The Mech Touch Chapter 734
732 Faded Starligh
On their emergence into a nameless binary brown dwarf system, the long-ranged sensors of the fleet lit up!
"Sir, our sensors have detected artificial mass signatures half an AU from our position!"
"Identify the signatures!"
It took some time for the sensors to resolve what they picked up. The longer it took, the more the Vandals relaxed a bit, because active threats usually radiated more heat and signals and therefore showed up clearer on the sensors than dead objects.
"It's a debris field, sir! Around eight shipwrecks have been identified, of which at least half are light carriers or equivalent. An unknown number of mech wrecks surround the foundered ships."
While the Vandals and the Swordmaidens remained vigilant, they largely failed to pick up any active ships or mechs. Whoever left these wrecks might have already departed the binary star system.
More details poured in as the Flagrant Swordmaidens cautiously approached the debris field in order to investigate its circumstances.
The sensor officer passed on more and more pertinent information. "The residual heat and energy radiating from the shipwrecks indicate that they were set upon less than a week ago, no more than three days from our arrival!"Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
That was close!
Everyone thought the same thing. Nobody really had a reason to dive into the deep frontier. Those who dared to trespass sandmen space were either extremely daring treasure hunters or sought another goal entirely.
Even then, space was big, so big that treasure hunters could be anywhere. To coincidentally stumble upon a recently created debris field with signs that the victors made it out a couple of days earlier suggested that the Flagrant Swordmaidens stumbled upon their rivals!
"It's not a coincidence." Ketis quietly whispered to Ves through her open helmet. "Only a small number of crazy treasure hunters ever have a reason to explore the deep frontier. Even then, they always go by lone ships instead of a fleet with a train of cargo haulers or transports."
In other words, the true daredevils tried to keep their ventures into the deep frontier as swift as possible and avoided burdens whenever they could.
Bringing along a couple of slow, fat and happy cargo haulers did not make for a sneaky fleet composition that could escape at the drop of a hat. The cheap, inferior FTL drives typically built into the engineering bays of cargo haulers generally took an extremely long time to cycle.
While a combat carrier could finish cycling their FTL drives in four hours or so if their engineers were good, a cargo hauler mostly took at least two hours more. The older and more aged the vessel, the more worn out its FTL drive became and the longer it took to finish a cycling process after transitioning back to realspace.
Even corvettes, generally regarded as the fastest proper starship class available on the market, brushed up against a hard limit of around three hours to complete its cycling process.
Therefore, bringing along a supply train of logistics and cargo ships was like shackling a fleet with a ball and chain. It slowed their entire progress down to a ponderous walk forward.
Nonetheless, larger fleets couldn't do without a supply train. Combat-oriented vessels such as combat carriers, light carriers and converted carriers devoted most of their internal volume to stashing mechs. On top of that, they needed to devote more space to essentials such as workshops, tools, spare parts and spare materials. Even then, the carriers couldn't carry a sufficient amount of supplies to keep the mechs in good condition for more than a month or two under normal use.
Therefore, a big force almost always carried along a necessary train of ships dedicated to resource processing, fabrication and storage.
In the worst case scenario, a combat fleet could always cut off their tail and run away by abandoning the slow and useless logistics ships.
However, the peculiar part about the debris field they detected was that it consisted of an even mix of combat and non-combat vessels. If all of the wrecked ships belong to the losing side, this meant that they never had the opportunity to flee.
The attackers ambushed the losing side when they least expected it! The battle occurred far too suddenly for the weaker side to split up!
Eventually, the fleet came close enough to pick up weak signals.
"We're detecting hundreds of faint signals, sir." The sensor officer said. "They are all spread out over the debris field. Many of them have drifted further and further from the center of the field."
"Have you identified the nature of the signals?" Major Verle asked, though from his tone he already suspected what they might be.
"The stronger signals predominately come from escape pods or ejected cockpits, while the weaker ones are likely broadcasted from vacuum-sealed hazard suits, vacsuits or suits of combat armor."
"The emergency broadcast signals always include whether the occupant of their vehicle or suit is dead or alive." Major Verle noted. "How many of those signals still claim that their occupants are alive?"
"No more than a dozen, sir."
"That's not a lot."
"Sir, I cannot explain why that is so. We need to employ our near-range sensors to obtain the necessary amount of resolution to resolve what has happened to the suits and escape pods. Right now, our primary optical sensors are being massively hindered by the fact the binary dwarf stars in this star system are some of the faintest we've ever encountered."
Optical sensors worked best at resolving detail at great distances, but they depended heavily on the amount of light being shone on the objects they observed. In weaker star systems, the effectiveness of their optical sensors degraded to the extent that they were pretty much flying blind in space!
"Have we received any transponder signals? Have we already deduced the identity of this fallen fleet?"
"According to the signals transmitted by the transceivers or transponders from the surviving craft or suits… they claim to be part of Chopra Interstellar Security, a large mercenary corps based out of Bentheim!"
That caused a huge wave of shock among the officers and operators in the command center. Bentheim! If the emergency transmissions weren't lying in order to obtain their sympathy, then they may have stumbled upon foundered citizens from their own state!
"How can there be Brighters all the way out here?!" Someone couldn't help but hiss nearby.
"Idiot! What else is there? These guys have also been tasked with finding the Starlight Megalodon!"
"Then how did they got intercepted right before they reached their goal?"
"Beats me. We'll find out later if there are any survivors left to interrogate."
Once the surprise died down, Major Verle remained silent and pensive as a number of considerations flitted through his mind. Eventually, he came to a decision.
"Please make haste towards the debris field. We Vandals have a duty to safeguard the lives of every citizen of the Bright Republic, no matter where we may appear! Let it not be said that we are callous towards our fellow enlightened brothers and sisters!"
That caused everyone to feel relieved. For a minute, some of them believed that Major Verle would instead choose to prioritize the mission.
Ves knew why Major Verle decided to direct the Vandals to go out of the way to rescue their fellow Brighters. Besides lifting the morale of his own subordinates, he likely wanted to hear the stories of the Choprans in person.
No mercenary corps randomly stumbled all the way out to the deep frontier for a pirate hunting mission or something.
Even with two stars in the same star system, the dim light emitted from both brown dwarfs simply made it hard for everyone to do their jobs. Ves in particular had nothing to work with because with the optical sensors down, he needed to rely on alternative sensors to identify the mech wrecks strewn about along the debris field.
The sharpest sensors he had access to told him nothing more than the approximate mass of each object. That only enabled him to classify the wrecks by weight class, nothing else.
"This is really pointless." He sighed when he stared at his projected control panel and how little details it displayed. "I could have spent hours tinkering on my side project, but because the alert is still active we're forced to stay at our posts."
Ketis on the other hand entertained herself when Ves assigned her to read up the limited amount of intelligence the local database contained about the mercenaries.
"Hey teacher! These Choprans are really good at their job. They started just thirty years ago when a band of discharged veterans from your Mech Corps pooled their savings together to lease a couple of cheap mechs and a ramshackle converted carrier. They immediately started taking small-time contracts, completing them one after another until they slowly spent their earnings back into expanding their mechs and their roster. This went on for three straight decades until they grew to the point where they fielded a hundred-and-twenty mechs!"
It sounded like a typical rags-to-riches story to Ves, though Mech Corps veterans had a tendency to be successful in their transition to a private sector career as long as they remained physically fit.
"There's two details that stand out from that summary." He said. "First, inspect their mission records. Have they ever failed a contracted?"
Ketis peered through the abbreviated record. "This record isn't very detailed, but it doesn't state anything about outright failures. It did say that the Choprans fell short of fulfilling the terms of their contract, though. The partial failures weren't enough to earn them any red marks from the Mercenary Association."
"That's impossible! There's no way a mercenary corps that has operated longer than I've been alive can maintain a near-perfect mission record! Look at the issuers of the missions. Are the Choprans working for the same employers?"
"Uhmm… I don't see anything except a whole bunch of boring corporate names. There's rarely any duplicates either. They always accept a contract from a different company after they are done with the last one."
"Hmm.." Ves tapped his lips with his finger. "The fact that they have traveled all the way up to this star system in the deep frontier practically screams to me that they owe their success to their backers. Hmm, does it state which bank or financial institution facilitated their initial loans and leases?"
"According to the record, it's some bank based in Bentheim called the Yellow Fox Bank."
"That's probably the arm of their backers, but I'm not too sure. Take note of it anyway."
Yellow Fox Bank. He'd remember that.
It was too bad the local database didn't offer anything more than a stub when he searched for it. He needed to access the galactic net to obtain more information, but in this exceedingly sensitive time with the entire fleet at high alert, Ves would never be able to obtain permission from Major Verle to establish an outside connection for information gathering purposes.
As the Flagrant Swordmaidens drew closer, the lack of any open threats pushed them into a more vigilant stance. What if enemy mechs hid amid the debris? What if they coasted towards them on a ballistic trajectory, pretending to be loosely-spinning chunks of slag? What if some mechs under stealth attempted to creep up to them at this very moment?
Therefore, the Vandals intensified their patrols, not even hesitating to put up half of their available spaceborn assets into orbit around their ships. Inheritors augmented with stealth detection arrays continuously scanned each possible angle of approach.
Nothing turned up. The battlefield seemed eerily quiet and absent of any activate threat. Not even mines or boobytraps made a surprise appearance.
They found nothing but broken ships, broken mechs and maybe broken dreams. The frontier had a way of chewing out everyone who entered it like an endless abyss.
As much as roaming the frontier sounded like a risky prospect where catastrophe lurked in every corner, Ves began to enjoy it actually.
While most of the Vandals aboard the Shield of Hispania started to behave jumpy and apprehensive, Ves acted more like Ketis, who treated this foray into the deep frontier as nothing more than an interesting vacation.
The frontier was exceedingly dangerous. Ves couldn't deny this fact. Yet he felt liberated by the absence of structure and law. He could do almost anything he wanted without repercussions. The only requirement one needed to possess in order to survive out here was to be strong.
Ves couldn't help but be attracted to such a harsh but self-sufficient philosophy.