The Mech Touch Chapter 986
984 Blood Champion
As his visit to the KNG's design complex only stretched in the afternoon, after Leland left his quarters Ves still had the evening to himself. He decided to abuse his privileges again left the base after appropriating another military shuttle.
In any case, as a liaison mech designer, he didn't have to pay too much attention on staying at his posts. He wasn't assigned to a ship of a base after all, so hardly anyone cared if he departed without asking for leave!
"Where to, Mr. Larkinson?"
"Take me to the center of the Rain District."
The shuttle pilot actually turned around from his seat. "The Rain District, sir? That's not advisable. That district is the turf of the Blood Claws!"
"Yes, I know. I'll be perfectly safe there. It's not as if they would ever dare to hurt a man in uniform. Now stop asking questions and get this shuttle in the air!"
Even if he didn't have much free time to spend on Bentheim, Ves still wanted to get some private matters done. It was a rare opportunity for him to be able to run around on Bentheim while the war still went on, so how could he not abuse this privilege until it was bleeding and crying on the floor?
The shuttle spent a short time crossing above the city before it landed in the Rain District, a less-well off city district of Dorum. A lot of visitors and locals at the parking zone looked at Ves with askance as soon as he stepped out.
His service uniform looked completely out of place in the seedier part of the capital!
Ves merely smiled at the gawkers and began to walk along the main avenues of the district. Everywhere he walked, he drew many stares. Word would spread and footage of him would leak out. Perhaps many of them would wonder why he entered the Rain District in this getup alone, and the uncertainties from that would fuel the spread of his appearance.
While he didn't intend to catch the public's attention this way, it was a nice bonus even if it slightly tarnished his reputation for entering the Rain District.
After all, everyone and their mother knew that the Blood Claws held sway here. The gang owned many properties here through various dummy corporations, and they operated many businesses in the dark.
For example, Ves knew that the Blood Claws operated an underground mech arena as well as a black market here. The scale of both wasn't that big or extensive due to their fears of attracting too much attention from the authorities. As long as these shady establishments didn't draw too much attention to themselves, the local authorities on Bentheim weren't inclined to spoil the party.
Ves couldn't help but smile at the implicit cooperation. What took place on Bentheim sounded no different than the shady businesses that operated in the Harkensen System.
The only point of consideration was that Bentheim cared a lot more about maintaining a clean reputation on the surface. As a legitimate port system, they derived most of their revenue from honest industry and legal trade.
The problem was that illicit activities always followed everywhere where the money flowed. Port systems drew even more gangs than usual because of the sheer amount of transactions that went on. Therefore, the dominant position the Blood Claws held in Bentheim's underworld was so strong that even the Planetary Guard closed their eyes to their activities as long as they upheld a social accord!
The three dominant gangs all effectively ruled their territories autonomously!
Having witnessed the blatant co-dependence of legal and less-than-legal activities, Ves knew that it reflected a sense of helplessness with regards to the authorities. Crime followed everywhere and have always existed since the dawn of time.
No matter if it was the galactic rim or the galactic center, plenty of people found ways to cheat the system or find a way to fulfill a need that the government frowned upon. Bentheim may be less safe and more chaotic with all the gangs vying for a slice of the pie here, but it could have been much worse if the Blood Claws didn't depress the violence on their turf.
Fighting was bad for business. While small rivalling gangs of lowlives constantly fought over the less desirable parts of Bentheim, a place like the Rain District maintained relative order in order to make visitors feel safe enough to frequent their establishments.
Ves entered a run-down bar called the Three-Legged Mech.
"Oi, you that Larkinson fella?" A thug who waited near the entrance called.
"The Blood Champion told me to bring you upstairs. Let's go."
Ves followed the fellow up some steps in the dinghy but strangely homely bar. He drew countless stares from the thugs and other lowlives drinking at this grungy establishment.
Once upstairs, they entered a private room where a single other person had already sank on a couch with beer stains on it. The woman looked up at his arrival and raised a lazy hand.
"We haven't seen each other in years, and that's all you can say to me, Raella?"
"What do you expect, Ves?" His brash cousin said in a heated tone. "Do you want me to get all googly-eyed at your well-cut uniform and your impressive decorations? I left the Larkinsons because I want to pursue my own career instead of mindlessly joining the military like everyone else!"
"Whoa there, I just wanted to meet, cousin. I'm not here to preach to you or drag you back to the family."
"Huh! Seeing you in your uniform just pisses me off. It reminds me of all the other aunts and uncles who are disappointed in me for not following the family tradition. It didn't help that you tracked down my comm contact and ordered me to meet up with you. Just like that!"
"I remember I specifically sent you a request. If you didn't want to meet me, you could have just said no." Ves replied aggrievedly.
"Yeah right. Who the hell would be able to say no to the latest darling of the family? Except for that fellow Ghanso, you're the most decorated Larkinson of our generation!"
Ves should have felt proud of that, but Raella made it sound as if he became a mindless Larkinson drone who followed the family's tradition of volunteering for military service.
"I don't want to argue with you about this. Can we move on? It's been a long time since we've last met, and even if you cut ties with the family, we're still related to each other."
"...Fine. You better not talk about anything that pisses me off, though."
As Ves sat next to the mech pilot on the couch, he regarded her with a curious eye. She didn't appear too different since last time, but just like Ves, she had gained an edge in her demeanor. She also matured a bit, and seemed more assertive and confident than before.
"How are you faring with the Blood Claws."
"I'm doing great! I've won and lost my fair share of fights in the underground arenas. There's something delightfully blood-pumping about those fights."
"Were you ever at risk of dying?"
"Sure! I usually know when to eject or give up in time, though. It's an essential skill to learn while you're fighting a mech duel with almost no rules."
Ves felt as if she was understating the risks. Even if the underground arena duels didn't always end in death, the possibility of fatalities was still substantially higher.
Likely, the main reason why Raella survived up to now despite losing some fights was because she was an insider and a very capable mech pilot. The Blood Claws would be crazy to treat her like dirt. Her Larkinson mech pilot training gave her an edge over most of the rabble that tended to compete in these kinds of underground mech duels.
"The guy at the entrance called you a Blood Champion. What's that?" He asked.
"Oh, that? It's basically their word for a mech champion. I've done quite well for myself lately." She grinned at Ves. "All those hair-raising fights finally allowed me to showcase my dueling talents. I'm nothing like the mech pilot I was before. As a Blood Champion, I've entered into the middle ranks of the Blood Claws. While I'm not in charge of any businesses or anything, I get paid really well and get any mech I want."
"That sounds very generous. However, it doesn't sound as if you're getting all of that treatment for free."
"Oh, it only lasts as long as I'm alive and in fighting shape. I also have to represent the Blood Claws in ritual duels whenever they fight against their rivals."
While Raella sounded very nonchalant about the risks, Ves figured that she was constantly at risk of dying or coming away with severe injuries. While he wanted to lecture her about the idiocy she volunteered for, he held himself back. It wasn't as if serving in the war was any less risky right now, and she made her own choice.
After a bit of chitchat on how they were doing, Ves moved on to the main purpose of his visit.
"Raella, the reason I asked to meet with you is not just to see how you're doing. I wanted to ask a favor from you."
She raised her eyebrow at him. "Truly? The mighty Ves deigns to lower himself to my level to ask for help?"
"Don't make it sound like as if I look down on you. I never did!"
She threw a skeptical expression at him. "Yeah, right. Well, spit it out. What do you want?"
"I want to ask you to use your sway with the Blood Claws to gather all the information it has about a local mech company called the Kadar-Neyvis Group."
"Why the hell do you want something like that?"
"Right now, I've been assigned to the KNG as a liaison mech designer. I want to have a better understanding of the company, but it's hard to tell them to expose their dirty laundry to me. I figured that a gang as powerful and established on Bentheim as the Blood Claws knows more about the KNG than the local authorities. Therefore, could you please ask around and see if they're willing to hand over some of their dirt on the company to me? Quietly, please, I don't want anyone to find out."
Raella frowned deeply at his request. "It's really hard to do anything quietly within the organization. The Blood Claws is really large and I'm just part of their mech pilots. All the business stuff is handled by another part of the gang."
"Can you do it or not?"
She smirked. "Sure! Who do you think I am? I'm a Blood Champion! It sounds a little sad, but I'm one of their best mech pilots! Except for the old dogs who have fought at Monty the Beheader's side for decades, everyone respects my skills! I'm sure I can drop by at the organization's business offices and dig out the intel on that mech company for you. However… it'll cost you, Ves."
"Oh come on, aren't we family?"
"We are. That's why I haven't said no. I can't even promise you that I can get my hands on the dirt, but as long as you pay me back I'll do my best."
Ves thought for a while before he sighed. "As long as we're not talking about treason or something, then fine. What is it you want me to do?"
"I want you to give me three of your company's highly rated Crystal Lords. The silver label versions, not the crappy bronze label ones."
He almost grew sick. "Mechs don't grow on trees, you know? Do you know how many credits worth of mechs you're talking about? It's a much larger sum of money than you have ever spent!"
"I don't care! I want some mechs so I can give them to my seniors to curry favor with them. Besides, it'll help you out as well. The LMC and you will be able to get in the good books of the Blood Claws if you offered them this kind of tribute. All the other mech companies do something like this all the time, you know! That's how Bentheim really works! Any company who's too slow in offering tribute… well, they don't exist for long."
While Ves wasn't aware of the exact state of the LMC's finances, he figured that they shouldn't be fragile enough to go bankrupt if they 'gifted' three Crystal Lords to Raella. If that wasn't the case, then he could always compensate the company with his personal funds.
Even though the upfront cost of this repayment was very high, as long as it furthered the mission and therefore improve his relationship with Flashlight, it was all worth it. No matter how shady it all sounded, at the end of the day it was all for a good cause.