Ves took a few days off to get to terms with the latest setback. He felt devastated about the theft of his prototype.
The thought of those fanatics taking the prototype back to one of their hidden bases in order to repair and pervert the mech galled him to no end.
If the True Believers subsequently employed the prototype in one of their terrorist attacks, then everything that Leland described would definitely come to pass!
Ves would suffer the blame for arming the True Believers with such a prominent mech! The fact that he was the victim here and wasn't responsible for the misdeeds the extremists performed didn't matter! The traditionalists would rile up the Ylvainans until everyone wanted him gone!
To be honest, Ves didn't feel very indignant about this possibility. He sold so many mechs to so many buyers that some of them had definitely used his mechs for nefarious purposes. He indirectly became responsible for an untold amount of deaths and property damage.
As a mech designer, if Ves obsessed with the morality of every mech pilot that used one of his products, he'd be driven insane!
Therefore, from a moral standpoint, Ves didn't find it all that repugnant that a bunch of religious extremists planned to make use of one of his mechs.
When Ketis checked up on Ves, Ves revealed the true reason why the theft left him indignant.
"The prototype is an unfinished version of my design!" He yelled. "These True Believers have no respect for the design process! Even though it's already a fantastic mech, that still doesn't change the fact that it's the first iteration of my design! There are so many flaws and imperfections that impact its performance that it's shameful if the True Believers plan to make use of the prototype in its current form!"
Ketis widened her eyes. "You.. you're pissed at the True Believers because they stole a copy of an incomplete design?"
"YES! The prototype is never meant for actual use! If they wanted to steal one of my mechs, I'd rather they wait until I complete my design and fabricate the final copies! The mechs I produce at that time will definitely be able to showcase the full potential of our Transcendent Messenger design!"
How could he tolerate such a travesty? Ves wanted to wring the neck of the living prophet himself for daring to make use of his prototype! The mech they obtained didn't represent his actual work!
While Ves wanted to rage, Ketis had already gotten over the theft. It was just a mech, so what? They at least received most of the test data they set out to gather. After the prototype finished its stress testing, it was destined to be dismantled and recycled. At least now the prototype gained a new life.
Her nonchalant attitude towards the theft reflected her background as a pirate. Ves knew that everyone engaged in robbery if they could get away with it. The side with the strongest fist had the most say. Victims who lost their valuables only had themselves to blame for being so weak.
Still, that didn't mean that Ketis forgave the True Believers for their act. While she didn't possess the same level of pride in her profession as Ves, she disliked being taken advantage of! If she was still in the frontier, then she would definitely retaliate somehow!
Unfortunately, the rules were different in civilized space. Not only that, but they were guests of the Curin Dynasty in the Protectorate, so they were heavily restricted in their actions.
However, just because she couldn't go out on her own didn't mean she could do nothing. She suddenly grinned and gazed down to Lucky who was enjoying her continued ministrations.
"Maybe you can help, Lucky."
"You can sneak out of the compound, right buddy? What do you say about exploring the city. There's bound to be underground hidey holes where the True Believers stashed their stuff. Why not go and ruin them? I'm sure we'll be able to pay back the True Believers for all of the damaged they caused!"
"Why are you so reluctant? Aren't you a glutton for exotics? The True Believers are maintaining their own stockpiles for the stuff in order to service their mechs and other machines. That's free food for you as long as you can sneak inside without getting detected!"
Lucky seriously contemplated the suggestion. With the new toy he received, his ability to sneak in and out of highly-guarded places improved considerably!
Yet just because he can, didn't mean he should!
"Don't think about it, Lucky." Ves scoffed. "The True Believers are incredibly dangerous. Their stockpiles aren't so easy to steal, especially if you come back for repeats."
While Lucky didn't entirely agree with Ves, the cat eventually thought better of it. Scouring the city for the hideouts of the True Believers was a lot of work. Rather than spend so much time and effort to comb the entire city, he would rather stay with Ves and eat his daily dose of exotics! He still hadn't consumed the enormous reward he gained for stealing the holy relic from the grand cathedral!
"Keep an eye on Lucky, Ketis. Don't allow him to run off."
"I'll try." She promised.
Because of the recent incident, Kesseling VIII entered into a state of heightened alert yet again. After months of fruitless searching, the Ylvainan authorities were pretty desperate to root the True Believers from the planet. Now that the fanatics finally made a move, the Protectors of the Faith and the Ylvainan Inquisition tried their best to follow the trails before they grew cold.
A lot of mechs and vehicles moved around the city for the next few days. The authorities tightened the curfew and barred all non-essential traffic. They showed a lot of determination to ruining the plans of the New Ylvaine Dynasty.
Ves didn't have much hope that they could stop the True Believers. The True Believers had spies and informers everywhere. The sympathisers would definitely tip off the extremists if the authorities were close to uncovering one of their cells.
He spent his time analysing some of the raw data the testing ground recorded in his room. While he would have been able to process the data much faster at the mech workshop, for now he had no choice but to work from his temporary home.
The tests revealed many different issues that needed to be addressed. Ves continually optimized the design on the basis of his analysis of the test data. None of the problems posed much of a challenge to him at his current ability.
As Ves made a lot of progress in optimizing his design, he was forced to halt his work when a special visitor arrived at his guest compound.
He walked down to the foyer to an unusual sight.
"Charmed to meet you, Leland." Calabast gently shook the man's hand.
Leland responded with a gentle smile. "Likewise, Director Cecily. We appreciate everything you have done to accommodate our stay in the Protectorate. Without your help, we would have never been able to resist the demands of the Ylvainan Inquisition."
"Mr. Larkinson is an admirably young and dynamic mech designer. The Bright Republic is lucky to have him. He's exactly what the Protectorate needs in order to revitalize our stagnant mech market. Although the theft of your prototype is regrettable, the fact that the True Believers desire the mech in the first place speaks volumes about the quality of its design."
"We aim to please, madame. This setback hasn't affected our ability to fulfill your commission. Your mechs will definitely be ready and delivered on schedule!"
As the two amiable spies chatted with each other, Ves tried his best to keep his composure.
Although both of them belonged to the same kind, Ves had a feeling that Leland was completely clueless who he was dealing with! Calabast had already revealed she knew that Leland was working for Flashlight!
Yet during this polite conversation, Calabast maintained her role as an influential member of the Curin Dynasty to perfection. Her gentle and aristocratic demeanor exposed no flaws at all.
As observant as Leland could be, he probably had no idea of the monster he currently faced!
"Madame Cecily." Ves greeted her as he approached the two. "You can speak with my staffer later, but let's discuss some business first."
The woman smiled coyly at Ves. "Very well."
The two headed up to his room at the top floor of the compound. Once they left their bodyguards behind the door, Calabast activated her jamming devices before she dropped her mild facade.
"Leland is an interesting fellow. He's quite good in his spycraft for his age. If he grew up in a more advanced state, then he might be able to give me a run for my money."
"Please don't string him along. If anything happens to Leland, I'm on the hook." Ves sighed in exasperation.
"Do you know why Flashlight assigned him to accompany you?"
"No, and as long as it doesn't interfere with my goals, I don't care."
Calabast nodded in approval. "That's a prudent mindset to take. While I'm aware that Leland is engaged in a number of activities on this planet, he's merely furthering the interests of his state. He's relatively harmless all considered."
"I'm glad you think so."
He had to admit that ever since Ves struck his deal with Calabast, he was worried that she would but heads with Leland. Both of them were spies who posed a threat to each other if they managed to sniff out their secrets.
That didn't happen, to Ves' relief. Calabast was so superior to Leland that she could keep him blind and deaf as much as she wanted without the latter growing any wiser.
It depressed Ves a bit that someone as sneaky as Leland stood no chance against Calabast. He couldn't rely on Leland and Flashlight to constrain Calabast if she ever acted unreasonably.
The power balance in their partnership was heavily skewed towards Calabast. Ves couldn't get rid of her no matter what, but Calabast could easily cut ties and stab him in the back if she ever decided that she didn't need him anymore.
Ves needed to find a way to achieve parity with Calabast. At the very least, he needed to have more say in their partnership.
"Let's discuss the recent incident." She said, getting down to the main reason why she wanted to meet with Ves. "From what my sources have determined so far, the True Believers who raided the testing ground aren't fake. There's too many evidence that suggest that they are authentic adherents to the New Ylvaine Dynasty, from the mech models they employed to the type of conditioning administered to the fanatics in order to strengthen their loyalty."
That concurred with his own speculation. "I thought that might be the case. It's strange how well they planned this operation. From the sabotage to their routes, they knew exactly where to go. Didn't you say the personnel of the testing ground had been vetted?"
"No precaution is perfect, kid. You should know that." She admonished him. "Just because I expressed confidence in the security of the testing ground doesn't mean I can guarantee that nothing is amiss. So far, the investigations have found out the pivotal reason why the raid had been so successful. The director is the main culprit responsible for allowing the True Believers to sneak up on the testing ground."
"Didn't he get shot by a fanatic?"
"That was merely to silence him. He knew too much."
Ves didn't know what to feel about this revelation. It sounded small compared to everything else he experienced recently.
"I always thought the director was a bit too reluctant to express his support for the reform agenda. It turns out he's a hidden sympathiser." He muttered.
"There's something else we found out after interrogating the captives. While they aren't exactly the most coherent bunch, there are still ways to squeeze useful information out of them. It's just that we aren't sure yet if they are speaking the truth."
"What did you find out, Calabast?"
"We're not certain yet, but there's a chance that the living prophet himself has arrived at Kesseling VIII!"