The Mech Touch Chapter 553
554 Rising Curren
Lately, the Verle Task Force started to meander in Hafner space. Ves believed that the Vandals didn't want Hafner to know where they planned to go. This was why the fleet took a lot of detours that didn't bring them closer to the border.
To an outside observer, it might have appeared that the task force desperately wanted to cross the border, but withheld from taking action because they needed to accumulate more strength. The meandering routes the task force followed didn't take them anywhere special.
Ves believed that was exactly the point. Through various hints and deductions, most of which he picked up from the meetups where he played Pirate Empires, he suspected that Major Verle actually aimed for a target that was very near to their current location.
"The Flagrant Vandals are always the ones who take the initiative. It's not in their nature to be passive and react to circumstances that are thrust upon them. The battles against the Calico Dancer Bats and the Frosty Meteors serve as proof of this pattern. I can imagine that all raiding regiments are like this. They are only comfortable when they are the attackers."
The messy but eventual success of the Detemen Operation showed how strong the Vandals could be. As long as they made the right preparations, they were capable of inflicting a devastating amount of damage while making off with an abundant amount of loot.
The only way to break the trap that Hafner prepared for the task force was to do something different, and the only course of action that made sense to him was to conduct a daring raid.
Still, attempting to attack any occupied star system in the Hafner Duchy came with a lot of peril. Most of the star systems in Imodris had lost their wariness against foreign invaders. It wouldn't be strange to see them panic at the sight of the Flagrant Vandals, especially if their defense force was inadequate.
The people who lived under the rule of Hafner didn't suffer from any doubts. Pirates were just like bullies, who kept visiting the same old chumps over and over if they acted like pushovers. Over time, the frequent pirate raids must have hardened them into putting up a ferocious fight no matter how badly the invaders outnumbered them. This was very clear in the documentation about the territory.
"That's not the true danger, though. Any star system can be overwhelmed as long as we pick the right target. It's the follow-up that's a threat."
The willingness of neighboring forces to reinforce a beleaguered star system was very high. Rivalling powers wouldn't hesitate in sending out some of their best, because they expected the same treatment in return.
Worse, the ducal authority also coordinated the defense effort. Under their centralized direction, the reinforcements not only arrived at the star system under attack, but they also gathered the star systems that formed the likely escape routes of the invaders. This vastly increased the chance of attackers tripping on their feet, allowing further Hafner reinforcements to catch up and gang up on the hindered pirates.
Every way the Flagrant Vandals could take advantage of, Hafner had a ready answer prepared. They truly weren't easy to crack.
"Still, this should be old school to the Vandals. They won't be stumped by these challenges."
Before embarking on the daring raid of the Detemen System, the Flagrant Vandals routinely raided the border territories along the border between the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom. Though they mostly terrorized the shipping lines, they did have some experience with raiding occupied worlds.
"The Vandal landbound mechs are not for show. It's a significant burden to maintain a landbound contingent if there aren't many opportunities to make use of them. Planetary raids are definitely their cup of tea."
In addition, the interests of the Vandals aligned with the interests of the Reinald-backed rebels. Both sides wanted to make Hafner suffer for different reasons, but what they had in common was enough to forge a temporary understanding with each other.
"Help from the local rebels is vital for the next operation."
He already saw the signs of future action. Some time ago, Ves received orders to pull back the priority of repairing as much spaceborn mechs as possible in favor of fixing up some landbound mechs. Not a lot, but just enough to achieve some progress here.
It was a good thing that the damage sustained by the landbound mechs during the Detemen Operation didn't amount to much compared to the heavy losses sustained by their spaceborn contingent.
Ves didn't hesitate in allocating a couple of low-performing mech designers to fixing up the neglected landbound mechs. These mech designers lacked the knowledge, talent or willingness to learn to service the spaceborn mechs. Forcing them to work with spaceborn mechs was like forcing a gourmet to eat an unprocessed nutrient pack.
Landbound mech pilots also stepped up their training. Their readiness climbed up to a state where they wouldn't be much weaker from the time of the Detemen Operation.
The Vandals prepared various measures and readied various supplies that was relevant to any landbound raid. The next battle surely entailed a lot of risks!
Under these circumstances, the rank-and-file smelled something afoot. Even if they were under the mistaken impression that the fleet would attempt to make a run for the border, no one remained complacent.
A large amount of mechs would soon show the Vesians their mettle. The Flagrant Vandals detested being relegated to a punching bag. They built up a lot of resentment against the Vesians. Even if they couldn't take revenge against Imodris or Venidse, venting their fury upon Hafner was sufficient for their needs.
The servicemen in the corridors and lounges casually spoke how they looked forward to thrashing Hafner mechs. Ves paid a considerable amount of importance to their mood, and it was evident that the people at the top actively encouraged such talk in order to boost everyone's morale.
With every piece of the puzzle falling into place, Ves had his own work to do. While a planetary raid didn't necessarily involve any spaceborn mechs, any mildly important star system hosted a spaceborn garrison. Ves felt that it was important to keep raising their spaceborn strength.
Throughout the last month, some of the mech designers under his supervision achieved great results. Of course, it helped that Ves rewarded them generously by allowing them to borrow valuable textbooks from the central database. Some book-starved idiots even borrowed four or five books on six month terms.
Ves called them idiots because these mech designers didn't possess any remarkable cognitive traits. Their intelligence war firmly within the range of a baseline human, which meant that completely understanding a single Journeyman-level textbook would take a couple of years.
"Six months isn't enough to digest that much theory."
His own rapid ascension was an exception. A normal Apprentice Mech Designer slowly took the time to accumulate Journeyman-level knowledge over many years. Access to good textbooks cost a lot of money, but as long as a mech designer achieved decent results, they wouldn't have much trouble getting their hands on one.
Thus, he understood the viewpoint of those idiots. They couldn't bear the thought of wasting so much value by wasting their lending opportunities.
Still, in his opinion, the right choice would be to borrow a single textbook and use the other reward opportunities to receive his teachings. Ves possessed a broad range of knowledge and mastered most fundamental fields related to mech design to the level of Journeyman. If not for getting bottlenecked by other advancement requirements, Ves could long call himself a true Journeyman.
Exceptions still popped up. Ves was gratified that some low-ranking mech designers possessed sufficient vision to make use of his valuable time.
One of his most dogged fans turned out to be Loke Vedette. The poor chump that barely escaped punishment aboard the Finmoth Regal regarded Ves as his patron.
On the advice of Ves, Vedette borrowed a single comprehensive book on mechanics and spent his limited free hours into delving on the easiest aspects in the book.
"Learning good mechanics cannot be done in a day. To be frank, for someone like you, sixth months will never be enough. However, if you are dedicated and persistent in your learning, you will likely be able to understand eighty percent of its contents. That's more than good enough at your stage. After that, you should try to round up your other fundamentals to the same level before going back to mechanics to tackle the remaining twenty percent."
Vedette's projection looked confused at Ves. "Why not tell me to study the textbook until I understand all of it? I can work hard to earn the right to extend my borrowing term, sir!"
"That's no good. The last portion of knowledge is often the hardest to comprehend, especially when you talk about a broad and expansive field like mechanics. To truly master this knowledge, you need some tempering with realspace practice. Service more mechs. Help out with the design of one. Apply the knowledge that you have learned from the book and you will find that the twenty percent that is the hardest to understand will fall into place in your mind."
A light went off in Vedette. "I understand! Theory and practice can't be separated from each other!"
This was how most mech designers learned when they didn't possess a cheat like the System that simply crammed the requisite knowledge in his mind.
"Our time is very precious, so let's move on with the tutoring. If I recall, you've reached the chapter where the book begins to explain the interaction between the engine and artificial muscles of a mech. Have you stumbled on any hangups here?"
The other mech designer frowned. "The theory sounds simple enough, but when I try to apply what I've learned in designing my own mech from practice, it all seems to fall apart."
"Show me your progress."
After Vedette showed him his practice designs, Ves had to force his face into an immovable rock. The amount of mistakes he made in every single aspect about designing mechs really made him want to cringe.
"This is… a decent work for someone who isn't experienced with designing an original mech. You're still stuck in the phase where you're only able to design variants, right?"
"That is so, sir. Before the Mech Corps picked me up, I didn't do very well for myself. Opportunities are hard to come by for a fresh graduate."
If Vedette possessed actual talent, then he wouldn't have any trouble making ends meet. In truth, the struggling mech designer hadn't reached the minimum standard for Ves to consider hiring after they finished their stint with the Mech Corps.
Still, his earnestness and his willingness to learn put Vedette into a very short list of hopefuls. He might not amount to much right now, but a couple of years later the situation might be different.
Ves kept his eye on these potential seeds, and worked to increase his relations with them in case their potential blossomed in the future.
No one else among the Flagrant Vandals ever paid as much attention to them as Ves.
He continued to tutor Vedette in earnest. Of course, Ves held a lot of knowledge back for his junior's own good. Near the end of their one-hour session, Ves asked a pertinent question to his potential protege.
"What do you envision yourself as doing when the war is over?"
"Will the war ever end so easily? Sometimes I think that this war will never end."
"In a way, our war against the Vesians have never ended since our state was founded. But that's not important right now. Try and cast your mind to the future. What do you think you'll do?"
"I don't know. My experience with the Mech Corps will account for something, but I don't have the qualifications to get accepted by a prestigious mech manufacturer. I don't have the confidence to start my own business either, not that anyone would lend me the funding needed to purchase equipment and license a design. My future isn't as bright as yours."
Ves leaned forward and stared at his projection. "What if I can make it brighter?"