No matter its actual sales performance, the Old Soul succeeded in rousing the locals. It turned into a ready-made conversation starter as people started to argue against or in favor of the so-called ‘training mech’.
Many people who tried it out fell flat. Some walked away discouraged, while others persisted in their efforts and tried to master their new purchase.
Those like Joshua who trained rigorously were able to showcase the Old Soul’s incredible potential. They gave hope to the masses that the model held a lot of potential. The mech’s notoriously high learning curve turned from an impassable obstacle to a cliff that could be scaled.
Gavin’s ads accelerated this trend by celebrating the most amazing plays. A few local prodigies even piloted the Old Soul for the sole purpose of showing up in a globally aired ad. Anyone worthy enough to appear in one of these ads enjoyed a lot of renown.
Thus, in a warped way, a lot of potentates began to polish their marksmanship after school. Anyone who failed to kill five mechs in a single Wartorn Instance match did not deserve to be called an elite.
Whatever the case, the DP started rolling in for Ves. He might reach the cap of 50,000 DP by the end of the month at this rate. “Too bad my model hasn’t caught on abroad.”
Only a few hundred virtual mechs got sold outside Cloudy Curtain. Beyond the initial sales, its momentum stagnated as the Old Soul’s unimpressive specs and bad reviews left a foul impression.
In any case, the controversy surrounding the virtual mech succeeded in raising the profile of the Living Mech Corporation. Even the most remote villagers learned about the new mech manufacturer. Its modest catalog of virtual and real designs showed that the company had a lot of promise.
Almost everyone rooted for the company and its talented owner. No one wanted to see Ves fail in his ambitious venture. He became his home planet’s sensation, to the consternation of some of the established powers.
“Events are proceeding in an unfavorable direction. The rising tide of military fervor will hinder our plans to ride the waves of the coming war.”
“We are only two-thirds done with our preparations. We can ill afford a new variable.”
“Let us wait until we convene the full group. We need to decide on a proper strategy to tackle this thorny problem.”
Unaware of these shadowy threats, Ves invited everyone involved in his business. Ves sat on a sofa, cradling a still-recovering Lucky. His gem cat slowly repaired the battle damage suffered from their last encounter by consuming half of his mineral feedstock.
Calsie and Gavin sat together on another sofa. The two students chatted comfortably with each other. Raella and Melkor stood nearby, keeping a wary eye on Dietrich, who Ves had invited to the meeting on a whim.
Dietrich responded with a charming smile. “I don’t know why you’re looking at me this way, babe. I’m Ves’ bosom friend. I even saved his scrawny ass from pirates!”
“I’m not interested in lowlife like you.” Raella snorted at him before turning to Ves. “We’ve waited long enough. Let’s get this show on the road, please.”
“Alright.” Ves responded, looking at each of his friends and employees in turn. “You’re all here because I want you to know that I’ll be gone for a few months. I’ve accepted a high-risk mission which will likely take me beyond chartered space. The highly confidential nature of my assignment leads me to believe that communication will be highly restricted for the duration.”
“Woah, sounds like serious danger. Do you even know what you’re facing?”
“Not yet, but the high remuneration leads me to believe that the risk of death may be real.”
Dietrich looked more and more impressed. “You sure grew some balls last time we travelled together. Even I would step back if I’m faced with such a vague offer.”
“It might be a little stupid of me to throw myself headlong into danger, but I’m confident that I’m up to the challenge.” Ves explained. His bulging DP account gave him quite a few options should he face some sort of setback. “Besides, the organization I’m part of won’t send me out to die.”
The entire group digested his news with mixed emotions. His cousins already knew about his plans but underestimated the threat level Ves was willing to face. Even Raella started having second thoughts on her decision to accompany him on this expedition.
“What will happen to the workshop?” Carlos asked with an uncertain tone.
“You’ll be proceeding with business as usual. I’ve been checking your work, and I’m satisfied with how far you’ve come. Keep coordinating with Marcella to fulfill her orders. In exchange, I’ll be opening up my database for you. As long as you fulfill your daily quota of work, I’ll allow you to peek at some of my books.”
Carlos lit up at that news. While Ves learned most of his knowledge from the System or from the Clifford Society’s exclusive libraries, he also purchased a handful of extremely expensive textbooks. Ves wouldn’t get into trouble if he let one or two people borrow these virtual books.
“I won’t fail you, Ves.”
“Good. Coordinate with Melkor if the workshop is in danger. You’re both in charge of the workshop’s safety while I’m gone.”
Ves turned to Calsie and Gavin. “The two of you will be in charge of our public relations. I don’t want to return three months later facing a hostile crowd and taxes that have been jacked up through the roof. When will you approach the Republican Commissioner?”
“We can schedule an appointment with his office a week in advance.” Calsie informed him. “Will you stick around to meet with him in person? This will go a lot easier if you talk to him face to face.”
“I’m short on time. You’re young, but you don’t need my presence to back you up. Your work so far has impressed me a lot. Once you graduate, you’re welcome to take up the mantle as my company’s lawyer.”
The offer certainly impressed the young girl. To be honest, Ves knew little about law outside of what he learned in his business classes, but he pretended otherwise in order to instill more pride.
A lot of things might happen in three months. He discussed the possible worst case scenarios with his friends and made sure they understood his intentions when formulating a response.
“What about me?” Dietrich asked. “So far, you’ve all been talking as if you’re playing a business sim. Where’s the exciting the part?”
Ves composed his face as he considered his friend. “We’re friends, right?”
“Sure we are! Didn’t I mention that earlier?”
“Then I’d like you to do me a favor.” Ves requested and pulled the so-called Little Boss closer before summoning up his Privacy Shield.
The pair discussed something discreetly for a minute before Ves pulled down the Shield.
Dietrich slapped his back and smiled. “Don’t worry Ves. I’ll keep my eyes out.”
With nothing else on the agenda, everyone dispersed. Ves and Raella had already packed their luggage. Everyone knew what they were doing and they’d be able to keep his Living Mech Corporation afloat without his presence hovering over their heads.
Once they stepped outside, a small armed convoy of shuttles awaited them in front of his workshop. Ever since the last attack, Ves decided to stop travelling on an unsecured commercial aircar.
“Perhaps I’ll have to design my own shuttle.” He idly wondered as he stepped inside the vehicle while holding Lucky.
Raella followed him inside and gazed at the sturdy armor fittings. “This looks pretty impressive.”
“SASS always delivers, though I’m paying out of my nose to keep them happy.”
Once they settled in, the procession ascended into the air. Just as they started to accelerate towards Cloudy Curtain’s spaceport, Ves felt a familiar sensation brush against his Sixth Sense.
It tasted like a dark blizzard that raged across an entire continent. The force of this destructive wind engulfed everything in its way in an unstoppable avalanche of wind and frost.
Though the flavor had changed, it still brought the specter of death. “Sniper! Attack! Get down!”
Sanyal-Ablin’s professionalism kicked into gear. Even as Raella looked at Ves as if he lost his mind, the escorting security officer immediately activated an unknown protocol.
Every shuttle descended with force, just as a flaming projectile slammed into the vehicle transporting Ves. The entire upper section of the shuttle tore apart from the incredibly powerful collision. The stricken vehicle lurched in the air as the pilot bled out of his ears.
The split-second descent had saved Raella’s life. Ves had already jumped on top of her body in order to envelop her fragile body within his shield generator. They hadn’t escaped danger, though, as his antigrav suit suddenly morphed into a vacuum suit.
Ves cursed a bit because he knew his Shield Generator had to let in some air. His assassin came up with a clever solution to counter his strongest protection. If he didn’t own a highly advanced and extremely expensive antigrav suit, he’d already be choking in his breath.
Instead, Raella remained exposed!
For all of her complaining and rebellious attitude, the woman was a Larkinson. She recognized the danger as soon as Ves mentioned poison. She clung to him while shutting her eyes and pressing her palms against her ears. She also held her breath, which allowed her to escape the worst of the effects so far, but that didn’t help much if the poison spread through skin contact.
Lucky had also sprung into action. The alarmed cat activated his energy claws and tore out much of the damaged sections. This gave Ves enough of an opening to jump out of the slowly crashing shuttle while carrying her cousin.
Everyone else had already started to respond to the threat. One of the shuttles exposed a nozzle and sucked in all of the surrounding air, hopefully taking much of the poison with it. Another shuttle picked up the VIPs and brought them back behind the safety of the workshop’s walls.
The workshop’s entire security suite had flared to life. One of the turrets swung in the railgun’s direction and fired off a destructive volley of shells.
The projectiles exploded upon impact, shattering the entire house in a shower of splinters and debris. The few residents present nearby screamed and ran away. A large stream of bots flew into the air before fanning out. Even as SASS began to sweep in the direction of the house, they also kept their eyes peeled for other threats.
Meanwhile, the shuttle carrying Ves flung open its doors, allowing a security officer with medical training to hose down the entire interior. Ves deactivated his shield generator, letting the fluid splash over his full-bodied suit.
He still fussed over Raella who started to show a lot of worrying signs. Despite her quick reaction, the poison had obviously found purchase in her body.
“What’s going on with her?!”
“She’s inhaled a significant dose of Molgon.” The medical officer replied as he affixed some kind of tool over her mouth. Ves couldn’t figure out what any of his instruments did. The lack of understanding scared him quite a bit.
“Is she dying?!”
“She’s in a bad place but she’ll make it. Whoever wanted to poison you stayed within the limits. Molgon isn’t instantly fatal and can’t be absorbed through skin contact, though it’s extremely difficult to synthesize an antidote. However, I’ve stabilized her body. I have to bring her back to our branch office immediately.”
The panic died down a few minutes later. SASS hadn’t found any trace of the culprit, but they found pieces of a high-powered railgun in the wreckage of the house.
A heavier convoy of shuttles and mechs descended onto his workshop a moment later. They departed moments later. A handful of doctors already worked over Raella’s reddening body.
Ves had to stay and let a bunch of experts isolate his body and take away his antigrav clothes. His worry was tempered by the fact that whoever ordered the hit didn’t go too far.
One of the security officers informed him that if the assassin used something more dangerous, he’d be violating the MTA’s guidelines against the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Once the MTA got onto anyone’s tail, they usually suffered a brutal end.
He gritted his teeth at the thought of losing a family member. Perhaps he’d been too soft lately. He was tired of being someone else’s punching bag.