The fleet cut through several states in the journey to the Sentinel Kingdom. The powerful third-rate state loomed closer and closer. Captain Silvestra expected the fleet to arrive at Felixia within a week if everything went right.
"Felixia orbits a very strong star." She noted. "While the star system itself is worthless due to the lack of exotics, its massive and luminescent star is very easy to navigate towards. Whoever selected the star system for colonization made a very excellent choice. The most profitable tourism planets are always found in these kinds of places."
"That will cut our travel time short, right?"
"Correct. The stronger the star, the less stops required to reach our destination."
Michael Crindon, who was also present on the bridge, spoke up as well. "Felixia draws in a lot of starships from the Sentinel Kingdom and beyond. There's a decent amount of shipyards in the star system where we can begin some of the overhauls we have in store for the Barracuda."
Ves nodded. "I know, I hear the facilities at Felixia aren't as good as in other star systems."
"We'll have to travel to an industrial star system if we want to perform more extensive overhauls. Felixia is an excellent tourism destination but it lacks the infrastructure to support a robust mech and ship industry."
At least the Barracuda still underwent some changes while Ves was mucking about on the Planet of Cats.
For his upcoming visit, Ves couldn't bring along the Battle Criers. Planets dedicated to tourism were usually very strict about the mechs that visitors wished to bring to the surface.
Unless Ves formed his own hunting team, he wasn't allowed to bring down any mechs at all!
"We still have plenty to do, sir." Commander Cinnabar said over the comm from the Ion Tracker. "We can spend some of the time on servicing our starships. Though they are not in a condition that demands critical maintenance, it's a good opportunity to fix them up now to minimize the chance of breakdowns in the future."
"Okay. I'll have my assistant set aside a budget for that. Do you have something else in mind?"
"We could use some shore leave. Spending months at a time aboard our ships can wear a person down. When our fleet is parked close to a popular tourist planet, my men will probably riot if I don't give them the opportunity to relax on the surface!"
Ves nodded in understanding. "Granted. Make sure to rotate your men so that at least some of your people are keeping an eye on our assets."
"That's a given. We know what to do, sir."
An impulse thought suddenly flitted through Ves' mind. "Also, instruct Imon and Casella Ingvar to prepare to accompany me to the surface. They'll be joining Gavin, Crindon and Nitaa as my entourage for this excursion."
"Are you sure about that? The Ingvars are still kind of bratty, though my boys and I have gradually managed to force them to adjust their egos. If they leave our influence, there's a possibility that they might regress to their snobby old selves!"
Ves smirked. "Don't worry about that, commander. I think I'm quite capable of finishing the work you started. Besides, I haven't made much use of the Ingvars so far. Bringing them to Felixia might be helpful considering their background. As former nobles, they probably understand the dynamics in the hunting community a bit more than us. Hunting is a favored pastime for nobles, after all, and the Sentinel Kingdom has a lot of aristocrats who are looking to prove themselves!"
"Stupid brats and their games." Cinnabar cursed. "If they are looking for glory, they can easily find it by beating up some pirates in the Nyxian Gap! At least they'll be doing something useful with their time and money!"
The Sentinel Kingdom's many noble houses competed against each other for wealth, power and influence. Sentinel's internal politics lightly resembled that of the Vesia Kingdom.
The difference between the two states was that the Sentinel Kingdom was larger, stronger and far more cohesive. Sentinel constantly stressed unity in order to resist the frequent incursions against the scum spilling out of the Nyxian Gap every now and then. Colluding with pirates was the biggest crime imaginable in the powerful third-rate state!
The two moved on to another topic.
"So far, we're almost halfway in our journey. What do you think so far about working for me? Have you considered working for me on a more permanent basis?"
"We are still reserving our judgement, sir." The commander calmly replied. "So far, we have gone through a grand total of one brief battle and a lot of traveling. Don't get me wrong. Some of my boys like the calmer schedule, but there's also another portion of my men who are starting to chafe at the lack of excitement. Guarding someone for an indefinite period is a lot different than mercenary life where you encounter something new every mission."
Ves expected this kind of answer. "I hope you and your men will make up your mind when we reach the Bright Republic. I think you'll learn I have a lot to offer by that time."
He still held a very compelling means of converting the Battle Criers completely to his side. The number one thing a mech pilot loved the most was a mech, and a good one at that!
As a mech designer, Ves had never showed off his mechs to the Battle Criers before. He hoped that he could still impress the Kinner mercenaries by the end of the trip.
He bet that one good glimpse at the mechs of the Avatars of Myth ought to be enough to convert the majority of the Battle Criers on the spot!
They continued to discuss a few more operational matters before they ended the call.
So far, Ves was very pleased with the Battle Criers. While their battle capabilities were merely average, they had a lot of space smarts and knew their way around in strange and foreign environments.
For someone who intended to go on a grand expedition in the future, having the Battle Criers at his disposal as a division within his Avatars of Myth granted him a lot more flexibility!
He even considered keeping the Battle Criers as a separate and distinct outfit lately.
Ves envisioned the Avatars of Myth as shining beacons and exemplars of battle. They had to serve as a brilliant showcase of all of his mech models in action!
In contrast, Ves did not intend to use the Battle Criers as the standard bearers of his products. Instead, he envisioned a more practical purpose for them as his fixers.
"It's much better if they can be oriented to solve my problems without attracting too much attention."
This did not mean he intended to turn the Battle Criers into his shadow force or something. The Battle Criers were thugs, not spies. Subterfuge, espionage and assassination did not fall within their competences.
Instead, Ves placed them somewhere in the middle. They could perform tasks for him that were too murky for the Avatars of Myth and too banal for his shadow force to put into action and risk exposure.
"So ideally, I'll have three different mech troops at my disposal, each specializing for a different range of missions."
Ves wasn't too sure yet if he wanted to organize his current and future mech forces this way.
Maintaining three separate forces helped them maintain their distinct specialties and mech traditions. However, keeping them separate also led to a fair amount of redundancy, which was very wasteful.
"Well, I'll probably be able to afford it anyway." He scoffed.
Nonetheless, in the back of his mind, he knew he'd have to grow the LMC even more if he wanted to keep up with his growing expenditures.
The same conditions that led to booming business for mech manufacturers also required the companies to bolster their protection. Who knew if the Bright Republic followed the footsteps of the tragic Chuko Republic one day.
He rubbed his chin. "In the end, we can't rely too much on the government, the military or friends to bail us out. Being able to provide for our own security is best."
This was one of the benefits he gained from touring the Chuko Republic and meeting so many struggling mech designers. He learned first-hand how mech designers succeeded or failed to keep their enterprises aloft.
"One thing is for sure. When law and order is deteriorating, you have to fill the void quickly or else you stand to lose everything you worked for!" He exclaimed.
Perhaps he was being unduly paranoid compared to his colleagues, but he didn't care. Not even the Bright Republic enjoyed complete safety and security as random pirates and the Bentheim Liberation Movement constantly punished complacent mech manufacturers.
Later in the day, Calabast called his comm for a status update. Though their regular calls didn't yield any deep discussions due to the compromised nature of their comm calls, his partner still wanted to stay in the loop.
When she heard about his decision to visit Felixia and go on a hunting trip to observe a dangerous huge cat in person, her reaction fell within his expectations.
"I highly advise you to go to the petting zoo region of the planet, Mr. Larkinson." She mildly stated, though Ves could easily sense the hidden irritation in her voice. "The adult section of this safe and accessible region features some extremely docile huge cats, though I believe you may have some difficulty entering it considering your lack of maturity."
Ves pettily shook his head. "Those huge beasts are genetically engineered to be as docile as possible for cat ladies to fawn upon. They don't have a ferocious bone in their bodies! How am I supposed to design a ferocious bestial mech if all I have for inspiration is grossly-oversized house cats!"
"You see? Even Lucky agrees! Those artificial abominations are a disgrace to the galactic collective of cat species!"
Calabast palmed her face, partially breaking her role. "The risks of huge game hunting on Felixia are very considerate, particularly when it comes to hunting their Crown Cats!"
"The Crown Cats are some of the most lethal huge cats engineered in the star sector!" Ves grinned and his eyes glimmered as if he could already see them in front of his face! "If I had a choice between getting inspired by the most docile or the most dangerous cats on Felixia, I'll choose the latter any day!"
"VES!" The woman screamed. "The risk of death is far too high to justify this trip! Sure, eight or nine times out of ten, you might be able to make it off alive. However, do you really want your parents to deal with the situation when that doesn't happen?!"
That suddenly stopped his enthusiasm short. "Uh..."
"I can understand it if the reward is worth the risk, but if there's one thing that's wrong with you, it's that you're completely incapable of weighing the risks against rewards! Why do you have to hunt a Crown Cat?! Just to enrich a single mech design?"
"It's not about a single mech! It's about the evolution of my design philosophy!" He protested.
"You dumb kid! I know the Crown Cats attract a lot of attention, but why are you fixating on them as the only solution?! At least consider the less dangerous huge cats first! You can get almost everything you want from them without gambling with your life! There are many juvenile, growing huge cats on Felixia who might grow into Crown Cats in the future but are still manageable to hunt, have you thought about that?"
"Then consider it! Why play a needless high-stakes game that you can't afford to win when there is a much safer low-stakes game right next door? I hope you shake yourself out of your stupidity, Mr. Larkinson!"
Calabast angrily cut the call, leaving Ves with a lot of doubt. His hands worriedly stroked Lucky's back.
"Am I being reckless again?" He whispered to himself.