The Mech Touch Chapter 573
574 Scam Industry
If Ves had to describe the mech industry, he would equate it to a pyramid.
The massive trans-galactic corporations sat at the top. Their businesses spanned entire star sectors and copies of their supremely optimised mechs got sold by the trillions every day.
The next tier of companies consisted of trans-sector corporations. Their activities transcended the borders between star sectors, and they always took advantage of the different conditions of each star sector.
Further down the pyramid, there were the sector-wide, state-wide, system-wide and planet-based corporations. The lower their tiers, the more of them existed. Technically, the Living Mech Corporation could be counted as a sector-wide corporation, which gave his company a lot of prestige.
At the bottom-most tier, the MTA couldn't even count how many independent mech workshops operated within all of human space. The base of the pyramid was doubtlessly incredibly wide.
Yet the top of the pyramid was rather fat as well. A lot of competition existed in each tier, and no single mech corporation held absolute sway over their markets unless a state had conferred a monopoly to them. All of this activity led to a very high level of friction.
Even with the MTA taking an active hand in regulating all of the mech businesses, their energy could only be spent on so many concerns. They shouldered a lot of responsibilities and generally didn't bother with petty offenses. The association basically handed over responsibility of policing such matters to the local states.
Some states proved to be less diligent than others. Particularly in third-rate states, enforcement of all kinds of rules could be spotty or lax. This opened the door to all sorts of scummy business practices.
A basic way for a company to stiff a customer was to do a sub-par job. For example, instead of delivering a mech worth 40 million Reinaldan marks, they secretly cut some corners and delivered a mech that should actually be valued at 30 million marks instead.
Of course, any mech business that wanted to sell a first-hand mech that was fresh off the production line needed to send it to the MTA for certification. This provided some protection to consumers, but this limited activity didn't cover the entire scope of the mech industry.
"Buying a first-hand mech is safe. Everything else is fraught with scams or rip offs."
If someone wanted to sell a second-hand mech, they could send it back to the MTA to certify it again for a fee.
Most didn't want to pay for the fee or lacked the funds to cover the cost.
Cheapskates that wanted to have it all therefore tended to sell their second-hand mechs directly to buyers through various ways. Of course, without a stamp of approval from the MTA, buyers needed to rely on their own judgement to determine whether they bought the product they expected to receive.
Whiny stories about customers who thought they bought a thoroughbred only to receive mule was widespread on the galactic net. If Ves wanted to have a laugh, he could always visit the forums where scam victims vented their frustrations.
"The second-hand mech market is fraught with both risk and opportunity."
Sometimes, the seller screwed up. Either they needed to get rid of their mechs in a hurry, or they didn't fully understand the value of the mechs they wanted to sell. Keen buyers could easily pick up a bargain if they watched the market closely. Some fallen mech designers even shifted their careers into full-time mech appraisers to speculate on second-hand mechs or advise other buyers into making a prudent purchase.
"The repair market is also surrounded with pitfalls."
Mechs suffered damage all the time. They were primarily built for battle, so it shouldn't be any surprise for them to return in a less-than-pristine state. Mech technicians in the employ of smaller outfits only possessed the capacity to perform surface repairs. Anything deeper and more extensive required a full-fledged maintenance department or help from others.
Lots of mech repair businesses set up shop on each planet with a large concentration of mechs and mech pilots. One of the hallmarks of the repair industry was that it suffered from a rock-bottom reputation. Not only were they widely-known as scammers, the sector was also plagued by a lack of capability.
Those in charge of the repair work in these businesses mostly turned out to be retired chief technicians or failed mech designers. Neither of these two types of people possessed any remarkable capabilities compared to a successful mech designer such as Ves. Their prestige was low and their profit margins were even lower due to all of the competition.
The only reliable repair businesses only accepted fixed contracts from long-standing customers. Since the Vandals only visited the Harkensen System sporadically, they fell outside of their ideal customer base.
Ves shook his head and readied himself for a long research slog. "I'll have to go dumpster diving."
He cast his sight on the larger businesses at first. Though they always charged more than their smaller counterparts, they at least had a reputation to uphold since their revenue was substantial and were responsible for employing thousands of mech technicians.
"The only problem is that their premium is too much."
Picking a larger company wasn't necessarily a good deed. These companies ripped their customers off in more sophisticated ways. If a customer brought up any wrongdoing, the company could basically shrug them off without suffering any loss of business as long as it didn't happen too often.
Many of these repair businesses also had deep ties to various organizations and influences, chief among them was the Reinaldan government. The risk of bumping into a spy or informer was too high for Ves to entrust them with fixing up the Vandal mechs. Even under supervision, there were too many ways for mech technicians to fudge a component or two.
"The smaller businesses aren't any better either."
Two problems resulted from contracting the smaller companies.
First, they only possessed a limited capacity. As Ves wanted to completely restore at least six-hundred mechs, he would need to contract over a hundred workshops. This kind of sprawl was too burdensome to deal with, as each workshop only employed a few mech technicians each that could only do so much work at a time.
The second and more serious problem was that the smaller workshops largely remained small due to their lack of competitiveness. This mostly translated into lack of capability or incompetence.
None of the mech models that the Vandals worked with were simple. The designs of military-grade mechs incorporated lots of sophisticated components and systems that washed out novice mech designers shouldn't be allowed to get in touch with. Although the smaller businesses often charged the lowest rates, in this case you really got what you paid for. Ves could likely get a better result if he entrusted the work to a monkey with a multitool.
In addition, their lack of business made them highly susceptible to bribes. Anyone that wanted to fudge the Vandal mechs could easily throw a bag of Reinaldan marks at these money-starved beggars. The bag didn't even have to be too big to get a good result.
"This leaves me with the midrange repair businesses."
Overall, the mid-sized companies fell between the two extremes in terms of pricing and other criteria. Ves judged that most employed sufficiently competent mech technicians to perform competent repairs. Yet he also needed to maintain his vigilance around them. They might not be as shrewd as their larger counterparts, but having grown to such a scale gave them a good instinct of how far they could push the boundaries.
Picking the right companies involved a careful selection process where Ves had to dig through the details of each company within the right range. Harkensen III possessed quite a lively mech scene that wasn't too worse off compared to Bentheim, so he had about a hundred companies to consider.
Rick's Repairs, Lovo-Opto Mech Restoration, the Mech Fixers, Argulant Workshop, the names went on and on. Most of the official data only told an incomplete story to Ves. He had to dig deep in the galactic net to get a better picture of their business practices. He ruled out any company with a mountain of recent complaints, which happened to cut his list in half.
Ves then looked at the price quotes, and he cut off those who charged too much of a premium or those who had a habit of adding too many surcharges on their work. This cut his list in half yet again.
He then picked out five companies that delivered decent work while adhering to fairly competitive prices.
"This may not be the most optimal selection, but it will do."
The only thing he couldn't investigate was their discretion. Perhaps one company was secretly a front for the Vesians, while another opened up their database to a Reinaldan intelligence agency. It was impossible for Ves to uncover these kinds of secrets from the galactic net.
"Paying a visit to each of the five repair businesses will take up too much time."
Considering that relatively few customers complained about the businesses he selected, Ves thought it would be sufficient if the Vandals supervised and participated in the repairs.
Ves straightened out the details in the next hours. He sorted out the mechs according to their type, their damage and the ease of repair. He then contacted each business and sounded them out. Some companies preferred to work with light mechs, while other companies didn't allow any outsiders to interfere with their work.
"What a mess."
All of these complications made him want to tear his hair out. Ves had to go back to his list and select other companies to substitute for his initial selections that didn't pan out.
His persistence eventually paid off. He came to a preliminary agreement with five companies that looked good to Ves. Once he determined there was a basis of cooperation with his final selection, he passed the details over to the logistics department to hash out the details.
"My work is done. Lieutenant Commander Soapstone should be able to negotiate some good deals with the parameters I've provided."
His job as a mech designer only extended to mechs. Issues concerning contracts, purchasing, financing and the like fell under the purview of the bean counters of the Vandals. At the very least, Ves expected them to be glad that his careful market research resulted in substantial savings.
"If the bean counters don't drop the ball, they should achieve cost savings up to sixty percent."
This would bring the final cost of repairs down to a competitive sum. Ves leaned back against his chair and mentally patted himself on the back. Only a mech designer who entered the mech industry and engaged in many transactions in the private market could be so astute. The careerist mech designers in the Mech Corps were practically dummies in comparison.
"Careerists have their own strengths, but when it comes to the private market, even a Journeyman like Alloc doesn't know any better."
His good mood evaporated after Alloc's name popped up in his mind. The Journeyman Mech Designer still hadn't showed up on any lists. Two months since the Detemen Operation, the Vesians hadn't sent any indications that he was a prisoner of war.
After so much time without any news, Ves had to assume the worst. Though he held onto lots of impractical beliefs, he could be highly practical in other matters. He wasn't the type to hope in vain.
Alloc's status as missing in action appeared feebler and feebler as time went on. In his mind, Ves had already replaced his status with deceased.
Though the Vandals lost a lot of mech pilots recently, none of their deaths really mattered to Ves. Yet the loss of a single mech designer impacted him a lot. Though mech designers were technically noncombatants, the battlefield was far too cruel. It reminded him of the danger of serving with the Vandals.
Harkensen System looked peaceful at first glance. Yet Ves felt as if he had entered into another battlefield.