"Why did you tell me this?" Ves asked with an elevated heartbeat. The Three Tyrants should never be brought up in a casual conversation. In addition, Ves shouldn't even know of the connection between the Monty the Beheader and Walter's Whalers.
"So you know who's got our backs. He's not the nicest boss, but he's fair to his underlings. Besides, the Whalers are merely associates to him. He doesn't pay too much attention to what goes on in hick planets like ours."
"That's good to hear."
It certainly explained how the Whalers enjoyed so many connections. They were actually a part of a larger underground organisation with tentacles that stretched out everywhere. In the larger scheme of things, the Whalers kept an eye on Monty's backyard and occasionally helped hide some hot goods that needed to be squared away somewhere obscure but not out of reach.
Dietrich swept up his palm. "Besides, he's really big in the resource trade. I heard you've been looking around for a fixed supplier. If you want, I can give you an introduction to some companies that are in his pocket."
The offer sounded very attractive, to the point where Ves almost spilled his coffee. Still, he felt reluctant to establish deeper ties with a notorious crime boss. Doing a couple of odd jobs might be okay, but if he started getting in deep, he'd wonder if he could ever get out someday.
"Thank you, but I can take care of my own business."
They made no other agreements at this time. Ves hadn't gotten the instant cash infusion that he hoped for, but at least he secured another revenue stream, even if it looked a little dubious. Carlos would have to deal with the extra workload.
After they left the coffee shop, they went their separate ways. Ves returned to his workshop while contemplating his business relationships.
He always knew he had to keep an amicable relationship with the local gang. At Rittersberg, he'd been taught about the reality of the criminal underworld and how pervasive their influence extended throughout society.
Especially out in the galactic rim, most third-rate states lacked the strength to control their territory effectively. This gave room for alternative power structures with different goals in mind. Bentheim was especially rife with warring crime groups, which was one reason why Ves avoided the place.
"Luckily, there's nothing going on here that will attract any serious attention." Ves concluded. "If there's one thing the politicians are right about, it's that our planet is too poor to rob."
Ves still thought differently, but he became more aware of the risks. If Cloudy Curtain ever shed its status as an underdeveloped planet, some groups might wish to take a piece of the pie. If too many people all grabbed a pie, Ves would have nothing left but an empty plate.
"I doubt the situation will end up that way. With the Whalers having been in power for more than decade, they're not so easy to dislodge."
When his armored shuttle arrived back at his workshop, Ves briefed Carlos in on his extra assignment. His friend looked very dubious at him, as if he couldn't believe Ves dared to engage in such a scheme.
"You do know your cousin is part of the Planetary Guard, right? Won't she lock you up if she finds out what kind of scam you're pulling off?"
"She'll never know." Ves confidently said. "The Whalers will take care of all the paperwork. They'll establish shell companies and everything that will fake legitimate repair orders. Even if someone digs into their background, they'll only find that they're owned by another shell company which is owned by another shell company and so on."
Most companies only existed on paper. They acted as holding companies that allowed the real shareholders to hang on to properties without leaving behind their names. This could get very complicated but also very lucrative once different companies set their headquarters at different tax jurisdictions.
"What about your grandfather?" Carlos continued to press. "He's a board member of your company, you know. There's no way you can hide the truth from him once he sees how much extra activities we're doing."
"My grandfather won't make a fuss. I'm sure of it. What I'm doing will not only benefit the company financially, but I'll also be appeasing the local gang that's in control of the planet."
Sometimes you had to get your hands dirty in order to do business. Ves was pretty sure that the Larkinson family established their own ties with shady groups in order to safeguard their real estate on Rittersberg.
In any case, he'd deal with it if it became a problem. At this early stage, Ves couldn't turn his eyes away to an additional revenue stream.
Since the equipment he ordered from Leemar still took some time to arrive, Ves decided to check up on his virtual sales. He placed the DarkSpear onto the virtual market a week ago and wanted to see whether he achieved enough sales.
His eyes opened wide when he inspected his sales history. "Over two-thousand sales!"
He only predicted an initial sales volume of around a hundred mechs. Even in his most optimistic projections, he never dared to hope that he could break past five-hundred units sold.
The amount of credits he earned from these sales still remained negligible as Ves continued to set the lowest minimum prices on his designs. What Ves truly cared about was how much DP the System awarded him for achieving so much 4-star sales.
Since Ves earned 10 DP for each DarkSpear sold, the System should have added over 20,000 DP to his account! He quickly summoned up his Status on his comm and saw with his own eyes that he earned just a little bit more than that amount.
Sure, a four-digit sales volume hardly phased the more successful developers of virtual mechs, but to Ves it represented a great success.
Once he got over his shock, he started scratching his head. Why did his latest model sell so well? Cloudy Curtain might have a modest amount of Gold Leaguers, but Ves imagined that not a lot people would be interested in piloting an assassin mech. It required a very patient and deliberate playstyle that contrasted sharply with the instant direct action that other mech classifications provided.
He looked at his customer profiles and found that the majority actually came from Bentheim instead of Cloudy Curtain. For some reason, his latest virtual design caught on there.
After a bit of digging, Ves found out why.
In short, a couple of early adopters fell in love with the concept. One of the biggest complaints of assassin mechs was that it became extremely tedious trying to sneak up on an enemy mech.
The DarkSpear happened to skip the riskiest portion of the approach. Unlike other assassin mechs, It didn't need to enter the range in which the sensors of any mech became increasingly more effective at spotting anomalies.
What happened was that the early adopters basically cheesed through the Gold League by taking out their opposition with sudden charges from behind. The enemies never saw them coming if the pilots of the DarkSpear models used them effectively.
Ves guessed that the X-Factor played a vital role in easing the pilots to the the stalk-and-pounce tactic the DarkSpear heavily favored. Even through the complications of piloting a virtual mech, the X-Factor still made its presence known, especially since it possessed the highest grade that Ves had produced so far.
The DarkSpear caused a minor upheaval in the Bentheim virtual gaming community. With several copies making the rounds, many oblivious gamers throughout the galaxy turned into their victims. They all left rude and profanity-filled comments behind on the DarkSpear's store page.
"Awful specs! Even my dog can design a better mech than this dude!"
"STUPID MECH! DON'T BUY THIS PIECE OF GARBAGE!"
"I've never heard of Komodo before, but if the mech designers there come up with designs like this, then we're better off without them!"
Still, despite the intense reaction to his new design, he still sold a couple of hundred virtual mechs to players around the galaxy, mostly from the other rim sectors.
Those who lived closer to the center of the galaxy generally scoffed at any mechs designed from someone from the galactic rim. They also enjoyed a higher standard of living so they could afford much higher quality mechs.
Still, despite the spontaneous success of his mech, Ves didn't think it was sufficient. Every 4-star mech charged a considerable sum of in-game gold or real credits to purchase. Once players reached the Gold League, they had to be more mindful of their spending as Iron Spirit introduced more elements to their in-game economy.
So Ves set aside the store page and performed a casual search on the galactic net. The first article that showed up pretty much revealed the
MOSVILLE FIREFLIES CAPTAIN JARLE BRENTHILL DOMINATING HIS OPPONENTS IN THE VIRTUAL BATTLEFIELD WITH A QUIRKY NEW ASSASSIN MECH!
Even Ves had heard about the Mosville Fireflies, though only in passing. Their team captain happened to have come across the DarkSpear somehow when he publically streamed his gaming session.
With his superior skills sharpened by many years on the duelling circuit, Jarle quickly mastered the essence of the DarkSpear and began to take it into the Arena.
Even at the Diamond League level, he completely ran over his opponents. He always made effective use of terrain to further mask the DarkSpear's invisible approach. Jarle never got caught before he started his charge. Even when his mech dropped its stealth, his opponents still took a second or so to react to its sudden presence.
By that time, the DarkSpear's weapon ran through the backs of their mechs.
Even though Jarle eventually matched up against increasingly skilled opponents who managed to react in time, his earlier winning streak had compelled his fans to try out the DarkSpear for themselves. As stream viewers already witnessed a great example on how to utilize the DarkSpear, they quickly found the best uses for this mech.
"Hm, this is the second time I can thank a streamer for delivering me so many sales." He realized.
This time, a pro showcased his model. If a casual player tried their hand at the DarkSpear, they probably would have fumbled in front of an audience. That could have given his design a bad reputation.
Ves looked around and found that Jarle had somehow become obsessed with the DarkSpear. When Ves visited his stream page, he saw that Jarle had been streaming for four hours straight today, attracting a respectable audience that numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
All of this budding enthusiasm for his mech gave him an idea. He called over Raella, who had almost recovered from her Molgon poisoning by now. His niece entered the office area with a grumbling face.
"I need your help with something. What do you know about Jarle Brenthill?"
As a former amateur duellist, Raella knew more about the duelling scene than anyone else on the planet. She instantly perked up when she heard the name. "Jarle? He's a sick skirmisher pilot. In fact, he's one of my role models! He's great at psychological warfare and always manages to approach his opponents from a tricky angle. He's also wickedly handsome."
Raella said that with a teasing smile that Ves automatically ignored. Instead, he pressed his own concerns. "He's streaming one of my virtual mechs right now on the galactic net. Take a look."
When Raella peeked at the projection, she raised her eyebrows. "Wow. I didn't know you could design something as devious as this DarkSpear. If I was any good at spears, I'd probably be interested too."
"Do you think Jarle might be open to some form of sponsorship or other cooperation with me?"
Mentioning sponsorship to Raella who used to aspire for it might not be wise, but Ves figured enough time had passed to take the sting away.
"That depends." Raella crossed her arms. She stopped paying attention to the stream. "Jarle is the team captain of the Fireflies. Currently, they're doing great in the 3v3 arenas, so he's not short on sponsors and cash. It will take a lot of credits to attract his attention."
"Mech athletes make a lot of money when they win." Raella explained. "They have to if they want to repair all the battle damage their mechs frequently incur. It takes around ten million credits to get your foot in the door."
That sounded way too much money for Ves. He might as well use Iron Spirit's direct advertising system in that case.
Ves frowned a bit. "I'm not talking about a sponsorship of the Fireflies. I just want to sponsor his stream for a time. Will it be possible to come to an arrangement with him in this matter?"
"Well, it's off-season right now, so Jarle has a lot of free time on his hands. You have to know that a pro at his level isn't streaming because he's in need of extra cash. He's using it to interact with his fans."
That made a lot of sense. When Ves watched the stream, Jarle frequently responded to the comments from his viewers. That sort of interactive engagement with his fans helped build his brand.
"So there's no chance I can catch his attention?"
"That's not true. There's still one way you can catch his attention." Raella replied with a smile. "Offer him something unique. Streamers love showing off unique mechs that are tailored to their style. Since Jarle seems to love your DarkSpear design so much, why not offer to customize it? A lot of mech designers show off their goods in this way, not only at online streams, but also in the real arenas."
Her suggestion had a lot of merit. Customized mechs remained the ultimate possession for many mech pilots.