"On some days, I regret accepting Rofane into the fold." Melkor continued. "He's constantly pushing me to lift the restrictions on recruiting foreigners so he can hire more spaceborn spacers. I don't want to make the problem any worse than it is right now with him alone, so I've been fobbing him off."
"I'm not sure if Ves will mind too much if you recruit some people who come from another state. As long as they aren't Vesians and are willing to commit to the Avatars, they should be fine and dandy."
Melkor shook his head. "I can't take the risk, ma'am. Although Ves explicitly set up the Avatars of Myth to serve as his personal force, true loyalty can't be bought. We are much more like a mercenary corps in that regard. Nationality is the only thing we have in common. Once I throw that away, the Avatars would have nothing else to bind them all together."
As much as Melkor wanted to loosen the reins, he resisted the temptation. It was better to solve the problem over time rather than commit to an irreversible course of action.
"For now, we have no need for you to deploy the Avatars elsewhere, but that might change in the future."
For now, the Avatars of Myth had been tasked with defending the Mech Nursery. The lack of ships didn't affect their operations as long as they stuck to this mission.
Still, circumstances changed, and if a crisis ever happened in a different star system, the Avatars would be forced to rely on others to transport their mechs to their destination. This took way too much time and money, and transport services generally refused to convey a shipment of mechs into danger. This highlighted the eventual need to own a wholly-owned carrier fleet.
Now that he was here, Melkor might as well get some other things off his chest. "By the way, though I try to stay out of your business decisions, aren't you intertwining the LMC a little too deeply with Cloudy Curtain?"
Almost as soon as Ves entered the Mech Corps and dropped off the grid, Calsie implemented a fairly significant policy change within the company.
Under the reign of Ves, the LMC had always stood aloof from local politics and society. Besides settling on the planet, pushing some marketing and paying some taxes, the company didn't make itself felt.
Calsie changed all of that. She rejected the premise that the LMC benefited best if it took on a completely neutral stance. Instead, she firmly pushed the LMC into a path of greater integration and cooperation with local stakeholders.
This policy of engagement took on many forms. For example, as deep as the LMC was already in debt, it spared some cash to subsidize the underfunded mech academies of Freslin. The institutions all praised the LMC for the much-needed rain of funds.
On a higher level, the LMC also started to support some of the initiatives of the newly emboldened Pioneers, mostly by putting in a good word for the business-friendly activists. With the Greens and the White Doves suffering from an unprecedented amount of indignation, the Pioneers was at the cusp of taking over the thoroughly discredited Planetary Assembly.
To Melkor, the growing relationship between the LMC and the Pioneers started to reek.
"I don't have to justify my decisions to you, but if you must know, a company can't settle on a planet and pretend its a silo. The LMC is the most prominent company on Cloudy Curtain. How can it not give back to the community that has welcomed it with open arms?"
"I wouldn't exactly describe it in that way, ma'a'm."
"Then let me rephrase it in a blunter manner." Calsie spoke. "The politics are rather turbulent right now. While the Republic's investigators ultimately failed to find the culprits of the self-sabotage incident, everyone and their dogs know it's the White Doves who are at fault. While they can still rely on the support of hardcore pacifists, average people have left their side in droves. This is the time the Pioneers need to make their case. As long as we can help them overcome this hurdle, the LMC will be rewarded with countless of benefits!"
"I take it you will receive some benefits as well?"
"This isn't about me." Calsie shook her head. "This is about the future of the LMC. The company can't ignore politics, and the Pioneers can't achieve their aims without some help from local businesses. Only through combining our strengths will we both be able to achieve our goals and better everyone's lives. This is called corporate social responsibility."
The woman sounded so slick when she said those words that Melkor could hardly think of a retort. Melkor knew that Calsie had always been connected with the Pioneers, but the way she flagrantly defied Ves in keeping the LMC neutral was something else. She made a very persuasive case why this was the best decision.
"Don't take it too far. When Ves returns, he'll have some words to say to you."
"I am aware of the consequences, commander. However, may I remind you that Ves didn't put a bot in charge of the LMC. He wanted a human to represent his wishes because he needed someone who could think in this position. From a logical perspective, there are way too many reasons why we should get in bed with the Pioneers and not enough reasons to stick to ourselves."
"If that is what you think, ma'am."
Melkor couldn't argue any further because the unofficial partnership paid a lot of dividends. They already got a lot of things done, the most important of which was to steer the decision to rebuild Cloudy Curtain's spaceport at Freslin instead of Orinoco. This provided a lot of convenience to the LMC as it constantly shipped in raw materials and shipped out finished mechs.
As Calsie and Melkor discussed some other matters, life went on at Cloudy Curtain.
One of the more impactful ways the LMC intruded into the sphere of the local inhabitants was that it took over or set up various businesses in Freslin under an LMC-branded investment group.
They mainly took on the form of sports and social clubs, as culture was something that Cloudy Curtain had always been lagging behind. The LMC also took over the faltering businesses of local craftsmen and entrepreneurs who offered something unique but never gained enough exposure and market reach.
The city of Freslin lapped it all up. The entire local region experienced an upsurge in interest as the LMC single-handedly brought up its educational, cultural and business standards.
"That mech company is the best thing to grace our planet since our founding!"
"Mr. Larkinson is a hero to us! Even as he's gotten rich, he hasn't forgotten about the little man!"
"We should kick the White Doves off our planet! To think they want to deprive us of all of these benefits. When I think back on how I supported them in the past, I should have deserved a kick in the head!"
While Freslin experienced an upsurge, the nominal capital of Cloudy Curtain suffered from a worsening sentiment. None of the cheer from Freslin had managed to reach as far as Orinoco. As the rescue services excavated the corpses and the construction companies cleaned up the ruins, the city was at a crossroads on how to proceed.
The average citizens started to lose faith in the ruling coalition, and that was really bad, because the people in Orinoco used to be their strongest supporters.
The Greens began to distance themselves from their bosom buddy. Although the Greens and the White Doves were often mentioned in the same sentence as if they were a single entity, in truth the Greens believed in somewhat distinct ideals.
This was why they also escaped much of the blame that had befallen the White Doves. Pretty much everyone in Orinoco believed they had been behind the bombs that exploded the spaceport and headquarters of several important businesses in the city. Though they full-heartedly denied the accusations, public opinion did not care for the absence of proof.
The White Doves possessed the right motive, and that was enough to establish a link.
"Look at how Freslin is partying every day. Why can't we get some of that love?"
"As long as the White Doves are in charge over here, there's no way in hell the LMC will think about us."
"Maybe it's time the White Doves take a hike and build a hippy enclave in the wilderness. There's plenty of open space on our planet. They can pack up their stupid beliefs and take them away from here so we can finally enjoy some economic development!"
"Let's kick out the Greens as well! They love their forests so much that they can build a city in the trees!"
As much as public sentiment had turned against the established powers, change was rather slow in coming. Cloudy Curtain was still coming off a state of emergency, and a war raged on the wider Republic. For now, the ruling coalition earned a grace period which they could use to shore up their falterning support.
In the background, the representatives of the two dominant farming consortiums looked at the changes being wrought on Cloudy Curtain. Their expressions didn't look happy.
"We have been hiding our claws for far too long. Whoever among us who predicted that the LMC would stay a small and niche mech manufacturer has obviously missed the mark."
"How can I know that this devilish Mr. Larkinson is such an abnormally good mech designer?! The speed in which he progressed is inhuman! Don't forget that all you initially dismissed him as a threat early on!"
"Now now, settle down. This is no time for recriminations. Despite the worrying trends happening on our planet, it is not a given that we should make a move."
Someone from the Luvon Consortium stood up. "We can't stand by and let the White Doves collapse on itself!"
"We can and we will." A powerful voice from the Raleigh Consortium interjected. "No matter how much we dislike the direction that Cloudy Curtain is heading, we should adapt to the times. Our previous posture of total isolation is a mistake."
"You are sounding dangerously like a Pioneer."
"Pioneer, Green, White Dove, these are all labels. What matters is keeping our Consortiums relevant. As much as the LMC sucks up all the spotlight right now, the farms of Cloudy Curtain will always be its main export product."
The conference fell to a momentary silence. Tension ratcheted up between the Raleigh Consortium, which favored the Greens, and the Luvon Consortium, who supported the White Doves.
Eventually, someone from the Luvons spoke. "We are not willing to let our political enterprise fall like that. To that end, we have prepared a plan that can reverse our setbacks and return the planet to the old order."
"What are you cooking up?"
"Something drastic. I'm afraid I can't say. Leaking the details would be devastating to us and our cause. Let us take care of everything. I can guarantee you that the LMC will cease to exist when we enact our plans."
The conference ended with those ominous words. The Raleigh Family exhibited a lot of worry about the plans of their historical allies, but without any further information, they could do nothing but stand from the sidelines.
"The Luvons talk big, but they are the ones who let the LMC grow from a cub into a tiger."
"These long years of peace on our planet has ossified their minds. Maybe we should seriously consider the overtures from the Pioneers from now on."
"Let us not act too hastily. I'm not sure what the Luvons intend to do, but it shouldn't concern our interests. No matter who comes out on top, we should wait until the outcome is clear."
"As much as the alliance between the LMC and the Pioneers is growing in strength, the Raleighs and their White Doves are stronger than they appear. It's not a given that they will lose. It depends on how much strength they want to reveal to the galaxy."