The small party waited for a few minutes before a well-dressed Kinner arrived.

Larkinson! It is an honor to be graced with your presence! ” The middle-aged woman in a culturally-distinct business outfit spoke and bowed.
”My name is Kelandra Vassis, and I will be your guide for the duration of your stay on Bloodstone. ”

Ves shook her hand and noted that her grip was very strong.
Kelandra carried the vibe of a veteran, so she must have seen quite a bit of action in her younger years.

”Pleased to meet you, Kelandra.
We ’ll be placing ourselves in your care. ”

”Good! Please follow this way to the VIP section.
One of our best shuttles is awaiting your arrival.
We ’ll be heading straight down the the spaceport before checking in at your hotel.
In my experience, it takes clients at least several days or weeks to find the right mercenary corps to hire or buy out.
I highly suggest you take your time as it is costly if you change your mind after everyone involved has signed the contracts. ”

”I understand.
I look forward to exploring some of the other sights on Bloodstone during my stay. ”

”Excellent choice! ” Kelandra praised.
”We might not be able to offer the greatest comfort, but excitement is everywhere if you know where to look for it! I ’ll be able to bring you to the best venues on the planet! ”

The Kinner tribeswoman accompanied them to a well-built shuttle.
As the vehicle descended to the surface of Bloodstone II, Kelandra began to act like a personal tour guide.

”Bloodstone has much to offer to its visitors.
Aside from our vigorous mercenary market, we offer many amenities to mech pilots.
Bloodstone is one of the premier destinations for aspiring mech pilots to learn how to become a true mercenary.
If for whatever reason you decline to hire a Kinner mercenary corps, there are other outfits for hire that you consider instead. ”

”So a lot of foreign mech pilots in Bloodstone? ”

”Yes, though in all honesty most of them consist of exiles or troubled individuals who aren ’t welcome in their home states. ” Kelandra admitted.

”If they ’re so..
troubled, then who would want to hire them here? ”

”Some can be reformed.
The training programs we run are harsh, but often succeed in beating the misbehavior out of most of the foreigners who participate in them.
The best are picked up to supplement the ranks of our Kinner mercenary corps while the remainder form their own outfits.
They ’re substantially cheaper to hire than a Kinner outfit, so Bloodstone has plenty to offer to customers with tighter budgets. ”

He did not intend to hire mercenaries with mixed and murky pasts.
It was all well and good for mech pilots without a home to seek a second chance at Bloodstone, but Ves had the capital to pick up something better.

However, Kelandra ’s explanation did offer him a great idea.
Since a lot of random mech pilots from all over the star sector converged on Bloodstone, a handful of them might have the potential to become an expert pilot!

While their attitude, training level and combat experience may be problematic, the Avatars could easily remedy most of their shortcomings!

”Is it common to hire individual mech pilots? ” Ves asked.

His guide nodded.
”It is customary for clients to hire mech pilots by group or outfit.
They ’re already familiar with fighting alongside each other.
I do not advise you to pick and choose individual mech pilots.
If you try to put together a collection of unfamiliar mech pilots, their lack of trust and coordination will result in very poor performance, whatever individual merits they might suggest. ”

”Is it possible to supplement a Kinner mercenary corps with individual hires? ”

Not unless you buy them out.
Then they become your property to do what you wish as long as you abide by the contract.
If you merely hire a Kinner outfit, you are not allowed to meddle with how they are run.
Their mercenary commanders will warn you if that ’s the case. ”

”Sounds reasonable.
So if I do hire an individual mech pilot, I ’ll have to organize them separately? ”

Kelandra could see that Ves was being serious.
”Our Kinner outfits do not allow the entry of unknown mech pilots unless they earn their approval.
As long as the strangers prove themselves, it may be possible for them to integrate with the outfit.
At the very least, I don ’t think the outfits mind too much if you instruct them to transport the mechs that belong to strangers. ”

A decent amount of individual mech pilots brought their own mechs, though their ownership might be in question.
It could be that their mechs belonged to their employers and they simply made off with the machine.

Sometimes, the mechs in question belonged to extinct mercenary corps.
The surviving mercenary mech pilots who managed to flee while piloting the mechs did not exactly own the machines.

A mercenary corps was a business, and many of them owed considerable debts.
Mercenary pilots technically ought to relinquish their mechs in order to pay back those debts, but many of them simply decide to run off with their ’free ’ machines.

”The legalities of mercenaries who fall under such circumstances are convoluted and complex. ” Kelandra stated.
”Some decide they don ’t want to inherit the burden of their mercenary corps and decide to operate outside the confines of the law.
That ’s how many pirates and dark mercenaries are born. ”

Ves nodded in understanding.
”As for those who don ’t want to become a fugitive? ”

”They make..
The Mercenary Association will often step in and help the mech pilots negotiate with the creditors.
Usually, a mech pilot will be able to maintain possession of their mechs by promising to give up a proportion of their salary over a couple of decades.
The terms vary widely, but they are usually reasonable enough to make it worth it to the mech pilots. ”

”Very clever. ” Gavin noted from the side.
”A second-hand mech, particularly one that incurred battle damage from a losing battle, has lost a lot of value.
Rather than sell them for half of their original value, why not lean on a mech pilot that may be able to earn back the entire worth of the mech over twenty years or so? ”

Naturally, a mech pilot always risked crippling injury and death, but as long as they remained prudent, investing in them was not necessarily a bad idea from the perspective of a debt holder.

The most important reason for mech pilots to play along with this arrangement was that they could preserve their reputation and their standing in the Mercenary Association.
They would also be able to own a personal mech, which gave them a lot more agency in every future job they accepted.

As Kelandra continued to elaborate on the types of mech pilots that Ves could find on Bloodstone, their shuttle finally landed at a spaceport.

The group exited the vehicle and went through some security and administrative checks before they were allowed to exit the spaceport.

As soon as Ves stepped outside, he smelled the air and took in the impressive sight.

”So this is Bloodstone.
It smells like mechs. ” Ves remarked with a smile.

Almost everything was cast in the same shade of dusky rust red as the bloodstone that marked most of the surface of the planet.

Almost every building in sight featured exteriors that consisted entirely of bloodstone.
Even if they incorporated stronger and more resilient materials underneath, the Kinners still adhered to tradition and insisted on using the stone.

Aside from all of the bloodstone buildings, a lot of mechs wandered around the streets.
Many of them consisted of one of the many mercenary corps of the Kinner Tribe, but plenty of independent or irregular mechs appeared as well.

As Kelandra guided the group to a private aircar, she explained the reason for all the mechs in view.

”Our Kinner Tribe does not impose many restrictions on mechs operating on Bloodstone.
Enough of our mercenary corps are present on the planet to deter most troublemakers from starting anything. ”

”The color schemes and symbols of many of the mechs are the same. ”

Ves easily spotted hundreds of them from the air.
That was far beyond the amount of mechs that a typical mercenary corps could field! All of the mechs looked more expensive on average as well, signifying that they weren ’t typical Kinner mechs!

”The mechs in question belong to our tribal corps. ” His guide revealed as their aircar took off in the air.
”Our tribal corps used to be one of our most successful mercenary corps.
At a certain point, the Kinner Tribe recognized their strength and ability and elevated them to their current status.
They effectively serve as our military and law enforcement forces. ”

That caused Ves to become intrigued.
”Does that mean the Kinner Tribe lacks a unified state military? ”

”All of our tribal corps are part of our defense forces.
It is not that different from how other states operate highly autonomous mech regiments.
The only difference is that they don ’t answer to a pompous officer, but directly to the tribe instead. ”

When put it that way, the tribal corps did not sound so strange.
It would be as if mech regiments such as the Flagrant Vandals or the Apocalypse Heralds weren ’t part of a greater mech division.

It was a very refreshing approach to organize the mech military of a state, but Ves doubted whether all of the tribal corps in existence got along with each other.
Overall, all of their autonomy came at the cost of coordination and cohesion at the strategic level, which was probably the main reason why the Bright Republic and nearly every other state hadn ’t followed suit.

”It is..
a very novel arrangement. ” Ves expressed.

Kelandra grinned.
”Tribal corps are our greatest pride.
Each of them enjoy a storied history where they worked their way upwards by toiling as ordinary mercenaries.
It is every Kinner mech pilot ’s dream to join a tribal corps! ”

After a short time, the aircar arrived at one of the upscale hotels of the capital city.
Ves and the rest exited their vehicle and stepped into the lobby of the hotel.

From the outside, the hotel looked like some kind of primitive desert ruin.
The decor was a lot better on the inside as the architect and interior designers dispensed with the traditional decor.

The interior of the hotel lobby exuded class and sophistication.
Although it wasn ’t the most luxurious accommodation in the city, according to Kelandra it often hosted mech designers and business magnates.

The most principal reason for this was that it was owned and operated by a tribal corps.
That subsequently insured that its security was very high.

After Ves and Gavin checked in to the hotel and dumped their luggage in their shared hotel room, they returned to the lobby and followed Kelandra back to the same aircar.
There was still a lot of sunshine left from the local star so Ves wanted to begin his tour immediately.

Kelandra informed them of their first destination as the aircar rose in the air.
”Before we start looking for mercenaries, we ’ll first pay a visit to the Mercenary Association.
Some of the mercenary corps for hire will only agree to work for employers who have signed on to the Association themselves. ”

”Why so? ”

”Mostly for greater guarantees.
Employers registered at the Mercenary Association will have to abide by a stricter set of rules and regulations.
Examples include putting up the full payment along with a generous amount of hazard and conditional pay under escrow, agreeing to abide by arbitration outcomes, and so on. ”

”Will that actually make a difference? ”

”It does.
The Mercenary Association may not be able to enforce their rule and regulations themselves, but they ’ve signed treaties with almost every state compelling them to do so in their stead.
This effectively means that each contract you ’ve signed with a mercenary corps will have effective legal force.
Every Kinner mercenary corps will only consider doing business to employers who register with the Mercenary Association. ”

It seemed the Mercenary Association wasn ’t as toothless as he thought.
They might not possess a lot of power, but their influence was quite substantial if even the Kinners trusted in their services!

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