Ves stayed in his office. He already called ahead to inform Gloriana that he wouldn't be doing any design work today.
Even though the Militant Soldier and the Peaceful Soldier had to be completed as fast as possible, Ves needed to be in the right mood.
Both designs served as contributions to the state, but right now Ves did not feel very charitable towards the Bright Republic at this time.
For this reason, he called Gloriana to join him in his office. When his girlfriend entered while clutching Clixie, Ves stood up from his desk and moved over to the sofas. There was no need to talk to his girlfriend as if he was holding a business meeting.
"You look.. different, Ves."
"A lot has happened today." He spoke while reaching over to Clixie.
The cat jumped in his arms and allowed him to caress her fur.
"Why don't you tell me about it?" Gloriana leaned up next to him while gazing at him in the eyes.
Ves briefly described what took place. He also shared his own thoughts.
While Ves vented his frustrations and aired his tangled thoughts, Gloriana continually reassured him. Both of them grew more comfortable in each other's presence.
"To be honest, the Bright Republic and the people in power aren't acting unreasonably." She said. "It is not ungrounded for them to ask some favors of you, especially in a time of great need."
Though Marcella and Jake made the same argument, hearing it from his girlfriend forced him to reconsider his response.
"Do you think I'm overreacting?"
"I think you are. That doesn't mean I think you're doing anything wrong. I know you well enough that you don't like to be controlled. Regardless of what you do, I'll always support you, Ves."
The two shared a modest kiss.
After some thought, Ves understood why Gloriana reacted that way.
Unlike him, Gloriana had always been in the care of her mother and the Wodin Dynasty. As a valuable investment, she had always been treated well and never had been treated as an instrument.
Her view on authority was much different from his own. While Ves desired to free himself from the control of others, Gloriana did not mind remaining under the control of the Wodins as she never had any cause to rethink this relationship.
Right now was not the time to ask whether Gloriana would choose him over the Wodin Dynasty. That would be unfair to her and put undue pressure in their relationship.
Still, Ves wanted to make it clear that he would not follow in her footsteps.
"You're right, Gloriana. I don't want to be controlled. I want to take my destiny in my own hands. While I'm grateful for growing up in a nice state like the Bright Republic, both of us are meant for greater things. There may even come a point where we'll outgrow the Hegemony."
"The Hegemony will always reign supreme!"
"Be serious, Gloriana. Think of what I can do. Think of what we can achieve together. Are you content with limiting yourself to a single star sector?"
"Why do you think that my state will be content with holding a single star sector?"
Ves ruefully smiled. "Let's not speculate on that. My point is that as mech designers, we should look towards marketing our products beyond the narrow confines of our state or region. In fact, we shouldn't constrain our ambitions to the local star cluster. Don't you think that everyone in the galaxy should get to benefit from our products?"
His words successfully entranced Gloriana. Her eyes sparkled as she imagined this vision of the future.
Both of them knew that Ves wasn't talking nonsense. As long as they progressed to Master and beyond, such a grand outcome would already be in reach!
"I... I share your dream, Ves. That said, I don't think I'll ever forget my family and my home state. I don't see anything wrong with sticking by your side while also remaining loyal to my roots."
The two shared different thoughts on the matter. That was okay. A couple of disagreements wouldn't put their relationship under strain.
"Stay with me for the rest of the day, okay?"
"Okay." Gloriana nodded.
As Ves cozied up with Gloriana, a storm began to rage throughout the LMC.
Over a hundred well-placed people in the company were suddenly called to the offices of their superiors. The employees left the offices moments later with crushed or flat expressions.
Regardless of how they took the news, their employment at the LMC had come to an end. Fellow colleagues received new instructions and made sure to accompany the fired personnel out of the company premises.
Unlike Jake, Ves was much less forgiving towards these lesser spies and informants. He would give them no time to siphon away data or inflict some petty sabotage. They had to leave quite away, which shocked every other employee of the company.
"Don't forget." A manager said to his people as he watched a fired subordinate shuffle out of the floor. "We work for the Living Mech Corporation. Ves Larkinson is the only person we look up to. As long as you remember that, you won't go wrong."
Similar situations happened throughout the headquarters and the manufacturing floor. The people that Crindon pointed out came from all walks of life and worked in all kinds of positions. Managers, receptionists, chief technicians and more all received the boot due to a fateful decision from Ves.
In a way, the necessity of removing so many people from the company represented a failure in vetting the hires.
However, both Ves and Crindon knew that infiltration could never be prevented entirely. Spotlight and Flashlight would find a way to turn other employees into assets and insert some of their people into the LMC again.
"I'm primarily sending a message with my actions." Ves patiently explained to Gloriana. "By firing all of the spies and suspected people, I'm sending out a signal that I'm done with dealing with nonsense. I want to be treated seriously."
"I don't think the Bright Republic will let this matter rest. What's your endgame, Ves?"
"I have no idea. I'm kind of winging it, to be honest. It's a consequence of acting on my emotions as opposed to acting on rationality. I just hope that my message has been received."
The day slowly went by as Ves and Gloriana kept each other company. Along the way, Lucky phased into the office and began to ask for scratches.
As the pair and their cats all enjoyed a good time, Gavin arrived at the office and entered with a hesitant stride.
"There's an important call waiting for you."
"Yes. He's waiting on the company line right this instant."
"Well, it sounds like he doesn't want to wait if he's willing to talk to me remotely. You can go now, Benny. I'll take the call."
Gavin meekly bowed and left the office briskly.
"What's wrong with your assistant today?"
Ves shrugged. "He's probably affected by today's events."
"You're about to talk to someone important now, right? Should I go?"
"No. You can stay. If the good senator is willing to talk with me over the galactic net, then he won't be mentioning anything sensitive. I'd like you to listen in and show that we're in this together."
Gloriana smiled brilliantly at Ves. "I understand!"
He actually just wanted to use Gloriana's presence to restrain Senator Tovar. As long as someone as important as her was thrown into the mix, there was no way that old coot would do anything rash.
Not that Ves believe that the good senator would do something so stupid. It was enough for Gloriana to exert silent pressure by being present in the conversation.
Once Ves took a deep breath and centered his mind, he accepted the call.
The projection of a stately old man came into being. He sat on a dignified, high-backed chair that seemed more in place in a solemn council room.
Compared to before, Senator Tovar actually looked more spry despite the immense responsibilities he shouldered.
This must be his life-prolonging treatment taking further effect. It always took some time for someone's body to adjust to the wondrous changes.
"Ves Larkinson. We meet again." The man said simply.
"Good afternoon, senator."
"I see you have your lovely amour with you as well. How are you today, Miss Wodin?"
Upon the senator's appearance, Gloriana went from clinging to Ves like a lovesick girl to straightening her posture and adopting a noble demeanor.
"I'm doing well, senator. Your quaint little state is very lovely. Shame about the sandmen, though."
"Well, the sandmen are only a temporary nuisance. I apologize if the Bright Republic is less hospitable than you anticipated."
"Oh, it's hardly an issue. Your state is still faring pretty well."
Ves felt as if he was pushed to the side as Gloriana and Senator Tovar held a polite conversation.
This was not what he intended when he let Gloriana stay.
"Ahem." Ves coughed. "We should talk about more pressing matters."
The senator nodded. "Correct."
A short pause followed. Since the senator did not wish to bring up the issue first, Ves decided to take the plunge regardless of how he came across.
"I just did some spring cleaning in my company earlier today."
"An infestation grew under my nose. I was disinclined to address it until I got pissed."
The senator kept a polite expression, revealing not a single hint of what he thought. "It is generally a poor idea to act when you are angry. It is always better to take the time to cool your head."
Ves already did that when Gloriana screwed him over by uploading a contentious recording on her Commbook page.
This was because he cared about Gloriana. Even if she made him angry, he would never want to hurt her. Being firm with her was enough.
It was different this time.
"I think it's better if nothing happens that makes me angry to begin with. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect reality. Something awful always happens that ruins my mood for the day."
The senator decided to stop beating around the bush. "Is this about the commission that Mrs. Bollinger has conveyed to you? I apologise for the tone she adopted. Due to the controversial nature of the commission, I thought it was best to allow a friend of yours to explain the circumstances behind my request. In hindsight, that was a mistake."
Ves chuckled under his breath. "I think Marcella was very clear. Refusal was not an option. You simply assumed I would agree with designing a mech for someone who least deserves one."
"Please understand what is at stake, Ves. Our negotiations with the Bentheim Liberation Movement proceeded very arduously. There are a lot of interests involved and each of them want their own needs prioritized over other needs. The deal I've helped negotiate is much more fragile than you think. Do you think it is easy to integrate mass murderers and lifelong terrorists back into society?"
"That's not my problem."
"As a Brighter, I would think it is. In any case, the initiatives that you dismiss as publicity stunts are vitally important to show that the former rebels can get along with loyal Brighters. Each successful example is another step towards making Bentheim more secure."
"I won't deny that this sounds helpful, but I don't see why I have to work with Vincent Ricklin again. Even if he's become one of their spokespersons, you could have assigned any other mech designer to design his personal mech."
"Captain Ricklin insisted that you be the one to design his custom mech. In fact, he is very adamant about it. If he does not get his way, then he can pose a serious threat to the stability of the deal."
Ves frowned deeper and deeper. What was this bastard up to? Why must Vincent haunt him after so many years of separation?