452 Hidden Strength
"How did you know that punting the decision to Colonel Lowenfield would work?" Iris curiously asked Ves after they stepped out of the professor's office.
"It's simple. As much as we should respect Professor Velten's accomplishments, you have to realize that she's a single cog in the machine that keeps the Flagrant Vandals running. An important cog, but still a tool nonetheless. Her priorities are derived from orders from above, so we shouldn't expect any flexibility from her. To get an exception, we have to reach the ultimate authority who issued those orders."
From what Ves had gathered about Colonel Lowenfield, she did whatever it took to achieve her goals. That was not to say that she was ruthless, but she recognized she needed to bend the rules sometimes in order to keep the Flagrant Vandals afloat through these difficult times.
"I see. That's very smart of you, Ves, though I won't imagine the professor being pleased with what you pulled off. You did disregard her words in front of her face."
"She's not the one in charge around here. The stakes are too high to follow the normal process. Only by reaching someone who has to take the entire situation into account is qualified to decide on our proposal."
He hadn't been wrong about the colonel. Despite never having met the figure, Ves heard more than enough stories to paint a basic picture about the commander of the Flagrant Vandals.
Rumor had it that she hadn't climbed the ranks of the Vandals. Instead, she used to lead another mech regiment before being banished to the Vandals after their previous commander 'mysteriously' disappeared.
Her posting should have been her downfall, but instead her competence and go-getter attitude revitalized the declining mech regiment. Naturally, most of the Vandals weren't aware that their existence ran on borrowed money, lots of it in fact.
Hence why this upcoming assault was all the more important. Its scale surpassed a casual raid, but did not reach the level of a full invasion. Their main goal was to steal everything of value and wreak havoc upon the industries of the Vesians, all the while taking into account that enemy reinforcements might arrive at any time.
Speed would therefore be essential to the assault. They couldn't afford the time to play it slow and safe. The Vandals needed to overwhelm the defenders quickly, and that meant throwing lots of Inheritor mechs at enemy positions.
"What do you think about the Vesia Kingdom?"
Ves slowed his pace in the corridor. Why did she ask such a question to him? "I'd say they're our mortal enemies. No offense, Iris, but your state has tried to conquer the Republic over and over again. It's hard not to wish ill of the Kingdom."
"It's okay. I feel the same way." Iris responded with a gentle tone. She even slid closer to him and wrapped an arm around his back. "I hate the circumstances we live in. Everyone is brought up from birth to respect the nobles and to fight for their cause. We didn't even realize we were tools to the ruling class until we suffered in person."
"Your family even collaborated with the MTA, right? That should have been a great honor."
The Jupiter Family did well in the Kingdom, but ultimately they weren't part of a noble House. It only took one incident to tear down everything their lineage had built.
Iris shook her head. "The Vesian ruling class are predominantly mech pilots, did you know that? Competition between heirs is fierce, and often the one who has the bigger fist will win the battle for succession. People have a tendency to flock to potentates, but they don't realize that much of their lives revolve around training to fight. When every position of leadership in our state is occupied by a glory-hungry battle fiend, it's no surprise that they are constantly chafing to go to war with your Republic."
"And the norms who stepped over their potentate rivals tend to be schemers or strategists who can deal a lot more damage if they're in charge of a military force." Ves concurred. "Hardly anyone has inherited a duchy by advocating for peace and mutual respect."
Their culture differed too much from the Bright Republic. Despite being neighbors for hundreds of years, they simply held too many different opinions to live side-by-side in peace. The war between the two states would never end until one of them ceased to exist.
"So back to my question, do you hate the Kingdom?"
Ves had to gather his thoughts for a second. He always hated the Kingdom, but not to the extent of forming a personal vendetta against him. He mostly inherited his dislike for them from his parents and his fellow Brighters. The only time they personally affronted him was when they attempted to raid the Mech Nursery. Even then, he didn't blame them for doing so.
"Would the Komodo Star Sector be better off if the Vesia Kingdom is wiped off the map? Of that I have no doubt. I don't hate the people who make up your state. They're just poor chumps who have been brought up to believe in a flawed and outdated system of governance."
Iris smiled at him. "Thank you for keeping a clear mind. I'm glad you think that way about us. Not everyone in the Kingdom is hungry for slaughter."
They took up their new duties after that. Their new duties basically tasked them with coordinating with logistics and assisting them in establishing the most optimal schedule to overhaul the Inheritors to the modified design.
Ves needed to go to the core of the Wolf Mother for that. Usually highly guarded, the restricted area was where the heart of the Vandals rested. Ves only got a small glimpse of the clean interiors and rows and rows of processors before he got ushered into the office of an officer in charge of logistics.
The next week passed by in a frantic pace. The entire the Vandal fleet began to move and use up some of their stockpile of materials to begin their major overhauls. The Inheritor was not the only design that led to a large-scale adjustment project. Modified designs for the Hellcat and Akkara mechs had gone through as well, forcing the Vandals to stretch their limited industrial capacity even further.
Logistics prioritized the overhaul of the Akkara and Hellcat models over the Inheritors. Ves could do nothing against this favoritism, but he did his best to prevent them from neglecting the Inheritor and to allocate every available bit of spare capacity to modifying the light mechs.
Ves yawned a bit as he sat behind a terminal in the logistics department. His job the last few days amounted to acting like a glorified babysitter. He was there to make sure that logistics did their job and didn't slack off for some reason for another.
"At least I have access to some of their more restricted information banks this time."
In order to do his job effectively, Ves required an overview of all the assets of the Flagrant Vandals.
This was the fire time he got a broad top-level picture of the strength of the mech regiment.
So when Ves saw that the Flagrant Vandals actively fielded more than three-thousand mechs and mech pilots, his eyes almost popped out of their sockets!
"Three-thousand fieldable mechs!"
The Vandals also carried extra spare mechs, but the important point was that the Vandals possessed way more strength than was typical for a mech regiment.
Most ran with two-thousand mechs for a reason. For the Vandals to accomplished something like this without told him much about their raw ambitions!
Ves bet that a large reason why the Vandals went knee-deep into debt was because of this reckless expansion.
"Why do they need so many mechs? What are they hiding?"
Mech regiments possessed a large amount of authority. They picked their own mech models and organized their units according to their own customs. Some mech regiments fielded fewer than a thousand mechs, while others brought five hundred extra mechs along.
Yet Ves had never heard of a regiment from the Republic with over three-thousand working mechs. All of these mehs happened to be riding on a score of combat carriers and transports that must have cost a lot to obtain.
"A regiment doesn't expand its strength by fifty percent without a reason."
He tried to scour for additional details from his terminal's connection to the restricted database, but found nothing relevant that could answer his questions.
Strangely as it seemed, despite the database containing strong signs that a the Vandals fielded an extra thousand mechs, no one aboard the Wolf Mother except for the elites who worked in the restricted section knew about this. What this did mean?
Ves didn't know.
He truly didn't know.
After some hesitation, he walked up to the logistical officer and gently asked the fellow what was going on.
"Mr. Larkinson, I don't need to remind you that you should keep such information locked within your mind. The men outside this section do not need to know that our rolls are considerably larger than is publicly known."
Not a lot of words passed between them. Ves read between the lines that his posting here was of some significance. Despite the boring and thankless nature of his current assignment, the true objective of his presence here seemed to be preparing him for something else. And for that, Ves needed to be aware of the true scale in which the Vandals worked.
At the end of the meeting, the officer left him with one final sentence. "The colonel is keeping an eye on you."
That caused Ves to subconsciously shiver. How did he attract the attention of such a legendary figure within the Vandals? His earlier word play against Professor Velten shouldn't have been significant enough to register on her radar.
As his mind filled with confusion, he eventually finished his shift and returned to the design department. He returned back in time to grab some freshly cooked dinner, so he eagerly grabbed a plate and sat down at the same table as Laida and Pierce.
"You're not hanging out with your girlfriend this time?" Pierce verbally jabbed at Ves.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You're spending most of your time with Iris these days."
Ves coughed with embarrassment. "My relationship with her is purely professional. I've never given her an opening to sink her teeth into me. Alloc has already warned me not to entangle myself with the Vesian rebels."
Both of his fellow mech designers shook their heads.
"Don't you know how the two of you look when you work together side by side?" Laida spoke out. "The two of you are just like a married couple!"
Laida widened her eyes and shoved her palm over her mouth. "Sorry! I don't mean any disrespect!"
"Hey, I'm just an Apprentice Mech Designer, just like you. There's no need to apologise."
They awkwardly returned to their meals. As Ves ate some kind of pasta dish, he thought about his interactions with Iris so far. From his perspective, he had acted with perfect propriety throughout his interactions with Iris. The only problem was that the Vesian had a tendency to place her hand or arm around his body.
As much as Ves pretended to be unaffected, he had to admit her touch felt nice. Still, Ves always kept his rationality at the forefront and devoted as much of his attention to the business at hand. This should have been the right approach, but he did not factor in the opinions of others.
Even if he could say that he would never do something as stupid as defect to the Vesian rebels, his words would hold no strength. Laida and Pierce placed more faith on their own observations over any excuses that Ves could come up with.
Ves felt a little alienated by the tentative friends he made during his stay here. Before long, he would be completely separated from his fellow mech designers, just like what had happened during their training phase.