Although Ves needed to handle a lot of important matters now that he returned home, the festivities continued to occupy everyone until the late evening.
Once the Larkinsons had their fill of celebrating his latest accomplishments, Ves could finally move away from the public and meet with his inner circle to discuss more serious matters.
He invited his wife, General Verle, Minister Shederin Purnesse, Director Calabast, Director Ranya Wodin, Director Pesca Aduc, Chief Shipwright Vivian Tsai and a couple of other important leaders to a secure conference room.
He activated every possible security feature and also activated his own self-made jamming devices.
Even so, Ves had little confidence that his conversation could remain truly confidential to the mechers.
The Red Association had recently upgraded and refitted the entire hull of the Spirit of Bentheim from top to bottom. It was practically impossible to erase all of the high-tech bugs and listening devices!
Ves saw no need to inform the others of his suspicions, though a few of the more suspicious minds such as General Verle and Director Calabast had already come to similar conclusions.
That was no reason to stop any discussion or go through extreme measures to hold a more secure conversation.
He had already become more accustomed to the mechers tracking most of his movements. So what if they listened in on his discussions? They had already figured out most of his secrets anyway. Not even the Mech Designer System and his relation to the Five Scrolls Compact were truly unknown anymore!
Arguably the only secrets that he had left were his time travel shenanigans and the fact that he maintained an active communication link with the Milky Way Galaxy.
So long as he avoided any mention of these two crucial details, he shouldn't get into any further trouble with the mechers.
Ves began the meeting by giving his inner circle a short summary of what happened during the conference from his perspective.
He formulated his words carefully to avoid any sensitive information that he was definitely not supposed to share, but the people sitting across the conference table were more than clever enough to read between the lines!
"...and that is how I have managed to become acquainted with several Star Designers and god pilots in the end." Ves completed his fairly exhaustive retelling. "It is also why I came back with an escort fleet that doesn't mind giving us a hand on the battlefield." 11 11
Though Ves tried his best to avoid any exaggerations, his mostly factual retelling still presented a lot of bombs to his audience!
He managed to confirm a lot of wild rumors that were circulating through various communities while shooting down the more ridiculous ones.
One crazy rumor painted him as a maverick who single-handedly punched the Polymath in the face!
After answering a round of reflexive questions from his advisors, Ves soon broached the subject of their future.
"The EdNet quotas that I have managed to obtain from the mechers is our ticket to first-class society." He told them all. "It is not enough to meet the needs of all of our clansmen, but it is a start. I will endeavor to work hard and win more quotas by making subsequent contributions, but that will take a lot of time. For now, we need to make a selection of candidates for the first wave of Larkinsons that will follow me into the upper zones."
Most of the gathered people were still trying to wrap their heads around the amazing capabilities of the EdNet.
"So all of us have to spend up to four years in a long-term simulator pod so that we can go through two decades of first-class schooling?" General Verle asked.
"I do not expect all of you to use up a quota at once." Ves replied. "Not only will we create a leadership vacuum in our current clan, but not all of you need this in the first place. Gloriana."
"Do you remember the first-class implant that I have promised to arrange for you? I have managed to strike a deal that entails working together with an implant developer to design a custom product that is completely tailored to your needs. Once you have obtained it, I think you should be able to study to become a first-class mech designer by yourself without needing any additional tools."
His wife widened her eyes! She knew how much of a difference this could make! A custom top-of-the-line cranial implant could truly enable her to close the gap between herself and most first-class mech designers!
It would be even better if the implant also incorporated the latest advancements related to exotic radiation and hyper materials!
"I love you so much, Ves!"
Ves smiled affectionately at his wife before he turned back to his clansmen. He hadn't even shared any details about the 500 vials of A7-KE1 General Purpose Pilot Cultivation Elixir that were safely stored in the vault of the Tarrasque.
Considering how much their existence and effects completely overthrew a lot of assumptions in the mech community, Ves could only bring them up with his expert pilots. There was no need to expose their existence to other people who couldn't even make use of these extremely valuable early generation products.
Minister Shederin brought up another important topic.
"Our clan has received urgent requests to reciprocate to the messages sent by various Terran and Rubarthan groups. On the Terran side, the Eden Institute of Business & Technology has spearheaded the proposal to hold more substantive talks about deepening your existing relationship with the university. On the Rubarthan side, the Inferno Spear Principality is claiming that you have already established a secret working relationship with the Destroyer of Worlds. Now that it is no longer a secret, Prince Antonius desires to transition it to a more open and public relationship."
Ves furrowed his brows. There were plenty of reasons for the Terrans and the Rubarthans to buddy up to him. He already expected the Terrans to take advantage of his part-time job at the Eden Institute, but what was this about the Inferno Spear Principality?
"Is there anything special about this spear ponce that I should know about?"
"The 2016th Prince is an ace pilot of great renown in Rubarthan circles." Calabast reported as if she had already expected Ves to ask this question. "He is one of the few Rubarthan princes that the Destroyer of Worlds is able to tolerate and befriend. This also puts him in the rare position of being able to speak on the god pilot's behalf and represent her interests."
That certainly raised the importance of this fancy prince by a few more notches!
Terrans on one side. Rubarthans on the other side. Both of them probably wanted to show their gratitude for preventing the Polymath from erasing their identities and to obtain insider access to his companion spirits and any other goodies that he might have in store.
"I am not opposed to establishing closer relations with either of these powerful groups of people. It will certainly help with giving us access to a stronger support network once I have entered first-class society." Ves stated. "That said, we must remain cautious and avoid stepping too much on anyone's toes. We shouldn't take any deal that favors one side too much over any other. I did not expect to open relations with the Rubarthans in this fashion, but I don't think that they have any malevolent intentions towards us. Do you know what they want from us, Shederin?"
"They have transmitted a variety of proposals, from commissioning custom companion spirits for their royal descendants to offering you to teach any class you like at their most prestigious mech design universities."
These were fairly predictable solicitations. Ves wasn't supposed to hand out companion spirits to people outside of his clan, so there was no way he could legally meet this request.
As for teaching classes at a Rubarthan university, Ves was not principally opposed to this proposal.
The problem was that he only had so much available time in his busy schedule. Ves did not want to take away even more time from his design projects! 𝒇𝓻𝙚𝙚𝙬𝙚𝒃𝙣𝒐𝓿𝙚𝓵.𝒄𝒐𝒎
"We'U discuss how to engage the Terrans and Rubarthans tomorrow." Ves decided. "Anyway, let us talk about the state of our expeditionary fleet. Given the excessive amount of attention that I have attracted as of late, it is no longer viable for us to linger in the Corellix System. It's not just the human groups we have to worry about. The aliens are definitely keeping track of what goes on in our society. We cannot rule out the possibility that they will try to throw a lot of alien warships at us in an attempt to decapitate a tier 3 galactic citizen."
That caused many Larkinsons to frown. Galactic citizens of this tier generally did not stray so close to the frontlines unless they were powerful pilots or battlefield commanders.
It simply wasn't worth it for everyone else to turn themselves into such a tempting target in front of their enemies!
"I have thought about two possible ways we can proceed from here." Ves continued. "The most logical course of action is to suspend the Trailblazer Expedition and fall back to a safer and better-defended star system in the rear. The Bortele System in the Torald Middle Zone should be safe enough for us to catch our breath. The Red Two has recently expanded its fortifications, so no one will dare to cause any incidents at this strategic location."
General Verle nodded with approval. "We have come up with the same plan as well, sir."
"This is not our only possible course of action. I've been thinking about an alternative that should defy everyone's expectations. Instead of retreating to the rear, I propose to do the opposite. We should boldly cross into alien space and destroy a couple of alien raiding fleets that never expected us to invade their territory! With the help of our accompanying Bluejay Fleet, we can utilize the powerful capabilities of its warships to ambush the alien fleets and even offer powerful fire support if necessary! It's not wise for us to linger so far forward for more than a month, but we should be able to make more than enough contributions to cement our new status as linefighters!"
The reception to this alternative proposal was not as enthusiastic as Ves hoped.
Gloriana, General Verle, Calabast and everyone else exchanged knowing glances with each other before issuing their unanimous response.
"We are not about to let you drag us all into a desperate and completely avoidable crisis once again!" Gloriana complained! "Is it so difficult for you to suppress your desire to 'do the unexpected' and adopt the wiser course of action for once? The Trailblazer Expedition can wait, Ves. We need to return to safe harbor and reorganize our clan in response to all of the changes your actions have wrought. If you truly insist on resuming the expedition, you can send the bulk of our forces back to the deep frontier while you and I remain in the rear. There is no need for us to accompany our main fleet everywhere now that you have a better alternative in the form of the Bluejay Fleet."
She had a good point. The escort fleet massively expanded his options and no longer made him so reliant on the expeditionary fleet and the Golden Skull Alliance.
That did not mean that the latter had become useless to him. So long as most of his clansmen were still second-raters, there was still a lot of value in maintaining their existing alliances and friendships.
Anyway, seeing that no one was a fan of his radical proposal to travel head-long into alien space just so they could smack a few more alien fleets, Ves retreated from his preferred option.
"Okay, okay. I get it. We'll all turn back and return to the Bortele System so that we can take stock of our new situation. You guys are no fun, you know that?"
"This is not a game, Ves."
That caused him to scoff. "Everything is a game. You just don't recognize it. Even now, we have become participants in a much greater game than you realize."