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 As much as Ves wanted to resist the influence of the Larkinsons, there was some merit to entrusting responsibility to family. In any case, he did not plan to introduce too many family members within his sphere of influence at once.

Family could be useful. The Larkinsons generally enjoyed a good reputation. They were famous for their upright conduct and their excellent skill in piloting mechs. How could Ves not be attracted to such strength? They were certainly more reliable than random mercenaries who signed ten-year contracts but could easily forget about it when a battle took a bad turn.

Thus, Ves came around to hosting more Larkinson mech pilots. The only concern he had about accepting the help of more family members was that he did not wish to lose control over his own outfit!

If he paid for the mechs, training, salaries and other ongoing expenses of the Avatars of Myth, then he damn well sure called the shots!

Grandpa Benjamin suggested the names of various old dogs, but Ves rejected them all.

"If an old Larkinson veteran takes charge in my Avatars of Myth, where does that leave Melkor?" Ves shook his head. "He's much younger and inexperienced than most of the old dogs of the Larkinson family."

His grandfather smiled at Ves. "No offense to Melkor, but he doesn't possess any actual leadership experience. If you want to make your Avatars of Myth truly shine, then you should put a more capable leader in charge. Many of our retired Larkinson mech pilots have reached the rank of mech captain when they served in the Mech Corps. We even have a couple who have managed to reach the rank of mech major! All of the names I just put forward will certainly do a better job in leading your personal force!"

"No thank you."

Ves liked Melkor even if he didn't trust the dropout from the Mech Corps very much. In any case, his relative youth and inexperience turned him into a pliable figurehead to Ves. Melkor possessed enough administrative capabilities to run the Avatars of Myth but lacked the charisma and experience to be a strong leader who could subvert the loyalties of the mech pilots!

On the other hand, an experienced leader of Major Verle's caliber would be much more difficult to control. Ves would constantly be worrying if the Avatars of Myth would still follow his orders when times got tough.

Eventually, Ves agreed to receive a first batch of three younger mech pilots. All of them graduated from the mech academies only recently and hadn't been able to enlist in the Mech Corps before the war had already ended.

"The three Larkinsons I'm putting under your care are a rather unfortunate lot." Benjamin shook his head in pity. "They've trained so hard in order for them to excel in the war, but they will have to wait at least a generation before they can showcase their prowess against the Vesians. Please do them a favor and take them on. Perhaps they will be able to learn there is more to piloting mechs than fighting against the Vesians."

Once they agreed on this topic, they moved on to discuss some other minor matters. For example, the increased prominence of the LMC within the family increased Ves' stature among the Larkinsons.

Although the Larkinsons didn't went as far as to make Ves their new patriarch, it was undeniable that he was more than just an elder of the family. As long as Ves continued to bring in the money, his influence within the family was just as great as an expert pilot!

"Our Larkinson expert pilots continue to earn renown for our family, but they aren't exactly capable of leveraging their abilities into money." Benjamin sighed. "You're different in that regard. It's not shameful for a mech designer to be a profiteer."

Having a higher say in the family meant that he wielded more power in the steering committee, not that Ves particularly paid attention to that. In any case, this was just the start to Ves. Once he advanced to Journeyman and his LMC grew even further, he would quickly become more prominent than all the Larkinson expert pilots put together!

"There is one more topic I wanted to address before you go, Ves. It's about your father."

Ves suddenly turned stony-eyed. "Did you obtain any news from the Nyxian Gap?"

"It's difficult to obtain reliable information from that pirate-infested region. We've managed to find traces of your father throughout the Nyxian Gap, but at some point a year ago he dropped off the face of the galaxy. For what it's worth, we haven't found any signs that someone killed or kidnapped him. We think that he has changed his face and adopted another identity to throw off pursuit. Since the investigators we've hired haven't managed to find a clue of his current whereabouts, it's safe to say it's working."

Anything could be behind the disappearance of his father. While Ves wanted to believe that his grandfather was right in that his father merely reconstructed his face and took on another name, he couldn't help but be afraid that something drastic happened.

Unfortunately, Ves was in no position to help his father out. In fact, he would just be implicating himself if he blundered into the Nyxian Gap without the right preparations. He needed to grow much more powerful in order to track his father down and provide meaningful assistance.

For now, it was best that they remained separate. Ves never felt the urge to advance faster than this moment! If he wanted to take his first step towards greater prominence, then he needed to advance to Journeyman as fast as possible!

After his long and fruitful discussion with Benjamin, Ves felt he understood his grandfather and the Larkinson Family a bit more. He also learned that the role the LMC played in boosting the family's financial fortunes was a lot more influential than he initially thought.

If his grandfather told him the truth, then the Larkinson Family was even ready to move away from their insistence on sticking to their principle of neutrality!

As Ves boarded a shuttle and departed from the Larkinson Compound, he considered whether that was a good development. For some reason, he felt as if his existence was corrupting the Larkinsons.

"No tradition lasts forever. Even families change." Ves muttered.

Once the shuttle arrived at the spaceport at Kelnar, Ves moved on to a transit shuttle that brought him up at a space station in orbit. There, he transferred to yet another shuttle that finally brought him back to the Barracuda, which was parked a distance away from Rittersberg I.

Along the way, Ves picked up the three young Larkinson mech pilots. He welcomed them onto his personal space yacht. For the moment, the mech pilots appeared dazzled by the extravagant wealth implied by his ownership of such a fine little starship.

"How much does the Barracuda cost?"

"Around a billion cols when I first got it. It's a competition prize. I didn't pay for it myself." Ves nonchalantly shrugged.

The eyes of Chette, Jannzi and Rhode all widened at the mention of such an immense sum! A billion cols was a billion coalition credits!

This basically meant that the Barracuda was worth at least 100 billion bright credits at her peak value!

Of course, several years of regular operation depreciated her value by at least half. In addition, there wouldn't be many second-hand buyers who would actually fork over 50 billion credits for a little private yacht.

Nobody in their right minds would pay so much money for a single ship, at least not in the Bright Republic. Ves would have to go to the Friday Coalition and find some profligate spender to liquidate the Barracuda.

Still, Ves deliberately impressed the value of his personal yacht upon the three young Larkinsons in order to draw a line between himself and them. They were sorely mistaken if they thought they could take liberties just because they shared the same family name.

Ves was in charge, and he wanted every Larkinson who followed him to learn this lesson.

As the Barracuda transitioned into FTL and headed straight towards Bentheim, Ves found out he went a little overboard. The freshly-graduated trio of mech pilots were a lot younger and less experienced than he thought.

After everyone settled into their own cabins, Ves invited the three Larkinsons put under his care for a drink at the lounge. The three young Larkinsons meekly sat beside each other as they faced Ves, who possessed a presence that only older Larkinsons emanated.

It helped that Ves secretly pressured them with his Spirituality. He wanted to influence the new Larkinsons right away. He did not want another Raella on his hands who abandoned her duties in favor of going her own way.

"So." Ves began as he calmly took a sip of his glass of wine. "Introduce yourselves, please. I don't think I've seen your faces very often during our annual family gatherings. Please begin with your name and mech pilot specialty."

"Chette Larkinson, spaceborn rifleman mech specialist."

"Jannzi Larkinson, space knight specialist."

"Rhode Larkinson, landbound striker specialist."

Ves lit up at the mention of the second name. Jannzi Larkinson just so happened to be specialized in piloting space knights! He could make use of her to refine his upcoming super-medium space knight design!

Of course, now was not the time to overwhelm his younger cousins with his work. He maintained his boss-like demeanor and calmly explored their history. All of them received vigorous training from the Larkinsons on top of attending renowned mech academies. In fact, they just graduated from a top mech academy in Rittersberg and waited at home for the next round of enlistments that was scheduled to commence in a couple of months.

"The war ended before we got the opportunity to enlist." Chette Larkinson sighed.

The other two Larkinsons sent Ves a questioning glance. They couldn't help but recall the recent news.

Ves instantly knew what they were thinking about. A dangerous aura emanated from his body. "Don't believe in the news. It's all slander and propaganda. There's no way I hooked up with a Vesian expert pilot. Anyone who utters a word about that stupid lie will be booted right back to Rittersberg, is that clear?"

The three young Larkinsons nodded their heads like hungry chicks.

As they got to know each other a little better, Ves became more confident that he could keep them under his thumb. Perhaps his grandfather knew of his concerns and deliberately put forward young and inexperienced recruits to put him at ease.

In any case, Ves easily accepted the presence of Chette, Jannzi and Rhode Larkinson under his care. All three of them were destined to join the Avatars of Myth and follow orders from Melkor.

Rhode Larkinson would be supplementing the existing landbound mech company of the Avatars of Myth. Since he specialized in piloting a landbound striker mech, he would have to make due with a commercial mech bought from the market.

Striker mechs didn't sell as well as the other mech types, so Ves wouldn't design such a mech anytime soon.

As for Chette and Jannzi, they both professed a desire to pilot spaceborn mechs. It would be a waste to keep them bound to the land. Ves planned to brush off his long-dormant plans of setting up a spaceborn contingent of the Avatars of Myth.

With an adequate amount of protection on land and in space, the Avatars of Myth should be able to provide comprehensive protection to both himself and his company.

The Barracuda made swift progress in reaching Bentheim. It was always easier to travel to a port system. The Barracuda didn't travel in-system but instead lingered at the edge of the star system long enough to jump to Cloudy Curtain.

After more than a week of travel, the Barracuda comfortably arrived at the Cloudy Curtain System and reached the orbit of its only inhabited planet.

The corvette descended into the atmosphere and landed straight onto a purpose-built landing pad next to the Mech Nursery. Ves was surprised that Captain Silvestra opted to go straight home without bothering to stop by at the spaceport at Orinoco!

"We've received an exemption." The captain of the Barracuda grinned. "There's so much goods flowing in and out of the Mech Nursery that it's a huge bother to go through the spaceport. After applying some pressure on the local government, the LMC received a pass on inspections."

It seemed that the influence of the LMC on Cloudy Curtain grew so large that the local government had no choice but to bend its own rules!

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