Ever since Gloriana made her unsolicited presence known, Ves fell in an awkward spot.
The two women immediately held a silent staring contest. Tension flared between the women while Ves awkwardly stood in between them. With Gloriana's projection leaning so closely against his body, he experienced much of the heat and animosity that Calabast directed towards his girlfriend!
Neither women liked each other!
Ves tried to figure out the signals they sent to each other with their postures and changes in expression, but he failed to decipher their silent communication.
Even if he was capable of interpreting the meows, roars and grunts of many different animals, women happened to be a whole other species!
It was as if he stopped existing in their eyes. Both Gloriana and Calabast only had eyes for each other. Neither relented in their unspoken dominance game.
Eventually, both women slightly averted their eyes.
"Hmph!" Gloriana crossed her arms. "I don't know who this floozy is and what she means to you, but I can tell she's more than she seems."
"You're a very dangerous person yourself, Miss Wodin." Calabast smiled acidly.
Ves nervously waved his arms in an attempt to reduce the tension. "Come on, please. Gloriana, Madame Cecily here is just a business partner."
"The two of you were quite intimate in your conversation!"
"I know more about Mr. Larkinson then you ever will." Calabast taunted, not helping the situation at all!
"Come on! Please stop arguing!" Ves begged.
"SHUT UP!""The adults are talking right now!"
Ves cringed from the twin rebuke. The two women weren't willing to back down!
After another tense pause, Calabast eventually opened her mouth.
"Let's take this elsewhere. The little kid doesn't need to hear what we have to say to each other."
"My thoughts exactly." Gloriana nodded ardently. "I don't want to show my ugly side towards my boyfriend."
Both Calabast and Gloriana ignored him and simultaneously activated a comm command that turned their three-way conversation into a two-way conversation.
Ves had been kicked out of the comm call he originally started!
"Damnit! I haven't even told her about my grand expedition yet!"
He had no idea what Calabast and Gloriana were talking about. It might be just like last time when Calabast held a private discussion with Venerable Foster on the Starlight Megalodon.
Hopefully, the outcome would be the same here where the two women agreed to keep the peace between each other.
Later in the day, Ves received a comm call from Calabast. He accepted it, causing her projection to reappear in front of him. She had fully regained her composure, though Ves sensed some lingering disaffection in her eyes.
"Your proactive girlfriend and I engaged in a very extensive discussion." She began. "While I don't particularly approve of her, she has made it abundantly clear that she is here to stay."
"This doesn't change anything between us, Mr. Larkinson. Our current business relations will still continue apace."
Obviously, she hadn't managed to obtain a decisive advantage in her talk with Gloriana.
Deep within his mind, Ves wondered if he could make use of his girlfriend to get rid of Calabast. He hadn't exactly gotten in bed with the spy willingly.
Just as he contemplated the possibility, he quickly brushed it aside. With how careful Calabast must be, she must have prepared for every possible eventuality. Getting rid of her would come at a much greater price than tolerating her meddling.
"So are you cool with Gloriana?" He asked.
She grimaced. "I would not use that term to describe my thoughts on her. Suffice to say, I suppose I can tolerate her. I think she feels the same way about me as I've expressed no interest in competing with her on your affections. Sorry to let you down, kid, but you're not my type."
"I never thought about it." Ves nervously laughed. Whether he was telling the truth, who knew? Right now, he just wanted to avoid any further arguments. "By the way, did she mention anything about my future plan?"
Calabast. "I've heard. Gloriana was quite willing to rub your supposed 'grand expedition' in my face, especially seeing as she gets to travel by your side."
"So.. what do you think?"
She crossed her arms and eyed him in a critical manner. "I know you well enough that even if some of your decisions are idiotic, you always have a goal in mind. While I don't exactly know why you are so eager to depart to a different star cluster at such a timeframe, I think I can make a guess or two. The answers are already written on your face."
"I guess I can't hide much from you." He nonchalantly shrugged. "The Komodo Star Sector is nice and all, but I think a lengthy expedition to another part of human space will do a lot of good for me for multiple reasons."
"I see that one reason in particular has played a larger role in your decision than the others."
"True. I can't really talk about it on an insecure channel, though. Let's just say that whatever you think is probably true."
"I'll pay a visit to you when you return to the Bright Republic." She nodded in understanding.
They moved on to what would happen if the grand expedition went through.
"I should caution you not to take too much stock in your future predictions." She lectured him. "Your judgement may be wrong. Your sources may be inaccurate. Accidents might happen along the way that can completely upend your plans. You should develop multiple scenarios and be prepared if the worst might happen early."
"I've already taken that into account. I can be quite cautious if I need to be." Ves nodded. "By the way, when I'll be heading off, what will you do?"
"I have my own plans. They are contingent on other conditions which are not present as of yet." She flatly replied. "I don't intend to accompany you on your trip, if that is what you are wondering. Your 'girlfriend' won't tolerate my presence, and I am already occupied with my own ventures."
"So our business relationship will just persist as usual?"
Calabast immediately shook her head. "You're not getting rid of me that easily, Mr. Larkinson. I'll make sure to keep in touch with you in some way. Who knows what kind of decisions you'll make without sound counsel by your side."
"I have Gloriana."
She wordlessly raised her eyebrow.
"Uhh.. yeah. I see what you mean." He sheepishly replied.
"While Gloriana is a capable mech designer, I truly fear what the two of you will do if left to your own devices." She theatrically shuddered in fear as if that was a bad thing! "At the very least, I'll arrange for a more secure means of communication so that we'll both be able to discuss more sensitive matters by remote. Don't discount my value."
Of course she would say something like that. If Ves truly bought the idea that he could replace her with Gloriana, then Calabast would likely teach him a lesson he would never forget!
She was just as scary as Gloriana, but in a different way!
Ves and Calabast turned to other topics after that, but they didn't have all that much to talk about without giving too much away. Gloriana already proved that their comm channel was as compromised as a public toilet.
Even she expressed her frustration at this inadequate communication method.
"If I knew you decided to go on an impromptu tour through the star sector, I would have prepared a more secure means of communication earlier."
"I know this isn't your fault. Well, it is, but that's just who you are." She said in an exasperated manner. Dealing with him sure strained her patience! "When you swing close to the Nyxian Gap, don't linger for long. The scum that infests this region are more dangerous that the bottom feeders that lurk in the frontier."
With that, she cut off the call. Ves sighed and collapsed onto his chair. He was glad his talk with Calabast hadn't led to anything more serious.
In addition, while the spy hadn't outright approved of Gloriana, she could probably live with his relationship to the Hexer.
Ves did have an inkling that she was up to something, though. The Calabast he knew had likely concocted a scheme by now to take advantage of his grand expedition.
He wondered how long she would continue to disguise herself as an Ylvainan scion. While Calabast preferred to work in the shadows, her current cover identity became less and less relevant as Ves and the LMC grew stronger.
Calabast would never let him get the upper hand. He just knew she would find a way to become more relevant again. Her current distance and her lack of overt moves did not mean she remained dormant in the shadows.
"I probably did annoy her to no end by springing my grand expedition on her. Much of her plans are probably moot."
If Ves guessed right, Calabast should have been in the process of building a network of spies and informants throughout the star sector. While her efforts were not in vain as long as the LMC maintained a solid presence in the local mech markets, the Komodo Star Sector wasn't indispensable to him anymore.
With another region of space for him to play with, his business in the Bright Republic would inevitably become a background concern for him.
To be honest, Ves had already spent less attention to his business that he ought to. He focused much more on his personal development than the growth of his company.
He knew the reason why. "It's just that there isn't anything pressing to me that requires a lot of money."
That wasn't exactly true. He always wished he had more money so he could buy more goodies. From overpriced exotics that resonated with his design philosophy, to ships that would make up his grand expedition, he would never run out of something useful to buy.
The issue was that he did not feel particularly deprived of something at the moment. Investing in his ability to design mechs sounded like a much better idea because his earning ability increased significantly as long as he made his mechs a little more attractive.
Considering that the secret of his grand expedition became increasingly shaky, Ves decided to inform other stakeholders of his intentions.
For example, when Ves called his grandfather Benjamin Larkinson, he was met with astonishment and disbelief.
"What is the matter with you, Ves?"
Ves offered a brittle smile. "I didn't plan to leave the star sector either, but there are good reasons behind my move. I would like to think my parents would be proud of me for venturing outside our boring little star sector and see what else the galaxy has to offer."
"Your parents want you to be safe."
Ves pointedly looked in his grandfather's projection in the eyes. "That is true."
Hopefully, his grandfather received his implicit message.
"I.. see." The older Larkinson eventually said. "I can't say I'm happy about your decision, though. While I'm very glad to hear you finally have a girlfriend and a very impressive one at that, I'm not enthused at the thought of seeing my great-grandchildren grow up in the form of projections."
Seeing Benjamin acting so melancholic all of a sudden prompted Ves to make an impulsive decision.
"How about.. coming with me?" Ves suggested. "There should be enough room on the fleet that I'm preparing for the grand expedition to accommodate the entire Larkinson Family. I don't mind bringing you and any other Larkinson who wants to experience a change of scenery along. I'm already planning on bringing much of the Avatars of Myth with me anyway."
The offer did sound intriguing to Benjamin. "If I didn't have so many responsibilities right now, I would have said yes. I'll keep your offer in mind. Ask again when you are about to embark. Perhaps I'll be a retired old man by then. I'm already getting on in years anyway."