Chapter 2485: Autonomous Expert Pilots
Several expert pilots came together.
Despite their commonalities, they rarely sought each other out. Expert pilots possessed their own convictions and weren't afraid to convey them. When two expert pilots with different perspectives gathered together, some level of friction always took place.
Though the Larkinson expert pilots weren't specifically opposed to each other, having their domains rub against each other was not entirely comfortable. This was one of the reasons why high-ranking mech pilots generally did not congregate in larger numbers.
Today was an exception. Every expert pilot of the Larkinson Clan entered a meeting room. They were quite familiar with each other, so they did not speak too much.
Some form of friction was immediately evident. The air became charged with competing domains. None wished to admit defeat. Eventually, a balance formed where each expert pilot claimed a small piece of territory.
Venerable Joshua stood furthest away from his former girlfriend. He looked towards his girlfriend with hope, only for her to turn around to chat with Venerable Rosa Orfan and Venerable Dise.
At least someone kept him company.
"Don't start. What about you?"
"We're expert pilots, buddy. We don't need to hook any fish. They come swimming towards us as if we're made of bait. Once we get tired, we can throw our catch aside and grab another one from the water."
Joshua frowned. "That's not for me. I'm looking for a relationship that lasts. I thought I had something with Jannzi, but we've grown too far apart."
Venerable Tusa snorted. "I don't know why you want to shackle yourself to a woman so soon. We're still young enough to enjoy the pleasures of life. Family life can wait until we've grown older and overcome our initial years as expert pilots. Right now, we may be demigods, but we're the weakest ones around. Any seasoned expert pilot with the right mech can beat us into the ground."
"I think that's an even greater reason to commit to a relationship. If I ever go, at least a part of me lives on. The patriarch will take good care of my family."
"More like the patriarch will find every way possible to milk your kids like he is milking us. Sheesh, Joshua. It's fine if you drool all over our mechs, but don't let that blind you to the shady stuff that is taking place. The last battle…"
Joshua made a warning gesture. "Let's not talk about that."
"Haven't you ever wondered why Ves really entered the Nyxian Gap and almost drove us all to our deaths? Gaining experience, my butt. No amount of live combat is worth losing so many of our comrades. The way I see it, the so-called dark gods that showed up at the Battle of Ulimo Citadel and the Battle against the Abyss might be his actual mission. Defeating the Gravada Knarlax was just icing on the cake for him. Haven't you ever asked yourself why a random portal showed up? What is the patriarch's relationship with the Dark Cleaver? Why is he so friendly with that humanoid alien god?"
Though every expert pilot had been ordered to move on from the battles, Venerable Tusa hadn't been able to do so. Too many abnormalities had taken place ever since he joined the clan. It was completely opposite to the old Larkinson Family which had always been incredibly stable.
Before Tusa could spread his views further, the entrance to the room slid open. An old man along with a few young adjutants passed through.
The staff officers immediately felt as if they entered a room with elevated pressure. Different emotional fields crashed against their minds, causing them to slow their steps.
"Restrain yourselves, please. We are all Larkinsons here. Give my subordinates some reprieve."
The old man's voice did not have much force behind it, but something about it commanded respect.
The expert pilots no longer let their force of wills run around unabated. They actively retracted their presence.
The oppressiveness inside the room quickly dimmed. The staff officers quickly regained their breath.
Once the old man stood at the head of the stable, he gestured to every expert pilot to take their seats.
"I am Cristoph Larkinson. Patriarch Ves Larkinson and Major Quinlist Verle have invested me as the head of the newly-founded Hall of Heroes. As your commandant, I am not your boss. Few people within the clan have the right to issue commands to Venerables. You should see me and my office as your stewards. We handle the paperwork. We take charge of your logistics. We crew your ships and service your mechs. Are you clear about my role?"
Venerable Tusa raised his hand. "Sir, does that mean I can refuse any orders or suggestions you issue?"
The new commandant nodded. "Correct. My men and I do not presume to control you. We don't have the right. You have been granted a lot of autonomy for the clan because certain people believe that is the best way for you to develop your strength."
"Why take us away from our units?" Venerable Dise resentfully asked. "The Swordmaidens are mine. I belong there, not in this stupid hall."
"Ditto." Venerable Orfan uttered.
"Too much hand holding won't do the Swordmaidens and the Flagrant Vandals any favors. While we don't prohibit you from interacting with your former subordinates, we advise you to keep some distance. This will enable them to stand up for themselves. Requesting your aid should be a measure of last resort, not a routine choice whenever they are in trouble. Do you understand?"
The former commanders shook their heads. They had strong ties to their former units. They never imagined that the clan would pull them out and dump them into the 'Hall of Heroes'.
To say that they were pissed was an understatement!
Despite facing the ire of two expert pilots, Commandant Cristoph kept his composure. As a veteran of the Bright-Vesia Wars, he had experienced worse in battle. Facing down a pair of expert pilots hardly phased the war veteran.
"It's understandable that you are upset, but I think you will understand the merits of this approach in time. Just give it a few years. If you are still opposed, then you may bring your complaints to the clan patriarch."
That settled issue, for now at least.
Tusa asked another question.
"Sir, how does the Hall of Heroes fit within the force makeup of our clan? What is our role?"
The commandant smiled. "That is mostly up to you. While our Hall can issue requests or offer advice, we do not intend to force you to do something that you object to. Don't want to tutor any mech pilots? That's fine. You want to take every weekend off? You can skip your duties as long as your presence isn't required. As I've stated earlier, you can choose to go anywhere you like and spend time with any clansmen you want."
The expert pilots each looked mollified after hearing that. The Hall of Heroes truly did not intend to subject them to any rigid discipline. It was up to themselves to choose how they wanted to spend their time.
"Isn't this a bit too.. Loose?" Venerable Jannzi puzzlingly questioned. "How will the Hall of Heroes benefit the rest of the clan if we are not obliged to do anything?"
"We will reward you for every contribution you make." Commandant Cristoph answered. "One of our roles is to track your efforts and determine how many Larkinson merits you are owed."
"They're still relevant to expert pilots such as you. We are not in the Mech Corps or the military anymore. Your mech regiments won't automatically take care of all of your needs. If you do nothing, you will still earn a salary and obtain some decent benefits, but if you want more, you will have to work for it. You can exchange any merits you earn for any of the regular rewards offered by the Larkinson Merit Exchange such as augments and such."
"Is that all?" Venerable Orfan frowned.
As expert pilots, they had already transcended their humanity to an extent. Even without possessing any implants or modified genes, their piloting skill had already exceeded the standard of elite second-class mech pilots who enjoyed all of the latest gene mod templates and implants.
While their minds and wills had experienced the greatest transformations, their bodies were no longer normal either, though their physical changes were fairly modest.
Some high-ranking expert pilots even eschewed modifications entirely! It was entirely possible for baseline humans to evolve all the way to god pilot!
Therefore, augments no longer held the same attraction to the expert pilots. What were they supposed to spend their merits on instead?
Cristoph already understood that regular rewards no longer attracted them. They needed something else to keep them motivated.
"Don't worry. We haven't neglected your wants and needs. The main reason why you want to earn Larkinson merits is because the Larkinson Merit Exchange will open a list of rewards exclusive to expert pilots."
He gestured his hand. A projection of a list appeared into view.
While the list didn't contain many items, many of them immediately aroused their interest!
"These are.. rewards relating to our expert mechs!"
"Exactly." Commandant Cristoph smirked. "One of the benefits of having a pair of excellent mech designers in our clan is that they can provide a wide latitude of services to you. While we are still in the process of preparing your initial expert mechs for you, once you have them, you'll want them to get better. As long as you are useful to the clan, you'll earn enough merits to make use of the services on the list."
The list already offered the expert pilots a number of desirable options. They ranged from modifying their expert mechs, upgrading their expert mechs, obtaining additional weapons or modules and so on. The most extravagant reward on the list was to obtain a second expert mech!
The expert pilots were pleased at this arrangement. While the Larkinson Clan didn't provide them with a lot of welfare, none of the expert pilots were lazy or self-entitled. They all intended to contribute to the clan regardless, but with this special merit structure in place, they knew exactly what they could get. They weren't subject to superiors who held the final say on when to upgrade their expert mechs and how many additional loadouts they should have.
As long as the expert pilots wanted more, they would never rest. Each of them were driven people. Just because they gained the opportunity to shed their mortality didn't mean that they had reached their end goal.
Becoming an expert pilot was just the start! The road to god pilot was unimaginably long, but each Venerable dreamed of reaching the end. Those who gave up easily never possessed the fortitude to undergo apotheosis in the first place!
Commandant Cristoph answered some additional questions. The expert pilots wanted to know what contributions earned them merits and what would be the best way to harvest them quickly.
"Aside from defending our clan in battle, training your fellow mech pilots is the next-best way to earn merits." The older Larkinson said. "You will be judged by how much the mech pilots you have tutored have improved beyond the norm. If any of them happen to break through to an expert candidate or expert pilot, then you'll be rewarded with a hefty amount of merits."
This made every expert pilot thoughtful. Perhaps they should spend more time with the existing expert candidates of the clan. If they managed to help any of them advance, then that would mean they could strengthen their expert mechs!
"One more thing. While it is true that we do not foist too many demands on you, we do insist that each of you obtain a retinue. Venerable Joshua, Venerable Jannzi, and Venerable Tusa already have one, so only Venerable Orfan and Venerable Dise must set this up. Just recruit some mech pilots you like. Allow them to stay close to you. Let them learn from you and keep you company. Once you let your attendants go, we hope they will grow into exceptional elites."
In fact, the Larkinson Clan hoped that some battle companions might break through as well in the future!