140 Larkinson Compound
The star system that hosted Rittersberg used to be endowed with lots of exotic resources. It used to be an oasis compared to the barren desert of its surrounding systems. The pacifists exiles who wearily escaped from the fighting in the center of the Komodo Star Sector eagerly laid down their foundations in this relatively rich star system.
All of the deposits had been depleted after a hundred years of intensive mining. The initial boom in resources had fueled the construction of the initial colonies and expanded the reach of the descendants until they carved out their own place in the galaxy.
The Vision of Astoria along with every other ship had to dock at a giant space station orbiting a very remote dwarf planet. Ves and Lucky joined the other passengers in exiting the passenger liner and had gone through multiple security screenings and identity checks before the dour-faced security officers pushed them onwards.
"Security is even tighter than before."
"Of course it is!" A pot-bellied man replied as he frequently looked at the time. "If you think this is bad, wait until the war starts in earnest. Most civilians won't be able to enter the system."
A lot of visitors bemoaned the current state of unrest. The tourists and civilians who wanted to celebrate the new year at Rittersberg had to wait for hours before they received permission to move on to a navy-operated transit shuttle.
Fortunately for him, Ves got lumped in with the veterans and active servicemen who enjoyed preferable treatment. He had already become a notable citizen when he reached the finals of the Fusion Cup so no one gave him any hassle. Even his potentially dangerous gem cat had been cleared to accompany him, though with caveats.
Lucky resentfully yowled at Ves. His paws had been locked together with resilient cuffs, preventing him from deploying his claws effectively.
"Just deal with it Lucky." Ves tried to soothe his pet. "You'll be free to roam around once we reach the Larkinson Compound."
They boarded a secure shuttle that slowly brought them to the inner system. As a precaution, the only ships, shuttles and transports that operated within the system were directly crewed by the navy. The Rittersberg System was the only place in the Republic that remained untouched by the rebels.
After two days of plodding, the shuttle finally reached one of the civilian space stations orbiting the first planet from the sun. It used to be a fairly hot planet, but extensive terraforming had tempered the climate until it closely resembled that of Ancient Earth.
The space station itself looked spectacular as well. Designed for form as well as function, the triangular construct offered a spectacular view of the green jewel below. A harmonious ensemble of trees and flower graced its elegant interior and enchanted many first-time visitors.
Only the abundant patrols and the heavy-handed security measures marred the tranquil sight. The visible security presence was actually a lot more blatant than he expected.
"Did something happen?" He asked a crowd of random visitors.
"Didn't you hear? The 3rd Infernal Hellhounds found and attacked the headquarters of the BLM!"
Ves immediately stopped and turned towards the woman who answered. "The Bentheim Liberation Movement? Truly? How did it go?!"
"Don't know for sure yet, but we've given the rebels a bloody nose alright. The Republic is keeping a tight lid on the news."
Even after Ves browsed the galactic net on his comm, he found nothing useful. The Mech Corps released a short statement that they considered the attack a success, but warned that the BLM still possessed a lot of assets and that they might retaliate in the coming days. The news was ominous and it explained the tension hanging in the air.
"Hopefully they took out Vincent. I should have never customized a mech for him even if he paid an extravagant sum."
He still suffered from the fallout of Vincent's madness. Strictly speaking, an arms manufacturer like Ves should not be held responsible for the crimes committed by his customers. If this were so, then almost every major mech and weapons manufacturer
He still felt bad about it nonetheless. For a long time, he only sold two mechs. A decent bounty hunter bought his first model, while the other went to a mass-murdering terrorist. Ves still carried that cross to this day.
Fortunately, he already redeemed himself to the authorities. With Master Olson from the mighty Coalition vouching for his name, no government agency dared to bring him into custody.
After a short wait, a different shuttle brought him and his cat down to Rittersberg's famed spaceport. Its construction resembled a crane about to take flight. The shuttle landed onto one of its many feathers before disgorging its passengers.
Once everyone stepped out, the shuttle lifted off and headed to a different destination in order to pick up those who wished to depart. In the meantime, the 'feather' everyone stood on suddenly detached from the base of the main construction.
"Whoa?! What's going on? Are we falling?!"
Many of the passengers already expected the platform to detach and float to the surface. A few of the friendlier ones reassured the first-timers that this was nothing special.
As the feather platform floated downwards, it flew past several marvellous sights. The transparent crane in the center gave everyone a good view of its many shopping boulevards and exquisite restaurants. Those who stood on the other side got a good view of the surprisingly low-rise metropolis called Kelnar.
Only a couple of high-rise structures dominated its carefully designed urban planning. The most notable of which consisted of the massive Eternal Lighthouse that was supposedly lit by an undying flame. Even at this distance, Ves could see the white marbled structure as clear as day.
Once the feather touched down on the ground, everyone picked up their luggage from a nearby hall and hailed an aircar. Ves did the same and boarded a fairly swift but expensive car in order to reach his destination faster.
The aircar zipped away and flew away from Kelnar. The densely-populated city made way for elegant parks and stately-looking manors. Those who earned the right to live in those mansions were all bigshots of the Republic. Some of them even formed an entire dynasty of civil servants who all worked in the same branch of government.
After a half-hour flight, the aircar finally reached one of Kelnar's satellite cities. Varleton was home to a military base along with several other related facilities. A lot of families with ties to the military settled down in this quiet city.
The Larkinson Compound was situated in a tranquil privileged community that housed many mid and high level military personnel. Many Larkinsons who for one reason or another wished to carve out a life on their own resided in the compound. In fact, most of the residents consisted of elders along with some orphans and widows.
Death could happen at any time. Any Larkinson who signed up for the Mech Corps might one day return to their families in a coffin. The last Bright-Vesia War had reaped the lives of several uncles and aunts. Ves was fortunate that his father survived the war with his hide intact.
"We're finally home." He said while stretching his arms.
Lucky curiously stepped forth and sniffed the alien grass. Once they exited the spaceport, security finally removed his restraints. The cat eagerly flexed his limbs throughout the entire shuttle ride.
"Come on, little buddy. Let's go inside and meet the family."
The Larkinson Compound might look like a peaceful manor complex on the surface, but it hid a deadly array of defenses. A couple of guards personally inspected Ves and his luggage before they cleared his identity. After stepping inside the courtyard, a dozen kids immediately scampered over.
"Ves! You're back! Yay!" A little girl named Janie celebrated. "Hug please!"
He obliged the girl as well as every other munchkin. Once he put down the last kid, Janie quickly glomped his leg and look up at him with a pleading expression.
"Can I have a mech now?"
"I want a mech too!"
"Whoa there kids, mechs aren't toys for you to play around, especially at your age." Ves tried to placate the mech-hungry brats. "Wait until you're ten years old."
Everyone moaned in disappointment. Ves didn't want to make them cry, so he thought quickly until his gaze landed upon Lucky. He walked past some of the kids and picked up Lucky by his chest.
"Look at my new pet! Isn't he cool? His name is Lucky, and he's a very playful cat."
The kids completely forgot about asking for their own mechs once they beheld the gem cat. Lucky's gorgeous appearance immediately entranced the boys and girls. When the cat released a questioning meow, Lanie started to squeal.
"He's so cute!"
"I want a dog like that too!"
Some of the kids had their own mechanical pets. For example, a couple of resplendent glass-like birds rested on a tree, while nearby a teenager played fetch with a titanium dog.
Despite the competition, Lucky effortlessly stole their hearts due to his cute and gorgeous appearance and intelligent behavior. Ves eagerly handed off his cat to Lanie to let the kids get to know his pet.
He smiled as the kids carried Lucky to a nearby playground. Ves used to be one of them. In happier times, he played with his fellow cousins and dreamed about piloting a mech.
"How times change." He sighed, and turned to find someone to talk to. "There must be someone here who knows what went on in the raid against the rebels."
As he walked deeper inside the courtyard, he spotted many relatives. Some were related to him by blood while others had married into the family. The latter earned the same status as the former as long as they carried the Larkinson name. The Larkinsons didn't make a big deal out of everyone's pedigree like they did at some of the more hierarchical families.
A couple of aunties sat on a creaking wooden bench. Even as they gossiped, they carefully watched over the children.
To the side, a dozen elders leisurely sipped their teas as they exchanged the same old war stories. Most of them looked harmless, but appearances were deceiving.
Closer to the central hall, a sizable gathering of teenagers and young adults surrounded a projection of an action-packed mech duel. They cheered and supported their favorite duelists when they appeared on stage.
He finally spotted an authoritative looking man in uniform watching from the porch. Ves briskly strode forth and reached the man as he gazed at the entire courtyard.
"It's good to see you Ves." The man greeted his nephew with a hug. "You've created quite a stir. Imagine your grandfather's face when he picked up his data pad one day and read the Rimward Star Herald. An interview with the renowned Herald definitely caught us off-guard. You're kind of a big deal now."
Ves couldn't suppress his grin. He finally starting turning the Larkinsons around. "It's been a challenging journey so far, but I couldn't have done it without my father."
The mood turned melancholic once he mentioned his still-missing father. Maeser Larkinson turned to Ves and stared at him with a measuring gaze.
"The patriarch told me they found traces of your father. Ryncol is keeping very dangerous company these days. We aren't sure of anything, but there are several indications that suggest he's still alive and well."
"Is grandpa around?"
"The minister recalled him to take part in an emergency session. I bet it's about the recent attack on the BLM. Nasty buggers, all of them. I'm glad we finally stomped on their faces for once."
The patriarch of the family was his grandfather Benjamin. Besides taking charge of the entire family, he also worked as an advisor at the Ministry of Defense. His current position brought a lot of prestige to the Larkinsons, though the workload also took a toll on him sometimes.
"Don't worry Ves. The patriarch will be back in time for the celebration. By then you can ask him about your father's whereabouts."
Ves really hoped he could hear some good news for once. He really missed his father.