The Mech Touch Chapter 570
571 Lively Reinald
The tense negotiation finally came to a conclusion. Although the terms were incredibly detailed and abstruse, the basic layout of the agreement sounded simple enough.
First, the Flagrant Vandals officially handed their custody over Venerable Foster to Peace for Hafner. In return, the Flagrant Vandals received a large amount of wealth and resources as well as undisclosed benefits in the Reinald Republic.
The former two quenched the severe shortages that crippled the Vandals from restoring their battle strength. The Vesian rebel group generously paid the Vandals a fortune in Reinaldan marks. Even though two marks was only worth one bright credit, the Vandals still received a considerable sum, though no one leaked out the exact figure.
As for the latter, no one questioned why Peace for Hafner was able to accomplish this promise. While the Reinald Republic opened its doors to every foreigner, that didn't mean they enjoyed a level playing field.
Native Reinaldans withheld many privileges that foreigners needed to work for in order to enjoy them. These privileges included lower tariffs, less onerous taxes, fewer import and export restrictions, lower waiting times, residency permits and so on.
According to Iris, while Reinald famously levied low tax rates, they were famous for nickeling and diming numerous conceivable charges. If any Reinaldan thought they could charge a fee for something, they would assuredly set a price for it. Most of the more ridiculous charges only applied to foreigners of course. This gave first-time visitors a huge shock once they found their bank accounts empty.
"Still, the Flagrant Vandals still got shafted."
The Vandals needed to repay the generosity provided by Peace for Hafner. Their preparations, intelligence gathering and acts of sabotage all contributed to the capture of Venerable Foster. Even though the Vandals suffered a disproportionate amount of losses, they had been pressured into giving up more meat to the sock puppet rebel group.
Peace for Hafner undoubtedly gained the most out of this trade. Their investment was fairly minimal, all considered. All of the subversive actions they performed during this operation had already been laid out far in advance. It took time to get the right people in the right positions. Besides a handful of highly placed spies, most of their agents were disposable.
Thus, through a minor effort, they reaped a huge reward. An extremely talent expert pilot in the form of Venerable Foster was worth at least twice as a fully mature expert pilot. Her potential and growth rate was astounding, so much so that everyone at the negotiation table regarded her as a potential ace candidate.
Once Peace for Hafner had taken over custody of the expert pilot, they hashed out a second agreement with the Hafner Duchy in turn. Although it would have been better in the long run for them to kill or keep Venerable Foster captive, they couldn't resist the enticement of rich rewards.
They already provided a lot of compensation to the Flagrant Vandals. If they didn't make up for their losses, they wouldn't be able to call themselves proper Reinaldans- ahem, Hafners.
The Vandals didn't get to hear the exact details of their agreement, but Ves could imagine that the Hafner Duchy bled a pretty penny. However, Ves also admired the farsightedness of the Duke of Hafner who currently suffered a lot of reproach from the rest of the Kingdom.
The value of a future ace candidate was immeasurably high, but that was only a faint possibility at best. For Hafner to grit their teeth and submit to naked extortion from a rebel group that had long been a thorn in their side, their foresight was very great!
Fortunately, this didn't concern the Vandals very much. The Hafner Duchy was situated on the wrong side of the Kingdom. If Venerable Foster ever became a scourge, she would definitely vent her fury on Reinald's proxy forces first. As for the Vandals, they were just a bunch of small fries in the greater scheme of things.
The Vandals kept their heads down throughout the final leg of their journey. After making use of the free passage offered by the Hafner Duchy, they met up with ships affiliated with Peace for Hafner and physically transferred over their prize. In return, the Vandal ships loaded up their cargo holds with lots of critical materials.
One more important event took place at that time. The Vesian Revolutionary Front recalled their liaison. An unremarkable corvette arrived in the star system within Reinald's borders and parked next to the Shield of Hispania.
Down at the combat carrier's hangar bay, Iris stood beside a shuttle. A pair of luggage coffers floated behind her, though she still held on to the gift box that contained a miniature mech.
"I can't believe I lived through all of the excitement." She sighed as she recalled what they went through. "It's a wonder the Flagrant Vandals managed to stay alive after surviving all of those battles."
Ves had accompanied her down the hangar bay. He shook his head when he heard her words.
"This is a one-off occasion for the Vandals. I don't think they'll pop up in the news after this. Every serviceman is tired to the bone. I hope Major Verle cuts his men some slack after we arrive at our final destination. Everyone is looking forward to spending some time on Reinald's famous pleasure planets to recuperate."
Reinald profiled itself as a dangerous but alluring state. The people that tended to visit the little Republic longed to experience some excitement in their lives. Through visiting the same planets frequented by pirates, dark mercenaries and gang members, they gained the opportunity to sample a life where someone might get rich overnight, only to receive a laser beam through their heads the next day.
Remarkably, many tourists departed from the little Republic with their hides intact. The same could not be said for their bank accounts, but when it came to personal safety, Reinald was surprisingly strict in performing their due diligence. Income from tourism was one of the legs that supported the scrappy little state.
Iris directed her luggage coffers to float inside the shuttle and secure themselves onto a rack. She then turned back to Ves. "I hope you enjoy your time in Reinald. Remember not to fall into a debt trap. You don't want to know what happens when you run out of money in Reinald space."
"What about you? Where will you be going?"
"I'm heading back to Vesian space, though the corvette I'll be boarding won't be crossing into Hafner. Their troops are still on high alert, you see."
"Understandable. Have a safe journey, then!"
Ves waved her shuttle goodbye as it lifted up from the deck. The stubby vehicle zipped through the energy screen that shielded the ship's interior from the ravages of space.
"I wonder what is next in store for the Vandals."
The next days, Ves busied himself with sorting out the abundant amount of materials provided by the rebels. The mech technicians already started repairing some of their more heavily damaged with the help of newly-fabricated parts.
In the meantime, every serviceman started looking forward to some much-needed shore leave.
Reinald's openness to foreigners allowed the battered and limping Verle Task Force to relax. For the first time in two harrowing months, they didn't have to scurry like rats in the forgotten corners of the galaxy. They could openly navigate towards brighter stars that was easier to reach via FTL. Instead of making multiple short hops, their FTL drives could traverse the same distance in a single larger jump.
"Thank the heavens!" An engineer cried out in relief one day at the mess hall. "Our FTL drives are awfully worn out. Compressing so many hops in a short amount of time will do our drives no good. Every ship needs some time in the yard, but our logistics ships are in an especially critical state."
The Beggar's Bounty and the Linever Swan both relied on jury-rigged FTL drives specced for a different class of starships. Though the chief engineers managed to keep the logistics ships together, their incompatible FTL drives were endless sources of trouble. Each time the two fat ships emerged out of FTL, the task force was forced to endure several hours of delay on top of the ordinary FTL drive cycle time.
Therefore, Ves had a strong guess that the Vandals should be charting a course towards one of Reinald's major star systems. Only a highly developed star system with plentiful ship and repair yards would be able to satisfy their material demands.
"I wonder what will happen next."
Many of the Vandals didn't think about it, but Ves hadn't forgotten that reaching the Reinald Republic wasn't their end goal. Their true mission began once they reached a particular destination within the Reinald Republic. Ves guessed that whatever was about to happen should take place at their next port of call.
His office appeared much emptier after Iris had left. As Ves quietly allocated different portions of materials, he missed the opportunity to discuss his work with another mech designer.
"A second opinion really helps. Now that my only assistant has left, there's nothing there for me to bounce my ideas."
Ves scratched his head and considered taking on another assistance. If the task force wasn't dissolved after the end of this journey, then he would consider the matter seriously.
"It's too bad I'm not very close to the other mech designers."
Iris provided an ideal foil to him because she was knowledgeable yet also an outsider. She could provide honest advice to him while avoiding any conflicts of interest.
"Mr. Vedette is too junior to provide much help for me. His studies are still too far behind. Pierce is more capable in that regard, but he's the only person I can trust to keep watch over the Beggar's Bounty."
As for everyone else, Ves didn't even consider them. They either lacked the qualifications or didn't engender a lot of trust.
For now, Ves had to make do by himself. It was fortunate that he was already used to working alone, so the solitude hardly impacted his productivity.
He still reminded himself to stop relying on himself all the time when he went back to running his own business. While working with no one else allowed him to maintain his many secrets, once the scope of his business grew bigger, he couldn't shoulder everything by himself any longer.
A few days later, the Verle Task Force finally arrived in a highly-populated star system. The Harkensen System was a prominent trade nexus of the Reinald Republic. It appealed openly to outfits and provided many services useful to them. Anyone with enough money could procure enough starships and mechs to conquer another planet.
They key word here was money.
Without money, you couldn't even buy the cheapest nutrient pack in Reinald! The Republic was never one for charity. The Harkensen System was a little more rowdy than most due to the prevalence of mech pilots that visited its planets.
The Harkensen System wasn't a port system and didn't feature any remarkable mineral deposits. What it had instead was three promising terrestrial planets, all of which had been terraformed for human habitation. Each planet offered something good.
Harkensen I was a tourist destination. The slightly hot planet featured fantastic natural sceneries and splendid beaches. Many mech pilots that have gone through a frigid campaign flocked to Harkensen I to unwind. The planet offered many pleasures and various forms of entertainment to those who brought money.
Harkensen II didn't offer much to foreigners. It was the seat of the local government as well as the primary habitation planet for local citizens. A lot of Reinaldans lived on the planet, and only the most esteemed foreigners received the right to reside on this planet.
Harkensen III lacked most of the fun that could be found on Harkensen I, but it was the planet where the bulk of the trade was being conducted. It featured extensive market places, trading halls and more. Many shipyards orbited the planet, providing many services to various fleets or those who sought to commission a ship.
The Verle Task Force made a beeline towards Harkensen III.