Countless mechs had been deployed to the surface of the Glowing Planet. Of all the different models, certain ones stood out from the rest.
For example, take the Havalax. Dumont's debut design might not be the most valiant offensive knight, but some mercenaries didn't care about the bad reputation it had acquired as long as they received enough discounts.
They brought their newly purchased mechs to the Glowing Planet and expected to dominate in any close-ranged engagements. What they actually experienced was nothing of the sort.
"This is ridiculous! How come it's run out of energy so quickly!" One mercenary cursed as his mech switched to ultra-low power consumption mode after all of its energy cells had been drained. "These new undercharged energy cells are so stupid! How can I keep running my mech with just thirty percent of its previous capacity?"
Some of his colleagues laughed over the communication channel. "Serves you right. I told you so that you'd regret spending the company credits on the Havalax. Even with normal energy cells it can't even last a single duel!"
To be fair to the Havalax, the duel had been something of an anomaly. The Havalax should easily be able to last half a standard day at normal power consumption.
However, such a meager amount of operating time wasn't as impressive as other mechs who would easily be able to last an entire day without replenishing their energy cells.
"This thing is a giant trap. It's great in a battle, but it's awful everywhere else. I'm going to put it up for sale as soon we get back."
While the couple of Havalax pilots grumbled about the poor performance of its design on the Glowing Panet, the pilots of the Blackbeak enjoyed their greatest moments.
As one of the few fuel-based mechs on this planet, they faced very little risks from the start. The constant skirmishes and occasional long-ranged raids also helped the Blackbeak fit in. The handful of mercs who piloted the exclusive gold-label Blackbeaks all performed above and beyond their usual standard.
For example, on a desolate field of crags and low rocks, ten pirate mechs were frantically running away. One might expect those ten mechs to be chased by a squad or platoon of mechs, but in actuality only a single Blackbeak hounded them from behind.
"This monster! Why won't he give up!!" A pirate moaned. "C'mon, run faster!"
None of the pirates seem to suggest they turn around and gang up on the Blackbeak. They already tried that, only to get demolished one by one.
"Let's split up!"
"He'll hunt us down one by one!"
"Are you kidding? He'll only be able to kill a couple of us before he loses track. Let's do it!"
The pirate mechs split up in different directions. Rather than bewilder the Blackbeak, it stopped holding back and put more power into its durable engine. As far as its pilot was concerned, the pirates had consigned themselves to death by ceasing to move in a cohesive formation. The Blackbeak hunted down the mechs like a cat chasing after a pack of mice.
"Keep running, you little rats. Even if you get away, you won't be able to supply your mechs."
Besides the handful of gold label Blackbeaks on the Glowing Planet, the silver and bronze label versions also acquitted themselves well. During the time when the undercharged energy cells hadn't been developed yet, they took the lead in defending the bases. Their strong, stable and exemplary performance had elevated their reputation to the point where most knight mech pilots yearned to obtain their own copies.
Many mech designs developed in recent years hadn't been tested in large-scale campaigns. The Glowing Planet served as a crucible where the best and most robust designs gained an edge over those which featured too many superfluous elements.
Major factions such as the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion collected all of the data to perform analyses and add to the public record of each individual model.
The highly encouraging realspace performance data of the Blackbeak gave the LMC an unexpected boost. Sales of the bronze-label model fabricated by EME, which had flagged in recent times, suddenly surged as the mech industry gained a new appreciation of its tough and enduring design.
The LMC enjoyed brisk sales as well. Along with a concerted marketing push, the Blackbeak had been pushed to the forefront of recognition. Silver label Blackbeaks became a hot item to well-off customers, so much so that Marcella started selling them by batches which the LMC's small workshop struggled to fulfill.
As the COO of the LMC, Jake Altern often visited Marcella's brokerage for business. Currently, they moved to an upscale restaurant and enjoyed a luxurious meal.
"Even if the Glowing Planet's appearance is a disaster for the Republic, it's been a boon for the LMC. The Blackbeak's appeal is at an all-time high right now."
"I know." Marcella replied as she finished chewing an exotic meat dish. "I don't even have to convince my customers to purchase a mech or two. Instead, I have to pull them back from placing too many orders. Both our bronze and silver label versions have a waiting list that's at least a half year long."
That represented an enormous amount of revenue. While both of them had much to celebrate for accumulating so many orders, none of them adopted satisfied expressions.
Jake stopped beating around the bush. "We don't have enough production capacity. Everyone in the company is aware of how much revenue we're missing out. Customers who have been hoping to purchase a Blackbeak are being discouraged by how much we've raised our prices and how many other customers are waiting for their own copies."
"Why are you bringing up this topic?" She asked with suspicion. "Both the EME and LMC are producing your designs as fast as they can. Neither of them are in a position to expand their production lines any further. The EME still has to pay back their debts while your company is just starting to break the ground on your new manufacturing complex."
"There's still another solution."
"You want to contract another mech manufacturer." Marcella stated.
"Exactly. Benjamin Larkinson approves of the idea. The rest of the board is behind the plan. As long as you agree, we'll have unanimous approval to extend a special licensing contract to Vaun Industrial."
"I recall that Ves once visited their impressive factory complex and didn't come out impressed. He won't like it if anyone else than EME gets to produce the bronze label Blackbeaks."
Jake helplessly spread his palms. "Well, he's not here to object, is he? Instead, he ran off to the Glowing Planet to mine some expensive rocks. At the very least, our decision here will teach him not to pursue his whims and go harrying off into danger."
It all seemed dirty to Marcella. She knew Ves always prioritized his reputation and hated losing control over the distribution of his products. Yet she wasn't unaccustomed to getting her hands dirty. As Jake had said, Ves only had himself to blame for being unable to stop a necessary decision to maximize the profits of his company.
"Consider me onboard to your plan. I own five percent of the LMC's shares, after all. The more the company earns, the better off I'll be. I can guess the Larkinson Estate is also eying the benefits."
This conspiracy couldn't have gotten off without the express approval of Ves' grandfather. Much of the higher management of the LMC consisted of retainers nurtured by the Larkinsons. Even if they worked for Ves, they still owed their loyalty to the organization that nurtured them from young.
Even if the LMC didn't issue any dividends as of yet, the Larkinson Estate still benefited enormously in other ways if the company earned record profits.
With the war about to come into full swing, the Estate always had a need for more money. That was the time when the Mech Corps spent money like water, and often had to go into debt. It wasn't unheard of for well-to-do families like the Larkinsons to contribute to the war effort in exchange for better treatment for their relatives serving in the front.
"Even if Ves objects, he shouldn't forget his roots." Jake decisively said as he began to eat his dessert. "Besides, Vaun Industrial is an excellent partner to work with. Their production facilities are top-notch and they haven't made any excessive demands. They're willing to pay a bit more fees now that the success of the Blackbeak is set in stone."
Both of them discussed the matter as if they had the best intentions at heart.
As for Ves, he remained ignorant of the proactive decisions made behind his back. Instead, he blissfully spent his days aboard the Gregarious Wrath. Chief Petrisc granted him a fair amount of liberties, as if he didn't have a care in the galaxy if Ves attempted to sabotage the giant tunneler.
It didn't make a difference anyway. With the amount of monitoring going on, Ves would never be able to hide any suspicious activities unless he activated his Privacy Shield.
Not that he wanted to. The Gregarious Wrath's journey to the center of the Glowing Planet had to go well for Ves to complete his mission. He did all he could to lend his expertise to the many problems facing the enormous tunneling machine.
It turned out that the energy fields constantly destabilized the Wrath. Countless systems relied on each other to ensure the smooth function of the tunneler. If one system got knocked out, that didn't mean the Wrath would stop. However, the systems depending on the functions of that knocked out systems might malfunction, which eventually led to a chain reaction of errors that eventually forced the tunneler to a stop.
Thus, Chief Petrisc prioritized plugging each and every gap as soon as they formed. Ves joined one of the troubleshooting teams and began to go back and forth along the Wrath's lengthy hull to fix various issues.
Most problems sounded a little inane.
For example, one time a cooling fluid storage tank suddenly burst because the fluid abruptly expanded. The entire mess fouled up the compartment and locked up the other storage tanks.
It didn't take too much effort to clean up the mess, but the engineers puzzled over what had caused the expansion and how they could prevent the cooling fluid from going haywire again.
Another problem was that certain alloys degraded as if they'd been rusting in corrosive waters for decades. This didn't matter too much if it came to a table or wall panel, but if the component happened to be part of a primary power channel, then the entire forward half of the Wrath might shut off.
It was the job of the troubleshooting teams to solve these problems before they grew into something big. While Ves felt like a fish out of water concerning the workings of a massive ship-sized tunneler, his excellent foundation in various fields of science allowed him to suggest workable solutions to the problems at hand.
"Look, why are we holding this portion up with an alloy support structure? It's overkill in my eyes. We all know that certain exotic alloys are reacting badly in the presence of all of these energy fields. I think we shouldn't shy away from replacing these alloy structures with plastic composites."
"If this was a mech, I wouldn't be satisfied with this slapdash fix. Everyone can tell this replacement part will break down the next day. Rather than return each day to perform the same repairs, why not overhaul this entire section. Let me sketch out my suggestion for a durable structure."
Several days went by as the Gregarious Wrath continued to overcome new challenges every day. With thousands of crew members on board, the tunneler had an abundant amount of talent to draw on to ensure her continued operation. Even if she encountered another obstacle, someone would eventually come up with a solution to get the tunneler back on course.
After more than two weeks of tunneling, the Wrath finally stumbled upon the edge of the outer core of the Glowing Planet.
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