Chapter 134: Status Quo
Ves turned his gaze towards Calsie, who kept her mouth shut throughout the entire conversation.
“I did not expect this meeting to turn out this way.”
“Sorry, Ves! I really thought they’d welcome you with open arms.”
“It’s not your fault. The Pioneers have a point. It’s too unseemly to approach the Pioneers when I’m already cozying up to Walter’s Whalers.”
If he had to make a choice, then he’d pick the thugs with mechs over politicians who schemed against their own mothers. The conversation with Linden Royce thoroughly disillusioned Ves to politics.
“What do you suggest I do?”
To her credit, Calsie did not immediately shill for the Pioneers. “No matter what you decide, you should assume that any incidents will be traced back to you. It’s not a good idea to antagonize any influence.”
That was nice of her to say, but Ves couldn’t afford to sit around and let the tax reform bill be signed into law. If the Pioneers treated him with sincerity, then Ves did not mind inducing Dietrich and his friends to poke around the Colmes region. Instead, Director Linden came to him with a false mask and a vague offer of reciprocity that may not even be fulfilled.
“What do you think about the deputy director, Lucky? Is he a good person?”
The gem cat hissed and kept his posture low. After Lucky leveled up, his intelligence received a substantial boost. Ves found out that Lucky became very proficient in reading other people’s body language. Even if the cat did not understand what people said, Lucky could still determine whether a person lied.
According to Lucky’s current posture, Director Linden harbored suspicious intentions. Ves tried to figure out what the Pioneers really wanted.
The Colmes region farms might hide something incredible, of that Ves did not doubt. Yet what could they gain if another supercrop got exposed?
If Pioneers only wanted to use him, then Ves could imagine the sequence of events. Not only would an incident expose the Consortium’s secret project, it could also spark an open conflict between the ruling coalition and the gang.
Such a fight might not be as one-sided as everyone thought. As the descendents of the original settlers, the Raleighs and Luvons must have spent a fortune entrenching their strategic assets.
No matter who won, only the Pioneers stood ready to receive the benefits.
Ves closed his eyes and tried to calm his mind. The last thing he needed was to make an impulsive decision.
First, he established his goal. “I want to operate my business without excessive interference from bureaucrats and politicians who have a bone to pick with me.”
The Greens and the White Doves were obviously hostile to him. The Pioneers could best be described as a neutral bystander who is looking to pick up a bargain. They obviously had no intention of giving Ves a hand without getting something in return.
Why did he have to enter this murky swamp and be forced to make deals with politicians? Calsie, who still sat silently by his side, spoke up at that moment.
“Mr. Larkinson, the problem that you are facing is coming from two fronts. First, your presence is clashing against the domestic interests of the White Doves and to a lesser extent the Greens. Perhaps on a good day the Greens can be bought off, but the Doves are intrinsically opposed to you.”
“Yes, I know that.”
“Then you should be aware that they normally don’t move so quick with trying to push a tax reform bill through the Assembly. What you should really be focusing on is trying to stop the source of the latest initiatives.”
Ves buried his face in one of his hands. “You mean the power behind the scenes. If it’s a power from the Coalition, then it’s a group I can touch.”
“Perhaps not alone, but don’t you have a big shot at Leemar behind your back? Why don’t you ring her up and ask her to take care of whoever is trying to ruin your day?”
His political advisor had a point. He obviously couldn’t fight back against the foreign influence. As long as they remained, they could instigate many possible groups to turn against him. He wouldn’t put it past them to make a deal with the Pioneers.
Ves hated the thought of giving up and crying to Horatio for help. When he stayed at Leemar, Ves got the impression that they prized independence. Even if the deck was stacked against him, a mech designer should always be resourceful enough to find a solution on his own.
He failed. Despite his recent fame, his actual power amounted next to nothing. If Ves still happened to be a regular mech designer without any backing, his enemies might have already wiped him out.
“Please prepare all the evidence you’ve gathered about the foreign influence that is meddling behind the scenes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only heard rumors, just include all of them in a single report. Be as accurate as possible and don’t try to embellish the information in any way. Can you do that for me?”
“Ah, no problem sir. I’ll get right to it once I return to my apartment.”
The girl quickly left the teahouse while Ves finished his last cup of tea. He stroked Lucky’s back as he lamented his helplessness in the face of absolute power. Ves needed to find a way to close the power gap.
“In the end, I’m still too young. I’ve only started designing mechs a half year ago. That’s not enough time for me to accumulate a lot of wealth and influence.”
The Mech Designer System fueled his perverse growth. This allowed him to skip many inconveniences such as procuring his starting production licences. The downside to this was that he lacked the time to build up a solid network of friends and backers who he could trust.
He shook his head. “It’s out of my hands now.”
Ves left the teahouse and brought Lucky back to his workshop. After a day of waiting, Calsie sent him a collection of files that detailed her investigation. He took the files and logged into the Clifford Society’s virtual portal.
He didn’t bother descending down to the mountain range. Instead, he placed a call to Horatio and asked if he could come to the Society for a talk.
Master Olson’s assistant appeared in front of Ves in a flash. “Good day Ves. From your tone, you seem to be in a spot of trouble. Tell me what is bothering you.”
“It’s like this.” He started to explain his circumstances while handing over Calsie’s report. Ves made sure to mention that while he did not manage to obtain any solid proof, the instigators likely possessed more power than he could handle by himself.
Horatio pursed his lips and gave Ves a measuring look. “It will take some time to corroborate your findings. I can tell you right now that we will step in if it turns out someone from the Coalition is targeting you. There are certain rules that Coalition partners have to abide to. It’s bad news for everyone if someone breaks the rules.”
“Maybe the instigators are hoping they can take advantage of the galaxy-wide unrest.”
“That is a foolish decision. Our resources aren’t strained to the point where we can neglect the safety of our fellow mech designers. Don’t forget that you have been chosen by Carmin to inherit some of her legacy.”
After Horatio finished giving him some assurances, he disappeared in a wink. Ves stretched his arms and looked down upon the mountain range like a god. The illusion of looking down upon the material world buoyed his spirits a little.
“One day, I will float among the clouds and own all that is within my grasp.”
He exited the Society and resumed tinkering with the Dortmund parts. He carefully cleaned and polished some of the more worn out parts and brought them to their prime condition. Once the recyclers sent back the salvaged materials, Ves could proceed to supplement the missing parts.
“The processors are still a huge problem. I’m not a cyber specialist. Unless I divert lots of DP into bringing up my cyber skills, I’ll have to hire someone else to do the job.”
Three days later, Horatio called him on his comm. After putting up his Privacy Shield, he accepted the call.
“You were correct to bring this matter to our attention.” Horatio started, and sent him back some files that detailed their own findings. “The Gauge Dynasty recklessly extended their reach within our sphere of influence. The haste in their actions made it obvious that it was not a sanctioned operation.”
Ves skimmed over the documents and recognized the most prominent name. “I knew it! That bastard Carter never let me out of his sights!”
He remembered how the most dominant mech designer in the entire competition lost in a humiliating fashion. Carter’s assigned pilot completely dominated Lovejoy’s swordsman mech with a ridiculous flying heavy mech. Instead of going for the kill, the enemy pilot showed off, leaving his mech open to a desperate sword throw that eventually brought the lumbering machine down.
“There’s no cause for worry, Ves. Carmin has personally rebuked the Dynasty and forced them to withdraw their agents in your Republic. Our own agents are still keeping watch on you. A Master has to maintain their dignity. So long as you remain Carmin’s apprentice, we will not allow her enemies to lay a hand on you.”
Ves took note of Horatio’s careful wording. “So you won’t be taken care of my domestic opposition then. I’m still in a pickle even if you’ve put the wind out of the sails.”
“A mech designer who remains vulnerable to the whims of others is not worth investing in. Prove your own value by showing us your resilience.”
“What if I don’t make it?”
“You are hardly facing a life-threatening crisis. No one has forced you to base your startup on a rural planet with a government that is hostile to arms manufacturing. At worst, they’ll just drive you away. Isn’t there a nearby port system with a healthy mech industry? Perhaps you should consider moving early.”
The discussion ended after Horatio finished admonishing Ves. His senior did not hold back in questioning the junior’s decisions. Ves had to admit that Horatio had a point. He basically disrupted Cloudy Curtain’s status quo by starting up a mech business on a peaceful planet. That didn’t mean that Ves was ready to throw in the towel.
“Bentheim is too much of a snake pit. Without any reliable backing, all the gangs, cartels and ruthless competitors will gobble me up. At least I have Dietrich will pick up my calls if I remain on this planet.”
Though Ves appreciated Horatio’s help, he still believed he made the right choices. He always dreamed about growing his business into a major mech manufacturer from the home planet of his father.
After going through Horatio’s intelligence documents, Ves picked a couple of pages and sent them on to Calsie. He followed up with a short message telling her to come up with a plan to stop the tax reform bill from passing in the Assembly. Hopefully she could come up with something smarter than taking Director Royce’s offer of instigating an incident at the mysterious Colmes region.
“Even if the Consortiums are cooking something up, it’s none of my business.”
He should really be focusing on his upcoming projects. Ves expected a call from Marcella any time now. In the meantime, he resumed polishing the Dortmund parts.
If Ves wanted to obtain more power, then he had to expand his capabilities. Restoring an industrial printer to full readiness vastly increased his production scale. If he supplemented his expansion with a compressor and a CTM, he’d be able to run two production lines around the clock.
“The money will really start rolling in if I can get to that point.”
That was difficult. Not only did he have to procure a couple of expensive machines, he also had to expand his workforce and train another fabricator. Not to mention that he relied on Marcella to keep the orders coming.
“The Mark II I fabricated last week should already be unveiled today.” Ves recalled as he looked at the calendar. “I wonder how her private gathering will go.”