453 Distant Connection
During his shifts at logistics, his expertise often needed to be employed to streamline the mass overhaul projects. If not for his understanding of what it took to perform each overhaul, the planners would have delivered an uneven mix of materials or allocated too many mech technicians to a particular project.
Despite this, the sheer scale of this undertaking meant that screwups happened plenty of times. Shuttles delivered batches of materials to the wrong logistics ship. A chief technician suffered an accident that left him indisposed. Mech pilots of two different squads got into a giant brawl over an argument on whose mechs should undergo an upgrade first.
These incidents revealed that not all was well with the Flagrant Vandals. As much as they showed a lot of outwards strength, internally the rot had already started to set in. Discipline was tight, but not as tight as a proper mech regiment of the Mech Corps.
As Ves spent more days among the wizards who tried to make sense of what went on within the vandals, he became jaded to the incidents. The strain over the last couple of years took a toll on everyone. He didn't take the annoyances to heart.
While every workshop aboard every ship worked to transform their Inheritors, Hellcats and Akkaras, the massive Vandal fleet continued to transition in and out of FTL.
Guided by their rebel allies, their approach had remained undetected so far. Observation ships and drones that should have detected their presence had long been co-opted by the local rebels who called the shots around these places.
Despite running through the territories of over half-a-dozen different rebel groups, so far none of them seemed to have ratted out their presence in the middle of Vesian territory.
Ves truly didn't know how the Vesian Revolutionary Front even managed to do so. So many people knew about the intrusion of the Vandals that it should have been impossible to keep a lid under the news, but nevertheless not a single ship of the Mech Legion arrived to confront the intruders.
Anticipation and eagerness started building up among the servicemen of the Vandals. They lived to raid, and the upcoming operation would be one of the most expansive attack since the foundation of their mech regiment.
To attack a prepared industrial star system was entirely different from raiding an underdeveloped system. With industry came wealth. With wealth came strength.
Even the least impressive industrial systems would be able to rally thousands of mechs in their defense. Naturally, only a fraction of them consisted of mechs from the Mech Legion and their local version of the Planetary Guard. Much of the mechs on these planets actually tended to be owned by gangs, mercenary corps and company forces.
Ves had witnessed their strength and behavior in the Glowing Planet campaign. When it came down to it, they always prioritized their own benefits. He envisioned that in the upcoming attacks, most of those outfits would stay put and defend their own stretches of land.
Even if their neighbor got attacked and overwhelmed by a group of Vandal mechs, as long as they didn't turn their rapacious hunger to them, these forces wouldn't lift a finger to help.
Thus, the effective amount of mechs arrayed against the Flagrant Vandals should be just a fraction of the star system's total strength.
The only problem was that a highly developed planet always supplemented their mechs with non-mech garrison troops. As long as the defenders threw enough infantry, tanks and aircraft at the Vandals, their assault would be heavily stymied.
However, this problem would not apply this time. According to the occasional loose lips that escaped from the mouths of the specialists at logistics, all of these regiments had in fact been infiltrated by the rebels to such an extent that they could instantly suppress the loyalists among their ranks and take effective control over their regiments.
Instead of being an asset to the star system's defense, they would instead aid its downfall. As a cherry on top, the rebels would prime this sequence of events by employing their off-planet assets. Ships and spaceborn mechs disguised as pirates would distract the system's defenders and stretch them out and defeat them in detail.
Ves did not hear much more of how the Vandals and the rebel movements would do the defenders in, but the audacity of their plans and the scale of their operation truly frightened him. Were it not for the signs that the Vandals and the VRF have possibly planned this move for years, Ves would have tried to weasel his way out.
"The Wolf Mother won't be staying too far away from the fighting."
This was an operation which required all hands on deck. Besides the hidden force of a thousand mechs, the entire public strength of the Flagrant Vandals would be put to use. The Vandals couldn't afford to hold back the Wolf Mother and the other logistical ships in a nearby abandoned star system. That would require supplementing their defense with escorts, which would take away too many mechs from the actual assault.
No. Colonel Lowenfield decreed that the logistical ships would travel behind but close to the main fleet. This would allow them to remain in the protective embrace of the main Vandal fleet while simultaneously also providing timely support services.
Of course, they also needed to be close to load up on all the loot the Vandals obtained from the industrial system.
No one expected the Wolf Mother to be threatened, but plans rarely went according to plan. Still, Ves was reasonably assured that she wouldn't be blown apart. The Vandals valued her too much to let her get scratched.
With a week or so to go until they arrived at their final destination, Ves reached the end of his shift and left the restricted area. As he walked back to the design department, an officer stepped in his way and barred his path forward.
Ves tried to shuffle to the side, but the man who stood in his way moved in the same direction. He started to frown and studied the officer. His shoulder pips designated him as a mech captain, one who led over an entire company of mechs.
"Please make way. I have to return to my assigned compartment."
"Mr. Larkinson, please wait a moment." The officer said. "My name is Captain Branser. On behalf of my men, I just want to express our gratitude to you. We've heard of your efforts to attract some attention to the Inheritors that some of my men are piloting. Ever since the mech technicians returned them to our hands, we've noticed the difference you've made."
"I, ah, that's good to hear." Ves blinked. "Captain, I'm just doing my job. I should be thankful to your men for their willingness to fight for the Republic."
Branser smiled in a cynical fashion. "For the Republic? Hah, as if. The Republic has done nothing to help us survive. It's only through the colonel's efforts and your help that we'll be able to come back home with most of our lives intact."
Ves ought to feel indignant about his dismissal about the role the Republic played, but in the interests of tact, he let it slide. In fact, he eyed the captain in a different light. This was the first officer of the Vandals who approached him on his own accord and expressed his appreciation for his work.
Perhaps Ves could make use of this unexpected meeting.
"If you aren't busy, captain, would you like to have a drink with me?"
Both of them detoured to a nearby officer's lounge. The well-stocked bar offered an abundance of authentic liquors while the well-furnished interior gave the lounge a sense of class.
"So I heard you're a proper Larkinson. Is that true?"
"If you mean I'm related to the famous Larkinsons, then yes, I'm part of the Family. My father is veteran in fact."
"Oh? Which regiment did he serve in?"
As they sat next to a screen that displayed a simulated expanse of stars, Ves began to pump the captain for information. Of course, Ves didn't go about it in an obvious manner. He lulled the captain into complacency by talking about his youth with the Larkinsons and what he learned while studying mech design.
All the while, Ves poured more alcohol in both of their drinks, which they promptly swigged down at regular intervals. While the captain slowly began to get smashed, Ves retained all of his faculties. Possessing an extreme amount of Endurance sure came in handy at this time.
Once Ves judged that he sufficiently plied the unwitting captain with booze, he started sprinkling some of his actual questions in between their conversation.
"So, I've heard a bit about Colonel Lowenfield since the Mech Corps transferred me here. What's the deal with her?"
"The colonel?" Branser burped while his eyes curled into pleasure. "She sure turned everything around! Back then, we were really running on strings. The money ran out, supposedly. On paper, all of our mechs were in tip-top shape, but in truth half of them were in such an awful state that they'd malfunction as soon as they launched out of the hangar bays!"
"How did the arrival of the new colonel turn all of this around?"
"You don't know, captain?"
"Hey, my job is to pilot a mech. Logistics and finance isn't my strong suit. That's where Colonel Lowenfield comes in. She's a REMF."
As a Larkinson, Ves was more than aware of what the term REMF stood for. It was a highly impolite term for an officer who with a non-combat background. For example, the specialists and officers he worked with at the logistics department didn't have the strength to scare away a dog, but their work was vitally important in making sure that the Vandals who fought in the frontlines would have access to adequate mechs and supplies.
Still, it came to a huge surprise to Ves that Colonel Lowenfield was not a mech pilot and had never personally wielded a weapon into battle.
"I thought that every commander of a mech regiment is supposed to be experienced in battle." Ves responded with a puzzled tone of voice. "If they aren't mech pilots, then they ought to be former ones who are too injured to return to the cockpit."
Practically every armed force of the state in the galaxy was led by a current or former mech pilot. It was considered as a near-sacrosanct rule. Mech pilots only respected other mech pilots. Taking orders from a REMF was one of their worst nightmares.
History was littered with many incidents where the mech pilots of a mech regiment mutinied against their non-combat officers.
Captain Branser acknowledged his puzzlement, even as he downed another shot of liquor. "You'd think so, but you're wrong. The problem with us Vandals is that we got too many muscle-brained fighters and not enough of those clever types. Whoever the Mech Corps punts in our direction tends to be the stupider variants of those kinds of people. I swear the Mech Corps wants to make us all stupid!"
"If that's so, how did the colonel manage to end up in the Vandals?"
"Oh, it's all classified and stuff. Supposedly some foul business went on at Citadel Havensworth, and she somehow got banished to our corner of the Republic instead of being cashiered from the service. She even got a promotion to colonel out of it in order to shut her up and make her qualified to lead over the Vandals."
The mentioning of Citadel Havensworth pinged his memories. Ves began to have a bad feeling about this. "Do you happen to know who banished her from the Citadel?"
"Dunno. Can't remember. Well, maybe it's the base commander. Ah, I need another shot!"
His worst fear ended up to be true. Depending on the timing, his famous uncle Ark Larkinson may or may not have assumed the duty of base commander. Even if he hadn't been promoted yet, he would have still been close to that orbit.
The fateful decision to banish Colonel Lowenfield from a prize posting at the frontlines of this current war to the dumping ground of the Mech Corps must have certainly involved Uncle Ark.
Was this way the colonel kept her eye on him?