As Ves debarked from his shuttle with a curious Lucky in tow, his heart weighed down his mood. The articles he read about Vincent Ricklin all painted an ugly image of an irresponsible wastrel.
As a serious mech designer, Ves preferred his mechs be used in the purpose they had been built. He was okay with them collecting dust in a warehouse or put on display in some kind of private garage, but to play around with them and take them too lightly was pushing it. No mech designer liked to earn a reputation for making flashy mechs that lacked substance.
"Though it's not as if I have a choice."
That someone like Vincent considered buying a mech from a newbie was miraculous. Ves should thank the heavens for giving him another opportunity to fabricate and sell his variant.
Ves took a smaller shuttle to Marcella's brokerage. She owned a nice office in downtown Dorum amid many other offices of major mech manufacturers and salesmen.
The giant name plastered on the small five-story office made it clear that Marcella staked her claim on the entire building. Entering it, Ves was impressed by the interior. It managed to look upscale without trying too hard at it. Subtle touches such as abstract paintings and authentic leather seats gave the place a swanky casino-like look. Simply put, the decor encouraged spending.
A receptionist at the lobby directed Ves to take a private lift. It seems like all bosses took the top floor, as Ves shot straight up to the fifth story. After exiting the lift, he navigated a small hall and had security bots scan his possessions. As Ves recently learned of the importance of security, he took the precautions in stride.
He finally met Marcella in person again after entering past the double doors.
"Ves, good to see you again!" She smiled at him from behind her desk. A pile of secure data-slates sat in front of her messy desk. "Take a seat. We need to talk."
After Ves took his seat, he let out the thoughts bottling up in his mind. "I thought you'd work hard to get a customer. I did not expect you to deliver me a human form bomb."
"There are many kinds of customers in this business. As long as they have the ability to pay, you'd better get used to serving their whims."
The broker had a point, of course. Ves needed money and couldn't afford to be picky.
"So tell me about the client. I take it he's the playboy that's on the news all the time?"
She nodded at that. "Vincent is... a character. You shouldn't take everything that's on the news for granted. There's a lot going on in the Ricklin family, but they've done a good job suppressing leaks. In any case, you just need to know that while his allowance has been curbed, he won't have any problems paying for your mech."
Naturally that should be the case. Ves wasn't about to trade his mechs for favors instead of money. "Do I need to pay attention to politics while I'm meeting with Vincent?"
"That goes without saying. Now, don't get scared. I've been in this business for over twenty years and I'm still in one hide. As long as you keep your curiosity in check there's nothing wrong with doing business in the big leagues."
Marcella enumerated a couple of things to watch out for when talking to Vincent. Above all else, Ves had to avoid talking about the family succession. He particularly should avoid any mention of Vincent's siblings. The broker also mentioned a couple of major players who had hostile relations with the Ricklin family.
Frankly, Ves found it ridiculous that he had to avoid so many topics. Still, he tried his best to remember all of the names. The last thing he wanted to do was to commit a faux pas and lose his precious commission.
"I've scheduled a meeting for you tomorrow morning. While it's not too late right now in Dorum, I don't advise you to meet with Vincent at this hour. Night clubs can have an unpredictable influence in your client's mood."
"That makes sense. I'm not in a hurry, so I can wait. Do you have a place to sleep?"
While Marcella offered him a hotel, Ves was fine with using her spare bedroom in the rear of her office floor to crash in. He played around with Lucky for an hour while thinking about the information he gathered so far. This commission reeked of trouble.
"This is probably like interacting with the Little Boss, only ten times worse."
In the perspective of some people, large rich families like the Ricklins were just thugs in a waistcoats. They usually relied on wealth and legitimate power to get their way, but weren't afraid to get their hands dirty if necessary.
The next day, Ves took the shuttle alone to a private mansion where Vincent currently lived. He evidently trashed the previous four mansions he lived in after he got kicked out from the home of his parents.
Fortunately, the structure was intact. The gates and fences looked menacing and high tech, but once security cleared his entry, he encountered a majestic Terran style mansion. White painted walls, imported tiles and brilliant glassworks dominated the decor. Everything about it spoke of sophistication. There was no way Vincent had any hand in its design.
An old gentleman who served as Vincent's personal assistant led him to an indoor sports arena where Vincent was boxing against a bot. The artificial boxing bot fought back with brutal intensity. Even if its entire body was padded, the force of its steady strikes were so punishing that if Ves faced its punch, all of his teeth would be knocked out.
"Hah!" Vincent took a glancing blow in exchange for delivering a solid smack against the bot's face. The robot's head shined yellow as it indicated the amount of damage it received.
As the man and the bot exchanged punches with each other, Ves already encountered his first unexpected surprise. The media often labeled Vincent as a lazy coward, but the effort he put up in his boxing was anything but cowardly.
Still, Ves chalked up Vincent's fitness to his family's rich resources. Anyone could develop his body to peak performance with genetic therapy and lots of drugs.
After Vincent finally called it quits, he threw away his boxing gear and disrobed right in front of Ves and the PA. Embarrassed, Ves turned around while a bot appeared from somewhere and blasted Vincent with cleaning gel.
After a dozen seconds passed, the cleaning bot disappeared and a clothing bot took its place. Luxurious fabrics made out of highly resilient fibers spun themselves together under the highly advanced bot's direction until Vincent's clothes materialized in full.
"Who's the nerd?" Was the first thing that came out of the client's mouth.
"Sir, this is the mech designer you have requested to build your latest mech."
"Oh right, you brought me the spare. Ptuh." Vincent spat a big glob of spit at the floor of the boxing ring. "That asshole Edwin thinks he's too hot to sell me his products, and that fucking bitch Patricia won't even pick up my calls."
"They are designers sponsored and affiliated with much more formidable forces than ours. Mr. Larkinson here is the second-place winner of the Fusion Cup. His abilities may not be on par to theirs, but he should be sufficient for your wishes. Most importantly, he is an individual entrepreneur has is not beholden to any faction."
Vincent stared at Ves as if he was a bug. "So, do you think you are good enough?"
"That is your choice. The spec sheet of my product is available on the net. I'm sure you can see it's a mech that can keep up with others at its price point."
"Gutsy thing to say for a nerd. Follow me."
The assistant and Ves followed after Vincent as he stomped away from the sports hall and entered some kind of recreation room. Pool tables, sim pods and all manner of entertainment were strewn about with no rhyme or reason. The Ricklin scion headed towards a fully stocked bar and began to hand-mix his own drinks.
"I like to do this myself, you see. Letting the bots mix your drinks always gives you the exact same taste. Consistency is too boring. I like to seek out new thrills every day."
Ves wondered if this had anything to do with the mech he was making for his client.
"Now, I didn't ask to be born a potentate. It sure raised a lot of voices when I tested positive for the aptitude to pilot mechs. I've been puzzling about it for a while, and I recently decided to accept it and roll with it. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Not really, but Ves wasn't about to admit that. Instead, he ventured out a guess. "You seek something unconventional in a mech?"
"Exactly! Heh, the mainstream mechs are so boring. As far as I'm concerned, the pilots who buy standard military mechs aren't cut out to be aces. You have to shed your fears and embrace your risks! That's also exactly why I went off the beaten path and found your mech. It's a Caesar Augustus but with crappy armor, that's so unique!"
Ves gently coughed in his hand. "Mr. Ricklin, while I'm sure my product is a satisfactory mech, shouldn't someone as eminent as you afford a better variant?"
The playboy's face immediately lost its excitement and took an awkward expression. Ves realized he asked a question he shouldn't have. Fortunately, his personal assistant came to the rescue.
"We strictly controlling our expenses. Our allocated budget for a new mech does not allow for the procurement of a top-of-the-line mech. Your product satisfies my client's demands while remaining within his acceptable price range."
Ves could read between the lines. It appeared daddy or grandaddy Ricklin had enough of Vincent's shenanigans and cut off his astronomical allowance. Vincent was probably squirming mentally at the thought of having to penny pinch like a regular human being.
"My design is already a finalised design. It is not easy to modify parts of it without making sure it won't adversely affect its performance."
Vincent didn't appear pleased at those words, but Ves found it important to add the disclaimer.
"I don't care about minor setbacks. If I can't look cool while I'm piloting a mech, what's the point of their existence anyway? There's a lot of dorky-looking mechs out there. I'd rather die than be caught in something a bunch of virgins fantasized about in bed. At least your mech looks sufficiently cool. I like the whole Ancient Roman theme. I just have a couple of suggestions."
Ves groaned internally. It appeared the only reason why Vincent even considered buying his mech was because it looked 'cool'. He guessed most of the so-called dorky-looking mechs were specialized models designed to excel in a specific area. Sure, they might look odd, but these models enjoyed plenty of sales as many pilots recognized their merits.
"Alright Vincent, let's hear it. I'll see if it's workable to add your ideas into a modified design."
The socialite finished mixing something red and bubbly. He took a swig of his drink and yelled masculine ecstacy. "Now that's more like it! Ahem, yeah, about the mech. First up, it needs a cape."
"Fuck man, your mech already looks like a pimp, it just needs a cape to complete the ensemble. Trust me, it looks fucking great if your mech has a cape. It has to be red of course, or else it won't fit with the theme. Make it long and flowy, and don't think about using cheap fabric. If you need access to something fancy, I can refer you to a few friends I know."
Ves didn't take the suggestion seriously, but he was forced to consider the practicalities of using a cape. Any normal fabric would tear easily if the mech mistakenly stepped on it. If Ves wanted to preserve the cape when the mech who wore it only performed light duties, then Ves had to pick something synthetic and a little stronger.
"I'll need to investigate what kind of specialized fabrics I can use to form the cape, so I might take you up on your offer."
"That's great. The cape's really my top priority here. Another thing I'd like to add is decorative lighting. C'mon, all my sports cars turn into babe magnets as soon as I turn on the bling. Why no one ever thought to make a mech as flashy as possible is beyond me. Right, I need lots of lights running on the frame, and better add a couple of super-duper-powered searchlights to the head."
There were lots of reasons why mech designers refused to incorporate decorative lighting in their designs. Not only did they add vulnerabilities to the armor and electrical system of a mech, they also pointed a giant 'hit me' sign on their frames. It was apparent such arguments were lost to the client.
"I can figure something out. Give me a day to draft a bunch of sketches of possible design schemes."
"Right, right. You're okay for a nerd." Vincent said as he took yet another swig of his drink. "Okay, the cape and the lights are just to pave the way. Now sit tight, because I'm going to reveal my secret idea to you. If you know what's good for you, then keep it for yourself. Clear?"
Vincent grinned slyly at Ves. "Since you're a mech designer, you must have heard how smart people say that mechs are built to resemble humans, right? Well, ever since I got roped into learning how to pilot one, I can see what these old people are saying. There's just one thing that's nagging me everytime I step behind the cockpit."
"And that is?"
The mech pilot thrust out his hips and grabbed at his front end. "This. My package."
For once, Ves was speechless. He literally couldn't form any response to this insane idea.
"Now now, I don't mean to get arrested for streaking with my mech. You should design some mech pants or whatever to keep it kid friendly and all. Just make sure that when I'm out and about with my new mech, girls will be able to judge the goods, if you know what I mean?"
There was so many things wrong with this completely impractical demand. While Vincent kept espousing the benefits of boasting an 'enhanced' mech, Ves turned his gaze towards the playboy's silent personal assistant.
Ves managed to convey an expression that went along the lines of, 'Are you kidding me?'
To his credit, the old man was unflappable and never hinted at any disrespect for his young master. His eyes were sharp as a hawk and he seemed to suggest that Ves better take his master's request seriously.
What Ves would rather do was to take the strongest drinks of Vincent's bar and gulp it all down. He could already foresee his reputation going down the drain if he continued to cooperate with Vincent.