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 Although on the surface Ves appeared to have suffered a brainfart, he actually experienced a profound enlightenment.

His thinking on mech design grew more sophisticated and structured. The immediate benefit of driving away the fog was that he firmly knew his own place as well as the surrounding landscape of his complicated, multifaceted design philosophy.

Ves never expected to obtain these significant gains after concluding a long overdue talk with Ketis.

"It goes to show that even the most mundane experiences can potentially enrich a mech designer's understanding of their craft."

Such possibilities made it all the more important for people like him to step out of the lab and explore the galaxy.

That Ves gained his enlightenment after something as simple as a conversation with his student also strengthened one of his other theories.

"A mech designer's conduct is indicative of their design philosophies."

He already developed this notion before and encountered various pieces of proof that corroborated it. The only difference now was that he became aware that he could control the direction of his personality change.

"Mech designers such as Professor Ventag and Tristan Wesseling are probably not pursuing anything too extreme." He judged. "They're quite personable and in control of themselves."

In contrast, the more extreme mech designers such as the Skull Architect and Gloriana embraced more radical directions. This in turn reflected back to their personality as they applied their high standards on every other aspect of their lives regardless if it had something to do with mech design.

What did that mean for Ves?

Thinking about his past conduct, he had to admit he hadn't exactly been the most honest kid in the class.

"What are my defining traits?"

Ves did not entirely like what he saw in himself.

The immediate words that came to mind to describe him were deceptive, manipulative, self-serving, reckless and stretching his sanity.

"What does that say about my mech designs?"

They essentially did the same things as he did, if he was being honest. However, since his mechs were generally designed to empower the mech pilot as much as possible, the aforementioned qualities benefited both his mechs and his customers.

His eyes lit up. "This is because of the symbiosis characteristic of my design philosophy! No matter how self-serving my mechs may become, their mech pilots will always benefit as well!"

This simple modifier completely upended his evaluation of his own design philosophy.

No matter what kind of shady stuff he pulled off, it was all fine. That was because his mech design would redeem his sins on his behalf!

"In fact, they've already done so!"

No mech design was more emblematic than this than the Transcendent Messenger. Even if Ves literally desecrated a holy record and even if he only produced six authorized copies of his design, the Ylvainans largely forgave him in the end!

Ves knew that if he continued to design mechs with A-grade X-Factor, he might get accused of trying to unduly influence anyone who interacted with his mechs. Their auras could get very strong and hardly anyone were able to resist their allure.

His critics might even accuse him of outright brainwashing his audience through his mechs! They'd definitely pull in the notorious Farund Affair as an example of how bad it could be when mech designers tried to indoctrinate their mech pilots into becoming their repeat customers!

"Yet... so what?"

What he did was no different from companies trying to appeal to the market by airing advertisements. Plenty of companies turned their marketing activities into a highly manipulative operation that was expressly designed to distort their target audience's emotions and judgement.

Ves just did it on a psionic level in the eyes of his fellow high-ranking mech designers. They would probably feel jealous at him when they found out about his ability to market his products in this fashion!

All of it was for the good of mech pilots, of course. The LMC regularly monitored the satisfaction of its customers, and hardly any buyers felt any remorse over their purchase despite the hefty amount of money they forked over.

While the actual value of his company's mechs relative to competing products still had to be determined over a longer period of time, preliminary signs showed that his mechs already lasted longer than average.

Whether it was because their mech pilots appreciated their machines more, or if the X-Factor significantly improved their effective performance, Ves rightfully felt proud at his work.

"As long as my products benefit my customers, who cares what I do? Anything is permissible!"

Compared to the likes of the Skull Architect, Ves was a lot better off personality-wise. The Senior's fatal flaw was that he became so self-assured in his judgement that he inevitably got caught with one of his misdeeds!

Ves would never make such a mistake again!

Getting caught by the Ylvainan Inquisition had been a very tortuous moment for him. He was lucky that he managed to get out from a potentially fatal situation.

Ever since then, he realized the need for greater caution whenever he did something iffy. He should never become too conceited of himself. Caution, moderation and a certain degree of self-control were necessary for him to avoid following in the footsteps of mech designers who tripped themselves up when they overreached.

"Nonetheless, too much restraint is not a good thing in itself." He muttered while rubbing his chin.

Though he didn't have a handy example on hand, he intuitively felt that managing his passion and enthusiasm for mech design ought to be a critical requirement.

Too much passion and he might go too far in pursuing his goals.

Too little passion and he would lack the drive to persist in pursuing daring opportunities.

"In a way, I have to balance my passion as well." He surmised. "A bit of madness is okay. I just have to make sure it doesn't grow to the point where it lands me in trouble."

In the following few days, Ves set aside all of his work in order to digest his gains. He continued to reflect on himself and his design philosophy. Though everything he did remained locked in the confines of his mind, he vaguely sensed that his design seed had become a little more potent than before.

He could tell, since the spiritual waves it emanated on a constant basis grew twenty percent stronger.

He smiled. "This will probably help me out when I'm ready to design my smart metal tiger mech."

As Ves continued to reflect on himself, he realized that he had neglected to contact someone who had a very strong interest in his decisions.

It had been a long time since he last talked to Calabast.

Ever since he left the Ylvaine Protectorate, most of their interactions happened through their companies and the joint venture they set up. There was hardly any need for Ves to talk to Calabast in person.

In fact, according to her, it would be better if Ves refrained from contacting her too much. They might draw too much suspicion if Ves constantly bugged her for advice.

With seemingly nothing going on that required both of their personal attention, their current business interactions elicited little to no suspicion from others.

Nonetheless, Calabast would probably appreciate being informed of something as sudden and drastic as his plan to embark on a grand expedition.

He tentatively placed a call to her comm.

Two minutes went by before she finally answered it. Her projection appeared in front of him in her mild and unassuming guise of Madame Cecily Curin.

"Mr. Larkinson. I trust you wish to discuss something of importance to me seeing as you attempted to contact me directly."

"I do."

"Is this about your new 'girlfriend' I've been hearing about lately?"

"It's mainly about something else." He replied. "You ehh heard about Gloriana?"

Despite her disguise, Ves sensed the ire and rapprochement in her eyes. Obviously, what she heard hadn't pleased her very much!

"A man like you is destined to go far, but only if you apply yourself and focus on what is important. Dallying with a girl is a dangerous distraction at best and a security risk at worst. I will not see our business relationship founder because of your ineptness."

Did she really object to his relationship to Gloriana because of those concerns or did she had a more personal reason to object to his girlfriend?

Apparently, she managed to read his thoughts, because she grunted in frustration. "Don't get any crooked ideas, Mr. Larkinson! I am purely indignant because you are potentially putting everything at risk by hooking up with a woman you barely know!"

Though Ves may feel a bit ambivalent about Gloriana, he wanted to push back against Calabast's disapproval.

"Gloriana is a brilliant and talented mech designer who can potentially help me advance even faster." He said, emphasizing her practical use for him. "Our design philosophies are highly compatible. Even if I'm confident that I can eventually advance to Master, many mech designers have made similar statements but came up short in the end."

"You could have chosen someone more trustworthy than Gloriana to hook up with." She spoke. "Hell, even your student Ketis is a much better option because of how much she adores you without any complicated motives that might pose a risk to our business relations."

Ves shook his head. "Madame Cecily, my love life is not your business. Ketis is my student, nothing more. I will not break this rule."

"Since when has that ever stopped you, Bright Martyr? You were quite willing to steal and desecrate the holy relic of our faith." She chuckled darkly.

"It's still wrong!"

Calabast erupted in full-blown laughter, breaking her role as a composed and refined lady of the Curin Dynasty!

"In the one instance where you could have turned your life for the better, you suddenly turned into a goody two-shoes and stuck to this rule that no one cares about! News flash, Mr. Larkinson, romantic relationships between teachers and students are rife in the mech community!"

Ves was like a solid block that stood firm despite all the spit tarnishing its surface. "I've made my choice and I don't regret it. Ketis deserves to be with someone who values her more than I do. While Gloriana is a complicated woman who had brought her fair share of trouble, she's the first mech designer I've met who I feel can truly keep up with me. What's your problem with her anyway?!"

"Everything I've read about Gloriana paints a complicated, tangled picture." She sighed, reining in her anger. "The Wodin Dynasty occupies a prominent place in the power structure of the Hexadric Hegemony. Her relatives are aligned with the Evern Matriarchal Dynasty, who happen to lead the most religious, hardline, aggressive and expansionist faction within the Hegemony."

"I know that. Gloriana herself may have taken on some of those traits, but she's first and foremost a mech designer. Politics doesn't interest her or suit her. As long as they don't interfere with her business, she sees no reason to dabble in that murky swamp."

Calabast smirked at Ves. "I think you have a mistaken impression of your own girlfriend. Her very identity as a young and promising Journeyman Mech Designer has raised value within the Wodin Dynasty. Despite what you think, she's a swamp monster. If you aren't careful, she might grab you and drag you into the swamp!"

Though Ves recognized her good intentions, Ves adored Gloriana too much to be swayed by a mere warning.

"As I've said before, I'm not changing my mind on this matter. I really want to make my relationship with Gloriana work!"

"I'm glad you love me, Ves!"

"What?!'

Ves swiftly turned around as a second projection had quietly formed behind his back! Gloriana's virtual form appeared right behind his back! If she was physically present in his stateroom, then he would have felt her breath on his neck!

"Since when did you get here?!"

Gloriana cockily pressed her hand against her hip. This time she wore a slim and form-fitting business suit that tantalizingly drew attention to her slender form.

"Oh, you silly boy. I've programmed a monitoring routine that records and analyses everything you do, hihi! When my monitoring routine detected that you were talking about me, it notified me. I got here as fast as possible!"

With the level of access she had to the Barracuda despite the ongoing overhaul that Crindon performed on the communication systems, Ves should have taken something like this into account.

Who knew what kind of recordings she made of him while he was on his ship!

Quietly, Ves decided to activate a signal jammer each time he went to the bathroom. It was better to be safe than sorry!

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