As Ves woke up the next morning, he did not take the latent security threat lightly. However, he did not panic either. The presence of sophisticated listening devices did not mean that someone was determined to make a move.
Fe Nitaa and the mercenaries he hired had already been informed of the findings. As Ves was enjoying a quiet breakfast delivered to the hotel room, he listened to a report by Nitaa.
"Commander Meivin of the Vindar Dustravens reached out to his contacts to determine who might be responsible. So far, he ruled out that any of his local allies and acquaintances are involved."
"I take that to mean that the Bloodwellers and some of the neutral Redwellers aren't responsible." Ves replied.
"I'm not certain if that's the case, sir. The Bloodwellers are far from united. They may share the same banner, but each of them believe in different methods to keep the Redwell Province out of the Hinson Protectorate's hands."
The conflict between the Bloodwellers and the Whitewellers did not interest Ves at all. He had no intentions of meddling in their long-running spat. Whether the Redwell Province remained a part of the Chuko Republic or defected to the Hinson Protectorate did not affect his personal interests in the slightest way.
Even if the crisis resolved one way or another, the Chuko Republic or whatever took its place would simply become another market in his eyes. Even so, Chuko was significantly smaller and weaker than the Bright Republic, and combined with the distance in between, Ves did not anticipate selling a lot of mechs here anyway.
That was completely fine to Ves. His lack of commitment to the state meant that he did not have to worry about treading too carefully between all of the interest groups. Even if he pissed a couple of them off, it wasn't going to bite him back in the butt as long as he never returned.
In a way, Ves partially treated his year-long trip through the Komodo Star Sector as a trial balloon for his future grand expedition. The small lessons he learned and difficulties he encountered would give him a better picture of what it was like to travel through various new locales.
Already, he and his advisers took plenty of notes on how they ought to prepare for a multi-decade expedition.
"If there is one issue that bothers me, it's that we're far from allies here." Nitaa noted with worry as she rubbed her slightly-weary eyes. "Aside from hiring the Dustravens to act as our local fixers, we don't have any local support. There is no place in the Redwell Province or the rest of the Chuko Republic where we can take refuge if we are under pursuit."
"There is the Hinson Protectorate, I suppose."
"The Hinson Protectorate is weeks away, and that's only if we take the most direct FTL routes. Also, the Hinsoners will only care about us because they don't want to displease your girlfriend."
Ves knew that it was foolish to rely on the unmitigated support of the Hinson Protectorate. Perhaps they might decide it was in their direct interest to assassinate Ves and pin the blame on the Redwellers!
As he reminded himself of this possibility, he lost some of his previous joviality. Fe Nitaa pointed out a very poignant problem. Ves lacked a convenient escape route. The closest possible safe harbor was the Hexadric Hegemony, but his fleet would have to travel straight through Hinson space in order to reach the border to the second-rate state.
Even then, the problem still persisted! Not everyone saw his relationship with Gloriana in a favorable light! Ves was not a Hexer and would not be able to find a home anywhere in the Hegemony except for the star systems occupied by the Wodin Dynasty.
In short, the only true safe harbor for Ves right now was either Centerpoint or the Bright Republic!
Unless he reached one of those two destinations, he would never truly be in the clear. Being surrounded by uncertain allies, hidden enemies and a lot of people who didn't care about his troubles did not do his paranoia any favors.
Nonetheless, the sons and daughters of the frontier lived under these conditions for their entire lives. Many of them adapted to this dangerous reality. Some of them even thrived under these conditions.
While Ves did acknowledge that it would be prudent of him to secure strong allies in the vicinity, he would rather solve his problems on his own.
He never forgot the instance where all of the friends, allies and other friendly connections failed to bail the KNG out when the famed mech company became embroiled in a scandal.
As long as the threat surpassed a certain scope, no one was willing to stick out their necks to lend a hand to a beleaguered friend.
It was also for this reason that Ves did not plan to seek any long-term allies in this region of space. He shared little to no connection to anyone in the Chuko Republic. Sheer distance alone would cool any connections he made during his visit to the Redwell Province.
"It's good I have a fast fleet at my disposal. If nothing else, hardly any vessel can beat the Barracuda's pace."
Securing a powerful fleet ought to be a high priority to him. His current fleet possessed a very crucial mobility advantage that allowed them to outrun most enemies trying to corner them during their travels.
Considering that Gloriana started to look into whether she could obtain a factory ship for their grand expedition, Ves would not be able to rely on the same advantages in the future.
No matter how well the Hegemony built their technologically-advanced factory ships, the fundamental nature of this humongous ship class meant that it was a pipedream for these huge behemoths to outrun smaller ship classes.
Without any inherent advantages in mobility, Ves would just have to resort to building up his might.
This issue had been a thorny subject for Ves in the last couple of months. One of the biggest issues that Ves faced was whether the escort detail should consist of second-class mechs, third-class mechs or both.
Right now, Ves did not have the earning potential to support a large second-class mech force. He doubted that would change in the future. Only when he transitioned to designing and selling second-class mechs would he be able to bear the immense burden of supporting so many expensive mechs.
Yet what would remain of the Avatars of Myth? From the start, his personal mech force recruited a handful of native Brighters. They were highly capable of piloting third-class mechs, but transitioning to second-class mechs would require years, perhaps decades of training.
Not every Avatar would succeed in the transition.
This left the Avatars of Myth in an awkward state. He might find himself in the unenviable situation where he had to rely on his girlfriend to fund another outfit that could protect them a lot better than his own home-grown mech force!
For now, Ves still struggled to find a way to resolve these issues without harming his pride and the pride of the Avatars of Myth.
Having a Hexer as a girlfriend gave him a lot of headaches, that was for sure!
"I've been thinking about what we've been doing as well." Gavin spoke at the table. "Right now, we are not expanding the LMC's footprint at all. Shouldn't we do something to further our company's reach?"
"Maybe." Ves spoke. "The problem is the business climate in the Chuko Republic. No one is interested in facilitating access for a far-away mech company when they are more worried about keeping their heads above the water."
Ves deliberately visited an unstable and insecure state, so it was already a given that there wouldn't be any business opportunities on the table.
"The LMC will naturally expand once I begin expanding its mech catalog, Benny. The next generation is getting closer and closer. It might even arrive shortly after we return to the Bright Republic. That will be the period when I'll really start to pump out designs."
"Won't you need a design team for that? You recently lost one of your two subordinate mech designers. Only Ketis is left to assist in your design work."
Gavin hit the issue right on the mark. The lack of assistants was a sore point for Ves as he hadn't managed to expand his design team for a very long time.
"I'll be on the lookout for interesting mech designers who are willing to work for me." Ves eventually shrugged. "Hopefully I can find a couple of mech designers along the way who are willing to stick around for the long haul."
They added the finding trustworthy mech designers to augment his design team to their long list of objectives.
After they finished sharing their thoughts to each other, they began their new day by visiting one of the local black markets.
Underneath a tarnished and largely shuttered industrial district in the outskirts of Wilxyr, a bustling underground trade operation took place.
Getting there was a bit complicated. It wasn't as if Ves could directly fly there with his shuttle in the open.
They also couldn't approach the black market under full escort. Both the landbound mechs of the Battle Criers and the aerial mechs of the Dustravens attracted way too much attention.
This meant that Ves had to leave most of his protection detail behind. As Ves stepped inside an unmarked aircar, he only brought a limited retinue along this time.
Commander Cinnabar opted to stay behind to babysit his idle mechs, so Ves could only rely on Lucky, Nitaa and Commander Meivin for protection.
The latter looked a bit apologetic at these demands. "My apologies for all of these restrictions, but the black market that I'm taking you to don't enjoy government sanction."
"I understand." Ves casually waved his hand to brush aside the issue. "Black markets that operate under the noses of the government aren't really black markets in the first place. I hope the goods on offer at the place you're bringing me to will be interesting enough to justify the hassle."
"Oh, have no doubt about that, Mr. Larkinson. I dare say you'll have the opportunity to purchase plenty of valuables."
Though Nitaa had a lot of second thoughts about this trip, Ves remained calm. If worse came to worst, he could quickly don his custom Sparous Vize armor which Nitaa brought along in suitcase form. She herself had already donned her combat armor as well so she was more than capable of fending off any sudden attacks.
The windows of the vehicle had turned completely dark, preventing the occupants from seeing where they traveled.
During the journey, the aircar they rode made a lot of detours before landing at an abandoned underground parking zone.
The group transferred to another aircar which followed another circular route before finally arriving at their real destination. Ves spotted easily over a hundred identical aircars in the abnormally barren and sterile underground parking zone.
"This place is kept as clean as possible in order to defeat any tracking measures." Commander Meivin mentioned before he passed them a number of robes stored in the aircar. "Wear these in order to hide your identities. It's best not to let anyone know you've been here."
They did as instructed.
Currently, the mercenary commander acted as their local guide. He led them towards a checkpoint where they underwent a very casual security check before they were let through.
Everyone immediately noticed the disturbance in the air. It was like they were all being massaged by invisible waves.
"This entire black market is subjected to a jamming field!" Gavin gasped.
Having spent a lot of time in various different jamming fields, Ves became very good at judging their strength. "This isn't a light jamming field. A lot of juice is being pumped into the jammers to keep this underground hall secure."
Meivin grinned. "I was serious when I said the government isn't involved. Only those we invite are privileged to enter this market."
Compared to the extraordinarily public black markets of the Reinald Republic, the one he had just entered was a lot quieter and less frequented.
Rather than a bazaar, Ves had the feeling he had entered an exclusive, high-class shopping venue. Only a handful of people browsed the small shops and stalls in the open. Most donned obscuring robes or other identity-concealing outfits to do their business.
Despite the lack of traffic, Ves immediately recognized a lot of valuable goods for sale. Visiting this black market may be a lot more fruitful than he thought!
Even Lucky sensed a number of highly interesting exotics. His nose tingled with excitement!