The subject of his age was a complicated question.
Due to the effects of relativity and anomalies that distorted the passage of time, one person ’s age was not always clearly defined.

Ves spent a lot of time on Aeon Corona VII.
The heavy gravity planet and its time-warping environment physically aged him past thirty years quite some while ago.

To put it simply, his body already celebrated its thirtieth birthday.
Only now did the standard Terran calendar belatedly caught up to this fact.

The difference didn ’t matter too much.
The discrepancy between his physical and his official age was less than a year.
This was a lot different from the more extreme cases in the galaxy where fifty-year olds were still teenagers on their record!

He didn ’t feel too different when he woke up on his bed.
He yawned and stretched his arms, only to feel a weight on his chest.

”Meow. ”

”Lucky? Did you forgive me now? ”

”Meow. ”

His cat lightly swatted his cheek before turning intangible and phasing away.

”Well, at least I made some progress. ” He muttered.

He figured that this was Lucky ’s way of expressing that he hadn ’t quite gotten over the incident yet.
Still, some change was better than nothing.
After weeks of acting like he didn ’t exist, Lucky finally acknowledged his existence again.

After he freshened himself up, he looked through his wardrobe.
He didn ’t buy his own clothes anymore, letting Gavin take care of those trivial issues.

His wardrobe also included several sets of smart clothes preconfigured in elegant and luxurious looks.
Because they were imports from the Friday Coalition, Ves wasn ’t sure about wearing them.
They looked a bit gaudy, as if their wearers eagerly wanted to rub their wealth in the faces of the lower classes who couldn ’t afford such an outfit.

”Well, I ’m a Journeyman now. ” He realized.
”That ’s a step up from many well-off citizens of the Friday Coalition. ”

Citizens of third-rate states always thought of themselves as inferior to a citizen of a second-rate state.

That didn ’t mean that a receptionist from the Friday Coalition could smack around a CEO from the Bright Republic, but there was always a sense that someone ’s birthplace determined their ultimate station in life.

Ves shook his head.
”Now that I ’m a Journeyman, there ’s no reason for me to feel envious of Fridaymen.
In fact, they should feel envious of me! I ’m a galactic citizen! ”

A Journeyman enjoyed high regard wherever he went.
The prestige of this title guaranteed good treatment wherever he went.

After some thought, he decided to dress like he acted, and chose to set aside his preference for understated clothing and picked out some smart clothes configured in a rich green formal suit.

As Ves viewed his appearance in a mirror projection, he had to admit that he exuded confidence that he didn ’t have before.
If he was still an Apprentice, then he would have unconsciously thought that he was being pretentious.

As Ves headed up to his office in the LMC ’s headquarters, he received many congratulations and well wishes from his employees.

”Happy birthday, boss! ”

”Happy birthday, Mr.
Larkinson! ”

Ves smiled as he took in the optimistic mood that had spread over the entire complex.
Every worker in the LMC felt lucky to be working for a mech designer who made so many achievements when he was still young.

When he arrived at his office, Gavin expressed the main reason for their optimism.

”The LMC is too small for a company led by a Journeyman. ” He said.
”Didn ’t you visit the facilities of the now-defunct Kadar-Neyvis Group once? That ’s where the LMC is heading towards in a couple of years.
There are already plans in the works to expand our presence, and to do that we need to hire a lot more workers who need to be managed somehow. ”

”And who better to manage them than our existing employees? ” Ves guessed the rest.

While we won ’t promote a cleaning bot technician into the head of maintenance overnight, as long as it isn ’t too extreme, many of our workers will move on to become team leaders or managers to manage the influx. ”

The existing workers of the LMC may not be necessarily better or more qualified than the newcomers.
Yet the company valued them more because they had proven themselves to be loyal, trustworthy and aligned with the company ’s values.

The latter was especially important for the company to maintain its cohesion and identity.
By letting the old hands propagate the company culture to the newcomers, the latter would eventually become indistinguishable from the former.

”I hear there are plans in the works to open up a second site. ” Ves mentioned.

”There is a lot of consideration for opening up a second manufacturing complex on Bentheim, boss.
I don ’t know what your issue is with setting up shop on Bentheim, but you should really consider it.
Right now, the logistics of operating a manufacturing complex on Cloudy Curtain is manageable, but that ’s only because our products are mainly premium mechs.
What if you design a cheaper mech one day? The logistical burden of mass-producing so many mechs will perpetually strain our supply chain. ”

Ves understood Gavin ’s point.
It took an increasing amount of transports and cargo haulers to ship the raw materials from Bentheim to Cloudy Curtain.
The time and money being wasted on this channel was growing increasingly more significant.

They would definitely balloon once the LMC began to offer cheaper mechs with lower margins.
This was because a mech valued at 20 million credits used up almost the same amount of materials as a mech valued at 100 million credits!

While the quality and price of materials differed drastically, the space they occupied usually didn ’t differ too much.
This essentially meant that producing high-volume mechs on Cloudy Curtain would disproportionately impact the company ’s profitability!

Although Ves always felt leery about expanding the LMC ’s presence on Bentheim, he was no longer as afraid as before.
The local gangs that ran rife on that hectic planet generally respected the properties of high-ranking mech designers.

Even if they didn ’t, his friendly relations with the Blood Claws insured adequate protection.

”Draw up a plan. ” Ves replied, giving out his usual response to major decisions like this.
”While I ’m not too giddy about it, I do think it ’s time to diversify our production sites.
I still want the Mech Nursery to be the primary site of production for our premium mechs.
It ’s safer, quieter and more secure here.
That ’s worth the burden it imposes on our supply chain. ”

After they discussed some other business matters, Gavin finally smiled.
”Your birthday party is scheduled to start in the evening.
We ’ve tried our best to keep it small, but we had to expand the venue because of the arrival of some surprising guests. ”

”Oh? Are there any names I should take note of in the guest list, Benny? ”

”I ’ll let that be a surprise for tonight, Ves.
Suffice to say, there are some very esteemed guests among the people who have come to celebrate your birthday. ”

”I wanted my birthday party to be a family event. ” Ves stated flatly.
”How come we ’re suddenly entertaining esteemed guests? ”

Gavin shrugged.
”It ’s hard to say no to some of these people.
They see a lot of promise in you and want to establish closer ties while you ’re still approachable and not fully adjusted to your new status. ”

”So they ’re essentially betting that I ’ll reach Senior one day. ”

”Right. ”

Even if it sounded as if these guests came with ulterior motives, Ves didn ’t mind.
As a mech designer and businessman, he learned the importance of establishing an extensive network.
He could obtain many conveniences that he otherwise wouldn ’t be able to obtain by trading favors.

Coming to celebrate his birthday was just an excuse for his guests to forge closer ties.

”How many Larkinsons have come? ”

”Not too much.
It ’s not that they don ’t respect you, but it ’s difficult for them to set aside their responsibilities and obligations. ”

”I understand.
It doesn ’t help that I live in the Bentheim region.
It takes too much time for the Larkinsons from Rittersberg to reach Cloudy Curtain.
It takes even more time for them to get back. ”

Time passed by as Ves took it easy.
Aside from making some business decisions or checking up on the state of his company, he didn ’t do anything too strenuous.

In the meantime, Cloudy Curtain saw an uptick in traffic in recent days as various starships and shuttles descended from orbit and touched down onto the expansive landing zone of the Mech Nursery.

Guests from Bentheim, Rittersberg and elsewhere diverted all the way to Cloudy Curtain for only one reason, and it wasn ’t for its cloud rice.

The evening finally arrived.
Ves finally left his office and leisurely walked across the campus to a newly-refurbished banquet hall situated next to the auditorium.
One of the gold label Aurora Titans that Ves recently fabricated stood proudly in front of its terrace.

Its strong aura of love and protectiveness instantly surged the moods of many visitors and drew admiration from each of them.
The opportunity to witness a mech handcrafted by Ves was becoming increasingly rarer.

Yet once anyone witnessed his works up close and in person, they recalled why they valued Ves so much! Only he could design and produce such compelling mechs!

”Ves! ” Ketis called and waved her hand.
She scurried over to him.
”Come on! Let ’s head inside! ”

As she dragged him past his Aurora Titan and the mob of admirers, Ves glanced at her current outfit.

Ordinarily, she dressed in trendy clothing that made her look disarming and nothing like a pirate.
It made her look like an average student studying at a good university.

This time, she dressed up.
Not only did she have her hair styled in a curly way that conveniently hid her horns, but she also shed her casual ensemble for a modest red dress that exposed her lean, muscular limbs.

”You look very..
feminine, Ketis. ”

She grinned at him with a face that looked even lovelier in makeup.
”It ’s your birthday, silly.
Of course I ’ll dress up for the occasion! ”

Once she led him inside to the foyer, Ves came across a dozen or so Larkinsons spanning multiple generations.

From elders such as Raymond Billingsley-Larkinson to members of the younger generation such as Lanie Larkinson, a small slice of the family had come all the way to celebrate the birthday of one of their most prominent members in recent years.

To Ves ’ surprise, his grandfather Benjamin arrived in person!

”Grandpa, I didn ’t expect to see you here! ”

”How can I forget about the birthday of one of my grandsons? It ’s easy enough for me to schedule a working visit to Bentheim and set some time aside to attend your birthday. ”

Ves felt very warm, and not just because of the Aurora Titan in the vicinity.

”Thank you for visiting. ”

”It ’s the best I can do for you.
I would have loved to see your father and mother here as well, but… ”

”Yeah. ” Ves said lamely.

The mood between them dipped for a moment.

Benjamin shook his head.
”Let ’s not linger on unpleasantries for tonight.
I ’m sure your father is happy for you and wishes to be here.
Here ’s my present to you.
It ’s nothing much to someone who is worth billions of credits, but it ’s the love that counts. ”

His grandfather gestured with his hands, causing a floating gift-wrapped box to hover over to the birthday boy.

Although Ves felt a little awkward, his grandfather encouraged him to open it on the spot.

After carefully tearing apart the wrapping, he opened the box and picked up a small potted plant.

”This is…? ”

”It ’s a young prosperity tree.
It grew out of a seed from the original prosperity tree at the Larkinson Compound.
Do you remember that big tree in the back? You might not know this, but the Larkinson Ancestor personally brought that prosperity tree with him when he packed up his bags and left for the Komodo Star Sector.
From where he came from, the prosperity tree represents good fortune.
They ’re very hard to grow naturally so make sure to take care of it attentively. ”

Although Ves felt a little bit underwhelmed by getting a miniature tree of all things, it was the thought that counted.
I ’ll treasure it and hope it will one day grow as tall as the original tree. ”

This was a present that carried a lot of symbolism.
His grandfather essentially sent the message that the Larkinsons placed high expectations on him.
Just as how the Larkinson Ancestor fought to make his descendents enjoy a good station in life in the present, Ves might be able to pull the Larkinsons even further.

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