Ever since Ves debuted the Blackbeak BP-A-01, no one showed any interest in licensing the design. The MTA valued its licensing cost at a whopping 3 billion credits. For the same amount of money, a mech manufacturer would be able to afford another mech production line.
Therefore, no company casually licensed someone else's design.
"Who licensed my design?"
"A medium mech manufacturer called Arkadis Mech Design and Production. It's founded by Gillian Arkadis, a twenty-year old veteran in the business."
"Yeah, and she's an Apprentice Mech Designer as well, just like you. Some of the analysts in the business are really perplexed at her decision. She's a proven mech designer who graduated from the Ansel University of Mech Design, is more than capable of coming up with her own designs that are substantially more polished than your own work."
A graduate of the AUMD meant she was a true insider in the Bentheim mech industry. She wouldn't lack for connections to obtain a favorable licensing agreement from her fellow mentors and alumni.
Ves had been in the business long enough to know that the mech designers connected to the AUMD considered themselves to be the most foremost mech designers of the Republic.
They often treated anyone who graduated from inferior institutions as second-class mech designers.
They also regarded mech designers who became fortunate enough to study at a more prestigious foreign institution with a lot of wariness and apprehension. Many mech designers who originally came from the Bright Republic had forsaken their old home in favor of trying to make it big in the prosperous Friday Coalition.
Ves happened to enjoy the rare distinction of falling into both of the fore-mentioned categories. Someone like him was something of a pariah in their circles.
So it came as a huge surprise that an AUMD graduate like Mrs. Arkadis decided to license his latest commercial design.
"Send me what you've gathered so far of Arkadis and her company."
Gavin transferred a bunch of files to Ves, who quickly skimmed them over. He did not find anything unusual, but neither did he see any compelling reason why Arkadis would want to work with his Blackbeak.
"All of her products so far are light mechs." Ves noted with emphasis. "She designs a large variety of landbound and aerial light mechs, but none of them have anything to do with the Blackbeak, which falls into the medium weight class. Has her company shown any indications of gearing its production lines into producing the base model?"
"As far as we know, Arkadis Mechs is still in the process of delivering a major order to a large client. Even if they wanted to begin production immediately, they still have to work on their current backlog."
"So we won't know what she's doing with my design until at least a couple of months have passed."
All in all, both Ves and Gavin could only scratch their heads. Ves figured that Mrs. Arkadis might have noticed the charm inherent in the Blackbeak design and wanted to figure out its secrets by working with the license.
"Do you think she's trying to reverse engineer your secret sauce?"
All Ves could respond to that was wish her luck. Without any insight into the X-Factor, she had no chance of replicating his work.
"If it's so easy to copy my work, Elemental Mech Engineering would have already released a Striker variant of the Blackbeak."
Ves did not forget about EME, which entered into a special licensing agreement with the LMC to produce the bronze label Blackbeaks. Ves always had the sense that Andar Neverland, the founder and chief designer of EME, wanted to do the same.
So far, the EME hasn't released anything of the sort even after many months of producing the bronze label mechs. This indicated that Mr. Neverland achieved nothing that was good enough to go public.
"Keep an eye on Mrs. Arkadis and her company. It might be that she only licensed my design on behalf of someone else. Try to find out if anyone else is connected with this event."
"Will do, boss!"
Ves hung up after that and leaned back on his chair. No matter what, the fact that someone licensed his design under normal conditions meant that his prestige enhanced once again.
Many mech designers constantly pumped out new designs every couple of months in the hopes that others picked them up. Entire design studios lived off this kind of business model.
The better the designs, the more they earned. The beauty about running a mech design studio was that it cost almost nothing to design a mech. Sure, the studios had to invest in a lot of infrastructure, but the cost of setting a design studio paled in comparison to setting up a mech production plant.
"That 3 billion credits will come in handy."
Currently, Ves published the Blackbeak under his own name, so all off that money went into his personal accounts. Added on with the money that he already earned from other sources, Ves actually owned a lot more cash than his own company.
Ves had plans for his money, but that could wait until he finished his current project. He hadn't forgotten his main vocation. "I shouldn't get too distracted by all the money flying around. It's great that someone licensed one of my designs, but I can earn a lot more if I sell the mechs myself."
He dove back into his work on optimizing his design. He had become very proficient at this work, so he constantly improved on his design with each subsequent iteration.
At a certain point, every improvement only increased the performance of his rifleman mech by a fraction of a percentage point. The extra work put into further optimization wasn't worth his time anymore, although many other mech designers disagreed.
"I can only continue to perfect my design if I have a lot more manpower and processing capacity at my disposal."
The LMC expanded a lot in terms of production capacity, but its research and development capabilities hadn't progressed beyond a one-man show. The limitations of this approach really started to grate on Ves.
Only the gimmick still showed some problems. While Ves succeeded in stabilizing the operation of the chest crystal, the one embedded into the laser rifle turned out to be a lot more finicky.
It took him an entire week to get the laser rifle to perform up to standard. Ves spent way more time on fixing all of the bugs in his design, but it had all been worth the extra effort.
His rifleman mech looked fast and lethal, exactly the way he liked it. Ves caught all of the major flaws that he knew of. If he wanted to, he could publish his design right now.
He'd be a fool to do so, though.
"I still have to fabricate a prototype."
Even though he subjected his rifleman mech to millions of simulations, all of the modeling couldn't compare to a single physical test.
After making sure his design required no further tweaks as of yet, he saved its latest state and left his private workshop floor.
He first returned to his private office above the ground to handle the paperwork that piled up in his absence. Much of it seemed routine, so Ves quickly processed the documents before calling over Jake to talk business.
"How is the LMC?"
"It's still growing strong." The old man replied. "Our production is bottlenecked by our lack of production lines. I recently became informed that a fellow colleague of yours licensed the Blackbeak design."
It was obvious what he wanted to say. Ves forestalled his words. "You want me to spend my money on another production line, is that it?"
"The company will grow a lot faster with even one additional Benson production line. Lately, there's a lot of demand for these machines. It takes a lot of manual labor to make some of the equipment, so there's a waiting line of several months for their products. If you can lay down an order now, it will save us a lot of time down the road."
His argument had a lot of merit, but Ves quickly declined the request. "I already have plans for my personal funds. For now, The LMC can fund its expansion by reinvesting its profits."
Jake looked disappointed, but he did not have any rights to any money earned by Ves in the first place. He knew it was something of a long shot to peel money away from his boss.
"There is another matter that needs to be discussed. The board of directors wants to convene soon to decide on a couple of important matters. Chief among them is the topic of issuing dividends."
Ves abruptly turned his full attention on Jake. "Dividends, you say?"
"Correct. The Larkinsons and much of the board believe that the Living Mech Corporation is past its initial growth phase. Due to the bottleneck in production and sales, our profits have stabilized as well. Short of investing in more production lines, there isn't any other compelling reason to reinvest all of the company's profits back into itself."
Ves could argue the point. Just because the company's growth had slowed didn't mean it stopped entirely. All of the profits it saved up would eventually be spent on things that would accelerate the company's growth.
Still, Ves knew without Jake needing to say that the Larkinsons hungered for money. With the war going on, they needed as much as they could get in order to support the careers of the Larkinsons in active duty.
As a Larkinson himself, Ves was sympathetic to their demands. He did not oppose the act of issuing dividends in principle, but Ves did not wish for the other shareholders to be too greedy about the matter.
"Tell the board that I'll be present when it next convenes." Ves nodded to Jake. "Tell them that I'm not against this suggestion, but they can forget about it if they want the LMC to hand out most of its profits to its shareholders."
If the LMC stopped investing in new production lines and instead gave away its profits to its shareholders, then the company would become stagnant eventually reach a dead end.
As the majority shareholder, Ves stood to earn most of the dividends, but the last thing he needed was more cash.
After discussing these matters, Ves left his office and went back underground. This time, he entered the fabrication floor and approached Chief Cyril.
"Chief, please schedule the Dortmund production line for my own use. I'm almost ready to fabricate the prototype of my next design."
The chief whistled in appreciation. "You're truly ready to move on to this stage?"
"Do you think it's too late? Or too soon?"
"There is no sense of late or soon in the mech business. You're done when you're done. No one else can make that decision for you. Certainly, in a perfect universe, mech designers have access to an unlimited amount of resources to polish their design until it shines like a sun. But we don't live in that universe."
Ves agreed. "I hate to say it, but sometimes we can only make do with 'good enough'. I don't have the resources to go much further at this point."
They proceeded to prepare for the upcoming fabrication project. Each new design brought its own challenges. In order to minimize the chances of failure, Ves had to spend at least a couple of days of simulating the fabrication process to see whether he could nail all of the critical parts.
He didn't spend these extra days in vain, because Ves also had to order a substantial amount of resources unique to his second original design.
Once the new shipment of raw materials arrived at the Mech Nursery, Ves readied himself to reproduce the design of his dreams.
"I hope it works. I know it can work. It has to work."
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