"There is one more topic I'd like to address before my protege returns." The purple-haired, purple-skinned mech designer said.
If not for her human heritage, Ves would have mistaken her as an alien.
"Speak." Ves gestured her to go ahead.
"I know you have been wondering why we are here. It is a question that is quietly weighing on everyone's minds."
Ves carefully nodded. "I have questions, yes, but no one seems willing to answer."
"That is because they don't know or are compelled to keep their mouths shut. Even I can't tell you what we are after, only that our efforts will be worth it if we manage to secure our objectives."
"That's exactly the kind of vague answer that everyone is regaling me with. They tell me it's worth it, that our sacrifices will be meaningful, that we are pursuing a great and important cause. I don't know what to believe anymore."
The momentous effort and the high degree of secrecy involved in this hunt made Ves more and more skeptical about its entire purpose. He even started questioning what Calabast said back then at Harkensen I.
Did everyone really pursue something as banal as high-grade life-prolonging treatment serum? Though its value indeed surpassed the GDP of several states like the Bright Republic put together, Ves did not have any proof to support this belief except for the word of a foreign, professional spy.
Someone like that wasn't exactly the most reliable source of information.
Over time, he realized that he had given in to his biases when Calabast initially made her revelation. Just because he favored one conspiracy theory over another didn't make it any more true.
So for now, Ves didn't know what to think.
For her part, Mayra appeared sympathetic. "These questions will be answered in due time, but you must have patience. Even I don't have the full picture. To be honest, before we received this mission, Commander Lydia has never revealed that her Swordmaidens belonged to someone else. As a dear friend, I thought I knew her. I was wrong."
"You mean you never thought the Swordmaidens had a backer?"
"Indeed. Strange, is it not? Commander Lydia is a force to be reckoned with. Every Swordmaiden of the first generation thought she was starting something great. She regaled us with dreams of elevating the status of women in the frontier by raising the strongest all-female pirate force in the Faris Star Region. For decades, we fought and bled for that dream, only to find out that a shadowy man from civilized space had been pulling our strings all along."
Ves started to feel that this conversation had taken a dangerous turn all of a sudden. His vigilance increased even as Mayra remained poised and elegant, as if she was discussing the weather.
"Are you dissatisfied with the Swordmaidens?"
"The Swordmaidens? Of course not!" She smiled briefly before frowning. "It is Commander Lydia who I am starting to get disillusioned with. How would you feel if the strong leader who we have all invested in turns out to be a puppet being pulled by someone else's strings? We all thought that founding and developing the Swordmaidens was an end in itself, only for us to find out that we are merely tools for someone else to use at their convenience."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
"Well, if you put it that way, it doesn't look very good. Still, it's very hard to achieve anything in this galaxy by yourself. Almost every strong outfit is backed by someone. Do you think I voluntarily joined this wild goose chase? If I had a choice, I would have rather stayed home and quietly design more mechs to round out my mech catalog."
Well, Ves may not be entirely true just now. While he hated being dragged all the way up to the deep frontier and be forced to accompany the ground forces to the surface of a planet that by all accounts appeared to be as dangerous as Groening IV, a small part of him felt different.
He enjoyed the new sights. He enjoyed experiencing something wholly different. Ves felt pretty certain that he became a much better mech designer now than if he had never been dragged through this journey by the Flagrant Vandals.
So in a way, he felt blessed to be a part of this unique adventure, even as he inwardly screamed in fear at the threats he faced.
"We can wax about the nature of how the galaxy is run, but time is short and we have work to do." Mayra dismissively waved her armored hand. "Before Ketis returns, I want to ask another favor of you. As you know, this mission may turn out to be very perilous. If worse comes to worst, I'd like to arrange some contingencies before that happens."
"You want to arrange an escape plan?"
"Yes, but not for myself. I'm too old, and I'm too attached to Commander Lydia. Even if she is driving us to our deaths, I will accompany her in whatever hell she intrudes upon."
"That.. doesn't make sense."
"Even if Lydia's Swordmaidens is founded upon a lie, every Swordmaiden believes in the causes it espouses. If there is an opportunity to turn a lie into a truth, we are compelled to see the transformation through."
Ves heard the conviction in her voice, and the conflict hiding within. Mayra spent too much time with Commander Lydia that even if her mind recognized that the pirate leader intended to use them up, the Journeyman's heart didn't allow her to turn her back on her sisters.
He mentally applauded Commander Lydia's means of securing Mayra's loyalty. The shrewd founder of the Swordmaidens indoctrinated her subordinates so well that they couldn't betray her even if they all thought it was best to do so.
Ves wanted to dig into their history and learn from the commander's methods so he could apply them to his own subordinates once the war had ended!
"It sounds like you don't hold much confidence in your success." He remarked.
"If you know as much as I know, you wouldn't be so calm either, Ves. The risks are great and there is a chance the Swordmaidens may cease to exist at the end of this ride. If that happens... I want you to take care of Ketis."
Ah. Ves knew that Mayra didn't express her doubts without a reason. It all built up to this request.
"You want me to set her up elsewhere in the frontier? Bring her to Malligan's Pitstop so she can take refuge under the Skull Architect?"
"No." Mayra shook her head. "My mentor may care a little about me, but my protege is nothing to him. He is very particular in his treatment to those he finds worthy or not. Those who earned his respects are taken care of, while those he regards as lessers won't be able to earn even a scrap of his attention."
"Then where do you want me to put her? If I recall, the Omen of Misfortune owes us a lot of favors."
"They are indeed a viable choice, but I have a better idea. I want you to take her under your wing and assimilate her into civilized space."
"What? Are you sure about that? The frontier is her home!"
Of all the possible requests Mayra could utter, Ves had never thought she wanted to bring her protege out of the region she called her home.
"The frontier is her home, that is true, but it is a dangerous home." Mayra said. "If the Swordmaidens are ever wiped out from existence, most of our long-standing ties with the other pirates become as worthless as scrap paper. If Ketis is all alone without the protection of the rest of us Swordmaidens, she becomes easy prey to any pirate gang that needs a mech designer. As fierce as she is with her sword, it's impossible for her to fend off against an entire gang."
This illustrated the fate of those who possessed an abundant amount of skill but lacked the strength to safeguard their independence. Something like this would never happen in most parts of civilized space, but the frontier played by different rules.
"I can't give you a guarantee. My actual power and influence is limited. The Flagrant Vandals are part of the military, and they have rules they must abide to. Even so, I promise I'll do my best to setup a new life for her if the Swordmaidens are no more."
Mayra smiled in satisfaction. "I'm pleased to have your agreement. Here is something that you'll need in order to facilitate her potential entry into civilized space."
The Journeyman passed a secure data chip to Ves. He inserted it into the slot connected to his secure comm and briefly glanced at its contents.
"These are identity documents!"
The data chip contained a raft of forged documents purportedly from various institutions of the Reinald Republic. It presented a complete record of a fake individual, and ran from birth certificates to medical records to school diplomas.
Ves became extremely impressed at the thoroughness of the records, especially since many of them involved the cooperation of both government officials and purported witnesses. The medical records especially demanded tissue samples to be slipped into Reinald's highly-guarded vaults.
The amount of people that had to be bribed to construct such an elaborate background must have surpassed a hundred! Many of them must have demanded hundreds of thousands or even millions of Marks to obtain their cooperation!
The most impressive forgery among the fake documents was undoubtedly a diploma from the Harkensen Capital Institute on Harkensen II, which was a university equivalent to his own alma mater.
While it may not be the best school for mech design in the Reinald Republic, the HCI enjoyed a stellar reputation and a lot of influential government officials graduated from this storied place.
Mayra threw a weary smile at Ves as he tried to estimate how much it cost to put this all together. "I've spent a majority of my life savings on obtaining a nearly foolproof background for Ketis in civilized space. Anything can be bought for the right price, but if you want something done correctly, be prepared to bleed."
"This.. is really extravagant. Why not resort to a cheaper option and have Ketis assume the identity of someone who is lost or dead in the frontier?"
"Such measures are cheap, but they are hardly foolproof. Any individual has family, friends, colleagues and teachers. The moment one of them finds out that the person who impersonated the deceased is a fake, the entire charade will fall apart."
Basically, you got what you paid for. Even if Mayra must have spent an excess of hundreds of millions of bright credits worth of money, she managed to secure a virtually faultless future in civilized space for a daughter of the frontier.
Still, the huge effort Mayra had went through to secure this escape route for her protege baffled him. "Why spend so much for Ketis? Not that I disapprove. It's just..."
"Excessive? Nonsense. If she is just my student, then my preparations seem excessive. However, I don't see her that way anymore. To me, she is my daughter, if not in blood, then in spirit. As her adoptive parent, I won't hesitate to sacrifice my entire wealth to give her a good future."
Mayra's declaration warmed his heart and eased his suspicion. It figured that Mayra developed motherhood instincts for her favored student. He understood her willingness to go so far for an adoptive daughter because he was the recipient of such treatment himself from his father.
A parent's love for their offspring was one of the strongest forces in the galaxy. Both humans and aliens exhibited a strong degree of protectiveness to their later generation.
Ves carefully removed the data chip from his secure comm and inserted it into a customized slot in his Earth Ant that served as a dedicated storage compartment for small, high-value objects.
With that done, Ketis quickly returned with a rectangular case and presented it to Ves. "Here's your gift!"
He looked curiously at the box. What gift did Mayra prepare for him, and why did she prepare one in the first place?
"Go ahead, Ves." The older mech designer said. "Open it up. Consider it a little bonus for your efforts so far."