171 A Proposal
Ves spent the first day going over his available assets. First, he checked the terminals as well as the machines he had to work with. The Ark Horizon possessed multiple workshops, many of them meant to repair or replace large amounts of broken components over the course of a campaign.
“A fleet carrier serves as a central staging point for a planetary invasion.” Chief Ramirez explained to Ves. “If we wanted to, we can stuff more mechs inside the Ark Horizon, but as soon as they incur major damage, we won’t be able to use them again until we bring them back to a usable condition.”
In other words, the fleet carrier offered any substantial mech force a large boost in staying power. With the Ark Horizon as the backbone of the fleet, Lord Kaine could squeeze every bit of value out of his mechs.
“The workshop servicing the Hunting Platoon is the smallest one aboard the ship, but it has all of the basic necessities.”
Ves widened his eyes as he beheld the workshop in its entirety. He only briefly glanced at the 3D Printer and assembly system. Instead, he turned his full attention to the other machines in the open space.
“Is that an alloy compressor and a chemical treatment machine?”
“Aye. The previous guy hand-picked the models himself. He might be a self-serving coward, but he knew his stuff.”
Chief Ramirez quickly shut his mouth once Ves tried to ask more about his predecessor. It appeared the previous mech designer became something of a taboo existence in the expedition.
If Ves had access to the galactic net, he could find more information about House Kaine and the mech designers they contracted. Unfortunately, Lord Kaine had already taken measures in restricting every quantum entanglement nodes aboard every ship in the fleet. They hadn’t even left the Mancroft System and already they were cut off from the rest of the galaxy.
“When will we depart and how long will it take to reach our destination?” Ves asked, curious about his timetable.
“I’m not privy to the full details, but word around the grapevine is we’ll be setting off as soon as our fuel tanks are topped off. That will take half a day. After that, the fleet will be following a roundabout path to the Groening System. That might take a couple of weeks or so.”
Ves grew alarmed. “A couple of weeks isn’t enough to improve all of those mechs! There’s not enough time!”
Time waited for no one. Groening IV’s metal storm only subsided at a fixed schedule. No matter how much Ves wanted to delay the expedition, he could do nothing against the forces of nature. The expedition already wasted a lot of time and they only received a new mech designer at the very last second.
“Lord Kaine waited a long time to recruit a talented mech designer.” Ensign D’Amato suddenly spoke up by his side. “In truth, he cast his net fairly wide. He received a large amount of offers, but rejected them all. They lack the qualifications to work on something important as his great granddaughter’s first command.”
“I can understand why he would reject the lowest tiers of mech designers.” Ves replied. “But surely there must have been more qualified mech designers knocking on his door.”
“I am not aware of how the negotiations went between the applicants and Lord Kaine. In any case, he rejected their terms.”
Journeyman Mech Designers often presided over a growing business empire. They didn’t lack for money if they possessed enough sense. They’d only sign up for dangerous expeditions if they got something substantial out of it. Lord Kaine must have rejected their excessively greedy demands.
As for the Apprentice Mech Designers like Ves, Lord Kaine must have had some reservations. Apprentices were always fairly young and thus lacked practical experience. In truth, Ves possessed a flimsier resume than other apprentices, especially the core disciples who had been groomed to take over their master’s legacies.
Did Lord Kaine go with Ves because the deadline of the expedition forced him to accept any candidate? It would certainly explain the cold shoulders he received so far. No one really expected him to make any difference in the coming weeks.
With a glowering expression, Ves resolved to prove them all wrong. His first task was to see what he had to work with. He spent a couple of hours going over the systems and inventory he had at his disposal. He expedited his checks because he didn’t believe his predecessor went through the trouble of sabotaging the gear in the first place.
As someone who cross-trained in hacking, Melkor also lent a hand by checking over the software. “I haven’t detected anything wrong with these systems. That’s not to say they are clean, but whatever bugs they carry is beyond my capacity.”
Chief Ramirez smiled. “Don’t worry about it, our ship doesn’t lack for computer specialists. My men will be happy to hear they can stop borrowing the other workshop’s facilities.”
Just as Ves wanted to discuss his tentative plan, a shipwide alert stopped everyone in their tracks. A strange tone sounded out that prompted everyone on the deck to stow away their gear and secure any loose pieces of equipment.
“The expedition is about to set off.” Ensign D’Amato answered.
After they finished sweeping anything that hadn’t been bolted down, D’Amato and Ramirez guided Ves and his silent companions Melkor and Lucky to a set of crash seats placed to the sides. Everyone strapped themselves in.
“It’s customary to button down the entire ship once the Ark is about to go underway.” The ensign explained as he activated a projector installed next to his seat. He fiddled with the settings until the display showed the entire fleet. “We’ll be departing the Mancroft System very soon.”
Ves saw that the smaller ships left their orbits and paved the way for the Ark Horizon. The huge fleet carrier engaged her thrusters and slowly ascended from her stable orbit over Mancroft I.
Despite the awesome power propelling the two-kilometer ship forward, Ves only sensed a tiny vibration from his seat. The ship’s inertial dampeners and artificial gravity systems worked in tip-top shape to ensure no one got splattered by the shift.
Such a major movement must have attracted the eyes of everyone in the Mancroft System. Some of the treasure hunters must be wondering about their final destination. The escort ships did a good job scaring them away when they dipped close.
The excitement on the lower decks the quickly died down once the brass gave the all-clear. Everyone resumed their current tasks.
As for Ves, he led Ramirez, D’Amato and Melkor to an empty office. “I think I’ve got a decent picture of what’s going on right now. I’ve already formed a plan. The question is, who do I have to convince to implement any changes?”
Ramirez and D’Amato looked at each other before the ensign replied. “I’m mostly present as an observer. I’ll step in when I think you are going astray, but other than that I’ll leave you be.”
“The buck stops with Captain Kaine. She’s in command.” Chief Ramirez answered after a thought. “I’ll listen to your proposals and If I think they won’t piss her off, I’ll pass it on to the captain.”
If Ves had to convince Captain Kaine, then he had to start small. He already adjusted the plans formulating in his mind. “What about this. Let me work on the Ajax Olympian. The heavy knight is the largest but also the simplest models of the three. It’s the lynchpin of our hunting strategy so it requires extra attention. It also has the fewest numbers available so I’m confident that we can improve both frames before we arrive at the Groening System.”
All of his reasons had merit. Even Chief Ramirez nodded at some of them. Still, would he trust Ves to do a good job?
“Well, the big man did hire you in the end. It’d be stupid to let you sit around doing nothing during the entire expedition. I won’t let you make any changes immediately, but if you come up to me with an updated design, I’ll let you try and convince the captain.”
Ves immediately went to work after receiving the chief’s permission. He first sat down in front of a terminal and called up the design of the Ajax Olympian.
While he studied the design, the entire expeditionary fleet had reached one of the Mancroft System’s Lagrange points. Several scouts jumped in first before the Ark Horizon transitioned into FTL. Her movements immediately sent ripples throughout the higher dimensions. Anyone with access to sophisticated technology would know that a capital ship had crossed the borders.
Every mercenary vessel had to operate under strict conditions. The men Lord Kaine stationed on their vessels made sure that all means of communicating with the outside universe were clamped down. Even the relatively tiny Barracuda had to put up with a stone-faced security officer who kept a careful watch over the female spacers.
The expedition’s grand departure attracted a lot of unwelcome attention. Various shady forces had already sent scout ships ahead to keep track of the Ark Horizon. The leaders of these forces justifiably believed that Lord Kaine grasped the coordinates of an extremely resource-abundant planet. Everyone wanted a piece of the action.
During the Ark Horizon’s first hop, everyone aboard the carrier worked quietly to prepare her mechs. Once they entered sandmen space, they had to be ready to deploy against both sandmen and pirates. Only the people attached to the hunting platoon had it easy for now. Their time to shine came later.
While Ves looked up the design of the Ajax, Chief Ramirez went back to supervising the mech technicians. He couldn’t spend all day watching over the shoulders of their new mech designer, so Ves only had Melkor, D’Amato and Lucky for company.
He might as well pick their brains if they were here. “What do you think about the Ajax Olympian?”
Since Ensign D’Amato came from the Grey Willow Star Sector, he should know a thing or two about the mech.
“The standard Ajax is a mainstay in many local forces. As you know, heavy mechs are extremely expensive, so House Kaine has opted not to purchase a model from the top segment of the market.”
In other words, the Ajax and most of its variants tried to offer the most bang for your buck. It became a popular model among many middle-sized influences due to this reason.
As a dependent of a second-rate state, House Kaine couldn’t afford to underinvest in their mechs. All of the models Ves had seen so far could beat any model used by the Bright Republic’s Mech Corps in a direct clash.
“How would you describe the Ajax Olympian’s strengths and weaknesses?”
The ensign had to think about his answer. “I’m not a specialist in mech design, but from what I know, the Ajax has an almost unbreakable shell. Its compressed armor has a reputation for weathering a storm. On the other hand, its internal structure can’t keep up in prolonged engagements. It always breaks down long before the armor is breached.”
“So that’s why the expedition uses a variant.” Ves remarked. “I suppose this version has implemented some measures to improve its shock-absorbing capacity.”
“Right, but it has also driven up the cost and difficulty of repairs.”
Ves referenced the design of the Olympian and found how they solved the problem. “The internal frame is reinforced by supports made out of compressed alloys.”
A heavy knight possessed a lot of volume due to its extravagant size. The alloys used by the model also used up a lot of exotics.
Once Ves thought things through, he decided upon a course of action. “Cost should not be a concern. The Ark has an ample store of raw materials. I think it’s best if I attempt to strengthen its shock resistance even further while lengthening its operating time under difficult conditions.”
The Ajax Olympians were expected to operate for forty days straight. Any time taken away for repairs would prove extremely detrimental to the task of hunting down the hexapod kings. Without keeping these giant beasts in check, the other mercenaries wouldn’t be able to hunt the regular hexapods in peace.
The only problem was that Ves had too little time. Heavy mechs required a lot of time to refurbish, so Ves had to submit a new design as soon as possible.
“A week. I only require a week.”