Traveling to Bentheim took a lot less time and effort than trying to navigate towards the Glowing Planet.

A lone planet swinging through space without a star or anything else that could act as a lighthouse meant that ships had to be really close to make the final jump.

In contrast, the Bentheim system formed the largest lighthouse in this stretch of space.
Even an outdated ship like the Happy Jelly could easily fix in its coordinates from the border of the Bright Republic.

The journey lasted six days in total.
When the Mech Corps and many of the outfits that allied with the Republic arrived at the edge of the star system, everyone let out a relieved breath.

They had finally reached safe harbor.

Anything could happen in space.
An unlikely chance still existed that an unknown group figured out their route and intercepted them midway by disturbing the local space along the route with a strong and intense gravitic field.

Just like how the passage of the Glowing Passage had pulled a trade convoy out of FTL, an artificial gravity field could achieve the same effects.

Nothing of the sort came to pass, which let many people put down their worries.
Their ships and their harvests also enjoyed the protection of the Mech Corps within the System.
Virtually every outfit accepted the same deal the Whalers had signed, so their cargo already belonged to the Republic.

A handful of ships refused to follow the vast majority of the ships towards the inner system.
Instead, they jumped back into FTL as soon as their FTL drives finished cycling.

”The idiots.
They ’re going to get ambushed a couple of light-years away I bet. ” Ves remarked to Melkor as he transferred to the Barracuda.

”They might have something up their sleeves.
Those who are confident they can sell their payloads by themselves won ’t be taking the standard trade routes.
Pirates will have a hard time trying to predict their routes. ”

Now that they arrived to safety, Ves parted ways with the Whalers.
The Barracuda flew close to the Happy Jelly in order to receive the Stanislaw and a shuttle carrying the two Larkinsons.

During the previous campaign, the Mech Corps employed the Barracuda as a forward scout.
They stationed the corvette in the surrounding star systems in order to keep tabs of any ships that used those planets as their stops.

The job didn ’t sound glamorous, but it had to be done.
At least it put the Barracuda well out of the way of any battles.
Nimble as she might be, she could not take a lot of hits.

Ves first entered Captain Silvestra ’s office.
Besides listening to her report, he also wanted her input on something else.

”Captain, you and your crew have been exemplary employees to me so far.
Considering the rapid growth of the LMC, your responsibilities will only increase in the future.
Therefore, in addition to the hazard pay you ’re owed, I ’m also setting aside a pot worth several million credits to be spent on training.
I have plans, and I need a capable crew to run my ship. ”

The woman blinked.
”That ’s very generous of you, sir.
This is much more than what we are owed. ”

I ’ve already dragged the Barracuda into two perilous expeditions.
I can ’t promise you there won ’t be another one in the future.
Even if she ’s mainly used as a scout, it doesn ’t change the fact that I ’m subjecting you to a lot of danger. ”

”Admittedly, this isn ’t what we ’ve expected when we initially agreed to work with a mech designer. ” The Captain reluctantly said, though Ves faintly suspected she acted timid on purpose.
”We started our careers in the civilian sector by entertaining men aboard yachts.
At no point have we ever trained to serve in a war theater. ”

Ves extended his hand.
”Hence the training.
If you agree to keep working for me, I ’ll promise you and your women won ’t be earning a pittance in my service.
While I considered doubling your salaries, I think it ’s better for all of us if you shore up your skills. ”

The captain wrapped her fingers on her desk.
”I ’ll have to discuss it with the girls.
Even if you haven ’t approached us with an offer, I was planning to suggest something myself.
Not all of us are cut out for the battlefield. ”

”You won ’t be able to avoid a fight.
The Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom is already in a state of war, they just haven ’t declared it yet.
That battle between the two fleets… ”

His memories of that day sometimes gave him nightmares.
He became especially spooked when he recalled that strange time loop that came into being when a torpedo destroyed the transport carrying a dimensional smoother.

”It will take some time for us to consider our options.
I ’ll have a final answer for you within a week. ”

”That ’s fine. ”

Once he finished his discussion with Silvestra, Ves left her office and entered the tiny observation room that served as a lounge.
Melkor had thrown his body onto a sofa and currently stared at the stars shining from beyond the transparent panels covering the upper deck of the corvette.

”Melkor. ”

’Ves. ”

”There ’s something I ’d like to talk to you about. ”

Melkor turned his head, facing Ves with his opaque blue visor.
”What do you want to know? ”

”When the Larkinsons sent you to serve as my bodyguard, did they give you additional instructions? For example, if I do anything that would severely harm their interests, are you obliged to do something about it? ”

”Nothing of the sorts. ” Melkor firmly shrugged his head.
”What do you think we are, the Gauge Dynasty? Raella and I have only been assigned to protect you and guard your life, something which is hard to do when you are constantly throwing yourself in reckless adventures by the way.
As far as I ’m concerned, you ’re the biggest danger to yourself. ”

”Thanks for the compliment.
I think. ” Ves chuckled.
”While I ’m not sure whether you are pretending or not, I do want to say that I trust you regardless.
You don ’t seem like a guy who ’d stab me in the back. ”

His cousin smirked at him.
”Are you sure about that? ”

”I am.
Even though you don ’t talk all that much, you never shed the impression that you ’re a man of honor. ”

”I ’m not a knight mech pilot, you know. ”

”You ’re a perfect fit for a knight if you aren ’t so good at ranged combat. ”

”I take it you didn ’t come here to talk about my loyalties and mech inclinations.
Spit it out.
What do you really have in mind? ”

”Alright, I have two priorities in mind, and they ’re kind of connected.
As you might have heard, the LMC is doing really well now.
The truth is that it ’s entered into an explosive growth phase.
I ’m expecting the company to earn well over 10 billion credits in the current fiscal year. ”

”That ’s some serious money! ” Melkor replied with awe.
”This is only the second year you began to do business, right? Are all mech designers so rich? ”

”Of course not! I ’m something of an outlier here.
I ’m really good at my job. ”

”Right. ”

Ves couldn ’t say he had the System to thank for his rapid growth.
This allowed him to catch up and exceed his peers who studied in prestigious schools in second-rate states like the Friday Coalition.

If not for the System, Ves would have gone bankrupt almost immediately after receiving his father ’s indebted assets.
While that wouldn ’t ruin his life, he ’d be forced to toil as a factory supervisor or something instead of fulfilling his dream of designing mechs.

He unconsciously recalled the time he visited a museum on Moira ’s Paradise.
The oceanic planet ’s museum featured an amusing exhibit of a mirror that purported to show the viewer of his reflection from another reality.

Ves came across himself as a loser.

He quickly shook his head.
That dready future hadn ’t come to pass.
Instead, he became a successful mech designer and businessman who earned more than ninety-nine percent of the rest of the Republic.

He truly belonged to the upper echelon of the Republic now that he helmed a multi-billion credit company.
And this was just the start.
His ambitions stretched much further, and to accomplish his plans, he needed reliable people at his side.

”Let me get to the point. ” Ves pulled his mind back to the present.
”Currently, I ’ve signed a contract with Sanyal-Ablin to provide security for my premises.
They ’ve done a decent job so far and they ’re also involved with designing and constructing the LMC ’s new manufacturing complex.
However, I can ’t take them along whenever I go out on another ’adventure ’ as you say.
They don ’t offer those kinds of services.
It ’s too risky, they say. ”

It also embroiled the supposedly neutral security company in a lot of political messes.
Only mercenaries dared to accept these kinds of duties, and only at great cost.
Even then, their trustworthiness would always be rather fluid.

”I ’m looking to establish a personal force that works solely under my name.
I want you to create one from scratch. ”

This time, Melkor became fully alert.
He stopped relaxing against the sofa and immediately sat upright.

”Why are you setting up a personal force? ” He asked with genuine puzzlement.
”Doesn ’t it make more sense to slap together a company security force? ”

The difference between the two was that one force worked for an individual and the other owed their loyalties to the entire company.

The Bright Republic treated the two very differently.
A company security force often followed a strict regime and they always followed orders from a group of decision makers.

Mech pilots considered a career into company security forces to be a stable, low-risk track.
While they didn ’t earn as much as mercenaries, at least they ’d be able to live with their families all year round.

In contrast, the Republic often treated a personal security force as a group of thugs.
To be fair, personal forces often ended up proving their bad reputations as they enforced their employer ’s private dealings.

And now, Ves just suggested that he had need of his own group of ruffians.
This did not inspire a lot of confidence in Melkor.

”It ’s not what you think. ” Ves quickly added.
”The reason why I want a personal force is because I ’m planning to go on my own expeditions in the future.
It ’s hard to compel a company security force to follow me into far-flung territories. ”

”That makes a lot of sense.
But why are you so insistent on raising your own force? ”

”Because I ’m a big shot now.
I should act like it.
I ’m tired of being left out of the loop.
I ’ve also had it with being treated like a footsoldier.
Since I have all of this money, I figured why not invest in my own mechs and ships? I want to take back some control over my life.
I don ’t want to be left at the whims of the mistakes that other people have made. ”

Ves already laid out a vision for his small but promising personal force.
He ’d put Captain Silvestra in charge of the ships and Melkor in charge of the mechs.
With the two of them working together, Ves had a lot of faith they ’d be able to whip a crew into shape.

”This is really big, Ves.
I have to think about it.
I never considered going down this route after I left the Mech Corps. ”

”Look, Melkor, I know you ’re reluctant right now, but think about my success so far.
This is only my second year of operation.
What heights do you think I ’ll be able to reach ten years from now? What about twenty years? ”

Even Ves hardly dared to dream so big.
By the time the next generation came into being, he ’d almost certainly be a Journeyman Mech Designer.

The mech industry widely considered this stage as the first, formal start of a mech designer ’s career.
Novices and Apprentices were still considered underage.
The chances of someone getting stalled in these stages were extremely high.

Only those who reached the enviable height of Journeyman would finally be treated with consideration on par with an expert mech pilot.

This put Melkor to thought.
Even if he didn ’t hold much hopes to advancing to expert mech pilot himself, working for a Journeyman would open up a lot of doors for him.
Perhaps he ’d even be able to borrow Ves ’ influence to help him in his breakthroughs.

Unlike Captain Silvestra, Melkor needed no further consideration.
”I ’ll do it.
You can count me in. ”

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