Time was of the essence. Ves immediately entered the comm center and sent a priority message to the Mech Corps through the hardline connection that ran from the Whalers.
His message passed on to the Blood Claws, who didn't dare to delay its transmission in any way given the import of the claims that Ves had made.
Just a couple of minutes later, Ves received a receipt from the base commander herself. He had to sit tight and wait for transport. They wanted to bring him over to verify his invention with their own eyes.
Since this might be the last time he'd stick with the Whalers, Ves quickly sought out Walter and filled him in about his breakthrough.
"You really did it? That's great news!" Walter laughed and embraced the mech designer in a meaty hug. "We won't get to blow up anymore!"
Ves didn't have the heart to hide the designs for the undercharged energy cells from Walter. He passed the gang leader a secure data chip that contained all of the technical specifications.
"You can hand that over to any decent mech technician. They're easy to fabricate but it will take some time before you're able to replace all of your existing cells."
At least they solved this pervasive problem. Ves also granted the Whalers an opportunity to butter up to the Blood Claws by presenting the designs to them a little early. The sooner everyone replaced their energy cells, the safer everyone would be.
Ves and Walter quickly discussed some logistical matters. The Whalers dearly lacked some technical expertise, but this time Walter actually listened to the critique.
"I've been thinking about that as well. Our mechs fared worse than the others in the pirate base assault. We've got a lot of shaping up to do. If I hand over your invention to the Blood Claws, I can probably get them to lend us some of their senior technicians. Heavens know we need someone who can take over what you've done for us so far."
They parted with each other on amicable terms. Ves quickly packed his meager luggage and sought out Lucky who'd been digging for exotics near the mines. His gluttonous cat must have eaten tons of the stuff already, but he hadn't gained any weight at all.
"You must be chock full of energy right now." Ves grasped hold of his silvery mechanical cat. "We might be moving to the red zone soon. Don't run around randomly, okay? There's a whole bunch of military men running around there so you might be spooking them if you're trespassing into a restricted area."
His cat appeared to look forward to entering the red zone. As for tripping alarms and alerting the guards, Lucky didn't seem to be worried about that. He only had more exotics in mind.
Fadah and the rest of the Whalers who raided the pirate base hadn't returned yet, so Ves couldn't say goodbye to the inheritor of his Blackbeak in person. Ves composed a quick message and addressed it to Fadah's comm, which would receive it as soon as it returned to the local network.
The only complication that remained was that Ves had to leave Melkor and his Stanislaw behind.
"It's fine, Ves." Melkor replied as he leaned against the foot of his mech. "The Mech Corps and I aren't exactly buddies since they cashiered me. It's best I stay away from their premises in order to avoid any misunderstandings. I'll stick with the Whalers and try to help out Raella whenever possible."
Ves felt reassured that Melkor didn't blame him for bailing out. "That sounds good. Don't forget the contingency plans. I strongly suspect this base won't hold against a determined attack. More and more pirates are descending upon the Glowing Planet. It's going to get awfully crowded soon."
They both heard the news that trickled down from the Blood Claws. Tens of thousands of ships had appeared in the Glowing Zone. Most of them didn't seem to acknowledge any authority except for their own. Even Ves could tell that the Mech Corps had no way of holding back the sheer number of pirates on their way to the Glowing Planet.
They said their goodbyes before Ves left for the landing on the surface in his hazard suit. He only had to wait a couple of minutes before an armored shuttle escorted by a couple of aerial mechs descended on the pad. A uniformed officer appeared from the hatch.
"Mr. Larkinson, please step inside. Do you have the samples?"
"They're over there." Ves pointed at the bots holding the pair of energy cells that fared best in his previous test. "I've already drained their charge, but it's best to handle them with care."
The shuttle sent out their own set of bots who grabbed hold of the samples with extreme care. They carefully placed the cells into purpose-built boxes before closing them up with an abundance of locks.
Once Ves and Lucky stepped inside and the boxes had been stowed away into the shuttle's cargo compartment, the shuttle lifted off.
Neither the officer nor the guards appeared talkative, so Ves remained in his seat and stroked his apprehensive gem cat. Lucky must be feeling apprehensive at being stuck inside a shuttle full of armed guards and countermeasures. It became clear to Ves that the Mech Corps treated his invention with utmost importance.
It didn't take too long for the shuttle to arrive at the center of the sprawling fortification in the middle of the red zone. The closer they got to the center, the more Ves become more uncomfortable.
"Over thirteen energy fields are being projected from the red zone." The officer commented when he noticed Ves having trouble keeping himself together. "As far as we're aware of, they have minimal effects on human physiology, but it will take some time to get used to them. The side effects will fade within a day."
Somehow, Ves didn't think the regular rules applied to him. His main source of discomfort came from his recently-diminished internal energy cycle. For some reason, something underground exerted an attraction on the energy. Like a magnet pulling metals from their place, Ves found that the unknown attraction field attempted to pull his internal energy away from his chest.
It hurt quite a lot.
He groaned a bit and tried to flex his body to cope with the changes. His energy cycle had become deformed, and it took quite a bit of effort for his body to get used to the new configuration.
"I'm okay." Ves waved away the officer when he approached to lend a hand. "I'm not a baseline human. My enhancements are going a little haywire from the energy fields."
"You should visit the medbay."
"It's okay. Let's get my meeting with the base commander out of the way first. I don't think she's patient enough to wait for me to recover."
An entire squad of armed guards took away the boxes that contained the undercharged energy cells. Meanwhile Ves received his own honor guard who firmly but briskly led him down to the underground city the Mech Corps had dug up with their advanced mining equipment.
The base was a veritable hive of activity. The Mech Corps constantly shifted men and mechs back and forth. Even though the overcharge phenomenon had turned every mech into a deathtrap, their pilots hadn't been deterred from doing their duty at all. Ves missed this sense of professionalism. The Whalers looked like toddlers in comparison.
The officer led Ves straight through a series of elevators before leading him to a command center which coordinated the Republic's presence on the Glowing Planet. Ves only got a tiny glimpse of the projection with the disposition of every force before they reached a guarded checkpoint before the office of the base commander.
Once Ves got scanned yet again, he was allowed entry, though he had to leave Lucky behind again.
"Remember, don't crawl off, Lucky. Stay."
After he made sure that Lucky understood the import of staying in place, Ves walked through the hatch and took a seat in front of a simple alloy desk.
The base commander appeared to be a typical veteran from the Mech Corps. The woman looked hard and she didn't bother to apply any cosmetic procedures to work away the wrinkles she gained from reaching middle age. Her short black hair had been bound up in a ball, thereby exposing Ves to the base commander's piercing eyes.
"Mr. Larkinson. It's not every day I see one out of uniform. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise, Colonel Ilos."
"When I heard you developed a special set of energy cells that claim to mitigate the overcharge phenomenon, I couldn't believe how fast you came up with them. The full weight of the Mech Corps has bent around the problem for weeks. We've put entire research teams on the issue and we've even contracted half-a-dozen different energy cell developers to present us with a better solution. You cannot imagine the amount of resources we've devoted to coming up with a solution."
Ves was very surprised to hear how much effort the Mech Corps put into their own research. "Has it paid off, then? Did you already develop a better solution?"
"Not… exactly." The Colonel admitted freely. "Efficiency has been low due to the relative lack of expertise among our own research teams. As for the developers, they're constrained by the fact that they have only heard about the problem second-hand. They claim that the overcharge phenomenon is such an impossible occurrence that they're having difficulty figuring out a direction for a viable solution."
It sounded like the energy cell developers might have other concerns in mind. Perhaps they planned on dragging their feet, thereby extracting more concessions from the Mech Corps.
Maybe they even signed a secret agreement with some other faction like the Vesia Kingdom's Mech Legion.
Ves was curious about the progress they had made so far. "What's the best solution your researchers have come up with?"
Colonel Ilos handed him a data pad that contained a classified document of a different energy cell design. Unlike the design formed by Ves, this one adopted the same conventional structure for the energy storage portion. The only difference was that the various conductors consisted of newly developed alloys formed out of exotics extracted from the ground.
"As you can see, our researchers suspect that one or more of the exotics underneath the red zone is responsible for the overcharge energy field. By incorporating these suspect exotics into our energy cells, they believe that they can block or interfere with this energy field."
"Looks like your research teams are onto something. It's pretty impressive to limit the overcharge to two-hundred percent of max capacity."
"That's not as impressive as reducing it to a hundred-and-thirty percent. Even if your energy cell design is under capacity, at least my pilots won't be having nightmares about piloting death traps anymore."
An energy cell that contained twice as much energy still risked being blown up. With the amount of charge such a cell normally stormed, the explosive discharge would have definitely been powerful enough to set off any other energy cells in the vicinity. What the Mech Corps had produced up to this point wouldn't be sufficient to negate the problem.
Only Ves had accomplished the goal that every research team assigned to the problem had been trying to figure out. While he didn't doubt that the energy cell developers would have come up with a similar solution, even a week's delay could lead to another disaster on the battlefield.
The next wave of pirates and fortune seekers were about to descend on the increasingly crowded Glowing Planet. Battle could not be avoided any longer. The sooner the Mech Corps switched their energy cells, the faster they regained their confidence.
"As you know, I didn't present you with these energy cells for free." Ves laid out his intentions. "Can you grant me a couple of favors?"
The colonel considered his request. "We can't promise you anything, but I'll do my best to satisfy your wishes."
So far, Colonel Ilos had been remarkably friendly to Ves. He chalked it up to offering up his energy cell design upfront without any delays. That action alone bought him a lot of good will.
Still, Ves sensed his family name helped a lot as well. Some people in the Mech Corps respected any Larkinson by their lineage alone, while others hated their family to the bones. Colonel Ilos probably fell into the former group, which happened to be very convenient at this moment.
"You see, I have a couple of things in mind, ma'am."