The Mech Touch Chapter 687
686 Processing Service
Ves realized that Ketis spent most of her time in his office when she first boarded the Shield of Hispania. He hadn't taken her down the workshops and the hangar bays even once. Due to that, her true opinion on mech technicians never had the chance to come up. Ves simply took for granted that the Swordmaidens ran their maintenance departments like every other outfit he had seen.
He should have known better. The frontier lived in primitive times. Humans living in the Faris Star Region devolved into simpler, brutal means of survival.
Whispers of slavery always surrounded the frontier. Ves didn't expect for it to hit closer to home.
Even Walter's Whalers, the presiding gang on Cloudy Curtain, didn't treat their mech technicians that badly!
"You know what's needed to protect yourself in the frontier?" She said with an indignant tone. She perceived his judgemental thoughts and felt challenged at his disapproving gaze. "Strength! The power to fight! Without strength, how can you defend yourself against the sandmen and the other scum that roam around the stars? The only people of value in the frontier are those who can stand up for themselves and fight."
"And those who can't? The mech designers? The mech technicians? The ship crew? Average people?"
Ketis sneered contemptuously at the mention of noncombatants. "Those who can fight reign over those who can't. The mech pilots rule at the top. The ones who can fight with a gun or sword in their hands are counted among the middle rung of the ladder. Those who can't fight but master rare and valued abilities such as being able to design a mech or command a ship sit right below the warriors. As for those with lesser ability or no ability at all, they're the dregs of the frontier."
"So let me get this right." He said, trying to parse through her words. "The mech pilots belong to the privileged class, the other warriors belong to the fighting class, the mech designers and ship captains belong to the lower class, and the people of lesser skill comprise of the underclass?"
"That's what I said, though I never heard it put in that way."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click for visiting.
"This is too extreme!"
Even in civilized space, plenty of people whose fighting abilities were bad earned an incredible amount of respect. From statesmen to business tycoons to scientists to artists and more, human society exhibited a broad spectrum of talent and skill that elevated them to the top.
However, according to Ketis, someone as respected as a medical doctor could barely be counted as a low-class laborer from the impoverished working-class city of Haston in Bentheim!
Instead, the ill-bred thugs and gang members that terrorized the streets and caused a lot of trouble ranked higher than these respected doctors and scientists, just because they could shoot a gun or throw a fist!
This was madness!
Ves voiced his thoughts. "How you pirates stay aloft when you treat your doctors, your technicians, your farmer, your miners and other essential vocations like dirt?"
"You think that because someone is good at something, they automatically deserve respect?" Ketis sneered at his naivete. "Teacher, without the ability to protect yourself and fight on behalf of yourself and your mates, all your smarts and abilities won't save you from a laser beam burning your precious brain to ash. Everything you build or obtain rests on the condition that you can defend your stuff! What is the use of becoming the best mech designer in the galaxy when any group of pirates can easily point his gun at you and force you to work for their outfit?"
He paused for a bit as he became affected by the sheer amount of conviction in her voice. She wasn't being wordy for a random reason. She truly believed in this spiel the frontier had ingrained into her from birth!
"...Is this why you keep up your sword practice so diligently? You value your status of being among the fighting class more than the wonders and mystery of working as a mech designer?"
"Mech designers are cowards who can't be bothered to fight their own battles." She summed up her true thoughts about her vocation in the bluntest fashion possible. "The only reason they aren't dumped with the other mech technicians in the so-called underclass you named is because the good ones help the privileged class of mech pilots fight better."
"And the rest? The lesser skilled mech designers? The mech technicians?"
"We don't have a lot of those in the frontier. Everyone in the settlements who grows up either inherits the work of their parents or gets picked up by a pirate crew. We don't have your schools or workplaces where mech technicians or ship engineers or any of those other difficult jobs can be raised. The only way to get them is to rob them from others that do have these people."
Ves should have anticipated such a custom. He had already heard of the harsh conditions at the frontier before, of how it was sparsely populated, of how the settlements couldn't sustain the technology level of modern humanity, of how schools were virtually non-existent.
If he took some time to connect the dots, then he should have figured out how the pirates truly kept their ships, mechs, space stations and other gear and industry running. No matter how well a pirate could fight, their lethality didn't avail themselves when it was time to repair a broken FTL drive.
Still, to treat the people who fixed up their mechs, ships, weapons and other gear like slaves was a step too far to Ves. He couldn't even imagine how the pirates managed to survive when they became completely dependent on their slaves to run their most essential gear. Weren't they afraid of betrayal?
He forcefully calmed himself down. Blowing up at Ketis benefited nobody and would only worsen their relationship. Right now, he lacked too much data to come to a decision.
"Describe the slaves aboard your Swordmaiden ships, please."
"What can I say?" She whimsically twirled her short locks of green hair. "We Swordmaidens are great fighters, but we simply can't find enough women to work as ship ratings or mech technicians. Every other pirate gang including the big two pirate blocs are scrambling for men to fill up those positions as well, so we're hardly unique at that. The only way to get them is by plundering the treasure hunting fleets who never stop coming to our region of space. Some pirates don't have much luck with that, so they cross over to civilized space and assault some lightly defended space station or isolated colony for slaves."
"How are you able to make them stay obedient? It's a simple matter for any mech technician or rating to sabotage the machines they are working with. One misplaced component, one weakened support structure, a few substances in the fuel tank where there ought to be none, and everything quickly comes crashing down."
"That's the easiest part." Ketis grinned. "You just have to teach them a lesson to know who's boss. Back at the Swordmaidens, Lydia only lets us take men whenever we need to top off our support crew. When we first capture them, we beat them up and threaten them a few times. Most quickly understand the new score, but some need firmer handling. In any case, as long as we have some Swordmaidens overseeing our slaves, we can stop most of their attempts at cooking something up."
"That doesn't solve the problem of obedience. You can beat a man down, but you can't extinguish his desire to be free."
His Brighter background came to the fore when he spoke those words. Slavery was one of the big taboos of the Big Two, but the Bright Republic valued freedom more fervently than other states.
"Oh, we have plenty of tricks to account for that in the frontier. Whenever we capture a large batch of slaves, we head over to a space station belonging to the Dragon Alliance. The Dragons of the Void offers us a service where we hand over our slaves for processing."
"What does this processing entail?"
"Heck if I know. The Dragons of the Void messes with their heads somehow. They're always the best at this kind of stuff. After they're done with the slaves, they give them back to us after paying some K-coins for the service. Now, our captives have become proper, obedient if somewhat dull little slaves. We don't have to worry about any antics from our new toys after they go through processing."
The Dragons of the Void. One of the biggest two pirate organizations in the Faris Star Region, and an old enemy of Ves. Their tentacles reached wider than he thought.
Ves closed his eyes and practically pressed his eyelids into his cheeks. Bursts of anger, frustration and resignation flitted through his mind. He pushed them aside in favor of cold, hard practicality.
Right now, he needed to be rational.
"How are the.. Processed men aboard your ship working out for the Swordmaidens?"
"As I've said, they're stupid, dimwitted and lacking in imagination. The only merit to them is that they are human enough to make sense of our command, and they have kept most of their old skills and knowledge. They're barely better than bots in that sense. At least they cry out nicely when you kick them around. Bots don't make those satisfying screams of pain when you smack them up."
Ves tried to imagine the life of a man within the Swordmaidens. Stripped of his free will, brainwashed into obeying the Swordmaidens as if they were goddesses, worked to the bone and for the rest of their lives, what difference was there between death and slavery?
At least Ketis never showed too much contempt at him for being a man. Considering that most pirates in the frontier consisted of men, she knew better than to belittle the masculine side of humanity.
Still, this whole custom revealed one massive vulnerability. One that was great enough to jeopardize their entire mission!
"How many slaves are among your fleet?"
"I don't know. We never keep count of numbers like that. To my guess, it's easily a thousand or more men. Our fleet is smaller than yours and Mayra told me that processing the slaves and whipping them into shape to perform their new duties costs a lot of time and money, so we don't go overboard like the Dragons of the Void."
"Don't you think you are inviting a hidden danger in your outfit by relying on slaves processed by the Dragons of the Void?" Ves pointedly asked. "From what I've been told, the Dragons aren't the friendliest or the most reliable bunch."
"Oh, we know." She nonchalantly shrugged before she grinned like a predator. "That's why we tend to stay far away from their territory once we're done. This is a non-issue. Thousands of pirates have made use of their processing service and not once have we heard of a slave revolt. Besides, if something like that did happen, you have to remember they're mostly weaklings who don't even have the strength to rustle up a single chicken. We can chop them all up within an hour if necessary."
"What if they keep their revolt quiet? What if instead of taking up arms they sabotage your mechs, ships and other stuff? Their ship engineers could easily induce a power reactor to blow, or destroy an FTL drive during transit. How can you prevent such instances?"
"As I said, we're not stupid enough to let the slaves work out of our sight. We've stationed Swordmaidens in each compartment they work at, and we do have some smarter Swordmaidens like me who followed some courses or received some tutoring to know what's going on. As far as I know, almost every other pirate gang run their slaves along the same line."
"And the Ravienne Alliance?" Ves mentioned the other pirate bloc. "I've never heard any mention of brainwashing from their organizations. How do they keep their slaves in line?"
"Oh, that's simple. They do some other freaky stuff. It depends on the outfit, really. The most popular methods I've heard are genetically modifying them into ugly abominations to implanting bombs in their brains that automatically detonate once they run out of the range of their assigned ship."
The way these pirates treated their support personnel was abysmal and prone to catastrophe, but somehow they made it work. Ves heard so many surprises today that he simply didn't know how to respond to this all.
"You pirates live in a messed up society."