The operation on Detemen IV already proved to be a harrowing ordeal for Verle and his subordinates. Not only did they lose at least two combat carriers, some of their other ships sustained substantial damage. That they could slip into FTL without hiccups was already a minor miracle.
Around forty ships of different shapes and sizes relied on his leadership. Each came with a crew ranging from dozens to hundreds. From the humblest cargo haulers to the largest logistic ships, they all pooled their efforts into supporting the upkeep of up to a thousand active mechs.
In fact, this was a lot of responsibility to shoulder for a mech major. From what Ves had gathered from the mech designer boot camp, the officer needed to be at least a lieutenant colonel in order to wield so much authority.
When Ves glanced at Major Verle while he discussed some matters with Iris, he suddenly realized he didn't know anything about the man. What was his origin? How did he fit in with the Flagrant Vandals? How much trust did Colonel Lowenfield put in him?
These questions became a lot more relevant as it seemed that Ves would spend a lot of time under his wing.
"Mr. Larkinson." The mech officer finally turned to him and addressed him with the usual veiled aggression typical to mech officers. "I'm glad to see you've survived the Stubby Growler's untimely end. You're a lot tougher than you look."
"Ah, thank you, sir."
The major grinned a little. "In fact, I'm quite impressed with your actions. I've read the reports about you and I can see you're different from the other mech designers."
"If I may ask, how so, sir?"
Verle seemed to be in a strange mood this time. Ves could immediately tell that his valuation in the major's eyes had undergone a large improvement.
"You're smart like the others, but that isn't enough to survive on the streets of Neron City by yourself. Anyone else like that brat Pierce you hung out with recently would have probably soiled their pants and cried like a sissy! Without others to lean on, even a single random thug can shoot them dead. What's the use of intelligence in that case?"
"Mech designers aren't trained to survive under those circumstances." Ves replied simply. Though Major Verle seemed to compliment him, Ves didn't wish to belittle the value of his fellow colleagues. "Anyone would be hard-pressed after evacuating a disintegrating ship."
"Ah, but there's more to it than that." Verle spoke. "As I said, you're not one of those snotty nerds who can only act normal behind a terminal. You also know how to lead and take charge of complete strangers when needed."
"I have some experience with leading mech technicians. I also own my own company that's doing fairly well for themselves last I heard."
"The LMC." He nodded. "I never heard about it, but I hear it's on the rise back home. Not that I pay any attention to that in the first place. But that make you better than practically every other mech designer working with our mech regiment. You've got the guts to start your own company and fight for your own success."
"I had a lot of help with that."
"Help that you deserve. Not anyone can become the apprentice of one of those fancy Masters. You fought and competed against many other mech designers to grasp at an opportunity that very few can obtain."
Major Verle was definitely building up for something. Ves became a bit more cautious as the man uncharacteristically continued to praise his good points without mentioning any of his bad ones.
Ves decided to extend a probe. "I think your praise is a little misplaced. It's only through a series of coincidences that I've managed to accomplish a few things on Detemen IV. I also stumbled a few times and didn't strictly adhere to the rules of the mech regiment."
"Those are mere trifles." Verle waved his hand. "In the chaos of battle, anything is permitted. We call ourselves the Flagrant Vandals for a reason. None of us are sticklers for rules. Many of us are sent to our mech regiment because we don't fit inside the neatly measured boxes the Mech Corps likes to put us in. Everyone among us has a skeleton in their closets somewhere."
This answer enlightened Ves a bit about the nature of the people he fought with for the past couple of months.
The Flagrant Vandals possessed their own pride and their own way of doing things. Their greatest challenge was to accommodate the diverse personalities of the servicemen sent in their way. Adhering too rigidly to rules would probably land more than half of the Vandals in the brig!
Perhaps this was why Ves hadn't been called out as of yet. Major Verle and his task force still needed to process all of their gains and losses from the operation at the Detemen System. The repair and recovery efforts alone demanded all of their attention.
Ves stared at the major and wondered what skeletons he hid in his own closet. For someone like him to reach the rank of major yet be relegated to the Vandals, something big must be weighing him down.
Verle pressed on after Ves fell silent. "Doubtlessly you are aware of Mr. Brandstad's current status. It's supremely unfortunate that he's missing. I enjoy a good rapport with him and I respect his capabilities like I respect yours. It's not surprising that he's Professor Velten's golden boy."
By now, Ves deduced why Verle wanted to meet with him. With the Vandal fleet split into two, the people who fell under the major's new task force had to fend for themselves. Ves quickly counted the mech designers attached to the task force and came to an unsettling conclusion.
"There are no other Journeymen in the task force."
"Precisely. For various reasons, the Wolf Mother remains with Colonel Lowenfield's fleet. Professor Velten and two of the Journeymen have also remained aboard the factory ship. As for us, besides Mr. Brandstad, we saw no need in sending in another experienced mech designer."
The role of higher ranking mech designers did not feature very prominently in their planning. Even though they split their fleet assets fairly evenly, the Vandals kept most of their mech design prowess in the main fleet.
Alloc's uncertain whereabouts led to an unfortunate circumstance where the mech designers of Major Verle's task force turned into headless chickens. Without the reassuring presence of a prestigious Journeyman Mech Designer, the productivity of the other mech designers would certainly drop.
That is, unless Major Verle could find someone else to step in Alloc's shoes.
"Someone as clever as you should know what I am about to ask."
"You wish for me to become the head designer of your task force."
Good heavens. Only someone as prestigious as Professor Velten would fit that role. A Journeyman could do it in a pinch, but an Apprentice would never be able to garner their total obedience.
The low-ranking mech designers that worked alongside the mech technicians didn't know him at all. Whereas the high-ranking mech designers already witnessed his prowess, they envied him more than they respected him. Subduing them into obedient dogs without the requisite status couldn't be done in a single day.
Despite the obstacles in his way, Ves did not wish to let this opportunity to. He knew that if he passed this duty onto Pierce or any of the other Apprentices, then he would be forced to obey the will of someone who didn't know what he was doing.
Ves hated being subjected to someone else's control. Whenever he got the opportunity, he would rather opt to take over the reins and be responsible for his own actions. That way, he wouldn't become doomed by someone else's screwups.
Naturally, the prerequisite of all of this was that he felt confident in his ability. Major Verle hadn't exaggerated too much in his praise.
"Sir, while I cannot promise you that I can match Mr. Brandstad's performance, I will do my best to fulfill my duty. What do my responsibilities entail?"
"For the full details, Professor Velten can fill you in through the military net. We are still in touch with Colonel Lowenfield's fleet, and as head designer, your privileges will be bumped to match those that are normally enjoyed by Journeymen." Major Verle explained. "In short, as head designer, you're the chief person responsible for the maintenance, repair, modification, configuration of all the mechs in our task force. You'll take part in any conference I call up and provide your input on how our mech composition must change according to our mission profiles."
"Those are very big shoes to fill." Ves replied honestly. "I may be a bit lacking in experience in taking care of so many matters."
Even though he raised a company worth billions of credits out of nothing, he freely delegated the matter of managing his organization to the retainers loaned by the Larkinson Estate. People like Jake and Chief Cyril had proven themselves invaluable in controlling an entire corporation with thousands of employees.
Maybe Major Verle noticed the reason of his apprehension. "You have to deal with your obligations regardless of whether you are confident or not. The galaxy will not wait until you sum up the courage to do your job. Besides, being a head designer is no different from any leadership position. The key is to recognize capable people and fob off as much work you think they are capable of performing."
In other words, Ves should seek to delegate his responsibilities instead of performing them by himself. His eyes brightened a little when he realized that lesson.
"Thank you, sir. I shall take on my duties as a head designer without hesitation."
After that, the major passed him a data pad which held a few documents that confirmed his temporary elevation in writing. Reading the fine print, Ves would only take on the role for the duration of the task force's existence. Once the task force disbanded or another Journeyman aligned with the Vandals came along, Ves would have to relinquish all of his privileges and responsibilities.
After the change became official, Verle threw out another question. "Can you guess what we prize the most among our mech regiment?"
Ves threw a guess. "Loyalty?"
"That's a given, but that's not the word I have in mind. It's resourcefulness."
"Is it because we work under less than ideal circumstances?"
"Aye. Are you aware of our financial situation?"
"I've heard some stories, sir."
"It's truly as bad as you hear. We're cut off the Mech Corps and have to manage on our own. Many mech regiments would succumb under such circumstances. In fact, we almost became insolvent ourselves. Only after Colonel Lowenfield arrived did we take a turn for the better. We were already fairly resourceful back then, but the colonel taught us that we had a long way to go."
Ves had a feeling that Major Verle maintained a very different definition of resourcefulness than him. "Can you elaborate on what kind of resourcefulness you'd like to see from me?"
"Nothing different from what you've already shown." The major gestured to him. "While you display just enough intelligence, experience and initiative to substitute for Mr. Brandstad, there is one quality where you are more superior than him, and that's resourcefulness."
"Ah, but I'm still unclear on what kind of resourcefulness you are looking for. How should I discharge my duties?"
The mech officer leaned forward on the conference table. "What I'm interested in is getting things done. Putting it simply, when you face a difficulty, you don't give up or come crying to a more competent mech designer. Instead, you tackle it head on, and when you can't figure out a conventional solution, you aren't afraid to bend some rules and get things done through a different method."
Ves understood the major now. The Flagrant Vandals already worked under suboptimal circumstances compared to properly funded mech regiments. Now, they also got split up from the main fleet while they just completed a major operation. The task force had to work with less while doing more.
Someone who only thought in straight lines wasn't suitable for the job. To keep the mechs of the task force together, the head designer needed to be a go-getter whose head was filled with crooked lines.
Ves didn't know whether that was a good thing or bad thing.