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 Leland left him with a list of four variants that the Ministry of Defense wanted Ves to design. The sooner he completed them, the sooner they could be put to service.

"Hmm. This changes some of my plans."

Ves originally intended to design another mech that was suited to fight against the sandmen, but the variants requested by MinDef didn't sound so bad.

He knew it was better for him to fulfill the requests. Not only did they fall in line with his own goals, but he also wanted to prove that the Bright Republic was right to treat him with deference.

Once Leland departed from his office, Ves mulled over the variants. He would need to think over how he wanted to approach their designs.

"For now, I have a lot of business to catch up."

In the next few days, he did his best to familiarize himself with the changes that took place at home.

The LMC attracted his attention first. He invited Gloriana along as he commuted from the Cloud Estate to the Mech Nursery. As soon as they arrived at the combined headquarters and manufacturing complex, Gloriana took in the surroundings with a critical eye.

"Adequate." She judged. "It's a little bare here, but your display models make up for the lack of grace."

The elegant architecture and the precisely-manicured gardens failed to arouse her interest. She only appreciated the Blackbeaks, Crystal Lords and Aurora Titans that basked the Mech Nursery with their distinctive auras.

Two new additions added extra influences to the people working at the LMC.

First, a fair number of Desolate Soldiers had been placed around the campus. Distributed in a way to ensure maximum and even coverage, the Desolate Soldiers constantly inspired duty in practically every everyone who worked at the Mech Nursery!

In fact, Ves began to fear if employing the Desolate Soldiers in this fashion was excessive. The permanent presence of these mechs effectively indoctrinated his employees to do their duty to the LMC!

"This is playing with fire!" Ves cursed.

The second significant addition was the trophy he obtained from Felixia. Zeigra's enormous stuffed corpse had been placed in the foyer of the headquarters. Anyone who entered the main office would inevitably be greeted with the remains of a ferocious Crown Cat!

Though the sight impressed every employee and visitor who entered the headquarters for the first couple of times, it quickly grew old after a time.

Part of it was due to the lack of aura contained within.

"It's an empty shell." Gloriana observed with a frown. "Your mechs are much more impressive because of their divinity. This.. is a letdown."

"Perhaps I can do something about that later. Right now, I have other work to do."

If he wanted to, he could transfer Zeigra's spiritual fragment from his overcoat to the trophy. Perhaps separating a mote would be enough.

He didn't do so right now because he had more important things to do than to augment a vanity piece.

Ves and Gloriana both went past the foyer while carrying their cats.

Since Ves was about to meet with a lot of people, he decided to wear his full Pride of Dusk ensemble. The LMC had gone for a year without his presence, and it was time for his subordinates to realize who was truly in charge.

As for Gloriana, she wore a formal suit that complemented his own outfit. Just like Ves, she wanted to make a powerful impression on his company.

Of course, both of them also wore their decorative cat ears, which spoiled some of the professionalism they exuded. Ves did not mind, and neither did his girlfriend.

In the eyes of others, their shared eccentricities bound them closer together. Gloriana played along because she wanted to keep him in her clutches, while Ves wanted to make himself appear a little more irrational.

If Ves presented himself as a sane and boring mech designer, people would inevitably start to have designs on his trade secrets!

Until he managed to gain more solid backing from the Rim Guardians, presenting himself as slightly unhinged was the most effective way he could protect himself from the jealousy of others!

As soon as the pair reached the penthouse office, Calsie and Gavin greeted their arrival.

"Good job taking care of my company." Ves nodded to Calsie as he moved to sit behind his desk.

"Thank you, sir. I don't claim to have done a good job, but I've done my best to keep everything together. Will you be taking over as CEO now that you have returned?"

"No." Ves shook his head.

"No?"

"I've realized that I'm far too busy to run a company of this size. The LMC has expanded so much over the years that it deserves a dedicated leader."

"I'm not a qualified executive, Ves."

"You're improving, though, right?" He smiled.

"I've been studying. Some of the Larkinsons and their retainers have also been helpful in getting me up to speed. To be honest, I think our current COO is far more suitable to lead the company in our stead. He's good with numbers, good with people and he projects stability."

Ves remembered Jake. He would meet him and the rest of the top management team later.

"Even if you think you aren't entirely suitable, you've been with the company from the start, Calsie." He reassured her. "I trust you, which is something that is indispensable to me. I'd like you to hold your current position. Can you handle the responsibility?"

"I'll do my best, sir."

Though Calsie did not express much confidence, Ves did not expect that much from her in the first place. She merely acted as his agent to represent his interests within the LMC. The senior management could continue to handle the actual running of the company.

As Ves spoke with Calsie, Gloriana curiously inspected the office and the items placed on the display shelves. She curiously picked up the mug which had been stamped with a cartoonish image of Ves in his Devil Tongue guise.

She scrunched her nose. "What poor taste."

Even though the mug's awful depiction of his boyfriend offended her, she carefully placed it back. She didn't want to cross any lines set by Ves by tampering with the possessions he cared about.

She directed her attention to something more egregious than an amusing mug.

"Is that.. A nutrient pack?!"

The moment she studied the seemingly-aged nutrient pack, she physically grew ill.

"Disgusting!"

The day progressed quickly as Ves met with a multitude of people. He personally met with every member of the senior management. Some of them had changed and had never met him in person.

Once they saw Ves in person and experienced the pressure emanating from his Pride of Dusk, they soon left with an unforgettable impression of the most important person in the company.

After that, Ves attended a virtual board meeting along with Gloriana. Just as with the top management, some of the directors had been replaced by others.

To be honest, Ves barely paid attention to their suggestions and their proposals. The directors also acted unusually subdued due to the presence of his girlfriend.

Even if she wasn't doing anything except looking attentive, her powerful identity could not be ignored.

Ves found it funny that Gloriana's presence acted as a much greater source of pressure than the aura of his overcoat!

Those who belonged to the upper echelons of society reacted far more strongly to his girlfriend than someone with a simpler background like Calsie!

The only ones who held their ground were his grandfather Benjamin and Marcella Bollinger. Both of them used to serve in the Mech Corps so their spines were made of sterner stuff.

Once the board meeting ended and the projections of the directors switched off, Gloriana snorted with disdain.

"Some of your directors don't seem very honest."

"It's fine." Ves dismissively waved his hand. "Everyone knows that I'm in control. The LMC is nothing without my mech designs."

They retired for a quick lunch before taking a lift underground to visit the manufacturing floor of the Mech Nursery.

They toured the entire floor and talked with several chief technicians such as Cyrill Hockett.

Though the scale of production didn't impress Gloriana very much, she admired the work ethic of the mech technicians.

"Everyone is of a similar mind here." She noted with a bit of admiration. "Not only that, the mech technicians are all focused on their work."

"I insisted on that." Ves grinned.

His efforts to push for a strong corporate culture that could unite all of his subordinates together under a common identity had borne fruit.

Not only that, the mech technicians all embraced the approach that Ves had pushed for in order to strengthen the X-Factor of the mechs rolling off the production lines.

The main reason why his silver label mechs sold at a higher price was because of their better-preserved X-Factor!

"I can see why you have opted for an inefficient manufacturing process in your own company." She remarked.

The same team of mech technicians built up a single copy from start to finish. This was different from other production facilities which mainly divided a specific task to a dedicated team.

For example, one team was responsible for fabricating mech engines. Another team was responsible for inspecting them. A third team was responsible for them onto a mech frame.

Though Ves saw the merits in dividing different tasks to specialized mech technicians, the problem was that it wasn't the best for his mechs.

A single team of mech technicians ordinarily consisted of eight to twenty people. Having that many people work on a single mech led to a moderate amount of disruption in the X-Factor of the end product.

However, if the Mech Nursery switched over to batch production, then the amount of mech technicians involved in the production of any single mech was in the hundreds!

That was why a silver label mech always earned more appreciation than a bronze label mech.

It was virtually impossible for third party manufacturers to emulate the LMC's methods. Even if they did, the LMC would never allow them to use any other label than bronze!

Ves always cared a lot about quality. Even if the LMC had to produce as many Desolate Soldiers as possible to meet market demand, he insisted on remaining true to his principles.

At worst, the reputation of his bronze label mechs might decline due to the inconsistent quality of the output of third-party manufacturers.

Ves already started hearing stories of struggling manufacturers attempting to cut corners in order to save on cost.

For a mech that was already as skinny and cost-conscious as his Desolate Soldier, further cost-cutting would drastically hurt its performance!

One of the reasons he personally attended the board meeting earlier was to ram through a proposal that punished this kind of conduct.

Any third-party manufacturer that tried to play games could kiss their license goodbye!

Of course, the LMC could only revoke their licenses if they signed a special contract that waived the massive up-front licensing fee.

Certain mech designers and mech companies obtained a standard license of the Desolate Soldier. Even though they had to pay 10 billion bright credits to the LMC, they gained a lot more rights.

"Fortunately, those who can afford to pay 10 billion credits aren't bottom feeders." He murmured.

Though this sum no longer confounded Ves, many other mech companies struggled to borrow or accumulate so much cash!

This was also why the LMC gained the leverage to impose restrictive terms on its contracts to third-party manufacturers. A lot of struggling mech companies saw how profitable it was to produce the Desolate Soldiers.

Yet because they were struggling, they could never come up with the money on their own!

Of course, mech companies could also try to obtain the cheaper Holy Soldier license. At just 6 billion bright credits, a mech company didn't have to bleed so much to obtain the rights to produce or develop a variant of this mech.

What surprised Ves the most was that many mech designers actually licensed the Holy Soldier!

Even though most of them consisted of Ylvainan mech designers, some of them turned out to be Brighters, Vesians or Reinaldans!

Ves laughed. If they thought they could wipe away the holy aspect while retaining its ability to inspire duty, they had another thing coming!

"Well, it's free money, at least! I don't accept refunds!"

The rule in the mech industry was that if you paid to license a mech design, you wouldn't be able to return it! The best you could do was to sell the existing license to another sucker!

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