The rest of the evening proceeded harmoniously and without any incident. By the time the celebrations came to a close, Ves stepped outside the banquet hall and stood next to the immense feet of the Aurora Titan installed as a temporary display model.
Standing in such close proximity to his impressive mech left a strong and profound impression to the visitors who were about to depart.
Ves greeted and shook hands with each person who left.
"Thank you for the mug, Raella. I'll be sure to return the favor! Tell Melinda I love her and her present!"
"It's nice to get in touch with you again, Charlotte. Good luck with your career within the MTA!"
"I hope you enjoy your stay in the Bright Republic, James. Ylvainans like you are the future of the Protectorate."
After the long row of guests each received some well wishes from Ves, his grandfather finally received his own turn.
"You've grown a lot, Ves." He smiled in a way only a grandfather could towards his grandson. "I'm so proud of you, and your father would be proud of you as well."
"One of the reasons why I'm working so hard is to save my father. I still have a long way to go before I'm powerful enough to make a difference."
Both of them sighed and looked sad. Their mood always plunged when they talked about the missing Larkinson.
"Ves.. please don't take this the wrong way, but slow down. Don't take too many risks. You've already achieved a lot of success, but it's only going to get harder from here. Your father wants you to be happy and safe. He would never want you to wear yourself out and ruin everything you've achieved just to save his life. If it comes down to it, he would definitely sacrifice his life in order to protect you from the dangers you've incurred!"
Although his grandfather's advice was very pertinent, Ves already threw it out of his mind. Slow down? Take less risks? As if!
"I will be sure to keep your words in mind." Ves lied.
"There's also something else you should know, Ves. The previous war ended early for a very good reason. While I don't know much and I'm not at liberty to divulge what little I do know, I think the Bright Republic might get swept up in something very dangerous in the future. In light of this, I think you should prepare for the worst and prepare a number of contingency plans in case your facility here on Cloudy Curtain is destroyed."
Ves frowned. He hadn't put much thought about this looming threat. The few people that knew more all kept their knowledge to themselves.
"Is it that bad, grandpa?"
"I don't know. It might be something that can ruin the Bright Republic, but it can also be something that will sweep past us without paying us any mind. All I can say is that it is best to have a Plan B in reserve so that you won't end up starting from scratch in case your assets are ruined."
Ves tapped the side of his head. "Don't worry, grandpa. My most valuable asset is my ability to design mechs. As a Journeyman, its value has skyrocketed. As long as my mind is sound, I'll always be able to rebuild no matter where I end up. Even so, the LMC already has some plans in mind to diversify its operations."
Aside from investing in the joint venture based in the Ylvaine Protectorate, the LMC might expand to other states in the future. Ves did not want to be limited to the Bright Republic and had always insisted on expanding his reach.
With the authorizations and permissions he received from the Tovar Family, the LMC faced fewer hurdles than before.
Before his grandfather left for the shuttle that would take him back to orbit, he shared one more word of advice. "One more thing, Ves. Although you're old enough to decide on how you live your own life, don't pour every moment of your life into work. Although you've achieved a lot of success, what is the point of working so hard if you don't get to enjoy it? Take it easy and find a girlfriend! I hope to meet my great-grandchildren at some point!"
His grandfather chuckled as he left Ves with those words. For his part, Ves didn't dismiss them as readily as Benjamin's previous advice.
"I really should get a girlfriend maybe." He sighed as he watched his grandfather and the others board their shuttles and depart from the Mech Nursery.
His brief reunion with Patricia made him realize that other people were already taking their next steps in their lives. His work was no excuse for him to avoid his love life.
The only problem was that he didn't have a woman in mind right now. If Ves wanted to pursue a serious relationship, he really needed to find someone who he clicked with. For someone as paranoid as him, he wanted to share his life with someone he trusted.
Although he didn't insist on it, he wanted his partner to be a mech designer as well. If the two of them shared the same profession and rank, they could open themselves up to each other on a deeper level.
Where could he find a woman like that in the galaxy?
"Ves!" Ketis walked up to him in her lavish red dress while hugging Lucky. "This was a nice evening. I think your birthday party is a definite success!"
"See? Even Lucky agrees!"
Ves smiled sardonically at her. "Lucky is merely reminding me of my promise to him. Exotics is all he cares about."
"Really? How can you even tell that? All I hear from Lucky are meows!"
"I just have a way with animals I guess. Perhaps that's my true superpower."
Ketis slapped his side with her palm. "Oh, you! Don't joke about that! I'm sure that Journeymen like you are hiding something good from us lesser mech designers. I'll find out the truth myself when I advance!"
"It's hard to become a Journeyman, you know. Don't take me as a typical example. I'm a very big exception to the rule."
Although exceptions always existed, the majority of mech designers who advanced to Journeyman had already reached their middle or later years.
That wasn't as bad as it sounded like, because once they reached this height, their ability to make money increased drastically. Once they worked hard for a couple of decades, they could afford to extend their lives by a century, giving them a lot more time to bloom.
Even so, Ves did not want Ketis to turn old when she reached that point. Journeyman who advanced in their later years often didn't exhibit the amount of enthusiasm and drive towards becoming a Senior.
"I've always told you not to treat me like a kid anymore." Ketis whined. "I'm constantly catching up to you. I'm already making brisk progress in designing my new variant."
"Oh? Which base model is your variant based upon?"
"It's a secret." She grinned.
Ketis refused to divulge the details of the variant she had in store, so they quickly moved on to another topic.
"You're about to go on a really important trip soon, right?"
"Yep." He nodded. "A Journeyman is a lot more significant than a Novice or Apprentice. That's why it's not enough to visit their smaller branches in the Bright Republic. For a mech designer like me to visit the sector headquarters is both a pilgrimage and an implicit oath of subservience."
No matter how great mech designers thought of themselves, the MTA wanted to make sure they didn't forget who was truly in charge.
"About this visit, Ves, I'm thinking of sitting out this time."
"Oh?" Ves raised his eyebrow. Although he hadn't addressed this topic with her, he always assumed she would tag along. "I thought that you'd be interested in seeing the sights. The Centerpoint System is one of the most prosperous star systems in the star sector."
"Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely interested." She said with a serious expression. "However, seeing you celebrate your success today made me realize that I really need to step up my game. You work so hard all day and rarely take the time to relax and enjoy a day off. How can I do any less if I want to reach Journeyman within a decade? I think I need to devote all my time to my design work in order to make a lot of progress."
He hadn't expected such a strong level of dedication from Ketis. Although he was slightly concerned that she would wear herself out by engaging in mech design all day, he was very gratified at her dedication.
"If that's your choice, then by all means stay. Just make sure to pace yourself." He said encouragingly.
Ves and Ketis craned their heads upwards as they witnessed all the shuttles lifting off into the air. The Aurora Titan behind their backs enveloped both of them with its homely and welcoming aura.
The birthday party came to an end. As an army of cleaning bots descended from the ceiling to clean up the entire banquet hall, Ves began to cast his gaze beyond the present.
"What is next?"
Aside from visiting the sector headquarters, Ves also remembered that he promised to pay a visit to Master Olson.
"She'll probably expect me to accept an assignment."
As long as it didn't take him away from home for too long, he was fine with whatever she had in store for him.
Even though he hadn't derived that much benefit out of his apprenticeship to Master Olson, he always enjoyed the implicit protection of this status. Although the umbrella he was taking shelter under wasn't very big compared to the ones she bestowed to her core disciples, it was better than nothing.
The more he enjoyed her appreciation, the greater her support. Ves already understood Master Olson adhered to the principle of equal exchange.
This meant that if Ves wanted to expand his umbrella, he needed to work for it. Right now, Ves possessed too many sensitive secrets such as his design philosophy. If he wanted to fend off the MTA's inquiries into his specialty, then being able to invoke Master Olson's protection was a big convenience.
"Heh. I'm basically treating my Master as a shield at this point."
He couldn't help it. With the System, Ves didn't have much use for Master Olson's tutelage. Even the access to additional sources of knowledge that she provided hadn't been very relevant to him lately.
"Well, I'll see what my Master has in store once I meet her again."
Night fell over the Mech Nursery as Ves turned in for the night.
The next day, Ves woke up refreshed and content. After wearing his smart clothing in a different but still luxurious configuration, he entered his penthouse office.
Some of his presents he received last night now resided on his desk. Ves filled up his Devil Tongue mug with coffee as he admired his grandfather's prosperity tree placed next to Melinda's Planetary Guard mech figurine.
"This tree is a little weird."
It looked similar to a bonsai tree. When Ves read up on prosperity trees, he found out that they originated from an odd planet in the New Rubarth Empire.
Prosperity trees emerged from a mutation due to the anomalous circumstances of its origin. They were very difficult to grow as most seeds failed to sprout.
The few that did experienced incredibly slow growth. If nothing exceptional happened, the prosperity tree on his desk would never be able to grow large enough to overtake his desk.
"However, there's an exception."
On rare occasions, a prosperity tree might enter into a sudden growth spurt! Although many exobotanists tried to figure out the cause behind such an abrupt switch, they still hadn't been able to explain the reason for this transition.
As a result, the Rubarthans started to consider prosperity trees as a symbol of fortune.
"Is this really true?" Ves frowned at the tree while holding his steamy mug.
He sensed nothing remarkable about this tree. His senses didn't detect any remarkable spirituality from the little growth.
"Perhaps it's all superstition." He muttered.