Regarding the Mech Designer System, Ves had many ideas on where to spend his DP. The most luxurious one would be to upgrade his stealth module on his comm, but that drained pretty much all of his recent earnings.
"It's better to spend them on skills and attributes this time."
The more he thought about the prospect of designing an original mech, the more he realized the daunting nature of the endeavor. Not only did he have to make a functional mech, he also had to make it sell.
A peculiar trend in the mech industry was that mechs with strong strengths and weaknesses sold better than they ought to. This pattern became especially prevalent in the lower segments of the market.
They considered balanced mechs with no obvious traits the safe and boring option. Many of the mainstream models throughout the galactic rim, heartland and center consisted of these kinds of mechs. Even if they were as flavorless as water, their excellent quality control and lack of exploitable weaknesses made them safe to deploy in large amounts.
Generally, the mech industry believed that newcomers should focus on their strengths rather than balance out their weaknesses. Mech pilots sought out mechs that complimented their strengths. Even if their favorite models came with caveats, knowing about them beforehand allowed them to mitigate these weaknesses.
"It's probably too much to aim for upgrading a Skill to Journeyman-level." Ves considered as he finalized the shipment of the final mechs.
Excluding the original show models, Ves completed the fabrication of three copies of the Marcus Aurelius, fifteen copies of the Caesar Augustus Eternal Edition and around thirty-four copies of the Marc Antony Mark II Eternal Edition.
All of this should have taken more than a year in his old workshop, but with his new machines and mech technicians, he finished it all in just over two months. The speed at which his workshop completed the orders showcased the benefits of superior capital and labor.
"It's a bit daunting to sit around so many expensive machines. I also have to be responsible for my workers."
Even when Ves hired Carlos, Calsie and Gavin to help him manage the Living Mech Corporation, he always felt alone. In essence, he never really shed the sense that it was essentially a one-man operation.
Now, with the addition of eleven pair of hands in the workshop floor, every day turned lively. Even as they finally finished all the limited edition mechs, they still had a busy week ahead with the fabrication of the regular silver label Mark II's.
One benefit of his high-profile participation in the Vintage Festival was that the demand for his products spiked up. Marcella often received solicitations for Ves to fabricate a Marcus Aurelius or a Caesar Augustus.
Sadly for the latecomers, Ves had no intentions reducing the scarcity of those mechs. They stopped being rare if too many copies circulated in the market.
Thus, most customers turned away when they heard that Ves stopped providing mechs of that caliber. The only model Ves offered freely were the silver label Mark II's. His well-practiced mech technicians eagerly tackled the challenge of fabricating the Mark II's without direct involvement from Ves.
With Carlos and Chief Cyril watching over the eager men and women, Ves had nothing to worry about on that end. They used the new production line for the silver label Mark II's, which not only sped up the work, but also ensured the quality of the finished components.
The LMC sold an average of three silver label Mark II's per week. Despite tripling the rate of production, the drastically higher resource costs meant that his gross profits hadn't really increased all that much.
At this time, Ves also finished tallying up his finances for the end of the fiscal year.
Excluding the recent orders, the LMC accumulated around 700 million credits in regular business activities. The sum consisted of the investment made by the Larkinson family, the profits out of fulfilling orders for the gold and silver label Mark II's and the compensation for fulfilling 'irregular' orders.
To make the long story short, Ves earned around a billion credits in gross profits from the entire event. While Ves received more than that as payment for delivering the mechs, the painfully high resource costs as well as the minor cut to his mech broker reduced his earnings.
When Ves added various fees such as a one percent cut to the organizers of the festival and the various shipping and insurance costs, then Ves should thank his lucky stars that he still retained a billion credits.
Ves only briefly enjoyed the massive sum his company accumulated. Every business had to pay taxes, and the LMC was no different. Even though it benefited from several exemptions meant to ease the burden on startups, the LMC still had to cough up money to the planet and the state at an effective tax rate of twenty percent. The company paid fifteen percent to the central government and five percent to Cloudy Curtain's local government.
Furthermore, he also had to reserve money to pay for his other annual expenses. This included his electricity bill, which ballooned once the company gained the new production line. It also included the annual compensation for Sanyal-Ablin for its combined security, convoy shipment and insurance costs.
"I also can't forget to add the interest payment for the old loan."
After deducting a depressing amount of expenses to his company's account, the LMC was left with only 1.4 billion credits in liquid cash.
"It's not the windfall I hoped for, but it's still a huge pile of money."
Ves amply met his goal of raising a vast sum of money. While it took a short couple of months to earn this sum, he finally gained some options with regards to completing his set of licenses.
Right now, without a solid draft for his first design, he held off on shopping for component licenses.
"It's like baking a pie. Even though I already know the type of pie I want to bake, I still don't know if I want the filling to be apples or blueberries."
He had to be careful with acquiring the right component licenses. With stagnant profits, Ves could not rely on his company to raise more cash in the event he wasted his current savings.
The main problem he faced right now was that Ves felt apprehensive about drafting an initial outline for his design. He vaguely sensed a gap in his mind that warned him that he missed something essential to design a good original mech.
Over the past couple of months, this feeling grew stronger, to the point where it even haunted his dreams. Specters of possible futures where he introduced his first original design with bombast, only to be ridiculed by the mech industry happened every night.
"What am I missing?" Ves puzzled over his conundrum. Was it experience? Inspiration? Skills?
Even without spending his DP, Ves considered himself to be amply prepared for the task. Many other Apprentice Mech Designers published their first original designs without the help of the System.
Leaving out the freaks and the direct disciples, Ves should be one of the most prepared Apprentice Mech Designers without an original design in his belt.
Perhaps he needed a break. Ves had worked non-stop for the last couple of months. Even though he mastered his new equipment and refined his Assembly skills through constant repetition, he still found the work to be tedious, especially since he had to focus his mind to imbue his mechs with the X-Factor.
"I've been wondering if you were still human." Chief Cyril joked as Ves admitted his frustrations. "You've worked harder than any of us. Even I take a couple of days off. The way you're putting all your passion in your mechs is admirable, but if your entire life resolves solely around designing and fabricating mechs, then you're no different from a human-shaped bot."
The remark startled Ves. When was the last time he put down his work and relaxed? He couldn't even recall something as simple as that. "It's not easy getting my company up its feet. I only got this far because of all the effort I put into my career."
Even Carlos shook his head when he heard those words. "Ves, you've got to learn to relax. Even when we studied at Rittersberg, we still partied a lot, remember? What happened to the old Ves?"
"The old, average loser Ves made way for a successful founder and mech designer."
"You'll die an early grave if you keep that up." Cyril warned with a serious tone in his voice. "I get that you're focused in your work. You always achieve great results when you put your full heart and soul into your mechs. But damnit, you're draining your life!"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"What I mean is that you should find some meaning in your life! Get a hobby, play some games, go on a vacation! Hell, the best way to cure workaholism is to get a girlfriend!"
"Hah! Don't talk about girlfriends with Ves! It's his sore spot." Carlos snorted.
Ves automatically ignored any talk about getting a girlfriend. Instead, he fixated on a particular term his chief technician uttered. "Find the meaning in life, huh?"
For the first time in months, Ves got the sense that he grasped a straw in the dark. The puzzle that forced him to stall his plans to design an original mech became a bit more comprehensible.
His subordinates showed him the light. Even if they joked around a bit, they still showed their concern. Besides mechs, Ves really had nothing else to occupy his life. Small things like playing with Lucky or talking to his relatives over the comm didn't count. He lacked any form of fulfillment besides his work.
To be honest, even if he realized this deficiency, he still felt reluctant about spending time on something else than progressing his career. He truly enjoyed designing mechs and running his company.
"What else can I do, then?"
"A lot of mech designers back in Rittersberg joined a club. There are countless clubs that cater to overworked professionals like you. There's golf clubs, painting clubs, gaming clubs, drama clubs, shuttle racing clubs and more. Whatever hobby you can mention, there's a bunch of men and women who enjoy doing their hobbies together. Everything is better if you share it with others."
That sounded fine on a major planet like Rittersberg or Bentheim, but a lightly populated planet like Cloudy Curtain probably didn't offer such a sheer variety of clubs.
Besides, Ves didn't even know what kind of hobby he should take.
Fortunately, Chief Cyril had some sage advice for him. "You should look into a creative pursuit rather than a sports activity. Mech design involves both art and science. While it's necessary to be proficient in science and engineering, you also need to flex your creativity. Many mech designers find a hobby for themselves to find inspiration for their next designs. Their ideas don't fall from the sky, you know."
His chief technician's words resonated with the doubts that lurked in his mind. He forgot about this essential truth in mech design.
The creative element distinguished mechs designed by bots from mechs designed by actual humans. Even though the latter might be prone to flaws and inefficiencies, the creative solutions employed by a human designer often led to better results on the battlefield.
The whole industry revolved around this nuance. The sheer variety of mechs being designed every day led to a vibrant mech market where a customer could ask for a mech in any possible shape or form.
While only a small portion of designs achieved commercial success, even the failures added something of value to the industry.
All of this enlightened Ves to the need to enrich his life. Without any other life experiences, how could he know what was best for his original design?
That still begged the question of what kind of hobby he should pick up.