After his fruitful talk with his grandfather, Ves felt a lot better about himself.
His grandfather expressed tentative approval of his intention to spend his time in another star cluster.
As long as the expeditionary fleet had room for Benjamin and a number of other Larkinsons who were willing to depart from the Bright Republic, the Larkinson Family wouldn't object to the absence of Ves at home.
He could leave the Bright Republic without too much guilt. He wouldn't be leaving the Larkinson Family and most of his friends and family hung out to dry.
After he finished with his calls, he turned back to the present. After almost two months of constant travel, the Chuko Republic finally came within reach.
Ves had been looking forward to visiting the Chuko Republic, though Gavin was much less enthused with the decision.
"Well, I can't blame my assistant. Chuko is definitely in a mess right now."
Sitting squarely in the middle of three states, none of which were friendly, the Chuko Republic's sovereignty no longer stood on solid ground.
Piracy and attacks by unidentified forces frequently plagued the border regions of the state. The constant raids became so pervasive that most shipping traffic to the periphery of Chuko practically ceased. Aside from large, extremely well-protected relief convoys, most of the outlying planets were basically left to fend for themselves!
Closer to the heartland of Chuko, the provincial governments held sway. Since the central government grew increasingly feeble and less capable of securing the safety of its territory, its three provinces gained increasingly more sway in the lives of the average citizens.
The situation was analogous to that of the Vesia Kingdom where their royal house were no longer able to control the powerful ducal houses that held most of the power.
"There are still a couple of differences, though." Ves murmured.
The Chuko Republic's government showed some signs of recent revival after a new leader came into power.
Having seen the writing on the wall, President Dominic Qkwanve enacted a wide sweep of reforms as soon as he assumed his office.
Predictably, he ruffled a lot of feathers in his attempts to clean up the rot and strengthen the state. The provinces weren't happy. Its greedy neighbors weren't happy. Many other stakeholders inside and outside the state would lose out as well if the reforms came to pass.
Yet did the Chuko Republic have any choice at this point? With dwindling trade, frequent slaughters, destructive mech battles, fleeing citizens plaguing the state, everyone could tell it was on a downward spiral.
"President Qkwanve just has the courage to make a serious attempt at reversing this trend."
Too bad it came too late. Every news article on the galactic net predicted that the Chuko Republic had already passed the point of no return.
With so much awful news coming out of the Chuko Republic, a lot of people around him expressed surprise that he would want to visit the failing state. Was Ves out of his mind?
He smirked. "The Chuko Republic is a state that is about to burn the brightest before it inevitably falls. The desperate events I'll be able to witness will definitely be worth the risk."
He had other motives in mind when he visited the state as well. Despite all the restrictions holding sway over the local star systems, Ves hoped to pick up some bargains from the dying state.
Perhaps he might be able to pick up promising but persecuted mech designers. Maybe he could hire more remarkable mech pilots like the Ingvars who were looking to leave their deteriorating factions.
Plenty of Chukans were already in the process of moving their people and assets elsewhere. Though Ves didn't expect to obtain a share of the good stuff, who knew what treasures might come into possession just by being in the right place at the right time.
The only concern of his was to manage his risk and avoid veering into regions of space with acute security risks.
Fe Nitaa requested a meeting with Ves to discuss this very topic.
"Do you know if the Order of Fl'xix has any friends in the Chuko Republic?"
"I can't say." His tall bodyguard replied. "The Chuko Republic is rife with different organizations, many of which are infiltrated or outright fronts for various foreign influences. According to my research, this problem is so pervasive that a single hidden influence can hardly do anything because it will inevitably bump into all of the other hidden influences."
The subtext here was that even if the Five Scrolls Compact maintained a front organization within Chuko, they shouldn't be very powerful.
Nitaa was right that other foreign influences likely held more sway in the faltering state. The Hegemony-aligned Hinsen Protectorate, the xenophobic Traditional Tribe and the Vicious Mountain-related Phantasm Republic each wanted a piece of Chuko, and didn't want to share their spoils with others!
"Okay, then. I guess we should worry more about the other factions."
"Of them all, the Hinson Protectorate is probably the one that is most inclined to respect us." Nitaa spoke. "Since it borders the Hexadric Hegemony, Hinson's ties with the second-rate state is deep, and it's often considered as an informal potency of the Hexers. Considering your relationship with Gloriana, their forces in Chuko should steer well away from you. The last thing Hinson wants to see is pissing off your girlfriend and by extension the Wodins!"
That was one of the benefits of having a powerful girlfriend. Ves did not feel any shame in taking advantage of her status and wielding it like a club to further his goals.
"What is not so certain is our ability to remain on the good side of the Redwell Province." She continued. "Governor Alinc detests the Hegemony because they indirectly enable the aggression of the Hinson Protectorate.
Governor Alinc ruled the Redwell Province located on the upper slice of the Chuko Republic. Further upwards sat the Hinson Protectorate, which in turn bordered the southern side of the massive Hexadric Hegemony.
Just like the Kamon Republic's relationship with the Fridaymen, the Hinson Protectorate had turned into the playground of the Hexers. A lot of investment and other economic activity took place between the two disparate states.
Though Hinson hadn't signed any formal treaties with the Hexers denoting its status as their vassal state, everyone and their mother knew that the two possessed very friendly ties.
Naturally, that didn't mean Hinson got to throw around their weight by virtue of their powerful backer.
Unlike Ves who knew that Gloriana didn't mind that he took advantage of her status, the Hinson Protectorate had less options. The ambitious state wasn't allowed to leverage its good relations with its powerful neighbor to its diplomatic advantage.
Otherwise, who knew if the Hinson Protectorate completely went off the rockers and started to provoke a suicidal war against the Friday Coalition!
For this reason, the second-rate states maintained a distinct degree of separation between their neighboring third-rate states. The Coalition and the Hegemony both cultivated beneficial ties with the small fries, but never allowed them to dictate their foreign policies.
In fact, states like Hinson had to restrain their behavior even further! As an unofficial vassal of the Hegemony, any move they made reflected back on their big brother!
This left the Hinson Protectorate in an awkward position. It sensed a lot of weakness in the Chuko Republic and already started to eye its Redwell Province.
Yet it wasn't really allowed to attack another state while it was so intertwined with the Hexers.
Without the possibility to act in the open, Hinson instead sought an alternative means to conquer the Redwell Province.
What if the Redwellers wanted to secede from the Chuko Republic and voluntarily apply to join the Hinson Protectorate?
Ordinarily, such an occurrence should have been impossible. The Chuko Republic stamped out every element that advocated for defection.
Yet.. the brutal suppression in the open only drove the seditious talk underground and behind closed doors. A significant proportion of Redwellers secretly hankered for stability. They didn't care whether they paid taxes to the Chuko Republic or the Hinson Protectorate.
What they really cared about was being ruled by a strong and secure state that ensured that everyone's lives would improve in the future!
Currently, the frail and increasingly powerless Chuko Republic failed to deliver the safety, security and prosperity its citizens expected of their government!
Informally, the citizens that supported defection were called Whitewellers.
This was because their detractors believed the traitorous Chukans were proverbially raising the white flag in surrender!
Instead of sticking to their home state through its most difficult time, the Whitewellers would rather give up their entire identity and culture!
This was an incredibly serious betrayal to the Chuko Republic!
The more fanatical Chukans who were diehard supporters of the Chuko Republic or the Redwell Province always butchered the Whitewellers whenever they uncovered them. The more ardent loyalists of the Redwell Province became known for engaging in many violent incidents!
News reports of lynchings, witch hunts and pogroms regularly littered the regional news. The radical Redwellers, often hiding their identities behind red hoods or masks, were subsequently Bloodwellers!
The reason for their name should be obvious.
To their credit, the extreme acts perpetrated by the Bloodwellers successfully frightened many neutral Redwellers from joining the Whitewellers.
The Bloodwellers also rooted out many Hinson spies and infiltrators that attempted to sow chaos and division in order to boost the Whiteweller cause!
"The population of the Redwell Province is bitterly divided between the Whitewellers and Bloodwellers." Nitaa grimaced. "Both groups are violently at odds with each other, though the latter are particularly rabid. The entry of foreigners like us in their province will be met with a lot of suspicion by the Bloodwellers. Your association with the Hexadric Hegemony is very toxic in the Redwell province."
Despite her words, Ves merely stretched his arms behind his back and leaned into his chair. "The Chukans won't dare to do anything to me. Even the Bloodwellers know better than to touch my hair."
She couldn't quite believe what she heard. "That does not protect you against threats from the dark! There are plenty of interest groups who would love nothing more than to assassinate you! If something happens to you in Redwell space, the local situation will definitely be inflamed! The Wodin Dynasty might even push the Hinson Protectorate to be more overt in their attempts to take over the Redwell Province, thereby giving the Hinsoners and the Whitewellers exactly what they want!"
In other words, the Hinsoners and the Whitewellers may possibly be plotting to kill him in order to advance their political cause!
These were exactly the groups that Ves wanted to engage! He especially eyed the Whitewellers as possible targets for recruitment and other business!
"We'll just have to manage the risks carefully." He reiterated. "With you and Lucky by my side and the Battle Criers covering us with their mechs, any attackers will have to think twice. They'll be in huge trouble if they become exposed."
"That still leaves way too many options to attack you, sir. Their motives for doing so are very strong."
Ves nodded in agreement. "This is why the key is to stick to Redwell's Provincial Government. While they are sympathetic towards the Bloodwellers, they won't dare to pull off any shenanigans. Inflaming the situation is not in their best interest."
He had to admit it sounded like a mess. While public security hadn't deteriorated to the point where assassinations were rife, Ves didn't dare to enter the Redwell Province without a hefty escort.
Fortunately, the strength of the Battle Criers should be enough to deter most outfits from seeking trouble with him. In addition, he was confident he could navigate the complicated web of Whitewellers, Bloodwellers, Chukans and Hinsoners.
In his eyes, the Chuko Republic was already becoming as murky as the frontier. The key to surviving in the frontier was to make at least some friends who could cover his back.
After studying various options, Ves decided to approach a particular mech designer in Redwell Province.