The Mech Touch Chapter 1173
1171 The Clien
Ves entered a large, opulent office with high, vaulted ceilings.
As the owner of an imposing office himself, he appreciated the way they raised the stature of the occupant and manipulated the moods of those who entered.
The interior design of Madame Cecily's office blended modernity with tradition. It contained the usual baroque touches, but it incorporated it in a cleaner manner.
The best way to describe was that the interior blended both Ylvainan and Brighter elements to present a future vision of what the Protectorate could become.
The office managed to convey this message without using any words.
No matter how many modern touches the interior contained, the large carved relief of Prophet Ylvaine behind Madame Cecily's desk served to anchor the occupant's devotion to the faith. It was a lively piece of work, and although Ves could tell it had been shaped by a bot, the artist who designed it used his own skills to form its design.
The more Ves engaged in the artistic side of mech design, the more he appreciated the works of other artists. No matter if it was a mech, a sculpture or a structure, each design profession shared something in common, which was to communicate via art.
After taking in the office, Ves slowly stepped forward. His formal shoes mutedly echoed against the hard tiles of the floor. Behind the large desk at the far end of the office, a large swiveling office chair faced its back at him. A smooth arm extended from one side the chair.
Its occupant appeared to be studying the large, elevated, life-sized sculpture of Prophet Ylvaine set into the wall. Ves had to admit that if his own office possessed a feature like that, he could stare at it for hours and appreciate every little nuance the artist conveyed in portraying the founder of the Ylvainan Faith.
As Ves reached the front of the desk, he mentally scratched his head at the lack of response so far. Was Madame Cecily making a power play?
He decided to be direct, if only to stave off the awkward silence that threatened to ensue.
"Madame Cecily Curin, I presume?"
The slim, smooth arm resting on the left armrest of the chair tapped a single finger against the surface. That seemed to activate a command that turned the high windows opaque and turned on an interference field.
"I am Ves Larkinson, a de facto Journeyman Mech Designer from the Bright Republic. You invited me here to fulfill a private commission."
"You're finally here. Good." A confident feminine voice spoke. "It has been a long time since I last saw you. Have you already forgotten about little old me?"
The office chair swiveled to face Ves, revealing someone who looked very different from the images of Madame Cecily Curin he studied beforehand!
Ves immediately recognized the voice and appearance of the woman who faced him now.
"In the flesh."
"Y-You! Where is Madame Cecily?"
Calabast pressed her hands together and grinned. "Haven't you already figured it out? I am Madame Cecily."
"Yeah right." Ves responded with skepticism. "I don't know who you really are or who you work for, but there's not a single drop of piety in you. If you're an Ylvainan, then I am a CFA officer!"
"I'm glad you aren't taking my word at face value. Such caution is vitally important if you wish to keep your identity as a Holy Son a secret."
The mention of that unwanted identity displeased Ves immensely. "Why are you here? Why am I here? Is the commission you presented to the LMC even real?"
"Oh, it's real, have no fear. You still have work to do in the Protectorate, but let's discuss that later. First, I want you to calm down and take a seat."
"How the hell can I calm down when you've come back to haunt me?!" Ves burst out. He swept his palm at her. "Every time I've met you, I've suffered for it! You're my least favorite person in the galaxy!"
"Sit. Down. Ves."
Ves glared at Calabast, making no attempt to his his contempt for her. Nonetheless, he did as told and sat down on the padded chair in front of the desk.
Both of them knew that Calabast wouldn't meet with Ves unless she held all the cards in her hands. It was completely useless for Ves to throw a fit or pull out the Amastendira and shoot her in her smug face. All of those radical actions led to worse outcomes than just sitting down to listen to what she had to say.
That didn't mean that Ves liked to be forced into playing along.
"I've been following your progress since your return to the Bright Republic." Calabast began in an amiable voice. "I see you've done a lot of good for yourself. Not only have you ingratiated yourself in one of the local power structures, you've also made brisk strides in advancing your core competencies. The Metal Scroll, the power that has granted you the status of Holy Son, must have aided you in becoming a better mech designer, right?"
"I don't possess this Metal Scroll thing." Ves said truthfully.
Calabast snorted. "Don't try to play word games in front of me. Whether you regard your secret weapon as a Metal Scroll or something else, it's clear that you possess something remarkable that used to belong to the Five Scrolls Compact. Your entire career trajectory up until now is a giant collection of anomalies. While exceptions always pop up among mech designers, your progress is far too fast. An external aid that accelerated your progress is the most likely explanation that fits, especially if you consider that the Holy Scrolls have always served as carriers of knowledge."
She did her homework, alright. Ves felt completely exposed in front of her gaze!
The only consolation was that Calabast likely didn't know the exact details of what advantages he possessed. Ves extended his Spirituality and determined that Calabast did not possess any notable strength in this regard.
He even felt tempted to jerk her around a little bit by employing his Spirituality, but he quickly dropped the idea.
The effect would be limited due to the fact that her own spirit was intangible and difficult to interact with. Also, someone as vigilant and in control as Calabast would immediately detect something amiss.
"What do you want?" Ves asked, deliberately avoiding saying anything about her conjectures.
Unfortunately, Ves seemed to have sent some unspoken signal, because Calabast grinned wider. "You consider me as a threat right now, right?"
"You're a menace since I first met you back in the Harkensen system. That hasn't changed."
"Isn't that obvious?"
"Tell me, then."
"You're a spy. You work for some powerful organization or state. You know my secret."
"Correct." Calabast nodded in satisfaction. "Now tell me, Ves, where in that list states that I have to be your enemy?"
Ves fell silent for a moment. "In my personal experience, spies are shady as hell and are always ready to stab someone in the back."
As if to taunt him, Calabast drew out a slim dagger from a hidden holster from her wrist. She flourished it around her fingers, making it dance.
"Considering your interactions with one of the Bright Republic's intelligence agencies, I can see why you think of us that way. Trust is hard to come by in our circles, but not even spies can operate without some measure of it. I won't ask you to trust me yet, Ves, but I hope we can at least see eye to eye on each other based on mutual benefit."
This wasn't the first time she mentioned something like this. Ves frowned. "Mutual benefit? You mean you want to blackmail me so that you can squeeze me of all the possible benefits I can provide to you and your shadowy employers."
"I don't work for anyone anymore. Not directly, at least. After my last mission, I earned enough merit to hang up my field agent hat. For all intents and purposes, I am acting on my own right now. I haven't shared your secret to anyone, Ves. In fact, I even cleaned up some of the dirty tracks that you've left behind."
"What do you mean by that?" Ves asked with eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"For someone who carries the identity of a Holy Son of one of the most notorious terrorist organizations in human space, you sure don't know how close you came to exposing yourself. Why do you think the CFA hasn't taken you into custody? Why do you think the Five Scrolls Compact hasn't registered your existence yet? Do you think you can just accelerate your career without drawing heaps of investigation behind the scenes?"
Ves looked at Calabast as if he was a fish out of water.
"I think that sums up the amount of thought you put into covering your back. I admire your ability to design mechs. You're a genius when it comes to working with mechs. Yet it seems the Metal Scroll can only improve your abilities related to this narrow field. Spies like me can still run rings around you without ever tripping your alarms."
Ves took the rebuke seriously. Even so, he didn't like it when Calabast talked down on him. "I'm a mech designer. I've been focused on improving my ability to design mechs for years."
"There's nothing wrong with that. As you say, you are a mech designer, so it is a given that you are focused on your primary job. All I am trying to say here is that your singular focus on this area is not enough to preserve your freedom and your life. What is the use of becoming a great mech designer when the Five Scrolls Compact eventually knocks at your door?"
"I'll just run or something. The galaxy is big. There's no way they can find a tiny needle in a galaxy-sized haystack."
"Just like your parents? Is that what you want? To lve the life of a fugitive?"
Mentioning his parents was a sore spot to Ves. "What are you suggesting, then?"
"I'm glad you asked that question! It ties into what I want!" Calabast grinned and excitedly cracked her knuckles. "The way I see it, you're a dummy, but a dummy with one of the most precious possessions on the galaxy. I don't think you even realize the full import and history of the Metal Scroll. The Holy Scrolls used to elevate humanity from a weak and short-lived race into a galactic hegemon! Now that one of the Scrolls fell into your possession, you can elevate yourself to the same heights!"
Ves would be lying if he said he never entertained such delusions before. If the Mech Designer System continued to assist in his progression, it wasn't impossible for him to advance to Master or even Star Designer within his lifetime!
"Yet the ad hoc manner in which you are handling your affairs makes it clear to me that you haven't adopted any coherent strategy to manage your rise!" Calabast admonished him. "It's clear to me that if you are left alone, you'll slip up sooner or later and squander your opportunities!"
"So what is your point?"
The woman leaned back on her chair and patted her chest. "My point is that you need a reliable, trustworthy partner who can deal with some of the latent threats in your way. Fortunately for you, I'm willing to be that partner."
A short silence ensued as Ves stared at Calabast with incredulity. "Trustworthy? Reliable? I don't think you know the meaning of those words."
She laughed. "Oh, come now, Ves! I'm one of the few people who found out your secret, but have I ever run off to the MTA or CFA to earn a sumptuous reward? I haven't! Because you know why? I know that any reward that the Big Two can give me will never match my gains if I partner with someone as promising as you! Don't you get it, Ves? I benefit more from this arrangement than any other choices I can make with the information at hand!"
"So it's all about mutual benefit!"
"Exactly, Ves! I don't want to take away your secret! I'm not a mech designer in the first place so I wouldn't know what to do with it. As for handing it to others, do you think I'm stupid? I highly prefer to work with a known quantity like you. Each of us stand to benefit from each other's help, and this will be the foundation of our partnership going forward!"
"Because I'm a dummy, right? It helps you retain control." Ves sardonically remarked.
Calabast threw a knowing smile at him. "I'm glad you recognize the truth. So what do you think of my proposal? Are you willing to let me ride on your transit shuttle? I can pay the fee."
"Is it even possible for me to reject your generous proposal?"
"Frankly, no. I'm just giving you the illusion of choice."