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The intensifying battles raging throughout the Bentheim System couldn't be hidden at all.
Even if the military blocked every news portal from publishing articles and footage of the battles, anyone with a decent telescope could observe the battles without much effort.
They just enjoyed a delayed show due to the time it took for the light of the battle to reach the surface of Bentheim.
The only thing the government could do was to take control of the narrative by taking the initiative.
The controlled media publications each made for a rousing sight. Seeing so many mechs and starfighters acting in unison to crush the sandman fleets in order to protect the Bright Republic stabilized everyone's morale.
Though most average citizens were fooled, those who enjoyed a higher station knew better. As Ves watched yet another sanitized news broadcast, he couldn't help but snort.
"What a clever angle. The starfighters that are getting demolished by droves just happen to be outside of the frame."
He knew that while the introduction of the second generation starfighters reduced the rate of casualties, the increased aggression of the sandmen largely offset these gains!
In the end, the second generation starfighters lasted just as long in battle as the first generation starfighters.
The only real improvement the later models provided was that they carried over a lot of improvements to the ejection system. As long as the starfighter pilot managed to eject their cockpits in time, they still had a chance of fighting another day.
The Bright Republic didn't care about the consumption of starfighters. As long as they won the battle, a huge salvaging fleet would always arrive at the floating battle site and salvage as many broken frames and parts as possible.
The recycling rate of lost machines reached as high as seventy percent!
As for their pilots, though the Starfighter Corps didn't necessarily care too much about their lives, it couldn't afford to be seen as callous. If the second generation starfighter models didn't add some extra precautions, it would have been impossible to keep the starfighter pilots mollified!
As Ves caught up with the morning news, Raymond entered his office and walked up to his desk. "The government isn't very happy with you, Ves. The officials I've been in touch with have expressed a lot of misgivings about your recent decisions. They can't guarantee your safety if you insist on remaining in this star system."
Ves waved his hand towards the projected battle footage. "I don't think Bentheim is any safer."
"You don't necessarily have to go there. It's acceptable to the government if you reside on another well-protected planet. If you ask me, staying at Rittersberg is pretty nice. As the capital of our state, its security is just as good as Bentheim!"
"My answer remains the same." Ves looked up to Raymond and sensed that the old man was uncomfortable. "Why are you agreeing with the government in the first place?"
Raymond blinked in confusion. "We are Brighters. We are the servants of the state."
"Ah. I see what is going on now. Please take a seat."
When the Larkinson elder sat down, Ves shut off the broadcast and steepled his fingers on his desk.
"Tell me, Raymond, where do your loyalties lie?"
"You, of course. Formally, I work for the LMC, but since you are effectively in control of the company, I essentially work for you. Since you are the key to the Larkinson Family's increasing prosperity, I have always looked after your interests first."
Whether that was true or not, Ves wasn't sure.
Ever since Raymond assumed his leadership position, Ves discovered that this Larkinson elder was rather glib.
"I already refused the government's entreaties. Why do you insist on changing my mind? The reason why I fired your predecessor in the first place was because he forgot who he should answer to! Have you forgotten this lesson?"
The severity of the situation finally dawned on Raymond. "My apologies, Ves! It's not my intention to betray you! It's just that I fail to understand why you refuse to head for safety. Cloudy Curtain is far too vulnerable against a determined sandman incursion. The Light Hounds that are currently scouring the local asteroid belt for hiding sandmen won't be here forever. Once they're gone, we can only rely on a couple of hundreds mechs and first generation starfighters to protect your life!"
Ves shook his head. "You're overstating the threat. Aside from a single anomaly, the sandmen fail to pose a threat to me. If worse comes to worst, I'll just hop in the Barracuda and depart with haste."
"Your corvette doesn't fit many people. What about your family and your workers? Don't forget that hundreds of relatives of ours have moved here in order to pursue new opportunities. As the principal reason why they are here, you're responsible for their safety!"
"If they want to scurry back to Rittersberg or Bentheim, be my guest." Ves defiantly crossed his arms. "The LMC has recently expanded its branch office and built some more manufacturing complexes in Bentheim, right? I don't object to sending some Larkinsons there in order to hold the fort."
"Thank you for that, Ves." Raymond subsided a bit. He had received a lot of requests to move out of Cloudy Curtain. "I'll take care of this matter in person. However, you're much more important than those ordinary Larkinsons. Why must you be so stubborn? Is the government really that bad?"
Ves sighed. Raymond was a typical Larkinson who always looked up to the state. It was not a surprise that he put a lot of trust in the government.
"Raymond, let me make one thing clear. Just because I'm a Brighter doesn't mean that I should trust the government unconditionally. I'd be dead or much worse off if that was the case! When you play the game at this level, you need to remain vigilant. I shouldn't remind you that the government is not a single, unified entity, but a collection of interests who exert a varying amount of influence on its branches."
The COO frowned. "I understand what you are getting at, but you are taking your suspicions too far. The Bright Republic is not a banana republic! The law reigns supreme here. No one is allowed to abuse official authority for their own gains!"
This time, Ves boldly laughed. "My personal experiences say otherwise! I won't explain them to you, since I'm not allowed to bring some of it to light, but trust me. I have enemies in the Bright Republic. Powerful enemies. They won't hesitate to remove me from the picture in order to protect their own interests. Since my foundation is far more shallow than theirs, it doesn't make any sense for me to relocate to their home ground. Cloudy Curtain may be much less developed than Bentheim, but it has always been my stomping ground!"
Through the influence of the LMC and the Larkinson Family, Ves enjoyed a supreme amount of influence at his home planet. The amount of soft power in his hands allowed him to get away with anything and prevent outsiders from hijacking the local administration.
The same could not be said if he moved to the extremely complicated political and economic landscape of Bentheim.
After explaining some of his concerns, Ves finally managed to make Raymond understand his reasoning.
"I… I'm not sure what to think of this, Ves. To be honest, I never regarded the government as an adversary."
"That's because running the Larkinson Trust Fund for all those years hasn't exposed you to this level of contradictions yet. Now that you are in charge of running the LMC, you need to be a lot more cautious about these matters."
It would probably take some time for Raymond to adjust his mindset. After all, the Larkinson Family always placed a very strong emphasis on serving the Republic. Whether they were norms or potentates, every Larkinson must respect the state.
Only the most crooked Larkinsons like Ves managed to break this suffocating compulsion.
If Ves was in charge of the Larkinson Family, he would have changed its orientation to serving their own interests.
In his eyes, since the standing of the Larkinsons hadn't improved after centuries of loyal service, it did not make any sense to work yourself to the bone in order to please the Republic!
"The Larkinsons have already sacrificed too much for the Republic." He couldn't help but say. "The state doesn't need our assistance."
"That's… a bold opinion, Ves. I'm not sure it will be popular with the rest of the family. Our entire identity revolves around service. The rewards we have gained aren't as meager as you think. We have managed to build up a supremely honorable reputation. Each Larkinson can expect to enjoy generous treatment due to the sacrifices made by our family."
"I understand that, but is that the extent of our ambitions?" Ves retorted. "Honor isn't something that can make you rich. I can't make myself live longer by relying solely on a stellar reputation."
His opinions directly clashed against the values that Raymond had taken for granted for his entire life. If not for the importance of Ves to the family, the elder would have already objected to what he heard!
"You're not making this easy for us. Many Larkinsons won't support you as much anymore if they hear your stance."
Ves confidently smiled. "Let them think whatever they want. I never insisted on their support to begin with. I need people by my side who support me wholeheartedly."
"Loyalty to you isn't necessarily contradictory to loyalty to the state, Ves. You are demanding too much from your subordinates. Real people don't behave the way you want them to. Many Brighters are proud of their state. It forms a core part of their identity."
"I know that, Raymond. I don't begrudge them for holding multiple loyalties. The only thing I'm asking for is that those who want to work for me must put my interests above the interests of everyone else. If they don't have the will or guts to resist the demands of the government when it harms my interests, then they should just go!"
The discovery of so many spies and double-dealing informers impacted Ves quite a lot.
Though his stance on the matter was quite unreasonable to many people, Ves simply didn't care about their objections.
He wanted to form an organization that he could trust. How could he do that when his subordinates were susceptible to other influences?
Even if the state could depend on its laws and its official authority to get its way, Ves wouldn't hesitate to resist if his interests were harmed!
His opinions impacted Raymond quite a lot. Though the new COO already had a taste of it, Ves had made his stance very clear today!
"I'll take your words under consideration." Raymond said. "I will do my best to abide by your instructions. I'll pay more attention to our interactions with the government in the future."
"I expect nothing less."
"There will be trouble, though. The voices calling you to head to Bentheim are mostly well-meaning. For you to reject their good intentions can be seen as a slight."
"I know that, but that doesn't change my mind, you know."
"It's just that I can't predict what they will decide next."
As Raymond left the office, Ves did not show any concern at all. So long as Gloriana served as his shield, the state couldn't force him to do anything against his will.
After taking care of his morning business, he descended to the design lab and convened his entire design team.
With the departure of Ketis and the temporary absence of Gloriana, only the five Tovar mech designers remained.
The lab felt a lot more emptier now that the two lively women were gone.
Ves shook his head and focused on his current priorities. "The first iteration of the Adonis Colossus is almost ready for testing. Let's make sure to complete it by the end of the day!"
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