The Mech Touch Chapter 280


Chapter 280: Briefing
His interaction with the crew of the Happy Jelly and exploring its compartments gave Ves a decent impression of Walter's Whalers.Put simply, they lacked discipline and professionalism.If Ves wanted to be blunt, he'd use the words lazy and stupid to describe their motley crew. While the Whalers at least invested a little in their mech crews in order to make sure they functioned normally, their ship crews left a lot to be desired.Severely undermanned, the crew of the Happy Jelly only had the manpower to spare on maintaining the bare essentials of the ship.They kept the atmospherics going so they wouldn't be freezing and choking from a lack of oxygen.They kept the aging bridge and engineering running past their prime with a mix of ad-hoc solutions.Sometimes, they replaced faulty parts with illegally fabricated copies of dubious quality.It all looked ugly to Ves. Having seen a professional combat crew at work with his stint on Ark Horizon, the Whalers should be thanking their lucky stars the carrier hadn't blown up yet.Even the aging complement of bots had been affected by the lethargy around them. All of them looked old enough to be present on the Jelly when she started off as a brand new cargo hauler. Lack of attention had degraded at least half of them into scrap, which forced the remainder of the bots to pull double duty to clean the ship and take care of smaller duties.They obviously failed in that. Many low-priority corridors and compartments featured a build-up of grime and crusted vomit. If the Jelly had any cleaners on her crew, they obviously didn't bother cleaning these sections.Right now, Ves had to pass by some of those filthy corridors in order to reach a rarely-used conference. Walter summoned everyone important on the ship to attend a briefing.Around thirty old Whalers seated themselves on the hard, cheap chairs."I think everyone's here now, so let's get this started." Walter announced and turned on a flickering projection of the Glowing Zone. "The Blood Claws have been scouting ahead and made some plans. This is how it's going to look like."The Whaler fleet would emerge at the edge of the Glowing Zone and make its way inwards until they reached the position of the Blood Claws. Once every outfit with a connection to Monty gathered in a massive fleet, they resumed their journey towards the deepest part of the Glowing Zone, eventually approaching the outer edge of an enormous armada made up out of several divisions of the Mech Corps."As you know, the Glowing Planet has landed within the borders of the Republic. The Mech Corps, in all of its wisdom, figured that since the Vesians and all kinds of scum will arrive in a couple of days, it's best to set aside our rivalries and form a common pact.""Does that mean the Three Tyrants of Bentheim won't be duking it out?""Of course not, you dummy!"The old chap wouldn't be blamed for thinking that Monty the Beheader might chose to attack his other rivals. They constantly warred against each other in the shadows."The Glowing Planet is big enough for everyone, at least in the first couple of days. The Mech Corps has mapped out the planet from orbit and carved a generous slice of territory for each of the major players to claim as their own."A map of the planet showed up on the projection. Much of its intricate and dangerous terrain features remained unknown, but the Mech Corps somehow determined that the areas with the highest level of fluctuations probably contained deposits of the most valuable exotics the planet had on offer."These red areas are first-grade danger zones. They're extremely dangerous, as all of those wild exotic minerals are constantly changing the laws of physics around them. Time might stop, gravity might reverse, in short, all kinds of freaky stuff will happen around them. We can forget about mining those deposits ourselves. Only the Mech Corps has the means to extract those juicy exotics.""What about us?""I'm getting to that. Around the red zones are the orange zones, which consists of the second-grade danger zones. The exotics there are much less destructive on their environment, but there's a lot of them so the entire area will be blanketed in a low level freaky effect. These are great places to mine junk exotics in bulk, and that's where the major powers of the Republic have divvied up for themselves."The area allocated to Monty the Betrayer sat far away from any other claimed areas, and took up as much space as Dorum, Bentheim's capital city."That's kind of small. There's lots of free space on the planet.""This is only the first phase. Do you really think the Blood Claws will be able to protect this stretch of territory once the Ducal Legions of the Vesians make landfall? Even a fraction of a legion is enough to wipe the floor with Monty and his men!"The map changed now. Before, all of the Republican's powers had spread out over the planet. Now, they concentrated around the red zone occupied by the Mech Corps."In the second phase, every force from the Republic will work together to present a united front. Every major outfit like the Three Tyrants of Bentheim will be placed at the edge of the red zone occupied by the Mech Corps.""It kind of looks like we'll be placed at the frontlines.""They're using us as shields!""It's true." Walter said. "The Mech Corps isn't hiding the fact that they want us to be placed at the perimeter of their territory. Anyone who wants to attack the Mech Corps has to go through the Blood Claws or some other outfit depending on the direction of the attack.""Seems like a crappy deal. What do we get out of it?""Protection, basically. The Mech Corps won't stand by if any of us gets attacked. They've promised to send out a relief force to repel the attack."No one really took the Mech Corps at their word, but none of them had a say in the matter. Monty had already agreed to the deal. Ves strongly suspected that a couple of trades had been made on the side to secure everyone's agreement."Our precise role will vary. We brought plenty of mechs, but they're not really impressive, aside from my Urman and Fadah's new toy. The Blood Claws will likely put us on guard duty. It's going to get increasingly dangerous once the Vesians and the scum of the galaxy arrive."Walter proceeded to assign his officers to various tasks. Ves took on the duty of leading a small team of mech technicians in charge of maintaining and repairing the so-called fast-reaction squad led by Fadah.The fast-reaction squad acted as the troubleshooters of the Whalers. Walter basically gathered up some swift and mobile mechs and tasked them with rescuing any Whalers that had fallen into trouble."That's all we can plan for now. I still don't know if we'll actually be able to hold a chunk of territory of our own, but you can bet that we'll have to fight for every piece of ore the Blood Claws extract."The Mech Corps made use of the Blood Claws, while the Blood Claws made use of the Whalers. Life was tough at the bottom of the totem pole.Once everyone dispersed, Ves wandered back to the main hangar. While he hadn't figured out a way to reconcile the Blackbeak with a mech pilot eager to subvert the strengths of its design, Ves reflected on his previous choices."A mech won't always be matched with the right pilot. Its design might favor a defensive style of fighting, but if it's matched with an aggressive pilot, then something has to give."He always assumed that his Blackbeaks would be matched by mech pilots that could bring out their brilliance. Yet this time, he gifted the Blackbeak out for free to a leader who never really stood out as a brilliant decision maker. In turn, that leader handed over the Blackbeak to a pilot who obviously desired to pilot something else.All of this turned out to be a mess, and as the mech designer in charge of tweaking the Blackbeak to Fadah's tastes, it was up to him to untangle the knot.Eventually, he made a decision."It's no good to hold on to my beliefs even if I think that Fadah is wrong. In a sense, he's my customer, and a mech designer should always be attentive to their customers."If he reframed the situation into a relationship between a service provider and a customer, then the answer became clear. He had to set aside his narrow view of what was best in favor of accommodating the wishes of his client."Sticking to my guns obviously won't please Fadah."Fadah wanted his mech to fit his style instead of the other way around. If the Blackbeak remained a sluggish semi-defensive bulwark, then the pilot would never be able to mesh with it as deeply as Ves and Fadah wished.Even though Ves thought that Fadah made the wrong decision, it was better to follow his wishes, since at least the pilot had a chance of making it work.In short, Ves had to believe in Fadah and his claims.The realization came as a welcome relief to Ves. While the solution to the dilemma didn't truly eliminate every problem, the reasoning behind it gave Ves enough of an excuse to set aside his instincts.With grudging acceptance, he worked together with Fadah to finish slimming down the Blackbeak. Ves let go of its original conception as an offensive knight and treated it as a fluid entity with no discernable role as of yet."Thinking in terms of categories is a trap in itself. Not all mechs have to fill into a single predetermined role."That had been the other lesson he learned. The concept of roles and archetypes emerged after the first generations of mechs soon after the Age of Mechs came into being. It provided the nascent mech pilots and mech designers with a common understanding of what the new mechs had been designed to do.It succeeded in bringing order to the mech industry. Both designers and pilots experimented with hundreds of different concepts, throwing away the more impractical ideas while embracing the most effective ones like knight mechs, rifleman mechs and more.Yet sometimes those neat categories failed to adjust to the demands of the pilots. Walter's unusual Urman was but one example of a design that should not have worked according to contemporary standards. Yet Walter obviously managed, since he never lost a battle since he fled to Cloudy Curtain.Ves had the sense that he was doing something similar to the Blackbeak. He shaved away a significant amount of armor, drastically reducing the mech's encumbrance until its weight reached a point below the minimum standard of a medium mech.Now, the highly modified Blackbeak had become a mech that straddled the gap between a light and medium mech. In most people's eyes, such a mech would be an abomination. Yet Fadah found the result to be a marvel when he tested it out in a simulation."Fantastic! This is fantastic! The Blackbeak is so responsive now! It's still not as fast as I would like, but it's enough for me to pull off all of my moves!"In the end, Ves had satisfied his client. Whether this ultra-skinny Blackbeak could actually put up a fight, he didn't dare to speculate any further. He just hoped that Fadah had been somewhat truthful about his supposedly awesome skills.The work took way more time than he thought. Ves originally planned to make a pass at every mech on the Happy Jelly, but their impending emergence at the edge of the Glowing Zone cut that short.Ves settled for taking a look at the other mechs of the fast-reaction squad.When he finally visited their stables and looked at their frames, his mood tumbled to the bottom."How the hell do they still work?"He'd seen junkyard scrap in better conditions than the light and medium mechs that consisted of the fast-reaction squad. Ves had a lot of work to do if he wanted to ensure they could survive the rigors they'd usually be going through on the surface of the Glowing Planet.