They say that dead men tell no tales. His mother didn't reveal anything either about the System.
Ves had become awfully spooked after meeting his long-dead mother. He clearly felt as if his mother was real, but that couldn't be. She was dead.
"I'm hallucinating, just like those other folks. She's not real. She's a figment of my imagination."
He struggled inwardly to convince himself that he imagined the whole sequence. Only one thing forced him to admit that it might not have stayed inside his head.
He turned to Lucky. "You saw that, didn't you?"
His cat kept up a wary posture, as if he encountered an extremely dangerous predator. Ves had the sense that Lucky had definitely shared his experiences.
With that confirmation, Ves didn't know what to think. Did the Glowing Planet toy with him? Did the planet possess some highly energetic exotic that was capable of manipulating spacetime? Why did he encounter mother, and not someone else?
Too many questions swirled in his mind, but without a solid understanding of what happened to him, it was useless to speculate any further.
"Another incident to add to the growing pile of mysteries surrounding my life."
With a harried mind, Ves returned to the fortified camp with Lucky in his arms. His cat had been so spooked by the encounter that he didn't resist being picked up. Apparently, he lost his voracious appetite, which was a first.
Once he returned to confines of Walter's Whalers, Ves declined to report the incident and tried to go back work. He went to the workshop that held the partially disassembled Urman mech and removed his bulky hazard suit before approaching the Urman.
The mech looked huge and strong as always. Ves admired its robust construction and how much care its designer had put into strengthening the arms.
Walter approached from the side. "The Urman's been with me for more than a decade. While I don't know how the fiddly stuff works, I can tell you that there's hardly anyone who's more familiar with the Urman than me. I don't think there's more than forty of these mechs in circulation, and I'm sure that most of them have been scrapped by now."
"Is it because it's difficult to fight with a brawler mech?"
"Oh, more than you can imagine. The only way the Urman can withstand a sword or a spear is to block them with its heavy gauntlets. While they're powerful and open up a lot of options, they also slow down your arms and they're really expensive to maintain."
Ves already figured out the Urman came with such a trade-off. Those disposable gauntlets weighed as much if not more than a typical mech-sized sword and shield. This gave them an amazing amount of thickness and endurance, but it didn't help the brawler mech's speed.
Any mech pilot crazy enough to pilot a brawler had to be a natural wrestler and fistfighter to be qualified to pilot such a strange type of mech.
He started to listen to Walter describe in his own words how he saw the Brawler. Despite his many faults, Walter had been gifted with a talent for brawling, and he honed his street fighting skills by taking formal classes back when he joined a gang in Bentheim.
The gang leader didn't ruminate on his stay in Bentheim and turned his story back to his mech.
"The Urman is a great mech, but it's a difficult one to pilot as well. The mech designer who sold me the Urman went bankrupt soon after. He must be regretting that he designed a brawler mech in the first place."
"Why did you go for a brawler instead of a more conventional mech like a knight or a swordsman mech?"
"Oh, I've tried those mechs. I've tried to find the right mech plenty of times. They didn't click me. It's like I'm being stuffed into the wrong body. Those knights are useless without their armaments and the swordsman mechs rely too much on their swords. All the time I've piloted those standard mechs, I always felt less of a man."
Walter's discussion about his mech was fascinating to Ves. Hearing about his experiences successfully cleansed his fright and allowed him to forget his brief but frightening encounter with the apparition of his mother.
"Alright, I think I've gained an understanding of your Urman." Ves nodded in satisfaction. "Let's move on to what you want to change. Since I'm overhauling your mech, I might as well be thorough."
"I don't know." Walter appeared serious as he considered the matter carefully. "I'm already used to how it's built right now. There's hardly anything that stands out that I want done. It's not the best mech, but it's mine."
"Mechs like these won't be able to maintain a constant level of performance, especially if they are older than a decade. There must be something that you're annoying with. It could be something that worked fine at the start, but became increasingly more annoying over the years."
"Now that I think about it, I've always been wondering about the left elbow joint. It's just a little bit less supple than the other one. My mech technicians say it's fine, but maybe it's starting to break down."
After jogging his memory, Walter listed over two-dozen pet peeves. Some of them sounded trivial to the point where Ves doubted a mechanical problem had been the case, but Ves noted them all down anyway. Once he got his list, he gathered a couple of mech technicians and got to work.
Dismantling the Urman, designing new modifications and implementing them on an existing frame proved to be a stimulating job to Ves. Over the course of several days, he became immersed in trying to understand this rare and exotic brawler mech.
With each puzzle solved, Ves gained another insight into the operation of heavier mechs. Although the Urman hadn't reached that particular threshold, it operated along the same principles as an orthodox heavy mech while retaining a couple of key features of a medium mech.
As Ves went about his days, the universe around him moved on.
The Whalers dug out a decent underground refuge and finished putting up some rudimentary defenses.
The Blood Claws used their extensive manpower and sophisticated equipment to establish a fort.
Meanwhile, the Mech Corps that neighbored them both formed an even larger defensive position that could withstand a couple of Vesian regiments at once, for a time.
It could be seen that the Whalers presented nothing but a feeble obstacle to any but the most pathetic raids. In the face of a determined invasion, their only role should be to buy enough time for the Blood Claws and the 4th division to gather up their ground-side mechs.
Such an attack could come at any time, especially since the battle in space turned chaotic.
After the initial skirmishers, the Brighters and the Vesians lost their appetite for more engagements. Their numbers closely matched each other, which meant that an battle would be too close to call. They didn't have any reason to retreat but neither did they have a compelling urge to attack.
The goal of the Bentheim fleet remained protecting their ground-side assets. They placed a significant amount of ships in geosynchronous orbit over their red zone.
The Vesians responded by claiming the red zone directly opposite on the other side of the Glowing Planet. They placed some ships in geosynchronous orbit as well and started landed lots of landbound assets.
When Ves heard about what happened, he wasn't too surprised by their actions. "The planet is still big enough to fit the Vesians. What's more important is what will happen when the other guests arrive."
By this time, the massive pirate armada led by the mysterious Dragons of the Void almost made its way to the Glowing Planet. The frontier pirate group's unexpected capabilities had allowed them to get close without being affected by the Glowing Planet's incidental hazards.
Ghanso sat quietly in his mech. The mech technicians already fixed up his Vhedra-S in the past few days. Now, he sat on standby while he waited for the Vesians or the pirates to make a move.
"What do you think the pirates are up to?" Old man Alex chattered over the comm. "If they arrive just like this, won't they be provoking both us and the Vesians?
"Beats me." Ghanso shrugged. "I heard that they're not even using dimensional smoothers to suppress the gravitic anomalies around them. It's clear the Dragons made a lot of preparations. I can't help but think they're up to something."
"I've got that feeling as well."
The pirates mainly possessed converted carriers. None of them matched the capabilities of the combat carriers of the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion. They also didn't bring anything that could match the giant fleet carriers either.
What the incoming fleet lacked in quality, they made up for it in quantity. The main job of a carrier was to convey their mechs from one destination to the next. In that, the converted carriers did their job.
Even if the military forces of both states had the edge in mechs and training, they still felt apprehensive about facing so many mechs. The amount of resources the Dragons expended to maintain such a gathering of ships must be through the roof.
Besides the pirates, the mercenaries also posed a threat. The mercenary lords who refused to work for the Bright Republic must have thought they could get a better deal if they joined the side of the ultimate winners of the battle over control of the Glowing Planet.
Lieutenant Fairfax interrupted their musings. "Captain Rynsel has just received word of caution from command. They think the pirate fleet will be trying to bypass our forces land as much mechs as possible before we chase them off."
"Can we stop them?" Ghanso asked.
"Not really. Even with the help of the Vesians, we won't be able to stop so many pirate carriers from descending onto the surface and unload their mechs. They've got too many ships."
Everyone's faces turned grim. They waited for a couple of hours until the pirate swarm almost reached the planet.
"Alright men, this is it! Launch and gather around me!"
The mechs assigned to Captain Rynsel emerged from the fleet carrier in pairs. They formed up around her in a double chevron formation before flying outwards to their assigned coordinates. Ghanso noticed that these coordinates brought him closer to the Glowing Planet.
"This is our sector. Our orders are to hover in orbit and wait for the pirate fleet to arrive and disperse. Any pirate mech or ship that passes through our sector should be destroyed before they make landfall."
"What should we prioritize, ma'm?"
"Take out the descending carriers if you can. Any mech that passes through us will be spaceborn mechs that won't be of much use on the ground. It's better to focus on the carriers first. Even the smallest ones will be carrying five to seven mechs."
Ghanso waited for arrival of the pirate fleet while the Mech Corps arrayed its forces into a net that covered close to a third of the globe.
"Here they come! They're already splitting up!"
As predicted, the fleet led by the Dragons of the Void avoided a fruitless battle over orbital supremacy. Instead, they decided to focus on the real prize, which was the Glowing Planet and its many resources.
Large numbers of spaceborn mechs emerged from the pirate ships. All of them flew forward in order to lead the charge and spoil the aims of Ghanso and the other defenders as best as possible.
"They're spreading out their mechs! They shouldn't be aiming to take us out. Don't get distracted by their antics. They don't have to guts to fly close to us!"
Ghanso calmed his mind and sought to establish a deeper connection with his mech. Last time, he faced an enormous torpedo wave followed by a single pass of the Grand Chasers. Facing a bunch of pirates shouldn't be as nerve-wracking, although their sheer numbers made him grow a little pale.
"They're just rabble. They're nothing special. I can take them out by the dozens."
The pirate fleet began their orbital insertion.
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