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 "We haven't achieved anything so far." Gavin noted to Ves after the end of the day. They had returned to their hotel as the sun faded over the horizon. "There were plenty of mercenary corps who seemed decent, but you didn't look enthused."

"Kelandra was wrong." Ves remarked. "At the very least, she hasn't told me the complete story."

"How so?"

"Money talks. This is true. Yet sometimes the currency that matters more isn't hard credits, but reputation. If I was a Senior or had a few more years to burnish my name, I would have been able to persuade the likes of Commander Mair to work for me. As it is, I'm far too obscure to recruit the truly valuable mercenaries."

"We always knew that to begin with, boss. In my eyes, you are setting your standards way too high. Don't forget what we are here for. You wanted protection for your trip and loyal mech pilots to bolster the growth of the Avatars of Myth. While it's great if you can get the best, you can still meet these goals with any other Kinner mercenary corps."

The reminder put Ves to thought as he stared at the bloody red sunset over Bloodstone's crimson surface.

"I think you have a point." He admitted as he relaxingly drank a glass of wine. "I think a bit of Gloriana washed over me. I focused too much on getting the best that I lost sight of the bigger picture."

Lately, Gloriana's insertion into his life made him feel a lot of pressure. He couldn't afford to rest on his laurels. He needed to improve and build up his strength significantly faster than he previously thought.

Yet he got so caught up in trying to squeeze out advantages everywhere that he was starting to lose sight of his boundaries. Growing wealthier, powerful and more capable opened a lot of options that Ves could have never imagined.

With his overactive imagination and his creative mind, he became capable of designing great mechs.

However, his barely-constrained imagination also led him to develop dangerous ideas just because he was capable of putting them into fruition.

Ves noticed that this tendency became increasingly worse over time. When he reflected on his recent actions, he recognized that his common sense and grounded mindset had both been deteriorating for a while.

Was this what all mech designers had to deal with? Or was his artificially-augmented mental attributes to blame?

Maybe Ves was experiencing the same kind of degeneration as all of those infamous admirals and battleship captains back during the Age of Conquest.

The constant pursuit to improve one's raw attributes often led to unintended side effects.

Ves thought that genetic modification had advanced and learned from the mistakes of the past.

Perhaps he was wrong.

The problems might be more intrinsic, making them an unavoidable part of improving oneself. The so-called 'side effects' were so ingrained that they might as well be a core component of the total package.

How many leaders, military officers and dignitaries were running in the galaxy concocting wild schemes and plotting all manner of crimes in order to get an advantage in the current age?

The greater their capabilities, the greater their capacity towards destruction.

The worst part of this realization was that Ves suspected that he was on track to join their ranks.

Did he want to stop or reverse this development?

Not necessarily.

With all the experiences he had been through, he would rather suffer from too much paranoia than be too trusting and naive against a potential threat.

Yet even if he accepted this inevitable transformation, did that mean he had to resign himself to becoming a monster in human skin?

Right now, Ves realized that he always had a solution by his side.

It was the people he kept by his side.

For example, Ves kept Gavin by his side in order to keep him informed and to assist him in passing on instructions and making appointments on his behalf. Yet Ves did not call his assistant Benny for no reason.

Though Gavin harbored suspicions that Ves was suffering from brain damage when he stopped calling his assistant by his real name, the actual reason was much more profound.

At first, it was a conscious way to remind Ves of the danger of letting a gatekeeper gain too much control over his life.

Each time Ves spoke out the name 'Benny', his mind kept harkening back on how Axelar's bodyguard and assistant practically dictated much of the Terran wastrel's life.

After Ves returned from that Master experience, he resolved to never make such a mistake himself. He should always be the one in charge of his own organization instead of the other way around.

However, in his drive to keep up his guard against a trusted subordinate, he overlooked the truth that sometimes a gatekeeper may be right.

Gavin accompanied Ves constantly ever since he returned from the war. Both of them grew up on the same planet, but whereas one became a wildly successful mech designer, the other one still retained much of his common Cloudy Curtain sensibilities.

Each time Ves made an extreme decision, he always did so alone. Yet each time he deliberated on his choices in the company of Gavin, his assistant often acted as a sounding board and a voice of reason.

From the perspective of a mech designer like Ves, it was a matter of specialization. Ves was very much in charge for a reason, but his judgement was only sound in some areas.

In other areas, the judgement of a common space peasant like Gavin was plainly better. The instance of trying to find a way to recruit Commander Mair clearly illustrated this point.

Perhaps the best way to restrain his more unreasonable urges was to have someone at his side who was ready to offer a second opinion.

This was the other function of a gatekeeper. To be a voice of reason whenever their bosses required one.

Ves also had more companions. He had Ketis, Calsie, Melkor, Calabast, his grandfather and so on to help manage his affairs and to provide him with relevant advice.

Just like mechs, no one excelled in every aspect. Multipurpose mechs might claim otherwise, but Ves personally experienced that even they possessed shortcomings.

He was realistic enough to admit that he was nowhere close to a multipurpose mech. He was just good at designing mechs, that was all. In everything else, Ves was far from a knowledgeable expert.

Perhaps Ves should direct his paranoia towards his own judgement once in a while.

"Benny?"

"Yes, boss?"

"Thank you for being with me. Thank you for providing me with sound counsel. Sometimes, I need a good whack to my head whenever I'm contemplating something crazy."

Gavin nervously released a laugh. "You're the boss. That's what you're paying me for, right?"

"Right."

"Seriously though, if there's anything you need that you can't do yourself, just hire someone. Bloodstone may be famed for its mercenaries, but there are more people for hire besides mech pilots. Maybe it's a good idea if you shop around for other experts and specialists while you still have access to one of the best job markets in the star sector."

That did sound like a great idea to Ves. "You're right. Why didn't I think about that? However, hiring someone trustworthy is not going to be easy."

"Then just buy out a Kinner expert, boss. Not every Kinner tribesman is a poorly-educated menial or a mech pilot who doesn't have a life outside fighting, though it may seem that way sometimes. There are plenty of Kinners who studied other vocations that are looking to sign on to a wealthy benefactor like you. Best of all, they aren't as expensive to buy out as a mercenary corps!"

A bulb went off in Ves' mind. "You're right! It's difficult, if not outright impossible to hire assistants who are both trustworthy and capable! One of the only places where this rule doesn't apply is one Bloodstone! Everyone knows that a Kinner's fealty is ironclad!"

Even so, his lingering paranoia cautioned him to take it easy for now. If he relied too much on this assumption, it might come back to bite him in the butt.

They began to trade ideas on which positions to hire in order to bolster the staff.

"How about hiring a financial manager? You need someone to manage your personal fortune."

"Maybe." Ves hesitated. He really did not want anyone touching his personal funds at all, but he recognized that he may inadvertently squander his money due to his lack of financial acumen. "Put it on the list. If we find a Kinner who can be trusted with my personal assets, I'm open to buying them out."

They traded more suggestions, most of which Ves rejected because they didn't seem necessary. Why should he hire a personal cook when nutrient packs and autochefs already did a decent job in filling his stomach? He was not a picky eater.

A small idea crept up to Ves. "Please add a spymaster to the list."

"A spy? Why would you have need of that kind?" Gavin frowned.

"Perhaps I misspoke. I meant a security expert." Ves rephrased. "Corporate espionage is very real, as we both found out at the Ylvaine Protectorate. I truly need someone who knows how to spy and who can beat them at their own game. Proficiency in counterintelligence is my main priority, but if I ever need someone to snoop on my behalf, I want to have someone capable on hand."

"..Okay. That makes sense, I guess."

"It's not just for me, Benny. The expert we hire can also assist the Avatars of Myth in setting up its virtual security division."

After another ten minutes of trading different possibilities, Gavin suddenly mentioned the most obvious option that they somehow overlooked.

"You need a personal bodyguard."

"Isn't that why I'm here in the first place?"

"Kinner mercenary corps are all geared towards piloting mechs to protect you against other mechs. They might be great against fending off hostile mechs, but that doesn't mean they're adept at foiling assassins in disguise and such. A personal bodyguard who isn't a part of the Avatars of Myth but reports directly to you and only you can be your greatest shoulder to lean on in hard times."

That was true, but a personal bodyguard with great power over Ves might also turn into another Benny. Ves fell silent as he weighed the merits against the risks.

Eventually, he decided that Gavin's suggestion had more pros than cons. While he held great trust in his Avatars of Myth, they weren't exactly around right now. In addition, if they ever became compromised for one reason or another, Ves would not be left completely alone no matter how low he sunk.

"Okay, add that to the top of the list. A personal bodyguard is my number one priority."

Though they both came with plenty more suggestions, Ves begged off on filling up any other functions. Just like with the Avatars of Myth, expanding his staff too fast might result in more harm than good.

"You can always return to Bloodstone in the future to hire additional staff." Gavin remarked. "Even if you don't want to travel all the way to the Kinner Tribe again, you can order them from the galactic net or send someone like me to take care of this errand."

"True."

The whole reason for Ves to hire a staff was to rely on them to do the jobs that needed to be done much better than himself. They weren't only there to offer to put their expertise to use in advising him, though that was a very important additional benefit to someone like Ves who possessed sketchy judgement in areas outside of mech design.

Ves idly petted Lucky, who was lounging on his lap. "Naturally, my closest companion will always be you, Lucky."

"Meow."

Gavin, who watched the interaction from the side, shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder whether you truly understand your pet or you are merely making up your own meaning in Lucky's meows."

"Who knows." Ves smirked. "Perhaps I'm talking to myself all the time after all."

"Meow!"

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