a mech tuner and earn some pocket money by tinkering with older mechs such as the Harrier.
After making sure nothing blew up in their faces, Ves said goodbye to Dietrich and finished his other preparations. He stopped by at Sanyal-Ablin's office and paid a little extra money to keep his security suite functioning even when he was away for an extended period of time.
"It is regretful that you declined our offer to escort you to Leemar." Robyn added after they dealt with this matter. "While the main space routes of the Coalition are well-patrolled, nothing is absolute. And that isn't even taking into consideration what can happen planetside."
"I really do wish I can hire your bodyguard, but my financial situation simply doesn't allow it." Ves excused himself as he stood and left for the exit. "However, that doesn't mean I will pass you by in the future. Once I get a good volume of sales, I'll be sure to take advantage of your other services."
"That sounds wonderful, Mr Larkinson. We are always ready to serve your needs."
When Ves returned to his workshop, he packed up his luggage and made sure to stow away all the loose tools and bots. He turned off and set the 3D printer and assembler into hibernation mode. As Ves turned off the lights, he wondered how much would change once he returned from Leemar.
"Hopefully I'll come back as a triumphant apprentice to a renowned master."
Ves had a fitful night of sleep as his excitement was hard to suppress. He lived, studied and worked in the Bright Republic for his entire life. Never had he stepped foot on a star beyond the borders of his familiar state.
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