The Mech Touch Chapter 534
They spent a decent time skulking about in Venidse space. As one of the larger territories of the Vesia Kingdom, its vast space offered the Flagrant Vandals lots of desolate star systems to hide. For now, they hadn't seen hair nor hide of Venidse patrols.
There was a very good reason for that according to Iris.
"Do you think Venidse can become a worthy rival to Imodris without effort?" She began. "Imodris is closer to the core than Venidse. In addition, it jointly operates a strategically important port system. While the amount of wealth that flows through their hands can't match the trade that goes on in your famous Bentheim system, neither does the government siphon vast majority of wealth to subsidize the rest of the state."
Bentheim's wealth distribution was a fact of life to the Bright Republic. Otherwise, the Bentheim Liberation Movement wouldn't have grown so powerful and pervasive.
"So Venidse has to do something to match their rival in strength, then. You said that it's relatively well-endowed with resources. Is that enough to offset the trade that's captured by Imodris?"
"That's the complication. It's true that Venidse encompasses a lot of resource-rich star systems, but it takes a significant amount of labor and capital to extract them. That means people, equipment and bots."
Ves started to get an inkling of what she wanted to say. "The latter two is expensive, and relying too much on machines opens up a lot of vulnerabilities. So they have to rely a lot on labor as well."
"Living in Venidse isn't very charming. Aside from a couple of model planets, most of their planets are low-class hives where human lives are treated as valuable as cattle."
When he was young, the Bright Republic often showed how life in the Kingdom was awful for the lower classes. Their poorest had to toil in dangerous mines or spend endless hours supervising bots that did the exact same thing over and over again on the off-chance it glitched or caught a virus.
He recalled the city of Haston on Bentheim. That place was a concentration of the poorest on Bentheim and was a hotbed of BLM sympathy.
If Haston's circumstances magnified into entire planets, then Venidse's rebel group should be as powerful if not more than the BLM!
"The Venidse Liberators is one of the largest and most influential rebel movement in the Kingdom. Though they aren't particularly good at anything, they have access to a fair amount of resources and they are extremely numerous."
Ves paid a lot of attention to the fact that the VL accumulated a lot of resources. Perhaps that was why Major Verle chose to raid one of their facilities and trade with the rebel group during their passage through the territory.
"How powerful is Venidse's military?"
"Very powerful. Very numerous. I already told you about their mech doctrine. Since they have a lot of fingers in the resource extraction sector, they have the enviable ability to obtain much of their materials at near-cost price. This means they can fabricate more mechs at the same cost, which eventually accumulates into fielding more mech legions than any other territory."
"I see. It makes sense. A preference for attrition warfare can only be sustained if you have enough mechs to throw at the enemy." Ves said contemplatively.
"However, most of their numbers advantage is negated by the existence of the VL. The rebels have caused so much trouble over the decades that most of Venidse's military is burdened with guarding population centers, industries, mines and important installations. While that doesn't give us carte blanche to saunter in Vendise's space, we at least don't have to fight Venidse's troops every step of the way."
When Ves attended meetings with Major Verle and his staff, they all echoed the same refrain. Despite the might of Venidse's mech legions, they treated it as an opportunity to bounce back. The only point they argued about was deciding on which star system to raid.
Attacking a prosperous star system would go a long way in reducing their resource deficits. Attacking a less prominent planet came with a lot less risk as they didn't have to face any significant defenses.
Whatever the case, the Vandals only had enough time to attack a single star system. Attacking two systems at a time would delay their schedule and make them miss the two-month deadline.
Ves mostly stayed silent on this topic during the heated discussions in the conference room. He only provided some advice on which star system held the resources they needed and would be worthwhile to raid.
Up to now, Major Verle still hadn't made up his mind.
Besides taking part in those deadlocked discussions, Ves also began to make good on his promises by teaching the mech designers who worked hard enough to win a carrot. Predictably, most opted to borrow a valuable textbook from the central database, but one person happened to request personal tutelage.
"When I heard you wanted me to teach you, I was surprised." Ves said to Pierce over the projection. "If you wanted me to give you a few pointers, I would have given it for free."
Pierce shook his head. "I have my own pride, and I don't want to take advantage of you. Knowledge that comes free is not as sweet as knowledge that I've earned through my own efforts. My time learning the craft from my father has taught me that. I'm not as talented as you. I need to work for it. Otherwise, the knowledge won't stick."
Ves hadn't paid much attention to Pierce the past few days. They traveled on different ships, which made it inconvenient to chat with each other. In addition, Ves spent most of his time with Iris lately. The rebel-aligned mech designer was an attentive conversation partner who patiently brought him up to speed with regards to the Kingdom.
That said, he should have kept more in touch with Pierce. The Coalition-born mech designer had been assigned to the Beggar's Bounty, one of the two logistics ships of the task force. This was an important posting as Pierce had access to vastly more resources and facilities than anyone else. Though that made his work more complex, the man nonetheless persevered and exceeded his weekly quota.
Ves admired such dedication from his acquaintance, especially since he knew that Pierce was a rather mediocre mech designer.
His background as a mech designer from the Friday Coalition also held some promise. Though Ves did not need to establish any ties with his father, just his citizenship was valuable enough to open some doors that would be closed to a foreigner like Ves.
This was why Ves immediately changed his stance towards Pierce and beheld him with a bit more care.
"Well, you've earned the privilege of receiving my teachings fair and square. You'll get a full hour from me, which should be enough to solve most of your bottlenecks and burning questions. Don't waste it. While I'm proficient with most of the fundamentals, I happen to excel in Physics and lasers. So ask your questions."
Pierce dove into the questioning with glee. He started out with basic but tricky questions on multiple fields, and when he found out that Ves answered his questions without any effort, his questions began to encompass more and more complexity.
To Ves, answering the questions forced him to be thoughtful. As an Apprentice Mech Designer, Pierce wasn't stupid, and he didn't ask any stupid questions. Though the level of his questions didn't exceed the Journeyman-level, he nonetheless tread into territory that even Ves would pause at. All he could do was to use his superior Intelligence and Skills to churn out an answer on the spot.
At the end of the tutoring session, Pierce quickly excused himself from the call to digest the answers he received. Ves was left alone in his office to stew over the teaching session. Surprisingly, he enjoyed flexing his brain in this manner. There was something enjoyable about guiding a junior into understanding the problems that perplexed him for months or years.
"Heh." He chuckled. "Maybe I'll be a professor someday."
While he didn't feel too strongly about becoming a full-time teacher, he figured he could still treat it like a side activity. A lot of Journeymen and Seniors who owned successful businesses diverted some of their valuable time to teach at various universities and institutions. Obviously, they gained a lot of benefits for doing so. Since Ves happened to enjoy the act of teaching, he seriously started considering whether he should take a teaching position in the future.
"No one hires an Apprentice to teach at an institution. It's too soon for Journeymen to pass on their knowledge. I'll have to advance to Senior before I can become a respectable professor."
That would be a very long time away. Ves did not dare to predict when he would be able to advance to such an exalted rank, but it should at least be several decades away. Even with the help of the System, Ves did not belittle the difficulties involved with advancing past the vast majority of his peers. It wasn't easy to become a Journeyman, let alone a Senior.
"That is something to consider after this damned war is over. Right now, I've got to get back to work."
After the brief tutoring session, Ves returned to his duties. He checked with the mech technicians and made sure they didn't slack off on the job. He corresponded with his deputies and made sure they did the same. He liaised with Lieutenant Commander Soapstone and begged her to tap more into the task force's material reserves. He listened to the staff trying to argue which star system they should raid.
He also planned and supervised the repairs of the Inheritors. The good thing about the damaged Inheritors was that the skirmish with the Calico Dancer Bats didn't lead to a lot of material losses. Most of the damage the Inheritors sustained turned out to be self-inflicted as the lengthy twenty percent overload combined with the thirty percent spike led to a lot of internal disarray.
This meant that cables got fried or melted and circuits got heat-blasted. While that sounded bad and time-consuming to repair, Ves vastly preferred this type of internal damage because the Inheritors hadn't lost any materials. Fried components could easily be recycled and be used to fabricate new components.
The only issue was that it took a lot of time to effect the repairs. The damage ran throughout the entire interior of the frame, so every overloaded Inheritor mech pretty much required a complete disassembly. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to repair or replace the innermost parts which happened to be the most vital ones that ensured the continued operation of the mechs.
All of this took time, too much time for them to adhere to the original timetable. Ves had to go back to the original planning and scrap some of the procedures he had in store just to make room for the unexpected repair work.
Naturally, the Inheritors that sustained actual battle damage required a bit more effort to bring them back into working capacity. The worst wrecks they retrieved from the battlefield were woefully incomplete or had been riddled with holes. To bring these Inheritors back online, the mech technicians demanded a lot of resources.
They didn't have enough to go around.
"We really need more resources, and they have to be the right ones as well."
The task force still carried valuable exotics and other materials in their cargo holds. Major Verle hoped to hold on to them until they reached a market system where they could dispose of their ill-gotten goods at fair market prices. Trading them away at this point wouldn't help the Vandals reduce their debt burden.
It was obvious that if the Major Verle didn't wish to give away their wealth to unscrupulous rebel traders, they urgently needed to get their needed supplies through another method.
After several days of uncertainty and procrastination, they finally decided on which star system they wanted to raid.