Ves mulled over the implications of his recent meeting with Major Verle. The man never issued orders without purpose. His leadership style leaned towards motivating his subordinates to take a desired course of action out of their own free will.
The mech officer was so adept at saying the right things that Ves took a lot of notes. However, his observations also made him aware when he was on the receiving end of this method.
"The problem is that I don't even know if I want to pursue this great opportunity." He muttered.
Certainly, Ves had no reason to doubt Major Verle's credibility, but the mech officer's tendency to keep his secrets close to his chest was infuriating. Countless possibilities tantalized in front of Ves, yet couldn't it have hurt to receive a hint or two?!
The news that he might get separated from the Vandals put him in a depressed mood. Verle's arguments made sense, but Ves couldn't help but feel as if the Vandals didn't want him anymore.
"That's not true." He shook his head. His logic reasserted itself. "I've worked hard enough to earn everyone's appreciation. There's no way they'd willingly let me go. It might be due to another reason."
Verle reminded him that he had made some faulty assumptions based on incomplete information. Ves had a habit of overthinking his extrapolations of the future based on guesswork and scraps of information. He couldn't help it as his imagination went hyperactive sometimes.
"All of this comes down due to my inability to control myself."
He was far from the ideal of an enlightened man. Deep down, he was still being ruled by his emotions, desires and instincts. "This is what it means to be human."
Ves suspected that his physical and genetic changes exacerbated his moments of irrationality. He felt peeved whenever he lost control without realizing it. Just this moment where he preferred to stick with a dead-end mech regiment like the Flagrant Vandals had been another example of his emotions ruling over his logic.
The Flagrant Vandals was one of the saddest and most decrepit mech regiments of the Mech Corps. They could barely maintain the development of just three inhouse mech models. They employed only a single Senior Mech Designer and two Journeyman Mech Designers to helm their design teams. Compared to what Ves initially dreamt about, every aspect about the Vandals turned out to be a disappointment.
Yet sentiment had a way of sticking around despite his efforts to push it aside. He'd grown on the Vandals, and almost considered himself as one of their own.
Despite their deficiencies, Ves had grown to love the casual atmosphere and freewheeling internal culture. Nobody acted too stiff and the Vandals maintained just enough discipline without turning into massive jerks. He could act more freely here than in any other military setting. The lack of talented mech designers also provided Ves an opportunity to take on greater responsibilities.
He'll certainly miss that last part. Ves had grown to like being in charge. Though he still had to keep Professor Velten apprised of his decisions, the distant Senior Mech Designer generally refrained from meddling in the way he executed his authority.
After a while, he pushed his concerns from his mind and decided to focus on the immediate future. Any hopes and fears about his next assignment had to wait until he completed his current one with the Vandals.
Once he returned to his office, he discovered something new. The moment he logged into his terminal, he discovered that he inexplicably gained greater access to the central database. His security clearance received another bump, allowing him to access more detailed classified design schematics and giving him the right to study another batch of exclusive textbooks.
Perhaps any other mech designer might have become ecstatic about this level of access by now, but Ves hardly felt roused. After his recent insight on how much he obsessed over hoarding technical knowledge, Ves became aware that studying new theories without purpose wouldn't make him a better mech designer.
The increased access to the internal database had become a hollow reward for him. The only pieces of knowledge that Ves figured would be worthwhile for him to read up on was to learn how to harden mechs against heavy gravity and how to develop countermeasures against stealth.
"Right now, the Vandals are about to force a battle against a Venidsan mercenary corps. Even though they shouldn't have access to stealth technology, the records did mention that they are buddies with Venidse's mech legions. It's not out of the question that they are holding back their stealth capabilities as a trump card."
The more he thought about it, the more his paranoia surged. Perhaps his recent bad experiences with stealth left him with some trauma, but Ves simply couldn't shake off the fear that the Masters of Combat had the ability to turn the tide of the battle.
Ves recognized that this was another instance where his emotions dominated over his logic, but the two did not have to be in opposition this time.
"Encountering stealth technology is a low-probably event, but that doesn't mean it makes sense to discount the possibility."
One ought to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
He decided to brush up on his knowledge in this field and make some preparations to counter any instances of stealth.
"First, I've got to draft another schedule."
Four weeks of rest and recuperation at the Harkensen System had done a lot of good to their ships and mechs. The Shield of Hispania looked much more robust than before, and even received some upgrades.
As for their compliment of mechs, both their spaceborn and landbound mechs regained their strength. Though the repair businesses tried to cut as many corners as possible, they looked a lot better than before.
Ves drew up a schedule for the coming weeks. He based his planning around two priorities. First, the Vandals needed to ready their spaceborn mechs for immediate combat against the Masters of Combat. The Vesian mercenary corps might not be able to match the Vandals in battle, but they were tough as hell and wouldn't succumb without a fight.
"We'll have to upgrade the sensors from a number of Inheritor mechs as well."
After that, the mech technicians needed to put most of their focus on strengthening the internals of their landbound mechs. Certain processors and other delicate components needed to be replaced by more robust variants that could withstand the continued abuse of high-gravity environments.
"We also need to configure the heavy-duty gravitic backpacks to the landbound mechs. Relying on the default settings won't be not enough."
A gravitic backpack basically exerted an oval-shaped antigrav field around the frame of the mech. It counteracted the crushing gravity at the cost of gobbling up lots of power.
"The power issue will be the biggest issue by far."
A Super Earth with an average gravity of five g's required at least three g's of antigrav force to restore a semblance of mobility to a mech. Anything less than that slowed the mech to a crawl.
Ves performed some quick and dirty calculations. The results didn't appear to be optimistic. "The landbound mechs at our disposal are battle-focused. If the mechs have been optimized for enduring extreme environments, then they don't require as much hand holding."
The internal batteries of the heavy-duty gravitic backpacks drained themselves within an hour at their highest settings!
"This backpack model isn't a cheap knockoff. It's a quality product!"
Yet even then, the batteries drained too fast. The only saving grace was that the backpacks could connect to a mech's internal power supply via the standardized power ports that conformed to the Vesian Modular Fitting Standard.
"No matter how many Vesian landbound mech models the Vandals make use of, every single one of them shares the same MFS. I don't need to wrack my heads over making the gravitic backpacks compatible to their mechs."
This saved him a lot of time and effort. The most he had to do was to tweak the output of the gravitic backpacks to match the dimensions of the mechs as closely as possible.
A provisional schedule came into being. While Ves had never received a timeframe of the next operation, it took a while to reach the frontier from Reinald space. He therefore worked around the assumption that it took two months to cross over to the frontier and travel deep enough to stumble upon the trail of the Starlight Megalodon.
"Two months will have to do."
Strengthening the internals of a mech was a tedious job at best. It involved disassembling every mech without damaging anything in order to reach the most delicate components that needed to be changed.
"Close to three-hundred landbound mechs will require these tweaks. That's too much."
Still, Ves had no choice but to set this schedule. He needed to lean on the mech designers and chief technicians to find ways of cutting down the time to treat each mech.
Once he double-checked the schedule, he sent the files to Major Verle for approval. He received it within an hour. The major approved his plans without any comment, which meant that Ves hadn't screwed up or overlooked anything important.
"It also means he trusts my judgement."
Ves didn't dwell on the fast response. He split up the schedule into different work assignments for every mech designer and every shift of mech technicians before sending them onwards. His deputies would ensure the recipients actually stuck to them. If not, Ves would gain an excuse to punish Mercator and Trozin.
"Hmph, those two are hardly worth my time, especially if I'm on my way out."
If the Vandals hadn't been flinging themselves from crisis to crisis, the two careerist mech designers might have been able to stir up more trouble. So far, they had no means of competing directly against Ves, and it looked as if they would never get the opportunity to gain the upper hand.
Now that Ves knew he was on his way out, his concerns over the two Apprentices seem trivial. Though Ves admitted that they possessed some competence, they still had years ahead of them before they could move to brighter pastures.
One of the more peculiar traits about the Flagrant Vandals was that it exhibited a high amount of transfers. While many would come to settle in this mech regiment for the rest of their careers, others only stuck around for a couple of years before being transferred elsewhere. Ves had attempted to look up where they went, but Ves did not possess the right privileges to access that data even after his security clearance improved.
Ves wondered whether the opportunity Verle hinted at had always been the original plan. Even if Ves hadn't stood out with his performance, his futureeeee was already set in stone. The most he accomplished was to bring his transfer date forward.
"I wonder though if my abilities are truly needed there."
Though Ves still longed for a plum assignment, he would certainly be working under more capable mech designers. This meant he would go back to doing grunt work with almost no autonomy to speak of. How could he flex his design ability and refine his mastery over his Skills if he needed to stick to a narrow set of instructions?
Another thing Ves was worried about was that he needed to start all over again when it came to building relationships. Though Ves hadn't cultivated any close friends among the Vandals, he formed many ties that might be useful after the war. Still, his work was only half-done. Ves had not reach the point where the Vandals would willingly come and work for the LMC or the Avatars of Myth if the Mech Corps let them go.
Compared to hiring random mercenaries from the job market, hiring known individuals with a shared history of struggle and survival appealed Ves the most. There was a sense of instinctive trust and brotherhood among the Vandals.
This bond had reached the point where Ves trusted them with his life.
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