If anyone first heard the words Mech Trade Association, they'd assume it was a nonprofit trade organization. They weren't wrong, but it deeply understates what a massive influence the trans-galactic behemoth exerted in every corner of human space. They regulated the development, licensing, production, sale and disposal of mechs. Pretty much the entire life-cycle of a mech was in their purview, and they sometimes came to blows in order to enforce their self-proclaimed rights.
Even a small, tranquil planet like Cloudy Curtain possessed a local branch of the MTA. As even the Greater United Terran Confederation and the New Rubarth Empire acknowledged the powerful organization's supervisory powers, a small third-rate state like the Bright Republic had nothing to say about the MTA's forceful presence within its borders.
The association founded branches wherever there was a sizable population of people. Lots of people meant that at least a handful of them piloted mechs. If left alone, they could get up to trouble, so the MTA always made it a policy to supervise potentates even if they didn't own a mech.
Frankly, the idea that an organisation outside the control of any government entity was allowed to meddle in the mech industry shouldn't have existed. Countless conspiracy theories flew around in the galactic net that purported to be the truth.
One popular notion suggested that the divisions in human space was all a sham. Every nation, from the lowest third-rate backwater to the grandest first-rate superpower, were actually different branches from the same tree. A so-called Shadow Council ruled humanity from behind the throne, and the MTA was merely its most visible arm.
Another less radical theory suggested that the MTA was not as independent as everyone thought. Instead, it began as a secret joint venture by both the Terrans and the Rubarthans. Despite their intense rivalry towards each other, they shared enough common interests to regulate the mech industry and founded the MTA to bend the military strength of other nations to their will.
The MTA's existence and its stringent enforcement of its principles brought the wild west of the mech trade to its heel. They prevented the incorporation of weapons of mass destruction into the arsenal of mechs. They curbed widespread corporate espionage and gave smaller mech businesses a chance to thrive by encouraging the practice of licensing out non-cutting edge designs. They brought so many benefits that not many people thought badly of the organisation.
What mattered the most to Ves right now was the MTA's strict standards of public mech sales. Any mech traded in an open transaction was required to be certified by the MTA before they received a stamp of approval. Without this approval, a mech designer was deprived of an independent, trustworthy assessment of their product, which meant that basically no one dared to buy his mech.
Naturally, such a practice was voluntary, and companies were free to sell their mechs without involving the MTA if they made their transactions private. This most often happened with nextgen cutting-edge designs between top enterprises and government entities. Ves was too small a player to engage in such a high-level transaction, so he meekly submitted his mech to the MTA for their standard certification.
Bringing Lucky over his shoulder, Ves exited the transit shuttle and landed his feet onto the paved landing pad next to the MTA. He met the local supervisor of Cloudy Curtain's branch of the association at the steps leading up to the complex.
"Ryan Baldwin." A dark-skinned man with a robust posture returned his handshake. "Welcome to the MTA. When I heard a designer wanted to submit a newly fabricated mech in our branch, I had to admit we were at a loss for a moment."
Ves chuckled amiably at the remark. "I'm the only mech manufacturer on this planet, right?"
"Yup. The most we do is bust heads and lend a hand against pirates. We hardly have any mech technicians on site that are qualified to certify your mech."
"My apologies for inconveniencing you. Can the certification process still proceed? I'm kind of pressed for time."
"No worries, son. As long as we're not in the middle of nowhere, we always have a senior technician on hand."
They entered the quiet and spacious building complex and went down the halls to a large workshop area. A cranky-looking middle-aged lady in coveralls greeted them with a stinky eye.
"Ves, let me introduce you to Gertrude Samuelson."
The woman in question crossed her arms. "So you're the brat messing up my maintenance schedule. I had a system in place, you know. Now I have to waste precious hours off my schedule in order to knock your little toy around. Well, you better not think it's a done deal, because I'll be doing my best to dig up its flaws!"
He could only smile awkwardly at that. Fortunately, Ves spent an excessive amount of time building up the Phoenix Cry. He was confident his mech could pass all but the most stringent of tests. Those top-level tests would never be applied to a regular commercial mech, so Ves should be in the clear. He hoped.
The three entered the cavernous workshop where a handful of mechs underwent routine maintenance. At the end of the stables rested the Phoenix Cry, freshly transported from his workshop. A couple of junior technicians already crawled around its chassis with several handheld instruments.
"Seeing as you're as young as shit, this must be your first certification, right?"
"Yes, but I'm familiar with the steps."
"Good, then you know that you'll just have to stand there and do squat while I pick apart its flaws." Gertrude stated as she stepped behind a console and activated a thick, mechanical arm.
Ves recognized the device as an advanced sensor that was capable of penetrating through almost any material. The woman gently operated the arm and brought it over to the bottom foot of the mech. The projection in front of her changed into a cutout image of the section along with multiple technical readouts that Ves barely understood.
"Hm, looks fine so far. You haven't screwed up the proportions when you made the HRF armor plating. Lots of newbies trip themselves over when they work with such a highly refined material. A deviance of 0.1% at the start could get amplified by as much as 10% by the time the HRF is off the fabricators."
"I didn't rush the process. I'm confident the rest of my mech is equally as sturdy."
"We'll see about that."
Gertrude diligently scanned over the mech, from bottom to top and back to bottom. She also swiveled the sensor from the sides and the rear of the mech as well, but to no avail. Ves understood enough from the readouts that none of the armor or internal components showed any significant deviations from the blueprint. All of the flaws she detected so far was within tolerance according to the MTA's official guidelines. Only the most nitpicky of technicians would choose to make an issue out of those tiny problems.
To her credit, Getrude said nothing even if her frown grew deeper. "Well, let's see if your internals perform as advertised."
This was an area Ves was less confident in. It was fairly easy to spot damage, but harder to determine if the components he fabricated performed on spec. As the technicians crawled away from the chassis, a young pilot entered the cockpit. Ves, Ryan and Gertrude watched at a healthy distance as the pilot activated the mech.
"The neural interface is starting up without a hitch. No issues encountered so far." The pilot reported, and Getrude confirmed his observations through the readings that scrolled down her terminal.
"Startup finished. The mech is in standby mode. The power reactor is spinning. No leaks detected. Temperature is normal."
"Do you hear any weird noises?"
"It's quiet so far. Want me to engage the engines?"
"Hold up, I still want to test out its power management. Go run some power through the wrist-mounted laser cannons. Charge up its capacitors. Make sure the weapons remain safed before you do that though."
Ves watched on with Lucky as they both witnesses Getrude trying to dig up faults. No matter how much she stressed the power system, she failed to make the mech squeal. Ves increasingly grinned wider as he realized he had nothing to fear in this aspect. His mech was mechanically sound.
Despite spending two hours testing out the internals, the MTA came up empty with regards to things to complain about. The engines purred like a kitten while its sensors were able to capture objects from kilometers away with razor accuracy.
"Let's move on to the active tests." The senior technician grumbled.
The pilot took out the mech outside to a large and spacious range and obstacle course. Both weren't much to look at since the Cloudy Curtain branch only included them as an afterthought. Still, the minimum certification only required some basic tests for the Phoenix Cry.
The first test involved testing the mech's limbs, in particular its articulation. Under the watchful eyes of several hovering sensors, the pilot stretched the limbs of the mech to the maximum angles possible. Nothing broke even when the arms almost bent straight backwards, which was a good sign for Ves. The MTA then tested the mech's carrying capacity by picking up and carrying a variety of weights, which also went without a hitch.
With these tests done, the pilot put the mech through its paces by jogging and then full-on sprinting on a race course. The medium mech pushed to its maximum projected speed and maintained it with only minor difficulties. The pilot then repeated the same track but this time carrying the mace and tower shield. The mech ran a lot slower this time, but the extra weights failed to topple the mech over or cause any other catastrophes.
They then moved on to the trickiest part, the ranged weapons testing. Getrude grinned savagely as she rubbed her palms. While she held little hope in finding fault with the shoulder-mounted missiles, the lasers should be another story. Laser weapons contained plenty of tiny, delicate components, so they were also the weapons most prone to malfunction.
They first tested the missile launchers, but everyone knew it was just a formality. The launchers were fairly low-tech to begin with as most of the advances in missile technology lay in the missiles themselves. The launchers only stored the missiles and kept them from exploding when they got bumped or something. Both the long-range and short-ranged missiles flew from the launchers without a hitch, and detonated against a cratered hill exactly as expected.
The mech then moved on to a range, where it began to test out its wrist-mounted weapons at a variety of power levels. From the lowest setting, the pilot fired the weapon so rapidly that the beams appeared to be stuttering from an unstable power supply. Despite its shaky appearance, the lasers fired with the right amount of power and accuracy.
The pilot then cranked up the power supplied to the cannons. The lasers increased in size and intensity. The beams flickered less but their burn duration increased. The maximum setting practically turned the laser cannons into bringers of doom. Thick beams that looked like flowing suns escaped from the barrel and bore a set of holes right through the targets on the range.
At the end of the round of testing, Gertrude came out of the process with a list full of passed criteria. Without more stringent stress testing, she could not find any other opportunity to disqualify the mech.
The pilot exited from the mech and jumped straight down, relying on the anti-gravity boosters in his mech suit to land as light as a feather. When the pilot reached the trio, he removed his helmet, revealing a face and skin tone almost the same as Ryan's.
"How's the mech?"
"It's an incredible mech, and I'm not talking about first-timers." The pilot enthusiastically replied. "I feel like I'm piloting a giant instead of a machine. The mech responds so smoothly I can't even believe it's possible for mechs to move that way."
Ryan snorted at that. "That's the advanced internals of the mech at work. You've never piloted anything other than standard budget models, so I specifically brought you here to experience this new mech. Even with the difference of a generation, an advanced mech is still in a different league compared to the cheaper currentgen models. You should try to get a chance to pilot the base model. The Caesar Augustus is a real beauty besides its impracticalities."
"So Getrude, do I get your stamp of approval?" Ves asked while the father and son pair talked about the details.
"It's kind of suspicious how this mech held up so well during testing. Did you even produce this mech yourself?" Getrude asked suspiciously.
As if already expecting the question, Ves shook his head and activated his comm. He sent over his logs. "You can look for yourself to see I worked on it with no one else around to assist."
She didn't even look at the logs. If Ves was confident enough to send them over without a problem, then they really hid nothing of note.
"Very well. It is in my professional judgement that your Marc Antony variant mech has broken no rules and met all the criteria our organisation has set for all publically traded mechs. Your mech will be stamped with our seal of approval and you should receive the certificate in your mail in the next hour while I finalize my report."
The resignation in the lady's tone barely registered to Ves. He only felt an incredible amount of satisfaction and relief for surviving this ordeal. Now that the MTA officially certified his mech, no obstacle remained in the long road to selling his first mech.
He immediately brought up his comm and called Marcella. "Good news, M. My mech has just passed the MTA's certification. I'll send you the files as soon as they arrive."
"That's very good news!" Marcella responded with a little more surprise than Ves expected. Perhaps she hadn't been very confident in his first work. "I'll arrange the express shipping on my end. The mech will arrive at Bentheim in one-and-a-half days."
"That's good. Can you transfer the payment over as soon as its there? I feel as if the bank is already looming over my shoulder, ready to repossess all my assets."
"The credit transfer is already pending. As soon as my client receives the mech, the transfer will be approved."
A heavy weight almost lifted off his shoulders. While the bank still gave him nightmares, Ves at least breathed a little easier now that the deal was essentially done.
"So what's next on my plate. Have you found another client for the Marc Antony yet?"
Marcella shook her head. "I've got a lot of other things on my plate, and I like to see if your first sale goes right before I find another buyer. I'd like to keep an eye on your current client for a couple of weeks to see if he has any complaints. If he finds no defects even after weeks of regular use, then I can confidently start pushing your product to my other clients."
"That's good. Still, after I pay my annual interest payment, I don't have enough capital left to produce another mech. I need another advance payment in order to start producing the next batch."
"That's not a bad thing for you." She said with a smile. "You deserve a holiday, and more importantly, you need some time to get your books in order. I've seen way too many startups get into trouble with the tax office due to improper accounting. Don't rely on a random AI routine downloaded from the galactic net to do your numbers. Do it yourself or hire an accountant to do so."
"Alright, I'll do it myself. My business is tiny and I only have one sale so my books are very thin."
"Secondly, you should shore up your skills. I've seen what you did in Iron Spirit and I'm fairly impressed by the progression of your work. You've clearly improved in the short months since you first started designing mechs. Use some of the extra money you earned to get a bunch of virtual licenses and get to work expanding your repertoire. The only way a mech designer is able to advance is by pumping out new designs. I've never seen a mech designer improve by continuing to fabricate an old design."
Ves nodded in agreement. "I already planned to sharpen my skills in the game when I'm not busy producing a real mech. It's a shame I won't be able to afford any production licenses. The Marc Antony will remain my sole product for quite some while."
"That's okay. You're still in your first year. Just by owning the licenses you already have, your way ahead to almost any other mech designer without any backing. If your product pans out, you can expect plenty of sales from my end, more than enough to pay off your debts and upgrade your assets. That's the power of a good product."
"And what if the market doesn't catch on?"
"Then go back to the drawing board. Don't get too attached to your first design. It's merely your first and most primitive work. If it's not a winner, then improve your skills and design a new mech that fulfills the demands of the market."
"Alright, I've got a good idea on my coming schedule. I'll be waiting for the money."
They said goodbye to each other before terminating the comm. Ves already felt liberating from his concerns. Once he received the money, he could pay off his debt and leave enough of a surplus to leave him swimming in cash. He could do so many things with such an amount of money. Should he go back to Iron Spirit and use the cash to buy some new licenses to play with? How much should he spend? Ves already looked forward to playing with some new toys.