Chapter 223: Back to Bentheim
The Vintage Festival accepted his entry when he applied.
Properly speaking, Ves had to bring his show models to Bentheim before the deadline expired, but the person in charge of applications bent the rules for him. It only took a day or two until the next convoy shipped the models to Bentheim.
Ves left the arrangements of his booth to Marcella, who in turn delegated the job to her subordinates. These same people would also be staffing his booth and take care of his sales once the festival began.
“Their role in this event is to facilitate the sales process.” Marcella explained over the comm. “While you don’t need to be present at all times, it will be helpful if you stick to your booth and explain your designs to anyone who shows any interest in purchasing a mech. Often times, a customer can be swayed to purchase your products if you present yourself as a reputable mech designer.”
“Will you be there as well?”
“I’m not going to make it.” Marcella shook her head. “I’m negotiating on behalf of another client on a major order. Sorry kid, but you’re still small-time as far as I’m concerned.”
Fair enough. While Marcella earned a generous cut with her current contract, it didn’t amount to much in absolute terms. While he recently expanded the LMC’s production capabilities, it only sold a handful of Mark II’s a month, far below the standards of a typical medium-scale mech manufacturer.
After saying goodbye, Ves turned his attention back to his workshop. “I should prepare for an intensive round of fabrication.”
His words betrayed the confidence he held in his Eternal series. Their craftsmanship surpassed anything that Ves had produced so far. When the three models stood side-by-side, their X-Factor emanated a formless pressure that threatened to engulf the entire storage space!
“I won’t believe my models will flop.”
Ves gambled a lot on their success. Already, his company’s savings account diminished by a whopping 120 million credits. He had no other choice but to spend the money on the raw materials to fabricate the show models. If he couldn’t even manage to sell the original models, he’d be stuck with a couple of extremely expensive statues.
“All I can do now is wait.”
The Festival started in a couple more weeks, leaving Ves plenty of time to get his company in order.
First, he optimized his new production line. His previous bout of fabrication exposed some flaws in his arrangements that could prove dangerous down the line. Ves nipped the latent problems in the bud and ensured that all of the machines worked properly.
By this time, their first shady orders had arrived. Dietrich arranged for some nondescript companies with boring names such as Ellis and Johnson Security or Armature Inc. to place some random component orders to the LMC. Superficially, they all appeared to be legitimate companies that all owned mechs but needed urgent replacements.
Ves wasn’t fooled. They all stood for shadier organizations that wanted to make use of his workshop’s unregistered and unmonitored Dortmund printer to fabricate a whole swathe of mech parts. Much of the orders his company received consisted of complex parts that regular printers couldn’t handle.
Still, his Dortmund printer should provide enough assistance to Carlos that he’d be able to handle the majority of the orders by himself. Ves only took care of the most difficult orders which consisted of various compressed armor plating.
“I still think this is a bad idea. The more we fabricate, the more we become involved.” Carlos repeated to Ves. “I don’t want to wake up with a gun pointed at my head one day.”
Ves idly waved away his concern. “Relax, Carlos. It’s safe here in Cloudy Curtain. It’s ten times worse if I decided to set my business up in Bentheim.”
Even if he exaggerated a bit, his words possessed an element of truth. Managing your relations with the local gangs had often been considered as the cost of doing business in Bentheim.
Frankly, the sheer amount of shady activities that went on in the port system exposed the Republic’s weakness. Its relatively lose grasp on society allowed an abundance of bad actors to settle between its gaps.
The weeks went by in a blur. Even the challenge of fabricating the exotic orders didn’t fase Ves much. He left Carlos with the rest of the workload and boarded his corvette which held two packed mechs, Melkor’s Stanislaw and Raella’s Vektrix.
Ves learned his lesson. Instead of hoping for the best, he prepared for the worst. After the last incident on Bentheim, his family arranged a permit for him to travel around with a mech escort.
He didn’t leave his fate to chance and made more preparations. He contracted Sanyal-Ablin to provide armed transportation and additional security at the festival. The Coalition security company eagerly accepted the job after Ves paid them a hefty sum.
Raella, Melkor and Lucky accompanied him aboard the Barracuda. By now, Raella recovered fully from her poisoning and showed eagerness to get back into shape. Even the bad memories she got from her last trip to Bentheim didn’t dim her enthusiasm to get out in the galaxy.
“Hopefully nothing happens this time.” Raella remarked as she sipped a special nutrient-rich solution at the lounge. “It’s annoying to fight against enemies who hide in the dark.”
Ves pursed his lips in dissatisfaction. “Who can say? At least the chaos on Bentheim has subsided a bit. The Mech Corps did a good job rooting out the BLM from their hiding holes.”
“Yeah, but the damage is already done.”
The Bentheim Liberation Movement sabotaged a lot of critical infrastructure that kept the mech industry going. The disruption in supply chains led to far-reaching consequences to the companies down the line. Nobody enjoyed the sudden rise in costs.
Worse, many manufacturers went out of business due to their inability to generate a profit in these circumstances. This led to a significant amount of layoffs, putting many low-level laborers on the street.
This in turn fueled the indignity against the central government. Rather than blaming the BLM for disrupting the economy, they would rather lay the blame on the elites at Rittersberg.
On that depressing note, the Barracuda swiftly reached the Bentheim System in less than half a day. As his pilot and navigator Miranda Pham became increasingly more familiar with the corvette, her ability to plot a faster transition improved.
“Navigating gravitic space takes a lot of judgement.” Captain Silvestra explained to Ves when he asked about the difference. “Laymen often confuse FTL travel for taking a shortcut in a dimension where distances are shorter. We’re actually shifting to a range of upper dimensions where spacetime exhibits slight differences from one dimension to the next.”
The key to reducing transit time laid in a ship’s ability to plow the same route over and over to explore the most efficient set of upper dimensions. What complicated this process was that substantial differences in mass and volume led to different transition times.
A slow, lumbering shuttle generally did better if it kept to the lower range of dimensions, while a fast corvette like the Barracuda preferred a higher range. Ships that tried to transition into a range beyond their capacity risked being torn apart by the differences in forces exerted at various points of their hulls.
Fortunately, interstellar travel to a port system like Bentheim posed much fewer risks than normal. Their journey went without a hitch and the Barracuda effortlessly descended into the atmosphere until it reached Marcella’s private mech yard.
A smartly-dressed auburn-haired woman welcomed Ves and his companions to Bentheim with a smile. “Mr. Larkinson, it’s a pleasure to meet you! My name is Antje Livinis. I’m the sales manager for Bollinger Mech Trade. Miss Bollinger has put me in charge of your sales force for the upcoming festival.”
After Ves shook her dainty little hand, he regarded her with a curious expression. Unlike Bollinger who exhibited the muscular physique of an ex-veteran mech pilot, Antje looked like a fairy. That must help a lot in the business as many clients probably underestimated her poise.
“Have you seen my show models yet?”
“Oh, yes! They’re absolutely fabulous!” Antje gushed with genuine enthusiasm. “They’re as impressive as the artisan models in the museums! I don’t know how you managed to design them like that, but if you’re able to reproduce the same sensation in your production models, then I expect you’ll be making a hefty amount of business.”
Even though she praised his craftsmanship, she also put a couple of question marks in his ability to replicate the show models with all of their qualities intact.
“I can assure you that my fabrication skills are up to par. I can easily match their qualities in my subsequent production.”
Even though the sales manager still held doubts, she chose to believe him. As a sales manager who handled a lot of routine business for Marcella, Antje had already become familiar with his Mark II. Even the silver label mechs that Carlos fabricated every week contained a smidgen of X-Factor.
Technically, the Eternal series consisted of gold label mechs, and they displayed the traits typical to this exclusive range. Even if Antje couldn’t quite put her finger on why the models impressed her so much, she knew that people would pay a lot of money to own a mech that could radiate such pressure.
“Too bad my publicist Gavin isn’t able to attend. He’d love to discuss the details with you.”
Gavin and Calsie only worked part-time at the LMC while they focused on their studies. They still had a year to go before they graduated from the local university in Freslin.
Ves shared the virtual documents that Gavin compiled to Antje. It turned out that the sales manager performed her own analysis on his projected sales, though she didn’t come up with three different scenarios.
She smiled at him. “I know the sort of people who attend this festival, and I think it’s very likely your models will catch on. I think it’s not too far-fetched if we assume the most optimistic scenario will take place.”
Gavin’s optimistic scenario envisioned a huge demand for his Eternal Edition mechs. Under the assumption that there would always be more customers, he came up with a complicated pricing scheme for each models during the four-day festival.
The Mark II Eternal Edition started sales at a whopping 40 million credits, with a limit of ten models sold each day. The limit ensured that his company wouldn’t be burdened by endless orders that risked being cancelled after a couple of months.
The Caesar Augustus Eternal Edition sold at an even more incredulous price tag of 80 million credits, with only three models sold per day. Gavin predicted that many collectors wanted to own this model in the optimistic scenario, thus he jacked up the price to almost twice its production cost.
As for the Marcus Aurelius, nobody knew if anyone wanted it more than the Caesar Augustus. Due to its uniqueness and exclusivity, Gavin decided to hold a daily auction over this model. This allowed them to avoid setting a fixed price for this esoteric model.
That could either go good or bad depending on its appeal. Antje clearly questioned the need to hold an auction. “Your design is rather conservative for a variant. On paper, it’s nothing impressive, though I admit it does make you forget about it once you see it in the flesh. My main concern is that others won’t see it that way and refuse to raise their bids.”
Failed auctions showed that Ves had overestimated the value of his designs. If he couldn’t match or surpass the standard price of a Caesar Augustus, then his reputation in the mech industry could take a hit.
Ves stuck to his guns. “I’m willing to take the bet.”
He charged high prices for his designs because they carried something unique. His entry into the Vintage Festival formed something of a trial balloon. Ves wanted to gauge whether the public had any stomach for mechs enhanced by the X-Factor. The LMC’s entire business model rested on the outcome of this event.