The manner in which Melinda achieved victory looked comical, but it happened to have worked out in the end. Nobody knew whether she decided to roll the Blackbeak on a whim or with calculation.
Even Melinda didn't know how to answer that question. At the time, she had entered a highly immersive state where the boundaries between herself and the mech had blurred. Even as she exited her cockpit, a horde of reporters tried asking her how she came up with the idea.
"I got hit in the head and decided to take a tumble!" She shouted randomly and pressed her way past the annoying people in order to head for the showers.
Her answer became headline news along with a recounting of the duel. Various publications put their own spin on it.
Some saw it as a classic David vs Goliath struggle. Piloting a lower-performing mech, Melinda did her best to hang on to the end where she found an opportunity to upset the balance between the Blackbeak and the Havalax.
Others saw her victory as a cruel joke. Both her mech and her overall skill as a pilot couldn't compare to the qualities of Captain Vicar and the Havalax he piloted. In any objective measure, the latter combination should have won against Melinda and the Blackbeak.
One factor that played a big role was the terrain. The rocky terrain and the various obstacles played to the Blackbeak's advantage in agility. As the slightly lighter mech, it had been able to neutralize the Havalax's edge in speed by leading it through narrow terrain. This delayed Captain Vicar's one-sided thumping and sufficiently expended his mech's reserves.
The disparity in their performances led the pundits to take a closer look at the designs. They not only compared the spec sheets, but they also took a look at the publically available schematics, hoping to figure out what made the Blackbeak hold under pressure while the Havalax faltered in the end.
"The Havalax is a top-heavy design! It's the nature of a knight to be clad in thick layers of armor, but Mr. Dumont strangely decided not to strengthen the legs."
"That's not a fair characterization of his decision-making. The Blackbeak's legs are almost identical, but I don't see you raising any alarms about their lack of strength. What really happened was that the Havalax had run headlong into a stumbling block and crippled itself as a result. Anyech would wreck its legs at those boosted speeds!"
"That just shows how short-sighted Mr. Dumont really is! He piled up all of that sprinting capacity onto his mech without implementing enough safeguards His design would have been better off without those boosters!"
All of this discussion became moot, as the only thing that really mattered was that Ves had won against Dumont. The boost in credibility that he received could not be underestimated. All of the extra media attention that came with his victory also helped profile his design.
The Blackbeak had become an iconic sight. Its amazing appearance and its stubborn refusal to collapse had become etched in the eyes of the spectators of the match. Even if most of the Republic didn't witness the duel, word of mouth insured that a lot more people started to hear about the design.
Ves decided to strike while the iron was hot and answer some questions from the media down at the press area. He left the elevated platform to allow Dumont to wallow in his pity and took a lifter platform down to where the reporters congregated.
"Mr. Larkinson! How does it feel to be a winner?"
"Fantastic, although I always expect to win at the start. I never doubted my mech and my cousin could prevail in the end!"
In truth, Ves bit his lip and clenched his fists plenty of times throughout the duel, but he didn't admit to having doubts. He wanted to portray absolute confidence in front of the press in order to enhance his design's mystique.
"How did you come up with the Blackbeak's striking appearance? Did you hire a sculptor to shape its external armor?"
"That's all me!" Ves proudly declared. "The distinctive appearance of the Blackbeak denotes its premium status as the Living Mech Corporation's gold label product line, which are available in limited quantities as they are all hand-crafted by me. More accessible versions of the Blackbeak will be released at a later date."
He answered a few more inane questions from the media before he sought refuge at the backstage. Even then, a lot of people who managed to get in wanted to have a word with him. He finally pushed past the throng with his strong body and reached Melinda's rest room.
"Melinda! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." She waved away her concern as she lay sprawled onto a sofa, looking to the world as if she was a dead pig. "I'm just exhausted, that's all. That duel took a lot out of me. No offense, Ves, but I never hope to parade myself in front of the entire Republic again."
Ves took a nearby seat and turned to gaze at his fellow Larkinson. Melinda looked sweaty and drained in her piloting suit. Even though the duel only lasted less than twenty minutes, the import of her decisions took a toll on her psyche.
"How did it feel to pilot the Blackbeak into battle?"
"It's... sublime." Melinda responded as she struggled to find the right words. "It's an unforgettable experience. I already got a taste of your mech during practice, but bringing it into an actual fight is something else. All the other mechs I've piloted in my career have never responded as smoothly as the Blackbeak. It's as if I reached a higher state of being. It's probably why I delivered my best performance as a pilot up to this point."
The Blackbeak worked as intended, then. Ves smiled at her. "That's the kind of product I've been itching to design from the start. I wanted to design a mech that can work together with its mech pilot. Too many designs out there promise to be the fastest or strongest mechs in their class, but ultimately lack too much balance to make them live up to their potential."
"Can I have a mech like that too?"
"Not yet." He shook his head. "I can't give them away like candy, you know. Ask me again a few years later."
Ves left Melinda to recover on her own and entered an armored shuttle that brought him back to Marcella's brokerage. He already received a number of important notifications on his comm including a request to attend an emergency board meeting to discuss the imminent future of the LMC.
He found it kind of annoying that the board decided to convene without his permission, but the circumstances really did call for a major shift in direction. Ves walked past the foyer and entered the elevator up to the mech broker's office.
"Ves. You're here! The board is already waiting. Let's enter the conference room."
The conference room in her office looked swankier than his own. Various precision models of past models adorned the crevices in the walls. Ves paid little attention to those details and took his seat at the head of the table. The projectors flared to life as soon as he did.
A total of eight people had gathered to discuss the the dilemma facing the LMC. Marcella took the word.
"As you know, Michael Dumont issued a challenge to Ves." She began. "Unless you've been living under a rock, then you already know the outcome. Right now, both the Blackbeak and Ves have gained prominence throughout the Republic, but that won't last for long. With how fast the media works, any attention directed to us will fade by the end of the week."
"How are our sales faring so far?"
"We've sold out our initial production run of twenty-five gold-label Blackbeaks." Ves responded. "It will take a little less than two months to complete this order."
"That's not enough! Mrs. Bollinger, how high is the demand for the new model?"
"They're constantly knocking at my door. My estimate is that if we prepared five-hundred mechs, we could have sold them out within the day. This is only possible due to all of the hype that followed the duel. Our failure to meet this spike in demand will potentially cost us billions of credits in lost opportunities."
The news sounded very painful to Ves. By failing to build up a stockpile or declining to expand their production capacity, the LMC effectively waved away an opportunity to cash in on their fifteen minutes of fame. While they didn't actually lose any money, their lack of preparations effectively meant they flew past a pile of free cash.
"There's a way for us to salvage this situation." Another director stated. "I've proposed this before, and I think it deserves another chance. We should partner up a third-party manufacturer and leave the mass production of the Blackbeak up to them. I know several parties in Bentheim that will be eager to enter a contract with us for the right to produce a popular design."
Ves liked to maintain control over his own products, which was why he rejected the suggestion out of hand. The director's ties to those mech manufacturers also seemed rather shady.
He shook his head. "I'm still have a lot of qualms about the quality of the products by an external manufacturer. Any major defects will reflect back to us, which will tarnish our reputation as a premium mech manufacturer."
Sadly, out of all the board members, Ves remained the sole holdout on this topic. Every other board member including his own grandfather indicated that they wished to outsource production!
"Ves, I understand why you treat the company that you founded like a baby, but you are stifling its potential." Marcella explained to him. "There is nothing unusual about contracting out the production of a design. That's why the license model exist. Any faults resulting from shoddy fabrication will mainly reflect on the contracted company. We'll only get the blame if your design is at fault."
The meeting somehow moved on to inspecting a handful of quick-thinking mech manufacturers that applied to mass produce the Blackbeak on the LMC's behalf. They all wanted to waive the massive 3 billion credits licensing fee in favor of slightly higher per-unit royalty fees. All of the manufacturers had low-balled their offers, but many things could still be changed when they entered talks.
They narrowed down the list to three possible companies, one of which had been recommended by director from Bentheim. The other two manufacturers possessed their own merits, as they had a long track record of producing various models on behalf of other mech designers in decent numbers.
"Maybe we should contract all three of them?"
"That's not a good idea. We don't know how the current tide in demand will last. The Blackbeak is still an expensive design. Even if you lower the price to 50 million credits, there aren't enough buyers in the local market to snap them all up."
"Then we should expand our reach throughout the entire Komodo Star Sector! The Blackbeak has proven itself in battle. I'm sure that we can find some foreign partners to work with to make that happen."
"Let's not move too quickly." Marcella cautioned the high-flying directors. "First, we have to solve our problems close at home before we can think of entering another market."
Despite the Bentheim director's clamoring to hand over a contract to his preferred firm, the board decided to pit the three companies against each other by allowing them to enter some kind of bidding process. The mech manufacturer that offered the most attractive conditions won the opportunity to enter into a contract with the LMC.
"What do you think, Ves? Do you agree with the plan we've hashed out?" Marcella gently prodded him. She knew how sensitive he could be about this issue. "The best way to go forward is if you establish another product category that sits below your current silver label offerings. Let's call it the bronze label. This can be an exclusive label that you can apply to mechs made by outside parties."
Ves had remained silent throughout the discussion. He still felt rather ill about the whole thing. Bronze label? He might as well call it the trash label. However, deep down he knew that his company would be better off if it could borrow the production capacity of another mech manufacturer.
He bent his head until his chin hit his chest and considered the matter deeply for a few minutes. Eventually, he gave up. "Alright. Let's contract the bronze label to a third-party manufacturer. I do want to add that the contract better include strict language on quality control."
The board had been waiting for that answer. With his assent, they formed a brief set of goals for the coming month. While Ves adjusted the BP-A-01's design for mass production, the LMC had to find a partner by the end of the week.