Remembering that Marcella hadn't gotten back to him about a customer, he called up her number.
"Heya Ves. I know what you're calling for. The deal has just been completed." Marcella smirked as she said her next words. "Guess how much credits he threw at me to order your mech?"
"Did you manage to sell it at twenty-four million?"
"Hah! That's chump change. It's much higher!"
"Nope." Marcella gestured with her hands to bring up an invoice in the projector. "Look for yourself what magic I achieved."
His eyes practically bulged out as he saw that Marcella's customer ordered his mech for a whopping twenty-eight million credits. The huge price figure amounted to a gross profit of eleven million credits if he delivered his mech in time and in good condition. It certainly raised his faith of Marcella's ability. Perhaps partnering with her was the best decision Ves ever made.
Marcella tapped her fingers onto her desk, snapping him out of his dreams. "Don't get too excited buddy. Running a mech business isn't a casual undertaking. You have to properly plan for your expenses. If you factor in your interest payments, your tax burden, your capital assets depreciation, then you'll find that your net profits is a lot smaller than you thought."
The excitement in his eyes died down. She was right, of course. "Well, my taxes will at least be lightened. The planetary government is already processing my preferable treatment status. I should be able to get my tax rate reduced to fifteen percent."
Such a low tax rate was very favorable to Ves already. If he setup his business in Bentheim, then he'd have to fork out thirty-five percent even with preferable treatment.
"Your expenses and other burdens are lower than most other mech designers, but don't forget your business is a one-man show. Your scale can't compared to most small-to-medium enterprises that have based themselves in Bentheim for years. The industry revolves around a minimum amount of scale production. If you want to improve your mechs, you need better machines, and that means you have to start saving money now."
Ves nodded, understanding the importance of what she said. His 3D printer and assembler were good for a decade, maybe two if he stretched it and installed some upgrades, but eventually he wanted to move up to using more capable machines worth billions of credits.
"I've got so many things to spend my money on." Ves lamented to himself. Earning a couple of billion credits was a pipedream for most people. Even seasoned mech designers often despaired at the costs their businesses demanded.
"In any case, just do your work. I'll be expecting a satisfactory result within ten days if you want to ship your mech to the client in time. Will you be able to make it in that time?"
He nodded with confidence. His planning stretched out the fabrication process to nine days already, which was a lengthy time for an average mech. Considering it was his first time doing it for real, he wanted to slow down and produce each part with meticulous care.
"I'll have the mech delivered to the local branch of the MTA within nine days for inspection if there's no problems. I don't expect any delays, but I doubt I'll get slowed down more than a day at most."
"Good, because a lot is riding on this deal. This is your chance to break into the market, Ves, so nothing can go wrong."
After a bit of lecturing by Marcella, she finally hung up, leaving Ves free to begin his work. He pulled up his sleeves and checked his plans for the last time. Nothing appeared out of place. He had the materials, the equipment and the time he needed to fashion his first mech into existence.
Before he started, he took a deep breath and adjusted his mental state. He didn't want to deliver an average product and call it a day. He wanted to wow the client. And the way to do that is by incorporating something unique only to him into the mech. Even if most of the pilots of his mechs couldn't articulate the X-Factor, it would still help improve their impressions on his work.
He approached the 3D printer with reverence. He loaded up the files of the valiant-looking Marc Antony. From its vapor-generated crest to its adorned and sturdy tower shield, the mech already radiated a sense of valor in its appearance. Its entire purpose of existence was to act as a vanguard, a breaker of blockades and a workhorse that could take a beating for the team. Ves took inspiration of the mockup and immersed himself into bringing this design to life.
"I am not building a mech. I am birthing it to life."
Saying it mattered to Ves. It sounded nonsensical or meaningless, but to someone who took a peek through the door that hid the incredible might of the X-Factor, it was an important distinction that made all the difference in the end product. He was an artisan of mechs, not an industrialist who desired to pump out as many mechs as he wanted. To treat the mech as a living thing instead of a lifeless machine was the first step to realizing the X-Factor.
"Alright, I've got you fixed on my mind."
He tapped the projection to separate the hologram into thousands of individual components. He started with the easiest, but also the most important part: the internal frame.
The internal frame was mechanically simple to produce, but required high consistency in order to make it last for many years. Any hidden faults buried deep within its solid surface could lead to devastating consequences in the battlefield. The MTA posed strict requirements to the integrity of the internal frame, so Ves could absolutely not afford to slack off when fabricating these seemingly simple piece of alloys.
The 3D printer performed up to standard. Ves had already checked and calibrated all of the important machines in his workshop long ago, but it was pleasant to see the machine slowly churn out frame after frame. Ves took particular care when producing the sockets and joints that allowed the frame to move its limbs as natural as a human being. Only a couple of minor deviances emerged in their production, which was a sign the printer's precision was off, a particularly fatal flaw when producing tiny components like processors.
It was a good thing Ves left the entire day for further calibrations. With his enhanced knowledge of the 3D printer's workings, he dug into the advanced programming of the machine and ran a lot of tests and simulations. He narrowed down the source of the problem to a worn-down injector. Ves solved the problem by fabricating a replacement before opening up the machine to replace the component in question.
"There. Now it should work as advertised."
The rest of the internal frame components got produced without a hitch. Since night had already fallen, Ves took a break and took care of his personal needs.
The next day, he devoted his attention to crafting the HRF armor plating. It took three days to process the raw materials into a suitable form if Ves aimed for consistency and precision. While most of the work was tedious and repetitive, he was constantly on guard for any deviations from the norm. A percentage less of a certain metal added to a process might ruin the entire batch.
He refined tons of materials together into different materials, which got processed even further for up to five times. Each step transformed the main alloys from a worthless piece of junk to a less worthless piece of junk. By the time several days had gone past, the mixed materials had already transformed into smooth pieces of shaped plating.
Ves knocked his knuckles against the surface of a thick chest plate. It rang with the delightful tone of a uniform piece of metal. He spent a lot of time fashioning these plates, each into the appropriate form to clad the Marc Antony's outer layer. They still looked greyish brown, the native color of HRF plating. He'd add some color later.
The next two days he produced the other parts of the mech. The most important of which were the power reactor and the engines. His 3D printer had some trouble producing the most unique sections of those components, but Ves was able to stave off any disasters due to his improved skills and his abundant experience in producing them already inside Iron Spirit. He only really paid attention to the challenging components, and produced the easier ones with a little bit more leisure, though he always made sure to double-check their integrity.
"Phew. They all came out okay."
He only replaced a few sections with newly fabricated copies when his checks revealed a couple of hidden faults. Such sub-optimal components wouldn't wreck a mech immediately, but it left the machine vulnerable to a cascade of malfunctions later on. Dealing with it now prevented the MTA from using it as a reason to disqualify his mech during their inspection.
Now that he finished producing all of the parts, he moved on to the assembler. It was the tallest machine by far, reaching as high as any small office building downtown. While the assembler was a single set, the system was actually composed of many different lifters and hefty arms. They allowed a single person or an AI routine to put together a mech without relying on any other manpower.
Modern assemblers formed the basis of today's boutique industries, allowing individual craftsmen to compete against giant mass producers economically. Though mass production always remained as the most cost and resource efficient mode of production, small-scale manufacturers could tailor their individual products much better to their customers. Naturally, the huge trans-galactic corporations hadn't sat still and incorporated assemblers in their own factories in order to offer the same customization capability, but it never really came close.
In any case, Ves owned a run-of-the-mill cheap assembler that wasn't in its prime condition anymore. Like his 3D printer, the assembler showed some signs of use and past repairs. Luckily, the assembler he possessed was not too advanced, so Ves wasn't worried those self-made repairs would screw up the system. His checks also made sure the assembler remained in working condition.
"Damn, six days have gone by already. I only have two days to put my mech together."
He could produce the entire Marc Antony inside Iron Spirit with that much time. Hopefully, once he got more familiar with his equipment, he'd speed up his production process to match his capabilities in the game. For now, slow and steady was the way to go.
From a haphazard pile of components, the mech slowly came to life. Ves started putting together its internal frame, which formed its skeleton. This was the simplest part of the assembly process as the internal frame components were built as puzzle pieces that snapped into place with each other with natural ease.
Once the skeleton was fixed into place, Ves started to add the essential organs to the frame. The engines, power reactor, energy cells, sensors and most importantly the cockpit were put into place one by one. They fit into their assigned places like obedient soldiers falling into parade.
The trickiest segment of the assembly process came when Ves installed the cabling. Though not as difficult as doing it for the Caesar Augustus, he sometimes had to resort to pushing or hammering certain sections in place.
"This is not supposed to happen at all. I guess it was wishful thinking for my 3D printer to produce all of the parts within tolerance."
It might not be a big deal if part A came out of the printer half a millimeter thicker or so. But when parts C, F, J, Y and more all exhibited variations in their dimensions, then they could cause a chain reaction of misalignment when he assembled them all together into one machine. Fortunately for Ves, the deviations were within an acceptable range. Besides some squirming, he managed to fit the components decently together.
"Maybe it's not a bad thing this mech is not a carbon copy of its blueprint. The variations makes it unique. Just like each and every human is different from each other."
Heartless fabricators detested deviations like this, but in the perspective of life, Ves thought it was not a completely bad thing to keep some eccentricities. Naturally, it was one thing to be a little strange, but if you were born full of defects then Ves would never be able to sell the mech.
After making sure the components still worked at peak efficiency, Ves moved on to the final touches. He placed the many pieces of armor in their designated positions. Countless robotic arms picked up pieces of plating and carefully aligned them before placing them together. Special screws and adhesives kept them in place. He also put together the mech's default armament, the mace and heavy tower shield. Assembling the latter was a tiresome ordeal due to the sheer amount of plates stacked into one single whole.
All the components came into place near the end of his two day marathon. Ves sighed in relief as he hit the button to let the painter module of the assembler go to work. He was way too tired to coat and paint the mech's outer layer by himself. Screwing up the coating mattered very little to him anyway.
Once a few hours passed by, the advanced coating dried out rapidly, leaving the dark, intimidating form of a mech Ves had spent many hours imagining its appearance. Having spent more than eight days pouring his heart, focus and even love into its production, Ves felt an unprecedented surge of pride and satisfaction well up deep inside of him. His dreams had come true. He fabricated a mech of his own design with his own two hands. His eyes welled up in tears as he admired the tall and armored mech's domineering contours. He refused to believe no one would remain unaffected when they came close to this mech for the first time.
"Since you're my firstborn son, you deserve a name that fits with your pedigree. I will call you"
Naming the mech was a spur of the moment decision from the upswell of emotions. He broke a taboo by giving it a personal name as a mech designer. Usually, the pilots named their mechs after a period of getting accustomed to each other. He hoped the client wouldn't mind too much and keep the name.
Though the mech was technically complete and fully functional in its operations, Ves wished to gift the mech one additional part. This extra addition was already in the blueprint, but he used a fake to substitute for the real deal. He used the assembler's mobile lift to reach to the mech's chest and opened up its cockpit. Lucky, who had been watching Ves closely during his work these days, also followed him up. Plain curiosity sparkled within his lively eyes.
The fresh and sterile interior of the cockpit unfolded in his sights. With a hop, he entered the cramped area and sat down on its specially-designed synthetic cushioned seat. For a moment, Ves imagined piloting the Phoenix Cry himself. With his head connected to the neural interface, he visualized screens coming to life around him as he piloted the mech through a fierce battle.
He snapped out of it after a minute. "I'm not a potentate. I'm never fated to battle in the frontlines."
The sorrow in his heart threatened to overcome his jubilation, but he managed to keep his negative emotions in check. His lack of piloting aptitude was an old regret.
Instead, he put a hand in his pocket and retrieved a dark red carnelian. The gemstone's subtle gradient alluded to a lifelike drop of blood. It inspired a sense of vitality and passion. He could think of no better gem to crown his first creation. Lucky meowed at the sight of its old excretion, pawing at it with the playfulness of a child stirring around his plate of food.
"Do you recognize it? You crapped this out while you stayed in the hotel. If the cleaning staff hadn't alerted me to its presence, I might have missed this out."
Ves accumulated a nice stockpile of gems, but most of them provided marginal benefits at a very obscure magnitude. The gem Lucky excreted in Bentheim clearly outshined his previous droppings for reasons he wasn't sure. He hadn't fed Lucky with any notable minerals except what the hotel provided as an additional service. Perhaps the crowded, tech-filled environment excited the gem cat.
In any case, the gem's attribute stood out in more than one way, and the color also matched the mech. With a couple of hand-sized tools, Ves extracted the generic red stone in the middle of the dashboard that represented the mech's power button and placed the carnelian in its place, making sure to affix it securely in its fitting. After he finished, Ves leaned back in the chair and admired how the lustrous gem attracted the eye. He inspected it yet again.
[Carnelian of Focus]
Increases the pilot's concentration by 0.1 when installed on a mech.
The attribute was very special. Unlike the other gemstones Lucky dropped, this one improved the attributes of the pilot rather than the mech. How that worked, Ves had no idea, but he knew the value of such a boost. Though not a game changer by any standard, it served to improve the pilot's impression of the Phoenix Cry while also giving him a minor edge which could prove useful in a tough battle.
Furthermore, the gemstone's pilot-focused attribute also allowed Ves to hide its benefits from the MTA. Ves had no good way to explain how a mech was able to move 0.5% faster or could withstand lasers 1% better than the HRF plating was designed to take on. Before Ves could acquire better skills that could camouflage such benefits, Ves found it prudent to stick to subtle gemstones and keep the ones with material benefits for later use.
"Enough dreaming. It's time to ready this mech for sale. First up, I'll have to certify the Phoenix Cry."