Out of the three mech manufacturers in consideration, Ves had already picked his favorite. Vaun Industrial and Vikaris Mechs both had their benefits, but Andar Neverland's Elemental Mech Engineering took the cake.
Unfortunately, his board didn't think so. When Ves returned to Marcella's conference room next day, he encountered a bunch of bewildering stares as he laid out his choice.
Even Marcella seemed dumbfounded. "Ves, EME is the least attractive partner by far. They have the least amount of production lines and they pay out the least in terms of credits. It doesn't make any economic sense to go with the worst offer."
According to the licensing terms they negotiated up to this point, EME promised to pay the LMC only 2.5 million credits per Blackbeak. This contrasted sharply with the 3.5 million credits per mech offered by Vaun and a whopping 5 million credits per mech offered by Vikaris.
"If you've visited all of their production facilities with your own eyes, you'll know that EME is better than the rest. Mr. Neverland's company offers a number of benefits that the other two manufacturers won't be able to realize."
"Let's hear it then, Ves."
"First, and most importantly, quality control." Ves raised his finger to emphasize this priority. "Even though the bronze label Blackbeaks are our lowest tier products, they will still sell for at least 50 million credits per copy. Such a price demands we ensure that every mech is up to snuff."
The director from Bentheim shook his head. "That's not a sufficient reason to choose EME over Vaun. Certainly, the Haston-based Vikaris Mechs has a spotty track record in terms of quality, but Vaun has a lengthy track record of producing high quality mechs at an extremely fast rate of production. Right now, the spike in demand for the Blackbeak won't last, so it's imperative we push as many Blackbeaks into their hands before the hype runs out."
Most of the other directors agreed with his reasoning. Vaun Industrial possessed the scale and professionalism to meet any of their client's demands. With a seemingly endless amount of production lines spread over three massive complexes, they could increase their production on a dime if the Blackbeak turns out to be an enduringly popular model.
Ves shook his head. "Is Vaun able to maintain a consistent output? No doubt. Yet their production lines aren't configured in a way that brings out the best qualities of the Blackbeak. I designed my knight to be assembled one by one, which is the production method that EME used for their own mechs. It's a bit slower, I can admit that, but it preserves some of the craftsmanship the Blackbeak is intended to convey."
Nobody really understood his point. The goal of mass producing the Blackbeak was to produce as many copies as possible at the lowest price for a given level of quality. That Vaun used a matrix of production equipment to assemble their mechs should be to their benefit.
Marcella tried to explain the rationale to Ves. "The bronze label is meant to present accessibility and cost savings. It's okay if a couple of parts don't perform as expected. They also won't care about the craftsmanship put into their products. They simply want the best performance without going bankrupt."
"Vaun Industrial is a massive manufacturer as well." Someone else said. "If our most optimistic projections of the Blackbeak's demand turn out to be true, then EME will be hard-pressed to squeeze out more mechs than they are already pumping out. Four production lines don't amount to much."
"We can always contract a second manufacturer if needed." Ves waved away the excuse. "If the Blackbeak turns out to be a bestseller, then our negotiating power will obviously be higher than now. We'll easily be able to impose a higher licensing fee on our next partners."
His grandfather added a rare word of support. "Ves is correct. Right now, nobody is able to determine for certain whether the Blackbeak possesses any mass appeal. It's a mech that sells for a premium price, so even with all of the heightened interest in the model, we won't be selling thousands of copies at an instant."
Someone with a marketing background echoed those words. "A high level of attention doesn't automatically translate to a high number of sales. A new model like the Blackbeak still has to prove its worth in the field. The duel was a good start, but it's only a single incident. At this price level, many buyers will be reticent on purchasing an expensive mech without a substantial track record."
Not everyone agreed with that assessment. The board split in half whether the Blackbeak would sell the most at the start or down the line.
Marcella turned back to Ves. "You haven't finished laying out your reasons for choosing EME."
"Thank you, Marcella. Let me tell you the second reason."
He activated a projector and showed them all a summary of Andar Neverland's biography. At first glance, it didn't contain anything of interest, mainly due to the mech designer's continuous obsession with improving his Klemson striker design. He had never expanded his catalog with anything other than variants of the original Klemson.
"What are we supposed to look at?"
"When I visited EME and talked to Mr. Neverland, I noticed that he doesn't spend much time talking about his roots. He only briefly mentioned that he got his passion for Striker mechs from his mentor. Look at this biography. Can you spot who his mentor might be?"
"It's the Honorable Alazar Crux!"
"The Senior Mech Designer?"
Everyone took notice of the illustrious name. Officially, the Bright Republic didn't retain any Master Mech Designers, so those at the rank of Senior pretty much called the shots. In the hierarchy of Bentheim mech designers, Alastar Crux pretty much sat near or at the top.
In turn, it was a big deal if the Honorable Mr. Crux mentored Andar Neverland.
"To be honest, I got the feeling that Mr. Neverland is only a passing student of Mr. Crux. A mentorship isn't as intimate as an apprenticeship." Ves cautioned them all. "Still, a definite link exists between the two. I can feel the subconscious pride radiating from Neverland whenever we spoke."
"If Neverland only possesses a loose relationship with Crux, then how does that affect us?"
"The reason why Mr. Neverland is rather stubborn about the licensing fees is because he doesn't actually feel much urgency to go into bed with us. If worst comes to worst, he can go back to his mentor and beg for a bailout. The only reason he hasn't done so yet is because it would be a humiliating stain on his record."
"And that matters because?"
Ves raised his palm. "It matters because if we're able to tide the EME past their liquidity crisis, we'll be doing both Mr. Neverland and the Honorable Mr. Crux a favor. Don't forget that a failing former student also reflects badly on Crux. After all, couldn't he have brought up Mr. Neverland in a better fashion?"
The mech industry judged mech designers who started their own businesses with a different standard than eccentrics that only pumped out designs all day.
The success of a mech company reflected well on a mech designer. After all, if his designs generated a lot of sales, then that meant the mech designer must be good. Vice versa, if sales plummeted for some reason, then the mech designer must be awful.
In a sense, Andar Neverland wasn't a good mech designer because his Klemson design couldn't compete against the mainstream models in the same class. Ves took what happened to Neverland as a cautionary tale of depending too much on a single design line.
Someone asked the critical question. "Will the Honorable Mr. Crux actually acknowledge our efforts if we aid Mr. Neverland?"
Nobody truly knew the answer. Perhaps the old man never took notice of the troubles his former student accrued. Still, Ves believed that Crux cared a lot about his reputation, especially since he had reached the zenith of what a mech designer could achieve in the Republic.
"Don't forget that Mr. Crux is highly influential in the upper echelons of the mech industry." His grandfather added. "He's not only a professor emeritus of the Ansel University of Mech Design, but he also sits on the Bentheim Mech Court."
A couple of people nodded seriously. Even though the MTA oppressively interfered with the trade and use of mechs, the Bright Republic also maintained their own regulatory systems. The Bentheim Mech Court was the ultimate arbiter of disputes between mech designers and mech pilots in the Bentheim region.
Beyond issuing rulings between quarreling parties, the Bentheim Mech Court also worked closely with the government and the Mech Corps in other matters.
Most importantly, the Mech Court decided who to draft and where to allocate them in the event of war. Thus, having Crux owe Ves a favor might contribute to a cushy assignment once the latest Bright-Vesia War broke out.
Even if the board didn't care about his posting, they did care a lot about the future of the LMC in the event of war. The Mech Court also worked closely with administration to determine which mech manufacturers deserved support and which companies should be left out in the lurch.
The discussion basically ended at that point. Opportunities to establish a connection with a Senior Mech Designer didn't come very often. Ves wanted to seize the moment and sign a contract before anyone else heard about the hole the EME had fallen into. They lucked out that Neverland approached them first.
Certainly, not everyone agreed to the decision to rule out Vaun Industrial, but the board could squawk all they wanted. Even without his grandfather's support, he could make whatever decisions he wished as long as he held a majority of the LMC's shares.
Ves left the conference room with an upbeat pace. Marcella followed him out with an expression of doubt.
"I'm not sure you made the right choice there, Ves." She said. "It's rather optimistic to expect gratitude from Crux. The man can be a bit of a codger. It's doubtful whether he'll bother to return the favor at some later point in the future at all."
"You're right, but remember that's only one of the reasons why I chose to go with EME. Out of all the manufacturers in consideration, only EME has the heart to appreciate mechs. The other two manufacturers merely see their production as a means to an end. That's not compatible with the LMC's philosophy."
Marcella blew out her lungs in exasperation. "Philosophy doesn't mean anything compared to cold hard cash. Don't get caught up too much in your marketing speak. Make sure your company is able to earn a profit before you chase after unicorns."
Her words reflected a vast amount of experience seeing many mech designers fail due to trying to fulfill a fanciful goal, to the point of running their businesses to the ground. Ves was aware of those examples, but he had his own principles to uphold.
"A mech designer has to flexible sometimes, but those who go too far and abandon all propriety end up as outcasts. I don't want to become a person who mindlessly chases after profits."
He bid goodbye to Marcella and left the brokerage with Gavin. He relayed a number of instructions through his assistant. The LMC had to conclude its negotiations with EME and finalize a contract at the end of the week. Ves wanted production to start as fast as possible and he didn't see any point in dancing around the issue any longer.
"I'll deliver my design for the bronze label Blackbeak as well. I want every formalities to be done by the time we sign the contract."
The LMC had a lot to do. Ves still needed to fabricate nineteen gold label Blackbeaks in order to fulfill the orders he received during his debut. Ves hoped to proliferate his best mechs as widely as possible so that more people would hear about its strengths.
"The war also isn't very far away from breaking out. The Vesians can begin their invasion at any time."
Once the Vesians pulled the trigger, all hell would break loose.