As time began to run out, Ves only came up with two strong leads that he felt might definitely lead to something that Flashlight would be pleased with. While he hadn't made much progress on figuring out why Ansel employed overly competent mech technicians, Leland did return one day with a much thicker set of documents.
"This is everything we can dig up about Chief Nyquist on short notice. Overall, his life isn't too remarkable for a military veteran. However, we did find something notable about him when we tracked down his former colleagues when he served with the Sparky Nuts."
"Oh?" Ves turned to Leland. His case officer wouldn't say anything if he didn't find it important. "Did you find something connecting him to the BLM?"
"Not as such. Instead, when we pried open the lips of one of his old buddies, they mentioned a very important detail that is missing in his record. He had a wife."
"What?! How come his record states that he never married?!"
In fact, Ves already found it rather questionable why Chief Nyquist never married after he returned from the war. The man did not even have a single girlfriend even though he should have appealed to many women with his military background and his stable, well-paying career at the KNG.
"His 'wife' was another mech technician on the same combat carrier he once served aboard. They both shacked up and tied the knot in an unofficial ceremony."
Ves understood now. "Fraternization is forbidden by the Mech Corps, but a lot of servicemen do it anyway."
"That's the practical truth." Leland smiled wryly. "Don't you think that Flashlight or the Mech Corps doesn't know what's going on? The monitoring systems alone catch thousands of intimate encounters aboard the ships every single day. Yet you never hear about anyone getting court-martialed over this offense. Do you know why?"
"Because they're just being humans. Love and affection isn't something which you can stop." Ves quickly concluded.
"Controversy over the regulations on fraternization has existed for thousands of years. In general, a military force operates better with them in place than without. Even so, we don't crack down too hard on this behavior as long as it doesn't affect the fighting strength of our units. Only the most egregious cases where a superior abuses his power to coerce someone in a relationship are addressed."
"So Nyquist used to have an intimate relationship with a fellow mech technician and the Sparky Nuts did nothing to stop it." Ves repeated. He began to feel some deja vu. "Don't tell me his secret wife got killed?"
"Killed in action. There's no ambiguity about it. She was one of the many confirmed casualties of the previous war." Leland stated unemotionally. "This affected Nyquist's performance for a while, but the war ended quickly before his slide became noticeable. He quit the Mech Corps shortly after to pursue a civilian career."
Ves closed his eyes and recalled the last time he met a widower who lost his unofficial wife due to battle.
Recalling how the grieving and unhinged Davis Sollerant pulled out a gun and shot at Ves' face made him shudder in unease. If not for wearing his Squalon armor, he wouldn't have brushed off the assassination attempt as an exercise in futility.
The Flagrant Vandals were all lucky that someone maddened with grief and loss like Davis acted impulsively rather than with deliberate calculation.
Yet what if they did the latter instead of the former? Those who lost the loves of their lives and never got over it couldn't be judged with common sense.
What would Ves do if he was in the same position? Would he hate the Vesians for taking away his lover, or would he be like Davis Sollerant and blame his own side instead for recklessly endangering his wife?
"What a huge mess." He uttered.
"Not necessarily." Leland nodded calmly. "Thousands of widowers emerge after the end of each war. Most of them are able to cope with their losses and restart their lives. From what the Mech Corps has observed of Chief Nyquist, he has never showed any animosity towards the Republic."
"Maybe he's hiding it well."
"Even so, more than twenty years have passed without incident. While that doesn't rule out anything, most people aren't that patient if they wanted to take revenge."
While Leland didn't read too much on Chief Nyquist's love life, Ves couldn't help but keep recalling the example of Davis Sollerant. Perhaps it was just his personal experiences biasing his judgement, but he felt that this detail about the chief technician's life was a critical clue!
However, even if Ves believed that Chief Nyquist held a lot of resentment against the Bright Republic for allowing his unofficial wife to be killed in action, this detail only provided a motive at best. It was hardly the smoking gun that Ves could use to prove impropriety at the KNG.
"Has the tail assigned to follow Nyquist found out anything of note?" He asked.
"No. Chief Nyquist works long hours at the Mosville Complex and only goes home to sleep. Occasionally, he gathers together with some fellow veterans and co-workers at a local bar, but other than that he's thrown himself in his work."
Such a boring pattern left very little clues to anyone keeping an eye on him. Even without Leland mentioning it, Ves already knew there was no point in following Nyquist around if he was determined to maintain a low profile.
"I think it's best if you put the tailing agent on his drinking buddies." He suggested. "Nyquist is way to vigilant and hardly exposes any openings for us to find fault."
Leland nodded in agreement. "That's reasonable, but it's highly likely you won't find anything. None of his drinking buddies possess sketchy backgrounds."
"It's better than nothing."
Right now, Ves gained a slight sense of progression in his investigation. It was nothing to go on as of yet, but it confirmed his feeling that Chief Nyquist was a person of interest.
The next day, he resumed observing the operations at the Ansel Complex instead of the Mosville Complex. He couldn't approach Nyquist directly without setting off alarm bells, so he basically bet on Flashlight's investigator to find out of his drinking buddies were involved with anything problematic.
In any case, in the name of inspecting the quality of the military mech production for mech regiments such as the Volari Starkhawks, Ves began to take a more hands-on approach in his inspection there. He stayed away from the KNG's commercial mech production but deliberately got close to the sections where all the military spaceborn mechs took shape.
He began to interact with the mech technicians assigned to their production. Openly, he displayed nothing but diligence in his cover role as a liaison mech designer. He asked pertinent questions, offered some advice in his perspective and generally found it reassuring that the KNG never fudged the production.
Even so, Ves couldn't help but find some of the oddly competent mech technicians to be a little fishy. The more he interacted with them, the more he felt how out of place they seemed.
Only a handful of these strange mech technicians were assigned to the production of military mechs. Most of them had been assigned to work on the more profitable and therefore more vital commercial spaceborn mechs.
"They're all Kadar loyalists as well it seems."
Different from Chief Nyquist who came from the Neyvis side of the mech company, the Kadar workers from before the merger held themselves to a higher standard. This was mainly because they worked on more expensive machines with slightly higher profit margins.
Right now, the KNG's murky finances made it difficult for Ves to figure out how much money they were losing. However, Ves already vaguely figured out that their spaceborn mech sales helped compensate for the serious losses their frontline mech sales accrued.
In fact, now that Ves noticed the discrepancy, he noted faintly that the Kadar workers resented the Neyvis side of the company for dragging down their financial stability.
"The merger isn't as seamless as it appears."
Perhaps Estella Kadar and Antoine Neyvis may have become a happy couple, but that didn't mean their employees felt as enthusiastic about uniting their companies.
Ves already knew that mergers often led to failure as the merged entity couldn't completely resolve all the incompatibilities or failed to settle on their new identity. The KNG's merger hadn't led to any extreme setbacks, yet some of the underlying differences still remained.
Unfortunately, none of that had to do with the overly competent mech technicians. Ves found out that all of them had been recent hires from the Ansel technical schools. In fact, many of the mech technicians here were already familiar with each other from their school days.
That shot down his theory that they were secret mech designers pretending to be simple mech technicians.
"What is up with them, then?"
Even as genuine mech technicians, they were far too good to work in a normal manufacturing complex!
With time running out, Ves felt he needed to do something more drastic. When he met up with Leland, he demanded something extreme.
"Do you remember what I told you about those suspiciously good mech technicians at the Ansel Complex? I'm not getting anywhere by hanging out with them at work. There's something fishy about them, and I need to question them more directly."
"What is it you're asking of me, Ves?"
"Help me interrogate them." Ves declared. "We need to take the direct approach and kidnap them and take them somewhere quietly so I can ask the questions that need answering."
Leland immediately shook his head. "That's way too loud, Ves. There is no way we can hide all of our traces from the KNG. They will know if something has happened to their own men."
"We only need to do it once. Accidents happen. As long as it doesn't occur twice, it's just a coincidence. The KNG employs thousands of mech technicians. They won't notice anything amiss from a single absence."
"Even so, that is a risk that we can't take. Flashlight's involvement might get exposed, and if there is one objective we have to fulfill at all costs, it is to keep that a secret!"
Ves turned around to Leland and began to stare at him intensely to the point of mustering up his concentration to blast his case officer with focused waves of Spirituality.
Even though it shouldn't do anything to a norm, perhaps some vestigial spiritual sense in Leland grew uncomfortable. That, combined with the intense stare, put the intelligence officer under faint pressure.
"Isn't Flashlight allowed to do whatever it wants? Right now, there is an obviously suspicious lead in front of me, but I need to go further if I want to get anything concrete out of it. Even if the interrogation doesn't lead to any explosive revelations, I'll always be able to distort what little we do manage to find out into a bigger problem for the KNG when it comes down to it. A lie with a kernel of truth at its basis is a lot more convincing than a total fabrication."
Perhaps that last argument persuaded Leland a little, because he buckled in the end. "Fine. I'll see what I can do. I'll prepare the backup strike team to pick up an individual of your choosing to take into custody. The preparation will take at least a day because we need to prepare a cover story for that individual's disposal."
"You're going to kill him after we're done?" Ves suddenly frowned. "Don't you have mind-altering drugs that can make someone forget what happened on that day or something?"
"We do, but they leave distinct traces behind. There is no way we can prevent the KNG from growing suspicious if one of their employees is met with a mishap. It's much safer for all of us if we get rid of this loose end in the most direct fashion possible."
Ves found it rather eery that Leland showed no remorse or hesitation about disposing a loyal Brighter. "There is no option to keeping him alive? Why not put him into a coma for a few years?"
"Don't kid yourself, Ves. Every condition that incapacitates someone can be reversed. Flashlight cannot afford to leave behind any living witnesses." Leland said with a tone of finality before taking a lighter tone. "Luckily, deadly incidents constantly take place on Bentheim. From shuttle crashes, rampaging mechs, gang shootings and terrorist attacks, it's trivial to dispose of someone who knows too much. It'll be even more believable if more people die as well."
This time, Ves couldn't help but stare at Leland with shock! In the name of secrecy, Flashlight would even be willing to kill innocent bystanders if it helped sell their cover stories!