Ves really couldn't be bothered with facilitating relations between the Bright Republic and the Ylvaine Protectorate.
After receiving Leland's request, Ves handed it over to Calsie and told her to take care of it in his stead.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to use us as a bridge to build up relations between our two states. Just do enough to keep them happy."
After taking care of that matter, Ves addressed some other matters as well. One of the most important one was to pay a visit to the base of the Avatars of Myth in order to meet with Coyin Larkinson, a retired infantryman.
The man looked as if he was getting on in his years. Despite his age, he still possessed a tough and fit body.
"So you're the brat who needs my services, right?" Coyin asked when Ves entered the room with Melkor.
Ves did not look amused. He stared at the man and applied some pressure.
That caused Coyin's face to color a bit. The old man began to stand up straighter. "Looks like it's true. You do have some of the air of an expert pilot around you! As expected of the Devil Tongue!"
"Please don't mention that awful name." Ves said with a grimace.
"Why not? You should be proud of it! It shows that you're a fighter! Let it not be said that us Larkinsons are cowards!"
After talking a bit with Coyin, Ves quickly got his measure. He was typical to retired Larkinsons, always harping on about their past glory and how well they fought in the previous wars.
Aside from an intense hate for the Vesians, the old Larkinson seemed capable enough to lead the first guard infantry company of the Avatars of Myth. The man may be stody, but he knew his business and he possessed a lot of actual battle experience.
"Not every Larkinson who doesn't possess the right genetic aptitude wants to remain a civilian." Coyin said with his gruff voice. "Although guard duty and infantry combat isn't as exciting as piloting mech these days, they're just as essential. It's a noble calling."
"I'm not arguing with that." Ves said. "That's also why I need you to set up a guard force that is ready to guard me and other important people working at the LMC. Although I already have a very extensive security contract with Sanyal-Ablin, they aren't able to accompany me everywhere."
Coyin recognized the name. "SASS is really good. Expensive too, but good. However, I heard that the main reason why they're so spread around the Komodo Star Sector is because they extend the influence of the Konsu Clan of the Friday Coalition. Why go through the trouble of inserting spies and risking all kinds of trouble when you can just establish a security company and send them out openly as security experts?"
"I know that's a possibility. That's why I want the Avatars of Myth to slowly take over the responsibilities of SASS. Whether it's mechs, guard infantry or virtual security, I want the Avatars of Myth to offer the full gamut of all the services a regular security company offers."
This comprehensive list of demands caused both Melkor and Coyin to be taken aback.
Melkor shifted pensively on his feet. "That's a very serious effort, Ves. Covering virtual security is a whole other field. We'll have to set up a dedicated department just to provide the minimum level of protection."
"Take your time. For now, SASS is sufficient to cover this responsibility."
A mech company like the LMC constantly accumulated a lot of sensitive internal data. It would be bad if others managed to get access to them, but it was not that big of a deal.
The most valuable data was stored inside the heads of the mech designers of the company. This was also why Ves prioritized his personal safety before the safety of the LMC's databases.
Once he finished instructing Melkor on what he expected from the Avatars, Ves left the base and returned to headquarters. He tracked down Ketis and Lucky at the company's living area.
"You know, Ves, you should get a house or a villa like the ones we stayed at in the Protectorate." She said as she was eating a meal by the dining table.
Lucky was eating his lunch as well, as Ketis served him a bowl of low-grade exotics. The cat blissfully munched the minerals on the table.
"I thought you didn't care about homes, Ketis."
"I used to live on starships, so I never really saw the point of houses. It's different now that I don't necessarily have to sleep in the same place where I work. I think it would be nice to live in a place of my own perhaps. You got lots of money, right? Why not spend some of that to build a nice home?"
Now that she brought it up, Ves did indeed miss living in his own home. The last time he truly lived in a proper home was his father's house in Freslin.
He still owned the modest middle-class dwelling, but it was wholly inadequate for a mech designer of his stature. The security risks alone made it unsuitable for his use.
"You know what, you're right. I do need a new home. I think it's best to keep it close to the Mech Nursery for security reasons, but they don't need to be within sight of each other. Can you take care of it? Coordinate with Calsie or Gavin to help organize the construction of a new villa."
Ketis looked surprised. "Really? You're letting me take charge of the construction project?"
"I don't have the time nor interest to manage this project. It's just a home. Just make sure to prioritize safety. I've become very prominent lately, so you need to make sure that my accommodation is secure."
Just like before, Ves delegated a responsibility to someone else. Since Ves did not have any new design projects in store for the foreseeable future, he needed to keep Ketis busy somehow. Putting her in charge of constructing a new villa should occupy her for a couple of months.
"Now that you're here, there's something else I wanted to talk about, Ves. I want to start earning my own keep."
That sounded serious enough for Ves to pay full attention. "You sound very determined."
"I've been thinking about why I'm here, Ves. I've been enjoying your help and attention for a long time, but I've hardly paid you back for all the favors you've done."
"You are thinking about designing your own mech?" Ves guessed.
She nodded. "I think I'm ready to do something on my own. Even if it's designing a variant, I want to learn how to design a mech without your help. This is something I need."
"You're right. A mech designer ought to be able to design a mech by themselves." Ves agreed, though he felt very apprehensive about letting Ketis off on her own. "Are you sure you're up for the challenge?"
"I'm more than ready. The experience I've gained from helping you with the Aurora Titan and Transcendent Messenger designs is enough for me to manage my own approach."
She was ready. Ves could feel it. Now only did she overflow with passion and enthusiasm, she also prepared well.
However, even if her intentions were good, the time may not be right.
"Whatever mech you design won't sell well in the current market environment." He cautioned. "Not only is everyone waiting for the next mech generation, a variant designed by a novice generally don't sell very well. Even if you make your mech so cheap that its product margin is razor thin, it won't have any impact on the mech market."
Ketis shrugged. "I know it's tough for Novices like me to get a start. Didn't you start small as well? You can't baby me forever, Ves! I have to advance so that I can develop my own superpower!"
"Not that again." Ves groaned. "I can't believe you still take that delusion seriously."
Her stubborn face showed that his argument didn't take hold. "I'll find out by myself when I advance to Journeyman. Until then, I need to have a lot more practice and design experience under my belt. Helping you out in your designs is great, but a girl has to stand up on her own sometimes, you know?"
"Is there anything else behind this decision?"
"Yeah. Remember the Swordmaidens? I got back in touch with them lately."
Ves looked interested. "How are they doing?"
"They took an awful beating. You know how bad it got at the end. The worst thing about it is that their backers only handed over a single lump sum of money for all of the stuff they did. Commander Dise thinks the Swordmaidens outlived their usefulness in their eyes."
"I would have thought that their backers would have appreciated your old outfit because it's led by an expert candidate."
Due to an extraordinary event on Aeon Corona VII, both Captain Orfan of the Flagrant Vandals and Commander Dise of what used to be Lydia's Swordmaidens advanced to expert candidates.
While this did not guarantee that they would be able to take the next step and advance to expert pilot, the possibility of it alone was very valuable! To Ves, a single expert candidate was worth as much as the Swordmaidens in their prime!
"Commander Dise didn't tell our backers anything about her recent advancement. Most Swordmaidens who knew about it died on the planet. Aside from sharing her secret to the highest-ranking Swordmaidens, she's been keeping her improvement under wraps."
That sounded wise. Expert candidates were extremely attention-grabbing, especially in a depraved region like the frontier. If it became known that the Swordmaidens harbored an expert candidate, then the Dragon Alliance or the Ravienne Alliance would quickly come and 'invite' them to be a part of their pirate group.
"Still, it must be tough for the Swordmaidens to rebuild their strength after such a devastating loss."
"They're managing for now. It takes years to train up new Swordmaidens, so they're laying low." Ketis said. "The only issue that's becoming increasingly more pressing is that their bag of money will eventually run out. They will need some money in order to sustain their recovery, and they're looking at us to supplement their income."
Ves still remembered the deal he made with Commander Dise. "I'm willing to lend a hand, but not for free."
"I know. That's also why I want to design my own mechs. I don't have any use for the money. I might as well pass it onto the Swordmaidens."
This must be the main reason why Ketis wanted to strike out on her own. While Ves was still apprehensive whether her first design would be any good, at the very least she gained some very necessary experience.
He also thought about how to approach cases like this when his subordinate mech designers wanted to design their own mechs.
He began to explain his scheme. "If you happen to design a new mech, I can offer you several options upon finishing it. You can hand it over to me to uptune your design and elevate it to my standards. This is a lot of work, though. So in exchange for this service, you'll have to cede a proportionate amount of ownership of the design to me for fairness sake."
"I don't like this option. It sounds as if most of the effort I put into my designs is pointless since you're just going to override most of my design choices."
"The other option I can offer you is to publish your design under a different brand name. Your work will still belong to you, but it won't be associated with my main brand. Instead, I'll think up a different but related brand for designs that don't meet the LMC's quality standards."
The LMC built up a considerable amount of reputation, but that mostly rested on its quality designs. If the company started selling mechs designed by Novices all of a sudden, its reputation would quickly nosedive!
However, without the direct backing of the LMC, Ketis would have a tough time trying to sell her mechs. Even so, it sounded like a better prospect for her to develop herself.
"The mech market is a tough place, but I'm a big girl. I can handle myself." She confidently stated. "Just wait. In six months, I'll have my first variant ready. I already have a good idea on what I want to design."
"I'll look forward to your work."