The Mech Touch Chapter 524
525 Issuing Orders
Who was Nemo McAllister?
Ves didn't know. He appeared to be one of the younger and more recent Vandal mech pilot recruits. His proficiency in piloting light mechs matched well with the Inheritor light mech, causing his performance to be better than some veterans who normally gravitated towards medium mechs.
Initially, Nemo drew attention due to his panicking expression. It looked very genuine, which was strange since the Flagrant Vandals currently had the situation under control. So long the ambushers from Imodris aimed to stall their escape, they didn't have to worry too much so long as they continued to shoot down the converging space mines.
This discrepancy prompted Ves to look over the telemetry of Nemo's Inheritor to see if it exhibited any anomalies.
Ves immediately detected something strange with his sharp eyes. Oh, to a normal mech designer, the telemetry being broadcast appeared absolutely normal.
Its power reactor fed enough power to its flight system and weapon.
Its borrowed light laser rifle heated up and expended a predictable amount of energy with each beam being unleashed.
Its sensors entered the most appropriate scanning mode and linked up with the Vandal battle network to share its readings with the combat carriers.
All of it showed that the Inheritor worked properly, if not for one subtle mistake. The fuel for the emergency boosters embedded in the cockpit did not react properly to the changes in the interior of the mech.
Oh certainly, the fuel warmed up when the interior warmed up, and it cooled down when the heat got shunted away. Yet the rate in which it changed temperature seemed a little strange to Ves. He knew what kind of fuel the cockpit utilized.
Cockpit fuel needed to be steadier than normal in order to insure it wouldn't spontaneously ignite. They underwent expensive treatment in order to make them safer. It wouldn't have been cost-effective to let fuel-based mechs run with stabler mixtures of fuel, but it was worth it when it came to infrequent purposes such as feeding the boosters of a cockpit as it ejected from a dying mech.
Ves happened to know the traits of the fuel, so the temperature shifts that Ves witnessed from the telemetry didn't match up. He came to a quick but incomprehensible conclusion.
"The telemetry in this section is faked."
He scratched his head at the puzzle. Why would anyone attempt to fake the readings for cockpit fuel? Was there something else taking the place of fuel for the ejection system?
Ves tried to dig into this issue a little deeper, but he failed to find out more due to his lack of privileges. It was extremely dangerous for a mech to be too networked. As a remote mech designer, Ves barely possessed any rights besides being able to access the Inheritor's telemetry.
"I need physical access to inspect this mech."
In the meantime, he couldn't come to any conclusions. Why would anyone try to tamper with the fuel? And was this the reason why Nemo seemed panicked?
"If someone fudged the cockpit's ejection system, then Nemo has no escape. If his mech ever got damaged, he'll have to go down with his mech."
This might be why Nemo constantly looked like he wanted this battle to end as quickly as possible. If he knew about this strange anomaly, then he should certainly cherish his life. At least the other Vandal mech pilots could count on ejecting in time.
He still didn't understand the point of this. All he knew that a small part of Nemo's Inheritor was not as it seemed. The best Ves could tell, some mech designer or mech technician removed something in order to make way for another component.
Something important and sensitive enough to hide. Perhaps a hidden transmitter?
He shook his head. It didn't appear to be a transmitter, as none of the mechs in the vicinity detected any transmissions from the Inheritor. None past the usual transmissions, anyhow.
Ves looked up Nemo's berth and noted down his Inheritor's mothership. He dug up some logs and saw that the same trio of mech technicians serviced his mech.
Working on a hunch, Ves inspected some of the other mechs serviced by those mech technicians. Most mechs appeared to be normal to his eyes. Yet his persistence was rewarded when Ves found the same anomaly on another Inheritor mech.
"Again?! What is the purpose of this?"
Besides the two Inheritors, all the other mechs that this group of mech technicians serviced appeared normal and untampered. All of this puzzled Ves to the point where he questioned whether this was an issue he should be digging into right now.
"My goal was to find a possible spy in the crew. Nemo and that other fellow don't seem like spies."
Nemo looked afraid while the other pilot seemed unaware of his predicament. No matter what was going on, Ves couldn't allow these unauthorized modifications to persist. Who knew what the suspicious bunch of mech technicians tried to pull off.
The question that came to Ves was what he should do about it. He thought about reporting it to Major Verle, but the issue might only distract the mech officer from the battle. Since mechs came under his purview, Ves decided to solve it on his own.
Since the two mechs were compromised in some fashion, Ves needed to treat them as if they could blow up at any moment. In no way would he feel secure in bringing the mechs back to their berths where they could potentially explode and devastate an entire hangar.
Whether this strange occurrence had anything to do with spies or something else, Ves thought they would be better off if the two suspicious mechs could be cleared before he decided to bring them back to the Finmoth Regal, the high-capacity combat carrier from whence they came.
Ves began to smirk as he began to come up with a devious idea. He turned to his comm and called his deputies, putting them in an impromptu conference call.
Ves nodded at Mercator and Trozin. The two most senior mech designers under his command hadn't outwardly worked against him in the past week. They faithfully discharged their responsibilities without fault, so Ves couldn't pick a bone with them on that.
No matter. He could still jerk them around in other ways.
"A situation has come up. Two Inheritor mechs that are currently deployed in space exhibit anomalies in the telemetry they send back to the battle network. Both of them happened to be serviced by the same group of three mech technicians. I can't determine what is different with these mechs, but the lack of documentation or permission for these changes as well as the attempt to hide them from our network warrants an immediate investigation."
"What do we have to do, sir?" Mercator asked impatiently. "Do you wish us to send some guards to detain the mech technicians?"
Ves waved his hand in dismissal. "I'll leave that to someone else. Your jobs are much more important. Those compromised Inheritors have to be inspected as fast as possible, but it is too risky to bring them back to the Finmoth Regal. I want you two to board a shuttle and go to each Inheritor mech and make an inspection of its cockpit and the internals around it on the spot."
Both of the mech designers looked shocked.
"That's suicide, sir!" Mercator suddenly blew up. "This is an outrageous demand! You'll be sending us out into space where hundreds of mechs are firing all kinds of ordnance! You'll be sending us out into an active battlefield where space mines are constantly exploding all around us!"
Trozin objected as well, though she at least maintained her cool. "Head designer, I respectfully urge you to reconsider. We are currently engaged in a running battle. Our ships and our mechs are constantly accelerating in order to outrun this mobile minefield. If we need to perform an inspection on a mech under these circumstances, the mech needs to stay online with its flight system engaged in order to avoid being left behind. It's too difficult to inspect a mech's internals with all of these complications!"
Ves attempted to stare sternly at the two. "Orders are orders. Those mechs could either be carrying bombs that are meant to cripple one of our ships or transmitters that is feeding valuable data to the enemy. I can't tell, and that's bad, because this issue might concern the safety of the entire fleet. You two are my best mech designers, so there is none who are more suitable to be sent out than the two of you. Or do you want me to report you two to security for insubordination?"
Both of them shuddered at that threat. The Mech Corps took a dim view on insubordinate behavior, especially when it popped up during battles. Mech pilots could be willful and rebellious, but when the fighting started, they came together as brothers and sisters in arms.
Mech designers might not completely fit in the hierarchy of the Mech Corps, but they happen to share most of their penalties. During an active engagement, Ves was their superior and could issue any reasonable orders to them. Of course, the exact definition of reasonable differed from person to person.
That made the order to investigate the two Inheritors so dangerous. Mercator and Trozin took a brief look at the telemetry that Ves had shown them, who pointed out the anomaly. Though they wouldn't have been able to detect anything suspicious at the start, once Ves told them what to look for, they sensed the strangeness of these mechs as well.
"What if it's a bomb?" Mercator tried again. "This is a reasonably possibility, sir. Getting close to probe the suspicious may even cause them to detonate prematurely."
"Haste is of the essence. I'll generously allow you to borrow some diagnostic bots from the workshops. You can insect them first via remote. However, we can't rely on machines to do the probing for us. Once the bots clear the Inheritors of apparent threats, I want the two of you to do a personal inspection. Both of you must exit the shuttles to do so."
Despite their objections, Ves refused to be swayed by them. What he suggested might be risky for his deputies, but it was the safest decision when considering the entire fleet.
Actually, it would have been safer to order the mech pilots to abandon the compromised mechs on the spot, but that left his questions unanswered. Ves really wanted to know why that same group of mech technicians tried to hide.
His deputies eventually gave up as they saw that Ves was determined to send them off. With his authority, they requisitioned shuttles for themselves and some crew to man them and assist them with the inspection. The vehicles soon set off.
In order to hasten the inspection and reduce some of the risks, Ves marked the two mechs out with his authority. As the highest-ranking mech designer among the Vandals in the task force, his word carried a decent amount of weight. If he claimed that the two mechs needed to be pulled out of the line of a battle for an emergency inspection, the Vandals didn't argue against his expert opinion.
Thus, Ves watched with trepidation as the two Inheritors pulled back from the defensive envelope and neared the shuttles launched from the fleet. Once a shuttle came close to one of the suspicious mechs, they matched velocities and acceleration, keeping their relative distance stable.
The shuttle hatches opened up soon after, releasing bots that hovered around the Inheritors while performing scans. Ves stared at his console and saw that the bots hadn't helped very much. Their scans lacked the power to penetrate the deceptive readings.
"Enough dallying around!" Ves ordered. "Go out there in person!"
The bots returned to the shuttles after another minute of fruitless scanning. Moments later, Mercator and Trozin emerged from the same hatch and began to float towards the mechs. Both of them had chosen to be encased in the thickest hazard suits they could get their hands on, and carried a whole pack of tools on their backs.
Once they reached their assigned mechs, they began to make a thorough investigation. All the while, mines continued to detonate around them while laser beams and projectiles disgorged into space by the hundreds.