The Mech Touch Chapter 623
622 Lost Will
With thousands of transports, shuttlecraft and a couple of extravagant souped-up aircars rated for vacuum climbing up into space, the Reinaldans had another sticky situation on their hands. The mechs on patrol in orbit attempted to halt a handful of shuttles, only to have ten more pass them by. They simply didn't have the numbers to block the escaping craft.
On the other side of their blockade, the starships waiting for their associates on Harkensen I to arrive were coming closer and closer. Some of the ships that belonged to various outfits even deployed their mechs as an open threat against the Reinaldans!
The ships and mechs of the Flagrant Vandals happened to be among them as well. Every outfit stuck on the surface of Harkensen I had backup waiting for them at space. Blending in the masses of other ships, they impatiently waited for days for their employers, owners, outfit members and so on to arrive in space.
Ves accessed the galactic net from his comm as the transport he had boarded almost reached into low orbit. He browsed the news portal and saw that most publications had turned against the Reinaldans.
Looks like the Honored Ones aren't able to justify their actions anymore.
Certainly, the Reinaldans couldn't be blamed. Most of them merely acted upon orders, and they weren't even responsible for most of the violence. The blame lay squarely on the terrorists who launched a surprise attack on Harkensen I. Beyond that, the Flagrant Vandals and the outfits they partnered with deserved some condemnation as well for driving so many civilians to their deaths.
The worst thing about this course of events was that most people would never find out the truth behind the outburst of violence. Perhaps on the surface, most people believed this event was meant to harm the lifeblood of the Harkensen System. Only a handful of those involved knew that the fighting involved more than giving the Reinaldans a kick in the nuts.
"Tens of millions have died so far… and for what? Just so an old fart can postpone his death for a couple of hundred years?"
Humans never succeeded in cracking the secret to immortality. Yet they did manage to obtain the next-best solution. Even though the cost of life-prolonging treatments became prohibitively more expensive, so many power players still chased after this distant dream like ducks.
Hope. No matter how faint, one couldn't help but hold even as it burned their fingers.
If all of those old and powerful people believed that extending their lives wasn't humanly possible, then they would have aged gracefully and faded into the background to let the next generation bloom.
Yet the introduction of life-prolonging treatments changed the way humanity ruled forever. Ever since this medical treatment came into being, old farts kept risking their accumulated wealth, power and legacy for a faint hope of delaying their deaths. Everything they obtained turned into currency that they didn't hesitate to spend in order to succeed in fulfilling their greatest hope.
"What are you thinking about, Mr. Larkinson?" Captain Orfan looked suspiciously at Ves.
The two sat across from each other close to the bow of the transport vessel. The crude benches made for an uncomfortable seat, and Ves squirmed a bit as he tried to form an excuse. He couldn't blab about the secret behind the secret conflict.
"I'm worried about our fleet who's waiting on the other side of the blockade, captain. I imagine the Reinaldans won't let us go. We're one of the main groups responsible for the butchery at Tecev City's spaceport."
"We've already planned for that." She grinned back. "Even if the Masters of Combat stabbed us in the back in passing, they should still stick to what we've agreed to if they know what's best for them. Still, what's the deal with the Glorious Space Knights? Did one of their punks try to seduce a Swordmaiden or something?"
"I don't know. I'm thankful they didn't decide to gang up on us. I'm not sure why they attracted so much animosity, but it has nothing to do with us."
He lied, of course, but Captain Orfan didn't have to know that. From his judgement so far, Captain Orfan didn't appear to be an insider. She lacked the restraint and discretion necessary to keep such a big secret.
"I do say, the Water Wraiths held up better against the surprise attack than I thought. You did a really good job with fixing up those amphibian mechs."
Ves smiled at the compliment. "I'm just doing my job. It helped a lot to gain access to the facilities of the shipyard. From what I've seen, the other outfits hadn't been able to secure any workshops. The mechs from the Masters of Combat look so shabby that they likely fixed them up in field conditions."
Even though he ribbed the durability of the Water Wraiths, the amphibian mechs had partially been built to fight underwater. The extra mass they took on formed considerable obstacles that made it difficult for the mechs to be taken out very quickly.
Three of the Water Wraiths appeared to be able to slug it out for at least a minute of trading volleys. WW-4's quick end had been a fluke resulting from a rushed and inefficient restoration process.
"Hehe, if you hadn't made those Water Wraiths so tough, we would have been ganged up by the rest as well. Did you notice that we never targeted their transports, and vica versa? Both of us were afraid we'd shoot our main rides. As long as we showed any weaknesses, the Masters of Combat would have pounced on us. Since that never happened, both of us held guns against each other's heads."
"Nobody wants to pull the trigger in that case."
The Flagrant Vandals showed enough strength to deter the Masters of Combat from escalating the fight. Mutual self-destruction hadn't been an option to the Vesians.
A ping sounded out. It was a warning for imminent action.
"We're about to run the blockade! Get ready, this might get rough!"
The transport began to shake and heave as its thrusters suddenly received a dollop of power. The pilot at the helm decisively strained the poor vessel's propulsion to its limits!
The extra boost in speed and acceleration added pressure to the Reinaldans and cut short the time available to come up with a solution. On the other side of the blockade, the Vandal fleet and the other starships on the outside started to stir up trouble as well.
Through a mix of deception and incitement, several uninvolved starships began to move closer. The Reinaldan patrols attempted to halt the ships from nearing the planet, but their warnings seemed to lack sufficient force.
"Halt! This planet's orbit is restricted space!"
"Get lost, you greedy pigs! My corps commander is on his way up, and I won't let you shoot him down!"
If the Reinaldans stationed more mechs in orbit, they could have made a better effort. As it was, they still hadn't gotten over the confusion in their chain of command. Different commanders demanded different responses, and the rank-and-file had put up their own stance on the matter.
Thus, when ordered to halt the starships from closing in with the small craft coming up from the surface, the majority of the Honored Ones only blustered while keeping their fingers off the trigger.
Some of the Vandals aboard the transport blinked when nothing happened.
"We prepared a lot of fireworks." Captain Orfan said despondently. "A couple of ships and shuttles would have blown up if the Reinaldans wanted to play hardball."
She sounded genuinely disappointed that they didn't get the opportunity to sow more chaos. Many other Vandals shared her feelings. Ves simply sighed.
With the mechs in orbit standing aside, the shuttles eagerly sought out their starships and returned to the fold. The Vandal transports and shuttles effortlessly met up with the Shield of Hispania, the Finmoth Regal and all the other ships of the Vandals.
All of them had been fixed up at the commercial shipyards orbiting over Harkensen III. All of their scars had disappeared as the shipyards had done a thorough job in replacing the damaged armor plating.
The transports were too large to enter the hangar bays of the combat carriers. The vessels had to park alongside one of the hatches of the combat carriers and extent a docking bridge in order to let the Vandals in.
The cargo containers the Vandals brought along had to be ejected into space to allow other shuttles to bring them in the cargo bays of the starships.
Ves thought about the infiltrators that may have been hidden in the containers. Had they sneaked off into space at this time, or did they intend to hitch a ride with the Vandal fleet?
"I hope not. Those fellows aren't friends."
He gratefully stepped back aboard the Shield of Hispania. He missed this old ship. The familiar interior map of the combat carrier reappeared in his mind, and he immediately marched towards the command center. Upon entering, he sat at his customary observer's seat, only lamenting the absence of a capable assistant.
"Mr. Larkinson, good for you to join us again." Major Verle said. His expression appeared rather glum. "I need to have some words with you after we handle this crisis. You and the rest who goofed off in Harkensen I. For heaven's sake, we have made an oath to protect our citizens, not use them up as human shields!"
Nobody liked to be blamed for causing so many civilian casualties. Especially when it had been a deliberate act on their part.
Ves held up his hands as if Verle was from the Planetary Guard. "I don't like it either, sir, but the plan was going ahead whether we liked it or not. Something very fishy was going on down there, and it seems to have driven some people to extremes."
The major's eyes narrowed at him. That had been a veiled jab at the mech officer.
"I may have directed my ire to the wrong person." Verle conceded. "You are not the person in charge. I'll have to obtain some answers from someone else."
Likely, Captain Orfan was going to have a bad time in the coming days. As the principal decision maker on the ground, her decisive leadership had won her plenty of kudos from the other Vandals. However, her sheer callousness ruined the hard-earned reputation of the Vandals had gained in recent months.
Once the starships slowly picked up their passengers, they made their way out of the star system as fast as possible under the auspices of the Reinaldans. None of the mechs of the Honored Ones moved to stop them from taking off. Perhaps the conflicting orders in their chain of command had already been sorted out, because they didn't act in futility.
Each outfit involved in taking over Tecev City's spaceport split off and went their separate ways. Besides the ships of the Glorious Space Knights, every other outfit headed towards a different Lagrange point, all the while remaining alert for any sudden moves by the Reinaldans or everyone else.
Ves did not concern himself with these matters. He went back to his old job and started to catalog the mechs the repair businesses had painstakingly fixed in the last four weeks. A visual inspection of the projections of the repaired mechs already showed some inconsistencies.
"Damnit, they slacked off once I was gone!"
During the time he supervised the repair work, the bosses had been fairly diligent in meeting his expectations. All of that ended once he toured Harkensen III and Harkensen I. While the mechs didn't appear to be broken in any way, Ves would definitely have his hands full with fixing the quality issues.
After all, since the Vandals recently bought a batch of high-gravity mech equipment, their next destination was very likely going to be a Super Earth! One small problem inside a landbound mech might be magnified to a ruinous proportion once the local gravity multiplied by five!
"Seems like I've got a lot of work on my hands again."