The Mech Touch Chapter 978
976 Old Friend
As Leland brought him up to speed on various matters related to the KNG, the military convoy emerged in the Bentheim System faster than he thought. After undergoing a thorough security inspection that nevertheless completely missed the secret compartment where Leland hid, the supply ship finally reached a military space station.
Ves sat debarked from the ship with a hovering luggage coffer while wearing his service uniform. As a liaison officer, he was tasked with the duty of representing the interests of the Mech Corps at the Kadar-Neyvis Group.
He did not come as part of a fighting unit like before with the Vandals. Therefore, he constantly needed to dress as a representative befitting the dignity of the Mech Corps, which meant he wore his service uniform with his awards in ribbon form.
In this case, he wore them on his chest in the form of a ribbon rack.
Now that wasn't anything unusual. Many liaisons mech designers carried something of the sort. Careerists especially tended to accumulate a fair amount of campaign, service and training awards.
Ves even figured that many of them were actually invented by mech designers for the sole purpose of padding a military mech designer's chest! This not only allowed them to stand out from the conscripts, but also made them look less pathetic when standing next to mech pilots.
Of course, in the case of Ves, his three top awards looked very out of place to a mech designer like him. As soon as he stepped aboard the public area of the military space station, those that glanced at him couldn't help but rub their eyes or question their judgement.
"Darkness Eater? Torchbearer? On a mech designer of all people?!"
"That's the Golden Mech! How can that be?! He's too young! And there's been no word of an award ceremony!"
He knew he would elicit this kind of reaction, though he found the servicemen in transit to be a bit more expressive in their astonishment than he expected. Still, this time Ves aimed to achieve this kind of reaction.
The more astonishment he received, the more attention he drew!
The more attention he drew, the higher his public profile!
Ves smirked at the thought of how he would spend his time as a liaison on Bentheim. "Private interests shouldn't interfere with public duty, but who's there to stop me this time?"
Ordinarily, a liaison mech designer stationed on Bentheim enjoyed very loose supervision. As long as the military mechs came out from the manufacturing complexes alright, the higher ups didn't tend to care too much how they spent their time.
"The entire purpose of the job of liaison mech designer is to pull mech designers from the frontlines so that they can spend their time in comfort and leisure far away from the action."
Just like the mech designers assigned to the analysis teams at Frozen Point, many mech designers with promise or connections aimed for these low-risk positions.
Each of them would be able to ride out the war in almost complete safety while still being able to claim they served in the war!
Ves shook his head at the thought that he worked hard to be just like them once.
While the role he adopted ostensibly spared him from the ravages of war, who truly knew how safe it was at Bentheim these days? In addition, he needed to snoop around the production facilities of the KNG. If the large mech manufacturer possessed no ties with the Bentheim Liberation Movement, then nothing would happen.
The dangerous moments came if they did, for Ves doubted that the BLM would allow any nosy mech designers like him to find out anything amiss.
In the end, he was merely acting out a role, which was a short distance away from embodying it. The only thing on his mind right now was how he could leverage this temporary role to his own advantage.
Since he wasn't really answering to anyone except Leland this time, he figured he could get away with a lot more than the average liaison on official duty.
To that end, his first goal was to raise his public profile and become a recognized figure in the public sphere. Right now, there was no better way to do so than appearing in public! The noteworthiness of his three top awards would do the rest!
Already, the visitors of the space station started to consult their comms. They began to ask around about any news regarding his exploits or looked up his record to confirm what they saw!
If they did look him up, they would see a very condensed record with very few details.
Yet that was enough! The combination of his Larkinson name, his top awards and his association with the 6th Flagrant Vandals should be enough to send tongues wagging!
As he calmly waited for the next shuttle ride to the surface, a couple of drafted mech designers on leave summed up the courage to approach him. "Sir? Could you tell us how you earned your Golden Mech? I thought only Senior Mech Designers won this medal!"
Ves smiled at them. They happened to be cute female mech designers. "I am not at liberty to say. You know how it goes. Classified and all."
"Oh, how exciting!" They giggled. His answer raised his mystique and sparked their interest even further. "Can you please tell us anything? How was the frontier? Why did the Mech Corps send you all the way out there?"
"I'm sorry, but to say anything about it would violate my obligations to keep everything a secret. My ride is just coming up. Good day, ladies."
A short interaction like that would be enough to spread more gossip around. While Ves was tempted to invent some stories about his travails in the frontier, it wouldn't do to skirt his vows of secrecy.
The shuttle ride brought him down to one of the many military bases on the surface of Bentheim. From there, he reported to his nominal superior, some bureaucratic officer who was actually a plant from Flashlight.
The meeting went short as the only purpose of Ves' arrival was to formally receive his new orders and get all of his administration in order.
After that, the Mech Corps let him off his leash. He smiled as he exited the interior of base and stepped out to a shuttle parking zone. He boarded a small armored shuttle and instead of heading to the KNG, he instead requested the shuttle pilot to bring him to the offices of Bollinger's Mechs!
"Pardon me? The shuttle pilot turned around his head and asked. "Mr. Larkinson, according to your itinerary you should be heading to the headquarters of the Kadar-Neyvis Group! Nowhere in the schedule does it state that you have to head to Bollinger's Mechs!"
Ves waved aside the pilot's concern. "Don't ask too many questions. I'm a busy mech designer. Not everything is put into the schedule, don't you know that? Bring me to Bollinger's Mech in downtown Dorum and better make it quick!"
His demeanor and imperious tone brook no refusal. Even if the shuttle pilot still had questions, he didn't dare to voice them, especially when word of Ves' prestigious decorations already spread through the military gossip network!
The armored shuttle smoothly lifted off the landing pad and flew to downtown Dorum, the capital of Bentheim and the most densely-populated city on the planet.
As he looked out of the view ports, Ves noted a bit fewer air traffic than before. Much fewer aircars flew around these days, but military shuttles and aerial mechs began to impose a heavier presence on the surface, depressing the freewheeling commerce that previously defined the planet.
"If Bentheim already looks depressing from here, who knows how awful the actual economic outlook has become." He muttered to himself.
After a quiet transit, the shuttle landed in the landing pad reserved for visitors to the nearby offices. The shuttle would keep waiting here for his next appointment, so Ves did not have to instruct anything to the pilot as he stepped out and faced the familiar facade of Marcella's downtown office.
Marcella owned several properties. The one at the outskirts of Dorum was where she stored and delivered her products to customers dropping by in person. The property here formed the front office where she received her customers and did most of her sales work.
As far as he knew, Marcella was a savvy mech broker who operated multiple lines of businesses. Besides Bollinger's Mechs which was a brokerage that mainly sold individual and small batches of mechs directly to customers, she also maintained a parent company called Bollinger Mech Trade. It mainly dealt with establishing export contracts and selling larger batches of mechs to bigger clients, though their high value made such transactions very infrequent.
Technically, Bollinger Mech Trade possessed a five percent stake in the Living Mech Corporation. However, Marcella Bollinger was the founder and owner of Bollinger Mech Trade, so in effect the legal distinction between person and company was meaningless.
Even though Ves hadn't come with an invitation, the receptionist took one glance at Ves and recognized his face. "Mr. Larkinson! What brings you here? Are you here on behalf of the LMC or the Mech Corps?"
He couldn't fault her confusion as he came in his mech designer uniform. "Let's say I'm her for a personal visit. The military has nothing to do with my visit this time."
"Very well. I'll call ahead and tell Marcella to expect you. You already have a standing invitation to meet with her whenever she's in her office!"
He entered an elevator which brought him to the top office where Bollinger didn't appear to have changed much since the last time he talked to her. Life as an injured, retired veteran mech pilot softened her up a little, though her stocky physique and artificial limbs still conveyed her military roots.
As for Ves, he hadn't grown taller or bigger. He even looked a little smoother as his previous gene optimization treatments elevated his physical appearance closer to the human ideal.
Nonetheless, the ensemble of his bearing, his service uniform and the decorations plastered on it completely transformed him in Marcella's perspective.
"Ves! You grew up!" She remarked with astonishment and rose up from her seat. "I've heard word about a mech designer bearing combat awards but I thought it was a hoax!"
"They're very much real." He smiled back as he walked close to shake her hand with a confident grip. "It's good to see you again after all this time, old friend."
She snorted. "I'm not that old yet even if I've lived through the last war."
The handshake completed the change in impression in her mind. Ves was no longer a young, inexperienced mech designer who barely ventured out of the Bentheim region anymore.
Now, even though only a couple of years went by, he already carried the demeanor of a veteran and someone who experienced what the wider galaxy had to offer.
"So, not to pry or anything, but are you even allowed to visit me? A man in uniform like you doesn't look like you're on leave."
"It's okay. As long as I don't take too long, I don't think anyone will mind." Ves dismissed her concerns. If there was anything he learned in his time with the Vandals, it was that he could get away with a lot more than he ought to as long as he had the prestige to back it up. "Let's talk about my business. Please brief me how the LMC is doing right nowadays."
"Do you want the short version or the long version?"
"Well, the short version is that the Bright Republic's economy is in a depression. Prices of everything have risen, particularly that of raw materials. The needs of the military take precedence over the needs of the private market, so most mech manufacturers have seen their profit margins dwindle."
"I've also heard about debt piling up at the LMC. What is going on with that?"
Marcella smiled sardonically at Ves. "It's the new shareholder that directly and indirectly have taken over the board. The TNC Holding Group now owns 21 percent of the LMC's shares, but their actual influence is much greater. It's a front for the Ministry of Economic Development."
"Damn. So it happened already." Ves sighed.