By the time the Barracuda finally landed at Cloudy Curtain’s spaceport, he just released the DarkSpear. The storm this model unleashed in the local virtual community still required some time to come into fruition.
At this time, Ves mostly concerned himself with logistics. The new equipment he ordered from Leemar had been loaded in a jumbo transport ship that still took a few more weeks to arrive in Bentheim. The shipment had been delayed due to the need to adhere to the schedule of fixed convoy routes.
Naturally, the shipping services passed on the costs to their customers.
“Business keeps getting more inconvenient.” Ves shook his head.
The Rimward Star Herald and all the other news portals had been hammering their subscribers with dire predictions about the state of the economy. The first major businesses that had been hanging on for years had already been tipped over into bankruptcy procedures due to the ongoing rise in costs.
Fortunately, his Living Mech Corporation only operated for about a year. It hadn’t developed long enough to develop the massive overhead that older companies usually ended up with. He paid more for security than any other non-production expenses such as payroll, taxes and interest payments.
Ves hoped to change that over time when he finally expanded his workshop’s production capacity. While he still had to wait for his alloy compressor and CTM, with the hacked processors in his possession he could finally put the finishing touches on the reconstructed Dortmund printer.
He already looked forward to working with an industrial printer. Ves already had a taste of it when he worked with the stellar machines in Master Olson’s Apprentice Workshop. If the Dortmund printer worked as advertised, then Ves could expect to speed up his fabrication phase by as much as seventy-five percent!
In particular, the Dortmund massively sped up the fabrication of uncompressed armor plating. Its increased speed and precision allowed Ves and any other fabricator like Carlos to automate the fabrication of any component up to a certain level of complexity without any worry.
The Dortmund could even fabricate more advanced processors that his current printer couldn’t handle. Actually, the mini printer collecting dust in the Barracuda’s workshop possessed even more capabilities in this regard, though it needed a lot of time to fabricate a single chip.
Once Ves disembarked from his corvette with Melkor and Lucky, a small fleet of shuttles from Sanyal-Ablin awaited his presence.
“Sir, please enter the center shuttle.”
They boarded the only shuttle with the hatch left open. Once they secured themselves into the seats, the entire arrangement started to move. Even a casual trip from Orinoco to Freslin required an armed escort these days. Ves lamented the necessity of it all and the extra charges he’d receive from Sanyal-Ablin.
“The mercenaries and the security companies must be making a killing these days.”
“It’s not without reason.” Melkor commented. “The security industry is able to deter most threats by brandishing their superior gear. Even then, the occasional clashes result in a lot of wear and tear. It takes a massive amount of money to keep their assets functional.”
The smaller mercenary corps had a particularly rough time trying to keep afloat. A single ruinous battle could result in massive repair bills that ruined their financial outlook.
“Did you enjoy your stay at Abelard?” Ves asked, changing the topic. “I can imagine the standard for mech pilots is a lot higher in Coalition space.”
“It’s actually not too far apart. Abelard employs a lot more simulations as well as real mechs so they can insure that every graduate will at least reach the level of advanced pilot. However, even then they can’t insure that any of them will advance into expert pilots.”
Normal mech pilots made up the rank-and-file that usually ended up piloting frontline mechs. Advanced pilots received better treatment due to their ability to bring out the full strength of standard humanoid or animal mechs.
Yet even then, a state wouldn’t shed a tear if they lost them by the thousands in a single battle. As long as a state had sufficient time, they could replenish such pilots with relative ease.
Only when a pilot advanced to the rank of expert pilot did they truly become elite. Even the extended Larkinson Family only boasted of a couple of expert pilots, almost all of whom retired due to old age or injury.
His grandfather Benjamin happened to be one of them, and used the respect afforded to him to transition into a career in the Ministry of Defense. Even Rittersberg’s career politicians had to sit up and pay attention to a former expert pilot.
“How far are you from reaching this rank?”
Melkor chuckled at his question. “You have no idea how difficult it is to achieve a breakthrough. What I’ve learned at Abelard has made it even clearer to me how much of a gap I still have have close.”
“So even second-rate states have difficulty training expert pilots.”
“They have more options. Their standard training doesn’t produce much better results, but as long as they’re willing to allocate unlimited resources to training a couple of important scions, they’ll be able to reach the necessary standard by force. Even then, there are several shortcomings, as they often have shaky foundations. The bad habits they haven’t corrected will become critical weaknesses at that point.”
Ves didn’t fully understand what it meant to be an expert pilot, much as Melkor didn’t understand the ranks of mech designers. If Ves ever wanted to move up to designing elite mechs, he had to learn what made expert pilots so rare and valuable. Fortunately, Ves had plenty of time before he reached that point.
First, he had to take care of his more immediate concerns. Once his guarded shuttle arrived at the landing pad inside his workshop’s premises, he hopped out with a spring and entered his familiar abode. Carlos already waited for him at the entrance.
“Good to see you here!”
“I’m back now. How’s the workshop while I was gone?”
“Nothing really comes to mind. I’ve already told you everything you needed to know from the reports. The main thing that’s really bad for business is that the costs of raw materials is continuing to rise. Right now, the total cost of production has ballooned to 20 million credits.”
Ves became alarmed. “That much!? A few weeks ago you said it was still around 19 million credits!”
The increase amounted to five percent, which didn’t sound so scary. However, his cost figure already ballooned by almost twenty percent since the start of his production and it might even reach fifty percent by the end of the year.
When Ves delved in the reports, he found out that the major resource suppliers prioritized their bigger clients over small fish like him. With the LMC’s current sales volume of roughly a hundred mechs a year, it didn’t even represent a blink in the profits of the major suppliers.
The increasingly depressing cost picture reminded Ves once again that he had to take control over his own supply chain. At the very least, he had to ensure the continued supply of the rarer exotics in the event the major suppliers pulled out of the MTA’s internal market entirely.
“Let’s hear some good news for a change. How are your silver label Mark II’s coming along?”
Carlos smiled at him. “I’ve completely mastered their fabrication. I’ve poured into all of the manuals and studied more about assembly in my free time. At this moment, I can ensure only one part in a million will have flaws.”
Even in the best conditions, a fabricator never promised a success rate of a hundred percent. The Mark II especially exhibited a higher level of complexity than normal. That Carlos made it this far could only be attributed to the fact that he had plenty of time to master one single model.
In comparison, while Ves didn’t possess the same level of confidence, his deeper foundation allowed him to fabricate many other models with very few flaws.
As for Carlos, his shallow range of skills forced him to start from nothing whenever he encountered a different model.
“Don’t forget to keep mastering your assembly skills. You’re already getting a lot of hands-on experience, but without the theoretical background you won’t be as flexible as me whenever I introduce a new model.”
“When are you ready to introduce your new design? It’s already getting stale fabricating the same Mark II over and over again.”
“It will take a few months at the very least. First I have to install all my new toys. Then I have to round out my collection of component licenses. I’ll likely end up short on money so I might have to pursue some money making projects in the meantime.”
Now that Ves established the Living Mech Corporation and had proven its capability to run at a profit, however tenable that might be, his reputation should open up more opportunities.
Once they reached the fabrication hall, they approached the long-dormant Dortmund 3D printer. From a mess of loose components scavenged off a score of wrecked machines, Ves meticulously restored or reconstructed them into a mechanically functional machine. Only the security restrictions hidden within the programming of its processors held it back.
Now, even that ceased to be an obstacle.
Ves carefully installed the processors back in the appropriate slots before closing up the printer. The anticipation practically swelled within his heart as he pressed the button that should turn his machine online.
A couple of lights dramatically glowed. The dubiously restored Dortmund accepted the input from the processors and became activate without any hiccups.
Both Ves and Carlos celebrated at the Dortmund’s successful restoration. Ves eagerly approached the onboard terminal and dug into its diagnostics and status readings. His preoccupation with the machine kept going for hours as he patiently tested the Dortmund’s capability to print both micro and larger components.
He even fed the printer some cheap alloys from his inventory in order to see with his own two eyes if the Dortmund matched its description.
“That’s so fast!” Carlos exclaimed when a perfect piece of uncompressed armor plating emerged from the machine. “You’ve got to let me use this machine!”
“You’ll get your chance.” Ves chuckled. Even he began to tire of his old and ramshackle printer. “For now, whenever I have no need of it, you can use the Dortmund.”
Before Carlos could use the new machine, Ves set conditions for its use. Its higher speed and powerful capabilities also increased the risk of catastrophic damage in the event the Dortmund malfunctioned. Carlos had to study the manual and practice fabricating with the Dortmund in a virtual simulation before he received permission to use the industrial printer.
While Carlos went off to do his homework, Ves took over his fabricator’s production quota for the week. He already had a silver label Mark II lined up to be shipped at the end of the week. Ves pulled up his sleeves and went to work.
The fabrication run only took up less than a day. Even Carlos required three days at his very best. Parts kept spitting out the exit tray like a machine gun, to the point where his workshop’s loader bots threatened to bottleneck the fast-paced fabrication process.
The overworked bots simply couldn’t keep up. They worked their antigrav modules to the bone trying to supply enough raw materials for the hungry printer and pick up finished components when they piled up at the exit tray.
In the end, it took longer to assemble the Mark II than it took to fabricate all of its parts. Ves completed the entire fabrication and assembly cycle of the Mark II within two days. With practice, Carlos should be able to achieve the same within three days even if he turned his brain off, as the Dortmund’s formidable automation processes did most of the heavy lifting.
With this new machine, the LMC finally had the grounds to call itself a mech manufacturer. Ves smiled with satisfaction as he patted the Dortmund’s exterior.
“The first step is done.”
Ves still had a lot of hurdles to go through before he became ready to design an original mech. Despite the long road ahead, Ves already thought of a couple of ways to make his printer more useful.
“There shouldn’t be more than half-a-dozen industrial printers on Cloudy Curtain, if there are any at all. Perhaps I can make use of this fact.”