The Mech Touch Chapter 554
555 Patchwork Mechs
Ves paid a lot of attention to the general mood of the Vandals. The servicemen he walked past and ate next to in the mess hall or the more ornate dining room when Major Verle wanted to hold a social occasion all expressed their opinions without much inhibition.
He thought this was a special feature of the Flagrant Vandals. Every mech regiment carefully constructed their moniker and religiously followed it after establishing one. As their moniker suggested, they embodied the ideal of behaving flagrantly.
"They're crude, but they're also honest."
He admired that about the Vandals. Everyone felt free to express their true opinions, even if they broke some unspoken taboos. This allowed Ves to judge the general undercurrent of the crew of the Shield of Hispania.
"Still, I'm only sampling what the Vandals aboard the Shield of Hispania are talking about. The people serving on the other vessels of the task force might hold different opinions."
Throughout all of these changes, Ves sensed them to be deliberate and directed. He had no doubt that Major Verle manipulated the mood according to the circumstances. From staying aboard the same ship as the mech officer and seeing his leadership style up close, Ves learned that Verle was a deft master at manipulating morale.
Ves found it curious if this was the reason Colonel Lowenfield appointed Major Verle as her second in command. Their different strong points complimented each other nicely.
"By all accounts, Colonel Lowenfield is a number cruncher and a glorified accountant. She's also a norm who lacks the aptitude to pilot a mech. She's earned the respect of the Vandals somehow by cleaning up the mech regiment, but that doesn't mean she's a miracle worker. She still needs a lackey who can represent the mech pilots and command them in battle."
The leadership structure of the Flagrant Vandals roused his interest because he saw that it was something worth emulating. Before entering the service, Ves founded the Avatars of Myth as his personal force. Though Ves initially intended them to be a company-sized force of forty mechs, that wasn't the limit of his ambitions.
"Once I've entered a higher gradation of power and wealth, it's necessary for me to expand my coterie of thugs."
It wasn't out of the question for him to expand the Avatars of Myth from an obscure personal force into a full-blown regiment-sized force. Ves might even register them as a mercenary corps in order to take advantage of the provisions of the Mercenary Association.
"Strength is the foundation of power. Wealth and talent in mech design can't save my life if someone has me at gunpoint. The only way I can secure my safety in these times is if I convert some of my earnings into actual strength. Once I've reached that point, I'll have sufficient power to do what I want."
People excelled in different vocations. The Flagrant Vandals gathered those of different talents and put them at the top in order to run a mech regiment that was capable of putting an entire planet into disarray.
At the moment, Ves recognized all the signs.
For a while now, every Vandal slowly pumped themselves up for a fight. Morale throughout the task force couldn't get much higher from this point. In a couple of days at most, it would reach a peak where everyone entered their highest states.
"This peak morale can't be sustained forever. Someone who's looking for a fight but isn't getting one will crash sooner or later."
With the task force's current position, Ves could extrapolate the potential raiding targets Major Verle had in mind. He didn't do so though because the major would definitely inform him very soon.
"I'll have to get everyone prepped for a battle anyhow."
While the Vandals always prepped their mechs for battle, anticipating an encounter beforehand was very useful. Ves went back to his office and drafted a series of orders that increased the battle readiness of their mechs on a temporary basis.
This amounted to actions such as slightly overcharging energy cells and applying a special coating that helped a little bit with radiating heat but tended to degrade over a week.
All of these measures meant more busywork for the mech technicians, and they didn't even increase the battle power of the mechs by much. "It will only be a one or two percent difference at most."
Still, Ves thought this was a worthwhile tradeoff. It wasn't as if the mech technicians would be able to restore any more mechs up to this point. By now, they completed all of the easy repairs, leaving only the tough cases untouched. Fixing any of those mechs required much more manpower and assets.
"They should really be handed over to the Wolf Mother. Only a base facility or a full-fledged factory ships can restore those badly beaten mechs."
The only other alternative was to recycle the wrecks into their base materials and fabricate a new mech anew. This was something which the Beggar's Bounty and the Linever Swan could only do on an emergency basis, and was highly inefficient.
"I really miss the Wolf Mother. It's like a mobile version of the Mech Nursery."
Factory ships had their uses, but they tend to be extremely big, slow and delicate. It only took a couple of torpedos to thrash the capital ship-sized monstrosity.
"Well, it's a good thing we've become used to working under scarcity."
The mech technicians and mech designers in the task force slowly mastered some tricks which enabled them to be more frugal with their limited resources. Waste had been cut to a minimum, and Ves had even taught his underlings some methods to substitute rare materials with more common ones with the help of his Jury Rigging Sub-Skill.
"Without Jury Rigging, we would have long become starved with critical resources."
It highlighted the dire state of their material stockpiles. They faced massive shortages in many categories. Repairing some mechs was simply out of the question because they lacked the minimum amount of exotics to restore the functionality of a critical component.
Many other mechs made do with a patchwork of different armor formulas. The Vandals didn't have the right ingredients to reproduce the more expensive armor systems, so they resorted to cheaper ones and hoped the coating applied on top of it successfully obscured their inadequacies.
To Ves, it felt like he was committing fraud. The people in charge of certifying mechs at the MTA would vomit if they ever encountered one of these patchwork mechs.
"They're ugly, but as long as they can fight, they're good enough."
There was a serious downside to transforming regular mechs into patchwork mechs. It deviated a machine from a proscribed design into uncharted territory. The older a mech, the more its imperfections led to unique variations of the standard design. Yet utilizing jury-rigged solutions introduced a lot more changes than usual, to the point where mechs stopped resembling their original model.
In the short-term, creating pathwork mechs helped increase the immediate battle power of the mech regiment. In the long-term, these mechs would slowly become more unusable due to the inability to apply newer updates onto the deviating designs.
The only way to make use of them was to revert all of the changes, which was a lot of work for some mechs. In some cases, it might be better to scrap them entirely or relegate them into a disposable role.
"If we aren't so desperate to increase our strength, I wouldn't have resorted to this measure."
Nonetheless, Ves didn't live in a perfect reality. He often had to resort to desperate choices that came with a price.
Some time later, Ves corresponded with Pierce, who was the highest-ranking mech designer aboard the Beggar's Bounty.
"Has the Beggar's Bounty received any strange orders lately?" He asked at the start.
"Nothing except for one strange order, sir. Some higher-ups ordered us to cobble together a large number of artificial meteorites. Do you remember our previous stop where we've delayed out next transition in order to mine a nearby asteroid belt? That's because we had to gather as much junk as possible in order to create a bunch of artificial meteorites on the fly."
"Do these artificial asteroids come with any specifications?"
"No. They told us to stick to a standard metal rock. It was more important to create as much of them as possible."
"Over fifty and counting."
Ves widened his eyes a bit. Fifty artificial meteorites was more than enough to pummel a large city into dust and ruin!
In fact, sending all of them onto a planet at once risked drawing the ire of the MTA! Major Verle was really playing with fire at this moment!
"This isn't something regular at all, Pierce. Do you feel uncomfortable being ordered to create so many artificial meteorites on order?"
The other mech designer's projection shrugged. "As mech designers, we aren't culpable for the crimes our customers commit. It's the same thing with the artificial meteorites. If the MTA brings down the hammer on us, it's the brass who will suffer a punishment, not a small figure like me who's only a cog in the machine."
"You may not be culpable by law, but there's also your consciousness that you have to take into account. Will you sleep easily knowing that your creations will likely be responsible for slaughtering hundreds or thousands of people in the next battle?"
"Sir, this isn't something we should concern ourselves with." Pierce replied with a firm voice. "You should see how war is waged in the Friday Coalition. The stakes are higher there, and so are the rewards. The Coalition partners are willing to do anything to get their hands on their prize."
"Did you witness a conflict in person back when you grew up in the Coalition."
"No, but my father frequently became involved. The hotter the conflict, the more mechs his company sold. I think he even helped to fan the flames in some cases."
Ves scratched his head. What a shameless father! "Well, sounds like the Friday Coalition isn't a pleasant place to live in if there's so much fighting going around."
"Ah, don't misunderstand me, Larkinson, this only happens when a region is under contention. Most regions are firmly attached to a Coalition partner, so their stability isn't in question. Those are safe but expensive places to live. Immigrants from poorer states are outright barred from entering these star systems."
"Say, Pierce, do you ever wish to return to the Coalition?" Ves asked out of the blue.
Pierce smiled sardonically. "I don't miss it at all. Someone like me who is without talent is a disgrace in the Coalition. It's better if I don't show up to shame my father."
Ves clearly understood that Pierce hid a lot of his pain on the matter. Yet for Ves to nurture Pierce as a trusted lackey, this bandaid needed to be pulled away.
"What if you had some help? You aren't completely without potential in my eyes. As long as you study diligently and benefit from the right supplements, it's not out of the question for you to transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly."
"Hahaha!" Pierce lost control for a moment. "Who would waste his time and money to invest in me? I'm too old to become someone's apprentice, and finding a mentor who doesn't want to take advantage of my father is impossibly hard!"
"Think about it for a while." Ves replied calmly. "For now, I've kept track of your redemptions for exceeding the weekly quotas. I've noticed that you've spent all of your opportunities on borrowing more books. Don't you think you've borrowed enough? Why not take advantage of my tutoring?"
The other mech designer frowned. "Even if I don't have the time to digest all of those books, I'll still be able to broaden my knowledge in the short term."
"As a friend, let me give you some advice. It's better to be really good in one thing than average in everything else. Especially at the early Apprentice stage, you should be focused on developing your specialities."
"And you can help me that, sir?"
"Why the skepticism? Since you're a friend, I don't mind giving you a lesson for free. Pull up the textbook that you've learned the most from so far and I'll see if I can help solve some of your conundrums."
Though Pierce didn't think that Ves would make a very good teacher, he did as asked and pulled up a virtual textbook. Ves proceeded to tutor him in areas which Pierce only understood the most shallow principles.
It didn't take long for Pierce to become engrossed with the knowledge that Ves passed on. Ves discretely grinned as he recognized he hooked another fish.
Besides Vedette, Ves also had his eyes on Pierce. Once he had a genuine citizen from the Coalition in his grasp, Ves would be able to make more inroads in the circles of the Coalition. Even though he already benefited from his association with the Clifford Society, it never hurt to have more options.