The Mech Touch Chapter 1174

1172 Pursuing Greatness


"Why what, Ves?"

"Why bother with this charade of a partnership?"

"Do you think I'm insincere?"

"It's very hard for me to trust you. Spies like you tend to say one thing only to mean something else entirely."

Calabast nonchalantly shrugged. "Like I said. It benefits me more if I get to ride on your shuttle than to report you to the authorities. I don't want to blackmail you or exploit you, Ves. That's a short-sighted approach that will only lead to further animosity between us. You're small and weak right now, but how long will that last with the Metal Scroll at your disposal? Eventually, you'll grow up to become a formidable mech designer with a lot of sway who can easily turn the tables on me. Even if I'm careful and employed a lot of safeguards, it only takes one mistake for me to slip up."

"So you just expect me to smile and nod while you are butting into my business?"

"I know it irks you a lot to work with me, set aside your emotions for a moment." Calabast sighed and shook her head. "A secret like yours is extremely desirable by even the mightiest powers in human space. With the way you've been meandering through your life so far, the risk of exposing your secret to one of them is greater than you think. While I can't promise to take care of every problem, I can help you deflect unwanted attention so that you will have the time to grow."

As a businessman, Ves understood her rationale. He just didn't want to acknowledge it. Partnering up with Calabast left a foul taste in his mouth.

Nonetheless, he knew that she was right in her consideration. The other solutions at her disposal were either too risky or didn't pay off very much. Rather than handle the hot potato herself or hand it over to the Big Two, why not invest in its existing owner and strike up a genuine partnership? 

"What's in it for you?" Ves asked. "Money? Power?"

"That, and more, Ves. You are thinking too narrowly. Think of what you will become in a century or two. Will you still be a mech designer whose reach only extends to a single star sector? I think not! Your high rate of progression will inevitably propel you to greater heights! The Komodo Star Sector will become nothing in your eyes! Perhaps you'll even relocate to the galactic heartland or the galactic center and become involved in the highest echelons of power! And when you do, I hope I can tag along!"

In Calabast's eyes, Ves was like a transit shuttle slowly rising up to the heavens. Right now, the shuttle was flying low enough for her to climb onboard. As long as she behaved and helped the shuttle reach its destination, she stood to gain just as much as Ves in the long term!

"So you want to achieve greatness through my help?"

"Isn't that what anyone wants?" Calabast smiled. "Even I am no exception. While I may enjoy a more fortunate upbringing than others, I'm still a nobody on the galactic stage. Even if I work as hard as I can, the most I can achieve is becoming a side leader in the Komodo Star Sector. I can forget about rising any higher than that through my own capabilities. Only by partnering up with you will I be able to break through the limitations of my station and rise to greater heights!"

Ves felt that Calabast was largely sincere just now. Ambition sparkled in her eyes as she spoke of rising above the muck who were stuck in their star sectors for their entire lives.

The prospect of riding Ves' shuttle to the galactic center was an irresistible attraction to anyone who lived in the backwaters of human space.

As for Ves, his fascination towards the more developed parts of the galaxy had waned ever since he returned from his latest Mastery experience. While living and working in the Terran Confederation was great, it wasn't the paradise he previously imagined.

Living at the edge of the galaxy could be just as meaningful as living at the very center of it. Although Ves suspected that Calabast hadn't revealed all of her ambitions, he believed what she just said. Who wouldn't want to become a player instead of a chess piece?

He still didn't like it, though.

"What are you offering in return for this supposed partnership?" Ves asked.

"I'm not going to sit back and ride on your coattails, Ves. You need a confidante who can help you achieve greatness. Do you think you can just take advantage of the Metal Scroll and gradually climb to the top in your profession?"

"What's wrong with that?"

"It's too slow!" Calabast shook her head. "What's the difference between leading a normal life and what you are doing now?"

"You just said that I shouldn't be making waves and expose my existence!"

"There's nothing wrong with that as long as the status quo holds. The problem is that it is not a given that peace will last! If you have seen the signs like I have, a time of upheaval might soon be upon us. The current order that enforces peace in our region of space may no longer be there! Anything can happen between now and a hundred years. If you think that the Age of Mechs is a peaceful age, then think again!"

"You know something about the future?"

"Just some hints and suspicions, nothing too solid." Calabast shook her head. "For example, the existence of Sigrund alone is a major threat to human civilization. However, I've performed some research on AIs and figured out that it won't be easy for him to rid himself of the safeguards the CFA hardcoded into his processor core. As long as those safeguards exist, he won't be able to transcend his existence beyond the boundaries of his processor core. That means he won't be able to act as an immortal and omnipotent virtual god on the galactic net."

Ves was always wondering about Sigrund. "So the hybrid AI is laying low while he deals with this problem?"

"That's the most likely explanation. While I may be wrong, we'll just have to deal with it if Sigrund breaks the accord. For now, all three of us benefit more if we all keep our mouths shut on each other."

All three of them entered into pacts of silence with each other. The only difference now was that Calabast wanted to upgrade her accord with Ves into a full-blown partnership.

Though Ves still felt awful about letting Calabast interfere with his life, the underlying logic was very sound.

Hadn't he wanted to recruit a trustworthy spy to head his shadow force? While Calabast wouldn't be occupying the exact same position, her role covered most of the areas which Ves found lacking.

Calabast happen to fall into the category of 'trustworthy' spy. She was trustworthy in that she knew his greatest secret but he could count on her to work with him instead of snitching him out to others.

"I always wanted to recruit a spy to raise a hidden shadow force."

"I can help you set something like that up, but not at this time." Calabast replied in an easy manner. "For now, it doesn't make sense for a newly-ascended Journeyman to become involved in my sphere. That will change as you grow in power and influence, but that will take decades at the very least. For now, the assistance I can provide from remote should be sufficient for your needs."

"If you can't help me with that, then what use are you to me right now?"

Calabast swept her arm over her office. "Haven't you forgotten about my identity here? I am both the Calabast you know and Madame Cecily Curin! My second identity allows me to wield a considerable amount of authority over the Protectorate's mech market. Ever since I returned from my mission, I've thought of many possible ways to assist your growth. I've given up a lot of opportunities in order to assume this identity. This is the best way for me to help you expand your company."

Ves crossed his arms. "Why the Protectorate of all places? Why didn't you infiltrate the Ministry of Economic Development?"

"It's not that easy for me to influence your company's development in your home state." She shook her head. "The Bright Republic's mech market is very competitive and the state isn't inclined to interfere too often. Any attempts of abusing my position of power within a government institution will quickly be noticed by the local factions. Their existence has also made it so that power is divided over a large amount of government institutions. This way, no single faction will ever be able to wield enough power to eliminate the others."

"I see. The Protectorate is different. It's largely a closed economy so the domestic mech market isn't nearly as competitive. Power is concentrated in the hands of just three leading dynasties, each of which concentrate a lot of their power in their respective priorities. A director working for the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the Protectorate is a lot more influential than a director working for the Ministry of Economic Development back at home."

"It also helps that I conveniently made use of a backdoor to assume this identity. Madame Cecily did not exist before I arrived at the Protectorate. Now that I am here, my cover identity is fully established."

"Does that mean the Curin Dynasty will back all of your decisions?"

"It's not that simple." Calabast shook her head. "I'm sure you've already heard about it, but the Protectorate is a very divided state. Reformers and traditionalists are constantly at odds, and even though the former is taking the lead, the latter won't be content to go down without a fight. In such a delicate period of time, the most I can do for you is open up some opportunities to increase your market presence in this state."

That didn't sound like a lot of help, but Ves knew that a lot of foreign mech designers would jump at the chance!

Still, Ves couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. Calabast promised big but couldn't offer him a lot of help at this stage.

"If this is the extent of the benefits I can expect from my partnership with you, I must say that I am feeling a bit underwhelmed."

"I can do more than lend you a hand in the Protectorate." She said. "I have only recently separated from my old employers, so I no longer have access to their intelligence network. It takes time to build up a network of assets and informers from scratch. You'll thank me in time once my network spans the entire star sector."

"That is still something in the future. Isn't there something you can do immediately?"

"I have already done more for you than you realize. Haven't I mentioned that I've covered some of your tracks? Anyone who studies your life will inevitably grow suspicious why you've risen so hard. I've employed a lot of resources to spread hundreds of different possible leads on the galactic net and in the entire star sector. Anyone who looks you up will be bombarded with evidence that you are a Terran plant, a Rubarthan plant, a bastard of a notable dignitary from the Friday Coalition, an abnormal half-alien talent from the frontier and etc."

Ves blinked at that. "Won't that make it obvious that I have something to hide?"

"That's not the extent of what I've done to obscure your traces. Right now, there's such a large cloud of uncertainty hovering over your head that it isn't worth it to mess with you. As long as you don't give anyone a strong reason to cross over that line, your secret will remain safe and secure. I will continue to cover your back on this front."

Perhaps Ves indeed neglected this area. "Thanks, I guess."

"You don't have to make it sound as if I'm your mother, Ves. We are equals in this partnership. You do your thing and I do my thing. Only when we combine our efforts will we be able to benefit the most."

The premise of this partnership lay in that Ves and Calabast each benefit more from working together than working alone. While Calabast employed some coercion to get him to accept the partnership, so far she largely meant well.

The question was if this relationship based on mutual benefit would last. Would she keep riding the transit shuttle or bail out at some point?