Director Royce left with empty hands after a largely fruitless meeting with Ves.
Having seen their true face, Ves did not have a good impression of the Pioneers. Even in their brief but cordial conversation, Royce always assumed an air that Ves already belonged to their crowd.
While Ves favored a better business climate, that did not mean he wanted to step into the swamp of politics. In his eyes, the Pioneers were just as sleazy as the ruling coalition. He had no doubt that as soon as the winds turned against him, the Pioneers would be the first to abandon his side.
No matter what the director promised, Ves refused to entertain any entreaties for his support. Faced with a brick wall in terms of willingness to cooperate, Royce got the message and made himself scarce.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to keep him at arm’s length?” Carlos asked as he entered the lounge.
“I’m in the business of selling mechs, not policy making. Frankly,
The only useful bit of information Ves got out of the conversation was when Royce explained the Republican Commissioner’s lack of involvement.
“The Commissioner is an old man who’s been pushed out of a cushy position at the capital. Right now, he’s expected to hold the fort and keep his head down. He can ill afford a controversy on his hands, which will be sure to happen if he intervenes.”
“So we’re simply a place of exile for an outmaneuvered politician?”
“Don’t forget what planet we are on.” Royce emphasized. “To the Republic, Cloudy Curtain is one of Bentheim’s bread basket. As long as it keep supplying cloud rice, they don’t really care how developed our industries are.”
At the very least, Ves and the Pioneers agreed that Cloudy Curtain deserved to be more than a farm planet. That was why Ves rejected closer ties. They largely worked towards the same goal already.
“Let’s get back to business.” Ves turned his attention back to the real matters at hand. “Our first shipment of raw materials have arrived, right?”
“Yup. Enough to build four comechs. You wanted to fabricate the Marcus Aurelius first, right? Don’t you think it’s better to start with the Caesar Augustus and gain some proficiency?”
He shook his head. “I already mastered its design and most of its nuances. At my level of proficiency, I won’t gain anything new after fabricating sixteen copies of the Caesar Augustus. I’m more anxious about finishing the most important orders first. Those who paid the most should get priority over those who ordered our regular products.”
Ves had plenty of reasons to hurry up with the Marcus Aurelius models. For one, a couple of mech portals obsessed over the Marcus Aurelius. Those who experienced the show model up close gave out glowing remarks. Those who heard about the auction from afar savaged the design for being grossly overpriced.
While the auction contract didn’t include the option for buyers to cancel their orders, Ves didn’t want them to regret their bids. Fulfilling their orders as soon as possible should alleviate the criticism he received because the model would become more accessible this way.
Besides, fulfilling these orders also netted him almost half a billion credits in gross revenue. That was easy money, especially since he only had to deliver three additional mechs besides the original show model.
For the upcoming batch of mechs, Ves gathered Carlos and Cyril who returned from the MTA.
“The Marcus Aurelius is a prestige design. The frames have to come out flawlessly from our workshop. I’m going for perfection this time. Speed is not an issue.”
“Do you want to utilize both production lines at once?” His new chief suggested. “The old one can be used to fabricate the less important parts while the newer one can do the bulk of the armor and other delicate components.”
“No. It’s important to give the models the impression that they’re handmade by me. Even the most unassuming bolt needs to be fabricated with the best machine we have. We’ll stick to the new production line.”
While Ves wanted to fulfill his orders quickly, the Marcus Aurelius demanded perfection. Even the tiniest flaws that the MTA didn’t care about had to be eliminated from the start.
With their new stock of raw materials, they proceeded to fabricate the three models one at a time. The relatively measured pace of fabrication and assembly insured that Ves could maintain his concentration over long stretches of time. This empowered the finish product’s X-Factor and insured they didn’t suffer from any deficiencies.
It took nine days to complete the three mechs. Even if Ves wanted to take it slow, the fast and efficient Dortmund printer insured a brisk pace. Ves sent them off to the MTA for certification, upon which they’d be shipped to Bentheim on a high priority berth in the next convoy.
Even though Ves claimed that he already mastered the Caesar Augustus and its derivatives, they still learned many new tricks. Carlos and Cyril especially gained a lot from the experience, the former due to his lack of experience and the latter due to his unfamiliarity with the design.
They both provided essential assistance that saved a lot of time. When Ves moved on to fulfilling the orders for the Caesar Augustus Eternal Edition, they transitioned into a well-oiled machine that pumped out a frame every two days.
The workshop became a lot busier once Cyril recruited his first crop of mech technicians. He settled for ten bright young men and women who came from all over Cloudy Curtain.
The young technicians didn’t possess impressive resumes, but Cyril recruited them anyway for their other qualities. Their relative youth and boundless optimism fit well in a young and growing company.
“Their qualifications aren’t important. Anything can be trained so long as you put in the effort.” Cyril remarked to Ves as he watched the technicians fumble around a practice project on the old production line. “What I’m really looking for are blank slates. It’s essential for a workshop to be staffed by a core of true believers. These local technicians can be shaped and molded to fit your needs.”
Basically, Chief Cyril aimed to replicate the same methods that the Larkinsons used on him. It sounded a bit manipulative to brainwash the recruits from fresh, but this was standard practice from the factory floor to the military. At this stage, Ves didn’t require an abundance of competent technicians to assist him in his work. It was better for the LMC to lay a good foundation.
Ves didn’t even bother to learn their names. All of the young men and women pretty much considered Ves to be a god. After all, he managed to earn billions of credits in revenue in a single event.
The difference in status between Ves and the average person had widened to such an extent that it rivaled the vast distance between galaxies. Ves had truly ascended into the ranks of upper society.
In general, if Ves needed anything trivial done, he told Cyril or Carlos, who delegated the actual job to the closest technician at hand. Thus, a three-layer hierarchy came into being with Ves as the emperor and the mech technicians as the plebians.
For the most part, this kept Ves from being disturbed as he did his work. While Carlos didn’t have much of a talent for leadership, the mech technicians loved him for being a relatable mech designer, never mind that he never actually designed a commercial mech.
In short, his workshop experienced remarkable changes that elevated it from a tiny mech boutique to a proper mech manufacturing site. The backlog of orders insured that the mech technicians witnessed first-hand how an actual mech came into being.
Once Cyril brushed up their fundamentals, they even became more involved with the fabrication of the mechs. By the time Ves finished his fifteenth and last Caesar Augustus, their assistance sped up the fabrication process by at least twenty percent.
Ves sighed in relief once he fulfilled the most important set of orders. Having delivered all the premium models before their customers could back out of the transaction lifted a weight off his mind. “Now we’re really going to pick up our speed. It’s already more than a month and we still have over thirty mechs to go.”
The advantage of leaving the Marc Antony Mark II Eternal Edition as last became evident at this stage. All ten mech technicians gained enough proficiency by now that they could be trusted to handle more important tasks. Along with the fact that the Mark II utilized uncompressed armor, Ves managed to fabricate a single frame in less than a day.
Another month went by as they maintained a rapid pace. Shipments flew in and out of his workshop almost daily as the workshop pumped out mech after mech. Even though Ves pushed the pace to the limit, he never exceeded it and risk losing control.
The constant, repetitive work sapped some of the excitement out of his mech technicians, but it also indoctrinated them fully into his company. Through constant nurturing by Carlos and Cyril, the workers became immersed in a workplace culture that emphasized initiative, cooperation and excellence.
“What about efficiency?” Cyril asked when Ves presented them with his outline for the kind of workplace culture that he wanted to foster. “Initiative and excellence sound good and all, but free-thinking mech technicians have a tendency to go off the beaten path and decide on inefficient methods.”
“As long as my mechs retain their quality, I don’t care. Efficiency is important, but don’t forget that my aim has always been the high-end mech market. My profits margins are high enough that I don’t have to be the best in the industry in this area. It’s more important to insure a constant flow of flawless mechs. They might even benefit from a touch of individuality.”
In the meantime, many of his customers have already received his products. With the spread of his prestige mechs, Ves created another minor buzz in the mech scene.
Two different CEOs won the auctions for the highly exclusive Marcus Aurelius. As soon as they received the mechs and transferred the payments, they displayed them prominently in front of their company headquarters.
The locations turned into local sensations with the placement of the new mechs. The strong X-Factor radiating from the frames exerted a subtle but pervasive influence to anyone that visited the offices. Those who worked there from day-to-day slowly adopted different work patterns.
In particular, they lost some of their short-sightedness and showed more consideration to the future. Whether these changes benefited the companies in question, Ves wasn’t sure, but their and stature had solidified the Marcus Aurelius as a remarkable design.
The more numerous Caesar Augustus Eternal Edition provoked a lot of comparisons with the original edition. A couple of mech portals borrowed access to the Eternal Edition and conducted an in-depth look on what Ves had done to make them so special.
They came away with a lot of puzzlement. For some reason, each mech overperformed in a single aspect, and they couldn’t find a mechanical reason for this deviation. They also couldn’t make head or tails of the auras, though they definitely basked in the sensation.
Among the norm with gold label mechs, Ves included one of Lucky’s unique performance-enhancing gems in the cockpit. The mystical gems worked their magic silently as he stamped each of them with the Anonymizing Stamp. With the promotion of the DarkSpear, Ves could easily afford the 100 DP it took to stamp each gem, though the numbers added up a bit.
With the addition of over a 100,000 DP, Ves had refrained from spending them until he finished his current set of orders. Even though he could benefit from improving his various Assembly Skills, he didn’t strictly require any help. He’d rather save the points for more important Skills.
Almost every day, Ves turned on his Privacy Shield and explored the options provided by the System. As the time to design an original mech came within reach, he faced a difficult choice in his development strategy.
Should he widen or deepen his base of knowledge?