Ves reflected on the difficulties he faced in the past, and the most recurring threat always seemed to come from nowhere. Use of stealth technology appeared to be much more ubiquitous than he thought.
"I've been screwed way too many times by attackers hiding under stealth."
He knew how powerful stealth technology could be under the right circumstances. He himself made use of the Full Stealth Augment from the System in the past. Its uses had saved his life at several critical moments.
If Ves could make good use of stealth, so could his enemies.
Before, Ves had the misconception that stealth was a rare breed in the galactic rim. Now he knew better.
"It's likely because the use of stealth technology isn't publicised."
No one wanted to draw attention to their successes when it didn't suit them. A stealth operation only succeeded when nobody knew what really happened.
When Ves thought about the applications of stealth technology, he realized that the benefits outweighed the costs. A stealthed commando shuttle at the right place at the right time could easily disable a large and expensive ship.
"The cost of research and development isn't cheap, but it shouldn't cost too much money to raise a spaceborn commando force or a squad of highly-trained infiltrators."
Training and equipping a squad of infiltrators probably cost around ten million bright credits under those conditions. As long as someone spend this much money, they obtained a versatile means of sabotaging a facility worth an entire fortune or kidnapping an important scientist who could earn back billions in credits.
Ves also didn't forget about Venidse's largely successful attempt at crippling the ships of the task force a few months earlier. Those stealthed commando shuttles only cost tens of millions of credits at most, and they had been capable of crippling large logistics ships worth several billion credits at the very least.
Plenty of methods existed to counteract stealth technology, but the problem was they came with greater costs. In the relatively poor and resource-barren places along the galactic rim, the standard of technology wasn't very high. Good anti-stealth technology required a significant investment in research and funding.
Presumably, the only reason why stealth and anti-stealth technology hadn't become more prevalent was because only the larger players had access to them. While some off-the-shelf stealth and anti-stealth technology could be procured from the open market, their specifications became somewhat of a known factor as a result.
When those products became popular enough to become widespread, developers could easily reverse engineer their inner workings and develop counters for their next product release.
"Perhaps only state-like entities are the only ones in the galaxy that can bear the cost of participating in this rat race."
The reality of the matter was that placing a large number of handheld scanners onto rods and pointed them in every direction likely didn't help that much. The scanner devices could easily be fooled and lacked the power to brute-force their way through the more sophisticated applications of stealth technology.
Fortunately, the Vandals didn't put all of their hopes on these scanners. Every Vandal on patrol carried around a sack or container of sand dug up from the nearby beach. Once in a while, they grabbed a handful of sand and threw it around.
Some of the hackers and mech technicians even reprogrammed some spare bots into doing the same.
Though these means didn't seem foolproof, it massively increased the difficulty of attempting to infiltrate the shipyard. Their true worth lay in their deterrence value. The Vandals basically made it so that it wasn't worth the trouble to intrude upon their domain.
Perhaps they had gotten their wish.
The night passed uneventfully. With the Reinaldan mechs on high alert, anyone who wanted to sow more death and destruction wouldn't be able to catch them off guard anymore. The True Sons of Vesia evidently hadn't showed up again.
Despite the lack of infiltrators showing up behind his back, Ves still didn't relax his vigilance against stealthed opponents. He developed a thorough loathing for this mode of attack.
As long as threats came openly to him, Ves could always form an appropriate response. The trouble with stealth attacks was that they never left him with sufficient time to respond. As soon as he found out about anything amiss, the worst had already happened.
The more he became entangled with the conflicts taking place at the upper rungs of power, the higher the odds of encountering applications of stealth technology. Ves resolved to guard against its use and develop his own solutions that counteracted any threats hiding under stealth.
"Once I have some free time, it's time to hit the books again."
In the meantime, Ves caught up on what had supposedly happened during the night. The stories circulating on the galactic net reported several suspected battles going on during the night. All of them occurred far away from any city limits and underwater, so most of the inhabitants hadn't seen any signs at night.
When Ves browsed the news articles, he figured that at least seventy-five percent of the reports contained pure fantasy. The events only existed in the imagination of the news portals that wanted to draw more traffic to their premium services.
The only threats the night shift took care off amounted to fending off random groups of rioters and other troublemakers.
Nonetheless, a large portion of the Honored Ones stationed around the city departed to reinforce other positions. This indicated that the fighting hadn't ended yet. For now, the unknown assailants still possessed the strength to contend against the Reinaldans stationed on this planet.
How long this could last, nobody knew.
"The Harkensen System is one of the Reinald Republic's major star systems." A logistics officer explained to Ves the next morning. "They have many mech units in reserve. While they don't dare to strip the defenses of Harkensen II and Harkensen III to reinforce Harkensen I, it's only a matter of time before reinforcements arrive."
"How long do we have?" Ves asked.
"According to the intelligence we've gathered, we need to complete our business within forty-eight hours. Any longer than that and our projections enter into a deeply pessimistic state."
Once the Reinaldans mobilized an overwhelming amount of mechs to dominate the planet and its orbit, the Vandals lost their chance to get away.
Even though many vacationers complained about the forced delays before they could finally depart from the planet, the Reinald Republic was not an affable state at this moment. No matter how much weight the tourists and outfit commanders threw around, they could not contend against the government's determination to sniff out the terrorists and exterminate them to the last man.
"I don't understand why the Reinaldans are so hung up about keeping everyone in their place. They're pissing off billions of tourists by keeping them imprisoned on the surface."
Though the initial outburst of violence had faded at the end of the day, the living conditions were far from ideal. Both native Reinaldans and wealthy foreigners alike suffered from the lack of order under equal measure. Their impressions of the Reinaldan Republic worsened by the hour.
The logistics officer thought about it for a moment. "The Reinald Republic is going for the long game here. To us, it might not seem worth it, but to the Republic, the only way they can really salvage their reputation is by hunting down the majority of the culprits. Finding a couple of scapegoats won't do."
Ves understood this argument, but he really didn't agree with it. The human suffering occuring on the surface could have been relieved to a large extent if many of the visitors left the planet.
"Maybe there's a greater motive involved." Ves put out another guess. "Redeeming their reputation is a basic goal, but the bigger issue is that certain influences have put Reinald in their crosshairs. So long as the Reinaldans can capture enough enemies, they'll eventually be able to find out the true source of their problems."
"That makes sense. However, the extreme reaction from the Reinaldans may also be for a more basic reason, Mr. Larkinson."
"The enemy obtained something that the Reinaldans really don't want to let loose from their grasp."
When Ves heard this possibility, a small bomb exploded in his mind. This reason made a lot more sense than any notions about redeeming honor or trying to figure out the mastermind behind this plot.
He still remembered that a week earlier, Harkensen III became engulfed with a spike of violent incidents. Perhaps the things the secret combatants fought over was also present on Harkensen I.
"Well, you've given me a lot to think about, that's for sure."
Once everyone ate nutrient packs for breakfast, they resumed their work. Mech technicians crawled over the disassembled mechs like bees in a hive. Each of them contributed their own efforts into restoring the salvaged mechs to some form of functionality.
Vedette's WW-1 became the first salvaged mech to come to life. The test pilot who turned the mech online put the restored mech to its paces.
A lot of problems popped up due to the overly-hasty work, but Ves didn't mind them too much. The Vandals could deal with them for the time being.
"We've obtained our first mech!"
With a working example at hand, the remaining work crews became much more productive. The importance of WW-1 was that it provided a solid direction for the rest to work towards. They didn't have to come up with their own solutions to overcome difficult problems anymore.
In the afternoon, two more mechs came online. Dubbed WW-2 and WW-3, their overall integrity was worse than WW-1. In a pitched battle, their weak and patched-up armor coverage could easily lead to their downfall.
The Vandals didn't ask for much, luckily. Even a basic mech would do as long as it could move and pose a threat. The true worth of the mech lay in the ability to elevate their group over the heads of others that didn't possess any working mech!
On Harkensen I, almost no private outfit or group possessed a mech! Owning even a shambling mech meant that their battle capabilities instantly multiplied by a thousand. Even the Reinaldan peacekeepers would keep their distance from the Vandals now that their mechs could pick them off from a distance!
If the Vandals possessed a single Water Wraith when they initially approached the shipyard, they never would have bothered to fight the thugs who occupied it first. The shipyard would have already emptied out by the time the mech approached into firing range!
"Now we are talking." Captain Orfan grinned as she stopped by the workshop area. "With these beauties in hand, we can finally step up to the next phase of the plan."
"And what is that?" Ves asked.
"Why, taking them out for a spin! Now that we've become the top dog, it's time to take what is ours!"
Once the last Water Wraith became operational, the Vandals left WW-1 behind to guard the shipyard. They took WW-2, WW-3 and WW-4 and placed them at the head of three large expedition groups.
Their goal? Loot more ships and supplies!
The three mechs wandered off into the city, walking well ahead of a convoy of aircars and other vehicles bringing hundreds of Vandals along.
Whenever the local bullies attempted to repel the Water Wraiths, the Vandal mech pilots ruthlessly retaliated by firing back with their heavy cannons. Even a single kinetic projectile was sufficient to obliterate their strongholds!
Tyrannical! Flagrant! The instant the Vandals regained their power, they didn't hesitate to throw around their weight!
Once the Vandals demonstrated their willingness to use the weapons in their possession, the other outfits instantly became honest. The Vandals extorted their aircars and other supplies at gunpoint, and there was nothing the victims could do about it. Naturally, the Vandals didn't go too far with their robbing spree. Once they obtained sufficient aircars, they let off on the rest.
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