”Meow. ”

Lucky glowered resentfully at Ves as he enjoyed his breakfast after a good night of rest.

”I shouldn ’t have killed the chefs. ” Ves muttered.
”The meals produced by the automated cooking machines always taste off. ”

In order to sate his hunger, Ves went back to his old staple and ate a nutrient pack directly from its packaging.

”Hmm.. ” Ves evaluated the taste of texture of the nutrient pack type he decided to sample for this morning.
”Not bad, but not as good as the last one.
It will probably taste a lot better with a few decades of aging. ”

He was quite surprised with the quality of nutrient packs in the possession of the Friday Coalition.

Unlike the cheaper ones that Ves was used to, the Coalition invested a lot more in quality.

Not only was their nutritional value higher, but their taste was actually palatable!

Ves wouldn ’t be surprised to find out that most people already replaced their regular meals with Coalition-standard nutrient packs!

Of course, the nutrient packs still weren ’t comparable to real food.
He still missed the gourmet food prepared by Dr.
Lupo and Gloriana ’s personal chefs.

”The sooner I get back, the sooner I can fill my stomach properly. ”

Perhaps Lucky didn ’t care that much, but Ves really wanted to return to his companions and get back to designing mechs.

All of this fleeing and fighting reminded him of the many perils he went through while he served with the Flagrant Vandals.

Unlike then, Ves wasn ’t surrounded by competent military servicemen! He could only depend on Lucky and himself to get out of this predicament!

The good news was that he already managed to get through the first half of his journey.

After overcoming the ambush of the Echo Spears, Ves did not encounter any other ambushes in his next couple of stops.

The most he encountered at these desolate star systems was a bunch of listening posts and a small number of corvettes assigned as scouts.

Instead of reassuring him, Ves only grew more concerned.

The battle against the Echo Spears probably achieved the intended effect of scaring away the weaker groups.

Yet that only made him feel as if his opposition was preparing a bigger surprise down the line!

”Well, I ’ll deal with it when it comes. ” He sighed in resignation.

He had a lot of confidence in his battle bots.
After he repaired and serviced them as best he could on his own, he continued to study and tweak them in an attempt to draw out some of their buried potential.

In order to increase the automated fighting consciousness of his converted mechs, he explored the galactic net and downloaded a bunch of highly-regarded piloting AIs.

He carefully inspected their programming and selectively incorporated the safest and most relevant portions of them to the existing control systems.

All of this was complicated and delicate work.
If Ves botched something, the battle bots might glitch during battle, exposing them to countless counterattacks as they became inert!

However, if his suspicions came true, then Ves had no choice but to assume this risk! The faults of his battle bots would definitely become evident to his enemies once they studied the battle footage!

”If only I can pilot the mechs myself! ” He sighed.

He could still increase his control over the battle bots until he turned into their surrogate mech pilots.
By assuming more direct control, he could use his own human judgement while still leaving the AIs to do all of the heavy lifting.

Such a semi-direct piloting method was the main way for non-potentates to pilot mechs.

While the lack of neural connection prevented the mech from reaching its full potential, it was better than nothing!

For this reason, Ves took the time to add the ability to manually override the piloting AIs and control the functions of the mechs more directly.

He tried out this added functionality in a couple of simulations.

It was like playing one of the mech games he used to play in the past.
The simplified controls and lack of tedium allowed Ves to focus on what was truly important.

Though Ves had no confidence in beating an equivalent second-class mech, it should be enough to bully a huge mob of third-class mechs!

”The Paravin and Fliskin aren ’t pushovers anymore. ” He smiled with satisfaction as he observed the two melee battle bots with appreciation.

The space knight and light skirmisher both possessed some ranged armaments, but they were obviously not their focus.

Their true strengths lay in melee combat.
The supplemental programming that Ves copied from the galactic net had come with a lot of adaptive fighting routines that adjusted well to the characteristics of the Paravin and Fliskin after a lot of optimization.

This allowed the mechs to fight off numerous third-class melee mechs without falling into disadvantage.

All of these efforts gave him a lot of confidence in confronting twice or thrice the number of mechs that the Echo Spears brought to bear last time.

”My next opponents won ’t be as complacent, though. ” He reminded himself.

Anyone ambitious enough to hunt down a stolen Coalition ship protected by a bunch of powerful battle bots should not be incompetent!

Ves already exposed his most important cards.
This left him with precious little means to reverse any unfavorable outcome should his enemies come with greater strength than he could cope!

In addition, he also feared that he wouldn ’t be encountering an overwhelming number of third-class mechs, but something worse.

As long as a small interception force from the Friday Coalition managed to trap him, then his four pitiful battle bots would definitely be defeated by an equal or greater number of second-class mechs!

”They shouldn ’t be so common in this region of space. ” He muttered.

That was not to say that the Friday Coalition was absent in the Great Zona Republic.
It was just that most Coalition assets in the third-rate states consisted of trade vessels and civilian ships.

There was little reason for the Coalition to station a heavy military presence in a trivial foreign state.

From the correspondence and other documents that Aisling left behind, Ves possessed a decent estimate on how many Coalition assets were available in the state.

It was not enough to ensure a guaranteed interception.

When the Scarlet Rose arrived at a star system, he could often choose his next stop among more than a hundred possible choices!

The range of the Scarlet Rose ’s FTL drive was quite formidable.
Though it was limited when Ves limited himself to traveling to dimmer star systems, he still had plenty of desolate star systems to choose from in order to avoid a prepared ambush.

Though the listening posts and scout ships always tracked the Scarlet Rose ’s orientation as she transitioned into FTL, it took time to scramble enough assets to lay an ambush at her next destination!

Even if the ambushers arrived at the estimated destination in time, the emergence zone often encompassed a volume that stretched for at least a quarter light-hour or more!

That was a humongous amount of distance! A mech firing a laser weapon would have to wait fifteen minutes until it struck its target!

With that much time, the randomized pathing of a ship or mech would have definitely deviated from the projected trajectory!

In space, no one was stupid enough to travel in a straight line!

While traveling straight minimized waste and maximized efficiency, following a predictable trajectory allowed any hooligan to accelerate a small asteroid to relativistic speeds and collide with the unsuspecting vessel!!

In any case, with such a large emergence zone, the chance that the Scarlet Rose would enter the range of prepared ambush fleet was not very large!

What complicated the matter even further was the relative positions and velocity between the two elements.

Nothing in space truly sat still.
Everything was constantly on the move depending on which frame of reference someone adopted.

Even the emergence zones moved according to the relative motions of the star systems and the gravitic tides raging in the higher dimensions!

”It all depends on chance. ”

Whether he would be lucky enough to avoid a confrontation at his next destination was not set in stone.

Ves was forced to roll another dice after arriving at each subsequent stop.

As long as he suffered one unlucky roll, then all of his prior efforts were for nothing! Once he ended up in the hands of the Lady Curver and the Friday Coalition, he doubted they would treat him as well as they did before!

He not only proved himself to be dangerous, but also had a lot of Fridayman blood on his hands!

Killing the crew of another CRC was not a crime that could be brushed away!

And considering how much the Echo Spears already knew when they confronted Ves, he figured out that the Friday Coalition hadn ’t kept his exploits secret!

”My notoriety has probably shot through the roof after this news became known! ”

Ves groaned and held his head.
What of his reputation? What of the LMC ’s standing in Coalition-aligned states?

”The LMC should be safe for now.
The Sand War still isn ’t over.
My Desolate Soldiers and Deliverer mechs are still too essential to the survival of many states! ”

That did not preclude the possibility of betrayal once his products no longer became vital.
As soon as the Sand War ended, Ves and the LMC had to tread very carefully when doing business with Coalition-aligned space.

”I can ’t stay in the Ylvaine Protectorate. ” He concluded.

It was pretty much an island in an ocean of Coalition-aligned states.
Staying there would only put a bigger target on the Protectorate.
Ves did not wish to taunt the Fridaymen into overrunning his benefactors!

”The Protectorate isn ’t suitable for me and my organization anyway. ”

The Ylvainan culture didn ’t appeal to the members of the Larkinson Family who decided to follow him.
He couldn ’t imagine Melkor, Raymond or Clinton turning into devout Ylvainan believers at all!

In order to escape the reach of the Friday Coalition and provide his relatives and subordinates with a more compatible living environment, Ves needed to settle in a different state.

The only state he could think of was the Sentinel Kingdom, which was very far away from the Friday Coalition.

With the entire Hegemony in the way, Ves didn ’t believe that Lady Curver and the CRC could dispatch forces to kidnap him again!

Yet just thinking about staying in a state that was in close proximity to the Nyxian Gap sent shivers through his spine.

He would only be exchanging a lesser threat for a greater threat!

Ves frowned and crossed his arms.

Escaping Coalition pursuit was not the end of his troubles.
The hasty evacuation of the LMC from the Bright Republic had doubtlessly produced a lot of problems.

Yet even if he had to leave the Mech Nursery and all of his accumulations in the Bright Republic behind, he didn ’t regret his choice!

Ves no longer dared to trust any state, whether it was the Bright Republic or even the Ylvaine Protectorate.

As long as he made enemies with at least one faction, Ves would always be exposed to schemes!

While his Avatars of Myth ought to be capable of fending off all kinds of threats, it was still a stretch to resist the authorities!

This was a problem that couldn ’t be solved in a short amount of time!

At this time, his comm suddenly beeped.

The control module of the quantum entanglement node suddenly received an incoming comm call.

Due to his paranoid security precautions, he did not allow the control module to connect directly to the communication systems of the Scarlet Rose.

Ves had to walk all the way to the compartment of the ship which held the quantum entanglement node in order to accept the call.

”Well, whoever called me is very patient for ringing me for six minutes straight. ” He noted as he activated the interface and pressed the buttons that accepted the call.

The projection of a familiar figure appeared in front of Ves.

”Hello Ves. ”

”Hello Tristan. ”

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