Once Ves had his fill of the black market, he and his group left through the same method of shuttling between a number of blacked-out aircars.
Nothing amiss took place, though Ves half-expected something to happen. Nitaa and Lucky constantly remained on high alert in case the aircar brought them somewhere dangerous.
Ves especially trusted Lucky as the aircar's attempt to blind its occupants failed to work on the cat. If his pet wanted to glimpse outside, he could simply phase through the structure of the vehicle.
Fortunately, Commander Meivin's promises stayed true. Ves encountered no attempted robberies or extortion or anything like that. The black markets on Vindar VII couldn't afford to scare away the few foreign buyers who were brave enough to frequent their sites and inject some extremely valuable hard currency in the local economy.
Ves had money. A lot of money. He also showed his willingness to spend his fortune. That made him a king among beggars in the Chuko Republic.
The way Commander Meivin regarded Ves had obviously increased by a few notches. Spending the equivalent of half a billion bright credits on a single transaction spoke volumes about his foreign employer's financial strength!
The Vindar Dustravens snagged a loaded client!
From the way Commander Meivin looked so satisfied, Ves was sure that the Dustravens received a commission for the money he spent at the venues he was brought to. This was already to his expectations.
As long as everyone amply benefited from the current arrangements, they wouldn't be tempted to resort to more unpleasant options to earn a big payday.
Ves knew that this was simply the price of getting in bed with a local snake.
Once everyone finally returned to the hotel, Ves went up to his room and called up Nitaa to study the DNA-strand figurine in greater detail.
Lucky sniffed the hand-sized ornament with a curious expression.
"It's okay, Lucky. Your nose is just geared in a different way." Ves soothed his disappointed cat as he configured the settings of his Vulcaneye.
Right now, Lucky covered the entire hotel room in his ECM field. This posed a lot of hindrances to his multiscanner's operation, but different from inferior devices, his Vulcaneye could pierce through the jamming as long as Ves held it very close and dialed up its power.
In the meantime, Nitaa kept turning the disguised receiver in her hands as she tried to decipher its secrets.
"I really can't tell anything about this statue aside from what I've already determined." She said with a downcast expression. "The only other guess I can make is that it may have been designed to be identifiable to people with empowered noses like mine."
Ves agreed with her assessment. "That is a very strong possibility. Even if the Compact has done its best to erase any records of their hidden moles, they still need some way of tracing them somehow. I think it's quite ingenious since I doubt even the MTA or the CFA developed means of tracing these mysterious scents."
This also meant that they might be incurring some risks in carrying the ornament around. Who knew if they'd be approached by a Compact agent one day who held the mistaken belief that Ves and Nitaa were hidden assets of the cult!
Nonetheless, as long as carrying the one-time receiver did not lead to immediate hostilities, Ves found the risks acceptable.
The object represented his canary in the coalmine! As long as it started hooting, they would know that something drastic had changed.
Otherwise, by the time Ves realized that he should launch his grand expedition, the Compact bloodhounds might have already marked him as a person of interest!
That reminded him of another priority for this trip. He should really look into obtaining more geril spice. In fact, Ves wanted to do more than buying the finished product. He desired to obtain the unique plants the Nyxians processed into their trademark pungent spice!
"Will geril spice be able to obscure the smell of this trinket?" Ves curiously asked. "It might be prudent to hide it from your former compatriots. I only want it for its ability to receive a critical message."
"It's worth a try."
Ves retrieved his packet of geril spice from his pocket and sprinkled it over the figurine. Though it looked rather silly of him to flavor an inedible object, Fe Nitaa looked optimistic.
"I think it worked. The spice won't stay fresh when exposed to open air, but as long as it remains effective, I can't distinguish the hidden receiver anymore."
This was a welcome development. With one less worry on their minds, they continued to study the ornament.
Sadly, they made no further gains. His System-bought Vulcaneye scanned the object at close range in multiple modes, but all of the data he received indicated that it was nothing but a piece of decoration made with slightly-valuable materials.
His multiscanner detected absolutely no circuitry, crystals or other weird objects that might be responsible for receiving a transmitted message. The object presented a very interesting puzzle to Ves. His knowledge on signals and communication was too shallow to even begin to fathom how the object functioned as a signal receiver.
After they stopped their investigation, he waved Nitaa to the side while calling Gavin to his room.
As Ves sat while idly playing with Lucky, Gavin took his seat at the couch opposite to his own.
"What's up, boss?"
"With everything I've observed so far, I think it's time to fill you in on the details of one of my more ambitious plans."
Ves began to enlighten his assistant of his grand expedition. Though Gavin might have picked up some clues just by interacting so much with his boss, this was the first time he heard of something so incredibly significant!
"This is.. this is crazy!"
"It's not as outlandish as it sounds, Benny. What I'm doing is no different from what the spaceborn clans have been doing for millenia. I'm simply doing it on a temporary basis."
"Even so, abandoning a fixed and stable career in the Komodo Star Sector for the unknown doesn't make any sense!"
It did made sense. Just not to someone working on incomplete information like Gavin.
Even if Ves did not communicate the threat of the Five Scrolls Compact to Gloriana, she still bought his excuses of accelerating his progression by experiencing new cultures.
"Look, I've already made up my mind on this decision. I've also filled Gloriana who has already begun to make her own preparations on her end."
Seeing how it was hopeless to persuade Ves from changing his course, Gavin moved on to the consequences.
"The LMC back home won't be the same without your presence." He stated. "Mech companies are highly defined by their lead designers. Unless you can find a mech designer with stature to hold the fort, the LMC's growth will inevitably be hampered."
"I've already said that it's fine. We can compensate for the slowdown in growth in the Komodo Star Sector by fostering growth elsewhere. That's one of the purposes of the grand expedition."
"I'm not sure if you'll be able to succeed. You're still a foreigner, after all." Gavin pointed out.
Ves smirked. "I think the unique advantages that my mechs have to offer will definitely appeal to customers regardless of their origins or cultural backgrounds."
They began to discuss the greater implications to the company if Ves really brought a significant chunk of people along.
"The company will be split up if you do this, boss. The employees who volunteer to join your expedition will develop in a different manner than the employees you left behind. Will the latter still hold any admiration towards you when you've been so distant for so long?"
Ves casually waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Most of the LMC's workers aren't critical. They are cogs in the machine. If a couple of cogs have turned rusty, we can easily replace them with new ones."
"Is that how you see your employees? As cogs in a machine?"
"I'm a mech designer, Benny. As long as someone is replaceable, they're not worth excessive consideration. If my employees get grumpy just because the boss of the company isn't physically present, then why are they working for the LMC in the first place?"
"You.. it sounds as if you don't care about the LMC anymore."
Ves shook his head in denial. "I still care, but it's not as critical to my development as you think. As long as the company falls in line, it is still a valuable asset."
He needed to make a lot of money if he wanted to fund his future research and development projects. The only caveat was that the money did not have to come from the LMC.
Gavin still looked disturbed. He could foresee the enormous amounts of damage the grand expedition might do to the LMC's cohesion.
As someone who was involved in the company at its earlier stages, Gavin possessed a lot of emotional attachment to the LMC!
"If you're gone from the LMC, you still need to leave someone behind at its headquarters to represent your interests."
"Calsie has been doing a good job so far."
"She might not be enough." Gavin warned. "Even though she's my friend, she is far from ready to assume the highest post. She has made her doubts pretty clear to me during our private discussions. You'll have to find someone else to take the helm of the portion of the LMC that you are leaving behind."
That was a difficult issue. Other than Calsie, Ves could think of no other person to lead his mech company in his absence.
"Um, what about you, Benny?"
"Hahahaha! I'll be honest. I never thought about sitting on the big chair. I don't have what it takes to inspire confidence and to ensure stability over the company!"
Well, that left Ves with very little names aside from the senior retainers sent by the Larkinson Family.
Just as Ves was contemplating some alternatives, Gavin made a strange suggestion.
"Why not place a Larkinson at the top? There are so many Larkinsons in your family that have the leadership ability and experience to preside over a company. While they might not be up to speed on how to run a mech company, they can always learn on the job. The most important factor is that they have the spine to be in charge of thousands of employees and billions of credits worth of assets."
That caused Ves to interrupt his other thoughts. Put a Larkinson in charge?
If it was in the past, the idea would have repelled him. The LMC was his baby, and he did not want his family members swoop in and freeload off his hard work and accomplishments.
Yet as the LMC continued to expand, his ability to influence the company continued to diminish. It had grown too big for him to implement arbitrary decisions and expect the entire company to play along.
His extremely sudden decision to go on a grand expedition in the future was exactly the kind of development that might fracture the LMC!
This made it all the more important for him to place someone trustworthy but also authoritative enough to hold the LMC together when its lead designer merrily began his decades-long adventure.
In addition, ever since Ves advanced to Journeyman, he began to value his own progression over the growth of his company. Although the two were intricately related, Ves would not face total ruin if the LMC ended up mismanaged.
"I think your suggestion has a lot of merit." Ves slowly said. "Try and come up with a list of Larkinsons with the requisite leadership or business experience that can take over as director or CEO."
Obviously, Ves did not completely think through what his departure from the star sector would mean to the company he left behind. He founded the Living Mech Corporation to help him fulfill his dream of propagating a different kind of mech.
If he failed to manage the upcoming changes properly, all of his previous efforts in building up his company might go to waste!