Ves personally watched on as the shipping company Marcella contracted brought the Phoenix Cry away. The loaders and bots carefully loaded the dark and red coated mech into a sealed and padded mech container. They carried it back to the spaceport and loaded it onto the next transport out to Bentheim.
With that out of the way, Ves returned to his workshop with Lucky. The cat enjoyed the time out, but now appeared to laze away for the rest of the day.
"You're such a lazy bones."
The cat drowsily meowed at him, not really paying attention to his words. Ves scratched the gem cat's chin before sinking down into his couch.
Before Ves got back to work, he wanted to rest a bit and recover from his high-intensity fabrication spree. He found it exhausting to constantly pay attention to his emotional mood when he shaped the Phoenix Cry. While he thought his mech successfully radiated the kind of aura similar to the best mechs he saw in Bentheim, it still remained to be seen if it generated more sales. The X-Factor couldn't be measured after all, so on paper his mech appeared worse than it actually performed.
"I can still do it once in a while, but not if I'm fabricating mechs each and every day." Even with the System, Ves remained a mortal. Unless he spent a shipload of DP on his concentration and endurance attributes, he doubted the exhaustion would go away.
"It's more important to shore up my skills instead of spending them on my attributes."
While Ves recognized that both options had their merits, the skills provided immediate tangible benefits. In this early stage where he was still on the brink of bankruptcy after one bad spell, he needed
"Oh well, I'll think about it tomorrow."
He took the rest of the day off. He avoided all activities pertaining mechs. Considering that he spent most of his life with mechs one way or another, he found it difficult to find something else to do. He ended up watching broadcasts until he slept through the night.
In the meantime, at a mech yard in the outskirts of Dorum, Marcella stood by with another person as they watched a drone drop off a mech container. Both of them looked proper and energetic. While Marcella wore her customary green formal clothes, the man besides her dressed a bit more flamboyantly.
"There it is, Captain Caruthers. Your new mech. The Phoenix Cry, the very first model of its kind in production."
The man grunted with anticipation. "When you told me you were prepared to sell me a mech with my criteria, I couldn't believe it. There's not a lot of advanced mechs available in the local market that's viable at range and up close, especially within my price range."
"The wholesale armor replacement my boy has done to your mech is the reason why it's so affordable. Don't get carried away thinking you're piloting a real Caesar Augustus."
"I'm confident in my skills. I've taken the model out for a spin plenty of times in the simulations. I know how far I can push this mech. As long as I don't hunt after the most notorious pirates, I'll be fine."
"The alternative armor is also cheaper to replace. You won't be breaking the bank with this mech as long as you don't let its core be damaged."
Some of Marcella's drones flew up to unseal the container and check if its contents matched the manifest. When everything checked out, the container opened to reveal a formidable-looking mech. The drones started removing the seals that kept the mech inert and its weapons cold.
"Wow. Playing around with virtual toys is one thing, seeing the real deal is another."
Even Marcella looked impressed. Both of them spent hours pouring over the spec sheet and the simulations of the Marc Antony. While recognizing the model's inherent flaws, they both admired its decent build quality and plethora of options. Marcella saw the potential in Ves with this polished design, so she made sure to get her hooks in early before some other competitor got their claws on him. Despite her good impressions of Ves' first work, she only regarded it as a transient design, something to get the mech designer's business running.
Even Captain Caruthers reserved some of his judgement on his new purchase. His bounty hunting outfit needed a frontliner, but not something that was helpless at range. While durability was important, he valued greater choice in offensive options more as he cross-trained in both melee and ranged weaponry. Finding a model in the market that paid equal attention to both was not difficult, but finding one that could take a beating and not cost a fortune was a challenge. He only settled on the Marc Antony due to a lack of alternatives.
When the pair both came closer, their awe increased. The mech managed to put out a pressure that was not inferior to the hand-built Caesar Augustus that Bosworth's proudly put on display. The dark tones of the mech darkened the bright day somehow. Its gold accents gave the mech a sense of class, while the red highlights along with its dark red tower shield gave it a martial presence. The mech practically exuded battle lust despite its deactivated state.
"I see what everyone means when they say that handmade mechs have their charm. I can see why the mech designer couldn't resist giving it a name. The Phoenix Cry… it's not bad, and it certainly fits."
"The mech designer won second place in this year's YTE. he might be young, but he has already shown he's a cut above the rest. You can't find a design with this much drive from an established mech manufacturer."
The captain whistled in appreciation. The more he looked at the Phoenix Cry, the more he felt he lucked out. "Before we arrived, I found myself doubting whether I should have bought a reliable mass produced model instead, but not anymore. This doesn't look like it came from the hands of a new mech designer."
Marcella brought up the mech's certificate and passed it to her client. "The MTA agrees as well. They put in hardly any complaints, and what they did note is well within limits. The mech designer took his time, but he delivered a solid product."
"I'm itching to take this mech for a spin."
"Be my guest. Here's the keys and codes."
The captain took a lifter that took him up to the cockpit. He pressed a button on his key device that signalled the cockpit's locking mechanism. After receiving a valid signal, the mech's chest parted just enough to allow the cockpit to open up a hatch. The captain squeezed through the tight fit and took a seat with practiced ease.
He admired the cockpit for a moment, still giddy at the thought of owning such an impressive-looking mech. The interior of the cockpit matched the grandeur befitting of a Caesar Augustus, though instead of majestic white the interior was mostly dyed in dark grey and gold. The only splash of red in the cockpit was the prominent button that booted up the mech.
Caruthers hovered a finger over the lustrous gem. He took in the luxury of it all, impressed the designer kept up the luxury even as he charged half the price of the authentic base model. It didn't quite fit, but that hardly mattered to him. It gave him some bragging rights when he showed the mech off to his friends.
The sheen of a gold plate shone just beneath the front console. Caruthers bent down in order to read the engraved words.
CA-1C MARC ANTONY
DESIGNED SOLELY BY VES LARKINSON
HAND-FABRICATED SOLELY BY VES LARKINSON
MADE IN THE BRIGHT REPUBLIC
The plate added to the handmade feel of the mech. Caruthers chuckled at the sight. He got too used to seeing cheaply stamped plates recycled out of scrap in his previous mechs. The cheap mass-produced mechs he piloted so far all tried to cut whatever corners they could in order to save costs. Forget about gold, sometimes the plates were made out of the cheapest synthetics.
Caruthers stopped fooling around and pressed his fingers softly at the matte but eye-catching gem. The mech hummed as its power reactor and engines came to life. The cockpit's illumination turned to life even as the neural interface engaged a connection with the occupant's brains.
The transition from a human body to a mech's stature should be highly familiar to the bounty hunter. Yet as he felt his mind sink into the mech, he encountered a depth that was deeper than any other machine he connected to before. The Phoenix Cry eagerly sucked in his mental awareness and gave it access to its deepest corners.
A wash of sensations flowed over his mind as he became accustomed to the new perspective. Piloting the mech in the virtual simulations only impressed him mildly. But from how deep and rich he established his connection just now, he became aware that the Phoenix Cry
"It's almost as if I'm connecting with a kindred mind instead of a soulless machine."
He discarded the notion as soon as it popped up. Mechs couldn't think, let alone influence his thoughts. The spec sheet clearly stated the mech hosted no AIs in its memory banks. The neural interface also passed the MTA's stringent tests, so his observations were not clouded by contamination.
Caruthers threw away all superfluous thoughts and finished up the booting process. He then took his mech out of the container.
Each step thundered the ground, enough that Marcella found herself forced back. The mech turned around and took up the mace and shield hanging on a rack. The heavy tower shield felt solid to him. It would serve him well as disposable protective cover.
The mace on the other hand was clearly subpar. Made out of HRF, the only thing the weapon had going for it was its weighty head and its low cost if he broke it. Nevertheless, he decided to replace it with one of his spare swords as soon as possible.
"Marcella, you don't mind me using the yard for a bit, right?" He asked over his comm.
"Feel free to push your mech!"
Caruthers eagerly moved around with his mech. He tested the Phoenix Cry by running and testing out its weapons. The laser cannons worked like a charm, and though he hadn't filled his shoulder launchers with missiles, he was certain nothing could go wrong with them. As for the mace, it functioned fine as a blunt force weapon, but since he was going to discard it anyway, he spent most of his time elsewhere.
What impressed him the most was the shield. Thick, heavy but incredibly solid and durable, wielding the tower shield gave him a sense of valor. He could already imagine himself wielding this shield on the battlefield, charging forward to meet the enemy head-on. While the HRF plating that made up the shield would peel fairly easily, he could easily commission a replacement if necessary.
"This is a mech made with the wallet in mind."
The cost-effectiveness of the Marc Antony made it into one of the cheaper advanced mechs available on the market today. Though the mech's advanced components were decades old, they still performed competitively against the models out today. In any case, the bounty hunting business had a tendency to wreck mechs long before they got too old to remain viable on the battlefield.
The bounty hunter exited the cockpit with a lingering desire to hang around longer. Still, he had some paperwork to go through before he could officially take up ownership of the mech.
"So how is it? Does it meet your expectations?" Marcella asked him with a smile.
"That, and more. The only thing it misses is my coat of arms on its chest."
"I'm sure you will become the envy of your social circle when you show off your new purchase."
"We'll see. I'm itching to test this baby out in the field."
As both sides noted no problems, they went through with the formalities. After signing a bunch of documents, Captain Caruthers officially owned the first mech produced by a young talent. He certainly knew that more than a couple of people might take interest in the mech's performance.
"Let them peek. I'll be sure to bring out the full strength of my Phoenix Cry."
Just as Marcella sent out her approval for the money transfer, Ves sat behind his terminal going over his numbers. His comm beeped loudly, interrupting him from filling out his ledger. He looked his comm and it stated that he received a notification from his bank. He stared at the message for a solid minute.
His account gained about 19 million bright credits from the latest transfer.
"I'm.. I'M RICH!" Ves burst out as he laughed at the sky. "Marcella actually did it! My mech sold for 28 million credits!"
He received an advance of 7 million credits when he contracted Marcella to be his broker, which he spent on buying the raw materials to fabricate his internals. As for the armor, Ves used the stockpile gifted to him by the System for completing the fourth tutorial. This allowed him to skip the 11 million credits required to buy all the goods necessary to refine the HRF armor plating.
His monetary gain therefore amounted to 19 million bright credits this time. For his subsequent productions, he had to put in 18 million credits to fabricate a new mech, which cut down on his profits. No more freebies from the System this time.
In any case, as Ves was already working on his accounting, he inputted his latest earnings and put his balance sheet in order. The mech cost 18 million to produce but sold for 28 million, which amounted to a gross profit of 10 million credits. Marcella skimmed 2 million credits from that figure already, so that left Ves with 19 million credits in cash.
The first thing he did was to transfer away 5 million credits to the bank. With only little more than two days left for the deadline to pass, Ves finally breathed easier once the enormous pressure from the bank disappeared. As soon as the bank returned a message to him that his obligations for the year had been met, he whooped again, waking Lucky from his nap.
"Haha, this is good news Lucky. We're not going to be kicked out on the streets!"
Lucky meowed disinterestedly.
"I'll also be able to afford shinier minerals for you to snack on!"
That caught the gem cat's attention. Lucky immediately jumped from the couch and acted cute by rubbing its body against his legs. After a short hug, Ves went back to his financial statement. Unfortunately, not all of the numbers he got resulted in good news.
From the 14 million credits that remained, Ves lacked the necessary funds required to produce another Marc Antony independently. He still remained dependent on Marcella's services, specifically her ability to demand a downpayment from her buyers to fund the production of their new mechs.
"I hope she won't have too much trouble with this condition."
Furthermore, if Ves wanted to budget his money responsibly, he should reserve some of his cash and put it into his piggy bank for future needs. Considering his looming financial burden, paying back the 350 million credits he owed the bank was a minor priority.
His perspectives already changed after his first transaction. Now that he showed off his ability to run a viable business, the bank should be easing off on him as well. The debt his father took on his behalf was not an entirely bad thing for the bank. They earned an easy amount of interest from his business each year, and as long as Ves didn't screw up, the money loaned was put to good use in the bank's perspective.
Considering that he could earn an average profit of 8 million credits each time Marcella sold his mech, the threat the annual interest payments posed to Ves diminished greatly.
The problem essentially changed from an angry elephant into a harmless mouse. He could squash the mouse whenever he wanted, but it was a bit troublesome to do so and required a bit of effort on his part. Rather than waste his time stomping the floor or setting up traps, he could let the mouse scurry around his pantry and steal a bit of his cheese from time to time.
What Ves was more concerned about was something that plagued every single business in the tech sector.