The Mech Touch Chapter 537
538 Making The Rounds
Despite fearing the might of Venidse's mech legions, the Vandals had seen neither hair nor hide of their formidable ships or mechs.
The effortless raid on the Hachew System allowed them to replenish some of their critical resources and supplies, but it also exposed their position to the entire Kingdom. As a powerful duchy on par with Imodris, Venidse could not afford to leave an impression that they would let any enemy walk over them at their leisure.
From the intelligence reports that Ves sometimes received, he understood that the shameful procession at Hachew had really kicked Venidse into action. They sent out much more scouts and leveraged more vassals into making more than a token attempt at obeying their instructions.
Considering what he knew about their relations, that wasn't saying much. The Duke of Venidse was pretty much on his own, and that allowed the Venidse Liberators to run rings around his intelligence gathering operation.
Unlike the Detemen League, the Venidse Liberators spanned more than just a single planet. The general undercurrent among the underclass in Vendise was so dissatisfied with House Venidse that they had a presence in virtually every star system in the territory.
Their reach, clout and numbers gave them a certain amount of strength. Their cells accumulated a fair amount of ships and mechs that had proven themselves to be a real nuisance to Venidse. Their nuisance factor was compounded by the fact that the Liberators weren't stupid enough to fight Venidse's mech legions in open combat.
Instead, they stuck to classic insurgency tactics and fought where Venidse was at their weakest. Ves admired their prudence. Even as they grew in strength, they didn't let their power get ahead of themselves, but continued to bide their time until the arrived at the right moment.
Under the guidance of the Vesian Liberation Front and the Venidse Liberators, they arrived at another quiet star system to conduct their trade. Lieutenant Commander Soapstone spearheaded the transaction with the Liberators while Iris Jupiter tagged along to represent the interests of the VLF. Ves was explicitly excluded from contacting the rebels due to his special status.
He didn't really mind. After a while, one rebel group was the same as any other. Ves had already given his input on the goods they urgently needed to obtain. Soapstone had not been entirely clear about her commitment to fulfill his wishlist. She probably had her own priorities in mind, and needed to fulfill the needs of other departments as well.
Mechs were important, but the ships also needed repairs. Their cracked and pitted armor still bore the scars of recent missile and mine impacts. Some of their less robust combat carriers didn't have much of a buffer left.
As the Vandal fleet floated motionlessly in space next to a rebel trade convoy, Ves spent his time on making the rounds. He rode a spare shuttle to visit the Antecedent, the Gorgon's Gaze, the Finmoth Regal, the Beggar's Bounty and every other important ship.
Each visit, he would meet with the mech designer assigned to ship and check up on their work. Though Ves had a pretty good idea of their results from the reports he received, he found it best to verify their work first-hand and ask some pertinent questions.
The lower-ranked mech designers mostly took the opportunity to ask some questions, and since Ves felt a bit generous today, he casually gifted them with a couple of insightful pointers.
When Ves visited Vedette aboard the Finmoth Regal, the timid low-ranking mech designer seemed to get his act together. Though the mech technicians obviously didn't respect a wimp, Vedette managed to instill the impression that Ves backed his every move. Defying Vedette was the same as defying Ves, and no one wished to do the latter.
Ves applauded his junior's solution and clapped his back. "It's not as good as earning the rabble's respect, but at least you're getting there. If the mech technicians give you any lip, don't hesitate to give me a call. The thing about borrowing someone else's name is that you have to be sure that they're willing to back you up. Right now, you're an extension of my will, so it's a given that I'll help you out."
"Thank you, sir. I was hesitating whether I was doing the right thing, but I'm glad I have your permission." Vedette nodded in gratitude.
"This is only a stopgap solution though. You need to earn their fear or respect. I can't help you much there, but from my experience showing off your superior knowledge always works."
"That's easier said than done, Mr. Larkinson." Vedette smiled ruefully. "Although I can call myself a mech designer, I am but an ant compared to you. The gulf between is too wide for me to catch up."
"You don't need to reach my level to instill some appreciation from the techs. Just work on it and you will see."
"That's the problem. I know some stuff, but not enough to impress the Vandals."
"Then learn some more!" Ves clapped Vedette's back again. "Have you forgotten about the rewards I've dangled in front of you?"
"It's too challenging! I'm barely meeting my weekly quota, and I don't have the spare time to catch up on my studies. I appreciate the option to borrow a textbook from the central database, but the reading material is too opaque! Even with half a year, I still won't understand the essence of what they are trying to teach!"
Ves sighed in exasperation. "Doesn't the central database have beginner books? Maybe you should start with that instead. Don't chew off more than you can bite."
"That seems like a waste, sir. Those beginner books for Novices are so simple that I understand ninety percent of what they say."
"That's sad, Mr. Vedette." Ves shook his head as if he was a disappointed parent. "A mech designer of your age and level should understand the entire contents of a basic book. That ten percent you are struggling with is needed to make sense of more advanced knowledge. What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't put the cart before the horse."
That put Vedette to thought. It was difficult for him to admit he needed to shore up his fundamentals, but that was for him to overcome. Ves didn't have the time to waste on guiding Vedette to the right path.
Frankly, Vedette didn't look all that bright, but if there was one thing that Ves didn't worry about, it was talent.
He would rather recruit a talentless but earnest mech designer to a talented but scheming bastard. In fact, Vedette happened to tick most of the boxes that Ves was after. His junior in the craft possessed so little self-esteem that Ves relished in molding the man into his desired image.
It was much like constructing an image for a mech, in a way. Instead of working with metals and alloys, he was trying to manipulate an innocent being of flesh and blood.
Sometimes, Ves felt guilty about his interactions with the weak. It was as if he was brainwashing them into forms that pleased him more. He quickly soothed his conscience by convincing himself that he was merely talking to them instead of sticking a neural interface on their heads and force fed their brains with arbitrary rules.
A handful of other low-ranking mech designers proved pliable, though they lacked that special reverence towards him that made it easier to pull them into his orbit.
The only mech designers he would rather avoid were Mercator and Trozin. The former never resigned himself to losing against Ves, and had stirred up trouble more than once.
The worst instance so far was his attempt to blame the fiasco and the bombings at the Finmoth Regal to Ves. Nevermind that Mercator was supposed to keep an eye on Vedette. As the ultimate mech designer responsible for the entire procession, Ves held ultimate responsibility.
"Did you hear? Our head designer dropped the ball! If he was actually smart, he would have caught wind of what went on at the Finmoth Regal!"
"Mr. Larkinson is only the head designer because of his famous family name. If he was called by any other name, he wouldn't have been promoted to this high status."
All of that led to a number of sordid rumors among the lower ranks that collectively cast some shade on him. While they didn't inconvenience Ves so far, he still felt peeved that he gained an ambivalent reputation.
Of his two main rivals for his job, Ves regarded Emlanin Trozin with a bit more wariness. Iris always treated the female Apprentice Mech Designer as a snake in the grass. While Ves did not pay much attention to Trozin these last few days, he began to realize that may have been the point.
Not one for letting things fester, Ves paid more attention when he boarded her ship. As soon as the security checks and the ceremonies were dispensed with, Ves pulled Trozin into the nearest available conference room.
"If I may ask, sir, why did you seek me out?" She started, eying Ves with a wary expression. "I have work to do. I'm sure you don't want to deal with more delays."
"Just wait a moment, Miss Trozin." Ves held up his hand. "Work is important, but communicating with each other is also something which must be done. Ever since my field promotion was set in stone, I haven't heard much from you. From the latest reports, you've delivered no more than what is required."
"Meeting the quota is a significant burden." She replied. "I've compared my quotas to others and I've noticed that you've piled a lot more demands on my shoulders. It is taking me every waking moment to figure out a workable solution. In addition, I have to supervise a bunch of talentless mech designers as well!"
"It is not my intention to crush you under so many responsibilities! In fact, I was pretty certain that a mech designer with your capabilities would grow into the demands I've set upon you."
"We are just different mech designers, sir! What you find eay is an impossible challenge to me!"
Was Trozin telling the truth. Ves thought he had gauged his deputies pretty well. He couldn't determine whether Trozin was pulling off a trick or not. In the absence of any evidence, Ves had no choice but to believe she genuinely couldn't keep up.
"What is it about the work that you are having trouble with? As I recall, your record states that you specialize in kinetic weapons."
"Correct. Back in the Hellcat design team, I was one of the few mech designers that fully understood their nail drivers. I excel in working with weapons. As for mech frames, not so much."
"That sounds as if you are an equipment designer rather than a mech designer."
"My career is what it is." She shrugged. "I'm catching up with my studies. Ah, I have access to my own books. I don't need your help."
"You have family among the Vandals as well, I take it. Is Captain Branser stationed at the Wolf Mother your uncle?"
"He is, though we're not in touch right now."
Trozin refused to elaborate on the matter. Ves found it hard to probe the woman and gain a measure of her personality. She stonewalled him at every opportunity, and it went so bad that Ves couldn't figure out where she studied or why she had been assigned to the Vandals instead of a better mech regiment. THe records Ves recently accessed only extended up to a point.
Ves sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Okay. Leaving aside your work, do you need some help? Is there anything you want to pass on to me?"
Her eyes seemed to glow at him. "There is one question that's been nagging me all this while. I wonder if you are willing to tell me truth."
"As long as it doesn't touch into classified territory, I'm more than willing to answer your question."
"Good, because this one has been consuming me ever since we left the Detemen System." Trozin took a deep breath before she faced Ves. "Tell me this, is our task force playing the role of bait to the Vesians?"