The Sand War seemed to approach a critical point.
A continuous outpouring of sandman fleets descended upon Bentheim, battering the defenders so much that they could barely rest before they had to fend off another incursion!

While the Bright Republic prepared for the onslaught for months, when the sandmen finally hit its port system, the ferocity of the sandmen caught every military planner off-guard!

”The Battle for Bentheim will make or break the Bright Republic! ”

”No amount of sand will engulf our light! ”

”Our four-hundred years of heritage will not end on our watch! ”

The propaganda efforts went full swing.
The people must have confidence! No matter how many star systems fell, the Bright Republic must survive!

Even at Cloudy Curtain, Ves and the others felt the effects of the war.
Martial law had belatedly come into effect, forcing every citizen to stop idling.
They either had to work and contribute to the state or stay at home like obedient lambs.

The sudden drawdown of social life turned Freslin into an empty hub where only aircars and shuttles made noise.

The hustle and bustle of people on the streets made way for enforcer bots that patrolled the empty city.

Though the Mech Nursery was situated well outside Freslin, Ves could still sense the gloom by observing his downbeat employees.

Due to the temporary halt of production at the Mech Nursery, a lot fewer people showed up at work.
The reduced operations elsewhere had left much of his subordinates at his headquarters idle.

There simply wasn ’t much work to do.
Ves even contemplated laying people off, as the LMC recently hired a lot of people to manage the spike in sales and production.

”Demand has dropped and our production costs have risen. ” Gavin reported to Ves.
”More and more third-party manufacturers have ended their contracts or reduced their production.
At our current estimate, this month ’s sales won ’t surpass 50,000 mechs, much of which consists of foreign states in the fourth and fifth lines of defense. ”

That was still a huge figure compared to the sales the LMC achieved before the Sand War.
Nonetheless, it was a major drop compared to the month before.

At this point, Ves still wasn ’t accustomed to bulk sales.
He stopped paying attention to the exact sums he earned after monthly sales surpassed 1,000 mechs.

It didn ’t matter too much in this crumbling and deteriorating economy.
Inflation was so high that the real value of the LMC ’s cash reserves dropped by half after a month!

And that was just the start if the sandmen continued to nibble away at the territories of the Bright Republic!

Ves had risen up from his desk and moved over to the windows while petting Lucky.
He looked out at the empty campus grounds of the Mech Nursery.
The display mechs and patrol mechs still radiated the glow of duty.
It was a pity that there were too few people around to affect their moods.

”We should reduce our headcount. ” He decided.
”The Desolate Soldier sold extremely well due to various favorable circumstances.
However, I ’m not sure I can replicate its success anytime soon. ”

Gavin walked up to him and frowned.
”You can easily transform the market yet again if you release a mech as accessible and revolutionary as the Desolate Soldier. ”

”I don ’t dare to do so. ” Ves shook his head.
”While I ’ve enjoyed a lot of success so far, my power isn ’t enough to sustain this level of success.
It ’s only due to desperation that the mech industry has tolerated my Soldier product line. ”

”You ’re afraid of the competition? ”

”In short, yes. ”

”I didn ’t expect to hear that from you, boss. ”

”I ’m a Journeyman.
Selling a decent amount of mechs is a given, but when my mechs are hotter than the mechs of a Senior, people will start to have ideas.
I don ’t want to become the victim of my own success, so it ’s best if we take a step back and consolidate our strength. ”

Gavin didn ’t understand why Ves wanted to retreat.
In his eyes, the LMC could easily leverage its recent successes and continue to build up momentum.

However, Ves saw the situation in a different light.
The mech markets weren ’t as free and unrestricted as he thought.
His interactions with the Tovar mech designers already made it clear that the mech market was already carved up by established interest groups.

While a reasonable degree of competition still took place, major disruptions were very rare.

The only instance where a mech company dared to disrupt the established order was if they had the strength and backing to enjoy the fruits of its labor.

If an uppity mech company ever shot up for some reason, the competition would definitely come to suppress it right away.

This was what the Ansel mech designers already did to the LMC.

It wasn ’t cheating.
The Ansel alumni network was deeply entrenched in the Bright Republic ’s mech community.
Ansel could leverage its deep influence to further its own success or hinder the growth of competitors.

According to the Tovars, this was a game where Ves and the LMC weren ’t qualified to participate in.
Ves was too young and the LMC lacked the network of connections to establish a foothold at the upper end of the hierarchy.

Ves sighed.
”I used to dream about reaching this level of success.
Many mech designers will become ecstatic if they manage to sell more than a million mechs within a year.
Even I didn ’t expect to accomplish one of my dreams so soon. ”

”You sound disappointed. ”

”I ’m not.
I just feel as if my previous dreams were juvenile.
Now that I have reached a level of skill where I can earn money as long as I put some effort in my work, I ’m no longer content with chasing after some of my old goals. ”

”Because you ’ve already adjusted your sights higher. ”

Do you think being a Journeyman is impressive? It ’s not, Benny.
Perhaps to average people, becoming a Journeyman is a distant fantasy, while becoming a Senior is already a myth.
While I might be a little conceited, I don ’t think these accomplishments are noteworthy.
In the wider galaxy, only Masters are worthy of attention. ”

”What is the point of all of this, boss? ”

”I ’m just trying to make you understand my vision.
I no longer feel the drive to pursue growth above all else.
My own development must come first.
For this reason, I started designing mechs like our upcoming Deliverer. ”

To a marketer like Gavin, the Deliverer was one of his worst nightmares.
It was a niche, premium mech model with a very small target audience.
Even if Ves managed to elevate its performance to unheard levels, the Deliverer would never sell in significant numbers outside the Ylvaine Protectorate!

”Does that mean you ’re going to design more weird mechs like the Deliverer? ”

Ves nodded.
”It ’s not out of the question.
Of course, just because I don ’t care that much about growth doesn ’t mean I ’ll neglect it entirely.
Don ’t worry about my next products.
I ’ll probably come up with a mech that is aimed at the general market. ”

It wasn ’t a good idea for him to become known as an ’Ylvainan ’ mech designer.
He only decided upon developing the Deliverer because the market needed it despite all of its restrictive properties.

He continued to share some of his future plans to Gavin.
The direction he wanted to take in his career would see him veer away from pursuing growth through quantity but instead focus more on excelling through quality.

”To be honest, I feel like you ’re wasting your potential. ” His assistant honestly said.
He had remained troubled throughout this conversation.
”I know you well enough that you ’ve already made up your mind.
I don ’t know why mech designers like you make these kinds of decisions, but we ’ll do our best to support you, boss. ”

”That ’s a given. ” Ves chuckled while placing Lucky on his shoulder.
”I ’d fire you all if you don ’t do what I say. ”

He was the one raking in all of the money, after all.

”What about your grand expedition? I seriously doubt whether you can gather enough capital to fund your expeditionary fleet. ”

”It ’s useless to focus on money when I won ’t be able to earn enough merits at my current stage. ” Ves retorted.
”I have to progress my design philosophy faster and develop more unique features in order to appeal to the Rim Guardians.
So long as I can design mechs that no one else can match, I will have the grounds to become a galactic pioneer. ”

No amount of success in the Bright Republic or the Komodo Star Sector interested him anymore!

Ves was bored with his home.
He longed to go on an adventure and experience something new.
He wanted to rid himself of the suffocating hierarchy that had solidified in the Milky Way Galaxy.

In his heart, he looked at the Red Ocean as a golden opportunity to develop his own power base that was free from existing entanglements.

Therefore, Ves saw his current activities as nothing more than a means to gain entry to the new dwarf galaxy.

As for money? If he reached the point where he was able to earn millions of MTA merits, he could easily earn an abundant amount of money.

”Don ’t forget that I plan to become a second-class mech designer. ” He reminded his assistant.
”I ’ve been spending some time familiarizing myself with the customs and standards of second-class mechs.
At my current level of progress, I ’ll probably be able to design my first second-class mech in a year or so.
That ’s quite fast, you know. ”

The more he learned about second-class mechs, the more he became enamoured by their expanded versatility and options.

Third-class mechs were very rudimentary in comparison.
While they possessed their own distinctive charm, Ves understood why it was very hard for third-class mech designers to advance.

Naturally, that didn ’t mean that Ves saw no hope if he continued to design mechs for third-rate states.

He had the confidence to succeed where others failed.

If he intended to stay in the Milky Way, then it was fine for him to continue to excel in designing third-class mechs.

Yet he found himself changing his old plans as soon as he set his sights on the Red Ocean.

How could the MTA and the Rim Guardians be impressed by third-class mechs?

No matter what kind of miracle he designed, as long as a single MTA mech could easily crush it like a bug, Ves would never be able to earn a lot of merits.

Only by transitioning to designing a higher class of mechs would Ves be able to earn a lot of merits.

Once he explained all of this, Gavin finally understood.

”I see..
You ’re really serious about starting anew at the Red Ocean.
Every decision you ’ve made recently is to help you redeem a beyonder ticket. ”

The Red Ocean constantly beckoned to Ves like a siren.
His blood boiled and his bones shook whenever he thought of the opportunities he could find there.
The Big Two did not set a high price of entry without a good reason!

”I plan to set off for the Red Ocean within a decade. ” Ves spoke.
”I can ’t afford to stall my departure any longer.
The opportunities that I ’m looking forward to will doubtlessly be snatched by other galactic pioneers if I come too late. ”

Compared to his hopes and dreams for the Red Ocean, his success in the Komodo Star Sector didn ’t interest him anymore.
His reputation and his earning potential were merely means to an end.

He would do anything to become a galactic pioneer! He would even cheer for the sandmen to sweep over the entire Bright Republic if that somehow made it easier for him to reach this goal!

Besides, he was not the only one who was hoping to gain entry to the Red Ocean.
Ves wasn ’t sure whether his competition impacted his chances, but he knew he had to focus on becoming a more capable mech designer rather than a more successful mech designer.

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