Ves decided to pick up a second-hand assembly system as well for the low price of twenty merits. Thus, he spent a total of a hundred-and-ninety merits on three machines that had seen a moderate amount of use.
He also enlisted the services of a hacker who could unlock the restrictions set on the processors for the Dortmund printer. After some haggling, Ves agreed to hand over three merits to the bot that represented the hacker. Ves handed over the processor chips that had been stored in the Barracuda over the past few months and heard that they'd be ready within a few days.
"Every problem appears trivial once you have a lot of wealth." He noted with a rueful smile as he exited the latest store. "Problems that keep me up at night can be solved with a single snap of the finger."
His shopping spree showcased the power of a few hundred merits. He successfully acquired a number of high-quality machines that delivered slightly better performance than most machines available in the Bright Republic.
"Together with the Dortmund, I've acquired a full ensemble of industrial gear."
What did that mean? It meant that from now on, his physical assets ceased to be a hindrance. If he wanted to, he could even fabricate the original Caesar Augustus with his newly purchased equipment.
Now, he had over two-hundred merits remaining in his account. While that sounded a lot, he also had to acquire a lot of component licenses. While some of the smaller components sold for only a couple of merits, the large amount of components added up to a frightening sum. Ves obviously had to set priorities.
"The three things I need the most to design a high quality knight is an armor system, a power reactor and artificial musculature. Together with Oleg's engine license, I'll have all my bases covered."
If he had any merits left after making those purchases, he'd settle on acquiring some decent licenses for some peripheral components such as ECM, energy cells and a cockpit.
As for the really minor parts such as gyroscopes, sensors and a transceiver, he'd settle for acquiring cheaper ones with credits. Hopefully he'd be able to save as much merits as possible in case he wanted to borrow some exclusive books from the Moon Library.
Ves found his shopping experience to be exhilarating. While the pricier products remained out of his reach, the product standard in Leemar ensured that even the cheaper offerings in the store could compete with what the Bright Republic regularly used.
The only problem he faced was that a lot of the parts for licensing required a large amount of exotics to work. Ves couldn't help the fact that the Friday Coalition ruled over the most resource-abundant territory in the Komodo Star Sector. Resources that were extremely scarce in the Bright Republic could be acquired for a reasonable sum in the Coalition.
In fact, many of the cheapest licenses consisted of badly optimized components. They only reached a reasonable level of performance by virtue of their extravagant use of resources.
Thus, even with an upfront price tag of a dozen merits or so, Ves would still lose a fortune over time as the production cost per unit racked up to a terrifying digit.
Thus, Ves had to ignore most of the deceptively cheap offerings and turn his attention to the more expensive licenses offered by the real experts.
This was where the strength of the LIT came through. As a major technological center for education and research, the Leemar Institute of Technology possessed connections to a vast network of scientists and engineers. Many of its alumni that went on to become successful component developers made some of their best licenses available to their alma mater at preferential prices.
Despite the discounts, the prices for the more decent-looking armor systems quickly ran up in the thousands of merits. The prices were so disgustingly high that it became obvious that they only catered to a breed of mech designers.
The products within a more affordable price range all came with various issues such as the problem mentioned earlier. It became very difficult for Ves to seek out a decent armor system that didn't break the bank.
"I can't go on like this. I have to give something up."
Some armor systems could be licensed on the cheap, but racked up many millions of credits in production costs.
Other systems offered reasonable prices in both areas but delivered mediocre performance.
Those that performed slightly better were so difficult to fabricate that his error rate would balloon to twenty-five percent.
Obtaining a perfect armor system that checked all the boxes was out of the question. Ves had to make a careful consideration on what he'd be willing to sacrifice.
"I'll be marketing my product to the Bright Republic, not to Friday Coalition, so I don't have to adhere to the prevailing standard of a second-rate state."
It pained him to lower his standard, but Ves concluded he made the right decision. As a young entrant in the mech business, Ves hadn't built up his brand to the point where the local market believed he'd be able to participate at the top segments of the market. A design that's too high-end would end up as another white elephant akin to the original Caesar Augustus.
The catalog looked a lot better now that he let go of his unrealistic standards. In order to future-proof his designs once the next generation arrived, Ves focused his attention on armor plating that withstood directed energy weapons a little better than usual.
Apparently, many other mech designers had the same idea. The prices for these valuable systems averaged around twenty percent over armors that specialized against absorbing shocks and kinetic impacts.
Against this scam-like market behavior, Ves could only grit his teeth in response.
The list of products that met his criteria still consisted of several hundred products. Ves spent an entire day pouring over the specs of each viable armor system. His decision had far-reaching effects for the immediate future of his mech career, so it was of utmost importance for him to make the best decision possible.
He settled for a rather boring choice. He chose a decently successful armor system that had been developed a decade or so ago. Though it was on the old side, plenty of mech designers who purchased the same system had nothing but praise for the armor.
"Thank you for purchasing the Burgens and Sons Co. Keltrex Avi E-33 armor system!" The cheerful sales bot exclaimed in a weirdly feminine tone. "A sales representative will be with you in a moment to establish a licensing contract! Please be patient!"
A few minutes later, a man emerged from the air. His antigrav clothes brought him straight to Ves. After shaking hands, the sales representative offered him three different variations of the licensing contract. The variations gave Ves more favorable terms depending on his production pattern.
If he intended to engage in high-volume production, it was worth it to spend some extra merits to lower his per-unit fees.
On the other hand, if he only intended to sell a dozen or so mechs a year, then he could take a discounted contract that put hard limits on how many times he could fabricate the Keltrex.
While Ves didn't plan on establishing a huge production plant, he did aim to achieve a sales figure of at least a thousand mechs a year. With his new and refurbished equipment, his workshop should be able to reach this ambitious goal.
"I'd like to sign the standard contract, please. I don't want any restrictions and I don't need any additional privileges."
"A good choice, Mr. Larkinson. The upfront fee for the standard contract amounts to seventy-five merits."
Ves transferred the painfully high price tag with his comm. This was only the beginning. Since they signed a contract in Coalition space, Ves had to transfer his production fees in cols instead of bright credits. The cost per copy amounted to 30,000 cols or around 3 million bright credits.
He winced at the thought of throwing away so much credits whenever he fabricated a copy of the Keltrex system. The much cheaper HRF armor system that he currently used for the Mark II only demanded a modest fee of around 100,000 bright credits per copy.
Still, he didn't regret his choice. Among the cheaper armors available in the shops, the Keltrex system happened to require exotics that were relatively abundant in the Bright Republic. Ves didn't have to import rare resources from far-flung states in order to meet his production needs.
In this regard, the higher-than-average per-unit fee was a worthwhile sacrifice to make.
"I still have to pay a fortune for the raw materials alone. It gets worse if I have to fabricate a set of armor for a knight."
Knights piled up on a lot of armor, more than any other archetype. Ves already calculated that he had to spend a whopping twenty million credits just to fabricate a standard set of knight armor. Worse, the cost might reach even greater heights if the cost of raw materials continued to rise.
Since Ves set a target sales price at around 60 million credits for his original design, the ludicrous expense was still somewhat bearable.
Fortunately, the Keltrex system brought a lot to the table. Burgens and Sons Co. developed several variations of its Keltrex series. While the Keltrex Avi E-33 was one of its cheapest offerings, it still enjoyed some of the advantages of its more expensive cousins.
The biggest attraction to Ves was that it didn't weigh too much. While other systems relied on large amounts of conventional alloys to make up for their disappointing formulas, the Keltrex used an ingenious formula that brought out the full strength of their special alloys.
"It's not only great for knights. I can use the same armor system for other types of medium mechs."
Its versatility allowed Ves to use the same production license in multiple different designs. This allowed him to save a lot of money in the long run.
The same went for Oleg's Trailblazer engine, though it did shoehorn Ves into designing mechs that fit its traits.
Ves shopped for other component licenses with the same thought in mind. With thirty-five merits remaining in his budget, he quickly acquired a relatively boring set of component licenses for the ECM, energy cells and cockpit.
With his most important purchase behind him, Ves relaxed and took his time browsing for a decent power reactor and artificial musculature license. After another day of contemplation, he handed over thirty-five merits for a satisfactory pair of component licenses.
While their specs fell fell a little short of the Trailblazer engine, the one area they excelled in was endurance. They'd be able to withstand a decent amount of damage and keep running.
"I only have a hundred merits left."
He considered spending them on other component licenses, but eventually stuck to his original decision of holding back a reserve. "If I can't acquire the rest with credits, I can still spend my merits later."
At this stage, Ves hadn't even drafted up a preliminary sketch of his original design. If he purchased a complete set of component licenses before he even drew up a draft design, he'd be liable to shoot himself in the foot.
"What I have now is enough."
Ves acquired the most essential components to start his draft. With the Trailblazer engine and Keltrex armor system at the core, he acquired all the essential ingredients to bake a great cake. It was up to a great cook to process these ingredients and incorporate them into a well-designed dish to bring out all of their qualities.
Now that he completed his shopping, it was time to return to Cloudy Curtain. Ves held Lucky in his arms and hailed an aircar that brought him back to the Barracuda.
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