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Ves woke up with a slight headache the next morning. He started suffering from pain at the end of the project. He never spent so much time holding on to an inspiration, not to mention three at a time. He still suffered from the aftereffects of his exertion.
"It's worth it if I can obtain a C+ rating for my design." He muttered as he popped a pill inside his mouth to clear his head.
The medicine actually didn't help much, as if the pain originated from something other than a purely physical reaction. Nonetheless, Ves expected the strain to fade now that he had no need to concentrate for hours on end.
After finishing his morning ritual, he entered the workroom to see Carlos up at work. Yesterday, Ves checked in with Carlos and became satisfied with his progress. He mastered all of his 1-star and 2-star virtual designs. Only the Young Blood gave him a bit of trouble, but a success rate of 90% proved that he hadn't slacked off.
"How's your progress with the Marc Antony Mark II?"
"It's a lot better than the Mark I, that's for sure!" His employee responded with a chipper tone. "The internals are still a lot harder to assemble, but at least I don't have to be a plumber to untangle all of the messes!"
"That's good. I'll be relying on you to fabricate my silver label mechs. You should be able to thoroughly master the fabrication process by the end of the month."
"I don't have the confidence to achieve a success rate of 95%, but I should be able to get close to 90% in a month." Carlos honestly informed Ves. "There's only a couple of really tough spots that haven't been simplified. I think I'll need at least three months of practice to get over these bumps."
"That's fine. The Marc Antony Mark II is still a difficult design and you're still settling in your job. I'm making a lot of allowances for you, so you better shape up."
When Ves occasionally inspected the logs, he found out that Carlos religiously spent his evenings playing around with the designer software. As his boss, Ves naturally at his ambitious employee's work.
They were awful.
Despite having access to all of the licenses procured by Ves, Carlos treated them like a toddler playing with building blocks. All of his resulting designs looked like something out of a mad scientist's lab.
"Work hard, Carlos."
He left his minion alone and entered his own cubicle. He turned on his terminal and loaded up his finished design. The variant's pronounced shape and its intimidating black and red colors radiated an eagerness for battle. The golden frills and the dynamic vapor crest both gave the mech an aura of leadership.
In short, the Marc Antony Mark II aimed squarely at the middle segment of the mech market. Hopefully he already generated enough buzz to attract a couple of orders upon releasing the design.
Ves called Marcella now that his design was ready for sale. Her tired face popped up from the projection. "I haven't heard from you in a long time. Have you finally completed your work?"
"I finished my design."
For a moment, his mech broker thought she heard wrong. "Are you referring to your update to the Marc Antony?"
"I haven't been fooling around with any virtual designs. It's true. The Marc Antony Mark II is officially done."
"I've been dying to hear that! I already put the word out, you see. Once you release the specs, I'm sure I can make them bite."
When Ves sent over his design along with a detailed spec sheet, Marcella eagerly skimmed the documents. "Good! You've improved upon your mech's performance without raising costs. That's just what I needed!"
He could already imagine her diabolical plot. She'd pass off the Mark II as a more expensive design even if the fabrication costs hadn't budged. Ves didn't mind such plans, as a higher profit margin benefited him the most. With his current assets, he could forget about mass production.
"So what's our sales strategy?" Ves eagerly asked. "My production facilities have stayed idle for too many months. I'd like to end the standard year with some accomplishments under my belt."
"Hold your horses, Ves. While a product like yours is almost good enough to compete with the mainstream models, it's best to avoid widespread publicity for now."
"Why so? We previously introduced the Young Blood by holding an interview, and that worked alright."
"It's exactly due to your previous high profile release that we should take a gradual approach. You've already built up your name recognition. What you lack is a solid track record. If you want to present yourself as a competent mech designer, then you have to avoid the perception that you're showboating."
After a brief explanation, Ves understood his broker's arguments. Essentially, if he showed up in the news without offering something solid, the public might start treating him like a celebrity.
He could still benefit from such a status if Ves only harbored limited ambitions. Yet ever since he obtained the System, he set his sights on the pinnacle of mech design. If he wanted to be taken seriously, then he had to let his products do the talking.
"Alright, if you think it's best to keep a lower profile, then I'm fine with that. Do you have a plan?"
"I know you want to get your hands dirty, so let me ask you something. Can you fabricate a single mech without receiving an advance?"
"Right now?" Despite bleeding money lately, Ves still maintained a reserve of about twenty-eight million credits. "While I have the necessary funds, I'm not comfortable with dipping into my savings."
Marcella grinned at him. "It will be worth it. Didn't I mention that I built up some hype for your product? Let me gather a small circle of willing buyers and host a private party. You can make your case when we introduce your design."
"Is it all right for me to be present? I'm still rather young."
"Don't worry. As long as we demand outrageous prices, the market is willing to make allowances for your product. Even if the Mark II falls short in certain areas, there's nothing wrong with its price to performance ratio."
She had a point. Even as lastgen mechs started losing value, the Caesar Augustus still sold for sixty million credits. As for Ves, he could fabricate a single Mark II for eighteen million credits. That was pretty good for a variant that only performed 23% worse than its overpriced base model.
"We can auction off your first production as a limited edition model. We can build up a waiting list if we label the next couple of mechs as exclusive collector's edition models. The collectors will love it!"
"I'm not a fan of catering to this kind of crowd." Ves quickly replied. He detested those who treated mech as toys instead of war machines. "Let's just keep it simple. There's a reason why I've only established three different labels. I don't want to muddle up my catalog."
While he trusted Marcella to make the right choices, she always aimed to maximize profits. This time, Ves reined her in because he did not wish to go overboard. He also bowed out of the party.
"Are you sure you don't want to be present? Your presence will add a face to your design. Even if you fail to win them over this time, you can still cultivate some connections that might help you out in the long run."
"I'm not a marketing expert like you. My presence won't add too much to your party."
As Ves made it clear he disliked attending these sort of functions, Marcella agreed to host the party on her own as soon as Ves shipped his first mech."
After ending the call, he stretched his fingers and rubbed his head. "My headache is still lingering. Hopefully it will be gone by the time I start fabricating the first Mark II."
Ves reluctantly ordered a batch of materials from the MTA's open market for around 18 million credits. He noticed that he paid a little more this time for the same amount of goods.
"Prices have risen."
It made sense. Everyone smelled a war, so the manufacturers started running their production lines around the clock. The mech industry devoured more resources than before. This cut into the excess supply that the mining corporations routinely dumped in the open market.
The big manufacturers benefited from long-term supply contracts, so they had nothing to worry about. Only the little guys like Ves who had to resort to paying the full market price started feeling the pinch.
"If prices rise by a third, I won't be able to make a profit."
The upward trend in prices doused his enthusiasm. Ves suddenly realized his business was dangerously exposed to every fluctuation in the resource market.
"It's not worth it to engage in options right now. When my business grows, I'll expand my overhead and hire a financial wizard."
Right now, Ves wanted to fulfill a couple of important goals before the end of the standard year. The Larkinsons always returned to their ancestral home in Rittersberg to celebrate the new year.
Of course, most of the Larkinsons who served in the military were unable to ask for leave in these tumultuous times. Ves expected this year's gathering to be a more subdued affair.
"It will be good if I can prove my worth. Grandfather and the other elders don't care about virtual mechs."
The older generation still looked down on Ves. They disapproved of his foray into the highly competitive mech industry. None of them lent him a hand when he founded his mech workshop. Only his father believed in his dream.
"I don't blame the old goats. While I've benefited a lot from my father's help at the start, I only got to this point through my own hard work. I'm not like those other designers who only managed to stay afloat with outside money."
This was a particular point of pride for Ves. As long as he sold a couple more mechs, he could show off his substantial cash flow to his relatives and earn their respect.
"Let's start practicing."
Ves logged into his designer account in Iron Spirit and entered its virtual workshop. In the three days it took the transports to deliver his latest order of materials to his backyard, he attempted to complete a virtual copy of his new design.
The virtual workshop's excellent facilities substantially increased his precision. His increased proficiency in both the 3D printer and assembly system also boosted his capabilities. Both factors insured he created a flawless mech in less than two days.
Once he received his shipments, he sought to duplicate his success in the real universe. He slowed down his pace and carefully double-checked his actions due to using inferior second-hand machines. Ves grew increasingly frustrated at being shackled by his outdated 3D printer and assembler.
"If I successfully reconstruct the Dortmund, then I won't have to worry about replacing it for a very long time. Good assembly systems are a lot cheaper to buy, though ones that can match a Dortmund in quality will still cost more than a billion credits."
Unlike an industrial printer, an assembly system never lost its value over time if properly maintained. They merely required occasional firmware updates in order to keep up with the latest techniques. More expensive assemblers worked faster and more precise. Heavy mechs required extremely robust assemblers in order to lift its various parts in place.
In any case, Ves encountered plenty of tight spots but he resolved without issue. He worked as conservative as possible and took five days to complete the mech. The Mark II's revamped internal architecture allowed Ves to keep up his pace as he purposely eliminated the knots that confounded him in the previous version.
The fabrication process ended when the assembler finished applying coating to the entire frame. Ves looked up at his creation while holding Lucky and smiled.
"It's almost perfect. I only need to climb inside the cockpit to install a golden label and a gem."
Still, Ves had the feeling that his model lacked something essential. Something that stamped the machine as his own personal creation. When he compared his freshly fabricated mech to other models, he quickly realized what it lacked.
It was time for him to to design a logo for his brand.
Ves looked down at Lucky and scratched his head. "What do you say about lending your likeness to my logo?"
The mechanical cat meowed, more in response to his scratches than his question.
"I'll be sure to stylize the symbol. I don't know if your product series actually exists in the galaxy. The last thing I want is to step on someone's copyright."
Frankly, Ves hardly believed another copy of Lucky existed in the galaxy. His Gem Excretion skill alone defied his understanding of the universe.