The former abode of Javier's Dastardly Handsome Bastards became much livelier once they subverted the locked mechs. Once the hackers got the hang of intruding into one particular mech, they applied the same solution to every other mech from the same model line, leading to a lot of time savings.
"Good work Mr. Larkinson!" Captain Orfan said as she came down to the mech stables to see the results for herself. "What is your progress so far?"
"I prioritized getting the remaining bestial mechs to work, knowing that your mech pilots need some time to adjust themselves to their control schemes. After that, I began to unlock the lightest mechs. They're cheaper and their security suites aren't as tight as those on the more powerful mechs. Right now, we've brought nine out of sixteen undamaged mechs out of their slumber. Sadly, the mechs after this will be tough nuts to crack, captain."
Ves kept his eyes glued to the panels projected in front of the three hackers. Not even once did he look away. He couldn't afford to miss anything should they try to pull something off.
Captain Orfan looked on as some of the Vandal mech pilots that had answered her rallying call over the day enter the cockpits of their mechs. Soon, those mechs would be out on the streets.
"The Dastardly Handsome Bastards have left some damaged mechs behind from our fight to take over their base. Is it possible for you to bring those mechs in working condition as well?"
"I'll see what I can do ma'am, but from the condition of those mechs, you really did a number on them. Proper repairs will take days."
"That's out of the question. We'll be departing from the surface in less than two days, perhaps even sooner. I need an extra mech up today!"
The pressure piled up on Ves, who winced from the unreasonable order. "I can't make any promises, ma'am, but perhaps I can jury-rig a mech together in a hurry. It won't perform up to standard, mind you."
"That's okay. Right now, we need as much mechs on their feet as possible. Having even a partially functional mech at our disposal is a significant to us because we can leave it to guard this base while the combat capable mechs are free to roam the streets of Neron City."
He understood now. Captain Orfan didn't want to bring a mech online to fight against other mechs. She merely wanted something that looked big and scary enough to deter any troublemakers from approaching this occupied base.
"Is it bad out there, ma'am?"
The Vandal captain released a tired breath. "It's twice as bad as last night. Everyone is awake now, and at least a third of them can't sit still in their homes. Some are joining the riots, others are fed up and are banding together to fight against them, while more have gone mad entirely."
With the Vandals visibly present in some portions of Neron City, the capital city became a complete madhouse. This otherwise prosperous and beautiful city became a focal point of death and suffering due to the unexpected arrival of the Vandals and the sheer incompetence of Lord Javier.
Any planetary administrator wouldn't have led his people turn against themselves so suddenly. What happened out on the streets spoke much about Lord Javier's ability to lead and inspire the citizens of Detemen IV.
"Leaving a half-operational mech as our only guard is kind of sketchy." Ves remarked. "I'm not questioning your judgement, ma'am, but who knows what the Vesians will do when they find out about our presence. Besides the police and House Eneqqin's household troops, there's also the gangs and mercenaries to contend with. They haven't shown up with their mechs so far, but that might change in the future."
Captain Orfan crossed her arms and looked on with a resolute gaze. "If it's a choice between putting more mechs out on the streets or keeping them holed up in our base, I would chose the former any day. We don't have enough mechs and mech pilots to spare. Finding Lord Javier goes beyond our safety."
Ves hoped it didn't come to that, but evidently the Vandals truly pushed themselves into a corner. He knew that any further arguments wouldn't work.
"Very well ma'am, after these hackers finish with the intact mechs, I'll work on getting a damaged mech up and running as soon as possible."
"That's what I like to hear from you, Mr. Larkinson. If you will excuse me, I need to return to my office and plan my next moves with the main ground force."
"Ah, one more thing ma'am, how is the main battle going on?"
Orfan smirked. "We suffered a bit by losing those combat carriers, but the Vesians have truly pissed us off. Major Verle survived the destruction of the Stubby Growler, and he's out for blood right now. We've initiated limited orbital bombardment on some of House Eneqqin's strongholds near the manufacturing district. Once our boys up in orbit started to pound those positions, they've begun to fall apart."
They could both hear occasional explosions and other sounds of battle off in the distance. It reminded them both that a lot of Vandals fought hard to reach the same city that they already entered.
"Will we be able to control the city after the main force breaks through?"
"Not as such." Orfan shook her head. "As impressive as our numbers might be, this city is too big for a couple of hundred mechs to exert complete control. We can only concentrate our forces on a couple of districts if we want to maintain complete control."
Captain Orfan departed the mech stables after they finished their discussion. Ves wondered if she would pilot one of the recovered mechs herself. He imagined that she would feel far more comfortable to be out on the streets rather than to remain in base.
As the three hackers started to get familiar with each other's capabilities, their ability to intrude into the mechs improved. However, because the mechs that remained locked possessed tighter locks, those time savings became swept up in the many obstacles in their way.
It took a lot of struggle to get a couple more mechs back online. While Ves still supervised their work, he also diverted his attention to supervising the repair process of one of the damaged mechs. He opened a schematic of the least-damaged mech and figured out a couple of improvisations that would patch up the mech just enough to be able to walk around.
"What do we do with the knee joints?" A mech technician asked besides Ves. "When Captain Orfan's troopers invaded this base, they did a real number on that knee joint. It's a total loss and none of us are skilled enough to fabricate and install a replacement mechanism."
"A mech doesn't need a functioning knee to move around." Ves stated. "It's sufficient to fuse the lower leg with the upper leg. Don't aim for perfect mobility. Just restore the limb so that the mech can put its weight on it without collapsing. Can you do that?"
A light lit up in the mech technician's eyes. "I'll get on that, sir!"
Ves introduced a couple more solutions in that vein to the technicians, all the while keeping his eyes on his repair schematic and the work panels of the three hackers.
An ordinary human wouldn't have been able to perform so many actions at once. Even if someone received a couple of gene boosts, they would still be hard-pressed to divide their attention without slipping up.
Perhaps one of the Vesian hackers underestimated Ves and counted on that, because for a split second he uploaded a tiny script to the mech that the hackers worked on.
Ves hadn't even noticed how this hacker composed this script under his nose, but he nonetheless caught the hacker uploading something completely unknown to the mech. This script could do anything from broadcasting the location of the mech to the Vesians to timing a forced shutdown in the middle of the battle!
Safe to say, whatever the script entailed, the hacker was definitely up to no good!
"Halt!" Ves called out. He winked out the projection of the repair project and pushed the mech technician aside. "Troops, pull the hackers back!"
The armored troops that stood guard over the Vesians immediately dragged them back by the scruff of their necks. They squealed and complained, but Ves was deaf to their pleas. His gaze landed on the Vesian to the left. The man looked at Ves with shaking eyes.
"You!" Ves pointed at the man. "You just uploaded a script to the mech. What is it?"
"I.. ah.. It's nothing, I just wanted to test its second layer of verification by throwing a bunch of test data at it. There's nothing more!"
"Oh?" Ves raised his eyebrows. "Don't talk nonsense to me. I haven't seen you program this script, and I doubt it showed up on your terminal out of the blue. Show me the script!"
Under the looming presence of Ves, the pathetic hacker shrank back. "It's gone! It's already set to delete itself in the event of failure!"
Ves stepped forward until he practically towered over the guy. The other two hackers to the side watched on with growing horror as their fellow captive became increasingly nervous.
Even they could see the guilt affecting their colleague.
"What have you done?"
"Wrong answer!" Ves yelled and slapped the man's cheek bloody with his armored gauntlet. "Can you revert what you have just done?"
"No! I can't!"
This time, Ves kicked out with his armored boot, causing the man to fling backwards and crack his ribs. Practically everyone in the mech stables gaped at his violent outburst.
No one said anything. Ves was in charge around here.
In truth, Ves didn't know what to do. The script potentially compromised a mech that the Vandals hoped to use. At its current state, who knew what might go wrong with this machine. Without beating the answer out of this rebellious hacker, Ves wasn't confident enough to release the mech in question to the Vandals.
"Yes, Mr. Larkinson?"
"Take this waste of space to the cells. Tell the guards there to interrogate him on what he did. I'll send a report with the details through my comm soon, so they'll know what to ask. Make sure to tell them to hurry up because we don't have much time left on this planet. Tell them to go to any lengths if necessary, decency be damned."
"On it, sir. I'll convey your words to the cell guards."
For a moment, Ves thought about beating the answer out of the hacker himself, but he figured the Vandals possessed a lot more expertise in that area. If he tried to interrogate the man himself, they might never get an answer before their time on Detemen IV was up.
Ves also didn't want to sully his combat armor with the Vesian's blood.
As the trooper dragged the wheezing prisoner away, Ves turned to the two remaining hackers. Missing one of their number set back their hacking progress by a lot. He could ill afford another incident.
"As you've just seen, I know a thing or two about what you are doing. As I've said before, don't pull anything off that isn't directly related to opening up these machines. Now get back to work!"
Ves didn't ask to be part of the Flagrant Vandals. Neither did he wish to be ejected from a pulverized ship and crash-land on a hostile planet. He was willing to do almost anything anything to get away from this cesspool of a planet.
"How far am I willing to go?"
The spontaneous question disturbed him a bit, because he felt apprehensive at the thought of answering it. He suspected that the answer wouldn't make him very glad.
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