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Chapter 1915 Belonging

The Mech Touch
     Chapter 1915 Belonging

    After gaining an overview on their current state and the amount of manpower, assets and resources at their disposal, the attendees quickly began to form an action plan.

    They decided to focus their efforts on enhancing or restoring as much spaceborn combat capacity as possible.

    They assigned expanded responsibilities to various leaders. A lot needed to be done, and many people needed to step up in order to manage the vastly-increased workload.

    They also addressed the elephant in the room.

    It was no secret now that a vast majority of the Ylvainans that joined their various organizations were actually members of the True Ylvaine Dynasty!

    Known as a cult and terrorist group within the Protectorate, most of the Larkinsons never thought that the Living Prophet and his band of fanatics would side with them against the entire Protectorate!

    No one really possessed a good grasp on Prophet James Ylvaine, or just James as his current incarnation preferred to be called.

    The handsome, brown-haired young man shared a disturbing amount of similarities of the older, bearded and inviolable depictions of the original prophet!

    The fact that he was a clone unsettled many people. It was well-known in the galaxy that clones weren't really 'equal' to normal sentient life!

    Many of them exhibited severe mental defects and impairments. Even if their bodies were completely identical to another human being down to the tiniest cell, there was still a huge difference in how alive they were and how human they could act!

    Compared to the stereotypical view of clones of flawed Frankenstein monsters or idiots who possessed the intelligence of a six year old, James appeared no different from any charismatic cult leader!

    The presence he exuded and the natural charm he exhibited with his pleasant smile made it clear that he was not deficient when it came to socializing with other people!

    With everyone's attention turning to James, the Living Prophet spread his arms.

    Please don't regard me with such suspicion. We are all brothers and sisters now. My True Believers and I have decisively thrown my lot with the Larkinson Clan. We are committed to support Mr. Larkinson and his clan no matter where he wants to take us. I believe that following him will lead my worshippers to a much brighter future than remaining in a state that has egregiously forsaken its faith and principles in favor of expedience.

    Though he sounded well-meaning, no one could believe that James didn't have ulterior motives in mind when he and his True Believers secretly joined the LMC and growing fleets and mech units of the Avatars and Sentinels.

    The fact that Fleet Coordinator Ophelia Kronon decided to sit demurely next to James signified that he wielded an uncomfortable amount in their group!

    We never asked for you to join us. Gloriana said. Please enlighten us, James. Why are you here?

    The reasons for our joining are myriad. Let me reassure you that we do not intend to hijack the Larkinson Clan or attempt to impose our beliefs on you. We just want to be part of great undertaking started by Mr. Larkinson. As my Bright Martyr, I am very clear on how great he is and how much he is able to accomplish in the future. Consider our participation as an investment. We are willing to provide your group with badly-needed manpower in the form of ship crew, mech pilots and other specialists that you so desperately need.

    Every investment expects a return. Director Clinton frowned. What is it that you are aiming for? If you just want to find a new home for your True Believers, then you can easily do so on your own! I don't understand why you are willing to share power.

    Though James tried to reassure the other Larkinsons, they still harbored a lot of suspicions on his motives. The True Believers could single-handedly cripple the functioning of most their ships if the Living Prophet gave the command!

    This effectively gave the radical Ylvainans a huge amount of leverage at this point of time. No Larkinson wanted to be beholden to another power ever again!

    James was aware of their concerns. His smile hadn't faded at all. He faced the room of skeptical Larkinsons and wary Wodins with the assurance that he would be able to allay their suspicions!

    Ophelia Kronon moved without warning. She leaned over the conference table and snatched the Larkinson Mandate!

    Miaow?!

    Though Clixie looked alarmed, she refrained from taking action as Gloriana gestured her to remain still.

    Ophelia carefully held the ornate tome and reverently offered it to James.

    James raised one hand in the air and placed his other hand on the cover until his palm rested over the solid medallion that depicted the head of the Golden Cat.

    The atmosphere in the conference room changed!

    We are friends of the Larkinson Clan. Please believe me when I say that we am committed to support your endeavors. My True Believers will always serve their functions honestly as long as they are treated fairly. Let the Larkinson Mandate judge me whether I am sincere!

    To everyone's surprise, the Larkinson Mandate seemed to emanate a little more warmth!

    Instinctively, everyone connected to the Larkinson Mandate felt that the book actually approved of James!

    At the very least, he appeared to be truly sincere!

    Gloriana didn't feel relieved, though. Just because James and the True Believers were harmless now didn't mean they remained that way.

    Is this.. okay? Melkor puzzlingly frowned. We're just supposed to follow the cue of a book?

    That's the Larkinson Mandate you're talking about! It's not a regular book!

    A contentious argument ensued on whether they should take the Larkinson Mandate seriously.

    Even if it possessed a dynamic glow, it was still a simple object? How could it possibly have a say in this meeting?

    Ahem! Gloriana slapped the table with her palm. Before you discuss any further, let me show you what Ves has to say about his joining?

    Is Ves alive?!

    She shook her head. No. He is still in a coma, and will remain so until his new implant has fully integrated with his brain. What I meant is that Ves has prepared a very extensive database of contingency plans. He has already accounted for many possible situations, such as what we have to do in the event of an attack or what needs to be done if the Protectorate turns hostile to our group. I saw no need to bring them up since our previous decisions largely fall in line with his intentions.

    Ves prepared a contingency plan for the True Believers?

    He did. Gloriana smiled ruefully. Even though he treated it as an extremely low-probability event, he actually prepared a statement in the event that James and his faithful had become attached to our group.

    Ves prepared over a thousand plans and decision trees! His paranoia caused him to frantically document all of his desired responses towards all kinds of wild events!

    From being hunted by the Mech Trade Association to the death of 95 percent of the Larkinson Clan, Ves prepared a contingency plan for each occurrence!

    A projection of Ves soon appeared above the table.

    [Hello everyone. If you are watching this recording, then something may have happened which caused us to require the support of the New Ylvaine Dynasty. Let me tell you that while I do not have the greatest impression of the new Living Prophet and his band of.. faithful, I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you are hesitant on whether to accept the assistance of the True Believers, please employ the Larkinson Mandate as a test to see whether he is sincere. If you can't trust the Living Prophet, then at least trust in the judgement of our clan heirloom. That is all.]

    Everyone blinked after the projection faded away. Many Larkinsons turned to James with an odd expression. Even before Ves' recording instructed them to use the Larkinson Mandate, the Living Prophet had already taken the test!

    How did he know?

    Did he truly see the future?

    That's nonsense! Maybe it's all a coincidence!

    Can we even trust that book?

    Ves has spoken! Gloriana raised her voice, causing everyone else to fall silent. The Larkinson Mandate has shown no hostility to James. This means he bears no ill will towards the Larkinson Clan.

    Excuse me, Miss Wodin, but what gives you the right to make decisions on behalf of our clan? Magdalena asked.

    The question distracted everyone from James.

    This was a very important point. Since the meeting started, Gloriana had taken charge all this time.

    This wouldn't be a problem if she was not a Wodin!

    Gloriana didn't look flustered. She expected this question to pop up. That is a good question.

    She waved her hand towards the Larkinson Mandate. Pass me the book.

    The Larkinson Mandate floated from the hands of Ophelia Kronon and floated over the conference table until she grasped it as if she held her lover.

    With a gentle smile, she opened the book and reached the page where Ves had signed his name and left his blood on the page. She flipped the page until she reached the one where she did the same!

    She turned the book until her page faced the Larkinsons.

    Look. I took part in the founding of the Larkinson Clan. I may not have tied the knot yet with Ves, but he already already considers me part of his family! Will you deny my membership of the clan just because my surname is different?

    You are still a Wodin.

    I can be part of multiple families. She retorted. This is very common in upper society. Now, do I need to show you a recording in which Ves affirms my right to take part in this discussion?

    Raymond shook his head. That isn't necessary. I have seen you with Ves many times and I know how close you are to his heart. Despite the consequences of your joining, you have also been pivotal in keeping us alive. Without Venerable Brutus and the rest of your Glory Battalion resisting the CRC's strongest assets, we wouldn't be sitting here. The fact that a number of Hexer mech pilots died for us is enough to earn my trust!

    A lot of mixed expressions appeared on the faces of the other Larkinsons.

    Though it was true that the Glory Battalion had paid a significant price to defend their group, the critics within the clan weren't very happy about the Hexers.

    Notwithstanding their poisonous man-hating culture, Ves' relationship with Gloriana was the entire reason why the Larkinsons suddenly became an enemy of the Friday Coalition!

    If not for the ongoing crisis, the discontent Larkinsons who were pissed about provoking such an immensely powerful enemy would have voiced their recriminations by now! Opposition against Gloriana and the Hexers had truly ballooned within a significant portion of the Larkinson Clan!

    Once this episode had passed, the meeting resumed by addressing their flight from Protectorate space.

    I can assist in this. Calabast spoke up. While the Fridaymen have hindered my intelligence network, I still have a lot of eyes and ears inside the Protectorate and many of the states we have to pass through in order to reach a friendly region of space. My subordinates and I have already charted a rudimentary route that steers clear of any known CRC or Coalition forces.

    She projected the chart above the conference table. No one except Ophelia Kronon could glean more than a few surface details from the projection. Everyone else pretty much regarded the route as a random line connecting to various starry dots.

    This route is moderately circuitous, but not too much to delay us overly much. The fleet coordinator remarked. The issue is that this chart suggests that the best way to avoid CRC pursuit is to pass through the ravaged and recently-abandoned star systems of the states that fell during the Sand War!

    What?!