The Barracuda passed through the borders of the Bright Republic and the Ylvaine Protectorate after a thorough inspection.
While the Protectors of the Faith came off as intense and distant, they didn ’t mistreat the Brighters.

The permissions that Ves and his entourage obtained were all authentic.
An important member of the Curin Dynasty invited them over, so the Protectors of the Faith didn ’t have any cause to halt their entry into their state.

The head inspector did pass on a warning before he boarded the inspection shuttle docked alongside the Barracuda.

”Foreigners, especially Brighters like you, tend to question our faith.
In the name of the Prophet, I advise you not to push the boundaries of our hospitality.
Our beliefs are our beliefs.
We know better than to expect the rest of the galaxy to convert to our faith, but we at least expect our guests to keep their noses to themselves. ”

Leland answered in Ves ’ stead.
”We are aware of the cultural differences between our states.
We respect the Ylvainans and would never jeopardize our relations with your state. ”

”For your own sake, I hope you are sincere.
It is a crime to criticize the Ylvainan Faith within our borders. ” The inspector warned in an ominous tone.
”Despite issuing this warning to every visitor, at least five percent of all the foreigners who enter our state nonetheless run afoul of this law. ”

”What happens to them, inspector? ” Gavin asked.

”Foreigners are exempt from following some of our laws, but not all of them.
It is a capital crime to turn our citizens into apostates! If any Ylvainan attempts to corrupt the beliefs of the faithful, then they will suffer the most painful torment we are capable of inflicting on their bodies! Don ’t worry, though.
Foreigners who are guilty of the same crime receive clean executions.
We don ’t want to aggravate the relationship between our states any further. ”

The team of inspectors left the Barracuda after that, leaving everyone aside from Leland unsettled.

The disguised intelligence operative smiled.
”While the Protectorate isn ’t eager to publicize these kinds of incidents, they do execute a lot of foreigners.
The Bright Republic has protested the draconian treatment our citizens receive whenever they become caught up in ’enlightening ’ the local believer, but the Protectorate has never budged on this matter.
Don ’t expect our state to bail you out if you ignore this warning. ”

Among the paperwork they signed to enter the Protectorate, they voluntarily acknowledged that they would be subject to some of the Protectorate laws pertaining to the Ylvainan Faith.

The fastest way to piss off an Ylvainan was to mock, criticize and question their faith!

Ves looked at his companions.
Gavin and Leland knew better than to run afoul of this law.
He didn ’t worry too much about Ketis either as she was used to living alongside various cultists with extreme beliefs.

He still wanted to say something.
”This business trip is very important to the LMC.
It ’s important to me as well.
I hope that all of you pay attention to your conduct while we are among the Ylvainans.
I know they ’re weird and that some of their beliefs are rather..
I hope you can maintain a respectful front no matter what we encounter during our visit.
I ’ll do my best to fight on your behalf, but my influence here is nonexistent. ”

In the Bright Republic, Ves could rely on his own influence and his connections to the Larkinsons, the Tovars, Flashlight, the Mech Corps and Professor Ventag to fight back against an accusation.

Here, none of those influences held much sway.
The Protectorate was a very closed state who deliberately isolated themselves from even their closest neighbors.
Ves could only put his trust in Madame Cecily Curin to lend a hand in case he ever faced any trouble from the locals.

The journey to the Kesseling System proceeded without any further delays.
While the Kesseling System wasn ’t a port system, the binary stars it contained made it easier to reach, especially for an upscale corvette like the Barracuda.

During the journey, Ves supplemented his own gains from his recent Mastery experience by perusing some of the literature written by other mech designers.

He quickly noticed that not everything he read about hero mechs conformed to his beliefs.

[…As technology and living standards increase, mech pilots are becoming increasingly capable of piloting more complex mechs.
The demand for mechs that only come with a single application will inevitably decrease.
The rise of multipurpose mechs in the most developed parts of human space already foretells the death knell for narrowly-specialized mechs in the galactic rim….]

[…Hero mechs will therefore become increasingly more popular as a stopgap between specialized mechs and multipurpose mechs.
It is expected that hero mechs will become the prevailing mech type during the transition to prepare mech pilots for the inevitable transition to multipurpose mechs….]

”A hero mech as a training tool? Absurd! ”

While the mech designers who wrote these books all designed hero mechs before, Ves wondered if they truly understood the point of hero mechs.

”A hero mech can ’t be called like that anymore if they are mass produced! ”

If Ves studied these books before undergoing his Mastery experience, he would have adopted a similar mindset as the authors.
Now that he acquired the beliefs he came up on his own, he was much more skeptical of opinions which clashed with his own.

His interpretation of hero mechs had become his private faith! He would not allow others to question his faith!

Ves snorted.
”Maybe this is how the Ylvainans feel whenever a pompous Brighter comes along and disparages the Ylvainan Faith. ”

Compared to all the crazy religions in the galaxy, the Ylvainan Faith didn ’t really stand out.
They used to be more fervent when Prophet Ylvaine was still alive, but his death along with the death of the entire Ylvaine Dynasty taught them that the galaxy wouldn ’t tolerate any instances of intolerant fanaticism.

The Ylvainans tasted defeat before, and it humbled them ever since.

”Every state in the Komodo Star Sector shares a similar past.
We are all descended from exiles. ”

As Ves went back to reading some of the virtual textbooks he acquired from the galactic net, he increasingly felt as if he wasted his money.
He paid several hundred-thousand credits to acquire these copies from the MTA ’s virtual library on the basis of their high ratings and good reviews!

It turns out they are all ignorant sheep who are blindly following a stray donkey. ”

While there were several authors who shared some of Ves ’ beliefs, they didn ’t go far enough.
Almost every mech designer believed that hero mechs were bound to explode in popularity in future mech generations!

To his dismay, Ves couldn ’t entirely dismiss the possibility.
Mechs armed with two weapon systems might very well become viable enough for the market to demand them in great numbers.

As long as the demand was there, mech designers would do their best to meet them regardless of what they thought about hero mechs!

Ves foresaw that the hero mechs published during this time would take on a different meaning.

”Hero mechs will become an empty term by then.
Maybe the mech industry will have some decency and use a different label to refer to their mech type. ”

Regardless of what everyone else thought about hero mechs, Ves was determined to design a hero mech that conformed to his own beliefs for the upcoming commission.

While Ves wrestled with his beliefs on hero mechs, the Barracuda finally arrived at the Kesseling System.

Its twin stars emitted a lot of heat and radiation.
The Ylvainans who initially colonized the Kesseling System left the inner system alone and settled the most outward planets instead.

Kesseling VIII rose as the local seat of government as it was the most comfortable planet to live upon.
The Curin Dynasty even solidified its importance by placing the headquarters of the Ministry of Industry and Trade on this planet.

When the Barracuda arrived in high orbit of Kesseling VIII, the corvette could fly no further.
The Protectors of the Faith barred any shuttle or ship that did not belong to an Ylvainan from landing on the planet.

Ves prepared his outfit and his luggage.
He inspected his form through a mirrored projection and nodded in satisfaction.
The stylist bots in his stateroom did a good job in making him appear presentable in his formal business clothing.

As he exited his stateroom with his floating luggage coffers in tow, he joined the others who were bringing along their own luggage.

Madame Cecily already arranged a shuttle for them all.
As soon as the vehicle docked alongside the Barracuda, Ves, Lucky, Ketis, Gavin and Leland all stowed away their luggage and took their seats.

The shuttle separated from the Barracuda and carefully descended down to the surface of the planet that they would be staying upon for the duration of the trip.

”They say that Kesseling VIII itself is split between the reformers and the traditionalists. ” Gavin noted as Ves watched out the porthole at the ocean and land masses of the terraformed planet.
”Although the planet is largely under the administration of the Curin Dynasty, the Poxco Dynasty maintains a presence on every planet. ”

The Protectorate wouldn ’t be much of a religious state if they didn ’t spread their churches everywhere.
The Attendants of Ylvaine avidly made sure that every Ylvainan attended services!

”What ’s the current trend, Benny? ”

Gavin sighed in exasperation.
Could his boss at least remember his name? ”The higher classes who stand to benefit directly from opening up the Protectorate are largely in favor of reforming the state.
The lower classes are much more resistant.
Even though their welfare will also improve with increased trade, they don ’t expect to receive many benefits.
That makes it a lot easier for the Attendants of Ylvaine to keep them in their camp. ”

”I would be more careful of your utterances if I were you, Gavin.
Remember where we are now. ” Leland noted from the other end of the Ylvainan shuttle.
”You insult every Ylvainan when you equate the strength of their piety to their personal benefits.
Don ’t generalize the citizens of Kesseling VIII according to their social class.
There are extremely pious believers among the highest government officials and there are very casual Ylvainans among millions of average farm and factory workers. ”

”Ah, I ’m sorry. ” Gavin said, recognizing his mistake.
”We ’re lucky to have someone connected to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in our business delegation. ”

Ves couldn ’t help but bite his lip.
”We are indeed blessed by the addition of Leland.
However, I hope that all of you remember who ’s in charge here. ”

Leland turned his head and threw a subtle glare at Ves.
”Of course, Ves.
I would never do anything to contradict your goals. ”

That remained to be seen.
Whether Leland was messing around or not, Ves hoped he wouldn ’t get caught in any messes!

After some time, the shuttle eventually descended onto a landing pad next to the grandiose villa-like structure that housed the Office of Strategic Mech Management.

”Wow! ” Ketis said as she stepped out of the shuttle with her poofy beret on her head.
”The Ylvainans sure have style! It kind of reminds me of some of your work, Ves! ”

The Ylvainans had a penchant for architecture derived from the ancient baroque style.
It was a surefire way to make their state and religion appear more stately and dignified.

As Ves and his entourage were guided inside, they underwent a routine security check that forced them to relinquish all of their weapons and most of their gadgets aside from their comms.

Only until Ves had taken off his toolbelt and the holster holding the Peaceful Repose did the guards allow him to meet with the client.

”What about my staff? ” He asked when the guards directed the others elsewhere.

”Madame Cecily wishes to meet you in private, Mr.
Your staff will be directed to a waiting room during your initial meeting. ”

”Can I at least bring my pet? ”

”My apologies, Mr.
Madame Cecily maintains a strict prohibition against bringing any pets inside.
No matter if it ’s mechanical or organic, your cat must remain in the courtyard. ”

While it wasn ’t a weird rule considering that pets could be stuffed with all kinds of spying gear, Ves still felt it was a pity.

”Remain outside and do go off on your own, got that, Lucky? ”

”Meow! ”

Once he settled Lucky, Ves proceeded to follow one of the guards as they moved to the upper levels.
After weeks of travel, he was finally going to meet the client!

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