The Flagrant Swordmaidens almost reached the Woolox System after more than a week of travel. They encountered a couple of hitches along the way, but they weren't delayed for very long.
During one of their stop-overs, Venerable Xie carefully took the newly modified Parallax Star on a test run.
The initial deployment went a little rougher than everybody liked. Ves overlooked a couple of compatibility issues that he immediately patched up. When Xie deployed yet again, he reported that he felt a lot more comfortable in piloting the machine, though it still felt like riding a bucking horse according to the expert pilot.
"Riding a bucking horse is better than walking on foot, sir." Ves reported in a routine status update to Major Verle. "There's very little I can do to improve the compatibility between the Parallax Star and Venerable Xie. You can't just shift any customized expert mech designed to be piloted by a specific expert pilot to a completely different person. There is some.. friction between man and machine."
"Will it help if Professor Velten pitches in on the design?"
Ves shook his head over the comm. "Yes, but not as much as you are hoping, sir. Even the professor can't increase the compatibility between the Parallax Star and Venerable Xie if she isn't able to meet the expert pilot in the flesh. While it's possible for her to get to know Xie better through remote communication, it's not as good as just meeting the man up close. I've interacted personally with the Venerable, so my work is not that much off from what she doubtlessly wishes to implement as well."
While that was true, Ves also didn't want to stay aboard the Gorgon's Gaze any longer. He still had a side project with his name on it waiting back on the Shield of Hispania!
If Professor Velten pitched in with her own tweaks, then he'd certainly be stuck here a couple of weeks longer!
"Very well." Fortunately, Major Verle bought his excuse. "What are your estimates of its fighting strength in Venerable Xie's hands?"
"Sir, I'm sure your mech officers have made their own estimates based on his initial practice runs, but from a mech designer's perspective I don't think his resonance strength is up to the task of expressing more than thirty percent of its maximum strength. A lot of the expenses put into the fabrication of the Parallax Star is to enhance the effects of its energy shield and its piercing effects. It doesn't help that Venerable Xie doesn't favor utilizing charges in his fighting style. He can do it, but he's not very adept at pulling out the expert mech's strength."
"I am aware of this deficiency. It is a simple fact of life that we have to work with what we have at our disposal. The only role reserved for Venerable Xie in our mech regiment is to hinder the advance of enemy expert pilots. So long as he can be employed against ferocious tigers hell-bent on slaughtering our rank-and-file, we can save the lives of hundreds of fellow Vandal mech pilots."
Ves didn't mention that the Parallax Star made for a relatively poor guardian in its new state and its new mech pilot. The mech lost much of the magic that made it competitive among expert mechs, and a weaker expert pilot only exacerbated the drop in combat strength.
After finishing his report, Ves received one more surprise visitor the day before his return to the Shield of Hispania. Lieutenant Koltov caught him just after he exited the toilet.
"Mr. Larkinson! A moment of your time please."
The two found an out-of-the-way compartment to conduct their private talk. Of course, it wouldn't be very private considering the Gorgon's Gaze monitoring system recorded everything while an uninvited guest constantly followed behind Ves whenever he wasn't in the same compartment as Venerable Xie.
Ves did take advantage of the caution shown by Acolyte Villis by implementing some measures out of her sight. He couldn't do much on his own, but he hoped the precautions he prepared out of the cultist's sight could save the Flagrant Swordmaidens from a potential disaster.
He still wondered what Koltov wanted from him. "Why have you called me out here?"
"It's about Venerable Karol Xie. Some of us are harboring some concerns about his.. Dedication, shall we say. Haven't you wondered why Xie is overly deferential and cooperative to a fault with us?"
"Hm. I thought that was part of his personality?" Ves threw out the obvious. "The Fourth Prince kept him on a leash since he was a puppy. Now that he has grown up to become a fierce guard dog, he still acts like he wants some treats to his master."
"We've thought of that, but there is just something that doesn't quite fit. The whole circumstance surrounding the foundering of the Shining Stars Colonization Fleet is rather dubious in the first place. Although we've verified that Prince Hixt-Klaaster is a genuine royal from the Palast Kingdom of the Dark Plasma Star Sector, it requires a successive chain of poor decisions to lead his colonization fleet to ruin in the Ermeghast Star System."
She basically suggested that there might have been a possibility that the Fourth Prince deliberately led his colonization fleet to their doom. Yet Ves found this entire possibility ridiculous.
"There's no apparent motive for this. What does the Fourth Prince and Venerable Xie gain from all of this? Sure, they get to ride on our fleet for a while, but we're almost about to drop off the prince at the Woolox System. In addition, there's no way the Fourth Prince can anticipate our arrival in the Ermaghast System at that date. This is way too convoluted. Occam's Razor suggests that the Fourth Prince is simply a poor decision maker and that all of his mistakes can be attributed to his lack of judgement."
The lieutenant held up a hand to placate Ves. "We don't necessarily disagree, but we must always remain vigilant against the alternatives. Right now, we are more than eager to get rid of the Fourth Prince and his surviving retainers. Yet even if we have made some arrangements so that the prince and his loyalists are taken care of, we still don't know if Venerable Xie has made some other arrangements. We believe there is a small but potentially devastating chance that Xie is already spoken for. In the worst-case scenario, he has already pledged his loyalty to one of our competitors in our hunt for the Starlight Megalodon."
He could see how that could turn very bad for the Flagrant Vandals. If Venerable Xie was some kind of sleeper agent, he could very well turn the might of the Parallax Star or the Pale Dancer against their own side! The potential damage this expert pilot could inflict when the Vandals least expected it could potentially demolish half of their effective strength!
"Okay.. that sounds like a very scary prospect." He said. "But what do you want me to do about it? Are you suggesting that I plant a kill switch or some kind of remote control on his expert mechs?"
"Is it possible?"
"It is, but just because I can do so doesn't mean it's a good idea!" He immediately replied. "What happens if the wrong person obtains the codes to initiate a remote shutdown? What if a talented hacker on the other side manages to intrude the remote connection responsible for receiving the command to activate the killswitch? It's going to be a straight-up catastrophe in that case! The chance of misuse is much higher than the chance of us ever needing to resort to this method!"
Ves particularly feared one of the uninvited guests getting their hands on the command codes. Even if Ves programmed and implemented the killswitch while Venerable Xie was in the vicinity of his mechs, the Acolytes following the other important officers would easily be able to copy the exact protocols that determined whether the expert mechs lived or died.
"I'm sorry you feel that way. Perhaps we are barking up the wrong tree here."
"Lieutenant, look, don't take this the wrong way, but even if you ask someone like Lisbeth to implement a killswitch, I can guarantee you something will go wrong when we can least afford to. If you have any misgivings about Venerable Xie, you can resort to other means to insure his loyalty. But don't mess with the mechs. Machines are a lot more susceptible to outside manipulation than humans if you open up a backdoor. Don't do it. Tell whoever is in charge of this investigation not to introduce such a vulnerability."
"I'll pass on your words, Mr. Larkinson. That is the extent of what I can promise. For what it's worth, I believe you."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
Once he saw Koltov walk away, Ves furrowed his brows and thought about what he heard. While he didn't find it unusual for the Vandals to suspect Venerable Xie's loyalties, did they really have to go so far?
In the end, it all came down to the fact that Karol Xie was a foreigner. He hailed from the Palast Kingdom and grew up in a completely different culture. If Xie had been a Brighter, then this conversation would have never happened, because the Vandals had no cause to doubt the loyalty of a fellow native expert pilot.
"A foreign expert pilot that falls in your lap for some reason is just too suspicious to take for granted. They're not like cabbages that you can pick up from the roadside."
After a quiet day where Ves wrapped up the many changes he introduced in Lisbeth's department, the Flagrant Swordmaidens transitioned out of FTL in the edge of the Woolox System.
Every Vandal and Swordmaiden in the allied fleet adorned themselves in hazard suits, piloting suits or combat armor. This time, they wouldn't be emerging in some random unclaimed star system.
This time, they entered a distant outpost of the dreaded Dragon Alliance.
The Gorgon's Gaze lacked a command center where a commanding officer could talk charge of the entire fleet. Since Ves didn't receive an invitation to sit in on the bridge or the combat information center, Ves and Ketis decided to hole up in the hangar bay where the Parallax Star had been prepared to sortie in the event of an emergency.
Nobody knew what kind of reception they would get upon arrival in the Woolox Star System. While the Swordmaidens conducted occasional trades with the Dragon Alliance, their principal overlords clashed several times against the Bright Republic in earlier incidents.
Ves himself suffered several times at the hand of the Dragons of the Void. The premier pirate organization even dared to trespass the borders of the Bright Republic and contend for the spoils of the Glowing Planet more than a year ago!
Fortunately, the Flagrant Swordmaidens emerged far away from any pirate ships in the vicinity. After a frantic half hour of intensive scanning and patrols, they became reassured they hadn't encountered any threats.
Nobody was allowed to shed their suits, though. Considering who called the shots around here, the Flagrant Swordmaidens needed to be ready to deploy for combat at any time. Even the Swordmaidens never put down their guard when entering Dragon Alliance territory.
While the fleet cautiously approached the only space station in the Woolox System, Ves and Ketis quietly returned to the Shield of Hispania via shuttle ride.
During the shuttle ride, Ves studied the system plot. The Woolox System didn't appear to be a highly frequented star system. Only a handful of small and bedraggled outfits docked at or close to the space station at this time.
"The Woolox System is kind of like the last outpost before you enter into the true frontier." Ketis explained when he commented on the lack of pirates in this star system. "While the chances of digging up an undiscovered treasure is higher when you go past this line, few treasure hunters ever manage to return from their expeditions into the dark."
"Why the low survival rate?"
"It's because the sandmen race are really active past this line."
Please go to https://www.novelupdates.cc/The-Mech-Touch/
to read the latest chapters for free