Ves met with Calsie the next morning and discussed a lot of business. She spent most of her efforts preparing to apply for a mech permit. Such a thing might be hard to obtain for a private individual, but as soon as he incorporated his business he’d be able to take advantage of looser provisions.
As for registering his business, his family’s lawyers already laid the groundwork. Calsie only had to dress it up and rearrange some data in order to comply with the local standard.
“It’s not that difficult to start up a corporation in the Bright Republic. Even the local politicians can’t be too excessive.” She explained to her employer. “Cloudy Curtain is relatively rare among rural planets in that it doesn’t offer any incentives for doing so. Most underdeveloped planets do their best to attract more commerce.”
“That’s fine. I don’t expect any favors nor do I need any. As long as we don’t encounter any obstacles, I’m content.”
After she promised to handle the filing and registration, they turned to a thornier subject. With the Planetary Assembly about to go back in session, the tax reform bill became a looming threat to Ves. If the White Doves and the Greens succeeded in imposing excessive demands to businesses like the Living Mech Corporation, then Ves would be forced to relocate his assets.
“The assemblymen have been busy trading favors. They’ve added in a lot more exemptions to the people who are willing to play along with the ruling coalition. Opposition is too scattered right now. Whoever is left out is of no importance to Cloudy Curtain’s economy.”
Calsie regularly reported her observations, so Ves already knew about it. “So there’s no use in trying to unite. We’re not part of their network.”
It galled him a bit that the politicians treated him like an insect. They didn’t need to take his opinions into account when they formulated their policies. Well, he’d show them up sooner or later.
“The coalition is doubling down on boosting the agricultural sector. They’re even drafting a complimentary bill that will indirectly subsidize the consortiums along with the other farming concerns. Normally, the ruling coalition wouldn’t be able to make this pass, but with the Bright Republic preoccupied with the terror attacks and the impending war, a small case of self-enrichment doesn’t really ping on their radar.”
They truly picked the best timing. Having first-hand experience of a terror attack on his own had made Ves aware that the Republic were at their wits end. They had to devote a huge amount of manpower in order to keep a lid on the BLM.
Ves turned his palm to her. “I understand you’ve been working on a plan. Let’s hear it. I’ve been racking my brain myself but I haven’t figured out a way to stop the coalition.”
She twirled her straight blond hair and smirked at him. “You haven’t been spending much time in town, have you?”
“If I’m not holed up in my workshop, I’m often off-planet.”
“Then you aren’t aware of today’s sentiment. If you walk down the streets of Freslin, you’ll note that you’ve become a local celebrity of sorts, especially among the young. While no one really knows what mech designers actually do, it doesn’t change that you’re Cloudy Curtain’s very first mech manufacturer. Your physical mechs might be unattainable to the masses, but your virtual mechs have made quite a splash.”
His virtual mech sales had indeed increased lately, though not to the point of earning him lots of DP. His popular 3-star Young Blood stopped providing him with DP, while his other designs only modestly sold more.
Still, it didn’t change that more potentates piloted his mechs. According to Calsie, his brand recognition had grown to the point where at least half of the people on the streets knew his name.
She continued her story. “Once I started hearing your name being bandied about by my fellow students, I suddenly had a thought. What kind of era are we living in these days? This is the Age of Mechs!”
Ves scrunched his face. “Huh?”
“You’ve lived a fairly privileged life, so you’ve been able to pursue a career with mechs without a problem. What about the rest? Do you know how much the local youths worship mechs? Everyone is a fan of mechs! However, not many people are able to get in touch with one. After the local potentates graduate from the junior academy, they’re often forced to move off-planet or abandon their piloting career!”
Cloudy Curtain only hosted a handful of grassroots academies that only offered a limited curriculum. If potentates wish to develop their skills to the point of becoming a qualified mech pilot, they often had travel to a different planet in order to attend a more advanced academy. Not everyone could afford to do so.
Slowly, Ves started to understand her point. “I see what you mean. My sudden entry into Cloudy Curtain is a portent to a livelier mech scene. A single mech manufacturer can function as the central node of a nascent mech community. All the mech fans should be thankful of me for opening this door.”
“Do you know which organization is the most popular among the young? It’s actually the Whalers! They’re the only game in town with lots of mechs. They also recruit heavily among the locals. This is why they’ve never lost support even if they’ve made a nuisance of themselves over the years. They’re our very own folk heroes!”
In other words, even if the politicians detested them, they would never dare to chase them away. First, they couldn’t beat them on the battlefield because the Whalers had way too many mechs, even if their quality left much to be desired.
Second, the Whalers were actually more popular than the Greens, White Doves and the Pioneers put together. Cloudy Curtainers generally never bothered with politics because it was boring as hell. In contrast, Walter’s Whalers constantly flaunted their exploits with mechs. Ves had to admit that Mr. Walter acted very shrewdly by being so flamboyant.
“So you think we should adopt the same strategy as the Whalers? That sounds very expensive.”
Even if most people knew he existed, that didn’t mean anything on its own. Turning this awareness into action required a lot work. A publicity campaign could easily run into the billions of credits.
Still, Calsie kept her confident smile as she passed him a datapad that outlined her plan. Ves quickly skimmed over the documents. It contained two ambitious motions that could turn the tables on the rotten politicians who wanted to drive him away.
“As you can see, my outline calls for applying pressure to the ruling coalition from both the top and bottom. Pressure from any one direction won’t affect them too much, but if they have to fight on multiple fronts, they’ll be starting to feel the squeeze.”
“I see that your first plan calls for partnering up with the gaming centers.”
In order to play the best mech sims, potentates had to use an extremely expensive simulator pod. Gaming centers offered a convenient place for potentates to practice their skills without saddling them up with loads of debt. Most of the local gaming centers were actually franchises of established entertainment companies.
“Right.” She nodded. “The most popular game at the moment is Iron Spirit. It turns out it offers an extensive set of privileges to game center operators. Every establishment has the right to designate a handful of mechs at each star tier as their trial mechs. Pilots are able to try them out without limit even if they haven’t purchased them. This is is a great way for you to become an indispensable figure to the young.”
“What about the operators? Will they agree to such an arrangement?”
Calsie leaned over and called up an appendix. “I’ve already made a call to all of the game centers in Orinoco and Freslin. About a third of them are willing to put your Young Blood as a promotional mech. As for the others, they’re not allowed to decide this on their own. Still, if they see that the game centers that are promoting your models are doing well, they might start to change their mind.”
Her initiative really came as a welcome surprise. He hadn’t expected her to sound out so many game centers. It must have cost a lot of time to canvas so many operators. “If this is true, then we’re off to a great start. Still, that doesn’t mean much on its own.”
“Oh, we still need to do a publicity campaign, but it doesn’t cost much if we limit our reach to the game centers. Once you tell your fans that some evil backstabbing politicians are trying to drive you away, they’ll cry to their mommies and daddies. Once this phenomenon reaches a certain point, the adults can’t sit still. After all, most of them also appreciate mechs.”
The most popular broadcast on Cloudy Curtain consisted of the mech games. Almost a quarter of the population regularly tuned into the live matches.
While the plan still sounded nebulous at certain points, Ves approved of the plan. He allowed Calsie to draw a limited amount of funds in case she needed to grease the wheels. He also tasked her with forming up a publicity campaign. She intended to leave the work to her friends who studied Marketing.
If the first prong of the plan intended to poke the masses, the second prong was definitely meant to poke something bigger. As Ves read the second set of documents, his brow rose in alarm.
“You actually want to petition the Republican Commissioner? Are you insane?”
Major planets such as Bentheim hosted a substantial amount of bureaucracy that answered directory to the central government in Rittersberg. A backwater like Cloudy Curtain wasn’t entitled to such treatment. The low population and stagnant economic growth only led to the establishment of a single office.
While the Republican Commissioner reported directly to Rittersberg, he mainly supervised the local governmental organs. In extreme cases he could fire the entire Planetary Assembly and rule the entire planet by decree, thought that never happened.
“Think of the Bright Republic’s plight.” She responded patiently. She turned on her comm and visited a random news portal. “Look at the headlines. Half of them are talking about the war that everyone is convinced will break out soon. When the Republic is dealing with all of these matters, what do you think it values more? Peace, or power?”
Power, of course! Of all the things the Republic asked of its people, it mostly demanded strength! They needed more pilots, more enthusiasm, more loyalty and above all else, more spirit!
In its agonizing journey to become a state, the Bright Republic learned to cast off its naive notions of peace. In times of war, it couldn’t afford to see some of their planets acting timidly.
The Greens and the White Doves might rule Cloudy Curtain, but they only get to call the shots as long as they didn’t step on the Republic’s toes. In times of war, every planet mattered! Who knew if Cloudy Curtain’s melancholy could spread one day?
Ves let out a deep breath once he read through the brief proposal. “The Republican Commissioner is always a senior statesman. They’re wily old foxes who will instantly see through my intentions. They aren’t supposed to favor selfish people.”
“If you approach him by yourself, that might be the case.” She smirked at him again. “The story is different once the masses are riled up. If the mech fans are starting to make noise, the the ruling coalition will find themselves at the opposite side of both central policy and popular opinion. It’ll become obvious that the cowards intend to spend the entire war with their heads buried in the sand.”
She certainly painted a very devious scenario. He doubted the Greens and White Doves would take it lying down. They’d certainly counter-attack before it got to that point.
Still, it did not change the basic facts. Once a significant part of the population spoke out, the Republican Commissioner could use that as an excuse to smack the politicians. A public rebuke could easily stop the tax reform bill in its tracks.
“The crucial challenge here lies in provoking the public while tying my company’s interests with their own. Both will not come easily.” He stated after some thoughts. “I think we’ll need some help with this. It’s too much to expect you to do this in your spare time. I want you to look for a publicist who can manage relations with the game centers and take care of the publicity campaign.”
“I can find plenty of those on campus.”
“Make sure they don’t have any ties to any of the scum who sit in the Planetary Assembly. I don’t want them to realize our intentions before it’s too late.”
They ended their discussion with a solid course of action. Ves admired Calsie’s boldness. Hopefully her devious plan worked. If not, Ves could always investigate the shady farming consortiums.