After some rudimentary research, Ves found out that Cloudy Curtain pretty all of its gear from Bentheim. The short distance enabled local businesses to order all manner of machine equipment from the local mecca of fabrication.
So the LMC couldn't effectively rent out its fabrication capacity to other businesses.
However, his options didn't end there. Besides a smattering of small and medium enterprises, Cloudy Curtain also hosted Walter's Whalers. The mech gang recently underwent a major expansion after selling off their scavenged goods. The bulk exotics they sold might not be very valuable, but the huge amount they sold in the black and grey markets earned them lots of credits.
As Ves had traveled more throughout the galaxy and became wiser to the ways of human society, he realized that the Whalers possessed a lot of connections. The strength of their gang lay not only in their solidarity, but also their expansive network with many elements of the Bright Republic's underbelly.
As his company required a lot of money to round out its component licenses, Ves called a meeting with Dietrich. They met up in downtown Freslin at a coffee shop owned by the Whalers. Ves carefully activated his Privacy Shield before they began their discussion, preventing his guards from listening in on sensitive matters.
"You sure that gadget works as advertised?" Dietrich pointed at his comm.
"It's never been beaten as far as I know."
Perhaps some devices could crack through the shield, but Ves doubted that Sanyal-Ablin brought any such equipment with them to snoop on Ves. Kings, presidents and CEOs of major companies deserved that kind of attention.
Ves sipped on a cup of coffee that Dietrich ordered for him. "We haven't seen each other in a while. Before we get to business, how's it going with the Whalers?"
"Oh, it's great! Our numbers are growing by the day!" Dietrich boasted with a gleaming smile. "You helped a lot as well. You've energised a lot of the bored potentates at home. More people are getting interested mechs again and they've been knocking at our doors until they collapsed!"
Ves hoped he had that kind of effect. Too many potentates in Cloudy Curtain left their training to the wayside once they failed to enter an advanced academy on Bentheim.
"What about their training?"
"Oh we're picking the cream of the crop, whatever little there is, but you know how it goes. The recruits have more spunk than skill, and it takes a lot of screaming and yelling to get them to learn something right."
"It's a little better than before. They've been practising a lot in games, particularly with your knight and rifleman mechs. Still, that's no true substitute to piloting real mechs."
The local mech academies on Cloudy Curtain had been underfunded for decades. Their training mechs resembled zombies and their curriculum fit a history class more than a mech class. Many of its graduates didn't even qualify for the lowest rank of mech pilot.
As for the local elites, they relied more on private tutors than trust the academy's teachers to do an adequate job. Ves always thought that Cloudy Curtain hosted enough private tutors and retired veterans to found a private academy on their own, but to each his own.
"Do you have the mechs ready for your recruits?"
"Heavens, no! They'll crash and burn within minutes if we let them anywhere near the cockpit. Besides, we don't have the money."
"I can help you with that problem." Ves said with a smile. "I happen to get my hands on an industrial printer that can fabricate pretty much anything you think of. Best of all, its processors are hacked, so it won't be sending any logs to the original manufacturer."
Most 3D printers established a connection to the local networks in order to send their logs and activity reports to various parties, chief among them the MTA.
Dietrich looked at Ves with a dubious eye. "Are you thinking about doing the repair scam?"
The repair scam was a basic but widespread method that happened to be popular among mercenaries and gangs. When they bought a mech, they usually signed a standard contract that enumerated several rights and restrictions, chief among them the right to repair and replace a damaged component.
Imagine if a mercenary corps reported that their mech lost its arms after a battle against pirates. While they could order replacement arms from the original manufacturer, If they owned a capable 3D printer, they might as well reproduce the arms themselves, so they do so.
A few months later, the same mech happened to lose its legs in a training accident. Again, instead of contacting the original manufacturer, they fabricate replacement legs on their own and restore their mech to full health.
Perhaps another month later, the mercenary corps suffered an ambush from a criminal gang. The recently repaired mech happened to lose its entire torso and head. However, they happened to recover a pair of arms and legs, and they looked to be in pristine condition as well!
The mercenary commander decided not to bother the manufacturer and painstakingly fabricated an entire torso and head, and fit the orphan arms and legs to the machine. Voila, the mech regained its top form!
Of course, all of those battles and training accidents never really happened. They only existed on paper when the mercenary corps had to come up with an excuse to justify their supposed battle damage.
In reality, they bent the repair clauses to their advantage and reproduced an entirely mech out 'replacement parts'. This sort of behavior was really prevalent in the frontier, where expeditions often disappeared into the wilderness for months or years.
Dietrich definitely looked interested. "How good is your new printer?"
"It's a top-of-the-line machine in the Republic. Better machines exist, but what they can do, my Dortmund can do as well."
Ves sent him a document of the Dortmund's capabilities via his comm. While his Privacy Shield blocked any signals from going in and out of the tiny radius around him, it didn't stop any signals kept inside the bubble.
"I don't really know how to read this." Dietrich said and scratched his head. "I'll have to take this up with our technicians, but I believe you."
They elaborated their deal and discussed the details. In addition to commissioning their own 'replacement parts', the Whalers also promised to extend the same service to their contacts for a small fee. Ves and Dietrich didn't set up a formal contract for this agreement. Instead, they arranged everything verbally.
Regarding his earnings, Ves estimated that he stood to gain an extra hundred million credits a year from this agreement. The Whalers and any other clients took care of the resources and all the other costs. Ves merely had to keep his printer available for a couple of hours a week.
"It's best not to go overboard." Dietrich warned him. "Too many new mechs without an obvious source will obviously ring some alarms."
Ves agreed with him. He reserved most of his printer's capacity for his own business activities, especially when his sales started picking up. For now, Ves had the capacity to spare, but once he published a competitive design, he planned to phase out this arrangement.
"Can you offer me some money up-front?" He asked. "I'm kind of short on money."
"Are you in debt?"
The mech pilot's face scrunched up as Ves explained his circumstances. "Damn, I always heard it took a fortune to start making mechs, but these sums are outrageous! I'm sorry to say I can't help you here."
This left Ves with a dilemma. While his new agreement with Dietrich could potentially net him a lot of earnings, it took too long to earn all that money.
With this business done, they moved on to other matters. Ves recalled that he once asked Dietrich a favor. He asked them to investigate the Colmes region that the two big farming consortiums secretly developed.
"Have you found out what they are up to?"
Dietrich shook his head. "It's impossible to observe from afar. Our planet's cloud cover rules out any attempts to observe from space, while anything that is hanging lower in the air will get detected for sure."
"So why are the farming consortiums in such of a tizzy at this time?"
"Just because we can't look at it, doesn't mean we can't stir the pot." Dietrich smirked and crossed his arms. "Do you know how easy it is to redirect some asteroids to fall upon that area?"
That sounded really dangerous. Redirecting asteroids to employ them as makeshift bombs touched upon a fundamental taboo.
"Oh, relax. They're only about the size of a container. Nothing that will wipe out an entire continent."
"And nothing has stopped the asteroids from falling?"
"Hah! Do you know we're in charge of asteroid defense? It's super easy to tell the government they got totally smashed when I brought them a lot of drinks."
As an obscure, rural planet, Cloudy Curtain boasted little in the way of orbital infrastructure. Their home planet had no space station or defense station, let alone a Republican patrol carrier. No other local power boasted as much mechs as the Whalers.
Sending the asteroid down to the Colmes region was a brazen attack on the farming consortiums. They should know that the Whalers were complicit in this attack, and if they had some brains they should also know that the attack had a connection with Ves.
However, without any evidence, the farming consortiums had no recourse. Making a fuss risked escalating their conflict. In addition, their secretive activities might get exposed.
From the way the consortiums and the ruling coalitions kept mum all these months, Ves suspected that he touched on a critical activity.
"What are they hiding, you think?"
"Even we're scratching our heads at the question." Dietrich responded. "Our best guess is that they're cultivating some super sensitive crops. It's probably something that requires unique conditions to grow and it should also be of very high value. Maybe the farming consortiums have been smuggling those goodies in between the bags of regular cloud rice whenever they send another shipment to Bentheim."
Hardly any inspection paid close attention to bulk goods like rice. If the Whalers guessed correctly, the farming consortiums might be cultivating an extremely high-value crop that Bentheim's upper society loved.
The question was whether they wanted to do something about it. "Do you think it's illegal?"
"It has to be. They shouldn't be so secretive about it otherwise."
The problem they faced was that both sides held a certain amount of leverage over the other. Ves could threaten to sicc the Whalers onto the Colmes region while the ruling coalition could ram their tax bill through the planetary assembly. Both measures resulted in drastic consequences that neither side wanted to see.
Ves predicted that the status quo wouldn't last forever. On principle, the White Doves completely hated mechs and everything they stood for. A mech manufacturer on their own soil offended them in a fundamental way. In essence, they were mortal enemies to each other.
And now, Ves brought over the Whalers to his side. They never really paid attention to the local power structure before, but the latest incident should have woken them up.
"Sorry about bringing you into this fight." Ves apologised.
"No worries, man. They're idiots, anyway. In this kind of galaxy, who the hell believes in pacifism?"
"Pacifists or not, they're loaded with money. They might send some trouble on your way."
The easiest way to cope with Walter's Whalers was to hire a rival gang to dispute their territory. As long as the farming consortiums threw enough money, they were bound to find some willing participants.
Despite expectations, Dietrich remained complacent. "They can try all they want. No sane outfit will take them up on their offer. Do you want to know why?"
Dietrich leaned forward and whispered in a low tone. "I'll let you in on a secret. We answer to Monty the Beheader."
"Monty?!" Ves exclaimed. "One of the Three Tyrants of Bentheim?"
The vast criminal underworld made a lot of men and women stand out for their brutality. One of the ultimate rulers of the Bentheim underworld, Monty the Beheader became known for cutting off the heads of more than a thousand clansmen who betrayed his allegiance. He boldly recorded the dirty deed and let it spread on the galactic net.
Ever since then, everyone knew that you should never mess around with Monty the Beheader.
Learning that the Whalers ultimately answered to the notorious Bentheim crime boss made Ves feel a little queasy. The kind of activities that Monty engaged in frequently made the news, and not in a good way.