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 "There's a big problem with the deal you just made with Senator Tovar." Gloriana remarked. "If my home state ever loses the Komodo War, you'll instantly become a pariah."

"I know." Ves nodded gravely. "Such a thought hasn't escaped the senator either. This is why my proposal was so precarious. If Tovar erred on the side of caution, he would refuse my terms because he would not want the Tovar Family to develop any ties with Hexers."

"So by playing along with your deal, he essentially placed a vote of confidence in the Hegemony."

Ves shook his head. "A wily old statesman like him would never be so simple. The Tovar Family is a behemoth in the Bright Republic. Together with the other four founding families, they control many levers of the private and public sectors. Considering how our state often trades with the Friday Coalition, the Tovars must maintain at least some ties with them. Perhaps they are even more extensive than we think."

"That means that one of the reasons the Tovar Family has agreed to put some descendants under our care is to hedge their positions." Gloriana concluded. "That's quite clever, especially considering that it's unlikely that they maintain any ties to the Hegemony."

It couldn't be helped. The highly secular Bright Republic vastly preferred to treat with their own kind. Brighters and Fridaymen shared many common values, while the Hexers were so radically different that their beliefs directly clashed with every 'normal' culture!

In fact, one of the reasons why Ves doubted if Senator Tovar would accept his proposal was his scruples as a man.

Almost everyone in the Bright Republic rooted for the Fridaymen. Senator Tovar and his powerful family should be no different.

By supporting Ves, the Tovars actually went against their inclinations. This would definitely earn them a lot of flack, thereby reducing their standing among their peers.

Evidently, Senator Tovar judged that this tradeoff was worth it if he could gain some insurance.

If the Fridaymen won the war, then the Tovars would only suffer some minor disfavor. With all of their existing ties to the Coalition, they could easily take this hit.

If the Hexers vanquished over their rivals, all of the existing powers of the Bright Republic would instantly be put in an awkward position. In this precarious situation, a single, strong connection to the Hegemony put the Tovar Family on a much higher position than the other powers!

In fact, such an advantage might be enough for the Tovar Family to become the premier influence in the Bright Republic, surpassing every other founding family who lacked this connection!

"Aside from hitching his wagon to us, this is the second benefit that Senator Tovar has secured." Ves confirmed. "No matter which state comes out on top of the Komodo War, the Tovar Family is guaranteed to survive and stay in power. For a patriarch responsible for ensuring the continuity of his line, this is an exceedingly important concession."

Ves never aimed to appeal to Senator Tovar's charity or good impression of him. Only concrete benefits could make the old man use his influence to shield Ves and the Larkinson Family.

Just as Ves offered Senator Tovar an opportunity to hedge his positions, so did he receive the same opportunity.

If the Friday Coalition ever came out on top, then Ves and Gloriana would no longer be able to stay.

As for the Larkinsons, Ves knew that many of them held too much affection for the Bright Republic to follow him into exile.

To the Larkinsons that stayed, Ves was afraid that certain parties would scheme against his stubborn relatives.

However, now that Ves secured the support of the Tovar Family, they would hardly stand still and let the Larkinsons get bullied.

As long as the Tovars covered for the Larkinsons, then Ves would not have to look back all the time when he finally left to explore the galaxy.

"I'm doing this for my family." He whispered to his girlfriend. "It's not fair for them to suffer from my mistakes. Although I'm not sure if the Tovars will be able to keep their word in such an event, it's better than leaving the Larkinsons high and dry."

As a Larkinson, Ves knew very well how deep his family's loyalty to the Bright Republic ran.

The Larkinson Ancestor himself fought and bled to help establish the state!

Starting from this legendary figure, many Larkinsons fought and died in the name of duty. Many Larkinson mech pilots felt obligated to inherit the noble mission of their predecessors.

Though Ves did not entirely agree with this noble mission, blood was thicker than water.

Whatever he thought of these noble idiots, Ves still wanted to preserve their wellbeing.

"I think it's pretty noble of you to look out for your family in this manner." Gloriana remarked with a smile. "It shows you care."

Ves helplessly smiled. "I don't want to leave any regrets when we leave this star sector."

"I think it will be okay even if you're gone. After all, we'll be back after a couple of decades, right?"

"Right.."

After this momentous day, the LMC slowly calmed down.

As Ves and Gloriana resumed working on the Militant Soldier and Peaceful Soldier designs, the company soon recovered and operated just as productively as before.

The Larkinsons appointed a new Chief Operating Officer to take the helm of the LMC. Since they had been the ones to put Jake Altern forward in the first place, the elders felt quite remorseful that the man had betrayed Ves' trust.

For this reason, the identity of the new COO surprised Ves a lot. As soon as he received the news while he was in the middle of refining the Militant Soldier's design, he instantly contacted Calsie.

"What's the emergency, Ves?"

"Why did you vote in favor of letting Raymond Billingsley-Larkinson take over as COO?"

Calsie looked puzzled. "Is there a problem?"

"Raymond is a greedy prick!"

"Oh. Your grandfather hasn't said anything of the sort. He along with almost every other elder has recommended Mr. Billingsley-Larkinson as the new second-in-command of the company."

That sounded weird to Ves. "Why so?"

"The Larkinson Family is afraid of repeating the past. They don't dare to put forth another retainer. They aren't satisfied with the candidates within the company and it's out of the question to hand over this vital position to an outsider."

"In other words, the Larkinsons are only satisfied with putting up one of their own in charge, is that right?"

Calsie nodded. "They make up a very persuasive argument. While I was skeptical at first, Mr. Billingsley-Larkinson happens to have the most qualifications. Not only was he in charge of the Larkinson Trust Fund for all these years, he has also put a lot of effort into preparing for this role. He has developed a very high understanding of the LMC and he has also studied the mech industry in great depth."

"And no one else is as qualified as this prick?"

Calsie shook his head. "The Larkinsons are nearly unanimous in putting him in charge."

"Are there any other alternatives?"

"I've tried my best to find replacements, but it is not that easy to find a worthy replacement for Mr. Altern."

As Calsie described some of the alternative candidates, Ves agreed that they did not seem up to par. Compared to Raymond who evidently prepared to lead the LMC ever since the company became a mainstay of the family, everyone else would need too much time and effort to get up to speed.

The LMC couldn't afford any paralysis, especially during a time of crisis. With the Soldier product line taking the regional mech markets by storm, it was vitally important for someone trustworthy and competent to

Raymond did not exactly fit that bill.

Oh, Ves was not too narrow-minded to believe that Raymond was a good-for-nothing. The Larkinson Family would have never put him in charge of their finances if he was bad in running an enterprise.

It was the trust issue that troubled him a lot.

Would Raymond make the same mistake as Jake? Probably not. Even if someone argued that there was nothing wrong with associating with Spotlight, the man knew better than to piss Ves off.

What made Ves hesitate was his impression of Raymond as someone who was willing to engage in nepotism.

Ves did not forget the time where Raymond solicited him for money in order to support his grandson who currently served in the Mech Corps.

While Tusa Billingsley-Larkinson was a promising expert candidate, that did not mean that Ves would allow anyone to cut in line.

However, when it came down to it, this problem was not very severe. As long as Raymond did not enrich his pockets, then he was the best candidate that Ves could think of to take over as COO.

Ves turned his attention to Calsie. As the nominal CEO, she actually didn't do that much. Her only role was to ensure that the senior management remained loyal.

While she failed to detect anything amiss with Jake, Ves did not blame her. Without someone like Crindon at her disposal, there was no way she could come out ahead against organizations like Spotlight and Flashlight.

"I'll talk to Raymond when he gets here." Ves eventually decided. "If I think he's acceptable, then make sure to keep a very close eye on him. I don't entirely trust Raymond when it comes to managing our money."

After passing on a couple of judicious warnings, he ended the call.

Just like Vincent and the promised Tovar mech designers, Raymond still needed to arrive at Cloudy Curtain before he could go any further.

Gloriana, who sat close by, couldn't help but make a remark.

"You know, from what I learned about the Larkinson Family, it should be possible for you to take it over."

Ves firmly shook his head. "That's an awful idea. While most of the Larkinsons who have moved to Cloudy Curtain won't mind, there are also a lot of Larkinsons who want to stick to tradition. I'm fairly sure that many Larkinsons in active service will oppose letting a mech designer like me become the head of the family. That is simply not the way that our family is run."

The Larkinsons technically didn't really have a head. They saw no need to appoint one because the family never did anything that required active leadership.

Whenever the Larkinsons wanted to make any major decisions, they would just convene the steering committee and allow the elders to vote on various proposals.

The day-to-day running of the Larkinson Estate was left to a few trusted Larkinsons. However, none of them held absolute decision-making power.

Despite the lack of someone who was in charge of everything, the Larkinsons never had any problems with that. The Larkinsons never involved themselves in anything big enough to require an actual head.

However, now that Gloriana brought the topic up, Ves knew that the Larkinsons had changed drastically. His rise and the LMC's rise enriched the Larkinsons beyond their wildest dreams.

With money, many things became possible. The Larkinsons already invested enormously in taking over and expanding a basic mech academy on Bentheim. Now they planned to double-down on this venture by trying to gain permission to found an advanced mech academy!

The issue with all of these initiatives was that the Larkinsons were beginning to play with the big boys. This might land them in trouble and force them into a crisis if they inadvertently encroached on the interests of a powerful influence.

The slow and squabbling steering committee was unlikely to lead the Larkinson Family through such a crisis.

"Maybe you have a point, Gloriana." Ves murmured. "It's just that I don't think I'm influential enough in the family to gain enough acceptance."

It was still something that he would keep in mind, though. Perhaps he should divert some time into sounding the opinions of the Larkinsons who resided in his Cloud Estate.

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