The Mech Touch Chapter 515

516 Uphill Battle
Ves emerged from Soapstone's office with a tired but energetic look. In the last three hours, he finally got to meet with Lieutenant Commander Soapstone who apprised him of their logistical situation.

The entire discussion ran on for hours as Soapstone patiently educating him about her own challenges. Most of it was boring and tedious, but Ves forced himself to memorize the points she raised.

In any case, Ves received the answers that he wanted to hear. With Major Verle's approval, she arranged numerous trades with the regional rebel groups that haunted the Venidse, Klein and Hafner duchies.

"Venidse's rebel movement is able to channel most of the resources that you need to us. Mind you, we aren't acquainted with this particular group, and they know that they're our only effective supplier. This means they'll certainly try to take advantage by charging triple of what they're selling while paying a fraction of the valuables we've obtained from the Detemen System."

Ves sensed her unspoken message. "So you want to keep the trade as small as possible?"

Soapstone nodded. "Our profits from the Detemen venture will evaporate if we try to fulfill every item on your wishlist. It's simply not economical for us to fulfill your ambitious plans."

He quietly cursed at that. Couldn't these rebels recognize that the Vandals could be their allies? Ves was forced to set his sights lower and acquire the bare minimum of what was necessary to keep all of the piloted mechs in fighting shape. He couldn't spare any extra attention to the spares.

Even then, his means fell short of being able to bring every mech to a functional condition. The attrition some of the Vandal mechs endured on Detemen IV needed an extensive overhaul.

As a result, the task force needed to get past the Imodris and Venidse territories while slightly understrength. "Fortunately, our spaceborn mechs haven't suffered too much damage compared to our landbound machines."

Yet that didn't mean the landbound mechs would be mothballed. Venidse was relatively rich in resources and many of its star systems contained valuable mines. Soapstone quietly revealed to Ves that Major Verle and his staff was considering the possibility to raid one of Venidse's prosperous star systems to supplement their deficient resource outlook.

Soapstone explained the rationale to him. "The rebels charge so much because they're short on resources and need the money as much as we do. Rather than let them rip us off, it's better for us if we can cut out the middleman and go for the source."

Ves almost had a heart attack when he heard this notion. "Many of our landbound mechs aren't up for a planetary raid!"

"Tough luck then, head designer. Major Verle doesn't want to hear it. We Vandals have endured worse situations. If our mech pilots have to pilot damaged mechs, then so be it. We really need those resources."

Soapstone also hinted that they would perform more raids along the way, because every rebel group was simply demanding too much. The Flagrant Vandals already paid a substantial amount of money to facilitate their passage through hostile space.

"Can you tell me about any large-scale deployments in the works? It would help me out if I know what I can expect in the future."

"There are two important missions that we will likely accept in exchange for obtaining extra assistance from the regional rebel groups. The first one consists of destroying an important defensive installation in the Klein Duchy. The second one entails freeing important prisoners from a jail in the Hafner Duchy."

Both of them sounded like it would require the Vandals to put in their best effort, especially the first mission. Attacking a defensive fortification head-on was not a light matter, and the more mechs on the field, the better.

Ves groaned yet again. "This is really too much. You're running the Vandals ragged at this rate. I'm sure your mech pilots are able to tough it out, but mechs are exceedingly complex machines. It's easy to see them as invincible machines of war, but their impervious performance is only possible due to the incredible amount of work being done behind the scenes."

"I'm aware of that." Soapstone retorted, reminding Ves that she excelled in logistics, which most mech officers plainly never thought about. "Yet we are also under a lot of pressure. We made it out of the Detemen System with a lot of riches, but until we are able to reach a friendly or neutral trading system and sell them off at acceptable prices, we won't be able to derive any benefits from our loot at all. Our current resource-rich state is an illusion. All of our wealth is locked away in hard-to-dispose, illiquid goods."

He understood then that the task force was in a much worse state than he initially believed. It was as if a group of robbers infiltrated a mansion in the middle of a city and stole some precious jewels. Now, the entire city turned hostile against the robbers, leaving them nowhere to sell their ill-gotten gains.

Only by escaping the city and reaching a neighboring one would the heat die down. By then, they could calmly enter any store to sell the jewels at fairer prices.

"So there's at least three different landbound deployments in the horizon. A raid in Venidse, a mission in Klein and another one in Hafner, is that all?"

"That should be all. We're reluctant to plan for more because every deployment slows us down. We still need to reach the Reinald Republic within less than two months."

Thank the heavens for that. Ves quietly sighed in relief since they at least remembered that they needed to adhere to a deadline. Otherwise the sheer amount of deployments would have turned him crazy already.

The rest of the discussion mainly revolved around the details and finer points. At first, it didn't seem to Ves that any of it mattered, but he slowly realized that it was important for him to know some crucial details.

The information he received encompassed tidbits such as what kind of resources Venidse extracted from their mines to where they would be able to obtain medium-density mech-grade fuel.

With his expanded Intelligence, Ves easily memorized all of these important details. If Lieutenant Commander Soapstone found it important enough to mention it to him, then it was worthwhile for him to memorize it all. Some of this information may come handy in the future.

With a bucket load of information stuffed in his head, Ves returned to his office and reworked his own planning according to the new information. He had to get over the fact that his plan left no options but to deploy mechs that still needed some repairs.

The main issue he faced was that it took too much resources to repair all of their landbound mechs. Through some possibles trades in the following three territories, the task force might be able to supplement their most critical needs, but this was just a metaphorical drop in the ocean compared to the actual problem.

Making this planning taxed his mental capacities to the limit. In truth, Ves should have involved some capable assistants to share the load, but besides Iris, Ves could only turn to his supposed deputies.

Thinking about trust the likes of Mercator and Trozin with this responsibility made him feel ill at ease. "They're not trustworthy enough, and much of this information is sensitive."

Ves was resigned to work at it by himself. As the planning came together, he felt as if his head started to overheat. He needed to lay down his work.

He turned off his terminal and looked around and noticed that Iris was already gone.

"The shift is already over?"

The clock that displayed the standard time revealed that it was midnight right now. Ves stretched his limbs and eased his mind onto other matters.

"I wonder how the LMC is doing?"

As head researcher, Ves had limited access to the galactic net. Much of his access only allowed him to receive data in a passive manner. He wasn't allowed to transmit any information except what was necessary to access some of it in the first place. In essence, his access to the galactic net amounted to a read-only limitation.

He browsed some of the articles and tried to look up the winner for the award of Best Mech Design of the Year.

"Damn, I lost!"

His mech design only received an honorable mention from the Bentheim Mech Court. In the segment that his Crystal Lord was competing on, the Senior Mech Designers that made up the Court decided to hand over the award to an admittedly worthy and brilliant striker mech design.

A brief look told Ves that the Crystal Lord didn't lose unjustly to this striker mech. He couldn't fault the Bentheim Mech Court for being biased. "The Crystal Lord is a good design, but it has its limitations."

He read up on how the LMC was doing, but the public news reports only mentioned what they perceived from the surface. For example, they could tell that the Mech Nursery ramped up their production, but they couldn't determine how many production lines had been added to the underground manufacturing complex.

One interesting development was that the Crystal Lord gained two different categories of clients. First, some of the Bentheim mech regiments ordered dozens of silver-label Crystal Lords on a trial basis. The news portal that reported this rumor claimed that some of the mech regiments wanted to pimp out the mechs piloted by their officers.

Ves had mixed feelings about the idea. "The Crystal Lord isn't a military-grade mech."

While he was confident his mech could keep up with most other military-developed mechs, the widespread adoption of the Crystal Lord would certainly introduce some difficulties to these mech regiments.

His perspective was wider now. Having access to all of the information at the disposal of a head designer, Ves was keenly aware of the complications that ensued by mixing military-grade mechs with machines meant for a different audience. The Vandals suffered substantially from this problem because much of their mechs consisted of salvaged or stolen Vesian mechs.

The main benefit to military-grade mechs was that they're designed to work with a common set of standards, parts and measurements, even among different designs. This streamlined the maintenance process and lightened the burden of fielding several different models of mechs.

It was not to the extent of incorporating every separate model in a single product family, but just a handful of commonalities was enough to ease a mech regiment's logistical concerns.

As for the Crystal Lord, not only did it make use of fairly unique components derived from Coalition licenses, its laser rifle and chest crystal could only be produced at the Mech Nursery. The silver and gold label mechs distinguished themselves from the bronze-label version fabricated by third party manufacturers by carrying activated alien crystals.

As far as Ves was aware of, there was only one crystal cube in existence that could activate the synthesized crystals.

"This is going to be a problem for the LMC. I hope Calsie won't be stupid enough to give up the crystal cube."

Besides closing some deals with the Mech Corps, the Crystal Lord also proved to be a surprising hit in the Ylvain Protectorate. They even loosened up their harsh import restrictions to obtain more copies of his premium rifleman mech.

Though he was a little confused why the Ylvains adored the Crystal Lord model all of a sudden, he wasn't about to turn away a customer.

Ves looked up some other news about home, but only for an hour or so. He couldn't let himself be consumed by thoughts at home, not while the Vandals still needed to fight their way out of Vesian space.

He initially thought it would be a difficult but manageable ordeal to leave the Kingdom. Now that he became responsible for the task force's mechs, he realized what an uphill battle he faced.

"Heh. It's more of a cliff than a hill. Try climbing that."