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After dealing with Gloriana, Ves disliked his show of weakness. How could his spine turn so soft in front of a girl?

Ves felt the need to reassert his masculinity. How better to do that then to teach William Urbesh a lesson? The Garlaner talked big, but everyone could see that he was no true warrior. The Vandals or the Swordmaidens would have chewed him up and spit him out in a second!

"How many battles have you fought?" He asked.

The simple question took William aback. "Pardon?"

"None, right? I bet you haven't even felled a single mech."

"I resent that accusation! I have beaten plenty of mechs!"

"Have any of those instances occurred outside of simulations and practice sessions?"

William's face began to flush. "I-I-I would have you know that I am a great Urbesh clansman! We have ruled the Slicer Tribe in the past and we shall do so again under my leadership!"

Really now. From what Ves could see, William would never be able to lead a village, let alone a prominent power of a second-rate state! If William thought he stood a real chance, then the Urbesh clan must be in a dire state!

"So you think you're hot stuff, right?"

"I wouldn't call myself that, but I am proud of my skill!"

"Then come prove it to me. Right here. Right now."

"W-What do you mean by that?"

Ves patted his chest. "Come prove your strength. Don't you want me to acknowledge you? Then come show what you're made of in the only way real men communicate!"

The real meaning of his provocation dawned upon the mech pilot. While Ves still stood in a casual posture, William began to enter into a fighting posture by raising his fists, leaning forward and bending his knees.

"That's better. Now come here and throw a punch!"

"You sure? I'm a trained fighter!"

"Then you should definitely be able to beat down a mech designer like me! Come on and fight already! Stop pussyfooting around like a craven—"


William ran up to Ves in a swift rush. His lean body gifted him with a lot of speed that caught Ves slightly by surprise.

Yet when William's punch landed, Ves merely looked bored as William immediately cried out and shook his pained knuckle.

"You're cheating! You have armor underneath your clothes! Your ship projected an anti-grav field that blocked my fist! There is no way you should be able to withstand my genetically-enhanced strength!"

Ves lazily kicked at the whining figure, causing William to fall flat on his back!

"OUCH! Are you a cyborg or something!? There's no way you're a mech designer!"

Contempt rose up from Ves. Compared to the likes of Tristan Wesseling and Gloriana Wodin, William Urbesh was the most pathetic citizen of a second-rate state he had ever met!

"Stop making excuses. If you can't even defeat someone who designs mechs all day, how can you ever hope to lead a clan or a tribe? I know thousands of third-raters like myself who can whoop your ass, genetic enhancements or no! Even a struggling pirate from the frontier is better than you, because they at least have the guts to keep fighting instead of complaining about unfairness!"

"Don't compare me to a pirate!"

Urbesh could no longer maintain his arrogant facade. If he couldn't even defeat a single mech designer, how could he call himself a warrior?

The mech pilot looked so pathetic that Ves took pity on the fellow. "I'm not like any other mech designer. Nonetheless, even if it isn't fair, so what? Battles are never fair. The galaxy isn't fair. Nothing is fair. If mech pilots are only able to fight when the battle is fair or in their favor, then you might as well say goodbye to your ambitions, because the only courage that's good enough to produce expert pilots is the one that dares to fight against overwhelming odds!"

"T-That's not true! There are many kinds of expert pilots!"

"How many have you actually met? Don't think I'm ignorant about expert pilots. My Larkinson Family currently boasts several expert pilots and expert candidates! We have high-ranking mech pilots in every generation leading all the way back to the founding of our home state! Can your Urbesh clan match my family's pedigree?"

William fell silent.

"The Urbesh Clan isn't in a good shape, am I correct?"

To his credit, William honestly admitted it. "My clan fell from grace in recent times. No expert pilot has emerged from our clan in two generations. Many of my relatives who tried have died or failed. The other clans don't want us to rise again, so they've deliberately cornered them into duels or lead them into accepting dangerous missions."

In a fairly plain society like the Bright Republic, personal honor played an important role among mech pilots. Mech pilots belonged to a distinct martial class that adhered to its own rules and traditions.

Yet from what Ves could recall of the Garlen Empire, the mech pilots there took it to a completely different level.

Honor played a much more important role. Battle feats and trophies served as proof as a mech pilot's valor. Those who impressed others with their battle prowess always got ahead of those who did not show off nearly as much.

Skill wasn't the only factor that determined a mech pilot's worth. The Garlaners wanted to be led by real warriors.

To Ves, the way the Garlen leaders constantly tried to outdo each other led to lots of violence. The Garlen Empire had gained a reputation for being highly militaristic and aggressive. They constantly threatened the other states of the Vicious Mountain Star Sector with the antics of their leaders whenever they felt the need to prove their worth.

A state led by mech pilots meant that it was actually led by the impulses of mech pilots. The state only existed to sustain a robust war industry and to provide an endless supply of cannon fodder to bolster the armies of the aggressive Garlen clans and tribes.

Ves had no idea how a pushover like William Urbesh emerged from such a militaristic state.

In fact, he knew almost nothing about the fellow at all. If Ves wanted to tackle his latest assignment seriously, then he should really study up on William's background and circumstances.

For now, Ves got what he wanted from the mech pilot. He no longer felt as small and weak as he did when he faced Gloriana.

"Alright, for now I'll pack you off to my cousin Melkor Larkinson so he can see what you're made of. Let me call him so that he can send a shuttle to pick you up."

He had no desire to hold William's hand all the time. The way Ves saw it, the Rim Guardians only cared about helping him become an expert candidate. The exact method didn't matter as long as the result was there.

Though William was in no way expert pilot material, nothing was impossible. With all the knowledge that Ves accrued, he knew exactly what was needed to push a mech pilot through the extraordinary threshold.

In fact, now that he thought about it, wasn't William the ideal guinea pig that he asked for? While the Urbesh clansman wasn't as good as a dwarf because Ves still needed to care for his life, at least he could try all sorts of experiments without risking the wellbeing of anyone he truly about!

An ominous glint shone in his eyes, causing William to shudder. Why did he feel like he was a mech about to be disassembled by an enthusiastic mech designer?

"Don't you worry, William. Us Larkinsons will take very good care of you, hehe." Ves grinned.

He sent a few messages to arrange the transfer. The Greenfeather reacted quickly, dispatching a shuttle to the Barracuda. Once Ves escorted William off the corvette, he turned back to his stateroom and called for Gavin.

"You called, boss?"

"I'm sure you looked up our new guest, Benny. What did you find?"

"Well, it's a doozy. I had to read up on the Garlen Empire and how the different tribes and clans are run before I figured out the context of William's circumstances. The first thing you should know is that the tribes of the Empire are similar to the partners of the Friday Coalition. They rule over vast swathes of space and possess a lot of autonomy."

Ves nodded in understanding. "I kind of figured that out already."

"Each tribe gets to be run by a patriarch who emerged from the strongest clan within their ranks. They are almost always ace pilots, but expert pilots will do if no aces have emerged. Sometimes, experts and aces come into prominence from tribesmen that don't belong to one of the premier clans, but they frequently ally themselves to one in order to climb higher."

Ace pilots were extremely rare. So much so that the Bright Republic only had a handful of them while the Friday Coalition was only marginally better off!

"Vicious Mountain is known as a brutal star sector. Its name is certainly apt." Gavin noted. "Part of why the star sector is embroiled in so much conflict is due to the existence of the Garlen Empire. Its martial culture has bled over into other states. It didn't help that states that focused more on peace over war tended to get overrun by their more warlike neighbors. Vicious Mountain is one of the most savage star sectors in our star region!"

"The star sector may be savage, but that does not mean they are primitive." Ves cautioned. "I know it's easy to look down on them because they act no differently from ancient tribes, but there is more to the Garlen Empire and the other states than their martial-oriented society."

Gavin shrugged. "Sure. There are plenty of civilians in the Empire who never experienced the cruelty of war. But the tribes make sure to indoctrinate them into volunteering for every new conflict they provoke."

"So everyone just goes along with the whims of their warmongering leaders." Ves commented.

He knew the power of indoctrination. Anyone could believe in anything as long as their surroundings reinforced the values they were meant to absorb.

"The Urbesh Clan is not in a very good state right now." Gavin continued. "A few generations ago, they lost most of their high-ranking mech pilots after a disastrous campaign. The ones that are left were barely able to keep the clan in existence. The Urbeshes had to concede most of their territory and their assets because they couldn't fend off the challenges from the rival clans within the tribe."

"Since the Urbeshes are so weak, why haven't they been eliminated?"

"The Garlen Empire isn't as bad as the Vesia Kingdom in that regard, boss. There are tons of rules and traditions the Garleners have to abide by. The restrictions they're subjected to make sure that the infighting doesn't devolve into outright slaughter. That would only weaken the tribes and the Empire in the long run, making them vulnerable to outside invasion."

"That makes a lot of sense. So the Urbesh Clan doesn't have any expert pilots, right?"

"No. The ones that remained after the disastrous campaign were already past their prime, and the last one died fairly recently. Currently, the Urbesh Clan is able to field only a hundred or so mech pilots and is one step away from dissolution. No matter how many regular mech pilots they've raised, a clan doesn't have the right to exist if they aren't capable of producing an expert pilot."

It was a sad decline to a once-illustrious clan. Ves found it a little odd that despite being able to field so many mech pilots, none of them had ever succeeded in breaking through to expert candidate or expert pilot.

For a clan with such a glorious history, wasn't that a bit too unnatural? From what he learned so far, the Urbeshes should be just as martial-focused as the Larkinsons!

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