The thought of handing over three Crystal Lords for free pained Ves a lot, but Raella didn't lie when she stated that this was how Bentheim worked.
However, while unpleasant, the tribute he instructed the LMC to hand over directly benefited Raella's position within the Blood Claws.
Ves knew what she was doing by demanding this request. She intended to raise her value within the criminal enterprise by calling attention to her ongoing association with Ves and his multibillion credit mech company.
Even though she renounced her ties to the Larkinson Family, blood was thicker than water! If Raella proved to her superiors that she could ask Ves for favors, then they would surely place more importance to her in their ranks.
"I'll also benefit as well."
With Raella, Ves had a trustworthy contact inside one of the biggest gangs on Bentheim. His previous request to her was just one example in which he could leverage his connection with Raella to obtain something he needed from the Blood Claws.
The value of this connection was extremely difficult to come by for any other mech company. It wasn't every day a relative of a business owner outright joined the ranks of one of the three major gangs of Bentheim!
Even so, Raella became a huge black sheep to the Larkinson name for that reason. While it would have been okay to meet with her occasionally, Ves couldn't associate himself too closely to her. The press probably already had a lot of things to say about his earlier visit to the Rain District, but at least his new status as a war hero allowed him to get away with the act.
"I shouldn't push it too much, though. Next time I'll meet Raella I should ask her to come to me instead of the other way around."
Since he had some time left, he began to browse the galactic net. Over the past couple of days, his appearances in public already garnered a considerable amount of interest. The only problem that stymied the news portals was that when they looked up his records, all of the details about how he earned his decorations was firmly confidential.
So the various news portals began to speculate a number of wild tales instead.
"Urgh. Don't they have better things to do?"
Tales about punching aliens in the face, rescuing stranded Brighter women in the frontier and more started to make the rounds. They attributed all sorts of insane feats to him without possessing any shred of evidence.
Fortunately, only the sleazier rags deigned to exercise their imagination. The more respectable journalists merely stopped their stories there. This also meant they stopped reporting on Ves and moved on to other news.
"However, I haven't disappeared entirely." He grinned.
Small ads that tied Ves' recent appearance to his LMC could be found on nearly every news portal that reported on him. While these ads weren't too extravagant and would disappear in a week, right now they served their purpose in converting his raised public profile into increased exposure to his mech company!
He began to search for mention of the LMC in the various publications and found that it garnered abruptly more attention!
THE LIVING MECH CORPORATION: A HIDDEN GEM
THE MECH COMPANY FOUNDED BY A WAR HERO
VETERANS LOVE THE LMC'S TWO MECH MODELS!
Ves especially felt gratified by headlines and features where various veterans showed an increased interest in his products. He knew that fellow servicemen appreciated his awards the most, and therefore felt much more favorably inclined towards him and his products compared to the average civilian.
"Veterans make up an important demographic category in the mech market." Ves remarked with a smile.
A lot of former servicemen discharged from the Mech Corps still piloted mechs in the private sector. The ones that lusted for battle and excitement joined a mercenary corps while those who pursued steadier careers opted to work for a security company.
All of those respectable outfits loved to hire military veterans. Mech pilots who survived the war had proven their chops in battle and injected valuable battle-proven experience into their ranks. In addition, their systematic training left little doubts about their competence.
Ves once heard the Larkinsons talk about how this was a deliberate measure. The Bright Republic invested a lot of money and resources in training their mech pilots, so letting them go after a tour or two sounded wasteful.
However, if these discharged veterans subsequently joined the various private outfits of the Bright Republic, wouldn't that bring them more in line with the state?
Overall, veteran mech pilots fought better, harder and with more discipline than their non-military colleagues. Most of those outfits in fact tended to be founded by veterans or eventually came into the control of one through proving their ability to fight and light!
Thus, to say that all of the local mercenary corps and security companies was completely separate from the military wasn't entirely through. The influential and pervasive network of ex-servicemen formed a strong but unobtrusive means for the state to continue to exert control over these 'independent' outfits.
"That also makes them one of the most coveted demographics to win over." Ves chuckled. With Marcella, who was a veteran of the previous war herself, taking the initiative to blitz the local news portals with a concerted market campaign, Ves expected to become known to every veteran within a week! "And many of these veterans have buying power! The LMC will be sure to receive a lot of orders!"
For now though, his attempts to promote the LMC was ultimately a sideshow compared to his current mission. If he couldn't give Flashlight the evidence they sought, how should he deal with Leland's request?
Should he play along and fabricate fictitious evidence, or should he honestly report he found nothing of concern?
"The key is whether Leland speaks for himself, his superior within Flashlight or the entire intelligence agency."
Ves regretted that he missed the opportunity to clarify this particular point. Even so, a snake like Leland would probably lie or provide a nonanswer to this question.
He had very little to go on to determine whose interests he served if he went ahead and fabricated evidence.
"If the Ministry of Economic Development and Spotlight are susceptible to corruption, how can Flashlight remain an exception?"
Unfortunately, Ves knew too little about Flashlight to ascertain its true state. He only possessed a shallow relationship with them so far, and would remain firmly at arms length.
His intuition couldn't tell him the answer either, but he faintly believed that Leland hadn't gone rogue with regards to this additional request. If Leland hadn't distorted the facts too much, then kicking over the KNG would certainly provide a very welcome wakeup call to the various institutions that care more about their own profits than their actual duty.
Ves sighed and laid down on his bed. When he thought about fabricating damning evidence to drag the KNG through the mud, he couldn't help but recall the first time he met the happy family.
Estella's motherly care and Antoine's fatherly concern over their two lovely children touched his heart and melted some of the harshness that built up during his previous travails.
How could he bring so many troubles to such a loving and sincere family?
There was a small, yearning desire in his heart to start such a family himself. He too wanted to seek a more fulfilling life.
Still, when he thought about all of the benefits he could obtain from Flashlight, he regained his determination. Ridding himself from the shackles of the Ministry of Economic Development benefited him directly while absolving the Kadar-Neyvis of any crimes gave him no favors at all.
His self-interest came above any fanciful notion of morality. "As long as it doesn't happen to me, I can live with my actions."
He fell asleep shortly after.
The next day, he regained his composure and pushed the thorny matter to the side. Ves finally received a message from Raella stating that the LMC completed the transfer of three precious mechs in her care.
"Do you have the item I requested?" Ves asked over the comm.
"Yeah sure. It took a few favors of my own. You're lucky that I'm kind of a big deal in the Blood Claws or else they wouldn't have let me in at all!"
The two Larkinson cousins quickly agreed on a place and time where they could meet.
After freshening himself up, he rode a military shuttle to the Entertainment District where he previously reserved a private room at one of the upscale establishments there in his personal capacity.
Bots started to bring in various sumptuous breakfast dishes when Raella arrived. "Wow, that's some fancy looking chow! Don't mind if I take a bite!"
As they began to eat breakfast, Raella nonchalantly threw a data chip at Ves. He hastily dropped his fork in order to catch it in the air. Even though a data chip couldn't be damaged so easily these days, he didn't want it to drop in his glass of coffee!
"Yup. That's what you wanted."
The two were tactful enough not to mention the exact nature of the data chip's contents. Previously, they met in a bar at the Rain District, which was pretty much under the control of the Blood Claws.
This restaurant on the other hand was either completely independent or served some other influence on Bentheim. Either way, it would be a very bad idea to talk about sensitive matters without something like a signal jammer at work.
Even so, as long as they talked about the topic in a vague and indirect enough manner, it didn't hurt too much to ask some questions.
"How much do the Blood Claws know?" He asked carefully.
Raella munched on a croissant while speaking. "From what I gather, the people you wanted me to look into mainly fall pay their dues to the Peace Association."
"One of the Big Three?"
"The very same." Raella confirmed. "From what I gather, Three-Eyes Jackson who heads the Peace Association is an acquaintance of the family of one of the two."
Raella probably meant that the Neyvis Family who owned the Industrial and Commercial Bank of Bentheim possessed a definitely connection to one of the biggest three gangs of Bentheim!
The Blood Claws had two rivals of roughly equal strength.
The Peace Association under Three-Eyes and the Fellowship of the Deprived under Great Siren Kjande all maintained a tenuous peace with the Blood Claws. The three of them collectively carved out the planet's choicest turfs among themselves, leaving the scraps that wasn't worth their attention to the rabble in the dirt.
"How far has the Peace Association's influence stretched?" He asked.
"Dunno. You can read that for yourself in the data chip. The Blood Claws constantly keeps an eye on their rivals, so you can be sure the intel I brought you is reliable. From what little I went through, their cozy relationship stretched back decades."
Ves nodded. While such a long and evidently fruitful relationship sounded very shady, it was just a normal business practice on Bentheim. No court in the Republic would condemn the KNG for maintaining a harmonious relationship with Bentheim's underground.
If the KNG fell for this reason, then pretty much every other company on the planet was equally as guilty!
Still, due to the improper nature of this relationship, the KNG needed to be very discreet about the exact ways they paid their tribute to the Peace Association. If the KNG already did something shady on the side, who was to say they didn't take it a step further and used the same means to collaborate with the BLM?
Obtaining this intel would help him narrow down where the KNG performed all of their shady activities. This not only saved him a lot of time by pointing him to the most suspicious aspects about the company, but it also gave him valuable ammunition for a possible plan B.
After all, mention of smuggling mechs off the books to the Peace Association could easily be distorted into an accusation of smuggling mechs the Bentheim Liberation Movement!