The next morning, Gloriana traveled to the Mech Nursery early in order to finish her examination of William's state.
Her specialty demanded that she know as much about a mech pilot as possible. It wasn't enough to learn their physical state. She also needed to gain an understanding of their piloting skills, mental state and so on. All of that required a lot of time to investigate.
On this, Ves didn't want to wait. It wasn't as if they were performing a peer-reviewed study that needed to adhere to academic standards. He was in a hurry to enact his spiritual treatment plan.
If he succeeded, then he could immediately move on to the next step of his custom mech project!
If he failed, then he would simply shake his head and accept this outcome. He didn't feel the need to learn too many lessons from a possible failure because it was doubtful if Ves would mess around with people's minds like this again.
Most mech pilots weren't cowards, after all! Ves could scarcely imagine the need to perform the same treatment on Larkinsons!
"I'm not really sure if I'm even supposed to be messing with people's minds in the first place." He quietly muttered as stepped out of his mansion.
A lot of Larkinsons were leaving for work or school at this time. Large shuttles and aircars flew out of the Cloud Estate every minute.
The sight of all of this traffic further emphasized how many Larkinsons actually lived on his property.
He still scratched his head at how easy the Larkinsons persuaded to turn his 'private' estate into a 'family' estate.
"Well, it's not as if I object to this change."
Ves truly enjoyed the company of the Larkinsons. No matter how old or young they were, being surrounded by family always brought him joy. As long as they didn't solicit him for money or favors, he didn't mind their company.
"Meow." Lucky happily climbed on his shoulder and looked out at the ascending vehicles.
"Am I not enough for you, Lucky?"
"Yeah, I see what you mean. I'm not always available if you want to play."
The kids had all taken a liking for Lucky and Clixie. Not only that, some of them also owned their pets. Animals formed an entire population group at his estate!
"Well, let's head to work."
Ves and Lucky boarded their own shuttle which brought them to the Mech Nursery. Upon arrival, Gavin surprisingly awaited their arrival at the landing zone.
Usually, Ves met with Gavin in his penthouse office.
"What brings you here, Benny?"
"Before you head inside, I want to show you something just outside the premises." His assistant answered.
Gavin led his boss out of the landing zone and towards the main entrance of the manufacturing complex.
The closer they approached, the more Ves began to hear the noise and cacophony of a crowd.
Once they reached the enormous but largely symbolic swing gates, a mob of protestors were screaming and chanting at the entrance. Some of them even held electronic placards that projected signs in the air!
Ves read some of the words projected above the heads of the protestors.
CEASE BRAINWASHING US!
VES LARKINSON IS A WAR CRIMINAL!
DO NOT BUY LMC MECHS!
THE DEVIL TONGUE IS EVIL!
THE LARKINSONS HAVE SHOWN THEIR TRUE NATURE!
BANISH THE DEVIL TONGUE BACK TO WHERE HE BELONGS!
Ves grimaced at the sight. He didn't miss the group of journalists capturing the protests with their floating recorder bots. Who knew how many of his customers would watch the footage of the protests by the end of the day!
Since Ves didn't hide his approach, the protestors on the other side of the gate soon noticed his presence!
"Begone, you devil!"
"Go poison the minds of the Ylvainans, you traitor!"
"My father died because he piloted your crappy mechs!"
"We won't let you take over our state! We are on to your nefarious plan to brainwash everyone into worshipping you! You may have already turned the Ylvainans into your slaves, but it's not too late for us!"
Ves snorted when he heard that last accusation. Did they think he was another incarnation of Prophet Ylvaine? He could care less about their lives!
Just as Ves stepped up to teach them all a lesson, Gavin held his arm and pulled him back. "Don't, Ves! I didn't bring you here to argue with the protestors."
Ves frowned. "Why not?"
"No amount of arguing will change their minds. If you step forward and open your mouth, the only thing you'll accomplish is realizing their worst fears. Even if you manage to disperse the crowd, the people who weren't present here would state that your Devil Tongue was at work!"
"That's the public perception that your critics have formed! I know it's rather abrupt for you to be confronted with these protests, but they are much larger than the mob you see before you. Trust me, we've tried to stamp them out many times, but there are too many people who bought into the conspiracy theories or gave in to their worst fears."
Ves only vaguely learned of the existence of the movement against his mechs during his previous tour.
He suspected that the movement initially started when a couple of competitors and critics banded together to depress his success.
Gavin explained the latest developments to Ves.
"We used to treat the opposition to our mechs as a serious nuisance. That was back when we still sold Blackbeaks, Crystal Lords and Aurora Titans. All of this changed when we published the Desolate Soldier. Our mechs have begun to proliferate in Bentheim, which means that a lot more people get exposed to our mechs in one of the busiest planets in our state!"
The ubiquity of Desolate Soldiers and their strong effects on people amplified everyone's worries. The protest movement gained a significant impetus when it became clear that the Desolate Soldiers would continue to spread throughout the Bright Republic and beyond!
After a bit of thought, Ves shook his head.
"To be honest, I am not unsympathetic of their concerns." He said. "My Desolate Soldiers can be rather heavy-handed when it comes to influencing other people. That doesn't change my mind that my work is necessary. The fact that more and more institutions have adopted my mechs means that we are fulfilling the needs of our customers."
"That's all and good, boss, but the protestors don't agree."
"So what do you suggest we do?"
"It's not wise to engage the protestors directly. We'll be forced to fight on their terms if we open up a dialogue." Gavin clarified. "Therefore, it's best to leave them alone and work behind the scenes. We should let our supporters and our allies do the dirty work of pushing back this protest movement."
Now that Ves thought about it, this was his original plan. His initial plan was to make his mech design indispensable to the states. As long as the people in power needed his mechs, they would inevitably support his business efforts.
There was no way the Bright Republic would allow its own citizens to ruin a mech it appreciated!
However, even if Ves believed the government and other supporters would back him up, there was no way they single-handedly impose their viewpoints on everybody.
Ves crossed his arms while furrowing his brows. "It's difficult to allay people's fears towards my mechs. The fear and stigma against brainwashing is deeply rooted in every human's mind. I can't help it that my mechs strays uncomfortably close towards brainwashing. Even the MTA has acknowledged that my mechs are capable of affecting other people's minds."
That wasn't necessarily bad in itself. Anything could influence a person's mind. For example, if Ves wanted to make people react strongly to him, then he could just strip off all his clothes and parade his naked body in front of the protestors and the press!
Of course, such an act was clearly more explainable. The difficulty that he and the LMC faced was that they didn't really have a good explanation of how his mechs were able to influence people's mentalities.
His mechs didn't release any smells or pheromones.
His mechs didn't transmit subliminal flashes of light that induced certain moods or behaviors on people.
His mechs didn't remotely interface with every bystander in the vicinity.
Settled science couldn't come up with a solid explanation for the unique phenomenon surrounding his mechs.
Mech designers and many other experts all came up with their own theories. Ves definitely believed that a number of them managed to get close to the truth and guess that psionics may be involved.
As much as a part of him wanted him to step forward and confront the protestors with what they were doing, Ves merely scoffed and turned around.
"Let's go, Benny. These ignorant people aren't worth my time."
Gavin followed alongside him. "For a moment, I thought you wanted to lash out at the protestors."
"I considered it, but I wouldn't gain anything aside from venting my frustration. As a mech designer, I've been taught to let my work speak for themselves. I still believe that is the right approach here. Once the sandmen are battering the Bright Republic in earnest, I'll watch closely to see how many people still object to my Desolate Soldiers and all of its variants."
Ves didn't consider himself to be on the same level as the idlers who apparently had enough time on their hands to picket the entrance of the Mech Nursery all day.
Where was their sense of duty?
A devious idea came to mind.
"Benny, please instruct the Living Sentinels to place some Desolate Soldiers in the vicinity of the protestors."
"They won't like that, boss."
"I don't care. If they step back, I want a Desolate Soldier to step forward. Do that until we succeed in chasing them away from our premises."
It looked bad if protestors continued to picket in front of the Mech Nursery. Once they had been driven away, the journalists would quickly cease to broadcast their footage, because protesting in front of nothing did not make for a good news segment.
Once Ves entered his headquarters and entered his main office, he sat down on his comfortable chair and began his work day.
Since Gloriana was still busy with examining William Urbesh, Ves still had to wait until the late afternoon to enact his spiritual treatment plan.
The wait was killing him. He was so eager to begin his experiment that he barely paid attention to the matters that came up to him today.
The only instance where he paid more attention was when Crindon visited his office for a private meeting.
After making sure that jamming was in place, Crindon finally spoke.
"I've performed a preliminary investigation on the LMC. While I've only studied the upper management of the company so far, I've already identified around thirty moles in our headquarters."
While Ves knew that not every employee was clean, hearing that thirty of them were sneakily passing off information about Ves and the company to others was a heavy blow.
"Who are these moles reporting to, Crindon?"
"Some of them are working on behalf of Flashlight and Spotlight. Others appear to be transmitting internal data to competing mech companies. However, I haven't been able to determine the ultimate recipient in over half of the cases. The people and organizations involved are too careful to slip such a thing."
Ves grabbed Lucky and passed his pet over to Crindon.
"Try and investigate with Lucky's help. He possesses a powerful CFA hacking system."
"This will help, but not as much as you think. Spies are exceedingly careful about exposing their networks and systems." Crindon said as he held Lucky in his arms. "I'll see what I can do, though. What do you want to do to the informers that we have identified?"
Ves shrugged. "Keep the ones who are working for the government, but find a way to kick out the rest."
"It may be prudent to keep known spies around, if only to track what data they are interested in passing along."
"You can determine the best course of action for yourself. I trust in your judgement."
"Thank you, sir. I'll do my best to minimize the damage they can do."
In truth, Ves couldn't be bothered with addressing this problem either. He knew that no matter how many spies and informers they exposed and removed from the company, others would inevitably take their place.
Some enemies simply couldn't be beaten in a straight fight!