The Mech Touch Chapter 576
577 Lieutenant Feray
After wrangling with the repair businesses all day for the last two weeks, Ves felt as tired as the Vandal mech pilots who had gone through several successive battles. The mental strain he accumulated from dealing with numerous troublesome issues wore out his patience.
So by the time he finally got to enjoy his vacation, he grabbed it with both hands.
Ves entered the common room of one of the dormitories that the Vandals had recently rented out. Hundreds of Vandals gathered in the morning as they waited for their group mates get out of bed and finish their breakfast.
"Head designer! Over here!"
He turned and saw a young woman waving at him. Ves approached the circle of Vandals and beheld the men and women.
Every group consisted of a different mix of Vandals. There would never be a case where a group consisted entirely of mech pilots or ship specialists or the like. Whoever drafted up the lists deliberately shuffled everyone's names around so that each group represented every aspect of the mech regiment.
Ves figured this must have been a method for the higher ups to increase everyone's connection to the Flagrant Vandals and intensify their camaraderie. No one in the common room wore their uniforms. Besides their military-issued comms, nothing on their bodies marked them out as Vandals.
Almost no one in the Harkensen System wore their uniforms, especially if they were off-duty. Lots of people from different states and backgrounds mingled here. If someone wearing a Vesian uniform happened to walk past someone wearing a Brighter uniform on the streets, lots of brawls would certainly ensue.
Thus, for better or worse, no visitor advertised their origins in Harkensen. At best, they would only be able to tell each other's origin through their accents when they spoke.
"Mr. Larkinson, right? I've seen you several times from afar! I can't believe I'm standing next a genius!" The woman who called earlier chittered next to him.
"Just call me Ves. Right now, none of us are wearing our uniforms."
"Ah, I'm Ensign Tiss Kozik. I work as a junior engineer aboard the Antecedent."
Ves looked at Tiss with a bit more respect. The difficulty of becoming a ship engineer in this day and age was extremely high. For her to be a junior engineer at her age must mean she possessed a bit of promise. Why would someone like her be assigned to the Vandals?
"I see everyone is here." The burly voice of the biggest person in the group spoke. "Let me introduce myself. You may know me as Lieutenant Nolsen Feray. I serve aboard the Finmoth Regal in the ship security department. This means that I'm likely the most dangerous Vandal among our little gathering outside of a mech. Does anyone dispute this?"
A few mech pilot types looked liked they wanted to contest, but eventually they backed down. Though their status and combat prowess with a mech put them far ahead of Nolsen, they weren't allowed to bring any mechs.
The Honored Ones strictly limited the permits that allowed mech pilots to pilot a mech in Harksensen. Without a valid permit, even local Reinaldans could forget about unsealing a mech and piloting them out in the open. The same regime existed in most major planets and star systems such as Bentheim.
If not, chaos and confusion would be rife as mechs began to slaughter each other on the dime. Most training concerning mech pilots emphasized aggression, so they would usually be quick to anger and quicker to fight. Letting these wild beasts fight with their fists was one thing, but when it came to mechs, an entire capital city might become ruined after a week of unrestrained dueling.
"Alright then." Nolsen let up on his ferocity and smiled. "Forget about your former ranks and positions. We are all fellow Vandals here. Besides keeping you out of danger, I don't have any interest in bossing you around. I hope we can come to an agreement on which places to visit."
The group members quickly introduced each other before they argued where they wanted to go. Ves quietly noted everyone's names and postings and noticed that besides Tiss and Nolsen, everyone else came from the enlisted ranks.
Due to the difference in ranks, this gave Ves and the other two a bit more say than the enlisted folk, though Nolsen did his best to balance each other's requests.
"Alright, we are in agreement then? Spend one week in Harkensen III before spending another week in Harkensen I."
No one disagreed too much. Some of the Vandals favored spending time in Harkensen III, while others wanted to spend all of their time in Harksensen I. Yet most of them wanted to spend a bit of time in both, so in the end the middle ground won out.
Hashing out which places they wanted to visit was a lot more complicated. The entire group had to sit down on some benches in order to come to a consensus on a schedule they could all agree upon. This was far harder to accomplish and it took Nolsen's considerable efforts to draft up a final schedule.
"Alright, on our first day, we'll be visiting the shopping district of Black Belle City, the capital city on Harkensen III. I should remind you all that we won't be able to bring back anything we purchase."
It was too easy to slip in some spy bug inside a gadget the Vandals brought back to their ships. In truth, most of the Vandals wanted to experience the varied shops in Black Belle City.
"In the morning, we'll stroll through the shopping districts. In the afternoon, we'll visit Black Belle City's other sights. In the evening, we enter the city's grey area."
Over half of the group members perked up when they thought about the grey area. This was where the questionably legal transactions took place. Though it wasn't as shady as the black areas, it served as a good introduction to the Reinaldan underground.
"Alright, before we set off, let's pick up our weapons."
All ten Vandals exited the common room from the back and entered a courtyard where a bunch of Vandal security officers distributed standard-issue pistols brought by the crateload from the armory.
Though the public security in the Harkensen System was high, so many people smuggled in weapons that the Honored Ones pretty much gave up on enforcing any small arms weapons ban. As long as people didn't bring in anything big or destructive, the Honored Ones didn't bother too much.
The only rule that armed visitors needed to take seriously was that they absolutely couldn't kill an upright Reinaldan. Certainly, outsiders had the right to defend themselves, but only up to the point of incapacitating a Reinaldan. Only the shadiest Reinaldans didn't enjoy this protection.
This also distinguished the grey areas and black areas.
"Alright Vandals, everyone pick your weapon!" A grey-haired bosun called. "You only get one and as much ammunition or batteries as you are willing to carry!"
Not every Vandal was a good shot, but they at least underwent basic training, enough not to shoot themselves with their own weapons. They confidently picked their preferred model of laser or ballistic pistols, each of which varied substantially in size, firepower, capacity and more.
Ves had never gone through much formal training in handling a gun, and despite his lengthy practice with the Amastendira, he never regarded himself as a good shot.
Someone like him typically picked a dinky little laser pistol like the one that Tiss had picked out. Their lack of recoil and straight beams made them a favorite among servicemen that didn't specialize in combat.
He picked a ballistic pistol instead, and not the lightest one either. Instead, he picked up a medium-sized hand cannon and stroked it once before receiving a couple of magazines.
"Do you even know how to handle that weapon?" Nolsen asked while he looked at Ves with a dubious eye.
"My aim isn't that great, but I won't be blown away if that's what you mean."
Ves demonstrated his confidence by stepping up to the shooting range that the Vandals had set up at the end of the courtyard. After he checked his weapon and keyed his identity to the operating system of his pistol, he took up a stance and fired at one of the targets.
"Well, looks like you're not so clueless after all. As expected of a Larkinson."
Compared to a trained soldier, his accuracy was abysmal. Yet for a mech designer, Ves could confidently hit a target ten meters away, which was sufficient to deal with imminent threats.
The only reason he opted for a ballistic pistol over a laser one was because he already possessed the Amastendira. Picking up another laser pistol did little to enhance his capabilities.
Despite the unsophisticated nature of the pistol, it came with several useful functions. One of which was to lock it in place on his body without a body. Ves opened his coat and slid the weapon in an underarm position. Most Vandals opted to hide their weapons on their person as well, though Lieutenant Feray choose to strap it to his hip in the open.
"Alright, if you're satisfied with your gear, let's set off! There are aircars waiting outside for us to board!"
The Vandals rented out a significantly-sized complex in one of the major cities of Harkensen III to accommodate more than ten-thousand servicemen. Ves saw thousands of Vandals in uniform getting onto aircars that brought them to their temporary work assignments. Those without a uniform headed to other destinations.
The aircar they boarded was like a small bus and possessed enough room to fit all ten of them. After Nolsen passed on their destination to the aircar's AI, the vehicle floated into the air and joined one of the many streams of traffic that criss-crossed the entire planet.
Tiss bounced around in her seat. "This is the first time I'll visit a foreign market. How exciting! They say that you can find anything from the Komodo Star Sector in one of Harkensen's many shopping districts."
"I would take that with a grain of salt." Ves said with a bit more calm. "The Harkensen System is far from the major shipping lines. It doesn't have a lot of products from the second-rate states as well. You can find a greater variety of curiosities from the rest of the Komodo Star Sector in the Coalition or in places like Bentheim."
"Bentheim is boring. There's too many people there, and it's all about mechs."
Ves couldn't refute that. "That's true. Still, each trading nexus has their own charm. Treasure hunters often try to dispose their gains in Harkensen, so we may see something nice from alien space."
This was one of the reasons why Ves didn't object too much to visiting the shopping districts. Though all the truly valuable frontier loot only showed up in the grey or black markets, the legal markets had the advantage of safety. No one was liable to shoot someone there for owning something shiny.
As their aircar slowed down and descended from above, Ves looked down at the picturesque black structures that made up the more affluent part of Black Belle City.
The aircar slipped onto one of the city's many parking areas. As soon as the group members exited the vehicle, another group of tourists entered it and zipped away.
"Alright, stay together. The mech plaza is just ahead!"
The group walked to a market-like street where various street vendors showcased sealed mechs in various conditions. Though it was easier to order a mech from a specialised store or from the galactic net, the lively market atmosphere in the mech plaza fostered many impulse purchases from well-off visitors.
A loud Reinaldan-accented voice called out from the rest of the hawkers. "Mech pilots! Get the latest from the Bright Republic! Purchase the latest sensation that is stirring up the entire mech market!"
Ves touched Nolsen's shoulders and gestured his head towards the hawker. The security officer understood and detoured the group towards the section where the seller of Brighter mechs set up shop.
As the group neared the stall where the hawker kept boasting about his Brighter mechs, Ves abruptly stuttered in his pace.
"Behold the highest quality premium rifleman mech! Gaze your eyes upon the magnificent gold label Crystal Lord! Imported straight from the Bright Republic, this version is a limited edition! Look at its condition! There's hardly a scratch on this beauty! For 250 million marks, it's yours!"
A Crystal Lord. A copy of his second original design. Here in Black Belle City.
Though Ves had always known that the Living Mech Corporation extended its tentacles to foreign markets, Ves did not expect to come across his own product here.