The Mech Touch Chapter 263
Chapter 263: For Want Of A House
Out of several possibilities his competitor could choose to go with, Dumont chose to go with the classic design duel. When two mech designers had a beef, they let the strengths of their mechs do the talking.In truth, Ves had brainstormed several ways that Dumont could retaliate against him with his team. They came up with possibilities, such as price dumping, regulatory harassment, industrial sabotage and more.A design duel had been well within specifications. The only snag was that Dumont conditioned his challenge by setting forth his first production model. Considering the brisk sales of his Havalax design, his first mech already accumulated an enormous amount of value.More than risking a huge chunk of potential cash, the duel also put their reputation at stake. Nobody among the crowd could say whether one design was superior over the other. Both the Havalax and the Blackbeak designs had their own merits. Some would argue that they didn't even compete in the same space.Yet the prospect of a rivalry at play triumphed over logic. A few bystanders already started to egg Ves on. "Fight! Fight! Fight!"The pressure mounted on Ves to accept the duel."I already reserved an arena, so you don't have to go to the trouble of arranging a venue." Dumont added. "Five days from now, there's an open time slot in the match between the Dorum Velvet Fists and the Haston Grease Monkeys. We'll get to prove the worth of our designs in front of a full crowd of mech fans!"It must have cost him quite a bit of money to arrange such a highly-valued slot. Ves mulled over the offer for any traps. The mech arena shouldn't be able to get away with any tricks, but who could tell if they did?"I'll only accept if there's official MTA representation."Dumont waved his hand dismissively. "Fine!"Requesting the presence of an agent of the MTA didn't come cheap, but it insured that nothing funny went on. If Dumont or the arena operators tried to cheat in any way, then the MTA would come down hard on their heads.As the challenger, Dumont was obliged to pay for it all, which saved Ves a lot of trouble since his company's liquidity didn't look all that great. Ves also had the privilege of setting some additional conditions such as the duel environment and the pilot criteria.Ves chose to go with the most advantageous circumstances for himself. "I want the dueling ground to consist of rocky terrain with plenty of line-of-sight breaks."His Blackbeak excelled in dragging out the fight while the Havalax sought to end the duel as quickly as possible. By making the terrain as difficult as possible, the pilot of the Blackbeak would be able to extend the pursuit."Fine, but don't think you can run away all match. I don't think the public will appreciate a mech that can only stand a chance by acting like a coward!""As for who will drive our mechs, let's set the bar to advanced pilots no older than thirty years old.""Agreed."Advanced pilots could be found everywhere. If Ves didn't set such a condition, Dumont might have been able to persuade a rare expert pilot to fight in his stead. He set a relatively low age limit in order to prevent him from finding some grizzled war veteran who could pull of dozens of tricks in quick succession.By posing all these limits, Ves made the duel more dependent on the machine rather than the person. He had faith in the quality of his Blackbeak and strongly believed in its performance despite the naysayers.They hashed a few conditions before Dumont left in a confident whirl. He already accomplished his purpose, so there was no need to stick around anymore.The impending design duel spoiled the rest of the press conference. Ves noticed that most of the reporters briefly notified their editors about the sudden challenge. The spell of had been broken, and nothing could pull them back into his trap.Ves decided to wrap up his press conference."Thank you for attending, and I will see you five days from now at the arena!"Word spread quickly. The duel between two young promising Apprentice Mech Designers should be one of the more exciting events that took place next week.The constant hype surrounding their rivalry didn't peak the interest of every mech fanatic, but it definitely raised their profiles. Both the Havalax and the Blackbeak received a surge of free publicity.Many publications that had snubbed the invitation to attend the Blackbeak's unveiling must be feeling green with regret right now.News portals such as The Republican Mech published bold-faced headlines accompanied with high-quality footage of the confrontation between the two designers. Even if they went a bit too far with their creative editing, the dramatized retelling of that day served to put their designs to the forefront of the news."We've already sold out our first production run!" Gavin exclaimed as he met Ves at a private dining hall in a hotel next morning. "Our buyers are practically knocking down Marcella's doors right now. We had to limit our sales to one copy per customer. Demand is through the roof!""The free publicity is nice, but it's only a temporary phenomenon." Ves pointed out while eating his breakfast. "Whoever admits defeat in the upcoming duel will see their demand crater overnight. No one wants to buy a mech associated with failure."The worst thing about the duel was that the format favored the Havalax. The raw specs didn't lie and the Blackbeak's advance in endurance would never be able to come into play in a duel that only lasted thirty minutes at most.In hindsight, the Blackbeak made for a very poor dueling mech, while the Havalax practically thrived in these circumstances."Do we have a pilot lined up?""I have someone in mind." Ves leisurely replied as he moved on to drinking his cup of tea. "There's a reason why I set the age limit to thirty."The door to the dining hall slid open to allow the entry of a familiar face."Good morning Ves!""Melinda! Good to see you again. I didn't want to call you up for this, but I really need your help."Melinda Larkinson took a seat at the table and poured herself some tea. She dressed casually this time, but her powerful movements and predatory expression couldn't hide the fact that she was a mech pilot. "Who's this?""That's Gavin, he's in charge of marketing. We were just discussing some business before you arrived.""Your mech business must be doing well." She remarked. "You're practically the talk of the town! Ticket prices for the match between the Velvet Fists and the Grease Monkeys have tripled overnight. Even the VIP rooms are fully booked!"The mech duel attracted a lot of interest due to hype. Most people probably didn't know too much about Ves or Dumont. They just wanted to witness a historic rivalry between two similarly talented mech designers.Ves started to compose himself. "About that. Melinda, out of all the cousins I know who are here in the Bentheim region, you're the only one who's proficient in piloting knights. I'd like to ask you to be my champion for the upcoming duel."The entire room plunged into silence. Even Gavin almost spurted out his coffee. He expected Ves to tap a professional mech athlete, or some kind of elite academy graduate."Why me?""Because I trust you. Because you're a Larkinson. Because you're both."He didn't need to say anything more. As a Larkinson himself, he knew how much the family prized their potentates. Every Larkinson with the aptitude to become a mech pilot had received a vigorous amount of training from the start. The family ensured that every Larkinson began their piloting careers with a solid foundation along with a couple of fully developed specialties.For example, Raella excelled in piloting skirmishers and light mechs, while Melkor turned into a killing machine if he piloted a rifleman. Besides hard work, much of what they accomplished could be attributed to the training they received from the family.Melinda looked dead-serious now as she weighed the offer carefully. "I'm not too sure about this. Sure, I know a thing or two about knights, but I'm more of an all-rounder than a dedicated knight pilot. Law enforcement mechs are a whole different beast, you know!"Ves still remembered the mech she piloted when she rescued him from an assassination attempt. Her law enforcement mech consisted of an aerial hybrid knight that exchanged a sword for a fluid projector."It's not a bad thing if you're not a pure knight pilot. The Blackbeak is an offensive knight, so it performs at its best if you take advantage of its mobility. It's still a knight, but it's got several things in common with more agile knights like skirmisher mechs."No matter who he approached, Ves still wanted to persuade Melinda to take up his cause. She was family, and family was meant to stick together."This is a lot to take in, you know." Melinda breathed deeply. "I'm not a stranger of duels, but the stakes are awfully high. How much money is at stake?"Ves gestured to Gavin, who supplied the latest estimate. "The first production model alone can be worth as much as 300 million credits if you manage to win. Collectors are willing to throw money at any mech that carries such a great piece of history!""Sheesh, Ves! You're sticking me into a mech worth 300 million? Why not deposit a few billion credits in my cockpit while you're at it!""Actually, Miss Melinda, the outcome of the duel has far-ranging effects on the demand of the Blackbeak model. If we win, we can expect strong sales to deliver additional revenue the tune of two or three billion credits over the next year. If we lose, we'll be lucky if we can get the production line running at all"All of this piled more weight onto Melinda's shoulders. She had never been made responsible over so much potential gains and losses in her life. Her face turned numb at the dizzying amount of money being bandied amount."My salary is only around 200,000 credits a year. I really don't know, Ves. I'm a decent pilot when I'm on assignment for the Planetary Guard, but I've never performed in front of the entire Republic. Do you know how many fans are tuning in to the match between the Fists and the Monkeys? That's one of the most popular dueling teams in the Republic! And I'm going to be showing off my skills in their half-time break!"Obviously, Melinda couldn't handle the pressure like a seasoned mech athlete. Ves wished that Raella hadn't wandered off with Dietrich, because he could sure use some help in reassuring his cousin."Competing in public is not that scary when you're good. I know you're good. Think about it as an opportunity to wave the flag for the family. Show the Republic what a Larkinson can do! If you win the match, you'll not only help me sell more mechs, but you'll also boost the careers of every Larkinson in active duty!"When Ves joined the family's Steering Committee and attended their annual meeting, he learned that one of the family's priorities was supporting the careers of their younger mech pilots.Many of his nephews and nieces joined the Mech Corps with dreams of making it big. It took a lot of money and effort to distinguish themselves from the other talents in their units."Consider this as well." Ves continued. "The Larkinson Estate owns twenty-five percent of my company. A win will directly boost my company's earnings, to the point where the family will potentially earn billions of credits in dividends down the line. Think of what the family can do with all of that money. We can increase the pensions for the widowers and provide better training for the young."Not every Larkinson prioritized giving back to the family, but Melinda showed signs that she was receptive to the idea. She owed a lot to the family." I'm even willing to give you a fair share of what we gained. Have you ever thought about moving into a glitzy penthouse in the middle of downtown Dorum? I can pay for all of that."This time, Melinda didn't hesitate any longer. "Okay, deal! I'll do it! I'll pilot your damn mech in front of a circus! Just get me that penthouse!"