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 Ves let out an exasperated sigh as he ended his call with Gloriana. His 'girlfriend' showed almost no regard to his input! It was as if only her opinion counted!

"She's so high maintenance." He lamented.

He predicted that this would become a recurring problem. Ves should feel lucky that Gloriana at least didn't impose unattainable demands such as trying to obtain a first-class factory ship built by the MTA or a first-rate superstate!

In addition, even if Gloriana asked for much, right now she did not place any expectations on Ves to help her pay for her expenses! As a Hexer, she already assumed the role of the primary earner!

In essence, even though she was a high-maintenance girlfriend, she essentially paid for herself!

Ves shouldn't have anything to complain about. Yet why did he feel awful? As a man, he really felt diminished in front of Gloriana!

If he earned enough money to pay for the factory ship, then he wouldn't be bowing his head in front of her all the time!

"I have to do something about this in the future." Ves slammed his fist against his palm. "I can't keep leeching off her money all the time!"

Designing third-class mechs wouldn't cut it in the long term. Even if he sold billions of them over the next half century, he would still be unable to catch up to his girlfriend!

If Ves wanted to make the really big bucks, he would have to venture into designing second-class mechs at some point.

"I should start studying their design principles." He determined after some thought. "Although it's not going to be easy for me to become familiar with the properties of second-class mechs, the earlier I begin my familiarization, the sooner I can take off in this entirely different class of mech market."

He added yet another goal in his long list of objectives he had to fulfill. The amount of design projects he would have to complete in order to shorten his to-do list became quite burdensome!

Designing a complete collection of third-class mechs already demanded a lot of time, but adding a whole raft of second-class mech designs on top of that threatened to overwhelm his agenda!

If he wanted to design the largest amount of mechs in the least time possible, Ves needed to prioritize the nurturing of a large and robust design team!

Yet where could he obtain the subordinate mech designers that could make up such a vital group?

So far, Ves possessed a rather mixed relationship in the mech industry. His Class IX design philosophy, his past public antics along with his Devil Tongue nickname already turned him into an unpalatable figure!

If not for his astounding and remarkable effects of his design philosophy, Ves might not have any chance to attract other mech designers!

"It's too bad I haven't been able to buy any mech designers from the Kinner Tribe." He rubbed his chin. "Even if I did, they generally won't amount to anything anyway."

The education system of the Kinner Tribe firmly emphasized quantity rather than quality.

The Kinners in general already made for poor mech designers due to their lack of creativity and ingenuity. Combined with the way they were raised, hardly any Kinners managed to advance to Journeyman, let alone the higher ranks!

Even slaves in spirit if not in name had their limits!

The special properties often popped up in his mind recently. So far, the Kinners he hired or bought at Bloodstone all performed to his satisfaction.

Fe Nitaa and Michael Crindon already served as his additional left and right arms. Their addition into his staff considerably improved his personal and virtual security presence.

As for the Battle Criers, Ves called up Commander Hugin Cinnabar to his hotel room to discuss their employment.

"How have your Battle Criers been faring so far under my service?"

"It's a bit more quiet than we are used to, but that is not a bad thing, Mr. Larkinson." The red-bearded man replied seriously. "Overall, we like what we see, but we haven't experienced enough to make up our minds. There are some Battle Criers who are in favor of working for you on a permanent basis, but there are also doubters in my rank who are holding out for a better employer."

"I'm sure that will change at the end of this trip." Ves confidently smiled. "Is there anything you want to say?"

The Kinner mercenary commander shrugged. "Nothing much. I do appreciate the trust you put into us. Despite being Kinners, we've dealt with plenty of employers who mistrusted us or think their judgement is better. I'm very grateful that you've left most of the operational decisions to me. My men won't easily listen to other people's orders."

Ves hadn't done anything exceptional in this regard. Commander Cinnabar was an experienced and competent mercenary commander, so Ves did not hesitate to delegate every decision concerning his mech security detail to the Kinner leader.

"How are the two Ingvar siblings doing so far in your service?"

Imon and Casilla Ingvar still remained on the Ion Tracker high up in orbit. As spaceborn mech pilots, they played no role on the surface.

The same applied to Commander Cinnabar as well, but he fell back to coordinating the escort detail while staying close.

The Kinner grinned. "Casella has been adjusting pretty well. The woman is a lot humbler than what I expected out of noble brats. She's got a smart head as well and learns quickly. It's a shame she's rather stiff. Despite her willingness to adjust, she still hasn't let go of her highborn roots."

"What about Imon Ingvar?"

The mention of the male Ingvar caused the commander to grimace. "He's adjusted less than well. He's always dragging his heels whenever we give him an assignment. Casella has tried to persuade her brother to behave numerous times, but she hasn't managed to get the stubborn kid to adjust his snobbish attitude."

"Keep working on it." Ves responded. "If we ever stumble across trouble in the coming months, just throw the Ingvars head-first into the fighting. If Imon happens to survive the encounter, I'm sure he'll have a much higher appreciation of your Battle Criers and a much better assessment of his own strength."

"You sure about that?"

"I hired them to protect me and fight on my behalf. If they aren't even willing to do that, they're not worth the money I've thrown at their feet. No one is allowed to slack off under my employ!"

While Ves still possessed a considerable interest in the Ingvar twins, he wouldn't be able to make use of them as long as their old attitudes remained.

Unlike the Kinners, Imon and Casella couldn't be bought. As ordinary mercenaries, the Ingvar siblings could pack up their bags and leave whenever their contract ran its course.

If Ves wanted to make use of their remarkable spiritual potential, he first had to win them over!

He had several ways of doing that. One method would be to pamper them and proactively invest in their development. Yet the thought of investing so much money and other resources into improving a pair of mech pilots with uncertain loyalties left a sour taste in his mouth.

What if they subsequently decide to leave and use their elevated abilities for someone else's benefits?

Investing in human resources only made sense if those resources remained in his possession!

Therefore, Ves concluded that the first step to securing their allegiance was to adjust their personalities and attitudes.

What better way to force them to go through a reality check then to throw them in the middle of a battle? According to their stories, neither Ingvar twins actually fought a real battle as of yet. House Ingvar fell way too quickly for them to put their training to good use.

"What is the overall risk of encountering pirates or other threats while we travel through the Redwell Province?"

"Not that high, sir." Cinnabar confidently replied. "Our Battle Criers might look shabby, but our battle accomplishments can't be faked. Pirates and the like know better than to attack a fleet like ours. Not only can we outrun most attackers, but we'll fight like hell if they manage to corner us. Sacrificing so many mechs and mech pilots just to attack you doesn't make much sense."

Pirates preyed on the weak and avoided the strong. While Ves and his escorts fell somewhere in between, that was enough for most of the pirates and irregulars operating in the Redwell Province to let them pass.

Too much risk and not enough payoff! Unless the attackers specifically targeted Ves, there shouldn't be any reason for them to be attacked!

Regardless of these circumstances, Ves knew better than to assume he wouldn't be attacked along the way. He had seen way too many stupid pirates to believe that each of them would adhere to logic.

In addition, the sophisticated listening devices inserted in his hotel room the other day did not portend any good.

"Be on the lookout for any threats targeted in our direction." Ves warned. "What do you think about Commander Meivin and the Dustravens?"

"They're reliable so far. I don't regret introducing them to you. It's only..."

"What's the problem?"

The commander frowned. "I've been spending a lot of time with Meivin lately, and while he's still an old friend, he's a changed man."

"He strikes me as a Bloodweller."

"My thoughts exactly. While he's professional enough to keep his political inclinations from interfering with his work, I'm concerned that the Whitewellers will try something."

That sounded weird to Ves. "The Whitewellers can't attack us in the open. As citizens who are agitating to defect to the Hinson Protectorate, they can't afford to be seen as attacking a Hegemony-aligned mech designer."

"You know how these things are done. The assailants will never reveal their true allegiances."

That was true, Ves admitted. "I'm sure we can stay secure as long as we travel along the most frequented routes."

"That won't protect you in every instance. Many star systems are too big for patrols to cover every transition zone. The system patrols may also be less-than-enthusiastic about repelling pirates due to bribes, incompetence or lack of funding. Mixing up with the Dustravens only complicates our security situation even further as we can no longer claim to be strictly neutral."

That last point sounded very important!

"So what you're suggesting is that hiring the Dustravens may have afforded us protection against the elements of his own faction, but attracted the hostility of the opposing faction?"

"Correct, sir. While the Whitewallers aren't known for taking proactive action or launching attacks, they aren't as scattered and defenseless as you think. We'll have to be prepared for every eventuality."

With how serious Commander Cinnabar sounded, Ves could not maintain his nonchalance. Though he still maintained his confidence that he could come on top of almost every crisis that might occur during his stay in the Redwell Province, taking some extra precautions didn't hurt.

"Should we hire some extra mercenaries?"

Cinnabar shook his head. "That will only muddle the situation even further. Each mercenary corps that managed to survive in these difficult times have all attached themselves to a faction or powerful influence. It's not a good idea to mix them up."

"Then what do you suggest we do?"

"Leave the Redwell Province as fast as possible."

"Out of the question. I still have at least a couple of destinations to go. There are several mech designers in Redwell that I still want to conduct an exchange with. They all reside in the safer parts of the province, so the risks of traveling to them aren't unreasonable."

Sadly, Commander Cinnabar hadn't been able to come up with any other suggestions. It was hard to improve their security situation any further without hiring additional mercenaries or leaving the troubled Chuko Republic.

"Sir, I really don't think you're making the right choice here. The chance that we'll come under attack will only grow larger the longer we linger in the Redwell Province."

Ves grinned. To him, that didn't necessarily sound like a bad thing. As long as their assailants didn't outnumber them, Ves was sure he could gain some benefits from the confrontation!

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