The group took a break from their hunt for Kinners to hire. Kelandra took them to an exclusive restaurant adjacent to Ornament Halls and guided them to a private room to eat lunch.
As Ves chewed some sort of crunchy insect that happened to be a highly-prized delicacy on Bloodstone II, he continued to contemplate the plan he formed in his mind.
Commander Oryn Mair was valuable. Not only was he a mech pilot trained according to the standards of an elite tribal corps, his spirituality also signified great potential.
From what he knew about mech pilots, Ves guessed that as long as Commander Mair adjusted his mentality, there was a strong chance he could break through to expert candidate without requiring too much help!
This would be very convenient to Ves, especially if he succeeded in buying out the mercenary commander and the rest of his outfit! With a near-unbreakable loyalty to Ves, nobody could take the newly-emerged expert candidate from him, not even the Kinner Tribe themselves!
Even if the Kinner Tribe was willing to rehabilitate Commander Mair due to his risen status, they could never openly act in conflict with their own principles!
The Kinners relied so much on their credibility. Their loyalty was absolute, and their promises could always be relied upon!
Once a Kinner was sold, they remained with their new owners forever, barring some exceptional circumstances!
He did not foresee any problems on this end. The only challenge on his part was that Ves needed to overcome Commander Mair's resistance to being sold before he advanced to expert candidate.
"Even if he doesn't agree to my offer to buy out his mercenary corps, I still have an entire year to do so." Ves softly muttered.
For some reason, Lucky hopped away from Ves and adopted a wary attitude. The cat seemed to detect that his owner was contemplating something awful again!
"Oh, come on, Lucky! I'm just thinking about it! Who can blame me for contemplating a solution? I'm a mech designer! Solving problems is in my nature!"
Ves looked despondent. "Yeah, you're right. Even if I can, it doesn't mean I should."
On one hand, he was really greedy to obtain the services of Commander Mair. Ves had met a lot of mech pilots in his life and developed a pretty good sense of what they were capable of. Commander Mair absolutely held promise, both as a regular mech pilot and a potential expert!
To let such a human treasure slip past his fingers left a very sour taste in his mouth. It was like walking past a shining treasure in the mud. As long as Ves wasn't afraid of getting his hands dirty, he'd be able to obtain a valuable asset!
Yet.. Lucky's disapproving glance made Ves hesitate. Should he really sink to such a depth to secure the loyalty of a promising mech pilot?
"It would be so much easier if Commander Mair was a pirate or some other scum." He softly muttered.
Yet despite his earlier failings, Oryn Mair had gone above and beyond to obtain redemption. Such behavior and drive was worthy of respect and admiration. It reminded Ves of some of the greater Larkinsons in his family, those who took their duty and integrity seriously.
Should Ves give in to his more honorable side and afford Commander Mair the respect he deserved?
Or should he set aside his misgivings and enact his plan, leading to a result that in the end provided a lot of benefits to both Ves and the mercenary commander?
Ves did not necessarily intend any ill towards Commander Mair. To Ves, the Kinner was still suffering from a disgrace that should have been forgiven years ago. The man was fighting an uphill battle for redemption, not knowing that the hill he was climbing was endless.
One of the complicating factors was that Ves truly believed that Commander Mair would be better off under his care. Who in the galaxy possessed a deeper glimpse in the creation of expert pilots than him? Hardly anyone could match his unique advantages!
So why was Ves still hesitating?
He turned to Gavin and asked a sudden question. "Does the end justify the means?"
"If I can achieve a great result by doing something awful, is it worth it to do so?"
"What brought this about?" Gavin frowned.
"Just humor me for a moment."
"Hmmm.. I think humanity is better than that."
"Our civilization's long history says otherwise."
"That's because it was necessary for our survival." Gavin flicked his hand. "Our race acted like two-faced, backstabbing bastards during the Age of Space and Age of Conquest, but so what? The pompous alien races who terrorized the galaxy were all worse. They deserved everything we unleashed upon them. In this way, the end indeed justified the means back then. It all depends on who will pay the price."
"In other words, the end only justifies the means if the victim had it coming?"
"Yeah. Nowadays, I think we've outgrown that period in our civilization. Do we really need to revisit our darker sides? Look where that has gotten us. As soon as we stopped targeting the aliens, we turned our darkness against ourselves."
Ves had to admit that his assistant had a good point.
If Ves indeed decided to enact his plan, he might be able to achieve his desired result, but at what cost? Would he be more inclined to make a dirty move towards people who really didn't deserve to be subjected to this kind of treatment?
Perhaps.. he needed to rethink his priorities. At the very least, if Ves was facing some kind of criminal or a bastard, he would have no scruples getting his hands dirty.
Yet that wasn't the case here. Neither Commander Mair or his retired father deserved to be subjected to dishonorable means.
"You were asking me this because of Commander Mair and his Edge of Redemption, right?" Gavin asked.
Ves nodded. "Yeah, but I shelved my plans. As I stated earlier, Commander Mair is a soldier who deserves to be treated with respect. I don't want to resort to my Devil Tongue ways to fool him into working for me. Yet without any special means, I don't have any means to change the stubborn Kinner's mind."
"Earlier you said that everyone has a price. Instead of trying to cheat him into your service, why not try and find a way to give him what he wants?"
Ves grimaced. "I don't think a foreigner like me can interfere in this matter. The entire Kinner Tribe including his own father thinks he's irredeemable. No amount of hard work and excellence in his mercenary career will earn Oryn Mair forgiveness."
He had reached a dead end. While Ves could have offered other rewards to the commander, the man himself stated that money was just a possession. What Commander Mair truly valued was his honor and his father's acknowledgement! Something which Ves could not give unless he was willing to resort to very ugly means!
"To be honest, I still don't understand why you are so hung up over Commander Mair." Gavin said with a hint of confusion lingering in his eyes. "He's definitely something, but is he truly the only choice out here on Bloodstone? There are countless mercenary corps who are more than eager to work for a wealthy mech designer like you. I don't see any reason to tunnel vision on a single mercenary. He doesn't want to work for you, while you don't want to resort to any radical means to change his mind."
Though Ves felt very regretful about passing by a golden opportunity, he accepted Gavin's viewpoint.
"I think you're right. I'll forget about him and turn my attention to other Kinners. No matter how much I want to obtain someone, not everyone is for sale. I just have to accept that some people will always remain out of reach to me. The Mercenary Association did warn me about encountering this reaction."
The Kinners valued reputation and credibility highly. Not just among their own tribesmen, but also to the foreign clients looking to enlist their services.
While Ves achieved numerous feats of heroism back home, all of his shiny medals and accolades meant little this far away from the Bright Republic. The Kinners lacked the context to appreciate his achievements. They only saw him as a young, wealthy Journeyman.
Ves, Gavin and Lucky finished their lunch. To be honest, neither Ves or Gavin found the Kinner delicacies palatable. Only Lucky enjoyed a decent meal among the three as Ves fed him some exotics he bought at a nearby shop.
Lucky lazily dozed on Ves' shoulder after his sumptuous meal. His tail flitted back and forth with contentment.
Ves sighed and booped his pet in the nose.
"Maybe I should leave the search to you, Lucky."
Kelandra ignored the antics of her client and led the group to some of the outer halls. Not as many mercenaries and clients frequented these areas as they were usually taken up by less established mercenary corps. More foreign-owned outfits showed up as well, providing potential employers with more affordable alternatives.
It was at one of the outer halls that Lucky suddenly sniffed and raised his head.
"Hmm? What is it, Lucky?"
There is something remarkable about that pair of mercenaries?"
Lucky pointed him towards a pair of despondent-looking foreigners sitting by themselves in the corner of the hall they were in right now. The two, a man and a woman, looked fairly young and also shared an obvious family resemblance.
Nothing about their appearance appealed to potential clients. Their grumpy faces and haggard faces suggested they were part of a mercenary corps that was down on their luck.
Yet now that Lucky directed Ves to turn his attention on them, a couple of details stood out.
First, their clothes may have started to look like rags, but they used to be part of a military uniform. Ves could easily imagine the badges and insignia that used to adorn their outfits.
Second, though the two mercs looked despondent, they still possessed some steel in their spine. They must have enjoyed a very proud position in the past.
These weren't the first foreign mercenaries he'd seen on Bloodstone who fled in disgrace. In fact, such stories were actually the norm than the exception.
It was just that the losses the two mercenaries suffered must have been fairly recent. Otherwise, they wouldn't have looked so out of place compared to the other mercenaries who learned they needed to let go of their pasts in order to begin anew.
As Ves came nearer, he discreetly brushed them with his spiritual vision. Both happened to possess a mote of spirituality.
Did that instantly make them special? Not necessarily. Ves already encountered numerous mech pilots like them. Numerous Larkinsons shared the same condition.
Therefore, aside from the peculiarities he observed, Ves did not note anything else that caused Lucky to take interest in the pair.
It didn't hurt to talk, though.
"Looks like the two of you aren't exactly eager to enter the mercenary business." Ves started off on a strong note.
The male looked up with resentful eyes. "We did not choose to be mercenaries. It was forced upon us due to unforeseen circumstances."
"You can say that about half the foreigners in these halls. What makes you so special?"
The mercenary shrugged. "We competed for power and lost. Our noble house is in ruins and our titles are struck from the records. Are you happy now, or do you want to laugh at us some more?"
Ah. Fallen nobles. It always hurt more when you fell from a greater height.
"I do not mean to disparage the two of you." Ves gently raised his hands. "I'm just curious. Are the two of you in charge of a mercenary corps?"
"No." The woman shook her head and spoke up for the first time. "They cut and run on us when we arrived at Bloodstone! They took the mechs owned by our house and started their own outfit without us! We've appealed to the Kinner Tribe and the Mercenary Association but they aren't doing anything to return our stolen property!"
Well, that explained why the pair of foreigners looked so crushed. Ves became increasingly more interested in their story. What was it about them that attracted Lucky's notice?