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 "You did well in handling Senator Tovar's advances." Major Verle praised Ves after the end of that uncomfortable private banquet. "

Ves shrugged as they returned to one of the guest rooms where they all plopped down on the sofas. "Well, the senator may be a great figure of the Republic, but his opinions are... high-minded."

Captain Orfan snorted as she immediately returned to the bar and poured herself another strong drink. "That old geezer is more than high-minded! He practically treats us all like chess pieces! I get that he's feeling great now that he gets to live a century longer, but I can't help but feel if it would be better if someone younger would take his place instead."

"Camden Tovar is a born leader." Major Verle explained to the two. "As the son of Bright Founder Amtuso Tovar, he has watched his father lead the Bright Republic since young, and once he came into adulthood he has exercised leadership ever since. Senator Tovar considers himself a father of the state, and he believes it is his station in life to steer the fates of billions of citizens with each of his decisions."

Ves noted the implicit point that Verle tried to make. "In other words, his decisions make sense when taking the larger picture into account, but he doesn't have eyes for the little people in between who get hurt by his policies. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

"Hmph." Orfan sneered. "The only 'needs of the few' he cares about are his own. He doesn't care about anyone else but his own interests."

"That's obvious considering he claimed earlier about deliberately pushing the Mech Corps into driving mech designers to their deaths! I mean, what the hell?! Major, did you know about this secret policy?!"

Verle shook his head and sighed. "Not as such. We all suspected, though. Several standing regulations regarding the deployment of mech designers doesn't make much sense except when seen in this light. It certainly is polarizing way to sharpen the mech designers of the Republic."

"Yes, but this is far too extreme!" Ves exclaimed. "Why not let the market do the work! It's already doing a good job to force the incompetent mech designers into other careers. There's no need to set such an insane policy to push them onto the battlefield until enough of them have died!"

"I agree with you, Ves, but that's not how Senator Tovar sees it up from his ivory tower. I can see his perspective on the matter. We are one step away from the frontier and we are also at the very end of the galactic supply chains. Senator Tovar doesn't want the Bright Republic to breed complacent mech designers who are extremely well-suited in one particular circumstance. He wants hardier mech designers who are adaptable and deal well with pressure. To that end, he doesn't mind sacrificing half of you if it means the remaining half are hardened from their experiences from the war."

Ves frowned deeply. It explained the certain amount of bias the state bestowed to mech designers returning from the war. "I don't know if it works as well as the senator has envisioned it. I know that a lot of mech designers return broken and traumatized."

"Then that's even better! The mech designers who have somehow managed to survive but become useless will naturally drop out of the mech business, leaving more room for those the state regards as gems to thrive. You have to see it in this way, Ves. The Bright Republic doesn't want tens of thousands of mediocre mech designers who are fragile, weak-minded flowers that can't cope at all against various crises. They would rather have ten good mech designers that have proven themselves that they can cope with various extremes."

"The market already does that to an extent."

"Senator Tovar obviously doesn't think it does a good enough job. People like him believe that anyone, not just mech designers, are able to reach their full potential when subjected to the ravages of war." Verle replied. "The more important point is that Tovar appears to be one of the principal supporters of this policy. This means that he will be looking out for mech designers who validate his beliefs. Did you think he was praising you a bit too excessively during the banquet? That's because you exemplify his political narrative! As a brave and resourceful mech designer who saved many servicemen at many occasions, Senator Tovar wishes to parade you around in front of the naysayers of his policy in order to vindicate his standpoint!"

A spark lit up in Ves' mind. "So that's why Senator Tovar pushed for all of those extravagant awards. As a mech designer, it's already rather outlandish for me to receive the Darkness Eater. The Golden Mech is even more difficult to obtain. From what I know, only Senior Mech Designers who have designed war-winning mechs are eligible, and only one or two are awarded at most in each generation."

This likely signified that the secret policy regarding mech designers delivered mixed results. The opposition to it must be substantial. If the senator didn't wish to be humiliated by having one of his pet policy decisions reversed by his political opponents, then he needed to prop up someone like Ves who he could spin as a 'successful' outcome!

"Therefore, that's why I don't want you to get involved with him. Senator Tovar favors you because you're a useful pawn to him. However, you know what they say about pawns."

"Pawns get sacrificed as soon as it's convenient for the chess players. The senator is already used to doing so from his high position."

"Exactly." Verle nodded. "The senator isn't interested in you as a person. He's only interested in the political gains he can make if he has you under his thumb. Fortunately, you did a decent job in rejecting his advances in a tactful manner, so he doesn't have many avenues in pulling you into his camp. Nonetheless, it doesn't change the fact that you are a great example of the kind of mech designer that the senator wishes to breed. We can't rule out that he will arrange some circumstances behind the scenes to give you a boost in your career."

"Thereby giving his political opponents a reason to drag me down." Ves realized.

Even though he felt that it wasn't unjust to award him those prestigious medals, there was no doubt that this was also an attempt by Camden Tovar to manufacture a heroic mech designer!

"You've learned. Good. You desperately need to get your political acumen up to speed now that you've attracted the attention of Senator Tovar. I don't know enough about the other founder families to guess their stances, but it's known that the Tovar Family are in bitter opposition against the Ramzi Family. Their rivalry isn't necessarily based on politics or philosophy. They just hate each other's guts."

"Great." Ves said mildly. "Hopefully I don't catch their attention."

Now that the benefactor of the mission expressed his gratitude to the principal people responsible for extending a new lease on his life, the stay at the headquarters of the Bureau of Sector Affairs came to an end.

They only enjoyed a single night of sleep before they transferred out. Major Verle and Captain Orfan received orders to head to the Tarry region where the Flagrant Vandals currently recuperated well behind the frontlines.

As for Ves, he finally received transfer orders taking him to a confidential location somewhere in the Robach System in the Green Nebula region.

The Green Nebula region was situated somewhere in the middle of the Bright Republic, between the Rittersberg region to the left and the Bentheim region to the right in most standard two-dimensional maps.

That basically meant that nothing really important went on in the Green Nebula region, as the other two regions overshadowed it. Still, Ves knew better than to underestimate this region's importance.

Before they left, Ves met with Verle and Orfan one last time to say farewell. After bidding off Captain Orfan, Verle took Ves aside so she wouldn't be able to overhear them. "Make sure to cherish the opportunity given to you. Colonel Lowenfield and I called in some favors, but after yesterday I think we shouldn't have bothered, because Senator Tovar has likely pulled some strings."

"Will this be the last time we see each other, sir?"

"Probably." Verle nodded. "Flashlight is very large and expansive. You should read up on its history and familiarize yourself with its customs if you can. Remember my previous advice. Try to make some friends there and make sure you get on the good side of at least one of your superiors."

"You keep hammering on that point, yet you also warn me not to get involved with the Tovars."

"Flashlight is a military intelligence agency." Verle stated. "Do you realize what a difference that makes? It means that compared to the Republic's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, we are allowed to get away with more. We don't want to piss off the other states, and we have to respect the rights of our own citizens, so our spies can't go too far. It's different when the intelligence activities directly change the course of the war."

Ves understood his message. "So Flashlight is allowed to go to further extremes than the other agencies, is that what you're saying? I guess I've already internalized this lesson with my time with the Vandals."

"Good man. When you're at Flashlight, I won't be around to give you these kinds of pointers, so make sure you get close to someone who's willing to take you under their wing. This can literally save your life."

"Is it that dangerous at Flashlight?"

"To paraphrase Senator Tovar, only for the inept." Major Verle smiled in a mocking fashion. "Flashlight is a large organization that employs many kinds of people, the most significant of whom are either sharks or wolves in sheep's clothing. You're not a careerist, so you won't have any say in the agency, but that also means the people there generally won't bother with you too much, as you'll be out in a few years anyway."

After some more sage advice, Ves finally said goodbye and followed a guide to a shuttle in the underground parking hall.

The shuttle took him back up to orbit to transfer him to a military supply ship carrying supplies and personnel to the Green Nebula region.

The ship only offered basic facilities to its passengers, most of which consisted of mech pilots and various support personnel.

Now that he was out of the headquarters of BuSecA, Ves could finally pack off his dress uniform along with his gaudy medals in exchange for a more sober work uniform without any ribbons or shiny pieces of metal.

He didn't attract too much attention when he mingled with the other servicemen this time, and that was exactly how he liked it in this setting.

Of course, he received the usual disdain reserved for drafted mech designers, but that quickly faded as Ves displayed some of the habits and mannerisms of someone who went through hell and back.

Soldiers possessed the remarkable ability to recognize the similarities in each other. At some point, Ves gained enough qualifications to enter into their circle.

It helped that his Larkinson background already made him familiar with their traits. The only difference now was that understood their perspective because he personally lived through some of what they experienced.

Meanwhile, the military supply ship accompanied a convoy headed for the Green Nebula region. Weeks went by as the slow vessels transitioned from system to system along the way. Some ships separated from the convoy as they reached their destination while many others still had more hops to go.

Almost two weeks went by until the convoy finally arrived at the Robach System. The military supply ship separated from the convoy and flew to a military space station orbiting Robach III, the only habitable planet in the system. From there, a secret shuttle covertly slipped him and a handful of other passengers out to a secret base dug deep inside Robach VI, a cold and uninhabitable planet.

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