By the time Ves exited the transit shuttle, he breathed in the fresh and moist air of his home planet. Bentheim might have been a melting pot of trade and business, but it did not fare well hosting so many people in such a small planet. He led Lucky and his floating luggage carrier onto a nearby aircar and headed back to his home.
His workshop already received its first deliveries of materials by the time he returned. The rest of the raw materials he needed to build a modified Marc Antony trickled in throughout the day. The new security system installed by SASS did their work and performed thorough scans of the arriving delivery shuttles and the containers they carried.
Ves already summoned up the design in his System's Designer program and optimized his first commercial design. He had advanced his skills a little bit since he first completed this design, so Ves took advantage of it to marginally increase his mech's speed and armor specifications.
"It's only been a few weeks but I've already advanced this much with my upgraded skills." The speed of his progress astounded him. Only true elites nurtured by more advanced states could improve this fast.
With 3000 DP on the line, Ves treated this fabrication task with utmost importance. He could not fail his second production. Not only would it screw up the mission, it could also leave a bad track record on his thin record. A fifty percent chance of failing a delivery was not a good way to build his reputation.
As his optimizations to the design was complete, Ves began the tedious task of starting his fabrication. First, he unpacked his raw materials and sorted them out. He checked each lot for their integrity and completeness.
Fortunately, despite having bought these materials as surplus from the open market, they had all been delivered as promised. The MTA took a dim view on such manipulations, so they guaranteed all the trades happening under their watch. With such a formidable backing to rely on, Ves had high expectations for the deliveries he paid good money for. He spent up to 18 million credits to get them to his workshop.
"Everything is prepared. Now I all I need is to get in the right mood."
His modified variant was still expected to fulfill the same role. However, its changed appearance demanded a slightly different set of priorities. Ves had to add the goal of looking good to his list of things to focus on when building the mech.
"I know the design looks great. All I have to do now is to convert that virtual projection into a very real entity."
While he set a firm deadline of 7 days, Ves did not rush his fabrication. He tediously drew out the most important task, which was fabricating all of the Marc Antony's parts without any errors. His familiarity with the process along with the consolidation of his fabrication skills allowed him to produce most parts without any issue.
The HRF armor plating took the most time to come into being, though once he knew all the knacks Ves encountered no risks in its formation. It had been designed with crude mass production in mind as the armor was supposed to be a cheap and highly processed armor variant.
To Ves, this was both an advantage and a disadvantage. The best part was that now that he knew how to form the trickier shapes, even braindead Ves could manage to produce a decent batch. However, Marlin Solutions who originally developed this formula had steered it towards making it as foolproof as possible, meaning that a lot of tedious steps in between had to be followed before the armor came into being.
In essence, its production still took a whopping two days out of his schedule. The mace and shield were relatively simple designs, yet their large mass and volume meant that it took a pretty long time for his aged 3D printer to produce all of their bulk.
As it took two-and-a-half days of fairly brisk production before he fabricated the rest of the components, Ves only had three days left for assembly. Luckily, the process of assembling a mech from its component parts was not a delicate process. Doing it right the first time laid a solid foundation for subsequent assembling runs, and as Ves only made minor changes to the design, he encountered very little issues.
The only real problem he faced at this stage was that he always had too little room for cabling and other delicate components. The Marc Antony partially inherited the crowded interior from its base model, and Ves could not do much about it even as he already made some attempts at alleviating the issue.
"This portion is the riskiest step of the fabrication cycle. I can't rush it at all. If I stuff in the cables with too much force, I'm liable to break something."
Thus, out of his expectation, Ves eventually completed the basic frame of the mech after seven-and-a-half days. While the mech looked awfully complete, Ves still had to add in Vincent's bling.
Luckily, all of the extras were nothing complicated. The lighting system was the most complicated system to install. Ves had not sealed his unfinished mech tight but left several holes in its plating. He could easily stuff in the internal lighting and emplace the wireless power transmitters in whatever nook and cranny that could fit such a small part.
The exterior lighting posed less of a problem for him. These thin, flat pieces had already been fabricated by a skillful artist Vincent selected. Ves had to admit the sharp, angled design was leagues ahead of his own pathetic attempts. The artist even managed to form them in a way that complimented the codpiece. It reinforced the masculinity of the mech.
After finishing the placement of the lights and attaching the crimson cape, Ves was left with the final piece. The codpiece lay on the ground, ready to be emplaced on his almost-finished mech. He hesitated for a moment.
"This is a bit embarrassing. Looking at it... it feels like I'm transplanting someone else's private part."
Still, in order to cap off his second ever fabrication, he had to complete this step. With a sigh, he ordered a robotic arm to grab hold of the codpiece and lift it up. The triangular decoration was not made out of exceptional materials, so the arm had no trouble lifting it up. When Ves made sure the alignment fit the design specifications, he pressed the final button and let the arm firmly attach the codpiece to its rightful place.
Ves let out a deep breath. The mech was almost completely done. He let his scanner bots scour the mech for any hidden faults while he stepped on a hover bot and lifted himself up to the cockpit. He did not forget to finish the last step.
He entered the cockpit and examined the small hole where Ves was about to place his next gem.
"What shall I choose?"
Though Ves had gathered a small collection of gems, none of them were noteworthy. Lucky still hadn't crapped out the exotic alloy he gulped out of the anonymous box that someone delivered to his address a while ago. Ves hoped that his gem cat would finish digesting the extraordinary materials and perhaps use it for this mech, but apparently he was too optimistic.
He opened the pouch he placed all of the gems he picked up so far and randomly sought out the most sparkling piece. It turned out to be an exceptionally sparkling zircon gemstone.
[Zircon of Minor Resonance]
Increases the tonal quality of a mech's weapon by 20% when installed.
At first sight, Ves thought he hit jackpot. After gathering so many gems that only boosted an attribute by one percent or less, he suddenly dug out a gem that improved something by as much as a fifth! Then he read the description closer and got disappointed. Tonal quality? Are you kidding? What the gem basically did was make a mech's weapon impact sound more pleasing!
Ask any mech pilot or designer if they cared how they sounded like. Pretty much none of them ever cared about it! Ves found the gem to be utterly useless other than looking pretty. Frankly, he was glad to get rid of it. Its appearance matched Vincent's vanity.
After installing the gem in its slot, Ves stroked the console of the mech for a moment. Sometimes, he still dreamed of piloting a mech. Then he looked at the darkened cockpit and thought to himself that he built every part of it by himself. Naturally, he used a lot of machines to get it done, but in these days that practically meant handmade.
"I'm going to miss you."
Ves left the cockpit of the mech and let the hover bot take him down. Pride swelled within him as he satisfyingly contacted the MTA. He officially finished fabricating his second mech. Now he just had to certify the mech and let Marcella ship it back to Bentheim on a priority cargo shuttle.
He opted to let the MTA's personnel pick up the finished mech without him this time. Ves doubted that Gertrude, the technician in charge, appreciated his presence.
"She's going to be pissed again when I interrupt her schedule with another certification process."
Still, Ves hoped his nascent contacts in the MTA could keep the curmudgeonly woman in check. With decent people such as Ryan Baldwin and Justin Chandler in charge of the Cloudy Curtain branch, Ves had no reason to doubt its integrity.
"By the way, that kind of begs the question why they are stationed in this backwater of a planet in the first place. They're way too good for their current posts."
Could it be that Ves was too short sighted? While the MTA didn't lack talents, he still felt as if Baldwin and Chandler's talents were wasted here. Hardly anything exciting went on in this quiet neighborhood. Perhaps they chose to be stationed here expressly for that reason. Or perhaps they were exiled.
Ves shook his head and stopped cracking his head over this issue. As a large, powerful organization that spanned the galaxy, the MTA's palace intrigue made everything that took place in the halls of Rittersberg look like child's play. An outsider like him had no business speculating about what happened deep inside the MTA.
While he waited for the certification to finish, Ves called Marcella.
The hefty woman's face popped up from his wrist projector with a tired expression. "Do you know how late it is back here in Dorum?"
"Ah, sorry. I forgot to check the local time."
"No worries, I was about to wake up soon anyway. I take it you've completed your second mech?"
"Yup, and it looks pretty good. The mech came off my assembler without a hitch, even with the extra parts."
"I've seen the designs. You didn't disappoint. I'll take care of the shipping and delivery on my end. You just make sure to get ready for your next job."
"You've already got another order lined up for me?"
Marcella shook his head. "The deal is still in its early stages. I won't expect any progress on that end for a week. All I can tell you that it's an order for multiple mechs, up to five at most possibly."
That was a very surprising piece of news. Ves still expected to meet single-mech orders. Having someone buy five complete mechs was a very serious commitment to a newly introduced design.
He calculated the sums quickly and figured out that the client could drop as much as a hundred-and-forty million credits in one go. That was a massive amount of money, and even if he left out most of that sum to cover his expenses and Marcella's commision, that still left him with forty million credits of gross profits.
"Forty million credits..." Ves already drooled about what he could do with such a sum.
He could proactively produce and start to stockpile his mechs in advance. No longer did he have to wait for advance payments to start procuring the raw materials. With the need for an advance payment gone, his mech would be much more attractive for prospective customers to buy. Marcella could also show off the real mech instead of rely on spec sheets and projections.
"Don't celebrate too early Ves. Not anyone is willing to spend so much on a lastgen advanced mech."
Now that he thought about it, the money looked too good to be true. Spending a large amount of money in one go for a new design from a novice mech designer was crazy. Either the buyer was swimming in credits, or he added some extra demands.
"What's the catch, then?"
"The buyer is an intermediary for another party. They want to conduct the trade without involving the MTA."
That sounded like trouble. The two pieces of information were not too remarkable if they came alone, but combined and it practically screamed dirty dealings. Marcella should have known this from the start and reject the offer out of hand.
"While I might be a new designer, but I'm not desperate to the point of selling my mechs to pirates."
"Now hold on for a sec, Ves." Marcella held out her hand. "It's actually not a pirate we're selling our mechs to. The intermediary is a familiar face around Bentheim. He's serving as an agent for some of the shadier mercenary corps, but he has a good reputation in so far that he doesn't deal with gangs with active bounties on their heads.
That abated his indignation. Instead of selling his mechs to thieves, rapists and murderers, he did business with regional powerhouses like Walter's Whalers. Was that still okay? Perhaps not, but the air of legitimacy these groups often sported made it less objectionable for Ves to produce his mechs for them. Though Ves still had a question.
"If these groups aren't so bad, why don't they approach you directly?"
"Intermediaries still serve their purposes. I have been talking to the representative on and off for the last week or so and he still hasn't leaked any details about his clients. The only thing you can do is to take a leap of faith.
Ves imagined standing atop a tall skyscraper while spreading out his arms. He ran across the roof and jumped off the lip of the roof. Would he be able to land safely, or go all splat at the end of his fall?
He resorted to his usual tactic when faced with a difficult issue. "Let me think about it. Since the deal is nowhere near being closed, let me consider it for a while longer. Just make sure they aren't doing anything too shady. I do not want to get into trouble with the authorities."
"Me too. I can assure you that I do not relish in attracting the attention of the Mech Corps. I'll be sure to vet their conditions in detail."
After talking about a few other minor issues, Ves hung up the call. Now all he needed to do was wait for his mech to be delivered to the Ricklin boy. He wondered whether his mech would see battle soon.
Ves was quite worried at Vincent's potential performance. Someone who thought it was more important to look cool than to pilot the most effective mech was not a normal pilot. Who knew how diligently he learned how to fight with a mech.