It took some time for Ves to divest himself of the clingy little brats. Some of their parents came to shoo them away, giving Ves a path to continue up to the main building.
Once he stepped inside, he rid himself of his visor and beret and greeted Ovrin Larkinson, the Fifth Elder of the Larkinson Family.
"It seems that the stories we've heard in the media have a kernel of truth. You have a different air about you, Ves." Ovrin calmly said with his wheezing voice.
Ves recognized the same vibe from Ovrin that he got from other military veterans. "I'm one of you now."
Ovrin shook his head. "You've always been one of us, Ves. Whether you've served in one of the wars or not, you will always be a Larkinson to the rest of the family."
Yeah right. Ves knew very well that the Larkinsons exerted a lot of pressure on the younger generation to serve in the military. Those who didn't volunteer would be left out of the most important circles of the family and plainly received less attention when it came to the allocation of money and benefits.
In any case, Ves was undeniably among the Larkinsons who did their time. Both his awards and his changed demeanor amply proved that he didn't spend his entire time in service holing up in some quiet research base far away from the frontline.
Admittedly, he did spend half a year in relative safety, but it wasn't as if Ves could mention anything related to Flashlight.
He changed the topic. "Is grandpa Benjamin available?"
"Benjamin will be back in the evening. He's been held up at the Ministry of Defense recently due to the recent demobilization efforts. You've come at a quiet time, Ves. Many Larkinsons are still on their tours of duty. Therefore, don't expect to meet many family members during your stay."
"I understand. I only came to have a talk with my grandfather before I go back to Cloudy Curtain."
He spent the rest of the afternoon in the Larkinson Compound sitting with the aunts and uncles at the front courtyard. He felt as if he became an old man as his family members leisurely gossiped and talked about all kinds of trivial topics.
Surprisingly, they didn't express much curiosity about Ves at all. To the old dogs, Ves had earned the right to sit among them, that was all. Everyone had their own war stories, but it was up to them to take the initiative to tell them to each other.
Not everyone wanted to tell their war stories. Some of them didn't want to relive those moments. Ves had the feeling that many of them just didn't want to brag or attract any special attention.
As for a small number of Larkinsons like himself, the classified nature of their missions prevented them from disseminating any details about their most important experiences.
The other Larkinsons could tell that Ves was under this restriction, and they suitably took note of that in their subsequent behavior.
It felt good to Ves to be among family. While he wasn't particularly close to any of them, their shared blood gave them a strong bond that tied them all together in a way that nothing else could.
This was true kinship!
The Larkinsons at the compound didn't do much besides keeping each other company. Yet, they nonetheless helped each other heal and find peace in this tranquil environment due to their mutual understanding.
Time flew by and before he knew it, Benjamin Larkinson returned from the Ministry of Defense. He immediately called up Ves once he heard that his grandson arrived at the compound.
Inside Benjamin's main office inside the compound, the first thing his grandfather did was to hug his grandson. "Ves! I'm very glad to see you whole and healthy! When I heard that you've almost died to an assassination attempt, I was almost ready to turn MinDef upside down!"
Ves was touched by his grandfather's concern. "It was just a flesh wound."
They both laughed at that joke.
"I'm glad you haven't lost your sense of levity. That's a good sign."
After they finished hugging, they took their seats and began to discuss some business.
Benjamin Larkinson started with the elephant in the room. "Lately, the Larkinson Estate has received an increasing amount of scrutiny. After some investigation, I've learned that we have attracted the attention of some very powerful political influences. When we followed up on that, we learned that their recent actions are somehow tied to you, Ves. What have you been doing lately?"
"I can't say much, grandfather, but I've done some favors for the Tovar Family and they have given me some favors in return. At some point, I've fallen into their camp."
Grandpa Benjamin adopted a grave expression. "That's dangerous. Very dangerous. I never explained to you about the dangers of associating yourself with the founding families. I didn't think you would get in touch with the apex influences of the Bright Republic so soon."
Ves shrugged. "It's already done. It's hard to get rid of their clutches once they saw value in me. Do you think I can say no to someone like Senator Tovar? Also, I've learnt that a growing company like the LMC will eventually have to depend on political backing in order to avoid being taken advantage of by the government. For better or worse, I'm aligned with the Tovars now."
"Thereby dragging the rest of the family with you into their camp."
"I don't think that's the case." Ves shook his head. "The Tovars don't seem to be holding any expectations towards the rest of the family. It's only me and my business that he's interested in. Surely their political rivals won't go after the rest of Larkinsons, will they?"
The sour mood emanating from Benjamin already told Ves that this was a vain hope.
"A lot of family members aren't pleased by your unilateral actions. Whatever the circumstances, this is the first time in the four-hundred year history of our family that we have strayed from our neutrality. I don't think I need to explain to you why we value our lack of involvement in the political scene."
Ves nodded. He already reasoned that out on his own. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. I can formally separate myself from the family if that is what it takes to draw a line between us. I can be like Raella who isn't formally connected to the Larkinson Family anymore."
Benjamin immediately shook his head. "That won't work. Raella is... a deviant, but she is nothing different from the other Larkinsons who went their own way. You on the other hand are not just a Larkinson, but the first successful mech designer to ever emerge from our midst. The massive sums of money your Living Mech Corporations has earned us in dividends has prompted us to reconsider our recent... stance."
"Stance on what?"
"On whether we should stick to tradition or adjust to our new circumstances."
"And what have you all decided?"
"The steering committee, at least those who aren't fighting in the frontlines, came together a month ago and decided to double down on our association with your company."
"I thought I told you I like my company to be hands-off from the family."
"You know how some of us think. You're a Larkinson, so why shouldn't you share some of your fortune with the rest of the family? Look, I know it looks bad to you. You must think that we're being pushy in order to leech off your success."
"That sounds about right."
"Yet aren't you benefiting from the family as well, Ves? Not only did we help bring you up, but we can also provide you with continuous assistance. While we are nothing like the Tovar Family, we have our own connections to depend upon. In particular, we possess very strong connections to the Mech Corps which can be very useful to a mech designer like you. In addition, we have many highly-trained mech pilots in the family who would love the opportunity to settle down on a quiet planet like Cloudy Curtain."
Ves felt as if Benjamin wouldn't relent on this issue. "Why is the family so insistent on hooking their tentacles in my company? Is it about the money?"
"What other reason is there?" Benjamin sighed. "None of the businesses we operate are anywhere close to your mech company. In fact, many of our elders feel ashamed. It only took you a handful of years to grow your company to a point where it is earning billions of credits a year. Meanwhile, it took four centuries for multiple generations of Larkinsons to accumulate enough assets that only earns us around fifty to sixty million credits a year."
The Larkinsons weren't savvy investors or businessmen. It didn't help that they invested most of their surplus earnings into acquiring more real estate on Rittersberg. Property on the capital planet was notoriously expensive, and while they guaranteed a steady profit, the ongoing expenses due to high property taxes and other fees meant that the Larkinson Estate could forget about achieving any high returns on their investment.
Considering the relatively paltry amount of profit they earned from their stable and unexciting asset portfolio, suddenly obtaining a twenty-five percent stake in a fast-growing mech company must seem like an enormous shock to the Larkinsons!
With access to more money than they ever handled at any single time, the Larkinsons found that they could use that money in many useful areas. They became so overcome with greed that they even forgave Ves for dragging them closer to the Tovar Family!
"So what is it that you are demanding from me, exactly?" Ves frowned. "Isn't it enough for the family to enjoy its twenty-five percent stake in my company?"
"It is because we own twenty-five percent of your company that we don't feel entirely assured to leave you in charge of your company by itself. You have done an amazing job so far, but you are still young and capable of making mistakes. Having some of our old hands help you out will do a lot to reassure the family of the continuity of your company."
"I don't need any help."
Ves and Benjamin stared at each other in a brief period of silence. Even though Benjamin was a former expert pilot who earned a lot of distinctions back in the day, Ves was no longer a defenseless young lamb.
Eventually, Benjamin snorted. "You've learned how to stand up for yourself."
"Compared to the likes of Senator Tovar, you're not scary at all."
Now that it appeared that Ves wouldn't budge, his grandfather took a step back. "Okay then. I'll tell the family to rein themselves in, alright? However, you should throw the family a bone. Since you're so touchy about retaining control over the company, we won't insist on sending additional managers to your company."
"Good." Ves smiled. "I'm glad you gave up on this issue."
"Not so fast, Ves. I strongly advise you to accept our mech pilots. The Mech Nursery has continually expanded its production capacity and it has become and incredibly vulnerable manufacturing complex. You will need all the help you can get and if word leaks out that genuine Larkinson mech pilots are guarding your facility, you can scare away a lot of greedy opportunists."
While Ves didn't have any exact numbers, if the LCM's Mech Nursery hosted more than a dozen production lines, then his grandfather indeed have a good point. With tens of billions worth of production equipment churning out mechs en masse, it would be an absolute catastrophe if someone launched an attack on the Mech Nursery.
Ves looked intrigued. He was a lot more open to this suggestion. Larkinson mech pilots enjoyed a great reputation due to their solid training. Even if they weren't as amazing as Ghanso or Porellia, they still stood head and shoulders above practically any other mech pilot.
"Which Larkinsons are you planning to bolster my forces?"