The Mech Touch Chapter 1097

1095 A Changed Man

Bentheim! This wealthy planet was the nexus of trade within the Bright Republic. An unimaginable amount of wealth flowed through the port system. A wealthy mech company like the old KNG was only one of many businesses that made up the fabric of that singular planet!

Naturally, not everything went well on Bentheim. The large amounts of money being earned by the business sector on the planet diverted way too many earnings away from the average citizens of the planet. Many of them barely managed to keep their head above the water as the cost of living on Bentheim was ludicrously high in some cities.

Even so, as long as a gang managed to gain a foothold in Bentheim's complex underground, they'd be able to derive enough tribute from the companies in their territory to become a force to be reckoned with! More money led to more mechs, which meant their strength increased by another level!

Not even ruling four whole rural planets could come close to ruling a single commercial district on Bentheim!

As Dietrich explained it, holding territory in Bentheim was of such importance to the local underground community that any gang that failed to hold territory on the planet was a nonentity!

"I feel like the way you are referring to the supporters of this plan as the old guard to be an attempt to separate yourself from them." Ves observed sharply. "You don't entirely approve?"

"You know how Bentheim is, Ves." Dietrich shrugged. "With sharks like the Blood Claws in the pool, how can little fish like us ever be able to compete? My old man Walter and his old buddies started off in Bentheim. In their hearts, Bentheim has always been their true home. As for me.. I mostly grew up here. Cloudy Curtain may not be the richest place in the galaxy, but it's undeniably our turf. Why can't we be happy with what we have?"

"It sounds like it's not really about power to Walter. I think he just wants to revisit the grievances of the past and take revenge against the people who pushed him out of Bentheim all those years ago."

Ketis, who sat at the side, nodded her head. "It's about regaining their pride. They got kicked out of their old homes and now that they've grown stronger, they're raring to erase the humiliation they've suffered. I don't think a small place like Cloudy Curtain ever satisfied them. There's no way this Walter will change his mind."

Ves grimaced. It was a typical case where emotion and pride took precedence over logic and rationality. The Whalers were doing so well these days. Why couldn't they play it safe and rule over their own little corner in the galaxy?

Returning to Bentheim was a very big matter! All of the gangs on that planet would rather fight tooth and nail than let some off-planet interlopers take over their turf!

Due to the high level of desirability of turf on Bentheim, those gangs constantly fended off rival gangs. None of them would be weak, and their battle experience vastly exceeded the likes of Walter's Whalers!

In short, for Walter to commit his expanded forces to an attempt to return to Bentheim was exceedingly risky and would likely end in lots of casualties! The collateral damage that resulted from the fighting might also attract the ire of the Planetary Guard, forcing the Whalers out lest they tear up entire cities!

"There's no way the Planetary Guard would let hundreds of mechs land on the planet and fight on the streets, will they?"

Dietrich shook his head. "Do you think the Whalers would be so crass to fight in the open where we would draw the attention of the authorities? There are rituals in place that keeps the fighting out of sight. No one will notice a thing. The accord struck and enforced by the Blood Claws, the Peace Association and the Fellowship of the Deprived will make sure that every smaller gang plays along."

It sounded something similar to what the Terrans did whenever their local powers wanted to take over a star system. As long as the fighting took place somewhere far away from people and property, the combatants could do anything they wanted in private. Collateral damage wouldn't be an issue if there wasn't anything valuable around!

To Ves, it made a lot of sense. While only major conflicts such as formal turf wars that the Whalers intended to announce followed the accord, it still helped cut back the violence on the streets enormously. At the very least, the Planetary Guard wouldn't be forced to step in and spoil the party!

"When will the Whalers commence the turf war?"

"Not for a while yet, Ves." Dietrich shook his head. "The Whalers are a lot stronger than before, but it's mostly because of the numbers we are able to field. We've got some great mechs, but we aren't as confident in the mech pilots we've paired them with. To be honest, they're kind of a mixed bag as our hiring standards aren't really the best. Most of my time is spent on training them and making sure they aren't rats working for our rivals."

These problems sounded familiar to Ketis. "As long as you Whalers aren't morons, the best way to secure the loyalty of your new men is to be a strong leader. As long as you are strong enough, no one will dare to double cross you! It also helps if you have placed some confidants in the ranks of your men."

"That's one of the many measures we've taken to shore up the cohesion of our mech pilots. Right now, the old man thinks we're probably ready enough to fight for a place in Bentheim in a year, maybe two. Our new mech pilots are constantly improving but their pace leaves a lot to be desired. My dad also wants to put his new men through some actual fights so that they're not so green anymore."

This was exactly what Melkor wanted to do with the Avatars of Myth. Ves approved these measures, but he didn't think that a single year would be enough to transform the Whalers into a truly battle-tested mech force.

Well, whatever. Ves only cared about the Whalers to the extent that they maintained cordial relations with each other. If they happened to bite more than they could chew, they only had themselves to blame.

"Well, good luck with your preparations, Dietrich. I hope you can put your Blackbeaks and Crystal Lords to good use. They're good machines, but only if you pair them with good mech pilots and maintain them properly."

"Oh, that's one of the biggest changes that I've insisted on. The days where ninety percent of our mech technicians are lazy bums are over." Dietrich emphatically said.

The Glowing Planet campaign brutally taught the Whalers what their neglect had wrought. Many more Whaler mechs fell in battle than they ought to because they never put too much stock in maintaining their trashy mechs!

After Dietrich said as much as he was willing to say about their intention to return to Bentheim, the three of them continued to chat about various other matters. Ketis held Lucky in her lap and while she stroked his back, but she didn't show much interest in the conversation.

Compared to the vicious pirate gangs of the frontier, the criminal gangs in civilized space were tame little kittens in her eyes.

Ves noticed that Dietrich didn't really know how to handle someone like Ketis. After several failed attempts to engage her in meaningful conversation, the Whaler scion gave up.

Instead, he raised another topic. "By the way, Ves, I've been hearing some rumors about you in the underground circles."

"Oh? What's this about?"

As far as Ves was aware of, he shouldn't have done anything to attract the attention of the underworld.

"You've acquired a lot of fame recently. I don't know the stuff you've been through while you were off fighting the Vesians, but there's no doubt that a lot of people know who you are now. That kind of scrutiny attracts a lot of attention, you know, and not always the good kind."

"What do I have to worry about?"

"Someone put a hit on your head. There has always been a hit on your head for a while, but as far as I know no one put much stock to it. All of that has changed since the end of the war. I don't know the reason for the hit, or who ordered it, but someone really hates you because the bounty on your head has ballooned to 50 million credits!"

Ketis snorted and laughed. "HAHAHAHA! Ves! 50 million credits! That's way too cheap! Whoever wants Ves dead ought to charge 10 billion credits at the very least! Do you know how hard it is to kill Ves? Lemme tell you, everyone who wanted to kill him eventually regretted it! A bounty of only 50 million credits is an insult to someone like Ves! I'll chop whoever comes up and kills him myself so I can rid the galaxy of their stupidity!"

While Ves did not exhibit the same reaction, he did not put much stock in the implications of the bounty either. So what if someone wanted to kill him? Just spending a day in the frontier was much more harrowing than the thought of being put in some assassin's crosshairs!

Even though Ves no longer possessed his nearly-impervious XV-99 Squalon from the Starlight Megalodon, he still wore his trusty shield generator. If a device like this was good enough to protect Senator Tovar's life, it was good enough to shield his life as well.

With his enhanced physique and optimized genes, he possessed a formidable amount of resistance against poison and adulterated substances! As for retaliation and self-defense, even if he didn't whip out the Amastendira, he could rely on Lucky wipe out every attacker in his stead.

His cat gorged upon a fortune's worth of CFA equipment, so Lucky should better work hard to repay his debts!

"I'll manage." Ves replied mildly, deliberately understating his concern. "I've been living under constant threat during the war and this is not different. You don't have to concern yourself with my personal matters, Dietrich, though I appreciate the heads up. Whoever thought of placing a hit on me will regret it. I will make sure of that."

The ominous tone that Ves adopted at the end left a marked impression on Dietrich. This single instance hit home the fact that Ves had come back from the war as a very changed man!

The Whaler sighed in a melancholic manner. "You've changed. I've changed. Everyone has changed. Nothing has remained the same. Don't you wish to go back to simpler times?"

"Nope." Ves bluntly replied. "Change is inevitable. The least we can do is to steer the change in a favorable direction. It's true that everything has changed, but it's mostly for the better. Both my company and the Whalers are bigger than before. That's a great accomplishment. Hopefully, that is not the extent of our growth."

"Hmmm." Dietrich commisserated over those words. Eventually, he raised his mug of beer. "To changing times."

"To changing times."

They each toasted their glasses and enjoyed their drinks.

Some time later, Ves, Ketis and Lucky returned to the armored shuttle. The vehicle and its escorts rose in the air and flew back to the Mech Nursery.

All this while, Ves contemplated some of the changes that crept up in his conversation with Dietrich.

Ketis noticed his internal preoccupation and prodded his side. "What's up, Ves? You aren't worried about assassins coming after you, right?"

Ves shook his head. "Of course not. It's just that some of the topics struck a chord with me. Everything around me is changing. My company is changing, my friends and family are changing, my career is progressing and my bank accounts are holding more and more money."

"Those sound like good changes. So why do you look so troubled?"

"I'm just missing the time where everything was simple. Back when I started to design mechs, the galaxy seemed so simple. Now that I've become exposed to what is truly going on behind the scenes, I can no longer remain ignorant and hide myself away on this planet."

"It sounds like you're getting at something, Ves."

"My point is that my goals won't allow me to remain average. In order to design better mechs, I have to take a more prominent place in society. To put it in simple terms, I can't think of myself as small fry anymore! The moment when I heard that someone put a 50 million credit bounty on my head is the moment I realized that I have finally become a bigshot!"

"You've always been a bigshot in my eyes. You're too good of a mech designer to keep your head down."

Ves ruefully smiled at her. "Thank you for the vote of confidence. If only the rest of the mech industry thinks that way."