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 He diverted some time to call Calabast's cover identity. Miss Cecily Curin answered his call promptly from the Ylvaine Protectorate.

As Ves briefly explained the circumstances of his nearly-completed Desolate Soldier design and his intentions to sell them in the Protectorate, Calabast casually waved her hand.

"Not a problem, Mr. Larkinson. Through the Living Mech Ylvaine Corporation, I have already established partnerships with numerous local manufacturers. As long as your localized variant lives up to its promises, many Ylvainans will no doubt favor your products heavily."

She went on to explain which mech manufacturers she managed to partner up with. None of them were top-tier companies, and none of them enjoyed the support of a Journeyman.

"These companies don't sound very outstanding." Ves frowned after he absorbed the information. "Without partnering up with us, they would have shuttered and failed due to their lack of competitiveness."

"While we can forge partnerships with better companies, the terms won't be in our favor. Bright Martyr or not, Journeymen don't work for charity. The advantage of our current arrangement is that we have managed to sign agreements with many mech manufacturers without giving up control. The LMYC can draw on a great amount of production capacity whenever we need it, allowing us to produce hundreds of your mechs a day!"

She transmitted some documents about the aggregate production capacity at their disposal. Ves became rather shocked at how many mech manufacturers agreed to partner up with the LMYC! Though any individual mech company wasn't worth his time, when their numbers accumulated into the dozens, their production capacity far surpassed that of the Mech Nursery!

"Good job, Miss Cecily..." Ves reluctantly said. "These partnerships couldn't have come at a better time. If everything goes according to plan, we can saturate the Ylvainan mech market with Desolate Soldiers almost immediately after I publish the base version and the variant of my design!"

"I can read the market circumstances as well as you do, Mr. Larkinson. As soon as I heard you were working on a new design, I contacted as many desperate mech manufacturers as I could. The sandman crisis severely affected all of their livelihoods as the sales for their staple mech models have collapsed. It turns out when your mech catalog only features melee or laser mech models, you are no longer relevant during this crisis."

The foresight displayed by Calabast always earned his admiration. Though she remained low-key so far, she had never stopped her machinations.

"How is the Ylvaine Protectorate faring during these times?"

"Not good. Our state has to guard both its front and its rear. The sandmen invaders will batter our borders first while the Star Faith Collective can sit back and threaten our rear border."

Ves frowned when he heard that. "Doesn't that go against the principle to unite against a common alien foe?"

"What are principles when there is no one around to enforce them?" Calabast shrugged in a fatalistic manner. "The second-rate states are preoccupied right now, and the MTA is strangely absent. While the Star Faith Collective probably doesn't have the guts to cross the line, they don't have to. They only have to deploy a large portion of their mech military at the border and make threatening movements."

"Which means the Protectors of the Faith can't afford to redirect too many of their mech regiments from the border with the Starrers to address the alien threat." Ves grimaced.

"Right. Technically, the Star Worshippers aren't doing anything wrong. Everytime we demand an explanation, they merely release a statement that claims that they are just setting up a defensive line against the sandmen invaders."

The sad part about this situation was that they weren't wrong. The Starrers wanted to kill two birds with one stone. By deploying their mech military in such a fashion, they not only increased the odds that the Ylvaine Protectorate would fall, but also have their forces in place to repel the sandmen forces that the Ylvainan forces had already weakened!

It was such a dirty move that Ves could only scratch his head at the audacity of the Star Worshippers. Normally, their actions would have invited censure from the MTA or the surrounding states, but with everyone so preoccupied with their own matters, the Starrers made a bold bet that no one would have the time to spare their attention on this insignificant matter!

"Does this mean the Protectorate is likely to fall?"

Miss Cecily smirked at him over the comm. "Don't count us out yet, Mr. Larkinson. The Kronons haven't made the best impression lately, but they are anything but weak."

She sounded awfully confident about the Protectorate, so Ves no longer concerned himself with their problems.

"What about you?" He asked. "How are you doing?"

"My position here is stabilized. I set out to build a foundation in the Ylvaine Protectorate, and I have succeeded. While the sandman invasion has thrown a wrench in my plan, I am still confident for the future."

"I heard that you picked up some strays during the crisis."

"As I should." She smiled meaningfully at him. Due to the unsecure comm channel, they couldn't go in too deep. "I advise you to do the same. An uncountable number of refugees have fled from the border states to the states in the rear. Many of these refugees are worthless, but not all. Mech designers, mech technicians, mech pilots and more have lost their homes and their possessions. Many of them are so desperate that they will eagerly accept any help."

I've already instructed my subordinates to sift through the refugees settled on the planet for any useful manpower."

He did not expect that much results to come from this search. The truly valuable individuals would have traveled aboard better starships and be able to approach powerful organizations for shelter. They wouldn't have been left destitute to the point where the Bright Republic dismissively dumped them onto rural planets.

"Do the best you can to take advantage of this crisis. Once the sandman invasion dies down, all of the territory left in the wake of the aliens are ripe for the picking."

A chortle escaped from his threat. "We have to survive the onslaught first."

After a bit more discussion, Ves was about to end the call. The questions that he really wanted to ask had to wait until he could visit her in person. Now that he conveyed his initial request and found out that Calabast didn't appear to be concerned, he could rest easy for the moment.

"Mr. Larkinson, please wait a moment." She raised her elegant hand. "Before you go, let me leave you with two warnings. First, your recent rise to prominence has led to severe shifts within your Larkinson Family. Don't underestimate the impact you have on your family's long-standing traditions. Second, no matter what disaster might occur, don't act like a fool and get entangled in affairs that are greater than you. Not every problem is your problem."

Was Calabast afraid that he would place his life in the line to defend the Bright Republic against the sandmen?

"I have a duty to assist my home state." He stated with some conviction. "If the Bright Republic is in trouble, I won't stand by without doing my best."

Having worked so long on the Desolate Soldier, Ves constantly honed his mind with duty. Some of it still lingered even when he wasn't actively working on his design!

"You're just a mech designer. Isn't that your tagline?" Calabast sighed at him. "Your only purpose in life is to design mechs for other people to use. Nowhere does it state that you have to place yourself in the line of fire and spit at your enemies."

He knew that, but he still felt restless at the thought of leaving his home state to its mercy. The Larkinson blood within him compelled him to do more, but it was hard to imagine he could do anything against an inflexible foe like the sandmen!

The call ended soon after. Ves mulled over Calabast's words for a bit but did not let it distract him from his current priorities. Right now, readying the Desolate Soldier for release demanded his total attention.

As soon as he rejoined Gloriana back at the workshop compartment, she hugged him with much greater affection than usual.

"Hihihi! You're back!" She cheered.

"Of course I'm back. There is always work to be done."

As Ves sat down at his seat behind a terminal, Gloriana shifted up to him and hugged him closer.

"Hey. What's the matter?"

"Nothing." She cutely shook her head. "I just want to make sure you still like me, that's all."

"Of course I do!"

She pressed her finger against his chest and started to draw circles on his dress shirt. "Well, you just had a call with a woman you consider your partner."

"She's just a strategic partner to me." He reassured her. He knew that Gloriana and Calabast held a private chat with each other one time, but he had no idea what kind of accord they reached. "I doubt she's interested in me the way I do. I'm not her type."

"You never know. While I'm already aware of your brilliance, I'm afraid that woman will change her mind once she realizes how exceptional you truly are. I won't hold back if she thinks she can encroach upon my territory!"

Oh, out of the three of them, Calabast probably knew him the best! In his eyes, Gloriana's fears were unfounded!

"Are you jealous?" He asked with an amused smile.

Her palm slapped against his chest!

"Don't joke around, Ves! That woman is poisonous! You have no reason to cast your puppy eyes in her direction when I'm around! I know it frustrates you that we can't express our intimacy to each other, but please be patient. As long as we work hard enough, you'll definitely earn my mother's approval in time!"

Though Ves found her apparent distress amusing, he didn't have the heart to keep her suffering. He hugged her back and kissed her cheek.

"You misunderstand, Gloriana. I only have eyes for you. I'm not the kind of scumbag who will cheat on you, and I have never considered that woman to be anything other than a strategic partner. Instead of worrying your pretty little head over these nonexistent problems, why not get back to work? I still need to develop a variant and put the finishing touches on the Desolate Soldier design."

Upon his encouragement, they returned to work. As soon as they started working on their project, all signs of disharmony disappeared. Their shared occupation allowed them to share their feelings at a level that transcended ordinary conversations.

Ves already enjoyed designing mechs by himself, but sharing his passion with a loving woman was one of the greatest pleasures imaginable! He could hardly imagine going back to returning to his hermit ways and working on his designs all by his lonesome self!

Though his productivity declined a bit because he constantly had to work in tandem with Gloriana, the exchange of insights and the bouncing of ideas led to much more fruitful gains.

Not only were they able to achieve significantly better results, they also learned much more in the process!

All the while, Ves also became more and more familiar with her design philosophy, while Gloriana understood more of their principles.

Days went by as his subordinates back home tested the second prototype as fast as possible. When Ketis transmitted the results to Ves, he discovered that the solutions suggested by Gloriana did not yield a lot of problems.

"That's pretty good!"

The lack of any major issues meant that Ves possessed the confidence to make his third iteration of the Desolate Soldier design the final one. He only took the time to address some of the minor problems that had emerged from the testing into the base version and his newly-developed variant.

Since Ves placed a lot of importance on the Ylvainans to propel his new products to success, he did not dare to neglect this side project! Both Ves and Gloriana meticulously began to apply their strengths to the localized variant.

"What will you call it, Ves?"

"I call it the Holy Soldier. Faith is just as important as duty to the Ylvainans. My variant must channel both in order to rally the faithful!"

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