The Mech Touch Chapter 526
527 The Price Of Lifespan
"Deploying Venerable O'Callahan at this junction is not a good idea." Major Verle responded with uncharacteristic patience. Perhaps Ves had proven himself enough times for Verle to appreciate his help. "There are two major problems with asking the Venerable to fight. He won't easily rouse himself from his sleep. If he finds out we woke him up just to ask him to take care of some small fries, he'll immediately quit right after this action."
Ves had hoped that Major Verle would try to convince the Venerable of the necessity of their situation. After all, if the Vandals got stalled long enough for Lady Amalia's main forces, even an expert pilot wouldn't be able to escape the calamity that would ensue.
No matter how skilled or fantastic an expert could pilot a mech, it was impossible for them to resist an onslaught of thousands of mechs at a time.
At his current aged and decrepit state, Venerable O'Callahan could only muster a resonance strength of thirty laveres. This figure was around the middle when it came to expert pilots, and would be barely enough to mop up a hundred mechs at once.
The second problem compounded on the first one.
"You know what type of mech our resident expert pilot utilizes, Mr. Larkinson. We distinctly chose to retain him for his ability to deter and restrain opposing expert pilots. Mopping up a swarm of cannon fodder has never been his job description."
Just as regular mech pilots specialized in different types of mechs, so did expert pilots. They continued to hone their skills and newly developed resonance abilities on top of the foundation they built before they advanced.
No expert pilot would choose to switch to piloting a different type of mech. A laser marksman would never dabble with swordsman mechs, while knight mech pilots wouldn't dream of piloting a skirmisher mech. Such an abrupt switch invalidated at least two-thirds of their hard work and all of their specialties.
Thus, as a rule, an expert pilot stuck to their specialty for the rest of their lives. Though this didn't bar them from piloting other types of mechs, it was just a massive waste to do so.
The issue concerning the Verle Task Force was that Venerable O'Callahan piloted a mech that excelled in battling elite opponents.
As O'Callahan piloted a lancer mech, he almost exclusively employed charges. His Parallax Star accelerated very quickly, and while it wasn't very agile, it only needed to connect its lance to an enemy mech for a single instant to demolish it. Ves may not have witnessed it in action, but he'd seen how the hapless mechs unceasingly disintegrated upon getting hit.
This ability to kill with a single charge came at a cost. It took a significant amount of time for the Parallax Star to reorient and build up an unstoppable momentum. Chasing down flighty light mechs one by one was an arduous task even for a lancer mech.
Even worse, light mechs formed something of a counter to the Parallax Star. It loved nothing more than to pierce through a fat, immobile target no matter how much armor they put up. Agile and flitty light mechs had a realistic chance of dodging the tip of the lance as it honed in on them as long as the mech pilots kept their heads cool.
Compared to the only other expert pilot Ves had witnessed at close hand, the difference couldn't be greater. Ves mingled with the 4th Bentheim Division during the Glowing Planet campaign, where Venerable Stanton Drake piloted an aerial striker called the Fire Drake. With a single charged flamethrower attack, the Fire Drake would easily be able to engulf a closely-packed formation of enemy mechs, vaporizing dozens of them at a time.
Yet even with these disadvantages, Ves still made another attempt. "Sir, I understand your concerns, but this is a good chance to achieve a victory without significant losses. Maybe if he's alone, Venerable O'Callahan wouldn't be able to take care of the opposing mechs. However, if we combine his threat with our own mechs, we'll be able to roll them over through overwhelming force."
An expert pilot backed up by hundreds of regular mechs could split their focus and cover each other's weaknesses. The regular Vandal mech pilots would be able to tie down the enemy light mechs while O'Callahan demolished their ships.
Without their combat carriers, the enemy mechs became homeless. Their morale would inevitably plunge and they would lose the support and coordination of their officers.
Yet Major Verle shook his head again. "It's complicated. Maybe it's time to fill you in. The truth is that we've made a deal with Venerable O'Callahan. The man is old and far past his prime. While his body condition isn't too bad, his lifespan is nearly at an end. Every second is precious to him. The only reason he still manages to live is because his body is put in a state of artificial hibernation. This slows down his aging process and stretches out his remaining lifespan."
"How much time does he have left, sir?"
"A couple of years at most. Mr. Larkinson, you have to realize that no human wishes to die. Especially to former heroes like O'Callahan, the closer they come to death, the more they fear their inevitable end. Those among us who fall in the ranks of elites treasure their lifespan above all else. It is an obsession that drives the likes of O'Callahan and Professor Velten to extremes."
Ves closed his eyes and recalled the old elites he met. Eminent figures such as Lord Kaine, a noble from the Constance Grand Kingdom, and Professor Velten, a Senior Mech Designer, all achieved incredible success in their lives. They climbed on top of may rivals and peers and reached heights that only few could surpass.
Yet despite their abundant wealth, power and achievements, age cared nothing about those matters. Death would come from them whether they were as poor as paupers or as rich as someone from a first-rate superstate.
Ves knew that both of them benefited from at least one round of age-prolonging treatments. This expanded their natural human lifespan by at least a hundred years, allowing them to live at least two-hundred years if nothing happened.
Both of them had also enjoyed a second round of age-prolonging treatments. Ves knew very little about this privilege that was only handed out to the best of the elites, and that the treatments differed in cost, stability and outcomes.
Master Olson didn't look older than her thirties, and she was over a hundred years old. Everyone could tell that she benefited from at least one round of very high-quality age-prolonging treatments that rejuvenated her body and turned back her biological clock in a fashion.
In contrast, the second round of treatments applied to Lord Kaine and Professor Velten had evidently suffered complications. It was clear to Ves that their treatments hadn't prolonged their ages at all. As a matter of fact, the opposite happened, and their aging process accelerated several times over.
Such outcomes made it clear to Ves that age-prolonging treatments always came with risks. If even a former patriarch of a noble House of a second-rate state suffered a botched treatment, then it could be seen that the odds of failure was significantly high.
Yet even then, these elites accepted the treatments without reserve. What did this signify?
Nobody wanted to die! Especially not when they had the opportunity to stretch out their lives by another hundred years!
In comparison to Lord Kaine and Professor Velten, Venerable O'Callahan was younger by at least eighty-years, but he looked just as senile and decrepit as the former two elites.
This was the tragic fate of expert pilots who didn't make the cut. Their brain mutations meant that ordinary age-prolonging treatments didn't work for them. They needed to undergo a modified treatment that was significantly more expensive and troublesome to arrange.
As much as expert pilots enjoyed the worship of millions or billions of people, their worth ordinarily didn't merit an expensive treatment.
As callous as it sounded, a state could always nurture more expert pilots over time. They only emerged through happenstance, but with a large enough population base, a state would generally be able to count on a steady trickle of younger expert pilots to replace the older ones who became wracked with age.
The Bright Republic evidently wrote off Venerable O'Callahan as an elite worth investing in. With his peak performance of forty-four laveres at his prime, it was evident that he would never be able to come close to advancing to ace pilot even with hundreds of years of practice. His potential had already been exhausted.
Due to the cost of pilot-compatible age-prolonging treatments, states only prolonged the lives of expert pilots that stood a chance of advancing into ace pilots. As long as their resonance strength didn't stagnate, they would be deemed as possessing enough potential to continue to grow.
In practice, these expert pilots with a lot of promise ahead of their lives almost never showed up.
The Larkinsons nurtured a decent number of expert pilots since their establishment during the founding of the Bright Republic.
Even then, none had been found worthy of benefiting from age-prolonging treatments.
Nobody except for the Larkinson Ancestor, at least.
In short, the scarcity of lifespan and everyone's demand for extending it was a natural human obsession. Venerable O'Callahan couldn't be moved by threats or enticements. Money held no value for him, and even the prospect of piloting a better mech wouldn't excite him very much.
The only factor that could make him move was when it concerned his life.
O'Callahan would fight if the Vandals risked annihilation, because he stood to lose his life as well if the Vandals lost all of their mechs and ships. Besides that, he would only move if someone offered him some additional life.
"Everytime O'Callahan wakes up, his remaining lifespan diminishes at a faster rate than when he slumbers. This cost is magnified when he pilots the Parallax Star into battle. The stress and exertion accelerates his aging by a month in a lengthy battle. Do you understand, Mr. Larkinson?"
Ves reluctantly nodded. "I understand, sir. Chasing down two companies worth of light mechs is not cost-effective in the Venerable's perspective."
In other words, the gains they made from his deployment didn't match the cost of his decreasing lifespan. Venerable O'Callahan would likely demand a ruinous price from the Vandals if he was forced to follow the plan proposed by Ves.
"That still leaves us with little options." Ves said, resigned to the idea that they wouldn't be able to borrow Venerable O'Callahan's power. "The two companies from the Calico Dancer Bats can run rings around us. Their light mechs are so fast, I'm not even sure our Inheritor mechs are able to catch up."
"You're not alone in your concerns, Mr. Larkinson. However, don't forget that you are not alone. We'll figure something out, or we won't be able to call ourselves the Flagrant Vandals. Trust in our officers."
With that, the major closed the channel and shifted his attention to other matters. The problem concerning the Vesian reinforcements didn't need to be addressed until they exited the minefield, which should still be a couple of hours away.
Still, the seven ships that arrived first might just be the vanguard of what would come. Ves figured that the Calico Dancer Bats split up their companies to cover several star systems in order to insure they had enough spread to catch the fleeing Vandals.
It would take some time for those split elements to converge on this star system, but it wouldn't take more than a day for the Dancer Bats present in the neighboring systems to arrive.
"There's not enough time. If a second wave of reinforcements decide to tangle with us, we'll be tied down for days. That's enough for at least half of the 3rd Imodris Legion to arrive and cut off our escape."