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 He decided to spend some time by himself to draw out a larger-than-average mote of spiritual energy and apply some spiritual refining.

Using methods he developed before, he drew spiritual attributes that he didn't want and cut them away.

Ves tried to be as diligent as possible and focused mostly on cutting out the weird, unidentifiable alien attributes. Even if Ves didn't care about how William would turn out after being subject to contamination, it would be bad if the mech pilot started speaking an alien language or began to worship an alien god.

"There are still some limits to how far I can go. William still needs to be a functioning human being."

Therefore, Ves was fairly meticulous in his crude refining process. He kept cutting more and more undesirable parts out of the mote until it only retained a fraction of its essence.

Still, even this tiny fragment was enough to overpower William's spiritual potential.

Ves needed to weaken or dampen it in some fashion. After some thought, he decided to surround it with a spiritual barrier.

Just like how he formed a flexible barrier around Zeigra's spiritual fragment to modulate its aura, Ves was doing the same to Nyxie's spiritual mote.

This way, he could adjust how much the mote's contaminating influence affected its surroundings.

While Ves wasn't sure if his spiritual barrier blocked everything, he didn't sense much threat once his barrier closed around the mote.

"It's probably sufficient. Probably."

The spiritual barrier also acted as a cell that isolated the spiritual mote from attacking or directly affecting William's spirituality.

What Ves wanted to achieve gradual, controllable contamination. An abrupt merger or collision risked way too much.

"This is it." He nodded.

He stowed away the other exotics into the vault and kept the shielded spiritual mote in his mind.

As much as he feared anything related to Nyxie, a tiny spiritual mote could do nothing to a Journeyman of his strength. He was more than confident enough that he would be able to resist contamination from a partially-purified spiritual mote.

Ves headed back to the lab and workshop floor. The four seeds had already left in order to resume their regular studies. Gloriana and Ketis were still in the process of examining William.

Once William came out of a machine, Ves ordered Nitaa forward to claim the mech pilot.

"Hey!" Gloriana glared at Ves. "I'm not finished with him yet! Why are you taking him away?!"

"Huh?" William shuddered in fear. "What treatment plan are you referring to, Mr. Larkinson."

"I've come up with a way to treat your affliction, William." Ves smiled reassuringly at the mech pilot before turning to Gloriana. "I've completed my preparations. I'm not sure how long it will take, but once I'm done he'll probably come back as a different man. By then, it's best if you repeat your prior examinations from scratch."

"That doesn't invalidate the need to perform scans, Ves. If nothing else, we can compare the differences and learn how effective your treatment plan has worked. We can also keep an eye out for any unintended side effects."

While Ves did not think that contaminating William would lead him to grow an alien third leg or something, he recognized Gloriana's point.

Though Ves prized expedience, he shouldn't be too careless when he was about to apply an innovative and risky spiritual operation.

"Fine." He nodded. "I'll let you have William for another day, but no more! The sandmen that have reached the Bright Republic are growing more numerous by the day. I want William to be ready to deploy into battle within a few weeks."

William gasped. "What?! You're sending me to the frontlines! Please no! Please don't do this! I don't want to die!"

Nobody listened to the coward's complaints.

Since Gloriana insisted on delaying the treatment, Ves called it a day and left the lab.

He decided to spend the rest of his time on catching up to other work. He returned to his penthouse office at the headquarters and called up Gavin to hear the latest updates on the sales of his latest mech models.

"Our Desolate Soldiers keep selling as fast as we can produce them." Gavin emphasized with a smile. "What's more, a lot of third-party manufacturers have seen how successful they are and approached us with offers."

"I hope the LMC hasn't been too hasty in extending contracts."

"We know how important it is to maintain adequate quality. We've been busy with auditing the applicants to make sure they are capable of meeting our standards. So far, only a couple of bad apples have slipped through."

Ves studied the money the LMC earned so far and held his breath. The license fees combined with the earnings made from sales combined to a horrific amount of money!

His Desolate Soldiers already netted him more profit than any of his previous mech models! While their margins weren't as impressive as his older premium mech models, the sales volume was absolutely immense!

Perhaps the true road to dominance in the mech market did not lay in the premium price category, but the budget price category!

As Ves grinned from ear-to-ear as he imagined all of the profits he would earn, Gavin gently interrupted his daydreaming.

"It's not all good news, Ves." Gavin spoke after adopting a serious expression. "Inflation is rising in the Bright Republic as well as every other state affected by the sandman invasion. The government and everyone else is spending money like it's their last opportunity to do so! The bright credit has already lost ten percent of its value over the last month and it's projected that its value will reduce by twenty percent the next month!"

Ves almost had a heart attack when he heard this figure! "What does that mean for the LMC?"

"Our current policy is to constantly adjust the prices for our products. We're only able to set the prices for the mechs we produce ourselves or those produced by third-party manufacturers under contract, so our prices are largely consistent. Luckily, everyone is already used to frequent price increases."

Gavin and Ves talked a little more about the consequences of inflation on the company. As Ves had already foreseen, holding an increasing pile of cash at this time was incredibly stupid.

For the duration of the sandman prices, every month its value would reduce by ten to twenty percent. In some months, it might be even worse!

Though the Bright Republic deserved a lot of credit for keeping inflation largely under control even through the worst periods of the Bright-Vesia Wars, the sandman threat was so much greater.

It was better to spend money now than when it was too late to make a difference!

"In a month or two, our Desolate Soldiers will likely be sold for 25 million bright credits. A month after that, 30 million bright credits. By the time the sandman invasion has run its course, it's not impossible for a Desolate Soldier to be sold for 100 million bright credits!"

Even though the numbers kept getting bigger, the actual value kept growing smaller!

The same was happening in every other state threatened by the sandmen. Every local currency was rapidly losing value because every person or organization with savings wanted to convert useless money into tangible assets!

At this moment, mechs but especially ships were in incredibly high demand!

An enormous amount of civilians pooled their money together to order evacuation ships. Private shipyards were working on overtime to pump out vessel after vessel, but they hadn't even been able to make a dent on demand!

The LMC had big plans to spend its enormous windfall, and the onset of inflation increased everyone's urgency. Even if their profligate spending plans contributed to the rise of inflation, no one cared.

If the Bright Republic fell, the bright credit would be worth nothing! Faced with such a ruinous outcome, even the government ran its printing presses like no tomorrow!

"I see." Ves sighed. "I suppose there is so much we can spend on at the moment, right?"

Gavin nodded. "A lot of goods and services are in high demand. The prices of several essential raw materials used in the production of our mechs have risen far above the rate of inflation. These metals and exotics have many different applications, hence their huge demand."

"Does that mean we'll have to raise the real prices of our two mech models?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

A grim silence ensued. One of the biggest appeals of his Soldier product line was that it was a great bargain. Raising its real prices by ten percent or twenty percent would put a severe dent to its value proposition.

Ves silently consoled himself with the fact that other mech manufacturers wouldn't be left out. Depending on how much scarce materials they incorporated in their mech designs, their prices might rise even more drastically.

"Let's leave the planning and the details to the Marketing, Finance and Accounting Department." Ves eventually waved his hand. "As long as our company survives, everything is fine."

After discussing some miscellaneous matters, Gavin raised an important topic.

"The Ministry of Defense has sent us an official letter. You should read it first."

Ves took Gavin's data pad and read through the official-sounding document. What Leland told him earlier had come true. MinDef appreciate his Desolate Soldier model, but found its limitations to be a hindrance to their plans.

"MinDef wants me to design additional variants of my Desolate Soldier." Ves announced and put down the data pad. "Have you read the letter?"

Gavin nodded. "I'm aware of what it says. One point I'd like to say is that MinDef has merely issued a request. While it's a bad idea to deny their requests, you aren't obligated to fulfill their entire wishlist. I think they'll understand if you have problems with some of the suggested variants."

Leland had already mentioned the four proposed variants beforehand. That gave Ves plenty of time to mull over the merits of the variants.

"I think all four merits can play a useful role." Ves gently spoke. "None of them are useless. It's just that some require more design work than others to complete. The time that Gloriana and I must spend on designing the variants will detract from the time I could have spent on another original mech."

"Even so, the success of your Desolate Soldier design practically demands the development of variants." Gavin reminded Ves of the industry standard. "When you've created a hit, the usual answer is to milk it for all it's worth. There is so much more market share we can capture if we just change a couple of elements from the base model."

Both of them understood this logic, but Gavin was not a mech design. He viewed the decision from a marketing perspective, while Ves also had to think about the consequences to his progression.

Designing a completely new mech was much more fulfilling to him than coming up with another spin to an existing product. There was much less challenge and creativity involved in the latter that Ves would barely gain anything despite spending just as much time.

Time was valuable to Ves. He was only willing to spend it if he yielded something more.

This happened to be one of those times.

"Four variants." Ves repeated. He picked up the data pad and scrolled down to the list of specifications.

PRIDEFUL SOLDIER: VARIANT OF THE DESOLATE SOLDIER. AIMED AT IRREGULAR OUTFITS AND ORGANIZATIONS.

MILITANT SOLDIER: VARIANT OF THE DESOLATE SOLDIER. RESERVED FOR MILITARY USE.

WORTHY SOLDIER: VARIANT OF THE DESOLATE SOLDIER. ELITE VARIANT RESERVED FOR HIGHER-END MILITARY USE.

PEACEFUL SOLDIER: VARIANT OF THE DESOLATE SOLDIER. LANDBOUND MECH INTENDED FOR POLICING.

Ves wasn't surprised that MinDef wanted two different military variants. MinDef ran the Mech Corps, after all.

He wasn't surprised that they added in a landbound variant exclusive for policing and peacekeeping operations. His Desolate Soldiers were already quite a hit among Planetary Guard organizations, but their spaceborn nature made them very poor combatants on land.

The only variant that confounded him a little was the suggestion for the Prideful Soldier.

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