He eyed his cousin like she was an alien.
”You ’re dating the Little Boss? He ’s not a very good influence! I thought you hated lowlives like him! ”

Raella held up her palms in a defensive manner.
”Hey, he ’s cool once you get to know him! He ’s a great mech pilot and not like a country bumpkin at all, unlike most boys I ’ve met on this farm planet. ”

Ves was not in a mood to play the parent, but he didn ’t want to leave it at that.
Relationships with junior gang bosses had a tendency to entangle everyone close into a morass of intimidation and violence.

”I don ’t think the family will be glad to hear that.
You know how they can get sometimes.
We have a reputation to uphold! ”

”Screw reputation! The Larkinsons will keep being the squeaky-clean military dynasty without me then! ”

The argument devolved into a mindless back-and-forth that didn ’t resolve anything.
Ves gave up on convincing Raella, since he obviously couldn ’t control her movements.
”Look, if you want to go out with Dietrich, then go ahead, but please don ’t go off and join Walter ’s Whalers. ”

”Hey, I ’m not that stupid.
It ’s just a fling, man.
Don ’t look at me like I ’m off to elope with him! Sheesh! ” Raella flipped her purple-dyed hair and scampered off.

He didn ’t know what to do.
While he liked Dietrich as a person, one day he ’d be sure to inherit his father ’s mantle.
The buddy he knew may turn into someone he wouldn ’t be able to recognize anymore.

”Everyone changes over time. ”

After taking the rest of the day off, Ves returned to work in order to prepare for his upcoming debut.
His company had already prepared for his public debut for months, having contacted various news portals and noteworthy experts to attend his press conference.

Every important manager in the company gathered in the conference room to report their preparations to Ves.

”Around twenty different publications accepted the invitation to attend Michael Dumont ’s debut. ” Gavin started to report.
”Our goal is to surpass that number.
However, the marketing department has found out that it ’s very difficult to get them to send out their reporters unless we cut some deals with them.
Their demands range from exclusive interviews to free mechs.
Some publications even demand we hand over the first production model to them! ”

Ves was not amused.
”I hope you refused those ridiculous demands. ”

”We put them down as gently as possible.
With the help of Marcella ’s connections, we managed to secure the presence of at least fifteen different news portals and mech portals.
They ’re regional names, mostly.
You won ’t find any publication on the level of the Rimward Star Herald. ”

”They interviewed me last time.
Did you send them an invite? ”

”We did, but we only received a plain refusal.
If I have to guess, they have bigger things on their plate than to cover some random Apprentice Mech Designer ’s debut.
Thousands of mech designers around the rim are holding their debuts every day.
It ’s too much to keep up with unless you already accumulated some fame like those direct disciples. ”

Frankly, Ves thought the RSH was making a big mistake, as his Blackbeak possessed a lot of noteworthy qualities for a third-class design.

”So do we have to spend more to get more publications to attend my press conference? ”

”That ’s basically what it boils down to, boss.
The reporters have to make a living too, you know.
Don ’t think for a second that an independent news portal exists.
We either cough up the dough or resign ourselves to parading your new design to a collection of smaller news portals. ”

”I ’ve set a tentative marketing budget of 100 million credits.
Can you cover the costs from that budget or do we need to shift more money around? ”

Gavin fell into silence as he weighed the costs against the benefits.
”It ’s only worth it to pay off the greedy publications if they have the audience to back up their big mouths.
Not all of them have the viewership to support their boasts. ”

”I ’m sure you can sort that out.
Let ’s move on to marketing the Blackbeak.
Fill me in on the plan. ”

His publicist turned marketing manager pressed a switch that called up a projection of the timetable.
”The Blackbeak is a very compelling design, especially when you see it in person.
The goal of our marketing push is to introduce the Blackbeak to public and rely on word of mouth to propagate its existence, hoping to stir up demand in the private market.
Our plan is split into three phases. ”

Gavin briefly explained what the marketing people had come up with to make the Blackbeak famous.

His debut came first.
The LMC would carefully keep the Blackbeak under wraps and avoid leaking out its appearance, its specs or its defining properties.

All the press would get to know for now was that Ves planned to announce a new offensive knight as his first original design.
The marketing department wanted to rely on the wow factor to ignite the first round of buzz among the press.

The second phase consisted of fabricating ten gold-label Blackbeaks and display them in public at various locations around Bentheim.
Their enthralling appearances should be able to elicit a lot of curiosity from the crowd.

”Wait a minute. ” Ves interrupted.
”The plan sounds fine, but fabricating ten models without receiving compensation will drain my entire cash reserve.
Does anyone know how much it costs to fabricate a single copy of the Blackbeak? ”

Someone dug up the latest figures.
”It costs 41 million credits for us to fabricate a single mech.
The internals take up 13 million credits in raw materials, while the armor system requires 26 million credits worth of exotics to construct.
The remaining 2 million credits consists of per-unit licensing fees to various companies who developed the components the Blackbeak is using. ”

Compared to the Caesar Augustus, the Blackbeak cost much less to produce, even with the recent level of price surges.
It all had to do with his smart selection of components.
Ves specifically licensed components that incorporated materials that the Republic could supply themselves.

The LMC didn ’t have to rely on expensive imports from distant star sectors to produce a single mech.
That was one of the biggest advantages of designing your own mech.

Ves knew of the power of the X-Factor.
Even with a rating of C++, the physical copy exuded a magnetic pull that definitely halted traffic.
Still, he sounded a little skeptical about its reach.

”Ten models won ’t be enough to cover the entirety of Bentheim, or even Dorum alone. ”

”We don ’t hold any ambitions to reach the entire public.
We only want to feed the hype surrounding the Blackbeak.
Once people start to see it on the streets, they ’ll take recordings from their comms and send it to their friends and relatives. ”

The third phase began after that.
Once the marketing department thought they created enough of a buzz, they planned to release the virtual version of the Blackbeak onto the simulation games.
Iron Spirit stood out the most, of course, but Gavin also suggested making it available to non-potentate games so that laymen could get a taste of the offensive knight as well.

”Even if they ’re never able to pilot our products themselves, they might recommend our product to someone with the right aptitude. ”

This virtual release would be paired by a fairly extensive advertising campaign.
Most of the marketing budget had been allocated to this phase.
Working together with Marcella ’s brokerage, they aimed to make the Blackbeak into a momentary sensation.

”In the short term, we can rely on advertising to drive our product ’s appeal.
We don ’t plan to keep this up for more than a month.
After that, we can hopefully rely on positive word of mouth from our first customers to drive up demand.
If not, we can always spend more. ”

The plan sounded risky, but Ves understood their intentions.
He only had one major problem with the plan.
”We don ’t have the liquidity to produce ten models at the snap of our fingers. ”

The LMC generated a decent amount of revenue in the last few months, but their overhead also increased.
At their current state, they ’d come up short if they wanted to buy enough raw materials to fabricate ten complete models.

”Why not ask Mrs.
Bollinger to lend us the money? ” Their relations officer suggested.
Maisie Duval had been very busy keeping their various stakeholders in touch.
”She already agreed to pledge 1.9 billion credits in marketing assistance, so she won ’t hesitate to advance the necessary funds. ”

”That ’s a good idea! Contact her immediately after this meeting.
She ’ll be in charge of selling those mechs anyway, so it ’s not like the money is lost forever. ”

Like the first production model, the couple of mechs after that also held a lot of collector ’s value.
With her salesmanship, Marcella should be able to sell the first production run at extortionary prices.

The rest of the meeting turned to logistics.
Duval worked hard to establish a temporary but stable channel of exotics they needed to fabricate the Veltrex armor system.
This insured that they wouldn ’t be subjected to sudden supply cuts if they ramped up their production in the short term.

”I ’d like to emphasize that we haven ’t established any long-term relationships with our current suppliers. ”

”That ’s fine.
As long as they don ’t jack up the price, we can afford to wait and wait for better offers. ”

After the meeting, Ves kept staring at the cost projections.
All of these elaborate plans called for lots of spendings.
Everyone was in an upbeat mood after witnessing the final design.
They treated it as a given that the Blackbeak would sell like hotcakes.

Carlos noticed his friend lagging behind.
”What ’s up? ”

Ves didn ’t feel so confident, however.
”Will the market accept my design? ”

”This again? Ves, at your age, you ’re one of the most talented mech designers in the Republic! The Havalax designed by that douchebag Dumont doesn ’t even come close to the Blackbeak.
Besides, even if the market doesn ’t catch on yet, that ’s what all the marketing is for.
As long as you throw enough money at it, even the ugliest piece of junk can become a bestseller. ”

That was easy for Carlos to say.
He didn ’t risk hundreds of millions of credits on a potentially futile venture.
Ves shook his head and left his seat.
He had some more preparations to make.

Later that afternoon, Marcella agreed to send them a substantial advance.
Combined with their existing cash reserves, they could easily afford the raw materials needed to fabricate ten Blackbeaks.
After a few days wait, the shipment of materials arrived.

This time, Ves accepted the assistance of others, though Ves still took the lead.
Their frantic production and constant learning shortened the time to fabricate a single copy from three days to two days.

They managed to fabricate five extra copies they could bring to the press conference.
After the Blackbeak ’s official unveiling, Ves planned to leave the copies behind to be shown off on the streets while he returned to finish the production run before doing anything else.

As his workers packed up the mechs and sent them off to the convoy, Ves led a procession of senior management aboard the Barracuda.
He planned to arrive at Bentheim ahead of the convoy shipments in order to prepare for his debut ceremony.

Melkor and Lucky would be joining his security detail as usual.

As for his niece, Ves constantly worried for her safety.
Raella had already extended her ’few days off ’ into a weeks-long hiatus into the underbelly of Bentheim with her new boyfriend in tow.
He prayed to the heavens that Dietrich didn ’t drag his excitable niece into something shady.

The Barracuda deftly transitioned into FTL.
Ves constantly worried what could go wrong as the time of his debut neared.

Somehow, he didn ’t think Dumont would let him announce a competitor to his Havelax without a challenge.

”Dumont and the Ricklins have it out for me.
If they ’re aware of my intentions from the start, then they should have already prepared a response. ”

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