Estella and Antoine brought their children and Ves to a shuttle landing pad at the top of the headquarters where they traveled to an exclusive restaurant called the Lyrical Kitchen in the Entertainment District.

Unobtrusive security guards accompanied each member of the happy family, while another shuttle with heavier armed guards followed them from the rear.

Meanwhile, Ves made do with Jeff, who looked like he couldn ’t even take a single punch.

The trip didn ’t last that long as the Entertainment District was very close to Mech Designer Row.
As the shuttle landed on a parking zone which hosted many expensive shuttles and aircars, the processing walked a short distance before arriving at the famed Bentheim restaurant.

”I hope you don ’t mind inviting you to dine at the Lyrical Kitchen. ” Antoine said.
”While there are many fine establishments in Dorum, the Lyrical Kitchen is a treat to our children. ”

”I understand. ” Ves nodded.
”I admit this is my first time at the Lyrical Kitchen.
I ’ve heard they ’re famed for their musicians. ”

”You are in for a treat, my dear! ” Estella smiled brightly at him as she ushered her children through the door.

It turned out that the happy family were regular customers and had a standing invitation to dine at this establishment, so the attendants quickly ushered them to a semi-closed corner in the fancy, multi-level restaurant.

As a projection of a menu along with food items emerged in front of all of them, Ves became a bit lost at the various exotic food options.

He enjoyed a solidly middle-class upbringing at Cloudy Curtain, and even his extensive stays on Rittersberg were never marked with excessive luxury and spending.
Therefore, he never truly got exposed to the greater luxuries in life.
He hardly knew the difference between all of the expensive food options on offer.

To Ves, the only item he recognized was cloud rice grown from his very own home planet! As for the rest, he saw no difference between them and the contents of a nutrient pack!

In fact, Ves much preferred the simplicity of a nutrient pack over some of the weirder options on the menu!

Fortunately, Estella noticed his hesitation and tactfully helped him out of his fix.
”Is this your first time here? Let me recommend you some dishes for a start.
The Lyrical Kitchen is known for their excellent meat dishes prepared in the local style of Bentheim cuisine.
Half of their meat is sourced from wild exobeasts imported from the frontier! ”

”My dear, Ves here wears the Frontier Service Medal. ”

”Ah, I forgot! How exciting! ” Estella exclaimed while she quickly selected some dishes for him.
”Did you eat a lot of exobeast meat on your deployment to the frontier? ”

Ves smiled as recalled the time he had a bite of god species meat.
”The taste of some of the exobeasts that you can find in the frontier is indescribable.
I will never forget the first time I tasted the cooked flesh of a very formidable exobeast. ”

”What exobeast did you taste? Is it possible for the local restaurants to import their meat someday? ”

”Unlikely. ” Ves shook his head.
”Some bounties of the frontier are destined to remain out of our reach.
It ’s too hard to bring back all of the treasures the Faris Star Region has to offer. ”

Right now, Aeon Corona VII must be in an extremely chaotic spot.
He hadn ’t heard any mention about the Aeon Corona System in the news, but he was sure that Sigrund already made himself scarce while the CFA sent a war fleet to figure out what happened there or something.

As the appetizers arrived on hovering plates, a band of musicians arrived at a stage in their corner.
Leife and Aislin both cheered in their raised seats and requested them to play a tune.

”One of the specialties of the Lyrical Kitchen is that they employ talented musicians who can improve a song for every occasion. ” Antoine explained to Ves.
”They boast that their musicians never play the same song twice. ”

Ves knew that it took a lot of practice and coordination between the musicians to accomplish something like that.
He half-suspected them to be carrying a brain implant that connected their minds together.

Still, the musicians played well and they easily managed to impress the two young children.

Seeing Estella and Antoine looking at their each other and their children with loving eyes made Ves feel inadequate.
Compared to his lonesome self, the two Journeymen already found each other and developed a wholesome relationship that looked too perfect to be true.

”What is on your mind, Ves? ” Antoine asked as he spotted Ves ’ melancholic eyes.

”I ’m very impressed with your family.
Your children are very lucky to have you as their parents. ”

”You are still young.
You have lots of time to find the perfect girl. ” Estella smiled.
”As a woman, I can state that a mech designer of your talents and accomplishments won ’t have any trouble searching for a suitable partner.
I can introduce you to the daughters of some of our friends if you ’d like. ”

”No thanks, Estella.
Right now, my duty to the Mech Corps comes before my private matters.
As you said, I still have plenty of time yet to find a partner. ”

At this phase in his life, Ves still aimed to spend all of his time on furthering his career and his company.
Finding a girlfriend and planning for marriage seemed too far ahead for him right now.

As the main courses started to arrive, Ves began to chat about casual topics with the two other mech designers.
Their children mainly clapped and asked for more songs from the musicians while Jeff and the guard stood quietly at the sides.

None of them discussed any serious business as of yet.
Presumably, Estella and Antoine preferred to keep Ves away from poking his nose in their business.
No one liked their guests to go through their dirty laundry, after all.
Ves would do the same if another mech designer came to inspect his business.

Before he arrived at Bentheim, Ves already discussed the role he should adopt with Leland.
The intelligence officer wanted Ves to present himself in a distinct manner that was different from his real self.

The whole point of sending in Ves instead of someone else from Flashlight was because they quickly needed to ascertain if the KNG truly collaborated with the separatists or not.
Not only did Ves have to conduct his investigation quickly, he also needed to do so quietly without attracting any suspicion at all.

To that end, Leland wanted to craft a disarming version of Ves for him to adopt.

The key was to reinforce certain biases in those that Ves interacted.
Instead of presenting himself as a very competent Apprentice Mech Designer, Ves instead pretended to be a more average mech designer.

During his talks with the leaders of the KNG, the topics strayed to his exploits from time to time.
While Ves faithfully kept his mouth shut about the classified aspects of his mission, he did mention some tidbits expressly spoken to downplay his actual accomplishments.

”To be frank, the honors bestowed to me by the Mech Corps makes me feel ashamed. ” Ves ’admitted ’ to the married couple.
”A powerful official from Rittersberg advocated for my case to the generals of the Mech Corps and magnified my modest accomplishments to serve certain political needs.
The Bright Republic needed a war hero to keep everyone ’s spirits high.
In truth, it ’s mostly propaganda. ”

”Even so, what you are doing is doubtlessly noble. ” Estella said with an understanding smile.
”I ’m from Rittersberg, so I understand the calculus behind their decisions.
I can easily see why they would prop you up as a war hero.
It ’s easier to settle on you as you ’re a Larkinson. ”

The three of them shared seemingly understanding gazes.
Ves figured he accomplished the message he tried to convey.

In their minds, Ves must have been some average drafted mech designer that made a mild accomplishment during a mission.
One of the political masters back at Rittersbers liked what he saw, so he exagggerated Ves ’ accomplishments and forced the Mech Corps to cough up some of their prestigious medals to manufacture a war hero to inspire the Republic.

Hopefully, Estella and Antoine bought this story.
One of the strongest aspects about this story was that it was based on a very real truth.
If Estella used her connections with Rittersberg to investigate the claims, she would find out that Senator Tovar himself pushed strongly to convince the generals to award medals like the Darkness Eater and the Golden Mech to Ves.

All of it actually happened!

The more the KNG regarded Ves as a political appointee, the less they thought of his actual ability and thereby lower his guard around him.
This was just the first step.

Still, Even if he wanted to pretend to be a bumbling mech designer who earned his medals through political intervention rather than earning supreme merit, he still needed to make a show of being earnest in performing his latest responsibilities.

”I ’m thankful for inviting me to this establishment, but the Mech Corps won ’t be pleased if I spend my time outside your company all day. ” Ves said, turning a little more serious.
”I intend to discharge my duties to the best of my abilities while I ’m assigned as your company ’s liaison. ”

”Of course, Ves. ” Antoine nodded while showing an understanding if slightly patronizing expression.
”We wouldn ’t want to displease your superiors.
We have scheduled an extensive tour of the company for you over the next few days.
We plan to show you around our headquarters, our design center, our manufacturing complexes, our testing and distribution complex and our service complex to start with.
While we own several other properties elsewhere, it wouldn ’t be convenient to visit them as they are located in other star systems. ”

”That ’s a lot of complexes. ” Ves commented.

”Our company is very large.
Our sales volume is very large so we require a large number of facilities to sustain our activities.
I don ’t think you ’ll be able to visit them all in a single day so we spread out your visits over a number of days if that ’s alright. ”

”That ’s okay.
For now, a quick visit to each of your company ’s facilities is enough to get me started.
My job is mainly to supervise the production of military mechs and supplies so it isn ’t necessary for me to pay attention to every aspect of your company.
I ’m fine with a short tour as a start. ”

Flashlight mainly wanted Ves to poke around the KNG ’s manufacturing complexes and the testing and distribution complex.
If the BLM did infiltrate the KNG, then they would be sure to focus their efforts at the production and distribution sites.
Where else would they be able to smuggle away mechs and supplies under everyone ’s noses?

Even so, Ves did not refuse the opportunity to learn how a larger and more developed mech manufacturer such as the KNG ran its various operations.

He knew that Estella and Antoine attempted to charm him with this upcoming tour.
They hoped to build up a favorable relationship with Ves by showing him around and teaching him a bit on how to run a mech company.

Technically, they were competitors, so it took some consideration on the part of the married couple to give Ves a good glimpse on how they ran their company.

Besides, as Journeymen, they didn ’t feel very threatened by an ’average ’ Apprentice such as Ves.
Perhaps they would even be generous enough to give Ves some pointers on designing mechs!

Ves tried to stifle a laugh as he perceived that Estella and Antoine bought his act.
While Ves wasn ’t a great actor by any means, he didn ’t act completely outside the norm.

It was a wonder what a few lies and misdirections could do to shape a completely different image from the truth.

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