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 At the end of their lengthy conversation, Ves expressed his tiredness. Just as he said goodbye and cut the channel, Gloriana's projection leaned forward until her face was millimeters away from his own!

If they weren't talking by remote, she would have kissed by now!

"Tell me, Ves. Do you like me?"

"I do."

"Do you love me?"

"...Maybe. You know my feelings on this matter. A couple of meetings doesn't mean we're the right person for each other."

Obviously, Gloriana thought very differently about their compatibility. Ves did not need to be a telepath to know that she had already made up her mind concerning their relationship!

Despite his attempt to insert some distance into their relationship, she didn't seem discouraged. She was confident she could capture his heart!

She giggled. "Since you thought of me when you came up with this scheme, does that mean you consider me your girlfriend now?"

"Uhm.."

"DON'T YOU DARE SAY NO." She ferociously hissed.

"Uhm, yes! I'm happy that you're my girlfriend! I'm so lucky to have a smart, beautiful, and compatible woman by my side, hahaha!" He nervously laughed.

She turned all smiles again. "Great! It's official then! I'm glad you came around to the truth. Once we begin this grand expedition of yours, the two of us will become inseparable! Hihihi! You don't mind if I resume spreading the news of our happy union, right?"

"Ehhh..."

"Okie dokie! Goodbye, Ves! I'll call you next time!"

Her projection winked out as she quickly cut the call. Not only did Gloriana disappear from view, but Clixie left as well, leaving Lucky cut off in his own conversation with the organic cat.

"Meow!"

"Don't be so dramatic, Lucky! You'll have plenty more opportunities to play with Clixie."

He sank back into his seat to reflect on what he accomplished.

"Convincing Gloriana to put aside her ventures to travel with me was easier than I thought." He murmured.

All of the reasons he presented to justify his travels caught on remarkably easy. To be sure, he already knew that Gloriana didn't have to give up a lot to join him on his lengthy, generation-spanning journey.

To her, staying alongside Ves trumped every other concern. As long as they lived and worked together on a daily basis, their design philosophies would likely flourish by interacting with each other. Whether this took place in the Bright Republic, the Hexadric Hegemony or on a massive factory ship in the middle of nowhere didn't matter.

The only 'downside' to roping in Gloriana was that she expected more commitment from him. With all of the help she was willing to provide, Ves needed to play the role of a devoted boyfriend in order to keep her happy.

Trying to play nice with a woman like her was easier said than done. Yet Ves found it infinitely more preferable to deal with her mild version of craziness compared to the full-blown insanity that regularly plagued the researchers of the Five Scrolls Compact!

"If I have to choose between the two, I'd rather go with the option that wants me alive!"

Nonetheless, both choices entailed giving up a measure of his free-spirited freedom. To someone who prized his autonomy as much as him, this was a grievous price to pay.

Nothing came for free. Even the material assistance that Gloriana promised to prepare for their journey wasn't actually 'free'.

In essence, the two established an implicit contract with each other. In exchange for Gloriana's support, Ves would have to accept their relationship.

The moment Gloriana soured on him and their relationship ran aground, she would take away her factory ship and all of her other assets. Such a sudden parting would definitely weaken him to an enormous degree!

"Is this what a vulnerable woman has to worry about when they marry a powerful husband? How scary!"

Of course, the ironic part about this situation was that Gloriana firmly held the upper hand in their relationship. That was nothing strange to a hexer like her, but Ves couldn't stand the thought of depending on a woman for the rest of his life!

He shook his head. "I'll just have to work harder than her. One day, I'll be the one she has to look up to! I'm sure of it! No matter how exceptional she is, she can't beat my advantages!"

"Meow."

"You're dreaming, Lucky!"

After concluding his talk with his somewhat official girlfriend, Ves pushed the matter to the back of his mind. He had a lot of time to think and prepare for his grand expedition, as he already started calling it in his mind.

"I'm not going on a simple trip, but neither do I intend to abandon my home. An expedition sounds about right."

A lot of expeditions took place since humanity took to the stars. Space was so vast that there was always something to explore, especially in the vast but sparse periphery of the galaxy.

Most of them attempted to explore unsettled star systems and virgin planets, though. The grand expedition that Ves had in mind would not stray into dangerous territory blindly. He would just be replicating his current tour but on a much grander scale.

All that traveling around would not help him grow his business, he thought. That was until he heard Gloriana's offer of acquiring a factory for them. Depending on its scale, it might be possible for him to establish a viable mech manufacturing operation on the move.

He might be able to operate as a nomadic trading caravan, selling ship-produced mechs for all kinds of specialty goods and exotics from every state he passed through.

During each visit, he could evaluate whether the local conditions were favorable enough to set up a branch of the LMC in the state. If not, then no harm came to pass. There were plenty of states where the LMC could set up shop.

"Expanding the LMC isn't the main goal here. It's nice if I can expand its reach, but my own development comes first."

With all the goals he had set, trying to juggle them was becoming increasingly more difficult. His intentions to embark on his grand expedition disrupted many of his original plans.

The LMC at home would still do fine as long as he supplied his company with new designs on a regular basis. His personal absence would still make it difficult for the company to grow as fast as he previously hoped.

"A lot of business is accomplished through leveraging connections." He rubbed his chin. "Maintaining friendships with local stakeholders will be harder if I can only speak with them through comm calls."

Nonetheless, the slowdown in growth in the Komodo Star Sector could be compensated by the expansion he accomplished elsewhere. Ves had never pushed the LMC to pursue a strategy of local market dominance because his products were so peculiar and niche.

"My mechs are also more expensive in relation to their specs. Not everyone wants to buy a premium product."

Making his products available in many different markets allowed him to gather a handful of devoted customers in each different state. He would not have to make a huge investment in each individual market in order to squeeze aside the hefty competition and wrest away their precious market shares.

Lucky floated over to Ves and laid down on his lap.

"Meow."

"I know. We can't go on this grand expedition alone. We'll have to bring a whole host of people along."

He needed to bring a considerable amount of subordinates from the Avatars of Myth and the LMC along. Perhaps a considerable number of Larkinsons would join him in his expedition as well.

The problem was that he still needed to leave some people behind. Some might wish to stay at the Bright Republic considering that it was their home, but others might feel snubbed by him if he refused to take them along.

One of the main complicating factors of his grand expedition was its extensive duration. Ves planned to be gone as long as the Five Scrolls Compact still scoured the surrounding star sectors for whatever they were looking for that required the direct intervention of their Ruined Temple.

"They can't run roughshod over the star sector forever, though." He judged.

Eventually, the MTA and CFA would learn of the scope of the Compact's resurgence in the star cluster and begin to move against them. Even so, the complex environment of the Nyxian Gap would massively hamper their attempts to stamp out the resurgent Compact presence.

It would only be safe for him to return home under one of two conditions. Either the Big Two successfully chased out the Ruined Temple envoys, or they left this barren region of space on their own accord.

Either way, Ves loosely determined that might take two to four decades, which essentially spanned an entire generation.

"If I'm gone from home for thirty years, what will I encounter when I finally return home?"

Calsie would have grown middle-aged. His grandfather's health might deteriorate to an awful state. Many of the strongest serving Larkinsons such as Ark Larkinson might have retired from frontline service by then and transitioned into advisers, administrators or teachers.

Lanie Larkinson would bloom from a cute little sprout into a lovely young woman. Expert candidates such as Jannzi Larkinson and Tusa Billingsley-Larkinson would have matured into middle-aged expert pilots who already enjoyed a great career.

It dawned upon Ves that thirty years was an incredible amount of time to people who couldn't afford to undergo life-prolonging treatment.

Ves never worried about this issue since he went through three rounds of gene optimization treatment courtesy of the Starlight Megalodon, which pushed his estimated life expectancy to 180 years.

As a well-heeled Hexer Journeyman, Gloriana definitely wouldn't grow old and feeble anytime soon!

One of the reasons why the MTA encouraged pairings between high-ranking mech designers was because they stood a better chance at keeping each other company even if they lived through several centuries.

If Ves and Gloriana were truly committed to their relationship, then their pairing would be unlike that of a normal couple. Their lengthy lifespans allowed them to live through their lives at a vastly more gradual pace than others.

Yet just because they could take it slow didn't mean that the others were also so fortunate. The unfortunate reality was that the vast majority of people in the galaxy could never earn enough money to purchase the first round of life-prolonging treatment.

At best, as long as Ves advanced to Master in record speed, he might be able to afford his closest relatives and companions an extension of their lives.

He sighed and shook his head as he stroked Lucky's back. "It's not really an ideal situation. Short of being able to synthesize life-prolonging treatment myself, I'll just have to accept the fact that many people around me will grow old and die while I'm still healthy and spry."

Many high-ranking mech designers and even certain mech pilots faced this situation.The reason he was so melancholic about this reality was that going on his grand expedition entailed missing out on a huge chunk of those he left behind.

The Larkinsons he cared a lot about such as Melinda Larkinson and Raella Larkinson already pursued their own careers in Bentheim. Ves did not intend to pull them away from the lives they built for themselves, but leaving the Bright Republic for other parts of space meant that he would inevitably grow distant from much of his family.

"Well, staying in touch through the galactic net will help stave off our isolation to some extent."

Ves knew he would have to face this reality someday. His abrupt shift in plans only brought it forward ahead of time.

"I will still do it, though."

While he exaggerated a bit, he didn't lie when he stated that traveling a lot would help him progress faster.

This was important, because in order to deal with the Compact on a more permanent basis, Ves needed to grow in power and influence!

Just because he planned to run away like a rat did not mean he was content to stay a rat forever!

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