Chapter 1903 New Relationships
Inside a highly-congested space station in the Bentheim System, a lot of spacers and mech pilots were idling and relaxing at its many bars and other establishments of varying repute.
Ever since the sandmen stopped throwing their fleets against human territories like a flood, the defenders of the star systems that had been pushed to the brink all sighed in relief.
When the latest developments became known, the Bright Republic quickly grew alarmed while the other states thanked their lucky stars that they weren't in the way of the final sandman offensive!
Several months had gone by since the Sand War entered into an entirely different phase. As far as the more far-flung states like the Reinald Republic was concerned, the Sand War was pretty much over!
Only the states in the vicinity of the former Coman Federation still sweated like buckets. The Bright Republic may have been the obvious target, but the Vesia Kingdom, Ylvaine Protectorate, Independent State of Pillis and various other states might very well be next!
For this reason, the diplomats from the Bright Republic worked overtime in trying to solicit help from the surrounding states and beyond.
In the meantime, the Mech Corps and the Starfighter Corps eagerly took advantage of the months-long lull in battle to reorganize their deployments and prepare for the clash that everyone saw coming.
Though a lot of Brighters wanted to mourn and take stock of the immense amount of death and loss they suffered, the government didn't allow its population to let down its guard!
A large amount of Peaceful Soldiers regularly patrolled the streets of the major cities. They not only helped with enforcing martial law, but also instilled the correct moods among the citizens who simply wanted to forget about the sandmen!
The Sand War isn't over.
This phrase was repeated over and over across all manner of official communication. The Brighters had to avoid falling asleep just when the sandmen were about to come back to strike one, last blow against the state that had stopped them in their tracks!
Since the Bentheim System was the likely target of the rumored sandman planet, the Mech Corps and Starfighter Corps reassigned a large amount of regiments and divisions to this star system!
Despite the congestion, despite the logistical challenges, Bentheim grew more and more formidable as soldiers and defenders from all over the state converged on the port system!
This naturally led to a lot of congestion, especially at sites where all of them liked to spend their time while on leave!
At a particularly dingy drinking establishment that had clearly seen better days, rhythmic music blasted softly from the ceiling. A low light left much of the interior in shadow, with only a scarlet-purple glow providing enough light for the patrons to pick up their glasses of beer or banter with the right comrades!
At a cramped booth located in the corner of the top floor of the bar, two young women were waiting for their third companion to return with their orders.
Ordinarily, a serving bot should have brought their drinks to their table, but all of the bots long gone out of order!
Really now. Ketis scowled. Of all the places we could have chosen, why did he settle for this drinking hole? The ventilation system is on its last legs! The floor is sticky with spilled liquids! The walls and ceiling are already starting to corrode!
Through the laughter and banter of the other patrons, the noise also started to grate on her ears. While the former pirate was not unaccustomed to rougher crowds, she could always count on her fellow Swordsmaidens to back her up if someone looked at her wrong.
Now, plenty of the men sitting in the nearby chairs, booths and barstools were openly leering at the two women!
Though everyone here had the good sense to avoid going any further, the uncouth stares still bothered Ketis to no end!
If not for the very tight security systems keeping the space station in order, she would have felt tempted to march towards her 'admirers' to poke their eyes!
Those mercenaries and gangers are not worth your time. Raella spoke from the other side of the booth. Don't forget why we are here. Soon enough, we might have to depend on them as comrades in arms.
A solemn silence passed between the two women.
Heya, babes! Why the glum faces?! A loud and very male voice interrupted their musing.
Three large mugs of beer slammed against the tabletop. The newcomer soon sat down next to Raella and placed her hand on the curve of her bottom.
Raella swatted his arm with a slap. Not here! Keep your hands to yourself!
I wasn't doing anything, babe! Vincent Ricklin retorted with mock innocence. I was just appreciating your Larkinson charm. Have I told you that you're gorgeous?
I really don't know why the two of you got along in the first place. Ketis interrupted as she took a swig of her beer.
Vincent isn't so bad once you get to know him. Raella smirked as she partook in her own drink. He's kind of like Dietrich but better in every way! I like some excitement in my life, you know. It also helps that he pilots an impressive mech.
Vincent laughed as he swung his hand around her shoulder. Hahaha! I really do have to thank your cousin for designing my Adonis Colossus. A lot more people have begun to admire my mech ever since he appeared on the news again. I can sell my mech for a fortune if I ever accept one of the many offers that people have sent to me. You can't believe what some of these rich guys are prepared to exchange for a custom mech developed by your cousin!
I really hope you aren't letting your greed get the better of yourself. Ketis frowned. From what I know of Ves, your Adonis Colossus is only designed to work with you. You'll desecrate your mech if you pass it on to someone else.
Hey, I was just talking, babe! I love my Adonis Colossus! It's the best mech that I could ever pilot! It has brought me so much fame and success! I'd be a fool to give it away!
The only mech designer at the booth nodded with satisfaction. At least you know your priorities.
I feel kind of jealous, actually. Realla sighed. The Prideful Soldiers and other mechs I've piloted recently are not as good as yours. I really wished I pressed my relation with Ves a bit harder. Maybe that masterwork mech of his could have been mine!
Hey. The light skirmisher that I'm designing for you won't disappoint you, Raella. I'm already planning to show it to Ves so that he can make a pass on my design and instill it with one of his glows.
Is that even possible? Vincent scratched his head.
I'm not sure, but I've tried my best to adhere to his guidelines, so I think it will work.
It won't be entirely your design anymore, though.
You'll get to pilot a better mech.
Ah, that's right.
Despite the ongoing Sand War, everyone was already starting to think ahead. What would they do after human space was no longer being threatened by the sandmen? With so many devastated states and star systems, a huge wave of reclamation and reconstruction would soon take place.
Just like the invasion of the Red Ocean, there was plenty of treasure to find among the wreckage of the former border states!
Where there was treasure, there would doubtlessly be a lot of rivals looking to harvest most of the gains.
Vincent Ricklin saw a great opportunity here!
As long as he and his Ricklin's Rollers picked up a lot of valuable salvage, he could grow his mercenary corps further.
Perhaps he might even be able to claim his own planet!
As Vincent grinned and laughed at the prospect of ruling his own planet, both women shared a peculiar look.
Really, Raella. Why date this dolt?
He's fun and he's great in bed! What's not to like?
You're not growing any younger. You should start looking for something more permanent than a casual fling.
Hey, babe, don't call me a casual fling! Vincent pulled himself out of his latest daydream. He squeezed Raella's shoulder. I'm really serious about my girl here! Raella is much more than the girls I've been seeing in the past. She can be quite the tigress on and off the battlefield, if you know what I mean.
Ketis did not look amused at Vincent's obvious wink. Ugh. I don't even know why I bother.
Hey now, Ketis. Raella began to look concerned. Having someone by your side who you can click with is a great way to spend your time. I would have gone stir-crazy from all the drilling sessions if not for Vincent here. Maybe you should take a page from our book and start dating yourself.
I feel like a Hexer. None of the boys here are great. They don't understand me. Not like him...
Female Hexers who are disgusted with boys like to hook up with their own kind, right?
Ketis offered them a grim smile. The women here are not much better. It's.. not what I want. Back in my old outfit, I always considered my fellow Swordsmaidens to be sisters. I don't want to distort that impression by looking at them in a different way.
Do you have the hots for Ves?
Raella immediately slapped her man on the cheek! Vincent! Don't be rude! We talked about this! This is a sore point for Ketis! Oh, you poor girl!
I'm not as fragile as you think I am. The young mech designer sighed and shook her head. Ves has Gloriana now. They look happy with each other and I'm happy for them. I.. I always felt that Ves was too good for me. It's best that things turned out this way.
Oh, Ketis.. The exiled Larkinson stretched out her arm in order to hold Ketis' hand. If I was still with Ves, I would have smacked some sense in him. If I knew he had a fetish for Hexers like Gloriana, I would have smacked his face until he turned back to normal! He really missed out on a sweet girl like you who looked up to him all the time!
That part of my life is over. Just let it be. I have already started to look ahead.
Do you need me to introduce you to some buddies of mine? Vincent offered. I know all kinds of fellows who would love to—
—I'm fine, Vincent. I can manage on my own.
Your buddies are all thugs and lowlives. Raella complained. I know they have been covering your back during your rebel days, but you should really professionalize your outfit. At its current state, it's far from my Blood Claws and barely better than Dietrich's pathetic Whalers!
Didn't that loser get kicked out from his own gang?
That's not the point. I'm telling you, Vincent. There's no future for you if you continue to run Ricklin's Rollers like a terrorist cell.
I'm working on it! This isn't something I can change in a day.
He said this the last time, and the time before that. Nothing seemed to have changed. To Raella, Ricklin's Rollers acted more like a bunch of bros with mechs rather than a reliable fighting force.
I heard Ves and his followers are about to return to the Bright Republic, if only briefly. Raella changed the topic. My family is quite abuzz about this. What have you heard, Ketis? Are you looking forward to returning to his side? You've already spent quite a lot of time with me. While I'm glad to keep you company, I feel like you are missing out on opportunities.
Ketis frowned. She wasn't quite sure how to answer this question.
Would it be better for her to return to Ves, or try to find her own way to success?