257 Testing Grounds
The mech pilot proceeded to tread carefully in activating the mech. Ves noticed plenty of bots hovering at the sides of the chamber. They carried a number of emergency equipment such as fire suppressants and isolation materials should his mech start to malfunction.
Fortunately, the Blackbeak turned online as smooth as flowing water. The testing chamber's sensors and the diagnostics conveyed by the mech's internals conveyed no red flags. For now.
"All systems look green! Minor deviances have been reported with the power reactor. They are well within tolerances!"
Ves had a lot of confidence nothing would go wrong at the start. He meticulously checked the quality of his own work as he assembled it piece by piece. Still, he felt excited to see his hard work pay off by delivering a near-flawless performance.
The testing grounds performed a rigorous amount of testing in the empty chamber. The test pilot started making simple but meaningful moves. This could be something as simple as leaning forward or backwards, or as complex as balancing on one leg while extending out the remaining limbs.
That last move caused Ves to wince. The Blackbeak's leg had not been rated to handle all of that weight for long stretches of time. Still, his mech performed like a champ, taking the escalating levels of stress in stride. By the time the mech ran at full sprint while swinging its sword and shield back and forth, Ves relaxed enough to chat with the people from the testing ground.
"How large is the testing ground?"
"Oh, we have over twenty testing chambers and more than forty outdoor grounds and obstacle courses. Many of them are duplicates as we are constantly testing new designs. Our state-of-the-art equipment and galaxy-leading methodologies is praised by everyone in Bentheim. We frequently receive the most confidential test models from various famous Journeyman Mech Designers."
Interspersed between the somewhat exaggerated marketing speech, the people of the testing grounds revealed a genuine passion of getting their hands on the latest toys in the Republic first. The truly prestigious mech designers sometimes sent out a batch of half-a-dozen mechs for the testing grounds to wreck while gathering as much data as possible.
"You guys must be wrecking a lot of mechs!"
"Oh, it's not that bad. Any destruction is always carefully controlled in a way the remnants can be fully salvaged."
Once they finished the basic tests, the testing grounds moved the prototype to a second chamber. This one contained various mech-sized dummies and obstacles for the Blackbeak to sink its teeth in. Ves even recognized some cheap exotic alloys that must have been salvaged and reforged a couple of hundred times.
The mech pilot slowly moved to attack a basic target made out of wood. The flimsy material split like paper, hardly putting up an obstacle against the alloys built into the sword.
That soon changed as the pilot started swinging the sword against a progression of increasingly formidable materials. Ves sighed in relief once they went through the final plate of armor, which mimicked the toughness of a medium knight's chest armor.
"The sword has largely held up."
Certainly, it wouldn't be a good sword if it became chipped or blunted after tearing through the armor of a couple of mechs. Still, even the strongest swords could snap like a twig if wielded by an incompetent pilot.
The testing grounds spent the next ten days subjecting the prototype to a variety of conditions.
They ran the mech through an obstacle course until it ran out of fuel.
They subjected it to a hellishly hot chamber before dropping the temperature to below freezing point.
They overloaded the internals to see how much mileage the prototype could extract out of that extra power, but they quickly had to halt their attempts. The mech reached the point of irreversible damage too rapidly to continue this particular test.
Most of the time, the tests consisted of hour-long sojourns into waiting for a component to reach its breaking point. The testing grounds left the more destructive tests at the very end, where they finally placed the mech in front of a couple of turrets and fired at it with sadistic glee.
"The toughness of your mech's exterior is really good!" The same duty manager praised. "What a great armor system! Its compartmentalization isn't too shabby as well."
"The Blackbeak is still a knight. It's designed to take a beating."
The one thing they couldn't test was how easy they could repair it back to full. Ves lacked the time to go through such a round and the testing ground demanded a substantial price for such a service.
During his ten-day stay at the testing grounds, he found it remarkable how far they went to keep their confidentiality.
The same crop of testing personnel manned to consoles and performed the testing. The various testing facilities had been carefully screened, and even the outdoor grounds had been fenced in by obscuring electric screens.
Alongside isolation, the testing grounds also employed a mix of active security that actively swept the grounds for spying devices and unwanted visitors. Considering the clout of their regular customers, such precautions were definitely needed!
"I must say, it's a pleasure to test your first original mech!" The representative gushed as he accompanied Ves to the shuttle pad. "Yours is one of the most aesthetically pleasing debut designs I've ever had the pleasure of seeing on our grounds!"
"Thanks for letting me witness the entire process. It always hurts to see your own creation get hurt, but I've learned just as much from my observations as I've had from the data you've compiled."
"It's our pleasure to serve you. We don't often see mech designers possess as much passion for the craft as you, to the point where you've stuck with us for the entire ten-day stretch!"
That inadvertently told Ves a lot about how the well-to-do mech designers treated their own creations. He gently shook his head. How far would he go before he started to treat his mechs as commodities as well?
"Well, I'm very satisfied with your services." Ves thanked the representative as he reached his shuttle. "I'll think about bringing my next designs to you whenever I come up with something new!"
"You're welcome, Mr. Larkinson. The APMTG always stands ready to find the limits of your mechs!"
While the pieces of the prototype would be shipped back to Cloudy Curtain, Ves had to make one more stop. Marcella left after the first couple of hours since the testing began, but she regularly kept tabs on the results by remote. By now, she must have gathered enough data to prove that the Blackbeak was a solid design.
"It's too bad your Blackbeak doesn't perform that well in certain extreme conditions." Jake commented to him. "Knights have always shown historically poor performance in hot and vacuum environments, but your model is particularly bad at it. That may not be a problem in the Republic's market, but it will be greater hindrance should you decide to publish it beyond our borders."
"I'm not considering any expansions beyond the border at this point. Even if I do, I'll likely develop a cold-weather variant instead."
"Don't go overboard on developing variants for your own products. If there's a viable need, other mech designers will license your design."
"That sounds fairly unlikely." Ves replied. "I'm merely an Apprentice Mech Designer, and my design is being published at the tail end of the current generation."
"True. Most mech designers have already given up on the current generation and are waiting for the next one to arrive."
They had a fascinating discussion about what mech designers did to stay in business during these trying times. The more established entrepreneurs could easily sit back and rely on their existing catalog to generate a steady income. Newcomers had it more difficult.
Once they arrived at Marcella's brokerage, they went up to her office where she awaited his arrival. "Ves, please take a seat. We have important decisions to make."
"So what did you think about my prototype?" Ves asked as he dropped Lucky to the floor to run around while he took the center seat. Jake took the seat next to him and brought up a data pad that displayed the revised contract their negotiators hammered out.
"I have to admit, I'm impressed." The mech broker said. "I didn't think you'd be able to exceed the quality of your most recent products. Out of all of the products I've worked with, none possess as much magic as yours."
"Don't forget about its performance. I've worked hard and risked my life to acquire a set of high-quality component licenses. My mech's performance is on par with other currentgen models that are priced around 60 million credits."
"One could argue that Michael Dumont's latest model is a much better bang for your buck."
"The Havalax won't last as long as the Blackbeak when all hell breaks loose."
"It will take years before that becomes evident."
"Well, that's what marketing is for, right?" Ves pointed out. "I'm sure the benefits of my model will become clear as long as we put out the right message."
After some small-talk, they moved on to the revised contract. Ves skimmed over the clauses and found nothing that stood out to him, though he only understood half of the terms.
Meanwhile, Marcella clasped her hands and added a last-minute request. "I've been thinking about the cooperation we had so far and what we can achieve in the future. I think you have promise, Ves."
"What are you getting at?" Ves looked at his mech broker with a guarded expression.
"I'd like to take a personal stake in your business. Say, five percent of the LMC's shares."
Ves dropped the data pad containing the contract. Even Jake looked taken aback at this sudden demand.
"I'm sorry, Marcella, but I'm not short on cash right now."
"Hear me out, Ves. The current contract states that we'll be working together for at least twenty years. A lot of things can happen during that time, especially considering the Republic will be having their generational spat with the Kingdom. Times may become difficult for us, and that's why we need to forge a stronger bond."
Jake didn't refuse the suggestion out of hand. He looked intrigued and asked a pertinent question. "What are you prepared to offer in exchange for a five percent stake?"
"It's difficult to determine the LMC's current market cap. You're keeping your books close to your chests." She explained. "However, I have my sources, and I've also made a projection of your company's future earnings. I think it's fair to offer around 1.3 billion credits."
"That's a lot of money." Ves immediately replied, but he also revealed his misgivings. "But that doesn't sound enough. My growth is extremely fast compared to my competitors. Ten years from now, the LMC will be a completely different animal."
"Aren't you a little too optimistic? You've never lived through the last war, and from what everyone tells me, the upcoming one will be even more destructive. I'm also on the hook if a disaster falls upon your workshop."
They negotiated back and forth. Ves truly believed his company had a brighter future than the value that Marcella ascribed to it. Meanwhile, his mech broker believed that Ves severely underestimated the challenges his company was about to face in the next ten years.
Eventually, Marcella switched up her offer and decided to pledge 1.9 billion credits worth of marketing activities in exchange for a five percent stake and a seat at the board.
"Don't underestimate the value of marketing. It's essential to sustain your company's rapid growth phase. As your catalog and production capacity grows, you'll need to develop other channels to sell your mechs."
Jake made a subtle indication to Ves. His COO thought that Marcella offered a decent amount of value for what she asked. Ves let go of some of his misgivings. Still, the question remained whether he should issue stock or sell the ones he already had in hand?
"The Larkinson Estate won't agree with the decision to issue new stock." He responded. Before he joined the LMC, he used to be a retainer for the Larkinsons. He still acted as their proxy in a way. "Issuing new stock will dilute their ownership of the company below twenty-five percent. That's not in their interest."
In the end, Ves had to part with his own shares, reducing his ownership of the LMC from seventy-five percent to seventy percent. They slowly went through the paperwork and signed all the contracts. At the end of the day, the LMC welcomed another shareholder to the fold.
Ves rubbed his tired face. "I don't know if I made the right choice or not, but welcome to the fold. I hope you can help us grow into a fixture of the Republic."
The new agreement entailed significant changes in their cooperation. For better of worse, both of their fates became intertwined with the success of the LMC.