The Vintage Festival took place at a city called Ansel. Situated far away from the bustling metropolis of Dorum, Ansel offered more established mech designers a place to do their business. It became particularly renowned for its Ansel University of Mech Design, an educational institution solely dedicated to teaching the art of mech design.
Even though Ves studied mech design at the Rittersberg University of Technology, in truth its mech design course wasn't all that great. The AUMD held a lot more prestige in the mech industry due to its deep connections to the local mech industry.
A tight network of influential alumni regularly contributed to the prestigious school with lectures, tours, internships and even exclusive textbooks. Each student who graduated from Ansel's mech design course received numerous lucrative opportunities that gave them a head-start in the industry.
A fleet of armored shuttles escorted by several mechs on foot reached the city after several hours of travel. Many other transports heading to Ansel enjoyed protection so the fleet attracted little attention.
Ves left his shuttle after they arrived at the local convention center. Meanwhile, Raella and Melkor stayed in their mechs and went ahead to his show booth. The organization allowed Ves a single armed guard to accompany him.
"Looks like we made it in time." He said while carrying Lucky.
Not a lot of people had arrived in the morning. Ansel's distance from Dorum led to fewer visitors who decided to stop by on a whim. This insured that the majority of the visitors held some actual interest in the theme.
The convention center consisted of a massive white-faced main hall with three different side halls spread in equal directions. The whole layout resembled a cross, with one leg bigger than the rest.
Every mech designer converged at the main hall first. Before the festival began, the managing director had some words to say. Ves entered the bright white walls illuminated both by Bentheim's sun and some added light sources. Gleaming metallic mechs in various shapes and sizes glistened in the light, mesmerising all who entered this opened halls.
Many of these honored lastgen mechs came from local hands. The neatly projected captions made it clear that half of their designers graduated from the AUMD. Even with the benefit of bias, Ves knew that all of the designs deserved their places of honor.
When he reached the end of the hall, Ves joined his fellow mech designers circling a stage. All of them stood still, mesmerized by the mech elevated to the highest place of honor.
"No way! That's the Reckoner!" A mech designer who just entered after Ves screamed out. "How can one be here?!"
The Reckoner was one of this generation's famed artillery mechs. Designed and sold in the heartland sectors of the galaxy, it turned into an iconic sight in the last forty years among the second-rate states that could afford it. Many of the mech designers present in the hall had never seen one in the flesh.
With its eight heavy spider legs and its relatively flat torso, the mech had been designed as a low-profile artillery platform. It only really possessed one single weapon, a thick, extendable howitzer that fired off massive explosive shells or railgun projectiles depending on its configuration.
Entire cities turned to ruin after a single Reckoner unleashed its entire payload. All of this the artillery mech accomplished many kilometers away. In truth, its heavy cannons barely stayed within the limits of acceptable firepower.
What impressed the designers here the most besides its presence here was its age. Various marks and scratch marred its faded camouflage coating. Even though Ves did not detect any substantial X-Factor, its worn-out components gave the Reckoner a special feeling of a machine that did its duty but tired of the job.
An hour went by as mech designers kept converging around the Reckoner. It must be the most expensive mech at the festival by far. Even Ves didn't dare to put a price on this mech. It was worth its weight in exotics as pretty much all of its components incorporated them in their construction.
As Ves patiently waited for the manager to arrive, Ves received a distinctive ping from his comm. He looked up his device and saw one of his apps informing him that another Society member was among the crowd.
The other member received the same notification and chose to home in on Ves. Minutes later, an elderly looking man approach Ves. "Knight Larkinson? My name is Reesc McDonnell, a Squire of the Clifford Society."
Ves shook hands with the elderly squire with a bemused expression. He couldn't quite get a grip on a Squire as old as Reesc. Every other Squire he encountered at Leemar only had a couple of years on him. The man sensed his confusion and smiled.
"Don't be so surprised. The Squires you've met at Leemar are mostly recent graduates that are trying to keep their options open. Those of us who come from outside Coalition space often blind themselves to the challenges of competing against actual Coalition citizens. Most of them will return to their home states after years of fruitless effort."
Unspoken in his explanation was that Reesc had likely been one of these dreamers. After finding out that his skills barely impressed the elitist Coalition citizens, he packed up his bags and shuffled back to the Republic in order to make a living. The fact that he languished as a Squire up to when his hair turned grey meant that Reesc didn't deserve any respect.
"My apologies. I'm not used to seeing older Society members." Ves replied. "As you've said, those that gathered at Leemar still have a full life ahead of them. If I hadn't already had plans, I might have lingered at Leemar as well."
They chatted a bit about their mech careers. Like Ves, Reesc entered a competition held by Leemar and managed to reach a notable rank. However, his foundation didn't amount to much, and he only reached the top 500 by sheer luck. Even after he gained access to the Star Library, Reesc never got to read a lot of books.
"Merits are simply too hard to come by!" The old man lamented. "I don't have anything to trade, so the only way I got them is by doing these tedious long-term missions. Even then, they only pay a handful of merits after you slave away for years. It's completely impossible to earn enough merits this way!"
While he agreed with Reesc's complaints, Ves pointed out an alternative. "Haven't you considered taking one of the riskier missions? They pay quite well for a couple of months of work."
"Absolutely not! The pay is better, but the conditions are awful! Mech designers like us belong behind a desk, not at some hostile alien planet while shells are raining down above our heads! Leave the battlefield work to the people who signed up to fight!"
As Reesc chatted on about his lack of opportunities, Ves increasingly came to dislike the stodgy Squire. The elderly mech designer had a golden opportunity to develop his skills and knowledge through trading merits for access to textbooks, and what did Reesc do? He squandered decades of his life performing the safest and most unrewarding missions imaginable!
Ves finally welcomed the arrival of the managing director. Everyone hushed their conversation and even Reesc had to shut his mouth. Everyone stared beneath the legs of the Reckoner as a small platform lifted upwards from below.
A much more distinguished gentleman appeared on stage. The man looked at the hundreds of mech designers gathered here today and nodded in satisfaction.
"It pleases me to see so many of you take part in my festival." The director began. "The last generation of mechs may slowly be forgotten, but our memories of this remarkable period will live on. Our job is to remind the public that the last generation will never be consigned to the archives!"
Everyone cheered in unison at those words, though Ves doubted everyone present here agreed with the director. He had the feeling that at least half of the mech designers had no other choice but to attend in order to make some last bit of money out of their aging production licenses.
The director went on to explain some practical matters after his opening. The organizers held different events each day in the main hall. For the most part, only Journeyman Mech Designers qualified to participate in the main exhibitions, so Ves tuned out the speech. He was mostly here to sell mechs instead of trying to gain prestige.
Once the director reached the end of his speech, the mech designers dispersed. The main hall became open to the general public, where the managing director officially marked the opening of the festival.
"I don't need to be here."
Like Ves, many of the Apprentices decided not to linger and headed to their booths in the side halls. As he walked to his booth, he glanced at the show models along the way.
Most of them appeared familiar to Ves. While he couldn't name their exact models, the Apprentices mostly licenced the same designs. All of them were prevalent in Republic space.
As with previous years, the quality of the show models left something to be desired. The harsh reality of setting up a business among thousands of competitors left many mech designers at the brink of their finances. A significant amount of show models consisted of bottom-tier frontline mechs. Some even sold for as low as five million credits!
Ves thanked his lucky stars that he ended up with a better start when his father gifted him the System.
Once Ves arrived at his booth, he beheld his three show models. The Mark II Eternal Edition, the Caesar Augustus Eternal Edition and the Marcus Aurelius all displayed their full glory with pride. The similarity between the three models betrayed their common origin, but the distinctive traits that Ves imparted in them allowed them to develop their own distinctive look.
"Wow! Who made these models?"
"Who would be so extravagant to license a comech?! Do you know how much it costs to fabricate a single of these machines?!"
"Whoever's bored enough to work with the Caesar Augustus design must be a moneybags or something!"
A dozen mech designers who occupied the booths next to the one reserved by Ves had gathered over. Compared the Caesar Augustus and its illustrious variants, their cheap mechs looked like ugly ducklings before a swan. Some of the designers grew jealous, hence the mildly snide remarks.
"Make way please! This is my booth!"
When Ves appeared behind their midst, the mech designers turned around. More than half of them became astonished at his age, while the rest figured that he was some sort of scion of a rich and powerful family. No matter their thoughts, they all smothered their words and politely parted aside.
"It's a pleasure to meet you! Where did you get your production licenses? Did you pay them on your own?"
"Are you interested in collaborating with us on a joint project? We'll give you the majority share!"
Ves mostly ignored the solicitations from his colleagues. At his level, he stopped taking notice of these low-tier designers. Even if they reached the Apprentice level through their talents or connections, they obviously didn't have much of a future like Reesc.
He turned around and regarded the crowd with a forceful expression. "Please disperse! You're blocking the way for my customers! The festival is just about to start, so you'll have plenty of time to admire my designs!"
A couple of designers found fault with his attitude.
"Who are you to tell us what to do?!"
"I'm older than you! When you were still in diapers, I've already graduated with a degree in mech design!"
Ves didn't fall for their trap. He stared at them wordlessly while holding a glowering Lucky. His dour face and his lack of response gave his fellow colleagues no opportunities to seek some benefits from him. They eventually walked away with bitter expressions.
After he put down Lucky to let his pet stroll about, Ves approach Antje who supervised the placement of the final props. Various projectors, posters, simulator pods and other gadgets occupied his spacious booth, all of which enhanced the shopping experience.
"Don't you think you brought too much stuff?" Ves asked with worry. In his eyes, all of these devices attracted attention away from his model.
Antje shook her head. "Your show models don't seem to have any difficulties attracting attention. You should worry more about catching the attention of your potential customers from admiring your designs."
Marcella's protege sounded a lot more optimistic than before. "Do you think they'll really catch on with the crowd?"
"I can guarantee you they will. Compared to the mechs of your neighbors, yours are the only decent ones in range. The contrast will heighten the appeal of your products."
Her words certainly rang true. Ves couldn't help but let out a smile as he looked forward to meeting his first customers.