To the Swordmaidens, friendship mattered more than pure benefits.

Nonetheless, that didn ’t mean they ignored benefits entirely.
As pirates who roamed the frontier for decades, it was impossible for them to be duped and taken advantage of so easily.

Even if their outward behavior painted them as battle-crazed boors, the officers among the Swordmaidens generally distinguished themselves by keeping a certain amount of cool.
They took their responsibilities of leading and guiding the younger and more junior Swordmaidens very seriously.

It was kind of like how Mayra treated Ketis as her own daughter.
This kind of motherly instinct tempered their recklessness and made them pay more attention to their long-term interests.

”Just like us, the Swordmaidens are in a bad shape right now. ”

As Ves stepped out of the shuttle, he immediately encountered similar conditions from the Shield of Hispania.
The Jaded Sword was a rare combat carrier that must have cost a pretty penny for the Swordmaidens to obtain.

To Ves, the worn bulkheads, spots of rust and lackluster cleaning showed that they likely obtained this combat carrier second-hand.

”Maybe they even took the Jaded Sword off the hands of their former owners by force. ”

In any case, the Swordmaidens took in a lot of survivors who escaped from the other, slower Swordmaiden vessels eaten by the sandmen.

The major difference between the Vandals and the Swordmaidens was that the latter employed a lot of brainwashed slaves.

When it came to evacuating their crew from the doomed ships, the Swordmaidens only really cared about their own sisters.
The predominantly male slaves likely all went down with their ships as they hadn ’t received the order to evacuate!

The outcome of this decision was that the Jaded Sword became stuffed with warrior women who all carried swords in some form or another.
The lack of men in the shuttle bay made Ves feel as if he entered the territory of an ancient Amazon tribe.

It made sense from their perspective.
Genuine Swordmaidens who all passed their graduation ceremonies were all core members who were too difficult to replace.

As for the slaves, the Swordmaidens treated them as commodities as best.
Even if they lost a couple of thousand slaves, they could easily capture more chumps in the frontier and send them off for ’processing ’ to turn them into obedient, brainwashed servants.

Ves still believed it was an awful idea to rely on slaves to such a great extent.
Yet as long as the frontier lacked enough people with technical backgrounds, such practises would never end.

”Commander Dise is expecting you.
Please follow me and don ’t wander off.
We ’ll chop you if you do so. ” A bored-looking Swordmaiden warrior said as she greeted him off the shuttle.

Well, at least he knew that Dise gained enough clout to gain the title of pirate commander among the Swordmaidens.

”Please lead the way. ”

Ves followed after a stoic Swordmaiden guide who led him all the way to the upper decks, where the fancier compartments resided.

They eventually passed through a hatch that led into a conference room, or at least what passed as a conference room among their ilk.
The trophies, battle banners of defeated pirate gangs and deadly exobeasts decorating the compartment made it seem that the Swordmaidens usually used this area to impress their might and power upon their visitors.

Once his escort left, two familiar Swordmaidens entered shortly afterwards.
Both of them still wore their CFA armor, just like Ves, but this time they added their barbaric Swordmaiden touches to their exterior.

Both of them painted over the original CFA coating and affixed all kinds of symbols, exobeast bones and other outwardly impressively trinkets to their armor.
This made them fit right in with the rest of the armored Swordmaidens.
Savage capes fashioned out of beast hides completed the ensemble.

”You two are looking good! ” Ves complimented them without exaggeration.
They truly looked larger than life in their new looks! ”I like how authoritative you look now, Commander Dise.
As for you, Ketis, you look much more mature than you act. ”

Ves found it funny that while Ketis tried her best to ’piratize ’ her CFA armor, she still showed her original rank insignia as well as her large CFA medal.
The contrast between the two styles would certainly trip up anyone familiar with the CFA!

”I ’m the only mech designer left among the Swordmaidens. ” She said a little morosely, belying her strong appearance.
”With Mayra gone, I can ’t take it easy anymore.
I have responsibilities now. ”

Ves nodded in understanding.
Though the reason might be depressing, he was nonetheless glad to see her taking her profession seriously this time.

”I think you can do some good for the Swordmaidens, but do you still remember Mayra ’s last wish for you? Even if you are more competent than the average mech designer in the frontier, a Novice Mech Designer like you will hardly be able to change the fortunes of Lydia ’s Swordmaidens.
Err, are you still called this way? ”

Commander Dise shook her head.
”Commander Lydia is no more, but calling ourselves Dise ’s Swordmaidens doesn ’t quite roll of the tongue.
We ’re still thinking about what to call ourselves from now on.
It ’s a good opportunity for me to steer our course in a different direction, so I ’m holding off on the decision until I make up my mind where to take the Swordmaidens next. ”

”I have some ideas and suggestions for that. ” Ves said, already entering into his negotiating form.
”The Vandals can ’t help but see that you Swordmaidens are in a much-diminished state.
You used to be able to field hundreds of mechs and were a force to be reckoned with.
Among the pirate gangs that roam the Faris Star Region, you were definitely one of the larger and more successful gangs.
Now, though, you are barely counted among the mid-sized pirate gangs. ”

”We are still able to field enough mechs to protect ourselves. ” Commander Dise smiled thinly.
”Besides, our prior reputation still accounts for something. ”

”Your prior reputation and conduct has also earned you a lot of enemies.
Previously, they held off on attacking you on account of your strength, but now that you only have three carriers left, I bet they won ’t give you the time to rebuild your mech force. ”

”We have many friends we can count on such as the Omen of Misfortune. ”

”I am certainly aware of how much faith you Swordmaidens put into your friendships with the other independent pirate outfits, but would every so-called ’friends ’ of yours be as sincere at your current strength level? Don ’t tell me that all of the pirates you are acquainted with will keep their word to those they perceive as weak. ”

”We aren ’t weak! ” Ketis burst out in her typical fashion.
”We are Swordmaidens! We still have three carriers worth of mechs we can field! ”

”There are other pirate gangs in the frontier who can field twice as much if not more.
Will they still be apprehensive about coming to blows with you now that you are battered and bruised from this mission? ”

The two women couldn ’t entirely ignore his argument.
After all, he only spoke the truth.
Pirates weren ’t known to be generous to those they could easily rob and kill.

”I doubt you ’ve come here to disparage us at our weakest state, Ves. ” Commander Dise dryly remarked.
”Please tell us why you have come. ”

”I have come on behalf of Major Verle and the Flagrant Vandals to forge a deeper partnership with the Swordmaidens… ”

Ves proceeded to lay out the broad strokes of the partnership that he and Major Verle envisioned.
The proposed agreement mainly boiled around the following points.

First, the Swordmaidens would help the Flagrant Vandals cross the frontier and return to civilized space with every means possible.

For this service, the Flagrant Vandals or another organization of the Bright Republic would remunerate the Swordmaidens with an immediate repayment in the form of hard currency or valuable resources.

Second, the Bright Republic and the Swordmaidens would continue to maintain their ties to each other.
If the Vandals or any other organization from the Bright Republic wanted something done in the frontier, the Swordmaidens would offer help if it was convenient and in their power to assist.

In exchange for this voluntary assistance, the Bright Republic would continue to pay back the Swordmaidens in various matters, such as providing them with funds and resources to attempting to fix up their faulty gene mod templates.

Both of them grimaced when Ves touched upon this sensitive point.
Ketis would have definitely passed on what she learned about that to Commander Dise.

The tragic fact about the Swordmaidens was that they depended on genetic modification to strengthen the often weak and malnourished new recruits.
Every other alternative wouldn ’t work as well or fast.

Yet it was also a fact that the Swordmaidens rarely lived to old age.
Their aggressive behavior accounted for much of the deaths, but they couldn ’t discount the deaths that came from genetic breakdown.

All of these services sounded very attractive to the two Swordmaidens.
Ves observed from their interest in his proposal that whatever backing the Swormaidens enjoyed, they didn ’t actually receive much help.
Not to the point of eclipsing anything that Ves put on the table!

He saw an opportunity there!

Of course, Commander Dise possessed enough sense not to take such bold promises at face value.
All of this sounds attractive, but deals between pirates and legitimate states never tend to last very long.
Words alone are just empty, especially coming from a state where every bureaucrat holds different opinions about such an arrangement. ”

”I may not be able to bring a lot of guarantees now, but we have fought alongside each other for many months if not a year.
The Vandals are absolutely committed to a partnership.
As part of forging closer ties with the Swordmaidens, I ’m also willing to take part in my private capacity. ”

”Oh? ” That caught their interest.
”What do you mean by private capacity? ”

”This won ’t exactly be on the books, but I ’d like to partner up with you as well in matters of business.
I might not look like it, but just a few years ago I founded a very successful mech manufacturing company.
The Living Mech Corporation owns assets in the billions of bright credits, ah that ’s tens of millions of K-coins. ”

”It ’s true, commander.
Ves is a very good mech designer and he ’ll certainly be a bigshot in the mech industry in his home state. ” Ketis vouched for his claims.
”You ’re not too far from advancing to Journeyman, right? ”

It will be a couple of years at most.
I ’m very close.
Once I publish a couple more original mech designs, I will definitely be rise to the heights that Mayra once reached.
In the future, it isn ’t out of the question for me to surpass these heights as well. ”

”Bold claims.
Very bold.
I ’ve seen many mech pilots boasting that they ’ll advance to expert pilots some day.
None of them actually did so.
You remind me of those boasting pilots, Ves. ”

Ketis stood up for him.
”Ves is good enough to back up his claims, commander! Even the Skull Architect respects him! In my eyes, Ves definitely won ’t stop advancing anytime soon.
We ’re talking to a future Senior Mech Designer! ”

What a nice boost! Ketis basically hinted at Dise that Ves would only become more powerful and influential in the future! Forging ties with a Journeyman Mech Designer was already valuable, but being able to enter into a close working relationship with a Senior Mech Designer was nearly priceless!

Even if Ves was nowhere close to matching the capabilities of a true Senior like the Skull Architect as of yet, it was a lot easier to make a deal with him now when he was still an Apprentice!

The hesitation in Commander Dise began to recede a little.
”I take it this side deal isn ’t a part of the agreement with your state, correct? ”

”No, but they compliment each other.
As a mech designer who hails from the Bright Republic, it isn ’t out of the question that I will be acting on the interests of my state.
So these two deals aren ’t really separate. ”

But I still don ’t understand what you want from the Swordmaidens.
Please explain what kind of arrangement you would like to make with us. ” Dise said, giving Ves a chance to lay out what he wanted to obtain.

”Thank you, commander. ” He smiled with genuine pleasure.
”It ’s like this… ”

He knew he had already passed the most difficult hurdle! Now that Commander Dise opened herself up to the possibility of working together with Ves in a business and private capacity, he just needed to throw out just enough concessions to clinch a deal!

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