Eventually, Nitaa came and lifted his body from the bathroom and placed him on the bed. Though she knew little why he ended up in a debilitated condition, she unwaveringly remained alert and stood guard throughout the entire night.
Ves needed that much time in order to handle the overwhelming flow of knowledge. Though the System did its best to push the immensity of both Senior-level Mechanics and Senior-level Metallurgy into his mind, with effort and patience he managed to push away the integration and slow down the rate of absorption.
At the end of the tenuous night, he managed to construct an arrangement in his mind where a metaphorical dam blocked off most of the flow. Only a small opening in the dam allowed a controlled amount of knowledge to go through.
"Around four weeks until I'm done."
This was the most he could cope with while at the same time diverting a sufficient amount of attention to his daily life. While he wouldn't be able to summon up the focus and energy to design a new mech during this period, he retained enough attention to speak with people or make decisions that didn't require too much thinking.
Ves breathed deeply as he finally pulled his entire focus from the jumble of his mind.
"Are you okay now, sir?" Nitaa asked through her fully-sealed combat armor. She had been fearing the worst. "Were you under attack or something?"
Figuring that she deserved some frankness for all her loyalty she had shown so far, Ves decided to reveal a hint of the truth.
"No. Not exactly. I did it to myself. Let's just say I augmented myself a bit too eagerly there. I'm fine now. After a couple of weeks of recovery, I'll be as good as new. In fact, I'll be even better as I get used to the changes."
"Does that mean you'll be stronger after you recover?"
Ves left his answer at that. Though he trusted Nitaa's loyalty, he always feared what would happen if she realized how happenstance he became a Holy Son. What if she stopped holding him in high regard? How eager would she serve a fake Holy Son who was nowhere close to matching the might and influence of a true Holy Son?
As Nitaa spent more time at his side, Ves wondered what she thought about him. Did she consider him to be a hidden dragon that still needed growing or a paper tiger who was much less impressive than he appeared?
For now, Ves could still depend on Nitaa's mental programming to compel her to obey the will of a Holy Son. He also bought her out in the Kinner tradition, which meant that she had to display near-absolute obedience to him. Both of these compulsions working together gave him enough of a buffer to earn her genuine appreciation and loyalty.
If there was one thing Ves had learned from seeing many fanatical organizations at work, it was that genuine loyalty was a better guarantee than forced obedience!
True believers were some of the most loyal people out there! Though Ves found this means to be a bit distasteful, he couldn't afford to let his misgivings hinder his safety and his ambition.
This was why he began to keep his eye out for loyalists. If he wanted to set off on his grand expedition without disrupting his existing routines, he needed to bring a lot of subordinates to keep things running.
Those who were willing to participate in an expeditionary fleet were always weirdos and deviants.
Hardly anyone wanted to disrupt their normal lives, leave their homes, abandon their friends and families just to go on an exploration tour in an extremely distant environment!
Expeditions that lasted for a couple of years were already bad enough. One that lasted for multiple decades that Ves envisioned meant that those who lived on the starships that made up the expeditionary fleet would effectively spend at least a third of their lives away from familiar soil!
This was too much to ask for most employees!
Since the decision to go on an extremely lengthy and life-changing expedition was so difficult to stomach, Ves needed to recruit a sufficient number of loyalists in advance.
Most of the people he recruited probably wouldn't start out as loyalists. It was up to him and the LMC to indoctrinate them into becoming more pliable to his needs. He had to convince them that jumping on a starship and going on a generational trek to exotic destinations was a great adventure instead of an abrupt way to ruin their steady lives!
Ves also decided he needed to spend more effort convincing more Larkinsons to come along as well. While he didn't trust every Larkinson, at least he could trust them a little bit more than complete strangers.
He planned to seed his grand expedition with a sufficient amount of Larkinsons in various leadership and supervisory positions. Spreading a hundred or so Larkinsons throughout his expeditionary fleet would do wonders to his grip on the men and women he brought along!
As long as the Larkinsons acted as his eyes and ears among the crews, Ves was willing to put up with the downsides of nepotism.
He sighed. "I used to believe that family has no place in my business."
There were definite downsides to involving his family even further. He knew the Larkinsons well enough that the biggest barrier to gaining their loyalty was to find a way to erode their patriotism.
The Larkinsons always served as the protectors of the Bright Republic. It was baked in their family's values and traditions from their birth. Ves too loved his home state, though as his interests began to diverge, he no longer considered it to be the center of his reality.
He knew most Larkinsons probably wouldn't be receptive to his suggestions, but he could probably get a few people over to his side as long as he chipped away at their resolve over the following decade.
"Some Larkinsons are content with their roles as cogs in the Bright Republic's military machine. Other Larkinsons don't want to put up with a steady but unfulfilling life."
The Larkinsons focused most of their efforts on nurturing the potentates among the families. As a norm, Ves knew very well that the family tended to neglect his own kind.
There was a lot of untapped potential there. Ves just needed to reach out and unearth it to gain an army of relatives who all benefited with him at the top.
As for how he planned to secure their loyalty?
"Money always works." He grinned.
No matter how much dividends the Larkinsons earned from owning a part of the LMC, they would never spread the wealth as much as the individual Larkinsons desired. The Larkinson Estate had to ensure the prosperity of the future generation of Larkinsons, so most of the money pouring in went on to fund further investments, particularly in real estate.
The average Larkinson didn't actually receive a bigger stipend from the Larkinson Estate! Only the mech pilots among the family enjoyed greater support!
"I'll have to start making moves on my family as soon as I get home." He muttered.
He added yet another goal to his lengthy list of goals. Though he managed to complete some of his objectives with his recent actions, the list still looked as daunting as ever. He simply had too much to do!
As soon as he completed his morning routine, he turned to Nitaa and Gavin. "Today is the day we enter the site where the Circle of Mota set up their temporary marketplace, right?"
Both of them nodded.
"Do you want me to go along?" Gavin asked.
Ves shook his head. "Not this time. I want you to maintain a visible presence on Cinach VIII to show that we haven't entirely disappeared. Just find some work that you can do on my behalf and pretend that I'm stuck in this hotel suite because I have to perform some urgent design work or something. It's important to set up a credible alibi before I feel confident enough to partake in a highly illicit underground gathering. The Battle Criers have already sent down one of their men to dress up in my Pride of Dusk in order to act as a decoy again."
The Circle of Mota was not a regular underground organization. The temporary marketplace they set up was completely different from the so-called black markets of the Reinald Republic.
Reinald itself pretty much condoned the vast majority of the illegal trade taking place in the Harkensen System!
It was different for the Sentinel Kingdom! They maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards pirates, and an organization like the Circle of Mota which explicitly sought to foster ties between Sentinels and Nyxian pirates was a cancer that had to be exterminated!
Ves risked much to participate in this gathering, but he hoped the potential gains might be worth it. Not only did he wished to look out for P-stones and F-stones, he also wanted to see whether the traders there knew more about geril spice.
Nitaa and Gavin both made ample preparations for the trip. Gavin coordinated with Crindon to procure different outfits that completely hid their bodies and dampened any scanning directed at their bodies.
While they weren't foolproof, any scanning that overcame the barriers would have to be so powerful that Ves could easily sense the attempts.
Gavin opened up a crate containing an outfit for Ves and an outfit for Nitaa.
The base of the outfit for Ves consisted of a specialized dampening hardsuit that resembled a suit of combat armor but without the protection. He also had the option to wear a voluminous, hooded black robe that resembled those worn by the Shadow Couriers. The fabric added even more protection against probing because the fabric incorporated a myriad of sensor-scrambling layers.
"Apparently, there is a thriving market for suits that are solely built to hide the identities of those who wear them." Gavin explained. "The shadow attire I've procured for you isn't cheap, but it's unique. Both the light hardsuit and the robe will do wonders in deflecting scans. Crindon already went over them and made sure they don't carry any bugs or other traps. The hardsuit is devoid of any powered systems to ensure maximum anonymity."
Ves was very satisfied with the so-called shadow attire. As he whipped out his Vulcaneye and attempted to scan them, he noticed that he encountered a high amount of interference that turned the readings fuzzy.
This was a very impressive result considering his Vulcaneye functioned a lot better than ordinary scanners! Inferior machines would probably only return static or junk data!
Nitaa grunted with approval, though she also added a warning. "Shadow attire is supposed to be one-use only. While sensors and scanners can't record who is inside, it can still register their exterior features. If you use the same shadow attire again, then investigators can match your public appearances to the appearance of the individual wearing this distinctive outfit."
"In other words, shadow attire only works well if their users aren't idiots."
The outfit for Nitaa looked completely different. Her towering height made it difficult to obscure her identity!
In order to hide the fact that she was so goddamn tall, Gavin and Crindon worked to procure a suit of heavy combat armor. Its immense bulk and mass already exceeded Nitaa's body proportions.
As long as she suited up, no one would be able to tell if a giant or a dwarf was hiding underneath all of the layers!
"The core portion of Nitaa's shadow attire is so heavy that it has to be powered. However, only the most basic systems are running its servos. Crindon already went over its rudimentary software and found nothing amiss. You're welcome to check the heavy hardsuit for yourself if you want to be sure it's secure."
Ves nursed his head. He still ached a bit from the constant influx of knowledge. "I'll do it. I don't trust the makers of shadow attires to be completely honest. It's better safe than sorry."
Though it took some effort and a few hours of tinkering, Ves completed his inspection of the shadow attires without finding anything amiss. Both outfits worked as advertised.
Along with all of the other preparations they made, Ves felt secure enough to proceed!