The Mech Touch Chapter 467
469 Captain Orfan
The retrieval party consisted of two exo-skeleton soldiers armed with looted gear. The scorch marks on their battered armor made it clear that they had survived entry into Detemen IV's atmosphere with their suits instead of crash balls.
They tensed for a moment after spotting an armored figure. Ves made sure to keep his Amastendira safely tucked in his intangible Inventory and stay still, so the newcomers quickly dismissed him as a threat.
"Mr. Larkinson, please take off your helmet." One of them instructed through a comm channel.
Ves did as he told. As he exposed his face, one of the soldiers scanned him with a device integrated in his suit. Apparently, whatever it did finally seemed to satisfy the Vandal infantrymen. "Your identity checks out. Please come with us."
It was a very new experience for him to be escorted by two human colossi. Ves briefly admired their armored shells and spotted many commonalities with mechs. Naturally, an exo-skeleton suit wasn't a downscaled mech, so it featured a lot of other systems entirely unique to this type of war machine.
"Can you tell me about how many Vandals have gathered?"
They seemed to hesitate for a moment before replying. "Some of us who made it off the Stubby Growler and Rising Apple have landed closely together and fought with the locals. After a night of hard fighting, we took control over the base of a medium-sized mercenary corps.
"Without any friendly mechs?"
"Our suits proved to be sufficient."
Ves genuinely expressed his admiration of their feat. To take on a mid-sized mercenary corps that possessed at least fifteen to thirty mechs or so would be a challenge to any group of shipwrecked survivors. He couldn't even imagine how they had been able to overcome the mercenary mechs.
"Who's in charge?"
"Captain Rosa Orfan. She's the only mech captain among the group."
Ves hadn't heard of her, so she was probably stationed on the Rising Apple. Most of the mech pilots among the Vandals had deployed their mechs in space at the time the Vesians launched their Heavensfall and XX-REXX missiles. The only ones who hadn't been launched were the reserves and those responsible for piloting landbound mechs.
"How many mech pilots do we have?"
"Let's reach the base first. Captain Orfan or Lieutenant Burke will brief you from there."
They silently made their way past wrecked aircars and wretched corpses. The fighting in this area was a lot more intense. Ves spotted signs of heavier weapon usage. He even noted the tell-tale signs of mechs stomping through the streets.
He was already burning with questions, but the two meatheads kept insisting that he should leave his questions for the officers. Grunts like them only learned how to operate their suits and to obey their orders. Nothing more.
Strangely enough, they encountered no resistance, mostly because the heavily armored soldiers already cleaned up the trash along the way. Ves spotted several corpses that had obviously been done in by the heavy ballistic rifles wielded by his escorts.
Just two of them wiped out an entire score of thugs. The disparity in power between the two and Ves couldn't be more wider. As much as exo-skeleton suits lacked the allure enjoyed by mechs, both of them were powerful in their own right. They just served different purposes.
After a while, they finally reached a shabby base that used to be tidy before the Vandals invaded the Detemen System. The gates had been breached, and as Ves passed through them he realized why. The Vandals somehow hijacked a transport shuttle and crashed through.
Unfortunately, this led to a huge field of debris behind the gates that made it difficult for the three to find their footing. While the exo-skeleton suited men could crush some of the smaller stuff, the tougher alloys wouldn't bend under their weight.
"You've got to clean this up."
"We have bigger priorities to take care of first."
After making it through the debris field, they entered a small office building sitting next to the mech stables. Ves entered the elevator alone and reached the top floor before someone else guided him to an office that formerly belonged to the mercenary in charge.
"Mr. Larkinson." A toned woman greeted behind the desk. "Please take a seat. We have some matters to discuss."
As Ves rested his armored form on the chair, he studied the captain sitting on the other side of the desk. Rosa Orfan looked like a typical mech pilot. Featuring the lean, muscled physique of a warrior trained to endure the rigors of mech combat, she looked like she meant business.
She pointed a dusky-skinned finger at him. "As of this moment, you are the first mech designer we've retrieved from the Stubby Growler and the Rising Apple. I had hoped to snag Mr. Alloc, but I guess we'll have to make do with you. I hope you have no objections serving under me."
Her tone made it clear that she brooked no refusal. Not that Ves intended to refuse in the first place. Although he didn't fall into the usual chain of command, in emergency situations like this, it was best to defer to the officer in charge.
"I will obey your orders to the best of my abilities, ma'am." Ves solemnly replied. "Although if I may ask, what are your plans? Have you made contact with the Vandals yet?"
Ves did not think that Captain Orfan's little band had stayed out of contact with the main Vandal fleet. Earlier, he managed to browse the galactic net, so Captain Orfan or Lieutenant Burke must have certainly done the same.
"We made contact with the fleet as well as the local rebels." Orfan acknowledged with a nod. "It's been decided that we won't be returning to the main elements of the Vandals immediately."
Ves blinked at that. "We aren't going back?"
"Not yet. Since we have already arrived at Neron City, we might as well pave the way for main ground force."
"Uhm, what are our objectives, ma'am?"
"Currently, the ground force doesn't need our help in raiding the manufacturing complexes. We're too far away from the industrial districts to provide any assistance anyway. Instead, we've been tasked with coordinating with the Detemen League in rooting out Lord Javier. There are strong signs that the scion of House Eneqqin is still within city limits."
"How can that be, ma'am? If I were him, I would have fled on a ship or deep underground."
"The rebels have ruled out both possibilities. They prepared a lot of anti-air batteries, and they've been very successful in shooting down anything that attempts to lift off from Neron City and its surroundings. As for escaping underground, the rebels are far more adept at this than Lord Javier. It's their home turf. They already stopped a handful of digger vehicles from making it off."
Ves wasn't sure about the effectiveness of the rebel blockades, but they had no choice but to believe in them. This so-called Detemen League must really hate Lord Javier if they went through the trouble of cutting his escape route above and below the ground.
"What are my duties?"
"Right now, the men and women under my command are doing everything they can to find any clues about the whereabouts of Lord Javier. The rebels have been at it for a while as well, so our assistance won't amount to much. Still, I don't think that Javier can escape our detection, because many mechs haven't shown up at the defense line that House Eneqqin's troops have erected to repel our main ground force."
Mechs were so big and heavy that it would be impossible to hide them from precise enough scans. Only mechs that featured excellent stealth systems possessed a chance at evading detection, and there was no way that House Eneqqin employed so many stealthed mechs.
Ves understood his duties. He needed to bring the mechs of the former mercenary corps under control, because they would be needed to join the impending hunt for Lord Javier.
"What kind of assets are at my disposal?"
"A handful of mech technicians of the Stubby Growler and the Rising Apple have made it through. They've been instructed to answer to you."
"There's no chief among their ranks?"
Ves would make do, but he didn't like it. From his experience, mech technicians had a tendency to work half as much or less when chief technicians were absent. He hoped that the gravity of their situation sank into their stupid skulls. This was no time to slack off and take it easy.
"How many mech pilots do I need to provide with a mech?"
"This mercenary corps owned fourteen intact mechs. Currently, we've gathered five mech pilots excluding myself, so I want you to bring at least six mechs online. More Vandal mech pilots may trickle in at any time, so don't think you're done when you delivered six working mechs."
"Understood. I'll continue to work on the mechs as long as my orders hold. One question, ma'am. Is the Detemen League providing any assistance?"
"They sent us a few containers worth of supplies to set us up, but they are not a fighting force that relies on mechs. Citizens from Detemen IV who have the potential to be mech pilots enjoy a lot of privileges from House Eneqqin. This makes them anathema to the Detemen League. Therefore, they won't be able to provide us with mechs, mech pilots and supplies."
The true strength of the Detemen League lay in their influence over the auxiliary regiments. This wasn't useful to the Flagrant Vandals because all of their proficiencies and fighting doctrines revolved around mechs and only mechs.
"Do they have a presence here?"
"No one except for a liaison they left behind. Most of their fighters are attacking House Eneqqin from their rear as we speak. It will only be a matter of time before they're grinded between the rebels and our main ground force. The only members of the Detemen League that's still spread over the city is tasked with securing supplies or finding the whereabouts of Lord Javier."
They were on their own for now. No one could spare anymore resources that might help with their predicament.
"May I ask something?"
"Permission granted." Captain Orfan leaned back in her chair. Ever since he accepted her command, she visibly eased some of her tension, as if a weight had been lifted off her chest.
"How important is it for us to find Lord Javier?"
Captain Orfan turned grave. "This is a very important mission. The Detemen League only acceded to the plans cooked up by Colonel Lowenfield and the Vesian Revolutionary Front because of our commitment to hunt him down. Leaving empty-handed will severely damage our standing with not only the League, but every other local rebel group as well. Our credibility and ability to sneak through Vesian space hinges on our success here."
Ves understood, even if he didn't think that Orfan was as optimistic as she appeared. Ves could think of a hundred different ways he could hide his presence from the rebels and the Vandals. Lord Javier may be a dirtbag, but he sounded like the type who valued his life. No method was too unseemly if it could help him survive the manhunt on his head.
They talked a bit more and Ves received a bit more instructions before he left her makeshift office. Ves turned on his comm which already received a map of the former mercenary grounds. He followed the shortest route downstairs and walked over the the nearby mech stables.
As he approached the fairly quiet structure, he looked up at the name of the mercenary corps put up at the front.
JAVIER'S DASTARDLY HANDSOME BASTARDS
Ves smirked as he read it. The bastards probably incorporated Javier's name to ingratiate themselves in his eyes.
"Well, I hope their mechs are up to snuff if Lord Javier has approved of their existence."