No matter how many times Ves showed off his hand-crafted mechs, he never got tired of their dumbstruck faces. The snappy reporter from The Republican Mech practically dropped his jaw as he experienced the full brunt of their overlapping auras.
Nothing prepared his audience for this experience. Even those who witnessed his limited editions models at the Vintage Festival thought that Ves had could only achieve such results through herculean efforts.
The Blackbeak models right in front of them proved them wrong. Though they consisted of limited-issue gold label mechs, their powerful X-Factor exuded so much impact that even bots might fizzle out for a nanosecond or two.
"Impressed?" Ves asked the silent crowd. "This is just the start."
He snapped his fingers again, causing the mechs to come online. Their eyes glowed menacingly red while the feather-shaped shoulder pauldrons glowed in various shades of grey while leaking out a faint trace of dark vapor.
It took a lot of wrangling with the exhibition hall to pull off this stunt, but it had been worth it as the audience received a double whammy. Much like the rolling cape for the Marcus Aurelius, the miasma leaking off the Blackbeak drastically enhanced its visual presence.
The gloomy tones of black and grey made it look like the Blackbeak had emerged from the depths of the underworld to haunt the living in an inexorable march. The sword and shield affixed to their arms added an additional feeling of threat, and the phoenix-themed engravings on their surface only reinforced the myth.
"This is the Blackbeak BP-A-01, an offensive knight mech I've designed as the culmination of my experiences and insights into knights." Ves declared in front of the still-stunned crowd. His words served to pull them back from their fascination and hang onto his words. "It is a design that embodies the will to survive by any means possible!"
A new ensemble of projections appeared. They consisted of highly realistic combat simulations that showcased the Blackbeak's performance under a variety of conditions.
In one projection, the Blackbeak dueled against a swordsman mech. The latter mech had the edge in power and speed, but its sword failed to circumvent the Blackbeak's moon-shaped phoenix shield. The offensive knight grinded down the hapless swordsman mech over the course of a couple of minutes.
Another projection showed the Blackbeak as the forward element of a long-ranged deep-strike squad. They encountered a hostile patrol of defending mechs and became entangled in a fight. The Blackbeak showcased its defensive prowess by enduring a withering barrage of long-ranged fire with its shield and its armor. The Veltrex armor system held up long enough for the squad to gain a decisive edge.
Yet another scenario proved to be the most compelling. It showed a time-lapse of the mech being used in a low-intensity war. Each time the Blackbeak deployed on the battlefield, it gained additional scars and battle damage. Each time it returned to a workshop, the mech technicians fixed it up with ease.
Such a sequence of events didn't sound so interesting, but it kept repeating over and over. The battlefields changed, the allies it fought alongside changed, but the Blackbeak remained the same, bar a few choice customizations it picked up along the way. Over the years, the frequent cycle of deployments and repairs had morphed the original model into a formidable beast.
The Blackbeak evolved over time. Rather than degrading due to faltering integrity and heavy wear-and-tear, the mech's robust internals allowed it to soldier on. Just when you thought it reached the point of no return, the mech technicians figured out a way to keep it running.
"Featuring the leading second-class Keltrex armor system, the Blackbeak is a formidable knight that is capable of withstanding enormous amounts of punishment without flinching. Its lean construction along with the revolutionary Trailblazer engine delivers performance on par with Coalition mechs but at the fraction of the cost."
The scenarios faded out and a simplified wireframe schematic appeared over Ves. The lines denoting armor system and the engine blinked in green for a moment before he addressed the other components.
"The fuel-based power reactor runs on medium-density mech grade fuel, enabling the Blackbeak to operate on the field for an extended amount of time before requiring resupply. The design's overall energy efficiency is top-notch, and it will take substantial effort to force the Blackbeak to run out of fuel."
"The energy cells are optimized to carry medium-density fuel and can withstand a lot of punishment before they break. There is almost no chance of explosion since the mech is programmed to eject any fuel cells if their integrity is at risk."
"The artificial musculature is of a highly durable make, and is meant to last under substantial abuse…"
"The cockpit is a safe design that features additional armor and enhanced ejection systems…"
"The second-class ECM will dominate most other targeting systems on the battlefield…"
"The embedded shovel integrated in its back can be detached and used as an impromptu entrenching tool…"
Ves ran down the specs one by one. The second-class components impressed the crowd the most. Even the industry insiders found it noteworthy that a young Apprentice Mech Designer got his hands on so many quality licenses. They already started to change their appraisals of Ves, figuring he gained substantial backing from his Master or some other wealthy patron.
Meanwhile, the spectators standing behind the reporters and the distinguished guests remained rooted to the ground. Only half of them understood the jargon, but it didn't take a mech expert to understand the Blackbeak represented something special.
The extensive blending of Coalition tech with Republican practicality delivered a package that performed like a champ but kept its costs under control.
"A major issue with mechs that incorporates a lot of second-class components is that they're expensive! They often required expensive imports of rare exotics if they need to be built or repaired."
The crowd nodded in agreement. Such mechs suffered from inflated price tags and ruinous maintenance costs.
"The Blackbeak doesn't suffer from that problem! I'm a Republican mech designer at heart, and I know what you want. I went above and beyond to insure that all of the highest performing components can be sourced from within the borders of the Bright Republic!"
Throughout his speech, Ves set forth the Blackbeak's value proposition. It had been designed from the start to grow alongside its owners and users over a grueling conflict that everyone had been worrying about in recent times.
The specter of the latest Bright-Vesia War loomed over them like the Blackbeaks casting their shadows over the audience right at this moment. Hard times were coming and only a durable could see them through.
"What you are witnessing are the Living Mech Corporation's exclusive premium line-up of mechs. We will be selling at least three different lines, two of which consists of a basic silver label edition and a higher-quality gold label edition that's been hand-fabricated by myself. The mechs standing behind me consists of the latter, so you already know what you can get."
A guest that looked like a wealthy collector raised his hand. "When can we buy a mech?"
"Good question, sir." Ves clapped his hands, summoning up a pricing table for his new design. "Starting from now, the LMC will be taking orders for the first production run of twenty-five gold label Blackbeaks on a first-come, first serve basis at the exclusive price of 80 million credits a piece. Subsequent production runs of the gold label edition Blackbeaks will be priced at 75 million credits, so if you are tight on credits, then it's best to wait!"
"Does this include the first production model?"
"The first production model is a mech that carries an inordinate amount of value. As a result, it's scheduled for auction at a later point in this year."
Who was he kidding. Ves wanted to hold on to the first copy because the design had only just started to pick up hype. If he auctioned it out right now, he'd be lucky to get 100 million credits. If he held onto it for half a year or more, he'd likely be able to jack up the price to 200 million credits or more.
Ves even considered keeping the model for himself, but he threw that idea away. Besides his display models, each of his mechs had been built to serve their purpose in the hands of his customers.
Whether they employed them on the battlefield or paraded them in front of guests, his buyers brought meaning to his products. Only in the hands of others did his mech fulfill their intended purpose.
"When will your more affordable silver edition mechs be available?"
"They will go on sale as soon as the first production run is finished, which will take a month or two. The silver label Blackbeaks will be sold for 60 million credits. Do note that the silver label designs will feature cleaner appearances in order to achieve these cost savings."
"Are they worse than the gold mechs?"
"They deliver the exact same performance as the gold label mechs. Both of them are near-identical designs and are made out of the same raw materials, so if you are looking for the maximum amount of benefit for the lowest cost, then the silver label Blackbeak is a compelling choice."
Ves answered a large number of questions from the reporters and the industry experts. Sometimes, their questions cut very deep.
"Mr. Larkinson, your design looks too good to be true. There's got to a catch, right? What are the weak points of your mech?"
"I have never claimed to have designed the perfect mech." Ves tried to laugh, though he couldn't hide the awkwardness in his voice. "If I can name the most obvious weakness of the Blackbeak, it's that it isn't supplied with a ranged weapon! As a purely melee-oriented design, the Blackbeak isn't suitable for any form of marksmanship."
Some of the people in the audience wanted to pound his head. Who couldn't tell that a knight sucked at shooting? Stating something like that was as obvious as telling people that grass was green!
When he saw that the crowd didn't take his answer well, Ves relented a bit. "Okay, the Blackbeak is a design that's optimized to run all day, but it comes with only average heat-shunting capabilities. We do not recommend the Blackbeak to be deployed in places that limit heat-venting even further such as vacuum or high-heat environments."
"How well will its defenses fare compared to a defensive knight? Can it be employed to replace a defensive knight entirely?"
"The Veltrex armor system covering the shield and the frame is fully suitable to absorb impacts and shocks. That said, the Blackbeak is not intended to be employed as a low-mobility mech. Mech pilots will only bring out its full strength if they take advantage of its considerable mobility."
Ves addressed a few other difficult questions like that. He always managed to reply in a similar vein using a circuitous answer that allowed him to avoid leaving behind a record of saying something bad about his mech.
By understating the weaknesses and emphasizing the strengths that resulted from proper use of his design, Ves painted a rosy picture of his mech as the ultimate high-mobility knight. It could fit in nearly every squad composition and could even serve as a decent solo unit.
Just when he thought he could breeze through the rest of the press conference, a commotion sounded out at the entrance of the hall. The double doors slammed open as a young man stampeded past the cowed security guards.
"Heya, Ves! What's going on!? You're introducing a new design? Why didn't you invite me!"
"Hello, Michael. It's good to see you. Shouldn't you be busy selling your own mech right now?"
"Oh, my company is already taking care of it. The Havalax is selling like hotcakes! I've sold more than a hundred copies so far in the first month alone!" Michael Dumont grinned like a shark. "You've got to step up your game, Ves. How can you still call yourself a mech designer if you're only able to deliver half the amount of mechs in double the amount of time?"
"I put quality above quantity. The first production run is entirely produced from my hand, because unlike you, I'm not too lazy to wander into someone else's party."
Michael dropped his grin as he struggled to hold in his fury. "I didn't come here to celebrate with you. I came here to issue a challenge. You see, we both designed an offensive knight, and we both released them in the same market. As far as I'm concerned, the market isn't big enough for the both of us. Let's say we duel it out."
The gauntlet had been thrown, but Michael hadn't been content with that alone.
"Let's spice it up while we're at it! Like you, I'm also hanging on to my first production model. Rather than letting them collect dust in some warehouse, why not have them duke it out?"
The stakes had been raised.
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