The situation changed abruptly the next day. Doctor Jutland had finally made his move. The mercenaries in the field started coming back with damaged and half-broken mechs. They moaned about getting overwhelmed by large hordes of hexapods.
"More than a dozen of the beasts popped out of nowhere! They destroyed Jimmy's mech in an instant! If he hadn't ejected in time, he would have ended up in their bellies!"
"I looked over the hill and saw six of the hexapods following this giant monstrosity. It's like a mech, but not! I don't know how to describe that crazy thing! Here, my mech recorded the whole thing. Do you see that weirdo sitting atop its head? He's not even wearing a hazard suit!"
The mercenaries hadn't lost too many mechs, but all of them returned to base with extensive battle damage. This led to endless frustration as the unseated mech pilots hounded the overworked mech technicians to bring their machines back to prime condition. Practically every mech technician had to work around the clock.
The absence of the main fleet up in orbit exacerbated the problem. The base's logistics became severely strained as far too few mech technicians had to repair too many damaged mechs.
No matter how hard they worked, they ended up with even more mechs waiting for repairs the next day.
The brass wanted to keep the presence of Doctor Jutland and the departure of the main fleet quiet, but the deteriorating situation caused everyone to know of their new circumstances.
Doctor Jutland deliberately showed up and taunted the hapless mercenaries whose mechs crumpled in a single hit when faced with the awesome might of his Kaius.
"I'm not sure whether I'm glad the mad doctor is taking his time." Chief Ramirez remarked to Ves as he looked over the spotty repairs they rushed through for both Olympians. "The man's turning the mercenaries against us just as Lord Kaine and his fleet are gone, but at least he's giving us a chance to bring the Olympians back in action."
Even if a vast horde of hexapods descended upon the base, its defenses provided the expedition with a formidable advantage. Nonetheless, the Kaius exceeded everyone's expectations and could easily open up the base by charging through a wall. Only the Olympians stood a chance of surviving a head-on charge.
Ves shook his head. "Three days is far too little time to restore these machines."
Both Olympians sustained a moderate amount of damage. The main issue with these mechs was that their highly advanced armor required a lot of time and effort to replace. They simply couldn't replicate the original armor system with the facilities on hand.
Thus, Ves and Chief Ramirez made a difficult decision. They gave up on the original composition of the armor and used a cheaper formula instead. The alloys they chose to work with possessed a decent amount of strength and could be formed quickly. However, its production wasted a lot of exotics, which depleted a large amount of their available stock of raw materials.
This worsened their already awful reputation. Not only did the hunting platoon fail to tackle the strongest threat in the region, their extravagant mechs also wasted a large amount of resources.
The mercenaries who waited for their mechs to be repaired grew surlier by the day. These rough and hardened men and women easily resorted to their fists whenever tempers flared. The grounded mech pilots had nothing to do while they waited for their mechs to be patched up. The entire hunting schedule had to be halted.
"You should watch your back." Ramirez warned Ves. "There's talk of handing you over to Doctor Jutland because he's loudly demanding your help in repairing the Kaius. He says as long as we hand you over, he'll stop harassing the mercenaries."
The mad doctor aimed to force the expedition to give up on Ves through applying continuous pressure. His strange ability to control the local wildlife gave him a decisive edge in the field. Currently, he made the hunting parties suffer miserably whenever they set off.
"We won't serve you on a silver platter to Jutland." Ensign D'Amato spoke from the side. He carried a stun baton around these days in order to deter the mercenaries from doing something stupid. "It's counterproductive to empower the doctor by allowing you to repair the Kaius. He'll immediately employ his strengthened chimera mech against our base."
The analysts and psychologists who studied Doctor Jutland's behavior believed that he wanted to wipe out everyone who trespassed his territory. The doctor fully believed that only he possessed the right to enjoy the fruits of his underground kingdom.
Ves huffed under his breath. "Tell that to the mercs."
The tense standoff couldn't be maintained for long. After calling back the mercenaries in the field, Commander Tregis let slip that he intended to go on the offensive. A strong strike force centered around the hunting platoon and its partially repaired Olympians would go out and confront the Kaius away from the base.
Ves imagined not a lot of people would be willing to sign up for such an arduous mission. Indeed, almost none of the mercenary groups signed up. Only the mercenaries with close ties to House Kaine such as George's Cavalry and the Stray Phantoms expressed any willingness to join the strike force.
With no other choice, Commander Tregis conscripted a third of the mercenaries who shied away from the job. Through a combination of naked threats and generous rewards, he managed to augment the strike force with fifty mechs of dubious quality.
The strike force gathered at the main entrance of the base. Such a large gathering of mechs posed enough of a threat to topple many smaller planets, but against an anomaly like Doctor Jutland and his steed, they barely qualified as cannon fodder.
Captain Kaine walked over and conferred with Chief Ramirez about the particulars of the hastily patched up Olympians.
"It's best to employ the Olympian who took a breath weapon in the face as the primary tank. Its armor has largely held up apart from a few critical sections. It's just the internal components close to the surface that have gone bad."
"What about the other machine?"
Both Ramirez and Ves grimaced. "The leg is rather shoddy. We haven't been able to replace nearly as many plates as we wanted. While it's able to bear the Olympian's full weight, I don't recommend it use that leg to absorb the impact of a charge. It's liable to snap in that case."
They discussed a few other concerns that Captain Kaine had to shoulder. Her elite Cathrec mech also received a touch-up. House Kaine prioritized its repairs, and allocated several mech technicians in other departments to replace its molten hand in record time. Out of all of the recently repaired mechs, only the Cathrec enjoyed a better treatment than the Ajax Olympians.
Once she finished her discussion, she returned to her mech and boarded its cockpit. After raising the Cathrec's spear, the strike force finally left the base.
The departure of a large amount of mechs caused the base to quiet down. While the mech pilots waited for the results to come in, the mech technicians quietly resumed their repairs. Ves also did his part by lending a hand at the other workshops.
While Ves supervised the overhaul of a partially crippled mech, Melkor spoke out. "Do you think the expedition has any chance of success?"
"I don't think highly of their chances. Doctor Jutland might be missing a few screws, but he isn't the type to take the bait."
Doctor Jutland's indirect approach of pressuring the mercenaries showed that he possessed some form of restraint. Adversaries who actually contemplated their moves scared Ves more than a strong but overconfident brute.
Put into his perspective, why would he want to fight the strike force in the first place? At best, a pitched battle could result in mutual wounds. While his Kaius handedly beat every other mech on the planet in terms of power and resilience, the hunting platoon knew its weak points now.
"Supposedly, the exobiologists determined that the Kaius requires a large amount of fluids to keep its living portion running. The regular hexapods draw their moisture from their diet, but the Kaius doesn't even have a digestive system anymore. The scientists think Doctor Jutland must be basing around a spring. If the strike force manages to find his hiding hole, then he'll be forced to stand and defend."
Ves also heard the rumors. Doctor Jutland also had to take care of his own needs. Even though he messed around with his body's makeup, he still needed to drink if he retained a shred of his humanity.
While Ves quietly talked with Melkor, Ramirez and D'Amato received an alert and turned around. Ves became alarmed when the ensign armed himself. He wielded a laser pistol in one hand and a stun baton in his other hand.
"There's trouble! Quick, move away! We have to run to the inner base!"
"Has Doctor Jutland sneaked up to our base?"
"No, it's worse. Half of the mercenaries are mutinying. They've forcibly activated over forty mechs at once and intimidated the security officers into standing down. They're on their way here!"
Ves froze in place. The mercenaries brazingly defied their current orders at the worst possible moment. They waited until the strike force left, bringing away much of the mechs who ordinarily worked to restrain the mercenaries from acting out.
Without the deterrent posed by George's Cavalry and the Stray Phantoms, the mercs who were supposed to defend the base instead turned against it in order to act out in their own interests.
Even the base defenses couldn't do much to deter the mercs, as most of the turrets could only fire outwards. Any threat that bypassed the walls would ordinarily be handled by the mechs in charge of security.
For a moment, he considered running. But then he recalled the distance to the inner base and gave up. "There's nowhere we can hide."
The only way he could escape the incoming mercs was by making use of his stealth field. Though he strongly considered activating it now, he didn't wish to reveal one of his trump cards to his current audience. He never really fully trusted House Kaine.
The four waited for the workshop to open up. A small squad of mechs coated in back stepped forward. The lead mech was a swordsman mech. It chopped down the toxic air with its massive two-handed blade, causing Ves and his companions to stumble backwards due to the wind it whipped up.
A deep and grizzled voice patched into the local channel. "Ves Larkinson, I'm going to have to ask you to surrender yourself in our custody."
Ves recognized the voice. It was Commander Keller of Keller's Blades. Of all the possible mercs who had the guts to pull of this stunt, it had to be the Vesians who organized the entire revolt.
Ensign D'Amato bravely stepped forward. "Mister Larkinson is a mech designer contracted to House Kaine. You have no right to apprehend him!"
The black mech crushed the tip of his mech-sized sword into pavement of the workshop. The impact threw everyone back.
"Don't speak to me about rights! We're the ones who are risking our lives out there every day! What is the worth of a mech designer to the safety of my brothers and sisters? Don't forget that this expedition will only turn a profit if mech pilots like us continue to enter the forest!"
A handful of mercs on foot arrived at the workshop and forcibly pulled Ves away from Melkor, D'Amato and Ramirez. None of his three companions made any moves to resist. Against the awesome power of a mech, nothing could make a difference.
"You'll regret this mutiny! Lord Kaine never forgets a slight!" The ensign impotently yelled.
Commander Keller laughed without holding back his amusement. "Lord Kaine won't care a thing. Compared to a bag full of monoexurite, the safety of a consultant is not even a priority!"
Ves might not be so sure about that. Keller and his band of miscreants might enjoy their moment of superiority for now, but once the strike force and the main fleet returned, he'd lose much of his temporary leverage.
Unfortunately, he'd have to wait a couple of weeks for that to happen. Right now, a sword many times larger than his own body pointed straight at Ves. He had no choice but to go along with Keller's arrangements.