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 On a standard two-dimensional sector map, heading upwards from Centerpoint eventually led to the Bright Republic after passing through a number of states.

Heading straight downwards immediately led to the Kamon Republic.

The Kamon Republic bordered both the Friday Coalition and the Hexadric Hegemony. Early on, the Friday Coalition managed to influence the Kamon Republic and turned it into a loosely-connected vassal state to the Friday Coalition.

This basically meant that while Kamon was still as poor and underdeveloped as a normal third-rate state, it enjoyed the implicit protection of a very big brother.

In particular, the Kamon Republic developed extensive official and unofficial ties to the Vermeer Group, whose territories directly bordered the state.

Thinking about the Vermeer Group which the Barracuda was passing by put Ves into a turbulent mood.

"This is the Coalition partner from which Master Olson hails from." He stated as he zoomed in on the plot projected in front of him. "The Titanium Garden isn't that far away from here either."

Sadly, he would never get to set foot on the famed artificial satellite.

"There are more places I can visit besides the Titanium Garden." Ves shook his head. "The galaxy is vast and endlessly diverse. Even if limited to human space, there are countless curiosities to discover."

One of the few words of advice that Master Olson gave him was that Journeymen always ought to move beyond their own familiar confines.

Ves deeply understood this truth. If he remained stuck in the Bright Republic for the rest of his life, he would have never seen the diverse ways mechs were being put to use.

Mechs acquired different meanings under different circumstances.

To a Brighter, a mech was a defensive tool, a means to defend the Republic against outside aggression.

To a Vesian, a mech was a tool for earning glory and greater status. In this hypercompetitive feudal society, every commoner could elevate themselves to nobility, and every noble could gain a higher status upon performing well in battle.

To a Reinaldan, a mech was a product. Rather than put them into battle and consume a fortune's worth of assets and manpower, why not focus on exploiting their economic value instead?

To a child of the frontier, a mech was the ultimate tool of survival. Possessing or piloting a mech meant you possessed a measure of strength. Only those who piloted mechs had the grounds to take their lives in their own hands!

To an Ylvainan, a mech was a vessel to express their faith. Mechs not only had to defend their state, they also had to advance their beliefs. If they left their security to machines that contradicted their faith, they could no longer call themselves Ylvainans.

"In short, mechs are more than just war machines. They are also totems that encompass each state and each culture's core values."

As a mech designer, Ves designed a mech from the perspective of a Brighter. He unconsciously approached his work with Brighter values, customs and ideals.

Was there anything wrong with this? Not necessarily. Yet if Ves ever wanted to reach a wider audience, he needed to be more cognizant of how his mechs would be perceived by mech buyers from foreign states.

For example, Ves already personally experienced how sober, functional-looking mechs didn't always cut it in a weird state like the Ylvaine Protectorate. Their propensity to dress up their mechs in religious symbolism and iconography meant that he would have to adjust his mechs according to local tastes in order to achieve enduring success.

Although his elevation as their Bright Martyr partially helped his company bypass this hurdle, Ves still intended to go through with his setting up a means to adjust his future products to local customs in the Protectorate and elsewhere if needed.

Ves smirked. "It's great that the Bright Republic's mech culture is a bit boring and plain. That already saves me a lot of work."

An Ylvainan mech designer would never be able to sell their mechs outside of the Protectorate. Their mechs all looked like walking altars or statues of the Ylvainan Faith, which meant that no non-believer would ever wish to put them into use!

For this reason, if an Ylvainan mech designer ever wanted to export their products elsewhere, they needed to gut the entire outer appearance of their designs!

"That's going to present a really difficult dilemma to these bunch of complacent bums." He scoffed.

The trouble the Ylvainans faced was that they strongly believed that their mechs ought to express their faith in a visually distinctive manner.

Would they be willing to make an exception to this long-standing tradition in order to engage in foreign trade?

"The Curin Dynasty will be in favor, but the Poxco Dynasty will do everything they can to stop this shift."

The greater point was that while the Ylvainans would have to be more aware of the limitations of their design style, so did Ves.

Did this mean he would have to give up the Brighter identity of his mechs? Not necessarily. He just had to be aware of how well his mech would fare in all the markets the LMC chose to prioritize.

"Mech designers exist to develop solutions. Not every solution is optimal in different states. It depends on the circumstances."

Right now, Ves only had a shallow understanding of how mechs were being used in other states. Only by visiting them in person and immersing himself in the local mech community would he be able to develop a deep and authentic understanding of foreign markets.

Ves sighed. "Sadly, there's no way to visit every single state in the Komodo Star Sector in a reasonable amount of time."

It would take years or decades to complete such a journey. Some states were similar to the Ylvaine Protectorate in that they heavily restricted foreign entry. Other states were wracked with conflict and instability and featured very poor security.

Besides, there was little added value in visiting each inconsequential state. While a market was a market, not every state featured an eccentric mech culture. The LMC would not have to make any adjustments to sell its mechs to those markets.

Of course, Ves still missed out on plenty of unique mech cultures which imposed strict demands on any mechs put up for sale. The LMC would just have to accept the reality that its products wouldn't appeal in those weird states that couldn't be accommodated without excessive adjustments.

As the Barracuda crossed into the territory of the Kamon Republic, everyone spent a lot of time fleshing out Ves' travel itinerary.

Gavin and Captain Silvestra made various bookings and reservations and also approached various local mech designers if they were open to professional visits.

Something peculiar occurred that caused Gavin to report to Ves.

"Is there a problem finding mech designers willing to host me or accept a visit, Benny?"

Right now, Ves had barely passed the threshold into Journeyman. Combined with his very short design record, which foreign Journeyman wanted to entertain such an inexperienced mech designer?

Surprisingly, Gavin shook his head. "It's not that, boss. When we started contacting the staff of every mech designer on your list, we did indeed meet with a lot of rejection. Sometimes the receptionists or whatever outright hung up without saying goodbye. Yet when we mentioned your name to some of the people we talked to, they seemed to recognize it and act very friendly all of a sudden."

"Oh?" Ves folded his arms. "These mech designers all live in states that are all quite distant from the Bright Republic. They shouldn't have heard of me, and I doubt the LMC has a strong presence in their markets. What is it about my identity that causes them to take note?"

"Well.. I don't know how you'll take it, but.. it's not you, but Gloriana. Somehow, they're aware that you're her boyfriend. Even if she hasn't made a lot of achievements yet, she is still a scion of the Wodin Dynasty. Many mech designers are very afraid of crossing their ire, so they've been remarkably accommodating when we requested the possibility of accepting a visit from you in the future."

This.. Ves became stumped. How far had the news spread throughout the star sector? At the very least, the states aligned to the Hegemony should have paid close attention to the rumors spread by his supposed 'girlfriend'!

"Goddammit!"

"Look on the bright side, Ves! At least we've been able to secure the commitment of numerous mech designers that you're interested in! The amount of mech designers who accepted has surpassed our estimate! We even had to stop contacting any further mech designers because your itinerary is already filled!"

While that indeed came as welcome news, Ves doubted the sincerity of the mech designers who acquiesced on account of the Wodin Dynasty. It felt as if they were only going through the motions because Ves put a gun on their heads.

How could any sincere exchange take place if none of the mech designers respected him for his own merits? They probably intended to treat him like a nobody who lucked out with a fantastic girlfriend.

Yet.. was that so bad? Maybe Gavin was right. Maybe getting at least some access was better than having a door slam into his face. Even if he took advantage of the power of the Wodin Dynasty, it was the least his girlfriend could offer as compensation for the damages he suffered at her hands!

"Make sure they are sincere or well-behaved enough to treat me seriously, Benny." He instructed. "I don't mind the method we've used to secure those commitments, but they have to be sincere enough for me to accomplish some actual gains."

Gavin nodded. "I've already taken that into account. We prioritized securing the commitments of those who have possible business and personal ties to the Hegemony. They're at risk of suffering a lot of losses if they piss off the wrong person."

That was not what Ves meant, he wanted to complain. Yet he let Gavin's remark be. Being feared was better than being dismissed in this case.

In an ideal reality, Ves preferred to be recognized by his own qualities. Yet without any established reputation in their circles, it was better for him to borrow someone else's. The Wodin Family was the equivalent of a comital house of a feudal state.

To put it simply, Gloriana's status was similar to that of Lord Javier in the Vesia Kingdom.

Such a level of power and authority was more than sufficient to make any mech designer in a third-rate state wary.

Ves did not mind pretending to be an agent of the Wodin Family if that was what it took to command the attention of a foreign mech designer.

Regardless of how willing they wanted to entertain him, Ves was confident he would be able to charm them into a more consensual exchange! He wasn't called the Devil Tongue for nothing!

"By the way, boss, we'll be arriving at the Kamon Republic's port system soon."

"The Zin Alpha System, I'm aware." Ves nodded.

"Do you want to stop by and hang out there for a couple of days? Captain Silvestra wants to load up some supplies and top off the ship's spent energy and fuel reserves before we embark on the lengthy tour."

Ves figured that since he left the Friday Coalition proper, it should be okay for him to enter the Zin Alpha System. Despite Kamon's role as a buffer state to the Friday Coalition, it was still an independent entity.

"Fine." He dismissively waved his hand. "There are curiosities in every port system. I might as well see what Zin Alpha has to offer to its visitors."

The Kamon Republic was a rather soft state due to enjoying the protection of its huge neighbor, so Ves did not hold any interest in its mech culture. Instead, he specifically wanted to see how a third-rate state developed when it came under the continuous influence of a prosperous second-rate state.

Did Kamoners live better than Brighters or Vesians? Or were they actually worse off?

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