The entire convoy went up in arms about the sudden discovery.
Cargo ships and carriers converted from cargo ships generally didn't possess great sensors. If they all detected strong readings of exotics at a distance of five light-hours, then the planet up ahead must be riddled with highly active exotic substances.
So high, in fact, that it must be worth as much as the gross domestic product of an average third-rate state like the Bright Republic.
Commander Leife, the woman in charge of the convoy, convened a hasty conference among the ship captains and senior mercenary officers.
She gazed at the eyes of Captain Spencer before glancing at the various projections of the other men and women. Almost every ship belonged to a different owner, complicating her efforts to rein in their impulses.
She reserved the most wary looks to the other two mercenary commanders in the convoy. Both of them rode in medium-sized carriers that would be able to overwhelm the Calcardon if they teamed up against the Barbed Lynxes.
"First things first. You all shut off your quantum entanglement nodes, right? It's not enough to flip a switch. I hope you all disconnected the hardware from the rest of your ships."
All of the captains nodded seriously. They all knew that as soon as they discovered something valuable, the first thing they had to do was to prevent it from spreading all over the galactic net.
Turning off their quantum entanglement nodes had been their first or second actions upon receiving word of the momentous discovery.
"Alright folks, we all know why we're here. Let's talk about the Glowing Planet."
They called it the Glowing Planet, for its very visible luminescence that lit up the planet like a star. At this distance, it could be spotted from the naked eye, which was very rare for a rogue planet drifting in the middle of interstellar space with no nearby star to reflect its surface.
It was as if a juicy pheasant decided to put on a coat of bright lights to make it more attractive to another predators that wanted a taste of its flesh.
Captain Spencer began to summarize the estimates the entire convoy had made so far. "The Glowing Planet is about the size of a small planet or a large moon. We're not quite sure if it started off as the former or the latter before it got pushed out of its star system. Whatever the case, the trauma of the event has warped the planet to the point of tearing up its entire shape."
A projection appeared of the Glowing Planet in question. The planet took on a slight egg-like shape as if it had been stretched by a pair of god-sized hands. The stretching caused the entire crust of the planet to crack, which inadvertently revealed rich deposits of exotics.
A mercenary officer rudely interrupted the briefing. "Let's skip all of the nerdy stuff and get to the real question that matters. How valuable are those deposits?"
"Not as much as you'd think." Captain Spencer cautioned. "The planet likely originated from the galactic heartland instead of the galactic center, so it mostly contains junk exotics."
Everyone's faces started to fall. So-called junk exotics referred to valuable materials that ranked at the bottom of the hierarchy of exotic materials. While they held significant value in even smaller quantities, they couldn't be relied on to construct a quality mech without pairing them up with other, more valuable exotics.
That said, the planet still represented a floating mound of cash in space. Captain Spencer passed around a list of exotics they detected so far. "There isn't anything exciting in this list, but what's notable is that all of these exotics are getting harder to import from the other Star Sectors. This means that the Friday Coalition and the Hexadric Hegemony will be sending out a massive fleet to secure the Glowing Planet as soon as they hear about its existence."
That sent much of the people present in a tizzy. The two dominant second-rate states of the Komodo Star Sector often took what it wanted by force.
Commander Leife already made her decision. "Considering the spotty history of those two states, I suggest we don't sell the coordinates of the planet to either of them. The planet is valuable, yes, but not so much that they will feel obliged to thank us for the tip."
None of them objected to her decision. The Hexadric Hegemony was famously hostile to outsiders while the Coalition was too fractured to present a united front. Some of the more despotic partners might even decide to kill them all off in order to keep the coordinates under wraps.
"Who can we turn to then to sell the coordinates of the Glowing Planet?"
The question resulted in a brief tug-of-war as the captains and mercenary officers proposed various possible powers. Complicating the matter was that nearly every ship in the convoy came from different states. This allowed them to cross various borders without problem, but it also complicated the decision on who to approach.
Commander Leife personally preferred to sell the coordinates to the Bright Republic, but another captain who hailed from the Vesia Kingdom insisted on approaching them instead. Various rivalries came to the fore as each captain wanted to take this opportunity to earn kudos from their home states.
"This is getting nowhere." Captain Spencer slammed the table with his fist. "I don't think we'll be able to sell it to a single state without pissing someone off. Who can tell if any disgruntled captain won't go behind our backs and reconnect their quantum entanglement nodes again?"
"Then who should we sell it then?"
"Maybe someone neutral, like the MTA or CFA. They maintain a standard policy concerning these kinds of discoveries. They always keep their word."
"Yeah, but the rewards they hand out amount to nothing more than a pittance!"
Spencer nodded in a grave manner. "It's just a flat finder's fee instead of a percentage of the gains."
Nobody could hide the greed in their eyes. Who hadn't heard of stories where entire crews grew rich overnight by discovering a lucky find and negotiating a share of the profits of the resulting venture?
It was one of the stories that always perpetuated into legends. Every space farer hoped to stumble onto a find like the Glowing Planet.
Some of the more conservative captains expressed support at the idea of approaching the MTA or CFA, but others who wanted a bigger payout clung on to alternatives. The entire discussion reached a deadlock, with no possible compromise in sight.
Commander Leife tiredly rubbed her eyes. She knew as well as anyone present that if they tried to impose a decision, that there'd be rebels who would secretly try to sell the information behind their backs. None of the mercenary corps in the convoy maintained any significant security officers aboard the cargo transports to maintain sufficient control.
"Alright, this is clearly getting nowhere." She said, interrupting the latest argument between two rival ship captains. "Instead of picking one state over the other, why not sell the coordinates to as many states as we can? Heck, it doesn't even have to be a state. Sell it to a major corporation or a pirate group, I don't care."
"That's a great idea." A rival mercenary commander remarked. "We can all earn our paydays because the people who we are trading with won't want to let the other states know about the coordinates."
"We can't keep selling the same coordinates over and over to anyone we approach. The people who are negotiating on behalf of their states aren't stupid. They'll force us to sign a non-disclosure agreement."
"Then make it clear that you're only selling the coordinates on behalf of your own ship or mercenary corps! That will surely hasten their urgency, since the longer they try to stall, the sooner their rivals will send out a fleet."
That last bit proved to be a little bit controversial, but eventually everyone adopted the idea. Without a central leader to impose total control, it was best to let the individual leaders try to earn their own paydays.
As soon as the meeting ended, every captain scrambled to reconnect their quantum entanglement nodes. Aboard the Calcardon, Captain Spencer already left the conference room in order to race down the decks to supervise the procedure.
As for Commander Leife, sent a mental apology to her home state. The Glowing Planet had currently drifted into the nominal borders of the Bright Republic, and would only depart from their territory a couple of years later.
With the heightened state of tension between the Republic and the Kingdom, she suspected that this discovery might end up being the spark that blew up the tentative peace between the two. She felt as if she betrayed her home.
"I'm sorry, but I just want to earn a fair share."
While the convoy started to sell the valuable coordinates of the Glowing Planet, back at Cloudy Curtain, Ves proceeded to reduce his backlog of orders.
He wiped the sweat from his brow as he left the cockpit of his latest Blackbeak. He fabricated it in record time, having managed to reduce the time needed to complete a copy down to two days instead of the three he needed from the start.
Of the entire fabrication process, Ves always loved the very end, where he entered the cockpit in order to affix the gold labels underneath the center console and affix one of Lucky's gems in place.
He could have left the job to a simple bot, but Ves enjoyed the personal interaction between himself and his mechs. Every machine he completed in this manner solidified the direction of his nascent design philosophy.
Slowly but surely, Ves began to lean towards a lifelong quest to maximize the value out of every single mech produced from his hand.
"How many mechs have I made so far?"
"This is the tenth copy out of the current batch." Chief Cyril answered as he arranged to transport the newly completed mech from the workshop. "You've got nine more to go before you're done."
Less than a month had passed since the duel. Much had changed since that time. The outcome of the duel had far-reaching effects for the LMC.
First, the Blackbeak proved to be an enduring success. When mech portals managed to get their hands of the rare and exclusive gold label Blackbeaks, they gave out universally positive reviews. Even if their price leaned on the higher side, the gold label mechs remained consistently in reasonably high demand.
Unfortunately for Ves, the bronze label versions received a mixed reception. The first copies of the Blackbeaks fresh off the EME's production lines proved to be rather rough. Neverland's company faced a stiffer learning curve than they expected due to the difficulty of working with the alloys used to form the Veltrex armor system.
EME actually lost more money than they gained due to being forced to replace the defective armor plating after they already sold the mechs.
Ves silently cursed the greedy Mr. Neverland. If the third-party manufacturer had caught the defects before they sold the mechs, they would have been able to recycle the faulty plating and recoup the majority of the costs. But no, Mr. Neverland skimmed on the quality control in order to cash in as quickly as possible.
"How is Carlos doing at EME? Has he finally managed to get a grip on their quality control?"
"He's been trying." Chief Cyril replied. He regularly kept in touch with Carlos in order to mentor him about how to enact changes without being too direct. "It's difficult to suggest any meaningful changes without stepping on their toes. Neverland is very self-absorbed for a mech designer, but what works for his Klemsons doesn't always fit with the Blackbeaks. Their armor systems are just too different from each other."
Ves considered laying down his work to take another trip to Bentheim. "Carlos has to find a way to get Mr. Neverland to listen."
"That's a tall order for Carlos. Neverland isn't inclined to listen to a failed mech designer."
"The man should know that Carlos speaks on my behalf. I expressly insisted in the contract that the EME should seriously consider any suggestions made by any liaisons we send out."
"Good luck trying to enforce those terms without pissing Mr. Neverland off."
Despite his grumbles, Ves was reasonably content with the arrangement. He already expected some hiccups at the start.
The EME already managed to produce a total of thirty mechs since the LMC extended the license to them. That was already far more than what the LMC could achieve at it best. The third-party manufacturer's four production lines pumped out enough mechs to satisfy the most urgent demand for now.
Quality went up with each additional mech they produced as well. Reviews started to turn positive again, to the point where demand for the model increased.
It would have been better if Dumont didn't come back from the dead.