Chapter 143: Whereabouts
Not everyone agreed to throw 500 million credits away on an extremely risky business venture. One of the elders stood up and spread his hands.
Ves recognized the skinny form of Third Dlder Raymond Billingsley-Larkinson. His physique resembled Ves’ in that he had never trained his body to endure the rigors of piloting mechs. The elder should be someone who supervised the family’s overall finances.
“Let him speak!” Grandfather Benjamin forcefully spoke, causing everyone to shut their mouths.
“Thank you Patriarch. According to our analysis, while Ves has cleared the first hurdle and is able to manufacture mechs, his business is not in an ideal position to sustain his current level of profitability. He is far too young and his assets are already depreciating very hard.”
Since the third elder dared to talk about his business directly, Ves felt obliged to respond. “Elder Raymond, you are overstating the risks and exaggerating the costs. I have worked hard this past six months to kickstart my mech business to the point where I am able to sustain a single production line. Last month, I fabricated eight whole mechs and earned a gross profit of sixty million credits!”
Sixty million credits! The Larkinson Trust Fund had to wait an entire year before it could accumulate such a sum. Ves on the other hand only required a single month! Every committee member had to suppress their excitement.
“You’ve already peaked!” Elder Raymond retorted with a slam of his palm. “Any market analyst is able to predict that you won’t be able to sustain your current level of profits! Resource costs are rising and your production licences are about to become irrelevant in a couple of years. Might I remind everyone that a relatively affordable production licence can easily cost around two billion credits!”
Two billion credits! Many committee members gulped when they heard the sum. The business savvy people among them confirmed Raymond’s assertion.
“The mech industry is characterized by high risks and high returns. What I mean by that is that you can easily earn a fortune today but get utterly ruined tomorrow! Don’t be blinded by his current monthly income. It’s merely a snapshot of his peak. With just the meager amount of capital he has on hand, he’s unable to ramp up his production and earn enough profit to finance the acquisition of an up-to-date production license!”
The mood started to turn against the decision to invest in a stake. While Ves actually benefited financially in the long run if he kept hold of every share, he disliked being painted as a foolhardy boy. He had his own pride.
“Elder Raymond, you have not taken my growth into account. I am apprenticed to a renowned Master Mech Designer from the Coalition. My current level of operations is but a springboard to designing a completely original mech. I am confident that my level of skill will grow to the point where I can design a viable original mech. I don’t need to license an expensive complete design in that case. At most, I’ll have to licence up to one billion credits worth of component licences.”
His words sounded ambitious! No one ever thought Ves planned to design a completely original mech. Even the most boorish mech pilots among the crowd knew how difficult such a project must be.
Mech designers who designed variants were a dime in a dozen. Those who graduated beyond that point and designed a mech without any existing reference points deserved admiration from everyone. If the Larkinsons brought up their own real mech designer, the family might be able to achieve a new level of prominence!
Grandfather Benjamin had enough of the back-and-forth. “Alright, pipe down everyone! This is a solemn committee meeting. We are here to decide the future of the Larkinson family. Do not disgrace yourself in front of our ancestor’s Valiant.”
The thought of showing their shameful sides to the Valiant abhorred the devoted Larkinsons. The temperature cooled down through Benjamin’s intervention, allowing both Ves and Raymond to cool their minds.
“We are approaching a decisive moment of history.” The patriarch continued in a level tone. “Our fates are tied to the Bright Republic, which isn’t looking too healthy these days. Anything might happen in the future. In order to provide against contingencies, we need to hedge our bets.”
Everyone sat still when Benjamin started to paint a grim picture of the future. Ves tried to keep his head sober. He belatedly realized that Benjamin soothed the committee members into accepting the decision to acquire a stake in Ves’ mech business. Raymond didn’t even get a chance to retort.
“Please raise your hand if you approve the previously raised proposal!”
Well over two-thirds ultimately raised their hands. Ves noticed that Benjamin bought over almost all of the potentates. The norms on the other hand glared resentfully at Ves. Why did someone like Ves deserved a 500 million credit investment while their own enterprises barely scraped by?
Elder Raymond shook his head. While he still disagreed, he knew where the wind was blowing so he ceased his protests and quietly backed down.
The rest of the meeting turned largely inconsequential to Ves. Instead, he resumed his study of the ancient heavy knight and its extremely potent aura. After all, it wasn’t every day he chanced upon a mech that set his X-Factor senses on fire. He eagerly wished the meeting would drag on so that he could make the most of this rare exposure to the historic mech.
Once his grandfather ended the session, everyone started to leave the hall. Ves dragged his feet because he still hadn’t cracked the secret to the Valiant’s abnormally strong X-Factor. He almost wanted to ask his grandfather to pass him some food and water and lock him inside!
Surprisingly, Benjamin asked Ves to stay behind, but not because of the valiant. Instead, his grandfather finally wished to talk about his missing father.
A couple of other elders stayed behind, including grand-uncle Ovrin and uncle Maeser. Ves guessed that his grandfather must have gathered the family’s inner circle.
The constant waiting grated on Ves. “Can you finally tell me where my father has been spotted?”
“You best sit back for this little cousin.” Maeser warned as he placed his hand on Ves’ shoulder. “It’s very complicated. From what little we managed to gather, it isn’t looking pretty.”
Grandfather Benjamin tentatively nodded. “Let’s begin where we first found signs of Ryncol. Have you heard of the Nyxian Gap?”
“Isn’t that a massive asteroid field filled with a loads of environmental hazards?”
“It’s also located at the fringes of the Komodo Star System. With a decent enough FTL drive, you can springboard from the Gap to the neighboring Majestic Teal and Vicious Mountain star sectors.”
In other words, lots of pirates along with every other kind of scum could be found in the Gap. The massive number of asteroids trapped in the warped gravitic environment provided pirates with the perfect hiding spots.
“To cut the story short, one of our sources has snapped an image of him at a busy market in the infamous Three Spokes Pirate Station.”
The hall prohibited electronics from working, so Benjamin simply handed Ves a shiny printout. When Ves accepted the page, he stared at a somewhat grainy image of his father in the company of a band of menacing people.
“Are those pirates?” Ves hesitated to ask.
“Not quite. Our source has managed to learn that they call themselves the Cobra Cadavers. They appear to be a dark mercenary corps. We haven’t found any other traces of the Cadavers in our archives, but they appear to be too seasoned to be a newly established group.”
The findings astounded Ves. Cobra Cadavers? They sounded extremely ominous.
Measar, who sat next to Ves, shrugged his shoulders. “I almost couldn’t believe it either when I first heard about it. We did some more digging until we finally managed to uncover more details. It appears that every member of the Cobra Cadavers are being hunted down by a shadowy organization called the Five Scrolls Compact.”
His family introduced yet another unfamiliar name to Ves. “I can’t say I’ve heard about them. They sound like serious business.”
“I’ve had some dealings with the Five Scrolls Compact.” Benjamin said with a very grim face. “The Compact is galaxy-wide cult of alien worshippers and doomsday lunatics. Even the Republic isn’t clear of their goals, but from what we can tell, they’ve infiltrated every corner of human space.”
When Ves asked a couple of questions about the Compact, none of the Larkinsons could actually explain what the Five Scrolls Compact actually did. Benjamin only heard rumors about data theft, brainwashing and nuking planets. The Compact definitely didn’t play according to the rules.
Benjamin explained his suspicions. “We believe your father somehow incurred the wrath of this bunch of crazies. In order to avoid implicating you, he cut off all ties and fled to the Nyxian Gap. Even a massive cult like the Five Scrolls Compact can’t hope to find a needle in this massive, spread-out haystack.”
“If this secretive cult is after my father, why haven’t they kidnapped me?” Ves worriedly asked. “They can easily nab me from my home in Cloudy Curtain if they wish.”
“It’s because the Mech Trade Association will hunt them down if they show up in civilized space.” His grandfather answered. “The cultists all possess abnormal genes. Even if they cover up their faces, they can’t hope to pass a security check.”
The power of the MTA deterred every single state and organization from breaking its rules. Its military might was only second to the Common Fleet Alliance that collectively took charge of defending humanity’s borders. Ves believed wholeheartedly in the MTA’s ability to punish Five Scrolls Compact if they ever showed up.
Despite this security, Ves still worried about the reason why his father earned the Compact’s ire. Did they know about the Mech Designer System? Even worse, had they created it in the first place?
Ves tentatively ruled out the possibility. If the Five Scrolls Compact paid some attention to his meteoric career, they must have realized that he used the System. For something valuable like that, they’d throw all caution to the wind and overwhelm the entire Bright Republic in order to take back their treasure.
Furthermore, he didn’t think his father would do something stupid by handing over the System without expecting it to be left in a closet. Ryncol surely predicted that Ves made use of it in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a mech designer. If the System wasn’t safe to use, his father would have never handed it over to Ves.
The original owners of the System must be some other organization then. As long as Ves did not do anything too outlandish and attract too much attention, the hapless owners wouldn’t be able to distinguish him from other geniuses.
Ves resolved to invest more resources into increasing his security and anonymity. He already mentally patted himself on his back for acquiring the anonymizer stamp from the System’s Store.
After the other Larkinsons expressed their views, his grandfather smiled at Ves. “No matter what your father is planning, I’m confident he’ll be able to roll with the punches. Ryncol has always been a scrappy one. The Nyxian Gap is a region of untold danger, but not to him. He’ll be able to cling on to his life if nothing else.”
The meeting ended in a somewhat depressing note. At the very least, the inner circle didn’t blame his father for pissing off a galactic cult of dangerous weirdos. They unconditionally supported Ves and his father and didn’t hesitate to offer some assistance.
Ovrin approached Ves after everyone started to walk up the stairway. “Ves? A moment please.”
“What’s the matter?”
“In light of the threats arrayed against you, we’d like to take some precautions. When you return home, we’ll arrange a pair of mechs piloted by anyone who is available to accompany you on your journey. They’ll be in charge of you and your workshop’s safety from now on.”
An actual mech escort sounded very welcome to Ves, but he hesitated a bit once he realized his grand-uncle wished to man the mechs with full-blooded Larkinsons.
“Shouldn’t every able-bodied Larkinson be serving in the Mech Corps at this time?”
Ovrin smiled ruefully. “Every family has their misfits. There are certain elements in our younger generation who can’t quite fit in a military outfit. Don’t worry too much. The Larkinsons I have in mind are capable mech pilots.”