The welcoming party held a banquet for the visiting representatives. Though the Vesian Revolutionary Front ostensibly resisted against aristocracy and the excesses associated with them, they weren't strangers to the finer things in life.
The Flagrant Vandals pulled out a lot of stops to impress the newcomers. The dining hall was situated at the top decks that encompassed a massive transparent dome from above. Ves saw unknown stars and unknown ships orbiting around the Wolf Mother. He also spotted the red dwarf, but couldn't determine where they were in Vesian space.
"To my friend, let us toast!"
"Haha!" Mr. Meffeth blustered. "You always bring the finest wines from Rittersberg!"
For a mech regiment deep in debt, they sure held little back for this occasion. Ves recognized several exclusive dishes that must have cost a lot of credits to acquire. The cloud rice from Cloudy Curtain, the luminescent blue mushrooms from Bentheim, the finest red wines from Rittersberg and the aeliotonoc whale meat imported from Moira's Paradise served to everyone present could have afforded half an Inheritor mech.
The sheer amount of waste really boggled his mind. Though Ves lived a lot easier when he started earning loads of money, he didn't spend his money on frivolous and temporal luxuries such as good food and wine. He was way too busy to slow down and appreciate the finer things in life. Ves regularly ate simple meals reconstituted out of cheap nutrient packs.
"Alloc, who is this young gentleman over here?" The mature-looking woman asked as she daintily played with her salad.
"This is Ves Larkinson, an Apprentice who has just arrived at the Vandals a couple of months ago. He's very bright and has unique talents."
"Unique you say?" Florissa Minyn drawled out as she twirled a finger. Her eyes glazed over to Ves and he could feel the curiosity bursting out from them. "Are you talented in many areas?"
Ves awkwardly smiled. "Alloc is exaggerating. I've only entered the industry for a few years."
"Ves doesn't have much practical experience, but he's good with theory and he has a special touch for improving the piloting experience. His customers back home are rabid fans of his work!"
That caused the other two girls to glance over in his direction. A blonde who introduced herself a little earlier as Iris Jupiter asked another question.
"So you're an entrepreneur in the Bright Republic? How many mechs have you sold?"
"I don't keep track of the exact figure. If I include the sale of mechs from third-party manufacturers that have licensed my design, then it should be around three-thousand to five-thousand mechs I think."
If Ves only took the sales figures of the LMC into account, the number would look much less impressive.
All three women looked mildly impressed. The other girl, a raven-haired woman called Lucille Hornbach blinked at him as if he was an alien.
"That's impressive, Mr. Larkinson! You must have earned an enormous amount of bright credits! Why are you even here?"
Florissa quickly bumped Lucille with her elbow. "That's not very polite!"
"It's okay, Miss Hornbach. I have nothing to hide." Ves smiled at them, even though he just said a big fat lie. "My history is a little complicated. I'm apprenticed to Master Carmin Olson. Even though I've only received a few pointers from her so far, it inevitably casts some doubts on me. I don't blame the Mech Corps for pushing me away from the frontlines."
None of the Vesian mech designers cared about that. Their eyes practically sparkled as soon as he mentioned his Master.
"You're apprenticed to Master Olson?! The genius that rose up from the Vermeer Group?!"
"Yes. That's the one."
The two girls squealed in unison in a stupendously high pitch, causing conversation nearby to be disrupted. Florissa embarrassingly hushed the two girls and waved at everyone to turn away.
"We are not aboard our own ships anymore. Pease show some more decorum!"
"Sorry, auntie Florissa." Both girls apologized while hanging their heads in a glum manner.
Their casual attitude seemed completely unlike most mech designers he had met before. If no one told him that they knew how to design mechs, Ves would have mistaken them for teenagers barely out of school.
Both of them looked pretty and young that spoke of exquisite care in their appearances. While this was normal among the young elite, the girls behaved in a somewhat carefree manner. It made Ves a little confused. Were these people even rebels? He previously imagined the resistance members living aboard shambling starships and barely having enough funds to make ends meet.
Evidently, the delegation of the VRF showed no signs that they suffered any hardships. Mr. Meffeth spontaneously held a drinking contest with the captain from the Vandals while the three women charmingly kept the conversation with Ves and Alloc running.
They quickly moved to a first-name basis, which wasn't unusual for someone from the Bright Republic but was highly unusual in Vesian culture.
"Florissa, how are your designs doing in the VRF lately?"
She smiled at Alloc. "I am doing very well so far. Although I have not published any new designs by myself, all of the collaborative project that I'm involved in has been spread to the entire organization."
"How big is the VRF?" Ves asked with genuine puzzlement. Sometimes, he had the sense that the VRF was a behemoth, but other times it was a medium-sized organisation that had been stretched out to cover the entire Kingdom.
"We're not allowed to tell you the exact figures, but it's safe to say that we can give a couple of mech divisions from the Mech Corps a run for their money."
That wasn't enough to overthrow an established Vesian duchy, but it would certainly be able to cause mass disruption if the VRF deployed them all at once.
Naturally, Florissa could have lied about their strength. Ves thought that an all-encompassing organization like the VRF should have had a few tricks up their sleeve.
Not that it was any of his business.
"What are your specialties?"
"I am a specialist in spaceborn flight systems." Florissa answered first as she glanced at Alloc. "Part of the reason why I am transferred aboard your lovely factory ship is because your design department lacks this specialty. It's a show of good faith on our part, and a sign of appreciation for all the assistance you have rendered us over the years."
Again, Ves received another clue on the closeness of the ties between the Vandals and the VRF.
"What about you two ladies?"
They both looked at each other for some reasons before they smiled at him. Iris spoke first. "I'm a specialist in neural interfaces, while Lucille is a heat sink specialist."
All three of them possessed an eclectic mix of very specific specialties. Two of them happened to be very relevant to the design department. As for the specialty mentioned by Iris, Ves almost had to do a double take.
"You design and customize neural interfaces?" Ves asked with more than a bit of doubt.
Messing around with neural interface was dangerous work at the best of time. Implemented incorrectly, and a mech could easily fry the brains of their mech pilots. The vast majority of mech designers utilized standard neural interface models that the MTA made available for free.
In general, there was little demand for customizing neural interfaces. Everytime someone messed with it, they risked upsetting some sort of limit and turned the neural interfaces into torture machines.
"It is a family tradition." Iris spoke proudly. "We Jupiters have worked on neural interfaces designs under the auspices of the MTA for generations. They've approved each product we've released over the years."
"Is that still going on?"
"Sadly not." She replied, seeming genuinely stricken all of a sudden. "A long time ago, we Jupiters affronted a relative of a powerful duke. The incident was small and nothing should have come out of it, but the duke himself moved to retaliate against our entire lineage. We lost everything within a matter of weeks. Our contracts turned invalid, our partners stopped supplying us, our employees left our research labs and our products got smeared on the galactic net."
Florissa sighed and pulled Iris into a hug. "What the Jupiters have suffered is something which happens all too often in a tyrannical state like the Vesia Kingdom. The nobility is always right. In a dispute between a noble and a commoner, we have as much rights as a pig reared for slaughter."
When Ves was young, he often heard tales of such abuses in school. He realized later on that the stories were meant to malign the Kingdom and made them out as a place of horror who would dearly bring their abuses over the the Republic once they conquered it. It was the duty of everyone from the Republic to resist such tyranny.
Propaganda or not, the stories always held a kernel of truth. Hearing such an example from Iris really made it clear to Ves that the lessons he learned at school hadn't pulled those anecdotes from thin air.
"Have you adjusted yourself to living with the rebels? What is there to do with them?"
"Oh, the VRF has been good to us." Iris nodded as she wiped away her tears. "You have to know that while our rebel movement can easily get our hands on mechs from the private market, it's difficult to hide our whereabouts. We would rather buy the raw resources from the market or the other rebel groups and fabricate our own mechs. Keeping our design and production activities in-house guarantees that the mechs don't come with spying devices or software hacks."
"So it's a matter of maintaining complete control over your mechs. I can understand that." Ves replied. "Do you keep all of your designs for internal use or do you also sell your mechs to other groups?"
Florissa answered this question. "We maintain a lucrative business in selling mechs to the smaller rebel groups. It's not easy for newly established rebels to get their hands on fully functional mechs. This helps them kickstart their rebellion and allows them to cause more trouble to the nobles."
That didn't sound very good to Ves. There was no way a small group of malcontents could threaten the rule of the established powers in the Kingdom. Ves did not ask for the outcomes of these so-called rebellions. Instead, he focused on the other aspects of their stories.
"It sounds like the VRF has taken on the role of the black market."
"That's exactly what we are in Vesian space. As an organization that resists the tyrants who believe they have a birthright to do everything they want, we've suffered too many betrayals from gangs and pirates that are able to supply us of the things we needed."
"The Vesian underground scene is split into two parts." Alloc interjected. "One part consists of the regular scum of the galaxy. They don't care about nobility and politics. They even like such a system, because nobles sometimes become their best patrons."
"Alloc is correct." Florissa nodded. "In our eyes, the noble Houses are nothing more than gangs that enjoy official sanction. The two work well together whenever their interests align. It's not safe for rebel movements like ours to build a long-term relationship with the underground groups. The trust simply isn't there. That is why we have built up our own underground trading network. We are one of the few middlemen that rebels across the Kingdom can trust."
Truly, the more Ves heard about the VRF, the more his impression of them veered away from a traditional rebel group like the Bentheim Liberation Movement.
Whereas the BLM lived like cornered rats that sought refuge in the deepest depths of the planets or in the most desolate corners of a lifeless star system, the VRF merrily went about earning a handsome profit from facilitating trade between different rebel groups. They sounded surprisingly mercantile for a movement that ostenably sought to overthrow the feudal order.
"How far along are rebel groups like yours to launch an uprising?" Ves pointedly asked.
All three ladies fell silent for a moment.
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