The Mech Touch Chapter 550

551 Pirate Empires
A hatch slid open, allowing Ves entry into the dinghy compartment. Compared to the clean and relatively tidy interior of the rest of the Shield of Hispania, Ves had entered what should have formerly been a backup storage area.

A large closet, in other words.

Now, the compartment had been turned into a lounge of some sorts. A couple of sofas, some pots with alien plants and a simple table surrounded by chairs took up much of the room while muted projection of archival mech duels played in the background.

Chief Technician Carletta Haine, Chief Engineer Morgan Avanaeon and Lieutenant Command Lisea Soapstone already sat on three of the four chairs. They all greeted Ves as he took the final seat.

"Good to see you Larkinson."

"Been working hard today, eh?"

"You still owe me three tons of platinum!"

"I'll make it up to you, Soapstone." Ves said somewhat tiredly. "I hadn't anticipated using it as a substitute material for my repairs."

Chief Haine who set up this compartment in the first place pressed her finger against the table, causing a projection of a sophisticated board game to appear on the table. The game featured miniature mech and ship models, only a couple of which the players started out. The space above the table turned into a three-dimensional star map where the game would be played out.

"Pirate Empires again?" Chief Morgan whined as he whipped out a bottle and glass from somewhere and poured himself a drink. "This game is over a century old. No offense, but you see the same strategies play out over and over again."

"That's the beauty of this game." Soapstone said with a smile. She gripped the projection of a random assortment of identically scaled mechs and ships and rolled them around like they were dice. "If we're all familiar with the same strategies, the game becomes a contest of mind games. Why do you think chess is still the same after several millennia after its inception?"

"I'm running this game with all the latest expansions." The chief technician added. "The threat of a major alien invasion will spice things up if you want to deal with an extra challenge. What do you think, head designer?"

Ves yawned a bit. "I'm not very familiar with the last couple of expansions, but I'm aware of the rules. The game developers have added even more randomization in the game, I hear. That's going to be annoying to deal with. This game is pretty much ninety percent about luck and ten percent about skill."

"You're wrong, Larkinson." The chief engineer replied. "That ninety percent luck you're talking about really refers to your ability to manage fortune and risks. Good and bad things happen in every game. It's your ability to mitigate the bad outcomes and benefit from the good outcomes that determines whether you are winning."

Pirate Empires was a game of exploration, conquest and profiteering. Having been developed in the galactic rim, it proved to be a breakout hit and became a rim-wide phenomenon. Riding on its success, the developer actively published countless of expansion packs, add-ons and star sector-specific flavor packages over the years.

The premise of the game was that players took on the role of an outfit leader. The only choice provided by the base game used to be a pirate captain, but later expansions added the option of playing as a legitimate mercenary commander or the leader of a treasure hunting expedition.

Whatever the case, the goal of the game was to amass a set amount of wealth in money or assets through killing, plundering, cheating, or hundreds of other ways allowed by the rules. All of this took place in the frontier beyond the border of human space.

Ves never paid too much attention to this game in his youth, but he played a few matches here and there. Recently, he gained a lot more appreciation of the game because it served as a somewhat accurate depiction of what the owner of an outfit had to deal with. The game treated the frontier as a region where opportunity and danger coexisted.

"Let's begin. I've waited long enough to get this session started!"

The four players chose their roles and began to make their first moves into the untamed stars. Each of them picked the exact same roles as last time. Everyone's choices appeared to reflect their personalities.

As a chief technician, Haine always leaned towards playing a pirate. The key to running a successful pirate operation was to keep your unruly subordinates under your thumb. Haine had a lot of experience knocking some sense into the skulls of mech technicians.

"What's the difference between a pirate and a mech technician?" She asked one day. "A pirate is led by a lawless maniac while a mech technician is led by a lawful maniac!"

Haine's usual strategy leveraged her skill in managing all kinds of bastards and scum to amass a pirate fleet in the early phases of the game. If the other three players let her build up a veritable armada, then it was too late to stop her from steamrolling them one by one.

The chief engineer pursued the opposite strategy. Avanaeon pursued quality over quantity, and therefore opted to play as a mercenary commander. His outfit always stayed small, but through a steady accumulation of wealth through low and medium-risk ventures, he amassed a collection of elite mechs and ships, all crewed by some of the skilled and deadliest subordinates available in the game.

"The best hardware paired with the best people trumps anything you can throw in my way."

Avanaeon knew his ships well, and invested in them very early. This allowed him to pick and choose his battles and avoid any attacks directed against him in the first half of the game. He would never be the first player to fall in every match.

The only logistical officer among them favored playing as the leader of a treasure hunting outfit. Different from pirates which usually raided other players or neutral human presences on the map, treasure hunters aimed to raid the unclaimed bounties of the stars. Treasure hunters strictly challenged the environment and often explored the most hazardous regions on the map.

"You fellows fight too much." Soapstone often remarked. "This game is about hoarding the most wealth. Taking it from someone else all the time only builds up grievances among your enemies."

That said, Soapstone did not fare very well once she entered a bad encounter against another human force. Her force mix predominantly focused on strengthening her landbound combat and exploration capacities, while most of her ships focused on maximizing their cargo capacity.

Each of the three had been familiar with each other since accepting their postings aboard the Shield of Hispania. One day, Chief Haine invited Ves to join their little circle, and out of curiosity he accepted the offer.

He quickly became immersed into the game. What he used to play for fun in the past served as a fun way to practice running his own outfit someday.

Harkening back to the Avatars of Myth he founded a while ago, Ves opted to play as a mercenary commander as well. In the first sessions, he experimented with a variety of strategies, but eventually settled on taking steady missions while preparing for a high-risk high-reward treasure hunting opportunity.

"Since this is just a game, I can go wild. I always love to make a big gamble."

It was safe to say that Ves played a very risky game. He generally aimed to grow his mercenary corps as fast as possible without taking too much risks at the start. He preferred to go for mid-game value for money when acquiring new mechs and ships. This allowed him to tackle a big treasure hunting score when his search had finally stumbled upon a promising opportunity.

Anything could go wrong in these treasure hunting expeditions. From battling fire dragons while attempting to mine valuable exotics from a lava planet, to braving the risks of diving into the upper layers of a gas giant to harvest valuable concentrations of a very rare component ingredient of extreme-density fuel, his operations was always one step away from disaster.

His track record so far didn't look very good. In the current session, Ves bumped into a treasure hunting opportunity fairly early and was forced to go for it before others snatched his opportunity. His understrength collection of mechs suffered a lot of casualties on the field.

"Why do you insist on these stupid gambles?" Chief Avanaeon asked for the umpteenth time. "Chief Haine is snowballing again. I could have used to cut her pirate fleet down to size."

Ves smiled ruefully as his latest venture appeared to be heading nowhere. "I'm not in the right position to help. It's not my fault my mercenary corps spawned on the other side of the map."

The chief technician practically beat the chief engineer black and blue in the game. Playing pirates well required a good heaping of luck as well as excellent people management skills. Though Chief Haine's luck seemed to be average, her ability lent itself well in gathering a horde of low-quality pirate assets for an early game advantage.

Just now, she halved Avanaeon's forces and even added a couple of salvaged mechs to her own retinue. After this victory, Chief Haine began to focus on subduing other pirate gangs with higher quality ships and mechs.

Soapstone ignored the chaos that had erupted elsewhere and focused on taking commissions from foreign states to prospect valuable exotics for them to mine.

Ves on the other hand received a heavy thrashing from his initial failed venture. His mercenary corps licked their wounds while he accepted a couple of easier assignments. He never lost heart, though. As long as nobody hunting him down, he was still in contention.

That didn't change the fact that his mercenary corps had fallen behind compared to the other players. The only way he could salvage this unlucky turn of events was to roll the proverbial dice again. He prepared another his forces to go on another high-risk mission.

"Oh come on, do you really think that will work, Larkinson?"

"Hey, don't count me out yet. I'm the comeback kid."

"Huff, if you're the combat kid, why are the repairs of our mechs behind schedule?" Chief Haine bit back. "Major Verle went through all that trouble sending our landbound mech pilots into a crash course on how to pilot spaceborn mechs. Some of them are pretty talented and decent at it, but they don't have any mechs to pilot!"

Each formally-trained mech pilot trained to pilot the machines for more than a decade. Every mech pilot acquired a basic proficiency on piloting landbound, aerial, spaceborn and in some cases aquatic mechs.

The only snag was that mech pilots usually specialized fairly early. Piloting mechs on land was easier and more intuitive, so it attracted a lot of mech pilots. Those who opted to train in piloting spaceborn mechs tended to be more skilled and better learners.

Thus, getting spaceborn pilots to crosstrain into piloting landbound mechs was easy. Forcing landbound mech pilots into becoming proficient in piloting spaceborn mechs proved to be a massive challenge.

So far, Major Verle tentatively trained up over fifty cross-rained mech pilots that showed enough competency in the simulations to survive the first five minutes of a battle. That was better than nothing.

"Hah!" Ves erupted into a cheer. "My expedition hit the jackpot!"

His mercenary corps excavated an ancient alien ruin that held a bounty of interesting alien technology. Ves could easily trade his gains to the MTA or CFA for a very high price. Once his mercenary corps extracted from the dangerous planet that held the ruins, they bee-lined to a star system occupied by the CFA and redeemed his findings for an incredible amount of credits.

It was enough to expand his mercenary corps by five-hundred percent!

"You better ready yourselves for a fight, because here I come!"