The Mech Touch Chapter 636

635 Stealth Ambitions

The Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordmaidens divided the spoils among themselves, with the former claiming the biggest share. This was what they deserved, as they fought harder and accomplished more.

The cost had been significant as well. The Vandals tallied the damage, and it became clear that while they hadn't lost a lot of men or mechs, some of their assets gained a lot of deep scars.

"It's frigging awful." Chief Engineer Avanaeon spat as Ves paid a visit to him down at the engineering bay. The chief read through scores of damage reports. The Shield of Hispania alone looked as if a gigantic tiger had ripped its molten claws throughout her entire hull. "We just fixed up the Shield's armor belt at Harkensen III. Now we're halfway back to square one. Damn the major, a combat carrier isn't a tower shield to be flaunted around whenever someone shoots at us!"

The other engineers and nodded in agreement. While the mech pilots and mech technicians celebrated the clean victory, the ship crewmembers all seemed disgruntled at the decision to put the combat carriers at risk. Just because they had been designed to take a beating didn't mean they needed to be deployed as supersized knight mechs.

A carrier was a mothership. A hive for mechs to come home to roost. Conventional doctrine called for carriers to stay as far away from the fighting as possible. Heavily-armored combat carriers provided some exceptions to the rule, but they only applied in special situations.

"Well, it's better to lose some armor plating than some lives." Ves replied. Though he sympathised with the enormous workload the ship caretakers had to go through, he was on the side of Major Verle for once. "Lives are much more precious than inanimate objects. The combat carriers will live."

"I don't disagree with you." Avanaeon waved his hands in emphasis. "It's just that fixing this battle damage is going to take another stint in a drydock. Will the higher ups agree to that?"

"According to what I know, that's extremely unlikely. We are bound for the frontier and we won't let anything hinder us. You'll have to fix up the Shield while we're on the move, most likely."

The only times they could go out and fix the armor plating was to go out in space while the fleet transitioned out of FTL and entered a cooldown cycle. Perhaps their ships would linger in the material dimensions for a while longer in order to mine some asteroids, but other than that they needed to hurry through the frontier as fast as possible.

Ves understood their pain, because he had to live with the same logistical constraints. There would be no respite after they departed the Harkensen System. They would navigate towards the frontier and cross the invisible dividing line that marked the end of civilized space.

They would find no succor in the untamed stars that lay beyond. Pirates, sandmen and other threats made their home there. What space stations existed there were ramshackle constructions that provided inferior services to the worst examples of mankind. The Swordmaidens may be welcome in such pirate ports, but the Vandals would be greeted as enemies.

No matter how many people referred to them as pirates, the truth was that they were firmly fighting on behalf of a state. They did so openly and took up the mantle of responsibility, however threadbare it appeared.

This mantle was an anathema to pirates and every other kind of scum in the frontier. No matter where they traveled, every frontiersmen would regard them at interlopers as best, and mortal enemies as worst.

This was also why the alliance with Lydia's Swordmaidens was so crucial to the Vandals. They were intrinsically part of the frontier and knew all of the major players. Their connections with the pirates and other organizations that made themselves home at this chaotic region of space would save them a lot of grief.

"They say that a delegation of Lydia's Swordmaidens are on their way to our ship soon." Avanaeon remarked. "Half of my men are drooling at the sight. The recordings some of us managed to obtain from the galactic net sure makes them out as.. Exotic."

Ves had glanced at the same images. "They look tribal. As if humanity has regressed by a dozen ages. They sure like to show off their martial prowess."

Their clothing revealed much about their culture. It was undeniably based around personal strength. Commander Lydia stood at the top, while the ranks further down were based on which Swordmaiden had the biggest fist.

Such a crude method of determining their hierarchy worked up to a point. If the Swordmaidens consisted more than several thousand women, then the limitations of this method became increasingly apparent.

Not that it mattered. The Swordmaidens seem content at their current numbers.

"By the way, Larkinson, I appreciate the social call, but you didn't drop by just to chat, right? I know you. If you aren't working, you're doing something that's related to your work. You have to learn to ease up, man."

Ves chuckled a bit. This wasn't the first time someone accused him of being a workaholic. "I'm hardly the mech designer you are making me out for. Don't I join your little game sessions every once in a while?"

"That doesn't count. We all know you're only present because you can squeeze some secrets out of us. We don't mind, of course. We do the same to you."

"Hey, it's not all about that. I'm having fun as well with the game. Pirate Empires has taught me a lot."

Even though it was just a silly game, it had given him a taste of what every kind of outfit had to struggle with.

Pirate groups needed to keep themselves afloat at the edge of civilization.

Treasure hunters dug up at least nine duds before they came across something good enough to pay off their debts.

Mercenary corps had to deal with the fickleness of the battlefield, sometimes choosing to abandon the mission despite receiving a black mark on their record.

Rebel movements only grew when a state was in discord. If the government was too competent in ruling over their territory, then the rebels had no choice but to inflict their own brand of terror.

"A game is just a game. It's not an accurate reflection of reality." Avanaeon stated. "Look at Lydia's Swordmaidens for example. Even though they look like a bunch of pirates gone native, it takes a lot of talent to grow them to their current heights. Commander Lydia is not a simple person."

Ves nodded in agreement. Someone who survived and thrived in the frontier for decades had to be exceptionally savvy. "That reminds me, I need your assistance in a number of side projects of mine. Have you heard about the upgraded sensor arrays I've installed in some of the Inheritor mechs?"

"Yup. Impressive work, from what I heard. It's amazing that you managed to design this module that's completely compatible with the Inheritor model. Others need at least a week to come up with a viable prototype."

"I'm used to working in a hurry, and the sensor arrays aren't exactly my best work. I'll have to tweak their design and optimize them so they'll be able to last longer than a couple of weeks. However, that's something I'll take care of myself. What I want you to do is to install similar sensor arrays across the hull of our ships. The more, the better."

"That isn't something I can decide on my own." Avanaeon frowned. "I heard they're fragile and cost a lot. They only work against some categories of stealth technology and they're practically sending out a beacon in space when they are active."

Ves dismissively waved his hand. "Those drawbacks are trivial compared to what we get in return. Sure, the sensor arrays can't counteract every application of stealth, but we are at the furthest reaches of the galactic rim. We're one step away from the frontier. I doubt we'll encounter anything beyond the rudimentary level."

"Even so, installing even one of them on the hulls of our combat carriers will require Captain Rakeshir's agreement. The issue can't be brought up likely."

"Well, just remember the time we got screwed by the Frosty Meteors, and think of what the Masters of Combat might have pulled off as well. Stealth technology is much more ubiquitous than we think, and I can't rest easily unless our ships gain some new eyes."

"I'll do my best on this matter, but Captain Rakeshir and Major Verle have the final word."

"I understand."

The reason why Ves was adamant about this issue was because he ran through the logs of the sensor arrays after the battle was over. While they managed to pick up the stealth shuttles from a couple of hundred kilometers away, the sensor arrays also picked up another, fainter presence.

This one was hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. While this distance was far enough to pose no threat to him, the fact that something else was hiding near the battlefield deeply unsettled him. Was it something from the Masters of Combat? A scouting craft dispatched by the Reinaldans? Or maybe something connected to Calabast?

Whatever the case, the presence had only been there for a moment before it started to move out of range of active sensors. Ves had the feeling they might be stalked by this hidden craft even now.

"What other projects do you want to collaborate with?" Avanaeon pressed when he noticed Ves trailing off.

"Ah, this one's more difficult. I heard the salvage teams managed to recover reasonably intact fragments of the remains of the stealth shuttles."

"That's true. We've dumped them into a pile down in the cargo hold for now. Slagged or not, there are some people who will pay a lot of money for scrap like those. You can use them to calibrate your stealth detection systems. Do you need some?"

"I need more than a couple of scraps. I've been down there and I think we've collected enough fragments to reconstruct a functional stealth shuttle."

"What?!" The engineer became surprised. "You want to cobble together a working stealth shuttle? Are you out of your mind?! Do you understand the technical challenges of doing so? It's one thing to assemble a shuttle out of a stack of pristine parts. It's another matter entirely when you think we only managed to recover a pile of broken parts, many of which are only good for recycling."

"Come on. Think about what we can do with a working stealth shuttle. The frontier is a dangerous place. The option to sneak past a well-guarded perimeter instead of attacking it head-on should be a boon that can save a lot of lives. While I have confidence in my skills, I'm not a specialist in shuttle designs. I need someone who knows their way around this craft."

"It's a pipe dream, Larkinson. The fragments are too sporadic. Even if our boys managed to crumple seven shuttles at once, there's really too few pieces left."

"We don't need to reconstruct the original shuttle. The internal structure can be whatever we want. The key is to figure out the principles behind its stealth system and to replicate a passable imitation of its stealth plating. In other words, I'm not aiming to rebuild a stealth shuttle, but rather create a new one entirely."

The project intrigued the chief engineer. He started to get around to the idea. "I don't have the time to help you out. I'm already swamped with overseeing the repairs to the armor belt of the Shield. Still, I'll drop by when my shift is over."

"That's good enough. I hope we can complete our shuttle in time."

Ves left the engineering bay with a smile. With the chief engineer in his pocket, he had no doubt this project would succeed. While it was true that he wanted to create a stealth shuttle in order to strengthen the Vandals, the true reason for this sudden drive was to develop his own understanding of modern stealth technology.

"If the central database won't let me study stealth technology, then I'll just have to perform my own research."