A formal business trip to the Ylvaine Protectorate entered the agenda.
Ves made up his mind.
Despite the many risks associated with Madame Cecily Curin ’s commission, the rewards sounded too good to pass up!

Of course, now that Ves became a de facto Journeyman, he could not just pack up his backs and travel immediately to Ylvaine.
The entry of any notable mech designer to a foreign state on official business needed to be arranged in advance, especially to a restrictive state like the Protectorate.

The LMC worked behind the scenes to arrange a visa and other bureaucratic necessities for Ves and the people he decided to bring along for this months-long working vacation.

Fortunately, Madame Cecily exerted some influence on the relevant government institutions to expedite the paperwork.

”It will only take a week for us to receive the final permits. ” Gavin reported to Ves in the penthouse office.
”If we depart now, by the time our ships reach the borders, we can immediately pass through and make our way to the Kesseling System. ”

The Ministry of Industry and Trade housed their headquarters in Kesseling.
The Curin Dynasty wielded a lot of influence in this star system.
Kesseling VIII not only hosted a fair amount of government institutions, but also boasted a modest industrial presence, which included many mech designers.

While the level of industry in Kesseling didn ’t come close to that of Bentheim, it was nonetheless very respectable.

”Is there anything else to note on the Kesseling System? ” Ves asked.

”The Curin Dynasty has the most say in that system, but that doesn ’t mean that the other dynasties are powerless there.
The three leading dynasties that led the original refugees of the Ylvainan Faith to the Komodo Star Sector are all equally in charge over the state. ”

”What does that mean to us in practice? ”

”The three dynasties used to be of one mind. ” Gavin explained.
”They all agreed to close their borders to the rest of the galaxy and develop their own state in peace.
However, tensions between Ylvaine Protectorate and the Star Faith Collective has increased over the years, sometimes leading to outright war.
The disparity between the two forces has become increasingly more evident.
The Protectorate ’s insular mech market has led to too little competition, and their domestic mech designers aren ’t working as hard to push the limits of their mech designs. ”

”And with every skirmish and limited conflict that breaks out, the Protectorate ’s mechs are faring worse and worse. ” Ves nodded.
He understood the consequences of closing the mech market to foreigners and coddling domestic mech designers like babies.
”As far as I ’ve heard, the Protectors of the Faith are still faring well in those conflicts.
The Kronon Dynasty ’s mech pilots are known as the most fanatic fighters. ”

”Fanaticism can only partially compensate for the lower quality of mechs the Kronons have at their disposal.
The Kronons have grown a lot more pragmatic over the years.
They recognize that their domestic mech market needs to be shaken up.
The Curin Dynasty had been advocating for opening up not their mech market, but their other markets as well, but not every Curin agrees and the supporters have always been outnumbered by the two other leading dynasties. ”

”I see.
That has changed now? ”

A large majority of Curins and a small majority of Kronons came to the consensus that they need to loosen up the trade barriers holding back foreign mech companies from doing business in the Protectorate.
That ’s why the Ministry of Industry and Trade recently created the office of Strategic Mech Management and installed Madame Cecily as its director. ”

Ves came to an important conclusion.
”In other words, while Madame Cecily obtained a mandate to reform the mech market, it isn ’t all that strong. ”

The opposition to opening up the market must be fierce.
Any change would always be met resistance, but to overthrow centuries of tradition was bound to attract trouble!

Yet the greater the risk, the greater the reward!

”While we need to keep an eye on all of the factions of the Protectorate, there is one leading dynasty that we really have to tiptoe our way around. ” Gavin warned.
”The Poxco Dynasty aren ’t called the Attendants of Ylvaine for nothing.
While every Ylvainan is a believer in the Faith, the Poxcos are the most fanatical of them all! Worse, they ’re also extremely doctrinists! They can never tolerate any that goes against the teachings of Ylvaine! ”

”What is their exact stance on opening up the mech market? ”

”While Ylvaine hasn ’t explicitly said much about economic matters, the Poxcos have never gotten over the trauma of being betrayed.
They ’re the most vocal advocates for closing off the Protectorate, and you can be sure that they ’ll do their best to hinder your work. ”

The opposition coming from the Poxco Dynasty concerned Ves quite a bit.
As a whole, they were extremely sincere in their beliefs, which was something that Ves could respect.
Yet their overly restrictive interpretation of Prophet Ylvaine ’s teachings and predictions also turned them into the most troublesome Ylvainans to interact!

”Clearly the Poxcos are in the losing trend if someone like Madame Cecily has come into power. ” Ves observed.
”The other two leading dynasties have already started to come to their senses.
The Poxco Dynasty either need to get on with the times, or be left in the dustbin of history. ”

”The trend is undeniable.
The wind in the Protectorate is definitely changing. ” Gavin agreed.
”As long as we complete this commission to the client ’s satisfaction, we can be among the first foreign companies to receive unrestricted access to their mech market.
Obtaining such a first-mover advantage is extremely lucrative for the LMC! ”

The process of liberalizing the economy took a lot of time.
If the LMC waited for the Protectorate to open up on its own, then it might take decades before they could enjoy anything close to unrestricted access.

The value of Madame Cecily ’s reward couldn ’t be overstated! It was a really huge deal for the LMC to be able to effortlessly do business in the Protectorate like it already does in the Bright Republic!

Still, Ves was very cognizant that the choice of going in bed with the LMC was not just because Madame Cecily adored his products.
After calming down a bit, he increasingly grew suspicious that the choice of issuing a commission to the LMC was a politically calculated move.

He scratched his chin.
”If Madame Cecily wants to teach the Protectorate ’s domestic mech designers a lesson, then inviting a foreign mech designer is a great way to rile them up.
However, the effect won ’t be very pronounced if she invites a lowly Apprentice.
As for inviting a Senior, they are very difficult to get a hold of, and their entry into the Protectorate will scare the domestic mech designers to death! ”

From his judgement of the situation, he concluded that inviting a newly-advanced de facto Journeyman like Ves was a middle ground solution.
He was competent enough to pose a modest threat to the established circle of Ylvainan mech designers, but not much more.

Madame Cecily didn ’t wish to escalate her conflict with the Ylvainan mech industry unnecessarily.
Working with someone like Ves was a shot across the bow that served to signal the Ylvainan mech designers that they needed to get off their butts and start working harder!

This was also why Ves considered the risk of accepting this commission to be within his range of tolerance.
He knew he possessed a reckless streak, and an exciting foreign venture like this tickled all of his fancies.

Even if the risk was twice as big, he would still go ahead with designing a mech for Madame Cecily!

Ves inwardly wondered if this particular trait of his had been permanently absorbed by his design seed.

A comment from Gavin quickly pulled him out of his rumination.
”Don ’t forget that Madame Cecily expects you to design a hero mech.
I heard that they ’re as complicated to design as hybrid mechs and multipurpose mechs.
As far as I know, you ’ve never designed something as complex as that as a fully-featured mech.
Are you sure you are up to the task? ”

”While I don ’t possess any experience in designing hero mechs, I ’ve witnessed several good ones in action.
I know I have the chops to design one. ” Ves confidently replied.
”I still have to hit the books and understand the nuances of the hero mech type, though.
I ’ll be spending the entire trip to the Kesseling System cramming everything I need to know about hero mechs. ”

In fact, Ves was planning to do more than read a lot of textbooks on hero mechs.
Seeing that he was flush with DP, he could easily afford to purchase another Mastery from the Skill Tree.

Considering the uncertain time duration of his previous Mastery experiences, Ves considered it best to go on a mental trip to the past while his body was travelling on the Barracuda.
By the time he emerged from his Mastery experience, he would be ready to meet with the client.

Naturally, nobody else needed to know this little detail.
Ves quickly turned to another topic.

”Has our final roster of people been set? ”

”Melkor reports that he won ’t be able to bring as much mechs and mech pilots as he wished.
The decision to go on an excursion to the Ylvaine Protectorate came too suddenly.
He ’s scrambling to free up the existing commitments of his mech pilots and get them to agree to accompany your business delegation.
Last I heard, he only managed to secure eight mech pilots, along with himself, Chette and Rhode. ”

That amounted to a guard detail of eleven mechs and mech pilots in total.
While that didn ’t sound very impressive, Ves expected the Protectorate to cover most of his security issues during his stay there.
He did not mind the lackluster amount of mech pilots that Melkor managed to scrounge on short notice.

”What about Ketis and you? ”

”My visa will be ready as soon as yours.
As for Ketis, it ’s a bit more troublesome to request a visa for her because she ’s a citizen of the Reinald Republic.
You know how slow bureaucracy can get, especially when it involves cross-border communications. ”

Ves nodded in understanding.
Ever since the galactic net came into existence, many theorized that distance no longer mattered in human civilization.

Reality turned out to be very different.
Almost anything could be faked in the virtual realm.
Much of the delays the Reinald Republic imposed on Ketis ’ paperwork was due to the sheer amount of verification they demanded in order to fulfill what should have been a simple bureaucratic procedure.

”If no additional snags come up, we depart tomorrow. ”

A day quickly passed by as the LMC arranged every matter that needed to be done before departure.
The Barracuda received a thorough inspection while stocking up on fuel, energy and other supplies.

The Greenfeather took in eleven mechs.
Most of them consisted of landbound mechs like the Blackbeaks and the Crystal Lords, but the light carrier also took in a single laser rifleman mech so that Chette Larkinson had something to pilot.

In the morning before the departure, Ves just finished giving Calsie some instructions on how to run the company in his absence before he received an important notification.

He received word of a discreet visit from someone that Ves would rather not meet!

Unfortunately, refusing to meet the guest was a really bad idea, so Ves had no choice but to allow the newcomer to enter his office.

”We meet again, Ves. ”

”Leland. ” Ves pressed his lips while stroking Lucky ’s back.
”What are you doing here? ”

Leland grinned.
”Oh, come now.
How could you leave us out when you abruptly decided to go on a business trip to the Protectorate? Flashlight is feeling left out, so they sent me to join your little business delegation.
Foreign affairs is a very delicate matter, and everything you do abroad can result in major implications to our diplomacy towards the Protectorate. ”

”So you ’ve been sent by Flashlight as a minder? ”

”If that ’s how you see it, then sure.
We just don ’t want you to open your big mouth at the most inopportune time and spoil the Bright Republic ’s relations with our neighboring state. ”

Ves looked at Leland with an askance expression.
”Is that the extent of Flashlight ’s intentions? ”

Leland wordlessly smiled.

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