The combined fleets that belonged to Ves and Gloriana transitioned into FTL. Neither of the two wanted to stay in the congested, busy and increasingly more restrictive Reverend Indra System.
While Ves originally planned to visit the surface of Reverend Indra III, he changed his mind after seeing how the entire star system mobilized for war.
He decided to stay aboard Gloriana's Stellar Chaser, despite knowing that there was no escape during FTL travel.
While he felt a bit ambivalent about Gloriana's more unsettling traits, he also adored her other traits.
She was lovely, bright, attractive, friendly and not as domineering as he thought. She also smelled incredibly great!
After hours of chatting, they moved to a stately dining room where they enjoyed a lavish meal prepared by a human chef.
Lucky and Clixie dug into their bowls first.
While Clixie eagerly dug into chunks of high-quality exobeast meat, Gloriana had to draw out a handful of exotics from her ship's inventory.
Nonetheless, their quality far surpassed the cheap space rocks that Ves routinely fed his cat. Lucky ecstatically crunched the exquisite exotics with a blissful expression.
As far as the gem cat was concerned, Gloriana already earned his approval!
Ves was different. Although people say that the way to a man's heart was through their stomach, Dr. Jutland already turned his digestive system into an abomination!
He mechanically shoveled the fancy-looking food in his mouth. didn't even know the names of the dishes. As someone who didn't mind eating nutrient packs, his unsophisticated palate barely registered whether his food was sweet or salty!
"Don't you enjoy your food?" Gloriana asked on the other side of the small dining table.
"I'm not used to eating fancy food. I'm used to eating whatever meals the autochefs produce on my personal ship."
She tutted disapprovingly at Ves. "That garbage can barely be called food! I'll take care of your diet from now on. You're missing out on one of the great pleasures in life!"
"I can take care of my own food. You don't have to worry about what I eat."
"Whatever you say, Ves. I'll make sure you'll eat the best meals my chefs can provide!"
Ves wanted to palm his face. This was another instance where Gloriana insisted on taking control. He stopped arguing with her about this habit of hers because it was incredibly difficult to get her to budge. He needed to pick his battles.
In any case, it was just food. What was the harm in letting her provide for his meals?
He decided to change the topic.
"I know we agreed to travel together to the Bright Republic, but how long will you stay?"
"Are you so eager to get rid of me, Ves?" She briefly frowned.
"Ah, no! I don't want to deprive you from your existing business activities. Don't you run your own company back in the Hegemony?"
"I do." She nodded. "I started a small mech manufacturing company. My Flawless Mech Workshop isn't anything like your Living Mech Corporation. It's exclusively a vehicle for me to accept and complete commissions. In the time that you left at Centerpoint, my mother asked me to adapt a dozen different mechs to better fit their mech pilots. I spent a lot of time modifying so many mechs, but I'm all finished now."
"Won't you get in trouble if you aren't accepting any new business?"
"Nope! I want to spend as much time with you as possible, so I cleared my schedule and put my company on ice. Isn't that great? I get to remain beside you for years!"
He looked astonished at Gloriana, not knowing whether he should smile or quiver at the thought of an extended stay.
"Is that even okay? Won't your mother get worried or something?"
"Melody and the Glory Battalion are enough to keep me safe and in touch. Other than following a few rules, I'm basically free to do what I want! In fact, my mother encouraged me to accompany you to the Bright Republic."
"Didn't your mother disapprove of me? Why would she want you to go with me? Does she believe you'd get disenchanted by life in a third-rate state or something?"
"Nothing of the sort." She shook her head. "She just wants me out of the way for a while. The Hexadric Hegemony is not as quiet as it seems from the outside. My mother doesn't want me to get involved in any political disputes. In any case, I already did my duty when I modified the mechs of some of her favored mech pilots."
Ves scratched his head. "Is the Hegemony finally moving out to repel the sandman invasion?"
"..Really? What are you Hexers doing, then? Doesn't your mother realize that the sandmen are threatening the Bright Republic?!"
"We know." Her face turned serious. "Neither the Hexadric Hegemony nor the Friday Coalition are ignorant of what is taking place at the border to the frontier."
"Then why are you guys doing nothing to combat this threat?!"
"Because it's not worth it. Because we have better things to do. Because moving into action is costlier than doing nothing to us. If the sandmen ever reach our borders, we will not let a single grain of living sand through!"
This.. Ves heard these arguments before. Whenever someone asked a Fridayman or a Hexer why they were sitting on their thumbs, they always replied with the same callous answers that expressed no sympathy at all for the plight of the citizens trapped in the border states.
He just didn't expect Gloriana to parrot those opinions verbatim!
"Why?" He simply asked.
She glanced at him in the manner of a Hexer rather than his girlfriend.
"Because the states under threat hardly matters to us. I know it's not fair to say that to you, but it's the truth. We barely have a reason to care about the third-rate states."
Ves lowered his head. While he hated her words, a part of him knew it was true. From a military, economic and cultural perspective, the third-rate states hardly contribute anything to the development level of a star sector. The second-rate states were the most predominant pillars of human civilization in many star sectors!
"Do you agree with this sentiment towards third-rate states?"
"..I used to." She put down her cutlery. "Now, I'm not so sure. You have to understand that I never thought seriously about the situation of third-rate states. Only when I met you did I realize that even the poorest states can offer something of value. People like you are the diamonds in the rough that justify their existence! I��m very thankful for the Bright Republic for producing such a handsome and capable mech designer like you!"
Though Ves took some issue with her logic, at the very least she did not regard his state with disdain. He didn't know if he could take it if she continued to disparage the Bright Republic.
"So in short, your mother thinks that it's safer for you to accompany me to the Bright Republic, which happens to be in the path of the sandman invasion, then stay in the Hegemony?"
She chuckled, her voice ringing like a bell. "Hihihi! It does sound weird when you put it that way, right? I'm not concerned. If the sandmen come, I doubt they can defeat my Glory Battalion. If the situation takes a turn for the worse, they can always cover my escape. The same can't be said if I remain in my home state."
Ves scratched his head. There was much that Gloriana withheld from him, and he knew better than to ask. A state as huge, powerful and complex as the Hegemony surely had its own share of infighting. It was just a lot more difficult to hear news about it because the Hegemony highly prized putting up a united front towards foreigners.
"So.. the plan is to stay with me in the Bright Republic until the sandmen force you to flee?"
"That won't happen. the Bright Republic will never succumb to the sandmen!"
"Is that the conclusion of an analytical report conducted by the Hegemony towards my state?"
She shook her head. "I have faith in you. I have faith in your mechs. Aren't you working on a new mech designed to address this threat? It's so frustrating you��ve blocked the monitoring systems in your stateroom and lab of your ship! How can a girl like me admire her man at work when you heartlessly block my sight all the time?!"
"I am not a public performer." Ves responded mildly as he resumed filling up his stomach. "A man like me enjoys my privacy."
"I enjoy my privacy as well." She saucily grinned. "If not for Melody following my mother's orders, I would have dragged you over to my stateroom in order to enjoy our privacy behind closed doors."
"Ahem!" The aforementioned assistant glared disapprovingly at Ves from the side of the dining room.
Why was this female Benny glaring at him?! He didn't say anything offensive! It was all Gloriana!
"Look Gloriana, designing mechs is something deeply sacred to me. While I'm more than willing to work alongside other mech designers for collaborative projects, if I'm working alone I won't feel comfortable if I'm being stared at by a peeping tom."
"Well, as your girlfriend, I have to make sure that you won't ever design a mech on your own again! Doesn't it sound dreary to coop yourself up in your lab to design a mech by your lonesome self? You have me now! I'll stay by your side and make sure you won't drive yourself crazy by staying away from me when you become preoccupied with designing your mechs!"
Ves would argue that remaining in Gloriana's presence would definitely drive him crazy at some point! Seeking solitude and isolation in mech design sounded exactly what he needed to regain some much-needed sanity!
Of course, Ves did not dare to voice this opinion of his. Instead, he directed a shaky smile at his enthusiastic girlfriend.
"I don't see how you can help. You exclusively design custom mechs, right?"
"Then it's best not to disturb me when I'm at work."
"Nope. I will work right alongside you every opportunity I have!"
"How is that possible?"
She smiled and tutted to him as if he was a confused little boy. "Ves, Ves, Ves, my restriction only applies to design projects where I'm the lead designer. If I call the shots, then I want everything to be as perfect as possible. However, you make the decisions, then all I can do is make suggestions and assist you in some of the less impactful design work. I can perform calculations for you. I can perform simulations for you. Even if you don't follow my suggestions, it's fine."
This.. Ves did not expect that Gloriana was actually capable of contributing to regular design projects!
His considerations completely changed! If Gloriana spoke the truth, then Ves may benefit hugely from involving a very smart and capable Journeyman as the contributing designer of all of his projects!
He struggled to understand her limitations.
"I thought that mass market mechs are completely incompatible to your design philosophy."
"Then won't it hurt if you force yourself to contribute to the design of a mech meant to be piloted by many mech pilots?"
"It's okay. I'm not as inflexible as you think. I've had to adjust my design philosophy many times in order to overcome the practical problems I've encountered over the course of my career. I've already contributed to the design of a couple of mechs meant for mass production. As I've said, you have to be in charge of your own projects."
"I see. I understand. I think."
Though Ves still had to see how well they worked together, he began to contemplate whether he should involve her in his current design project.
Even if his Desolate Soldier project had already reached the prototype stage, perhaps she might suggest something pivotal that he overlooked in his mech design!