After a lengthy and confidential chat with Commander Cinnabar, the Kinner left his office, leaving Ves alone for a time.

He leaned back against his office chair and noted with pleasure that it was even more comfortable than the one in his office at the Mech Nursery.

Automatic settings came online and firmly massaged his back.
His entire body vibrated in a peculiar rhythm that almost lulled him to sleep.

”Meow? ”

”Heh, don ’t even think about it! This is my chair! It ’s not suitable for cats! ”

”Meow! ”

Ves picked Lucky up and inspected his pet from every angle.

”Meow meow meow! ”

”You ’ve been eating really well lately.
Where have you been putting all of it?! You haven ’t given me any crystals lately, and besides these tiger stripes, you don ’t look any stronger! ”

”Meow~! ”

”If you want to continue to enjoy your share Breyer alloy, then you better start working! Stop pumping everything into upgrades and start working your rear end! ”

”Meow meow.. ”

Ves placed his deflated-looking cat down on his lap and stared at the ceiling for a time.

He had plenty of meetings to go through before he could go back to his core activities.

He longed to go back to his studies or begin his research on imaginary mechs.

He deeply desired to start a new ambitious design project with massive implications for his future design direction.

Yet Ves was long past the time he was all alone.
He carried too many responsibilities.
As a leader, he needed to set directions and move his pieces in order to advance his goals.

Right now, he was far from ready to set off for the Red Ocean! A huge gap remained, and it would take a monumental effort for Ves to overcome it! Ordinary Journeymen couldn ’t even dream of making so much progress, but he never doubted his ability to overcome the odds!

”I have to get back to making progress as soon as possible! ”

For the rest of the day, Ves met with various people such as Crindon, the Ylvainans and so on.
Each of the meetings proceeded briskly as he was not in the mood to waste any time.

One of the more notable meetings he held was with Dr.
Ves tasked the exobiologist to work together with Dr.
Ranya Wodin to prepare for the upcoming implantation surgery.

”The Archimedes Rubal is essential to some of my upcoming plans. ” He spoke to his pet exobiologist.
”Drop every unnecessary assignment for now and spend most of your efforts on preparing the implant as best as possible.
How is the cranial implant, by the way? ”

”I ’ve studied and carefully formed a patch to update the firmware of the implant. ” The doctor confidently said.
”I ’ll hand you a report later so you can view my suggestions.
I ’ve been very conservative and made sure to draw from the most trustworthy-looking source code.
There shouldn ’t be any hidden exploits or backdoors according to Mr.
Please keep in mind that it is only possible to alter the source code when the bioimplant is inactive.
Once it is integrated into your brain, it is incredibly difficult to change its bioprogramming! ”

That sounded concerning.
An installed bioimplant often grew into such an indispensable part of the human body that altering or changing its programming essentially changed the person it was attached to! This was why they needed to do everything possible before the implantation procedure!

”I ’ll review your suggestions later.
If you want, you can work together with Dr.
Ranya to improve the firmware and possibly the cell structure of the Archimedes Rubal.
I don ’t want any hidden dangers in the bioimplant, but seeing that it will form an essential component to my improvement, it needs to be as powerful as possible.
CFA implant or not, it ’s undeniable that it is 300 years out of date. ”

Though it was true that a product like the Archimedes Rubal would only evoke disdain from the fleeters who were used to enjoying the best, to someone like Ves it was still a great treasure that surpassed anything the Fridaymen and the Hexers could possibly offer!

None of their bioimplants matched the sheer data storage capacity of this three-hundred year old implant that Ves scavenged from an old wreck!

Since the Archimedes Rubal represented a powerful upgrade to his cognitive abilities and couldn ’t easily be changed or removed after it settled in his head, Ves needed to give Lupo and Ranya plenty of time!

”I understand, sir. ” Dr.
Lupo said, though he didn ’t seem pleased at being pulled away from his more interesting assignments.
”I will endeavor to complete the preparation within two months. ”

”Good. ”

After talking to Dr.
Lupo, Ves held another important meeting.

Calabast had come.

This time, she chose to adopt the guise of Madame Cecily Curin yet again.
When she entered his office, Ves instantly recognized that the new entrant wasn ’t the decoy that Calabast put in place.

Oh, her act was perfect.
The Cecily who appeared in his office just as noble, dignified and reserved as one could expect of a Curin.

However, Ves became more sensitive to identifying people through their spiritual signature.
Though Calabast did not possess spiritual potential, Ves nonetheless made sure to memorize her tiny spirituality as best as possible in order to avoid getting hoodwinked by her again!

The existence of Calabast proved that humans didn ’t necessarily have to possess spiritual potential to be an extremely fearsome existence! There were plenty of ways to stand out and be capable without relying on extraordinary means!

Once a jamming field came online again, Ves addressed her directly.

”Let ’s cut the games and speak plainly.
I ’m in no mood to waste any time. ”

Lady Cecily ’s expression turned ugly as Calabast straightforwardly dropped her act.
”You ’re no fun. ”

”You know I ’m not very pleased with you right now. ”

”You ’re expecting too much from me.
Intelligence gathering is inherently difficult and unreliable.
I ’ve already told you how difficult it is to infiltrate the state apparatus.
Though I admit that I have not been on guard against the machinations of the Mech Corps, it takes an immense amount of effort to infiltrate its headquarters. ”

Though it sounded like an excuse, Ves knew he couldn ’t fault her too much.
”It is still a very significant failure. ”

”I made it up to you, didn ’t I? ” Calabast leaned on the chair opposite of the desk and grinned.
”You would have never been able to astound your attackers with your remote-controlled mechs if it wasn ’t for me supplying you with all of the essential software and instruction guides.
In any case, I ’ve expanded my network and made sure to insert more eyes in the local states.
While I haven ’t penetrated the entire Ylvaine Protectorate, my agents are currently keeping tabs on all three leading dynasties.
If any of them are about to move against you, I ’ll be able to warn you in advance this time. ”

Hearing that relieved Ves a bit.
Both of them had learned from the previous incident.
They ’d be stupid if they got caught with their pants down!

They spent some time to discuss some security and spying arrangements before moving on to the next topic on the agenda.

”When we communicated a month ago, you said that there would be an opportunity for me to design a second-class mechs for the Hexers. ”

”That ’s correct. ” Calabast said.
”I worked together with Gloriana to make the arrangements.
You can view it as a commission, one that is rather sensitive and..
controversial. ”

Uh oh.
Ves smelled trouble.
When Calabast said that something was fishy, then she was definitely not exaggerating!

His eyes narrowed at her.
”What is going on? ”

”Let me begin by explaining the Hex Army.
What is your impression of the Hegemony ’s main military branch? ”

She smiled coyly at Ves while she waited for his answer.

”I ’ve heard that the Hex Army is the most powerful force of the Hegemony.
It ’s led collectively by the six matriarchal dynasties and is an expression of their might.
Unlike the Fridaymen whose partners each operate their own mech militaries as their own entities, the Hex Army fights on behalf of the Hegemony as a whole, and is highly centralized and uniform. ”

”That ’s a good textbook answer. ” Calabast nodded in satisfaction as if she was a teacher who was pleased with a juvenile pupil.
”The Hex Army is capable of fighting the collective might of the Friday Coalition.
None of the six matriarchal dynasties have held back in investing in its strength.
However, do you think that the Hex Army is the only military branch that is participating in the Komodo War on our side? ”

Ves shook his head.
”It shouldn ’t be.
That would be too simple.
At the very least, there are many intelligence agencies fighting in the dark, including DIVA that you used to be a part of.
Am I correct? ”

”You ’re right again.
The Hexadric Hegemony is arguably the biggest state in the Komodo Star Sector.
While the Hex Army is capable of fending off the main forces of the Friday Coalition doesn ’t mean it is universally good at anything.
We are well aware that its high degree of uniformity and the lack of diversity and versatility means that its strengths can be countered and its weaknesses can be exploited. ”

”Then how do you solve this problem? ”

”Mostly, we just trust in our strength.
We know our strengths and we have trained all of our lives to become good at what we do best! ” Calabast confidently grinned.

”That ’s all? ”

”Of course not.
Though we don ’t advertise it, we also employ auxiliary forces and irregular forces from time to time.
Don ’t look down on the latter.
Hexer mercenary corps are Hexers first and mercenaries second.
They ’re not as cowardly and craven as the mercenaries you are accustomed to.
None of the outfits in our state are incompetent! ”

”So the commision you are referring to is related to one of these private sector outfits? ”

She nodded.
”That ’s true, but it would be a mistake to think that every outfit is truly private.
The Hegemony abhors chaos and unregulated freedom.
We don ’t allow any outfit that operates in our space to be independent.
Behind each mercenary corps is at least one Hexer in good standing.
This keeps them under control, because the backer must always pay for the misdeeds of the offending outfit. ”

Ves had to admit that this was a viable way to contain the damage these outfits could do when they fought.
However, only a state as strong and unified as the Hexadric Hegemony could impose such restrictive conditions.

There was no way the Bright Republic could enforce such rules, especially when its space hosted a significant amount of foreign outfits!

”So tell me about the commission. ”

”It ’s not the time yet to discuss the nature of the commission.
We ’re still fine-tuning the details.
It will take some time for us to finalize the contract. ”

”What can you tell me then? ”

”I am free to tell you about our client.
First, do you think Hexers are all the same? ”

”Of course not. ” Ves immediately shook his head.
”Even if you Hexers have a strong culture, none of you are the same.
There is still a lot of diversity between Hexers.
Even the Wodins such as Gloriana, Brutus and Ranya are far apart from each other.
In addition, the larger the state, the greater the differences between subpopulations.
I can imagine that the Vrakens such as you are distinctly different from the Everns. ”

”Since you understand this, then you should understand that there are always outcasts within a population.
The Hegemony is no different.
Due to the..
complications regarding your identity, it ’s not possible to offer your mechs to conventional Hexer organizations.
It ’s also difficult to enter our market. ”

”Because I ’m a ’boy ’. ”

”Quite. ” Calabast sniggered.
”So the only Hexers that are willing to make use of your products are those who are desperate and under special restrictions.
After a lot of searching, Gloriana and I managed to find a Hexer outfit that is willing to pilot a mech designed by a male, foreign mech designer. ”

When she described him in this manner, Ves did not feel appreciated at all.
Which Hexer outfit was desperate enough to resort to him for mechs?!

”What are they called? ”

”The Penitent Sisters. ”

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