So far, Ves visited two very different mech manufacturers. Vaun Industrial prioritized efficiency above all else while Vikaris Mechs possessed an abundance of heart. That said, neither seemed like the right fit for the LMC.
Gavin partially echoed his findings. "I can understand your doubts about Vaun, but I thought you'd be sympathetic for Vikaris. They employ lots of people and they all seem to care for their work."
"Well, it all seems a bit too harmonious. The people there seem happy, but Frederick Yang is just a patsy. Someone else is pulling the strings in the company."
"Now that you think about it, Mr. Yang doesn't seem very assertive for a CEO. You've got a bright eye for taking of that."
Combined with the overly generous contract terms, all of it seemed suspicious. Ves refused to entertain any further thoughts of cooperation with Vikaris Mechs unless they became more forthcoming on their background.
"Another thing that bugs me is the apparent charity that's going on." Ves continued. "It seems to be built on a fragile base. What if some of those workers harbor sympathies for the BLM? It's incredibly easy for a single infiltrator to sabotage an entire production line, or worse, cover up any instances of defects."
"I didn't think about that. You're right. There's too many people going in and out everyday. All of that security around their complex won't be able to stop a determined saboteur who already has free access to everything from the start."
Ves ran a business, not a social project. The main goals of the LMC should be to advance his interests and make a profit. He couldn't care less about the plight of the citizens of Haston. Bentheim's government should be cleaning up their own messes.
"Let's move onto the next destination. Who are we visiting last?"
Gavin turned to his data pad again. "We'll be dropping by a company called Elemental Mech Engineering. EME is actually a company founded by a reasonably successful mech designer called Andar Neverland. They currently only operate four production lines, but they're fairly modern and capable."
This sounded like another distressed manufacturer. "Is Mr. Neverland still alive?"
"Oh, he's alive and well. He even has a daughter who's a bit younger than you who's studying mech design at Ansel. From what we've gathered, EME has been chugging along great until their licenses expired."
This happened fairly often to mech designers. They budgeted out their earnings and saved up money for a license renewal or a net set of licenses, but something happened along the way that caused a gap to occur. The key here was finding out why Neverland couldn't acquire another set of licenses.
It didn't take too much trouble for Gavin to look up the reasons. "Sales of Neverland's designs have slumped in recent times. A huge transgalactic mech manufacturer entered the market with a fantastic design that outperformed Neverland's own products on both price and performance. Now he's facing a budget shortfall of several billion credits due to the fact he borrowed a lot of money to get his hands on quality fabrication equipment."
"Sounds like EME is Neverland's private playground. Does his company have any experience with doing contract work?"
"Not really. They're scrambling for work but their lack of pedigree in this field of business means that not a lot of clients are tempted to work with them. It also doesn't help that they're asking a lot of compensation for their efforts."
Out of the three parties the LMC had their eyes on, EME offered the least attractive terms. They only agreed to hand over 2.5 million credits per sale, half the offer of Vikaris Mechs. In exchange, EME offered smaller concessions in other areas, such as letting the LMC keep a close eye on their activities.
The shuttle reached the industrial district of Ansel and landed at a cramped and densely built complex that bore the logo of EME. As Ves and Gavin exited the shuttle, they met with the founder and lead designer inside a lobby.
A middle-aged man greeted them with much aplomp. "Mr. Larkinson! It's a privilege to meet you in the flesh! You're a famous mech designer now. The industry is buzzing about your rise to fame."
"You flatter me." Ves casually laughed in return. "My accomplishments pale in comparison to yours."
In his opinion, experts in the mech industry hardly took any notice of Ves. They considered his duel against Dumont to be as trivial as two ignorant toddlers fighting each other over a shiny toy.
Mech designers like Neverland deserved a lot of respect for elevating his company to such a height from scratch. Even if he failed to hedge his bets in recent times, he was still very much ahead of the game compared to someone like Ves.
"I haven't heard much about you. Please tell me about your designs."
Neverland looked eager to talk about his own work. "The pride and joy of the EME is the Klamson series. The Klamsons are a line of striker mechs with varying loadouts, from flamethrowers to shotguns. I've even supplied some of the remote Planetary Guard units with Klamsons armed with fluid projectors."
"Can I take a look at the design?"
"Oh sure! They're archived in the MTA, so it doesn't hurt for you to take a look."
Ves received a data pad that contained a couple of abridged design schematics. He skimmed over the documents and inspected the wireframe schematics with an eye for attention.
In his eyes, the Klamson design didn't look very fancy, but neither did it attempt to overreach its capabilities. It was a simple, workable design that had matured over the course of a decade. The Klamson mechs also benefited from fairly premium third-class components.
Still, despite their qualities, it wouldn't be too hard for a competitor to come up with a better design. They'd have to take some risks and be more skilled, but it could be done without resorting to more expensive components.
In a way, the EME treated the Klamson series like a cash cow. Neverland probably rested on his laurels thinking that a couple of minor updates every year would suffice to keep the design competitive.
He made a big mistake and fell behind as a result. It didn't help that Neverland invested a lot of money into expanding the EME's production capacity just before his sales followed a downward trajectory.
Ves didn't mention anything unflattering and kept his comments positive. "I like what you did with the weapon holsters. Even an unskilled pilot would easily be able to stow his mech's weapons without a fuss."
"That's been a persistent problem in the earliest versions of the Klemsons." Neverland explained. "Some of my early customers used the Klemsons as training mechs, and a lot of inexperienced mech pilots broke their holsters trying to stow away their shotguns. They're not as slim and delicate like laser rifles, so mistakes happened often enough for me to figure out a better solution."
"What made you decide to commit to striker mechs? They're not the most popular archetypes around."
The older mech designer shrugged. "It's all I inherited from my mentor. He's a fanatic about strikers and I took over much of his enthusiasm. There's a lot of charm in striker mechs. They combine some of the best parts about knights and medium-ranged mechs into a single, durable package."
Ves could see some of the appeal. "Still, it must be hard to design a striker."
"Oh, not at all, actually. People who approach the archetype with the mindset of designing a knight or rifleman in a different form will come away disappointed. Strikers demand an entirely new approach. Outsiders always place too much emphasis on accuracy and precision. They weaken the frame too much in order to chase after a dream."
"Don't they require a minimum amount of accuracy?" Ves raised his eyebrow.
If the Blackbeak picked up a laser rifle and decided to use it, it would be liable to hit its own squad members. Such was the danger of neglecting accuracy.
"Mr. Larkinson, the reason why strikers are armed with wide area weapons is because poor aiming is built into the archetype. What they lack in accuracy, they make up for it in strength. Standard doctrine says that strikers should avoid melee combat whenever possible, but in practice they often resort to their bayonets or backup swords to fend off an opponent up close."
Their conversation halted when they reached the fabrication floor. It didn't look as clean as the floor from Vaun, but neither did it look grimy like the floor from Vikaris. The look and feel of EME's floor resembled an upscaled workshop, much like the one owned by Ves.
Recent expansion has left the floor a little cramped. An abundance of shiny new production equipment sat idle. With the lack of demand for the Klemsons and no other contracts to fulfill, the expensive machinery sat dormant.
As for the workers, most of the mech technicians walked back and forth in a daze. They counted their inventory for the umpteenth time or simply sat back and played some games over their comms.
"As you can see, our state-of-the-art production equipment will be able to handle anything you can throw at it, including your wonderful Blackbeak design." Neverland bragged, who willfully ignored all of his idle personnel. "Don't think we are worse than others for maintaining only four production lines, the production speed of these machines will surely be a feast for your eyes!"
Ves didn't recognize the individual production models, but all of the printers, compressors, CTMs and assembly systems looked impressive enough to back his boasts. The EME should be able to produce enough bronze label Blackbeaks to meet demand, if only just.
As Neverland kept boasting about his production capabilities, Ves formed his own judgement on the man and his company. The EME must have landed in fairly dire straits. The fact that his negotiators insisted on retaining as much money as possible should be because the EME's creditors must be knocking on their doors.
If Ves looked closely, the personnel looked like they had already given up. They expected the EME to fold in a month or two, upon which they'd be free to work for someone else. They only stuck around because it would look bad on their records if they quit on their own accord.
"Thank you for allowing me a visit. You've been very candid to me. I appreciate that." Ves said to Neverland when they came to the end of their tour.
Neverland wiped some sweat from his brow. "I figured I wouldn't be able to hide anything from you. The EME is down on its luck, but we only need to shore over this difficult time before we can pick ourselves up. I hope you entrust the mass production of your Blackbeak design to us. Striker mechs and knight mechs have a lot in common, so we can instantly start production."
"I'll consider it carefully!"
Ves and Gavin returned to their shuttle. Now that they finished their field trips, the shuttle turned around to Dorum so that they could return to the hotel near Marcella's brokerage.
"Mr. Neverland is a desperate man." Gavin remarked after a moment of silence. "He's extremely eager to enter into a contract with us, more so than Mr. Yang of Vikaris Mechs."
At least Vikaris had been able to stay afloat by accepting a bunch of tiny short-term contracts. EME's vacant track record in this business segment made it much more difficult for it to do the same.
Still, that might change once people find out about their modern production equipment. EME just had to get past their acute dearth of liquidity.
"Mr. Neverland comes off rather fishy as well, but in a different way from Mr. Yang." Ves stated after thinking back on his visit. "He's a little too sincere, if you know what I mean."
"Do you think it's a calculated ploy to arouse your sympathy?"
"No, nothing like that. It's just that he genuinely loves the craft. His eyes light up whenever he talks about the Klemson or the Blackbeak."
"Then what are you apprehensive about?"
"I feel like Mr. Neverland wants to steal the secrets to the Blackbeak design." Ves concluded. "He'll come up with something identical or apply what he's learned from me to his own design once the EME is done with the contract."
"Oh. That sounds plausible. We probably shouldn't give them the opportunity to steal your hard work, then."
Ves shook his head. "If it's a choice between Vaun, Vikaris and EME, I'd pick the last one any time. Even if they're greedy, they're well worth the effort."
He already made his choice, and not just because he had a bad impression of Vaun and Vikaris. Gavin missed out on a couple of reasons which made EME the most suitable manufacturer for the LMC to collaborate.