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"What will this mean for us?" Ves asked after he regained his composure.

"We'll always share an association. Even if you are not my apprentice anymore, the mech community will still regard you as a graduate of mine, so you will still enjoy a certain amount of protection due to your past association with me. That should be enough of a parting gift."

As if Ves cared about that. She already told him that he could stand on his own as a Journeyman.

"What about the stuff I've received? To be honest, I still feel that I owe you a lot. Mech designers ought to be fair to each other, particularly when it comes to these kinds of associations. So far, I haven't paid back your generosity."

Aside from her single tutoring session, Ves substantially benefited from her reputation while also receiving a gene boost elixir and a shield generator. Though she did not seriously register their worth, they were still valuable.

He would not feel comfortable ending his apprenticeship to Master Olson without reciprocating the aid he received.

Master Olson noticed his difficulty and offered a solution. "I've seen that you haven't checked with the Clifford Society lately. You still have some merits in reserve. In order to reinforce the separation between you and I, it is best to end your membership to the Clifford Society as well. You can relinquish your merits to me while you do that. I'll consider that acceptable payment for my past assistance."

Ves frowned. "I don't understand. The Clifford Society is a club founded by the Leemar Institute of Technology, which belongs to the Carnegie Group. Shouldn't it be okay for me to continue to be a member?"

"You are not a Leemar graduate. You have no ties to the Carnegie Group, and we have just put an end to our own connection. While you are interesting enough to remain as a member due to your Journeyman status, you are too different from the other members of the Society. Right now, it is more important for us to cut any ongoing connections to the Friday Coalition."

"Uh, what?" Confusion reigned in his mind. "Why insist on that?"

Though he hadn't made use of the Clifford Society, that did not mean it was useless. Membership to the Society offered him inside access to many of the Coalition's exclusive goods and services.

While he did not care too much for Society's voluminous libraries, Ves was loath to lose access to its extensive marketplace!

An intrigued smile appeared on Master Olson's face. "You don't have to hide it, Ves. I understand why you wish to leave your latest development out of this conversation, but it isn't as awkward as you think."

Ves wanted to scratch his head. What latest development?

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Come now, Ves." Master Olson smiled. "My sources on Centerpoint have already relayed the news to me. I'm very happy for your new girlfriend! Although it's a pity that you fell in love with a Hexer, I must say that you have very good taste! The two of you are a great pair!"


WHAT?! Since when was Gloriana his girlfriend?!

"Uh, how did you know that?!"

"Your girlfriend has not been discreet about your new relationship. It's all she talks about whenever she shows up in public. You must have made her very happy when you met her at Centerpoint!"

This news astounded Ves so much that he felt like puking blood. Was this what Gloriana had been up to when he fled her company?!

He had to admit that it was a very devious move on her part. By crowing about her intimate relationship with Ves was a form of staking her claim on him in the public sphere.

If Gloriana was as determined to pursue Ves as she seemed, then she had definitely flaunted her supposed relationship with Ves all over Centerpoint by now!

Ves could hardly find another woman to date if it already became known that he was Gloriana's boyfriend! With this move, she ruthlessly cut off one of the possibilities that he could resort to in order to escape her clutches!

In his mind, he still thought he was merely exploring a relationship with Gloriana. They only shared one abortive first date and a rather tame virtual date so far. They only knew each other for a single month. That was hardly sufficient to call himself her boyfriend and vice versa!

Obviously, Gloriana thought differently. As far as she was concerned, they were already inseparable!

"So the reason why you want to end my membership to the Clifford Society is to avoid any possible conflicts of interests?" He asked after he recovered from the shock. "Is it also the real reason why you are ending my apprenticeship to you? So that it wouldn't look bad on you that one of your apprentices is dating a Hexer?"

Ves wouldn't be the only person to make himself look bad if he pursued a relationship with a Hexer while he remained apprenticed to a Master of the Coalition.

Master Olson herself would suffer a loss as well! The damage to her reputation for allowing one of her Apprentices to grow closer to the enemy reflected quite badly on her if it came out!

"Don't misunderstand. The previous reasons also apply." Master Olson nodded. "But yes, it is for your own good. It is too much of a controversy if a mech designer who maintained close ties to the Coalition is simultaneously growing closer to the Hegemony. You can't have it both ways. Between an insignificant apprenticeship to a Master that hasn't been much help and an intimate relationship to a very wonderful mech designer who is highly compatible to you, it is clear which one you should value more. Your future prospects are more important than your past ties!"

Although Ves knew that Master Mech Designers could be deceived, this was ridiculous! Master Olson truly believed that he and Gloriana had become a solid item! What had his blasted 'girlfriend' done to make her story so convincing?!

"I would not say that we are as committed as you think." Ves carefully replied, trying to tone down her misconception. "We barely met each other and we might break up after a while."

She shook her head. "You don't have to downplay your relationship. The matchmaking agency that has put you together thinks very highly of your pairing. Their conclusions are so optimistic that they are even advertising it as one of their success stories!"

Ves would have definitely spurted out a gout of blood if he had been able to! Callisto Professional Relations based their findings from completely inaccurate data!

Yet despite his protests, the damage had already been done. Even if he disavowed Gloriana, Master Olson probably wouldn't believe his word! Not if it totally went against the predictions of a famed matchmaking service associated with the MTA!

He hung his head. "I guess this is it, then?"

"As I've said, it is for your own good. Don't see it as a setback. You're free now. You can establish closer ties with the Hexadric Hegemony without embarrassing either of us. While I'm not happy that you chose to side with the Hegemony over the Coalition, your happiness is more important."

"Will the Coalition be okay with that?"

"Your allegiance is of no concern to the Coalition." Master Olson said factually. "Even if you are a Master, the fortunes of our state will not be affected."

That was true, to an extent. Master Olson and the Coalition believed that Ves was such a small figure that it didn't matter if he ran to the other side.

They might think differently if they knew about his secrets, but Ves obviously wouldn't volunteer that information.

"I see. I'm glad the Coalition won't hold it against me if I ever do so."

Though a part of him thought it was a huge blow to cut ties with Master Olson and the Friday Coalition, another part of him agreed with her prior reasoning.

Even without the impetus of Gloriana's actions, Ves already considered his apprenticeship to Master Olson to be redundant. Although they could still engage in mutually-beneficial transactions going forward, neither of them really required each other's help.

Still, just because he didn't mind cutting his existing ties didn't mean he was pining to become an ally of the Hegemony! He didn't even make up his mind whether he wanted to develop a serious relationship with Gloriana!

The Hegemony may be a powerful second-rate state, but it was run entirely by people who thought women were better than men! A significant part of the population, which happened to include his supposed girlfriend, also worshipped the number six for arbitrary reasons!

If he had a choice, he would rather continue to associate with the Friday Coalition. Most of the coalition partners such as the Carnegie Group and the Vermeer Group were quite decent and rational.

As Ves progressed his career, it was inevitable for him to dabble with second-class mechs at some point. He would rather do business with rational Fridaymen than crazy Hexers!

Since Master Olson had made her choice, she moved on to formalizing his separation. She pulled out a data pad and loaded it with numerous official virtual documents that legally confirmed his separations.

After skimming them over and signing all of the documents, Master Olson took the data pad back. "I'll file these documents to the relevant authorities. The LIT, the Society, the Coalition and the MTA will all confirm your separation in due time. Once that happens, you are free to pursue Miss Wodin without any worry of conflicting loyalties."

"Won't it still reflect badly on you for a former apprentice of yours to enter into a relationship with a Hexer?" Ves curiously asked.

"It will, but it is only a minor annoyance. It is ordinary for Masters to apprentice mech designers who turned out differently from their expectations."

In other words, Master Olson could diminish the damage to her prestige by regarding Ves as a black sheep.

While that didn't sound very flattering to Ves, it wasn't as if he could do anything about it. His reputation was already mixed, so becoming known for having strong differences of opinions with an esteemed Master who showed him kindness hardly bothered him at this point.

"It is a pity." She sighed. "I had plans for you before you left for Centerpoint. Oleg missed your company as well. Out of all of my Apprentices, he was the happiest when he heard you've advanced to Journeyman. He already made some plans to collaborate with you on a mech design to see if the two of you would make good partners."

"Oleg.."

"He already left to attend the Rimward Games a few months ago. Be sure to cheer for him when he competes. Although it's a longshot, I really do hope he finishes in the top thousand."

So many young mech designers from all over the galactic rim competed in the junior division of the Rimward Games that it was wildly unrealistic to hope for better! Forget about the top 1000, Ves did not think highly of Oleg's chances of finishing in the top ten-thousand! 

"I will be sure to wish him success. I still consider him a friend, if only distantly."

Master Olson smiled at Ves. "When you keep progressing, I hope you will keep in mind what you should value more. Mech designers who get too caught up in tribalism will never be able to realize the true purpose of our profession. We do not design mechs to advance the interests of a single state. We do so to advance the interests of the entire human race. Never forget this truth, Ves."

"I will remember your words, ma'am."

Her words carried a tone of finality in them. They had truly done it. They formally separated from each other. From now on, Ves was no longer Master Carmin Olson's nominal disciple!

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