The Mech Touch Chapter 503

505 Profiteering
It didn't take long before Ves received a summons from Major Verle. He calmly closed his terminal and closed his eyes.

"Seems like this is a serious issue after all."

The level of embezzlement that happened on an individual level wasn't too great, but when it had reached such a scale that practically every workshop was involved, the losses added up.

If all of the profits from these activities channeled in a small number of masterminds, then what Ves reported just threatened their livelihood.

The one thing he was afraid of most was that this level of corruption had reached the highest level. If Major Verle or Lieutenant Commander Soapstone received a cut of the profits, then Ves enormously harmed his relations with two of the most powerful officers in the Verle Task Force.

"Still, I can't sit still and do nothing."

Though Ves readily admitted to himself that he wasn't above pulling dirty tricks, he hated it when others tried to pull the wool over his eyes. Now that he accepted the job of head designer, everything concerning mechs came under his purview. Ves was not the type of person who tolerated employee theft.

"Urgh. I'm thinking of the Vandals like a business again." He shook his head.

He couldn't help but make the parallels between his job as a head designer and his status as a business owner of the LMC.

It would be a mistake to adopt this mindset, because the web of power was much more complex here. Back at the LMC, he was not only the founder and sole designer, Ves also relied on his majority ownership to exert total control.

While his reliance on agents and employees effectively limited his power, it remained a fact that Ves held ultimate authority over his firm.

In the Vandal command structure, the mech officers formed the main combatants as well as the main decision makers. The ship and staff officers on the other hand mainly executed the decisions made by the mech officers.

Mech designers like Ves existed outside of this command structure, and acted more like external consultants. Even Professor Velten who shared the most intimate relationship with the Vandals held no military rank.

Because Ves fell outside the conventional command structure, he also benefited from a different perspective. That was why he went through with informing Major Verle of his findings. Even if he pissed some powerful Vandals off, they couldn't do anything to him, at least outwardly. The most they could do was try to marginalize his influence.

If that happened, so be it, but Ves cooked up several plans that would counteract their petty attempts. Ves may not be a Journeyman Mech Designer, but his skills overshadowed everyone else's in the fleet.

If it came down to it, Ves wasn't above pulling up his sleeves to impress the savages of what a good mech designer could bring to the table.

As Ves stood up and exited his office, Iris called out to him just as the hatch slid open.

"Boss! Are you going out?"

"Yeah, it seems like what I dug up requires an immediate response. Stay here and keep collating the data."

"Will do."

After Ves made his initial discoveries, he didn't feel like digging into the data anymore. He pushed some of the duties onto Iris, who unfortunately couldn't match his Intelligence.

Ves keenly witnessed the difference between his own capabilities and someone with more human-like Intelligence values. Despite benefiting from a minor boost in mental capacity due to her Jupiter Family heritage, she required weeks to do what Ves could complete in a day.

This must be another reason why Professor Velten thought he would be suitable to take on the role of head designer. He processed data faster than others, which helped enormously in a data-oriented job like his. Head designers needed to make difficult decisions according to the information at hand, and Ves could take in much more information at much higher speeds, so he possessed a definite advantage in this area.

Any other mech designer thrust into this seat would quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data required to make the right decisions. They could either spend months getting familiar with their position or take some shortcuts and enact policies based on an incomplete understanding of the situation.

"Such outcomes will inevitably lead to disaster."

When Ves stepped into Major Verle's stateroom, he glanced around as his steps brought him to one of the available seats.

The major didn't have time to furnish his stateroom according to his tastes. He must have lost everything he owned when the Stubby Growler went down. The metallic walls looked grey and bare while the furniture all consisted of the most basic copies that any mech technician could fabricate according to a standard template.

This was a good sign to Ves, because the bare furnishings signalled that Verle didn't care for material possessions.

"You've given me quite a conundrum, Mr. Larkinson." Verle started as he shut off his terminal, leaving his desk bare. He stared at Ves with inscrutable eyes. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Ves couldn't read any hint of Verle's intentions. Was he pleased that Ves brought the matter to his attention, or had he encroached upon a taboo?

He made a conscious choice to force the issue at the start. He disliked uncertainty, and he would rather not have this cloud hanging over his head. Now was the time to see why Colonel Lowenfield trusted the major so much.

"Sir, as the newly appointed head designer of this fleet, it's my responsibility to see that our mechs are as capable as possible to handle the threats in our way. The possible embezzlement happening under the table is a small but wide-reaching influence on our strength."

"How can it be both small but wide-reaching?"

"Like a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the planet, the effects can lead to a typhoon on the other side of the globe. The siphoning of resources away from their intended purposes effectively leaves our mech companies with 0.5 percent less resources. This might not sound like much, but at a scale of five-hundred spaceborn mechs, this loss amounts to missing two or three complete mechs."

"And this is relevant because…?"

"Think about it. If we get ambushed at our next stop by five-hundred enemy mechs, and we deploy 497 mechs in response, that gap could mean the difference between victory and defeat."

Ves didn't need to explain it any further. In closely-matched battles, the ultimate victor would often be decided by the side who could tip the balance in their favor. If both sides enjoyed an even playing field in terms of mech quality and mech composition, a minor advantage in numbers would eventually lead to a decisive advantage in numbers.

Even if both sides didn't commit, a handful of extra mechs could drastically influence the amount of casualties both sides sustained.

"Is our spaceborn contingent in that bad of a state?" Verle asked.

"Their state is fairly good, since they mainly scored a lopsided victory in the Detemen System. By now, most mechs that have sustained damage are in a decent shape, though it will take the more heavily damaged mechs a little more time to become space worthy again. I'm not worried about the present. I'm concerned about the future. If this wasteful pattern continues, we'll continue to suffer preventable losses."

"Are you sure of that?"

"I'm very sure of it, sir. You're the expert in mech tactics, so I'm sure you have a better idea at how this could lead to unnecessary losses."

The major fell silent and tapped his desk with his finger. "Have you narrowed down who's responsible for these actions?"

"No." Ves shook his head. "It will take a more thorough investigation to get at the root of the problem. I can point out the mech technicians who are incorrectly logging their resource usages, but I have the feeling that they aren't the main beneficiaries of this scheme. Whoever is responsible for selling of trading the siphoned materials should be the true masterminds."

"I see. If you had the power to respond to this issue, what would you do?"

That might have been a loaded question, but Ves felt obligated to answer it. After a lot of thought about his new role, he gained some enlightenment about the purpose of mech designers attached to mech regiments.

Mech officers were the people in charge. That never changed. Everyone else assisted them in the background. As a mech designer and a head designer to boot, Ves was tasked with the responsibility to advise Major Verle so that he could make the most important decisions after taking everything into account.

With this role in mind, Ves provided several answers. "It depends on what kind of goal I want to achieve. If I wish to send a clear message that activities like this that harm our common interests will not be tolerated, I would investigate it thoroughly and punish the offenders according to the strictest regulations."

"The penalties for embezzlement can be quite severe."

"They played with fire, they should expect to get burned. We are not talking about innocent people here. Even if it isn't as bad as they look like, unauthorized shuffling of materials is still a moderate offense that needs to be cracked down."

"So do you believe that this is the option that we should be pursuing?"

"Ah, there are other options available as well, sir. If we crack down too hard, we might upset a lot of people, which would lead to a lot of resentment and division. We can't afford internal division while the task force is still at risk of getting caught by the Vesians on their own turf. If the problem needs to be taken care of with some finesse, we can also opt for a softer touch."

"A slap on the wrist." Verle deducted. "That will send a weak message to the offenders. It will reinforce the belief that the embezzlers are impervious and that we don't have the guts to incur their wrath."

"Still, dealing with people with overblown senses of importance is better if you still have them on your side. That's why I suggested this option."

They both paused a bit as they contemplated the two options with two very different outcomes. While Ves came up with these possible responses by himself, he couldn't say which one would be better.

Cracking down on the practice would hurt the cohesion of the Flagrant Vandals in the short term. The damage could be quite severe if a lot of powerful people had their fingers in the pot. Yet by bringing the hurt forward, the Vandals would be able to clean up their act in one go, which was better for everyone in the long term.

As for the other options, it led to the least amount of hurt in the short term, but did not effectively solve the problem at all. Perhaps it would depress any illicit activities for a few weeks, but the masterminds would not be deterred to pick up their shady dealings again. They might have even learned their lessons this time and spend more effort on hiding their trails.

In either case, further investigation was necessary to figure out the extent of the profiteering.

After a lengthy pause, Verle came to a decision on what to do. "Both of your options have their strong points, but there are more ways to address this problem than these two extremes. You still lack experience in this area."

Ves sat up straighter. He was curious what Verle really thought about the matter. It sounded like he wasn't involved after all.

"I agree with you that this problem needs to be nipped in the bud. Now that it's been brought to my attention, I won't rest easy until this activity ceases. Yet tact is important. Our ultimate goal is to make it to the Reinald Republic alive, so I cannot afford to put some of my most subordinates in the brig."