Before he called Marcella, he reminded himself that he had to get in touch with his other employees as well. He assigned both Calsie and Gavin on the important task of shaping public opinion.
“Hey boss! You’re back!” Calsie perked up when she received his call.
“How is Cloudy Curtain’s business climate these days?”
“It’s not looking too well.” She grimaced. “The war fever is dividing the population in two. You’ve got the younger generation who are all enthusiasts about mechs and the older folk who wants their planet to be left alone. The problem is that the latter group is holding the reins of power.”
The Greens and the White Doves formulated an effective strategy to fight against the creeping push of mechs onto their world. They gave up on the young folk who had never experienced a war in their lifetime and focused on the jaded parents and grandparents who personally lived through the previous Bright-Vesia Wars.
Ves frowned at the news. “Is the Republican Commissioner letting them get away with it?”
“That geezer is deliberately acting obtuse when we met with him.” Calsie said angrily. “He only offered vague platitudes and stuck to his opinion that he shouldn’t involve himself in local politics. Hah! If I didn’t know any better, the ruling coalition has him in their pockets. Too bad I don’t have any proof.”
That sounded highly disturbing because the Commissioner was supposed to keep the locals in check, not the other way around.
“Are there any worries in the short term?”
“Not at the moment. The tax bill has stalled due to a lack of overall support. Recently, the Pioneers took advantage of the situation and expanded their influence. They’ve been a great help in protecting the local businesses.”
Ves sneered at the actions of the Pioneers. They only stepped in once Ves paved the way. Their shameless opportunism knew no limits.
They discussed a few matters but Ves wanted to return home before making any major decisions.
In truth, Ves had already taken measures to distract the Greens and the White Doves from pushing through their plans. If Dietrich did what he asked, the Consortiums pulling the strings behind the ruling coalition should find themselves in a spot of trouble with Walter’s Whalers.
After remotely checking up his accounts and his administration, Ves decided to call Marcella. He had been out of the loop for a while and wanted to hear from her own mouth how the current market had developed these last few months.
His mech broker picked up his call after a minute. “Good to see you in one piece, Ves! I’m glad to see the frontier hasn’t bit you in half!”
“I didn’t get bit, but I also didn’t come off unscathed.” He responded with a rueful laugh. He briefly filled her in on what he experienced.
“I can see why you’re concerned about the Fleet. You have to remember that they serve their own interests above anyone else’s.”
Once they moved on to business, Marcella filled him in on his latest sales. “Both your gold and silver label mechs are starting to appear in public. None of your Mark II’s have seen any major action so far, but they are performing well enough in training exercises. The customers who bought your gold label mechs are especially satisfied with their comfort.”
“That’s to be expected. I specifically fabricated them to fit their operators well.” Ves replied with a nod. The X-Factor was one of his secret weapons and showed their true worth in the machines he fabricated himself by hand. “What about the silver label mechs?”
“Carlos is making them up to spec, more or less. Occasionally, minor defects pop up here and there, but as long as the machines pass certification, it’s not a big deal. Nevertheless, the current market for lastgen mechs is cratering pretty fast. I’ve already lowered the price from 30 million credits to 28 million credits.”
In the meantime, the cost of raw materials had also gone up. Both trends had already started squeezing out the mech designers who had barely been hanging on. They simply couldn’t sell their products at a sustainable profit anymore.
Ves risked following in their footsteps if he waited too long on coming up with a new design.
“You should take a look at these when you can.” Marcella sent him some reports over the communications channel. “They’re the latest projections on the current market trends in the Bright Republic and throughout the Komodo Star Sector. Sales are up, but they’re mainly driven by mass purchase orders of frontline mechs. The middle segment of the market in which your Mark II falls under is seeing a major slump in sales and interest.”
He expected this to happen. During wartime, the side with the most mechs held a decisive advantage. People might scoff at a frontline mech that cost only 15 million credits or less, but you could easily field thousands of them at once as long as you can scrounge up enough mech pilots.
While he read through some of the reports, Ves asked another question. “I’m in need of a lot of cash, since I’m preparing to design an original mech. Do you have any leads on when I can receive an order for my ruby label product line?”
Marcella grimaced at him over the projection. “Like your gold label mechs, the price premium for your ruby label line is too optimistic, especially considering the market’s current appetite for luxury mechs. You have to come up with a better value proposition.”
The main problem with the ruby label product line was that Ves did not have the opportunity to demonstrate its strength. Without a real example for people to point at, no one would know of the mutually reinforcing aspect of the X-Factor.
Despite the lack of takers, Ves stuck to his original conditions. Any mech sold by the LMC that carried the ruby label should come with an exclusive status. Each batch would be uniquely customized to fit the customer’s demands. This took a lot of work and demanded him to exert his utmost. The seventy-five percent premium he charged for the ruby label was a matter of principle.
“There may be a way if you join some events. If you show up at a fair or exhibition, you’ll get the opportunity to make your case in front of an affluent audience.”
“I’ll think about it.” He responded, though he privately objected to the idea. He partnered up with Marcella so that she could handle all of his marketing and sales. “Once I’ve finished my business in Leemar, I’ll come by so we can hash it out.”
Once she signed off, Ves slumped forward and held his head in his hands. While disaster hadn’t struck his business while he was gone, he faced increasingly dire circumstances.
The Barracuda spent a couple of weeks racing from the edge of the Komodo Star Sector. The closer she got to the center of the sector, the more traffic she encountered. With the expert navigation of her pilot, the Barracuda never came close to other vessels while she transitioned into a star system.
During the quiet voyage to Leemar, Ves spent most of his time cooped up in his stateroom. Designing an original mech was never an easy project. The lack of existing boundaries provided mech designers with endless choices.
Mech designers had to possess a strong vision as well as solid skills to come up with a good design. Since Ves had some free time on his hands, he visited the Clifford Society’s Star Library and read as much free books as possible.
He mostly spent his time on deepening his foundation in Battle Mechantronics. The Skill provided him with an overarching perspective on designing melee mechs that he couldn’t easily get anywhere else.
While his Battle Mechatronics hadn’t advanced to Journeyman-level in these couple of weeks, he did gain a lot of benefits from his reading. His expanded range of knowledge counterbalanced his earlier infusion of knowledge that came tinged with Master Olson’s perspective.
“What do you think is better.” Ves asked Melkor while they consumed their latest meal. “A mech that’s decent but will last forever or a mech that’s slightly better but breaks in twenty years?”
Melkor rubbed his visor. “That’s a difficult question. It’s an open question that depends on many variables. The Mech Corps is rather slow to adopt new designs, so they highly value mechs that can take a beating and keep going. Mercenaries on the other hand are used to the consumer culture of buying a mech and using it for a set amount of years before replacing them with a new one.”
“I see. So the Mech Corps is taking the long view of things while the private market cares more about immediate performance.”
With his current capabilities, Ves had no chance of taking part in the lucrative business of selling his mechs to the government. He had to stick within his means and focus on the mercenaries and corporations that made up his existing clientele.
“What kind of design do you have in mind?” Melkor asked. As a mech pilot, he knew how much the first original design reflected on the career of the mech designer. Anyone who had the guts to publish a deeply flawed design as his first product could never fully get rid of the stigma he accumulated on his debut.
Jason Kozlowski was a good example of this phenomenon. Releasing the bloated Caesar Augustus design at its current form gave him a reputation of having too much money but not enough sense.
“I’m designing a knight.”
Of all the archetypes he designed so far, Ves achieved the most success with the knight. His Young Blood virtual design achieved the most sales out of his catalog of virtual mechs.
Additionally, his only real production designs consisted of hybrid knights. While the Marc Antony Mark I and IIs inherited some of the baggage from the base model, Ves also learned a lot of lessons on how to design a good knight.
“That’s a good type to start with.” Melkor replied, though he also added some caveats. “You should be aware that there’s only a limited appetite for knights. Rifleman mechs sell the most, followed by the various types of light mechs such as scouts and skirmishers. A typical mercenary squad consists of one knight, three rifleman mechs and two other mechs.”
“I’m aware of the differences in sales.”
The reports Marcella sent to Ves largely echoed those figures. A knight played a limited role on the battlefield. The most common mech doctrines centered around the flexible rifleman mech, which could fulfill a variety of roles even if they didn’t excel in any of them.
In comparison, a knight could only be employed as a defender or as the leading element of a charge.
Despite these limitations, Ves wanted to stick to what he knew best for his first original design. If he tried his hands on other archetypes, his lack of experience might result in leaving behind a huge flaw when he finally published his design.
“A knight is solid, simple and robust.” Ves mused. “Its harder to go wrong with a knight as opposed to a rifleman mech. Then again, the market is stricter about knights because the mech pilots has to trust in his machine in order to absorb blows meant for others.”
Occasionally, a few scandals erupted in the news about knights. Usually, a hardcore mech geek studied a knight design in detail and managed to find a small but critical vulnerability. Any opponent that applied pressure on this weak point could instantly cripple the unsuspecting knight.
Any mech designer that suffered from this scandal retired from the business in disgrace. Mech pilots trusted their products to guard their lives. To have them turn into death traps due to negligence and incompetence represented a profound betrayal of the mech designer’s creed.
Ves had to be very careful in this matter. Still, he possessed a decent amount of confidence that he could deliver a successful product. He already formed a vision on what his upcoming design should be.