After his talk with Professor Ventag, Ves realized that he no longer paid much attention to the Bright Republic.
His deliberate strategy to enter foreign markets as well as his personal travels abroad made him less inclined to see his home state as an important consideration.

”It ’s home, but it ’s so small. ” He whispered.

He always imagined that his business was destined to outgrow the Bright Republic.
With the advantages he possessed, Ves would have to be a dunce if his business activities failed to outpace the companies owned by other peers.

Nonetheless, the pace of his outward expansion exceeded his earlier projections.
His perspective had also changed.
Seeing the majesty of Centerpoint firsthand opened up his eyes to the diversity and prosperity not too far from his home state.

It became harder and harder for him to direct an adequate amount of attention to the Bright Republic.

”Is it too small for a mech designer like me? ”

He shook his head.
He shouldn ’t get too conceited.
The Bright Republic was still the foundation of his mech business.
It posed the least barriers to him and he could always count on it to have his back whenever he met with difficulties in his business ventures.

The Bright Republic extracted a juicy amount of tax from the LMC, after all.
Flashlight also harbored a lot of ambitions to reach foreign states through a company they held shares in.
His home state had taken plenty of preemptive measures to keep the LMC and Ves firmly in their claws.

”Yet… if I really want to, I can probably break out of their cage. ” He realized.

With a rich and powerful girlfriend like Gloriana, he could probably ask her to apply some pressure to extract some concessions from the Bright Republic.

Yet what would be the point? Not only would he uproot himself from the place of his birth, his defection would also affect the standing of his fellow Larkinsons.

”The Larkinson Family is rooted in the Bright Republic.
I can ’t imagine they are willing to abandon centuries of loyal service and development. ” He muttered.

In the future, Ves would have to make an important decision.
Two decisions in fact.

First, should he pull off a ’Patricia ’ and move the center of his business and design activities to a better place?

Second, should he transition from designing third-class mechs to second-class mechs?

Ves had resolved to stick to the status quo on both questions fairly recently.
Yet with the sudden events that overtook him recently, he began to doubt the wisdom of his earlier decisions.

The two questions were deeply intertwined.
Not only did they affect his future trajectory to an enormous degree, the choices he made also influenced the development of his design work.

The question whether he should transition to designing second-class mechs became very thorny for him recently.

One of the biggest shortcomings between his relationship with Gloriana was that she was a second-class mech designer.
While she could probably design a third-class mech in an emergency, she would no doubt hate the many cost, resource and tech limitations these mechs imposed.

As for Ves, while he was confident he could get the hang of designing second-class mechs in time, he would have to familiarize himself with their characteristic design principles over a lengthy period of time before he could really hit his stride.

Ves shook his head.
Though the other side looked really attractive, he had just come off a conversation with Professor Ventag who emphasized that he should stay true to himself.

”I can ’t discount his advice. ”

Though the professor ’s advice was really boring and perfunctory, his words nonetheless reflected a fundamental truth to every mech designer.

Their work reflected their heart.

For now, uprooting his foundation in order to make a permanent move out of his home was way too jarring.
It wouldn ’t do his future development any good if he constantly chased after shinier toys.

”Well, that ’s for later.
The Chuko Republic awaits! ”

The Barracuda and the accompanying Battle Crier vessels quietly entered Chukan space after many weeks of travel.
Many other vessels had already made a detour as they came close to the infamously troubled state.
Only a handful of vessels still continued onwards despite the perils.

Fortunately, his fleet encountered no hindrance until they arrived at the Vindar System of the Redwell Province.

The Vindar System used to be one of the Chuko Republic ’s many moderately industrialized star systems.
Vindar ’s mech industry used to be small but burgeoning.
Now, it was teetering on the edge of irrelevance as domestic mech designers dealt with many problems arising from failing institutions, worsening security situation and dysfunctional logistics.

The latter problem was really acute.
With trade and shipping drying up, the cost of materials ballooned.
The supply of materials only sold outside the Chuko Republic became so limited that some of their prices increased by an order of magnitude!

A lot of mechs became too expensive to produce because some of their components cost ten times as much to make! This forced many mech designers out of business while compelling the remainder to design more sober mechs that made do without critical materials that they took for granted.

The Chuko Republic ’s mech industry entered into such dire straits that foreign mech sales heavily overtook domestic sales.

”The Chukans lost confidence in their domestic mech designers. ” Ves observed.

This made a lot of mech designers desperate to leave for better pastures.
Unfortunately, the central and provincial governments didn ’t let them.
After the initial waves of brain drain occurred, the government quickly clamped down on emigration.

The moment a state lost its brightest mind was the moment where their futures were cut off!

Right now, his visit to the Chuko Republic was very conspicuous for that reason.
He was sure he ’d be eyed very closely by the government authorities.
The moment he made any moves to poach their local mech designers or researchers, he ’d probably arouse their ire.

Even Ves did not dare to overstep his boundaries lightly in Vindar.

Once the fleet successfully transitioned into the Vindar System, Ves observed the local plot and saw nothing of note.
Ship traffic was fairly anemic even for industrial star systems in a slump.

”Captain, please set course for Vindar VII. ”

”Will do, sir. ”

The Vindar System possessed two habitable planets.
Vindar V proved to be a mildly favorable planet for the cultivation of food and luxury crops.
Right now, handled the bulk of the food needs of Vindar VII and a handful of surrounding star systems.

Vindar VII served as the industrial, administrative and commercial heart of the star system.
It used to be a bustling regional center in this corner of the Redwell Province, but times had changed.
With lots of businesses shuttering their doors, the planet suffered from high unemployment.

Putting all of those people out of work with hardly any alternative except for basic handouts to keep them fed led to a lot of discontent.
In fact, Vindar VII experienced frequent spats of fighting due to the growing ranks of locals joining the banners of the Whitewellers and Bloodwellers.

Despite these unfavorable conditions, Ves nonetheless pressed through with his visit.
This was because Vindar VII housed a very interesting mech designer.

After a quiet journey where the Barracuda and the Battle Crier ships were subjected to strict inspections from the paltry, bribe-hungry garrison, they successfully reached orbit.

Due to the strict measures the Redwell Province implemented to prevent smuggling or trafficking, all traffic from orbit to surface and vica versa had to be taken care of by government or military-owned ships.

As everyone was ready to depart to the surface, Ves allowed Crindon to remain behind in order to continue the overhaul of the Barracuda.

Ves, Nitaa, Gavin, Commander Cinnabar and Lucky proceeded to board a worn-out shuttle operated by the planetary government.

The landbound mechs of the Battle Criers would join them later.
Due to the various restrictions Vindar VII imposed, Ves was only allowed to bring just six mechs down to the surface for his own protection.

”You should be glad you ’re allowed to bring some mechs down to the surface at all. ” Commander Cinnabar helplessly shrugged.
”Despite all the violence raging in the back streets, the planetary government doesn ’t want to inflame the situation any further. ”

”I suppose it doesn ’t matter as soon as we meet with the mercenaries you ’ve contacted, right? ”

The limitations won ’t apply retroactively, so if we sign a contract with a local mercenary corps, we can effectively exceed the cap on mechs. ”

This was one of the many ways in which the government attempted to encourage local spending.

The shuttle landed at a heavily-guarded spaceport in Wilxyr, the jewel of Vindar VII.

”Well, it used to be shinier here last time I visited. ” Commander Cinnabar belatedly noted.

The city sure did look like it enjoyed better days.
While the cityscape didn ’t feature too much grime or ruined structures, Ves noted that many of them appeared to be empty or out of business.

The general mood among the people in the streets didn ’t seem very encouraging either.
It was as if the local citizens experienced so many setbacks that they became numb to their deteriorating circumstsances.

”We should wait for the mech escorts to arrive. ” Fe Nitaa advised.
This time, she opted to wear a suit of medium combat armor instead of her more low-profile bodyguard outfit.
”The risks of encountering trouble after stepping out of this spaceport is too significant.
If you look outside, there aren ’t enough peacekeepers on the streets to deter attacks. ”

Everyone else except Ves nodded in agreement.
Even Lucky agreed!

”Meow! ”

Ves bowed to their collective wisdom.
I guess we can wait until the customs office releases our escort mechs. ”

Unfortunately, that took another round of bribes to facilitate.
If they didn ’t, the officials working there might decide to hold the mechs back for a few days!

”You should keep your bank account ready. ” Commander Cinnabar warned.
”I ’ve visited a handful of places like this where every bureacrat stops giving a damn to their superiors. ”

The prevalence of bribes was a good way to gauge how well the local society functioned.
Having already been forced to bribe the inspectors, the shuttle and transport crews as well as the spaceport customs office, their opinion of the Vindar System had dropped to rock bottom!

Ves already knew what he was getting into.
”Vindar is far from a paradise, but it ’s not an outright disaster zone. ”

”I ’m not so sure, boss. ” Gavin remarked.
”I always thought it was a bad idea to visit the Chuko Republic.
What I ’ve seen so far suggests the situation is much worse than I thought. ”

The executive assistant really didn ’t want to come down to the surface.

”Relax, Benny.
Once we contact the local mercenary corps, we ’ll probably be in the clear. ”

Once the Battle Crier mechs were finally let go, the group began to move to the outskirts of Wilxyr.

Ves studied the landbound mechs of the Battle Criers that surrounded their shuttle.
He had already studied them before.
They were generally budget models with quite a few years of service already behind them.
While they were not as impressive as the mechs of the Avatars of Myth, they were all dependable and rugged, which was a key trait to any mercenary corps who wanted to make ends meet.

”As long as you stick with me, your Battle Criers will get to play with better mechs. ” Ves promised to Commander Cinnabar.

”We ’ll see. ” The Kinner replied noncomittedly.

They soon arrived at the grounds of a small and shabby-looking base.
While the sight did not inspire a lot of confidence in Ves, Commander Cinnabar swore that the mercenaries occupying the base was one of the most reliable outfits around.

Whether that was truly the case remained to be seen.
In any case, it wasn ’t as if the alternatives were that much better in the first place.
Not after so many years of decline.

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