At the end of the meeting where Verle thrust a new job onto Ves, Iris clapped his back with her slender hand and smiled.
"I'm sure you're up to the task, Ves." The blond encouraged him. "No one else among the design team is as capable as you, whether we're talking about design prowess or leadership ability."
"How do you know that?" He asked, feeling a bit suspicious for some reason.
"I've seen how you work. When you're with the design teams, the work you do is head and shoulders above the other Apprentices. When you're working with the mech technicians, you have this air around you that compels them to listen to you. These instances alone prove Major Verle's point. There's no one better among the task force that can play the role that a head designer needs to perform."
Ves shook his head and rested it on his palm. "Not you too. Not that I appreciate the compliments, but you are putting an awful lot of faith in me. I barely know what a head designer is supposed to be doing."
"Then maybe you should ask the professor if she isn't calling you yet."
"Great idea. Can you tell me how it's done with the VRF?"
Iris furrowed her brows. " Not really. We do things differently. I can tell you outright that we aren't facing as much financial pressure. Sovvies and resources flow from our hands all the time in order to facilitate trade between the regional rebel movements. Instead, we grapple mostly with ensuring the loyalty of our external members."
Ves could see why the VRF struggled so much with such an issue. A rebel group as large as theirs probably hosted many different factions and sub-influences. Even if they outwardly stated that they fought to overthrow the Vesian system government, humans still possessed desires.
"Sounds like people management is a very big concern for your group. Since you mentioned external members, there should also be a more trusted class of members, right?"
"Yes, and they form the cadre of the Vesian Revolutionary Front. Some of them are even the descendants of the initial founders and revolutionaries of our group. Their loyalty to the cause is unassailable."
"What about those who enter into this circle later?"
"Oh, their loyalty is ironclad." Iris grinned in a self-confident manner. "There is no way they can become an internal member without proving their dedication. We may not be able to match our enemy's military prowess, but when it comes maintaining unity, the nobles can't compare to us."
Obviously, a rebel movement that continued to be a thorn in the side of the Vesian nobles for decades possessed quite a few means. Any other rebel group as large and prosperous as theirs would have fallen apart due to treachery and greed.
As Ves and Iris stepped out of the conference room, the guest designer freely revealed some of their inner workings.
"Overthrowing the feudal system is always a long-term effort in our eyes. The Kingdom has stood for hundreds of years and the institutional belief in in the system is difficult to shape. Only by ceaselessly laying the groundwork and waiting for the right opportunities do we stand a chance at destroying the perverse system of inheriting the right to rule."
"You sound really passionate about it. Is everyone in the VRF like you?"
"Our most passionate recruits comes from those who are directly scorned by the nobles." She spoke with little mirth. "The Kingdom might look firm and cohesive to you Brighters, but inside our walls the cracks are many, if you know what to look for. Recruits are everywhere to be found, though we mostly let the local rebels have the first pick. Many times, the grievances only extend to a single baron or count rather than the aristocracy as a whole."
"Hm, back in the Republic, we're dealing with a similar sort of problem. I don't think we have as much rebel groups as the Kingdom, but the Bentheim Liberation Movement possesses enough strength to match multiple of your movements."
"We know." She nodded. "In fact, the BLM is one of our fixed trading partners. They supply us with goods that are cheaper and more readily available in your Republic."
That caused Ves to falter in his steps. "What?! The VRF's relationship with the BLM has grown to such an extent?!"
Iris suddenly realized that Ves might not be someone who harbored any sympathies for the Republic's rebels. "I apologize, Ves. I've said something insensitive."
Against her frail form and her big eyes, Ves couldn't hold it in him to resent her. "It's okay, it's just that the BLM are murderers and terrorists. They inflict a lot of suffering among the people who dwell in the Bentheim region. It's like they get off on how many innocent civilians they can blow up at once."
The pair fell into an awkward silence. With regards to the VRF, they should ordinarily be aligned to the legitimate government of the Bright Republic. Both of them wanted the Vesia Kingdom to fall. They only disagreed on the extent to which the Kingdom should change.
Yet the VRF apparently sought to forge a relationship with the BLM. This could easily turn bad against the Vesians. If the VRF facilitated BLM's campaigns, the most extreme outcome would insure that Rittersberg and Bentheim became two separate entities.
Once internal strife split the Bright Republic in half, the Vesia Kingdom would certainly pounce on them one by one.
Thus, leading to the end of Bentheim's reign as an independent state within a couple of months.
The BLM's success would not only weaken the Republic, it would also strengthen the Kingdom. The prestige of every noble would skyrocket when they won the war.
"The decision to work with the BLM is a high-level directive." Iris said. ""It can't be changed on a whim. Only when our highest leaders get together can a change in policy turn into reality."
"Even rebels have to face the terrors of bureaucracy."
"That's how it goes. As far as I'm concerned, we don't differ too much from the legitimate authorities. The only difference is that they have the benefit of the law, even if that's been twisted beyond recognition by a succession of nobles."
They finally reached a nondescript compartment that would be his next office. Ordinarily, the head designer resided on a logistics ship where most of the heavy lifting would be done.
Major Verle wanted Ves to remain aboard his flagship, though. Perhaps Verle wanted him close at hand, or perhaps he wanted to exert more control over his actions.
"So this is where I can find you when you're on duty." Iris commented as they explored the tiny and cramped office cabin. It was barely larger than his sleeping cabin, and contained nothing that could facilitate the work of a head designer.
In fact, the office was completely empty.
"Looks like the first thing I need to do is head down to the Shield of Hispania's workshop and fabricate my own furniture."
Iris crossed her arms and frowned at him. "Didn't you listen to Major Verle? Don't try to do everything yourself! Fabricating furniture is such a brain-dead job that any novice mech designer can do in their sleep. Heh, they can even leave the work to a mech technician."
"There's no other mech designer aboard the Shield of Hispania, and I feel bad about nagging the chief technician over something trivial. I'd rather just do it myself."
When Ves turned around and walked towards the exit, Iris stopped him with a hand against his front. Her palm pressed against the fabric of his standard green mech designer uniform, where she could faintly feel the contours of his chest.
She quickly withdrew her hand before the moment became too awkward. "You're wrong. You're not the only mech designer on this ship. You still have me."
Ves blinked at Iris. He always regarded her as a visitor and a fellow peer. Even her origin as a Vesian began to fade in his consciousness once she assimilated in the design department.
"I'm not completely sure about that. You're a guest designer as far as I'm aware of."
"That's true. I answer to Professor Velten, but she's not here now, isn't she? I'm assigned to this task force as well, and while I'm not allowed to touch on the core secrets of the Vandals, I can still act as your assistant in many matters."
"I'll have to look up the relevant regulations and consult with Professor Velten before I'm sure of what I'm allowed to do."
She held up her palm. "Ah ah ah! Stop right there, Ves, or should I say Head Designer Larkinson."
"Technically, it's Temporary Head Designer Larkinson."
"As you say. The fact of the matter is that almost every mech of Major Verle's task force needs a lot of servicing, and you can't do it alone. Maybe you can call one of your buddies like Pierce to help you out, but he's more useful at his current posting than as your gopher."
"So you are volunteering as my gopher instead?"
"This has nothing to do with volunteering. This is about necessity. You want to put the best people in the most demanding position." Iris spoke and threw him a teasing smile. "As for me, even though I'm just a guest designer, I can still lighten some of your burden. Don't let idiotic regulations get in the way. Be resourceful and take me, sir."
Ves awkwardly coughed. For some reason, he felt this office grew a little stuffy. He felt as if he was being railroaded into this decision. That was not a good thing if he wanted to act as a leader.
Yet he couldn't deny her suggestion in her face. Not outright, at least. "Alright. For now, there's no harm in taking care of some of my matters. You can go ahead and furnish my office, but don't work on my terminal."
"Understood, Mr. Larkinson."
To her credit, Iris didn't contest that stipulation. Ves would be a fool to let a Vesian setup his computer terminal. She threw him a mock-salute before she hopped out of his empty office cabin.
Ves let out a huge breath in relief. Talking to Iris was like holding a rose. Even as she departed, Ves could still smell a whiff of her scent.
"Perfume is against regulations."
Not that any of the female Vandals adhered to that rule. Perhaps the message that Iris tried to convey had some merit.
Ves grew up among the Larkinsons for a time and visited them often to hear their tales. Throughout all their stories, the older Larkinsons stressed the importance of conducting themselves to the highest standard in the Mech Corps.
As a fairly renowned military dynasty in the Republic, the Larkinsons enjoyed a high reputation. That in turn meant that they would be subjected to a lot more scrutiny than usual. Every Larkinson in the Mech Corps had to be as straight-laced and faultless as they could be. The regulations existed for a reason, and every Larkinson needed to embody if not the letter, then at least the spirit of the rules.
"What a far cry the Flagrant Vandals are from those other mech regiments."
On one hand, Ves detested the sloppiness and corner-cutting that the lax enforcement fostered among the servicemen. On the other hand, Ves enjoyed the expanded autonomy. Now that circumstances thrust him in a position of actual authority, he finally felt somewhat free to determine his own course.
"This is what I always wanted. Even if I have to hand over this authority in a couple of months, the experience alone will add to my development as a mech designer."
It would also look good on his record. Once he proved his capabilities, another leadership position might fall into his lap in the future.
"I'm getting ahead of myself. My current job is difficult enough. Let's see what the professor had to say."