The Mech Touch - Chapter 58: Profligate
Lucky finally woke up the day after Ves visited the MTA. The cat appeared to slink in a satisfying manner, as if he ate the biggest fish in the universe. Ves gave his pet the stink eye.
"So… you got anything to say?"
The cat acted cute and brushed its smooth body against his legs. Ves let go of his irritation and just picked up the cat and hugged him in his arms. It was easy to forgive the loss as he never really owned the strange material in the box to start with. He suspected the advanced alloy may have been meant for Lucky in the first place.
"Do you feel the need to go to the litter box?"
Strangely enough, even after a couple of hours the cat never visited the toilet or his backyard. Ves picked up his cat again and inspected his body closely. Lucky still looked and weighed the same. He started to doubt whether anything really changed. Did the cat just ate a bunch of priceless alloys because it tasted good?
He fed Lucky his usual meal of minerals and let it go out and play. Ves still had work to do.
His harvest from the MTA mainly consisted of directions. He did not gain much knowledge, but he did gain avenues for further study, as well as a couple of books. He went over the three electronic books sent to his mail account.
The three books all consisted of introductions to the laws concerning the production and use of mechs. The books appeared to be prepared by the MTA to give out to young mech pilots and mech designers, so the level of jargon and the depth of topics remained fairly shallow. It was the perfect set of books for Ves to familiarize himself with the laws around mechs beyond the brief lessons he received from his days in college.
The first book revolved around the most important laws that govern the use of mechs in human space. It detailed the history just after the invention of mechs about 400 years ago, and explained how human space grew more chaotic with this advancement in warfare.
The main point this chapter conveyed was that mechs made war easier. The ability of all human states to wage war increased substantially because mechs packed more firepower and mobility while requiring relatively less maintenance than other unit types such as planes, tanks and infantry. It gave smaller nations a chance to stir up trouble against their larger neighbors, but it also allowed these behemoths to crush rebels thoroughly by flattening everything in their way with ease.
War between the human states intensified, with conflicts happening up to five times more than before the invention of mechs. It led to a lot of suffering among the poor. Something needed to be changed.
Naturally, as the book was published by the MTA, it predictably presented it as the savior of mankind. With hardly any explanation of how it came about, the MTA splashed onto the scene with powerful mechs and warships and suppressed the most gruesome conflicts with an even bloodier fist. Quickly, all the smaller human states got cowed while the larger nations negotiated treaties. The MTA firmly established itself as the arbiter of human conflict.
The rest of the book introduced all the major laws the MTA enforced with vigor. From the prohibition on the use of starships in internal human conflict, to the abolishment of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, pretty much all weapons capable of inflicting mass harm were limited to external defense against aliens. The only thing that really remained untouched were mechs.
Ves found it peculiar why the MTA focused so much on promoting mechs and the technology behind it. They not only encouraged its use in wars, they also supported the industry behind it with licensing laws and certification services. The MTA single handedly changed human civilization to worship mechs.
"For what?" He asked, and was pretty sure he was not alone in asking this question.
Space ships remained the kings of power projection. What use was dominating the surface of a planet when even a middle-sized ship could bombard the hard-won location from above? The warships and the spacers serving on them were the real heroes of humanity. These invisible but vital servicemen defended the borders of human space against alien aggression every day.
Yet hardly any day went past in the news without the mention of this mech or that mech. Many mech pilots stood out from the crowd and even became stars. As for warships, well, Ves could not recall a single name of a person who served on a spaceship. Even the other Larkinsons who all prided themselves as a martial family never got involved in the navy.
He eventually shrugged as he finished the book. "I'm sure there's a story behind it all."
The second book surprisingly dealt with the mech laws in the Greater Terran United Confederation. As a first-rate human superstate, it wielded a disproportionate amount of military power. On paper, it looked like an invincible giant that could treat all outside attacks as pinpricks.
Reality proved many times that they often got the short end of the stick when battling against their eternal rivals. The New Rubarth Empire smashed the Confederation's nose time and time again. The simplest explanations to this occurrence always emphasized the Empire's centralization versus the Confederation's feudal-like power structure.
The real answers involved more than merely governance. As the oldest human alliance, the Confederation always consisted of a gathering of smaller substates. Though they were capable of uniting somewhat against an external aggressor, they spent most of their time and energy overcoming their local rivals. In a way, what happened inside the Confederation's borders pretty much mirrored what was happening outside.
The Terran Confederation's planets and star systems were all fairly old. Lots of people lived there from generation to generation. The cities there not only reached up to the top of the atmosphere, they also dug in many reaches deep into the ground.
You could imagine any conflict that would break out in such a densely populated environment resulted in a devastating loss of life.
As the Terrans tried and failed to curb the widespread use of mechs to settle grudges and the like, they finally came together and figured out a compromise. The entire way of waging internal war turned from a no-holds-barred total war into a more gentlemanly way of duels and limited engagements.
In short, each star system designated one empty planet or sometimes moon as the system's control area. The entity that controlled the entire planet had legitimate authority over the entire star system.
For example, the ancient entity that ruled over the birthplace of mankind fortified a planet called Pluto. They made an agreement with the entire Confederation that so long as they held this tiny planet, they were entitled to rule over Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the other ancestral planets without any contention. They managed to do so since the founding of the treaty that set these rules.
Naturally, not all of these so-called system rulers managed to withstand the test of time. Many weaker parties got kicked off from their designated defense planet, leading to a change in administration for those respective star systems. In practice, almost nothing changed for the commoners. Warfare got gentrified, and most of the damage and suffering got limited to the military and aristocratic classes.
At the end of the read, Ves found the structure to be enlightening. Though the Terrans warped war beyond all recognition, the damage that resulted from any conflict was fairly minimal. It allowed the Terrans to preserve the majority of its strength while leaving some outlets for local rulers to vent their expansionist urges.
"It's good for the commoners, but I can't say it has done any good for their national culture."
The image the people of other states had of the Terrans was that they were rich, lazy and decadent. They wasted so much wealth on senseless past times such as playing golf with asteroids or racing in flimsy shuttles in spitting distance to a sun.
Ves closed the second book and turned to the final one. It did not discuss the major laws of the New Rubarth Empire or the Bright Republic, but instead was a more practical summary of what mech designers had to watch out for. He already knew most of the contents inside, such as not incorporating someone else's technology without procuring a license and such. Still, the book also explained some things Ves was not aware of its existence.
For example, the laws concerning the hiring of personnel. Mech designers were entitled to certain privileges that made them kings in their own workshops. They could impose all kinds of restrictions to their personnel, especially their mech technicians. Strict rules existed against leaking proprietary know-how that formed the basis of a mech designer's competitive advantage.
It came to the point where mech technicians and junior mech designers had to choose their employer carefully. A rotten boss could use all kinds of means to pin an employee with a crime. Ves realized he potentially avoided a calamity when he declined to work from the lower rungs of a larger mech corporation.
If he got lucky, he could learn all kinds of tricks under a more experienced designer. But if his luck was lousy, his boss could treat him like a slave and get away with it. Even in the Bright Republic, which prided itself as a bastion of civilization in this barren star sector, the circumstances mech technicians had to face were very tough. Only the technicians from the Mech Corps and from the more generous mercenary corps enjoyed substantial rights.
"It's all about squeezing the maximum amount of value out of their employees. Only the most talented and the most connected get promoted. The rest have to toil for their entire lives in the same position."
That was reality in a universe where automated production with bots and AIs took care of most of the heavy lifting. The MTA already did its best to encourage smaller artisan mech manufacturers to find their footing in this cutthroat industry.
Ves finished the final book at the end of the day. Though his ability to design and fabricate a mech hadn't improved, his comprehension of the workings of the universe deepened. He learned more about the rationale behind some rules and was able to adjust his future direction in light of new information.
He went to sleep and digested the knowledge.
The next day, Ves received some good news. The second order for his Marc Antony finally arrived. Marcella contacted Ves directly for a talk.
"Your newest client is someone.. special."
"Special in what way?"
Marcella looked as if she was constipated. "He's the grandson of the majority shareholder of the Ricklin Corporation. While he has more than enough money to spend around, he has posed quite a few demands. You will need to be flexible and do your best to accommodate his requests if you wish to keep him as a client."
That sounded completely opposite to his first client, who had a practical use for his mech. The Ricklin Corporation was the Bright Republic's main manufacturer of low end processor chips. Practically every cheap bot and household machine featured a chip from Ricklin. While the profit margins of these chips were minuscule, the sales volume was gigantic. The shareholders of the Ricklin Corporation practically sat on a gold mine that churned out billions of credits in dividend each year.
As a descendant of such a rich family, this new client should have very peculiar requests. Fabricating a customized mech for a rich second-generation brat was not what Ves had in mind when he got into the mech business. Still, money was money, and the customer was king.
"I understand. I suppose he wants to meet me?"
"Right. You'll have to take a trip to Bentheim. I've taken care of all the scheduling and reservations. If you aren't occupied with anything, I'd like you to embark on the next inter-system shuttle."
"I can leave for Bentheim immediately."
Ves quickly packed up a bunch of clothes and some other knickknacks. He called out Lucky and together they boarded a priority shuttle that swiftly brought them to the spaceport.
As Marcella already booked him on a priority flight, Ves had no trouble getting on board a small, luxury transit shuttle. It was a medium-sized passenger vehicle that regularly shipped businessmen and well-off tourists from Cloudy Curtain to Bentheim and back.
Though Ves looked a little out of place among the throng of middle-aged men and women, he casually leaned back against his comfortable seat and activated the projector in front of him to distract himself from the space flight. Lucky hung on his shoulder, sleeping yet again, the lazybones.
He decided to dig up some news about his upcoming client and the the Ricklin Corporation.
The Ricklin Corporation listed in the top 50 of the Bright Republic's stock exchange. Its profits were stable by maintaining an efficient production system that offered barely functional chips at bargain basement prices. Though other competitors offered much higher quality in their lineups, the Ricklin Corporation practically ruled the bottom segment of the market, which was also the biggest slice of the pie.
With huge sales volume and an immense revenue, who cared if the profit margins were thin? Even the occasional stories of bad quality control and catastrophic failures in certain devices that used a Ricklin chip failed to stop the company's dominant market position in the Republic.
The founders and largest shareholders of this company was the Ricklin family. Though they lent their name to the company they founded, they lost control of the board of directors when an incompetent family head squandered away a big portion of his family's shares. It happened during the last war between the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom, so there was definitely a murky story behind it all. In the end, the Ricklin family diminished and pulled back.
Despite this dark incident, the Ricklin family maintained its wealth through cunning investments. They poured most of their energy into improving their financial expertise. Now they maintained their position in Bentheim's high society by relying on their profitable investment portfolio.
"Hm, that's rich people for you. It takes money to make money, and they have that in spades. Average people like me have to scrape for clients to earn a living."
Ves looked into the family tree of the Ricklins and focused on the direct descendants. The oldest son stood out immediately. The gossip rags that plied the galactic net featured plenty of articles about the young man in question.
"VINCENT RICKLIN CLAIMS HE HAS BEDDED 10 GIRLS AT A TIME: IS HE A STUD OR A MENACE?"
"VINNIE'S DRUG-FUELED BINGE LED TO A FIFTEEN-SHUTTLE PILE-UP - NO WORD YET ON CASUALTIES."
"THE RICKLIN CROWN PRINCE CHICKENED OUT OF A MECH DUEL! DISGRACEFUL!"
"SCAMMED! VINCENT RICKLIN 'MISPLACED' 300 MILLION CREDITS AFTER CON ARTISTS CONVINCED HIM TO ORDER A NON-EXISTENT YACHT"
Certainly, the only person from the Ricklin family that took Marcella aback was Vincent Ricklin. No other scion of this rich and powerful family could be so extravagant in his spending. From the wild incidents the gossip mongers have publicized, Ves got the idea that working with his latest client might not be a cakewalk.
"I sure have my work cut out for me." He sighed, and mentally prepared to interact with a man who likely held no inhibitions at all.
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