The war came sooner than Ves had thought.
The Vesia Kingdom formally declared war against the Bright Republic, and followed suit by making an offensive thrust at Halcyon Point.
"That's where Uncle Ark is stationed!"
One of the most illustrious Larkinsons in active duty, Colonel Ark Larkinson was one of the family's rare and precious expert pilots. Although he only experienced the tail end of the previous Bright-Vesia War, his hard work and lack of vices had steadily improved his skills until he broke through the threshold that had stumped so many of his fellow colleagues.
Rare for an expert, Ark had also been gifted with an administrative talent. With his dependable leadership and a reputation for fairness, Ark had also managed to climb the chain of command without losing his edge as an expert mech pilot.
Every member of the Larkinsons regarded Ark with pride. Whenever the public thought of the Larkinsons, they thought of Ark. Whenever the people thought of Ark, they thought of his family.
Many people considered Ark to be a star that would shine as brightly as his father Benjamin.
"Like father, like son."
"The other two expert pilots of the Larkinsons are senile. Only Ark is vigorous enough to have a hope at advancing to ace."
"Hah! Do you think it's easy to advance to an ace pilot? Besides their founding ancestor, none of them had ever gotten close to becoming an ace!"
"I wonder if we'll see the birth of any new experts among the Larkinsons. They pop up during every war so far."
Ark's overall excellence landed him an important posting as the base commander of Halcyon Point. This was one of the most central and strategic star systems along the border between the two states.
Even if the Vesians could easily bypass Halcyon Point and invade the other stars further into the Republic, the substantial amount of mech divisions stationed there could easily wreak havoc behind enemy lines.
The necessity of maintaining supply lines and the treat to their rear lines meant that Halcyon Point could not be left alone by the Vesians. Even as the Vesians sent out several smaller forces out to raid the surrounding star systems, they focused their main thrust on this stubborn nail that kept constraining their strategic offensive.
The Bright Republic had long known that the Vesians eyed the strategic star system. Both its placement and unique characteristics played a vital importance in keeping the surrounding territories in check.
In fact, the Mech Corps had already reinforced Halcyon's Point during the Glowing Planet campaign. The main reason why they didn't send out any further reinforcements to the Glowing Planet was because they had been deeply afraid that the Mech Legion would exploit the moment the Republic diverted their attention from their border defenses.
Due to the prevalence of observers in the star system, sporadic bits of news constantly leaked onto the galactic net. It was almost impossible to suppress the news and misinformation that emerged from the net.
So far, Ves found it difficult to distinguish between truth and lies.
"At least the overall trend isn't overwhelmingly in the favor of the Vesians."
As long as Halcyon Point stood strong, Ves did not have to worry about Ark. The expert pilot could take care of himself, and if worse came to worst, he could easily fight his way out of enemy lines.
What happened at the frontlines right now had galvanized the entire Republic. While the older folk greeted the war with grim resignation, much of the younger generation looked forward to doing their part to defend their homes.
Ves met with Jake in his office the next day. His COO informed him of an important event.
"The Ministry of Economic Affairs has gotten in touch with us. Right now, they don't expect us to fulfill any obligations, but the LMC has been put into notice. We should expect to be called up to facilitate the production of supplies, spare parts or even complete mechs any time now."
"This is bad news. We only have one mature production line. If the Ministry wants us to produce some of their war materiel, we'll be forced to halt our commercial ventures."
Exiting from the private market would have dire consequences for their market position. The LMC risked throwing away months of hard work.
Jake had a suggestion for that. "It's time we expand our production capacity. We have the funds to procure two or three more production lines."
"That's impossible unless you are looking at budget equipment!" Ves quickly replied. "I don't want to settle for subpar equipment. At minimum, the production line should cost around 3 billion credits."
At 3 billion credits, the combination of 3D printer, alloy compressor, chemical treatment machine and assembly system presented a fairly complete package. All four machines had to be good enough to shoulder the LMC's future production for the next twenty years.
Jake retrieved a data pad and handed it over to Ves. "I'm not suggesting such a thing. Considering our performance and our growth, I've been huddling with Primrose Mackarie on and off for some time. We've ultimately came up with two different financing plans."
"This is... leverage!"
The first plan amounted to borrowing lots of money. The LMC at this stage shone brightly, but it couldn't keep up with demand due to the bottleneck in production. Rather than wait until the company made enough profit to expand their production, why not move this decision forward and use other people's money to get the machines up and running now?
Naturally, taking a loan also meant exposing the company to further risks. If their sales slumped all of a sudden to the point where they couldn't meet the repayment terms, they risked losing whatever they put up as collateral, such as his highly valuable reconstructed Dortmund printer.
Although Ves possessed a natural aversion to loans, he understood that he might not have much choice if he wanted to stay ahead of the curve. The LMC desperately needed more production lines, but it would take too much time to accumulate the necessary cash.
"There is also another plan on that pad."
Ves briefly browsed the other document. "Selling my stock? Absolutely not!"
As a private company, outsiders found it difficult to place a value on the LMC. However, business analysts loved to speculate. Their estimates of the company's total worth had continually been adjusted upwards.
Last Ves had checked, the fortune tellers pinned the LMC to be worth around fifteen to thirty billion credits.
This was a huge amount. This was because it got a hold of a lot of expensive assets and licenses without incurring a huge amount of debt. The company also earned a lot of profits because its expenses were relatively modest if you left out depreciation.
The only factor that doused investor enthusiasm was that the company heavily relied of Ves. Once he stopped publishing successful designs, the LMC's would certainly collapse like a house of cards.
Overall, investors preferred to put their money in mech companies that employed a variety of mech designers. Even if one designer produced a flop, the other designers could pick up the slack.
Still, Ves hated parting with his shares. This was his company.
"I'll put the first suggestion up for discussion at the next board meeting. You're right that we have to expand our production quickly, but we have to be careful not to chew off more than we can handle."
Even if Ves didn't take out a loan, his company would still follow an upward trajectory. They'd miss a lot of opportunities if they took the cautious route.
Sometimes you needed to take the plunge. If he was okay with risking his life on expeditions, then he should not be too timid to allow the LMC to take some risks as well.
Jake agreed with that sentiment. "This is great news. I've also consulted with Chief Cyril and narrowed down a handful of choices for hardware to fill up our manufacturing floor. Take a look."
Ves browsed the third document on the pad. It contained a small list of different printers and other fabrication machines. He briefly ran over their specs and found them to be adequate, though they couldn't quite compare against his current setup.
"Their quality meets the standard, if only barely." He admitted. "These production lines should be equivalent to what EME is running, right?"
"That's correct. Your young friend Carlos has a deep understanding of their production lines when he acted as our liaison. It's a system that's similar to ours and it works. Why come up with our own when there's already a practical setup before our eyes?"
"Well, there's a danger to blindly copying other people's setups. I'll take these models into further consideration."
Right now, Ves had little time to spare for these issues. Even if he found it necessary to expand the company's production, he could leave most of the work to his subordinates. As long as he held the final say, the situation wouldn't grow out of control.
Once Jake left his office, Ves sent the list of equipment back to his chief technician and ordered him to write up a report of what the best setup would be. "Since he picked out all of the models, he should surely know which ones fit the company best."
He handled some paperwork after that. The outbreak of war had changed the whole fabric of society in the Bright Republic. Some of the wartime provisions already came to being, which meant that the LMC had to change the way it operated to comply with the restrictions imposed on the company.
The last thing the Republic wanted to see was a domestic company inadvertently supplying the Vesians.
An important notice arrived in his comm. The government finally approved the establishment of the Avatars of Myth.
"That was fast!"
Ves had the sense some bureaucrat rubber-stamped his application once they recognized his name.
Him having a personal force was no different than he Larkinsons forming their own fighting force.
Even though the Avatars of Myth had officially come into being, the outfit didn't have any members as of yet. Ves rectified this situation by calling up Melkor to his office.
Once his cousin arrived, Ves showed him the approval notice.
"Avatars of Myth, huh?" Melkor mused, trying to sound out the name. "I hate to say it, but your naming sense could use some work, because it sounds as if we're all trying to compensate for something."
Both of them laughed a bit. In practice, the names hardly mattered as long as they remained recognizable. Outfits with sillier names constantly appeared every day, like the Freckled Ponies or the Barbeque Saints.
"In any case, now that we've passed the most important roadblock, I'd like to fill in our roster." Ves continued. "Let's start by gathering a cadre in a single basic squad of eight mechs."
"It's easy for you to say so, but without any mechs of our own, I don't believe we can appeal any mech pilots that are skilled."
The vast majority of mech designers didn't own a mech. Those that did often owned cheap rust buckets worth less than 10 million credits. Ves had no need to incorporate such garbage mechs in his ranks. He wanted to form a crack troop of loyal soldiers, not a motley crew of mercenaries in all but name.
"Two of the eight mechs will consist of gold label Blackbeaks. As I come up with new designs, the Avatars of Myth will have first pick. Right now, a premium rifleman mech design is on its way."
Melkor frowned at Ves. "How long will it take?"
"Around three months."
"That's too long. With the war breaking out, the mech pilots who are worth their pay are rapidly being snapped up by the Mech Corps or the other outfits. I'll have to move fast if I want to secure some talents."
"You have full authority to use whatever to entice these talents to the roster. Just make sure they're loyal."
"That is a given."
"As for the mechs, for now I'll release some funds for you to purchase some other mechs. I'm fine with filling out our roster with other designs as a temporary measure."
"What's my budget?"
"Don't spend more than 30 million credits for each mech."
Leaving out the two Blackbeaks that Ves would supply on his own, that meant that Melkor suddenly possessed the power to spend 180 million credits. The mech pilot could hardly get a grip on the dizzying amount of money.
He had never spent more than a couple of thousand credits at a time!