573 Hidden Plans
One of the major concerns for letting the Vandals loose for some shore leave was that anything could happen to them. For example, someone might attempt to kidnap in order to beat some intelligence out of their mouths. Some drunk Vesians might bump into some drunk Vandals and come to blows with each other. Some Vandals might even be bribed into becoming a spy or a turncoat.
All manner of dangerous outcomes may become possible if the Vandals enjoyed free reign in the Harkensen System.
This wasn't the first time they were being let loose in a neutral star system. They also knew how to be discreet during times of war. However, the combination of both resulted in a potentially calamitous situation.
Major Verle announced some precautions to mitigate the danger. "To prevent any untoward incidents, everyone will form groups of ten. Nobody is allowed to wander off by themselves. Even if you go to the restroom, at least one other Vandal should be close at hand. Their comms will make sure that everyone abides by these restrictions. The moment someone goes missing or wanders out of range, every comm will send out an alert to the men and our internal network."
This placated those who looked as if they objected to exposing their men to various risks. While these measures didn't plug all the loopholes, they at least made it a lot harder for anyone with nefarious intentions to project designs on the Vandals. They not only need to take care of ten Vandals in unison, but they also needed to hack or jam the comms at the same time, all the while preventing bystanders from getting the word out.
As long as the groups of Vandals lingered in public areas, they wouldn't be exposed to too much risk. Ves knew that much of their confidence lay in their military-issued comms, which contained a lot of strong capabilities.
Usually, the servicemen could only access a couple of core functions on their comm. Features such as browsing the galactic net, taking notes, sending messages to someone or even playing some games would be locked behind a stringent set of rules. Unless someone reached a higher rank or received permission from a senior officer, they wouldn't be able to get up to mischief with their comms.
This mistakenly gave the Vandals the impression that they wore the cheapest and most basic model of comms.
The truth was very different. Ves estimated the cost of the comms to be at least five-hundred times more expensive than a standard civilian comm model. The Vandals fabricated the comms in-house, so Ves based this valuation from the expensive materials and trace amounts of exotics incorporated in the wrist devices.
Paired with exclusive software, these comms resisted jamming and intrusion much more effectively than any civilian comm model. In addition, their networking range reached across an entire city as long as they received a little assistance. Any attempts to pervert them would require a supreme hacker or a large-scale effort that couldn't be hidden.
The military comms doubtlessly possessed a lot more functions than that, but Ves didn't have the qualifications to know anything more. Information about the comms and any other restricted technology used by the Vandals was only available on a need-to-know basis.
"There will be Vandals who will wish to wander off regardless." A mech officer said. "I know the lads. Some will want to sneak off to the underground arenas. Others crave more extreme pleasures."
"They can do what they want, but only if all ten of them go. If someone wants to take a risk, either they rope their entire group, or nobody goes. As soon as someone separates from the group, the rest of the group will be penalized and have their shore leave cancelled immediately. As for the wayward Vandal, we'll send out a batch of security officers to haul him back and throw him into the brig."
Very practically, Major Verle mentioned nothing about visiting the less-than-legal establishments in the Harkensen System. Considering that most tourists visited the Harkensen System to enter these shady joints, the commanding officer could hardly prevent his men from following suit.
It was a good thing that the Reinaldans in the Harkensen System developed a reputation for safety. The honored ones maintained law and order in the light, while various Reinaldan cartels did the same in the dark. No Reinaldan wanted to upset the apple cart.
The rest of the meeting devolved into assigning different tasks to everyone. Even though every serviceman enjoyed a two-week vacation, the entire personnel roll would only get to enjoy it on a rotating basis. This meant that at least half of the Vandals remained at their disposal.
"Captain Rakeshir, I'd like you to do the usual and supervise the repair and refit process of our ships."
"Consider it done, major." The ship captain saluted. "However, four weeks isn't enough time to complete all the repairs. We need to set some priorities."
"Focus on the basics first, captain. Increase the reliability of our ships. They need to be ready to keep going for at least a year without requiring another stint in the drydocks."
The current duty of the ship officers was to babysit the ships while they underwent repairs. Many of the combat carriers sustained an extensive amount of surface damage, so their entire shells needed renewing. The two logistics ships urgently required new FTL drives as well.
All of this work needed to be done in conjunction with the repair yards orbiting Harkensen III that offered their services to anyone that paid. Of course, the Vandals could just hand over the ships to the repair yards and call it a day, but letting Reinaldans crawl over their ships without supervision was a recipe for disaster.
Even if the shipwrights behaved honestly, someone might still attempt to sabotage the ship or cut some corners. The worst outcomes would be to derive the exact blueprint or embed spying devices deep within the structure of the ships.
A Vandal needed to be present every step of the way. They also had to undertake the tasks that outsiders shouldn't meddle with. This required lots of manpower, so even if half of the personnel roll didn't get to enjoy their vacations, they shouldn't be short of work.
Ves already received his own duties earlier. He would be responsible for managing the mechs, much of which required extensive repairs and refit as well. He couldn't do this alone, so he received permission to call up as much mech technicians as he required.
As for the mech officers, they would be responsible for supervising the mech pilots as they underwent a special training. Harkensen III offered many different training programs that focused on developing very specific combat skills. These training programs mostly accommodated private outfits, but the more prestigious training institutes also offered various regimental training programs.
Peace for Hafner provided a free pass to these training programs for the entire mech regiment as a concession to the Vandals.
All in all, despite handing over their ships and mechs to the Reinaldans, the Vandals wouldn't go idle. Too much work needed to be done, but for what?
As the meeting ended and everyone went their separate ways, Ves mulled over why the Vandals chose to undertake such an extensive refit in the Harkensen System.
"Four weeks is too short to restore everything up to full strength, but it's way too long for critical repairs."
If the Vandals wanted to fix up their ships in a jiffy, two weeks would be enough to make the Beggar's Bounty and the Linever Swan space worthy again. As long as the pair of logistics ships became safe enough to undergo a long journey, the Vandal fleet could easily travel back home by following a huge detour around Vesian space.
Yet for some reason the Vandals planned something else. Ves started to guess that the Vandals might not be going home anytime soon.
Four weeks devoted to restoring the combat capability of the task force meant that they would be ready for another operation immediately after. While there was no way the Vandals could supplement five-hundred mech pilots all of a sudden, their current strength was still sufficient to perform some missions that required less mechs.
Ves strongly believed the Vandals ran other plans. He hadn't forgotten about Lord Javier and his unannounced captivity on the Shield of Hispania. There was no way that Javier would stay aboard the combat carrier when she entered a repair yard.
"Perhaps bringing him to the Harkensen System is the entire point of the journey."
The Harkensen System provided lots of services. All sorts of influences congregated here as well. While the Reinaldan cartels held sway over Harkensen's underground, many other gangs maintained a small presence in their markets.
He could guess all day for the reasons why Lord Javier needed to be brought to the Harkensen System. Ves obviously wasn't included among the innermost circle. He didn't even know who was privy to the truth, though Major Verle and Captain Rakeshir would definitely be among their ranks.
Perhaps their stay in the Harkensen System might not go quietly at all. Lord Javier was not a regular noble and obviously knew some very important secrets.
"I'll have to take precautions."
First, he returned to lonely office. Right now, he needed to plan for the repair and refit of around five-hundred mechs. Ideally, Ves wanted to squeeze in at least a hundred more mechs in order to increase their stockpile of spares.
"Not all mech pilots die on the battlefield. Many of them are able to eject in time. If we don't have any spares at hand, those mech pilots won't be able to reenter the battle."
During longer engagements, extra spares increased the staying power of the Vandals. In addition, spares enabled the Vandals to maintain their combat strength even after suffering a substantial amount of damage. The Vandals would be able to rotate their mechs as they got damaged and repair them while the mech pilots made do with spares.
Before, the Vandals hadn't been able to build up any spares. Mechs constantly got damaged and mech pilots would inevitably be benched when there weren't enough mechs to go around. Ves didn't want to see such kinds of waste, so he planned on restoring at least six-hundred mechs within four weeks.
"This is an ambitious plan, but with so much power at my disposal, I don't believe I can't meet my target."
The important point about this task was that Major Verle gave Ves a lot of leeway on how to go about it. He could partner up with the same mech companies that the Vandals had contracted before, or he could shop around and find better alternatives.
Ves grinned at the thought. He had founded his own mech business and grew it from a one-man operation into a multi-billion credit corporation. Although he passed over much of the administrative burden to the retainers sent by the Larkinson Family, that didn't mean he remained blind the to the vagaries of the mech industry.
"There won't be any rip-offs on my watch."
He knew the business from inside-out and could tell the scammers from the real deal. Having been warned by Iris on how unscrupulous Reinaldans could be when it came to business, Ves dug in deep in the list of mech companies they could partner with for this massive repair effort.
Red flags immediately showed up.
"Ugh. The original partners are no good."
The Flagrant Vandals evidently visited the Harkensen System a few times, though none of the visits happened recently. In fact, the last time a Vandal detachment entered this system was more than a decade ago.
They entrusted their mechs and ships to various companies with ties to the Bright Republic. This was a prudent choice, all considered, but the companies took advantage of this and charged a steep premium without delivering any material benefits.
They basically ripped off the Vandals in the open.
"This is no good." Ves shook his head. He had a lot of work in store if he wanted to make this awful situation right. "We shouldn't have to pay a premium for reliable service."