The first set of mining equipment went up within the hour. The Whalers didn't bring much gear, and much of what they acquired must have been third-hand equipment at best.
As predicted, the machines quickly broke down.
"Ves!" Someone called out over the local channel. "Come over and help us fix this piece of junk!"
With quiet resignation, Ves stopped his inspection of a mech that hadn't been able to start up and jogged over with his bulky hazard suit. The mining gear in question consisted of an anchored drill meant to dig its way into the ground in a slanted angle. It didn't cost very much due to its low-tech principles, but the drill bits often wore out quickly.
"What's the problem?"
"The machine crashed right as it was about to get past the top layer!" The techie in charge of the gear complained. "I kicked the control box a couple of times but it isn't doing anything!"
"Maybe it will help if you refrain from kicking the control circuits." Ves grumbled to the man. "Let me take a look at this rusted junk. My guess is this thing is already at its limit."
The amount of people who still believed they could fix a broken machine by slapping it around could form an entire first-rate superstate. Even mech technicians fell into this belief sometimes.
Contrary to his belief, the mining drill had been acquired relatively recently. Whoever sold it to the Whalers did a decent job at patching it up. Its endurance should have been sufficient to operate at these conditions.
"The machine is sound." Ves carefully scoured the exterior of the drill. "Nothing seems out of place. It's worn, but not broken. Maybe it's just run out of power."
"That's impossible! It just received a fresh energy cell!"
Ves called for a scanner while continuing to inspect the drill. It hadn't hit anything hard and it didn't look like it had been tampered with. Nothing had jammed the mechanisms eithers.
He wanted to check the programming of the machine as well, but the lack of power prevented him from doing so. He'd have to pull the processors from the mining gear in order to inspect the software, and that was a lot of hassle for a single broken drill.
Once someone brought over a man-sized scanner, Ves used it to inspect the innards of the machine. Even though he didn't specialize in designing mining equipment, the simple drill in front of him didn't pose any challenge to him. He easily identified most components and reasonably surmised they didn't look broken.
"I found nothing strange so far." Ves concluded after he finished scanning the entire drill. "The hardware looks okay. I'm inclined to say it's either the software or the power supply that's at fault."
"Maybe the Glowing Planet did something to the drill. You know, like overload its processors and stuff."
"There's no sign of any damage to the processors, but perhaps it's programming has been tampered with. I'll have to extract the chips and bring them back to the temporary workshop that's being set up right now."
Still, Ves had a suspicion that the power supply might be at fault. The drill did shut down completely as if its power had disappeared. Ves carefully called for some tools and began to expose the energy cell powering the drill. He carefully inspected the amount of energy.
"This doesn't make any sense. The energy cell is at two-hundred-and-thirteen percent capacity. That's impossible!"
Ves carefully placed the energy cell back into its slot and backed away quickly. An overloaded energy cell could easily blow up in his face. Even his hazard suit and strengthened body wouldn't survive the sheer amount of power released by the explosion.
"When did you last put this energy cell into the drill?"
"Just a couple of hours ago when the transport shipped the mining gear onto the surface! I swear the energy cell looked normal! The drill even said its cell had been charged up to seventy-three percent!"
Energy cells deteriorated over time and when people used them. It wouldn't be surprising for an energy cell as old as this to charge up to seventy-three percent.
"So how did it suddenly end up with more than triple its maximum charge?"
No one could answer that question. All of the technicians around Ves appeared clueless. They would have scratched their heads if their hazards suits weren't in the way.
"Okay, just set this energy cell aside and put another one in it. Better yet, just hook it up to something else and drain it. Just do it somewhere quiet."
No one wanted to deal with a potential bomb, so Ves assigned a random technician to deal with the problem.
Everyone thought that should have been the end of it, until two different mining equipment shut down at the same time. The Whalers placed more importance on their mining gear than their mechs at this point, so Ves had to pull away from a broken mech again to inspect the disabled machines.
Once might have been a coincidence, but twice and thrice should be a deliberate occurrence. "I'm going to make a guess and say that these diggers are suffering from the same problem."
Different from the drill, the diggers excelled at burrowing into terrain. They also strengthened the tunnels they carved out, allowing mechs to tread inside without risking a collapse.
Ves didn't approach the machines himself this time. He called for a couple of bots and carefully controlled them through his comm. They carefully exposed the energy cell and carried some tools to test their charge.
Both cells possessed way more charges than they should. "This cell is two-and-a-half times overcharged, while that other cell holds more than five times the amount of energy it should!"
Everyone backed off even further from the digging machine that held that remarkable energy cell. Not one of them possessed the courage to do something about it. Ves had to tackle the problem himself by using bots to extract the energy cells and throwing them far away.
Panic had a way of spreading quickly. Word of the faulty energy cells had reached the entire makeshift camp. No one wanted to operate the mining equipment in person. They all stepped away from the machines and tentatively controlled them by remote, which lowered their efficiency by half.
The problem had become so severe that Walter showed in person. "What's this nonsense about overcharged power cells?!"
"Sir, the energy cells aren't sound. Any cell that's put into a mining gear will randomly acquire several times the energy it should have been able to hold at its best. I've inspected some of the cells and even disassembled one after I drained its charge. Nothing points to any foul play. I even checked their logs. They've all been charged up to their safest maximum capacity."
That didn't say much to Ves, as the logs could have easily been tampered with by a malicious actor. Even Melkor with his limited training could have accomplished such a job on outdated hardware such at this. If only the Whalers brought some actual security experts on the expedition. He could have left the puzzling to them instead of relying on his limited computer skills.
Walter grumbled a bit underneath his strengthened piloting helm. "Whatever it is, it's affecting our earnings. We aren't getting much of a share from the Blood Claws, so we have to do our own digging to make the expedition worth it. We can't afford to let these machines go idle!"
"I really don't know what's going on. It could be sabotage or it could be the Glowing Planet acting up. I suggest you contact the Blood Claws and tell them about the problems we are having. Maybe they are dealing with something similar."
They briefly waited while Walter switched to another channel. All of the interference outputted by the Glowing Planet made wireless communications almost impossible, but the Blood Claws extended hardline connections to each peripheral group.
"The guy I spoke to wants us to send them all the relevant data." Walter gruffed after he switched back to the local channel. "He seems really pushy about it as well. Makes me think they're dealing with the same problem."
That ruled out sabotage as a possible cause. His hunch that the Glowing Planet might be responsible for the faulty energy cells grew stronger.
Ves wordlessly passed the logs and other files he gathered to Walter, who sent them on to the Blood Claws.
"He shut the channel!"
"I don't think the Blood Claws can give you answers at this time."
If the problem turned out to be widespread, then that changed the entire equation. Both mechs and mining equipment had to be used with care. Ves specifically included mechs into his consideration because they used the same type of energy cells that powered the mining equipment.
"What about fuel-based energy cells?" A tech suddenly spurted out. "They should still work fine, since they don't contain any pure energy."
The idea had a lot of merit. Ves couldn't believe a Whaler actually made such a keen observation before he came up with it himself. "That's a brilliant idea. Let me check something out. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone."
He left Walter and the clueless technicians behind and raced off towards where the fast-reaction squad had holed up. "Fadah!"
"Yeah, Ves?" The old man yawned as he tried to sleep inside his bulky reinforced piloting suit. "What's the hurry?"
"Get inside the Blackbeak and do some exercises."
"Why the hell would I do that? My mech needs to be in tip-top shape in case any trouble arrives."
"We're already in trouble! Haven't you heard about the overcharged energy cells? It's not only affecting us, but the Blood Claws as well! I need you to get inside the Blackbeak and expend its fuel. We need to test whether fuel-based energy cells are affected by this phenomenon as well."
Even though Fadah grumbled about missing his routine afternoon nap, he knew that Walter would get on his back if he continued to refuse. He reluctantly climbed into the cockpit and activated the mech.
"Okay, just find a place where you won't be disturbed and try to drain its fuel as fast as possible."
"Hah! I can do fast!"
Once he stepped inside his mech, it was as if Fadah turned into an entirely different pilot. He enthusiastically brought the Blackbeak forward and found a nearby empty valley to practice some advanced techniques.
While the complicated movements should cause the fuel cell to drain faster than usual, Ves designed the Blackbeak to last for an extremely long time.
It's low-burning power reactor and highly efficient engine didn't give the Blackbeak any means to drain its power quickly, unlike a cannonneer mech that could easily drain its energy reserves as long as it paid attention to its heat management.
Ves didn't expect a result, and even if nothing happened to the Blackbeak's energy supply, it didn't mean that other fuel-based machines were immune. Ves tracked down several other fuel-based mechs and harried their pilots into draining their reserves.
As Ves watched the mechs go off on their jaunts, he sighed inside his helmet. "Even if these fuel-based mechs are immune, it won't help our mining equipment at all. They're all powered by pure energy."
He guessed that even the more sophisticated mining equipment in the hands of the Blood Claws and the Mech Corps operated on energy as well. It was safer, more compact and easy to slot into a variety of machines.
Right now, the entire Whaler mining operation had ground to a virtual halt. Hardly any operator pushed their machines. They feared setting off the energy cells inside of them should they draw a lot of power.
Ves figured that the best miner in their camp should be Lucky. His gem cat behaved like connoisseur who sneaked into a top-class banquet. Trash exotics didn't interest him anymore. Only the choicest of exotics deserved consumption.
Despite the massive power consumption of his energy claws, Lucky probably gained that back and more with each rare exotic broken down in his stomach. His energy reserves must be bulging with power.
"Wait a minute." Ves stood up in alarm. How could Lucky accumulate so much energy when he already reached the threshold of evolving to the next level? Only one thing could explain it. "Damn it! Lucky! Where are you?!"
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