The Mech Touch Chapter 574
575 Smoke Screen
The repair businesses the Flagrant Vandals went to bed with all operated out of large workshops. As the Vandals started transporting their damaged mechs to the workshops, Ves constantly had to rotate in between the workshops to prevent the people there from screwing things up.
"Don't let this mech lay on its back!"
"Where's the weapons on this mech? It came here with a sword and shield, what do you mean they never arrived?!"
"Goddammit, we contracted you to fix these mechs up, not damage them even further due to rough handling!"
The level of service that each of the five repair businesses provided was worse than Ves had thought. Over the past several days, he realized he had still been a little too naive about the types of characters that operated these joints.
Ves had thought that the repair businesses would operate akin to the maintenance departments of the Flagrant Vandals or another regular mech regiment. At worst, the owners ran their businesses like the workshop of a mercenary corps.
In actual fact, sometimes Ves felt as if he returned among the ranks of Walter's Whalers. The sheer level of idiocy and sloppiness truly astounded him. How could these repair businesses even stay afloat with this level of service?
"No wonder why most of them charge so much. It's not just to rip off their customers, but also to compensate for the incredible amount of inefficiencies in their operations."
It wasn't as if the owners liked to run a tighter ship, but the problem was that they didn't know how. As head designer, Ves threw his weight around whenever he visited their workshops, and he often got to meet with them in person.
All of them appeared to be exactly as he expected, mech designers or chief technicians who lacked the competence to work for more prestigious organizations.
The most loathsome of the bunch was a former chief technician called Lester Tobruk. He bought up a bankrupt repair business on the cheap and somehow hadn't managed to ruin it yet, though it hadn't grown any further either.
The mech technicians that Mr. Tobruk employed all followed after their boss. They lacked the skills, discipline or temperament to get hired by the military or a private outfit. Even the worst gangs rejected these abject failures.
"The repair industry is the trash heap of the mech industry." He concluded. "This is where all the losers go when they can't get any lower."
Hounding the incompetent employees whenever they misstepped was extremely frustrating and tiring for Ves. Eventually, he shifted over this responsibility to the other mech designers. Though they weren't as eagle-eyed as Ves, they at least possessed the skills to spot something wrong in time.
Mech designers who used to work in the private sector caught on quickly enough. People like Pierce only needed a few guidelines to do an adequate job in supervising the repairmen and direct the Vandal mech technicians to lend a hand as well.
"This is kind of a sad thing to see." Pierce shook his head as he watched a repairmen clean up after spilling over a barrel of liquid coolant. "In the Friday Coalition, the lowest standard of mech technicians is the same as a mech technician from the Mech Corps. This is only the starting level, and it's barely enough to work for a small-time gang in Coalition space."
Ves sighed. "Your Friday Coalition is larger and more prosperous than dozens of third-rate states. You guys have the luxury of training aspiring mech technicians to a higher standard. We don't have the population and training methods to match your standards."
"The Coalition isn't my home anymore. It's wrong for you to call it my state."
"You still enjoy Coalition citizenship, do you not?"
"I'm only an average citizen of the Gauge Dynasty. If not for my father, my citizenship would have been revoked. The Gauge Dynasty is extremely strict on these kinds of matters. As the most powerful partner in the Coalition, too many people wish to be a part of them. An exile like me doesn't deserve to be counted among the strong."
Hearing Pierce put himself down all the time really exasperated Ves. Unfortunately, he couldn't think of a way to cheer up his colleague. This was because they measured their self-worth according to their capabilities. Even after he borrowed a couple of books from the central database, Pierce had only improved by a snail's pace despite receiving a couple of free tutoring sessions.
From what Ves had observed, Pierce's potential might not have been exceptional, but his learning ability was still within an average range. The only problem was that he competed against his brilliant siblings ever since he was born. The shadow they cast upon his mind had affected his mentality.
At least Pierce could perform his latest duty without problems. The same could not be said for some of the other mech designers. The careerists in particular had a tendency to overestimate the competency of the repairmen. They were too used to somewhat disciplined mech technicians that had gone through basic military training.
"Why are you bothering me with this duty? It's pure babysitting, sir!" Mercator yelled at Ves. He didn't even hold back his overall contempt at Ves and his current locale.
"You either do your job, or take responsibility if you don't. The lives of our mech pilots depend on the condition of these mechs."
"These grease monkeys already signed a contract with us, sir. I don't see the need to spend so much effort on supervising them. It's redundant!"
"Well, the Vandals won't be able to ask for refunds from the repair companies once our mechs start to blow up all of a sudden on the battlefield. Look, if you don't care about the welfare of our mech pilots, then think about who will be held responsible."
This shut the other fellow up. Mercator couldn't afford to have too many stains on his record if he wanted to climb up the ladder.
After sorting out the careerists, Ves took a step back and let the other mech designers be the main people on point. Though a lot of mistakes still occurred, everything went according to schedule. Planning everything out took a lot of effort from him. He meticulously distributed Vandal men and mechs to each of the repair businesses according to their specialities and shipped in the appropriate materials from the cargo holds of the Vandal ships or from the local market.
It was a good thing that Peace for Hafner rewarded the Vandals with a lot of Reinaldan marks. The Vandal logistics officers must have anticipated their need. Everything became easier in the Harkensen System once you threw some hard currency around.
The only thing that money couldn't buy was an honest Reinaldan. Ves sighed. Negotiating for the first batches of materials had been especially arduous.
"What's troubling your mind?" Chief Haine asked as she overlooked a large hall where up to half-a-dozen Vandal mechs were being stripped.
"I'm thinking about how much time and effort we've wasted on negotiating with the Reinaldans. If you don't make a stand, they'll walk right over you."
"That's the Reinald Republic for you. This isn't the first time I've been here. It's a lovely place if you can ignore the ugliness that goes around. Take advantage of your shore leave and see what the Harkensen System has to offer. I guarantee you won't be disappointed."
"I'm worried that everything will go to hell once I'm gone." Ves smiled sardonically. "Why are the higher ups insisting on granting us shore leave in a foreign state? There's nowhere we can go that is truly safe, and don't forget that the Vesia Kingdom is right next door."
The chief snorted. "Sounds kind of stupid now that you think about it, right? If you've been with the Vandals for a while, you'll learn that we don't do things so simple. Let me ask you this. How many servicemen did we bring to the Harkensen System?"
It took a lot of people to run a mech regiment. While the advantage of mechs to states was that it required a lot less logistical support to field them in battle, they still required lots of support personnel to take care of matters that mech pilots simply couldn't. When Ves added up the mech technicians and ship officers that supported the mech pilots, he came to a very substantial figure.
"The Verle Task Force comprises over ten-thousand servicemen by my count."
"Close enough. Now, the way the higher ups staggered our leave periods, there's always going to be half let out in the wild. So there's going to be at least five-thousand little Vandals running around on Harkensen I or Harkensen III."
A light went off in his head. "I see! It's actually a distraction! Just like when we split up the main fleet in the Detemen System. One element is a distraction while the other element is vital to completing the mission."
The Flagrant Vandals certainly loved to employ this strategy. Ves reminded himself about Lord Javier. Sneaking off a hot potato like a captured Vesian noble with massive secrets would be very hard to do in normal circumstances.
Ves silently narrowed his eyes as his thoughts went over the situation as he understood it. If Lord Javier was a regular prisoner, the Vandals wouldn't have gone through the bother of stuffing him in a hidden compartment aboard the Shield of Hispania.
Obviously, taking custody of Lord Javier was not a trivial matter at all. The Vandals tried their best to suppress any news of who they kept in captivity. This basically meant that others desired Lord Javier or the secrets in his mind as well, and weren't afraid to fight the Vandals if it meant they could get the valuable prisoner in their hands.
In such a dangerous circumstance, letting so many Vandals loose made a lot more sense. The collective movement of the Vandals was a giant smoke screen that obscured the real intentions of the higher ups!
"Do you think we'll be easy to keep tabs on?" Chief Haine continued. "If you rule out the Reinaldan government, every other influence needs to be discreet and only possesses a limited amount of agents to perform covert actions. Wouldn't they have a headache trying to find the right target to tackle?"
Ves mentally applauded such a devious plan. Although following around five-hundred groups of ten was a lot easier than tracking five-thousand individual Vandals, moving in groups also allowed the most critical group to bring Lord Javier to another destination in disguise. Besides, any group of ten wouldn't be easy to deal with considering that most Vandals knew how to throw a punch.
One benefit the Vandals enjoyed was that they were allowed to carry limited small arms such as pistols out in the open. This was another concession received in reward for capturing and handing over Venerable Foster. Average tourists couldn't even dream of obtaining this privilege.
Somehow, Ves suspected that the Vandals aimed for such an outcome from the start.
"The whole thing about capturing Venerable Foster is a sideshow."
They lost almost half of their landbound mech pilots to capture an expert pilot without their own expert lending a hand. This was a feat of near-legend. To outsiders, capturing an expert pilot while losing hundreds of average mech pilots was a definite win.
Yet the significance of this hard-fought victory was only a means to an end. This overly-transactional way of running things detested Ves somewhat. It was an approach that treated the lives of servicemen like chess pieces.
"Maybe that is what it takes for a leader. In order to complete the mission, you can't afford to be soft-hearted. War assets such as mechs are meant to be spent on the battlefield. As long as the fighting nets you a greater return, the sacrifices are worth it in the end."
Ves branded this lesson in his heart. It was inevitable that he would wield his own influence someday. Perhaps he would have to weigh the same kind of decision as well.