The Mech Touch Chapter 736
734 Cowardice Is A Virtue
Eric Kichiro's eyes visibly contracted when Ves mentioned the NIN.
A haunted man always became frightened when their ghosts came back to torment them. While Ves didn't wish to open up old wounds, he needed to hear the whole story from the mech designer.
"The NIN, Mr. Larkinson?"
"Call me Ves."
"You are kind of young, now that I think about it. How come you're the head designer? Did the other guy lost his head or something?"
"...Something like that." Ves grimaced. "Please answer the question. This isn't about me right now."
"Ah, my apologies Ves.." Eric looked a little uncertain towards Ves. A head designer should at least be a Journeyman, but the older man sensed the vibe of an Apprentice instead. It confused him a bit. "Well, you'd probably hear this from every Chopran you pick up from the battlefield, but the NIN are extremely unpleasant to be around."
"The NIN.. well.. they fulfill almost every stereotype of a pirate you can imagine. They're almost universally poorly educated and exhibit bad hygiene, no forethought and a violent disposition. Chopra should have never gone to bed with these ill-kempt brutes and thugs!"
"Then why did you Choprans ally yourself with these pirates in the first place?"
"..I don't know." Eric shrugged. "The bosses of the corps all announced their decision one day. It's not like the rank-and-file or someone from support like me have a say in the decision making."
"There must have been rumors. Suspicions. Whispers. Did someone else put the Choprans up to this marriage?"
Eric's eyes suddenly grew sharper. He kept his mouth shut, as if he was aware that he faced an interrogation.
After Ves stared back for a while, he understood that Eric didn't wish to snitch on his employers. Ves would leave this line of questioning to professionals, though they likely already pulled the answers from someone else's mouth.
"Okay, let me ask something different, then. From what I've gathered, the NIN is an independent pirate gang. Are you sure they aren't a part of one of the two major pirate blocs in this region?"
"I don't think so." Eric shook his head. "I don't hear a lot of things, but I never heard of the NIN cooperating with anybody. If you see them for yourselves, you'll know why. I think they're the cockroaches of among the pirates. They're numerous but filthy and individually weak."
"Does the Dragon Alliance or the Ravienne Alliance ring a bell to you?"
"Tell me about the attack itself. How have the NIN been able to jump on your forces?"
"We were careless." Eric let out a deep breath. "When we initially banded together with the NIN, we didn't get along at all. They're thugs more than anything. We Choprans pride ourselves on our professionalism, so a lot of the rank-and-file immediately began to protest to the brass. We hated the NIN and didn't want to do anything with them. I think many of us had their fingers on the triggers."
"And then?" Ves prodded.
"Well, nothing happened. The brass insisted that we give the NIN a chance. We did. The friction hadn't gone down at all. Fights would break out whenever we gathered in the same place. Their joyriding mech pilots aggressively plunge their mechs close to ours when we are on patrols. All these incidents hammered home the fact that the NIN are a bunch of highly impulsive hooligans. Perhaps the only merit to them is that they know the lay of the land of the frontier really well. We never jumped to any dangerous star systems until we arrived here."
"If you Choprans continued to get along poorly with the NIN, how come you managed to restrain yourselves?"
"The mercenary corps is owned by the bosses." Eric declared. "They tell us what to do and we have no choice but to follow orders. They're not exactly keen on fostering initiative from the lower ranks. We had all been accustomed to gritting our teeth and following orders we don't like. Trying to make peace with the NIN is just another bad order to add to the pile."
"Seems like this bad order should have received a lot more scrutiny."
"Oh, many of us did in fact continue to put up our guard against the NIN. We've traveled together for months without a major incident blowing up in our faces, and while some of us started to let them their guard, a large minority never really became convinced of their docility."
"If a large part of you Choprans remained suspicious, how come you lost the battle so totally and completely?"
"The NIN outnumber us. It's as simple as that. None of their mechs and ships are worth a damn. The best of their machines are at least second-hand castoffs, and the worst are third-hand junk scavengers have salvaged, patched up and sold to the NIN for a pittance. The only advantage that they have is that they outnumbered us more than three-to-one. None of us thought that was a huge issue, though. They may have the numbers, but we have the quality. I should know since I inspected each and every mech in our lineup."
Ves requested some of the details on the mechs. According to Eric, the Choprans mostly fielded mechs in the 20 million bright credit range, while the NIN overwhelmingly fielded mechs in the 4 million credit range.
Therefore, the total worth of the Chopra fleet should have surpassed the total worth of the NIN fleet.
Yet the force that fielded vastly more mechs won the battle in a landslide.
"A large reason why we fell so early is because the NIN ambushed us out of the blue. While we kept our fleets separated at what we thought was a healthy distance, the NIN mostly fielded spaceborn frontline mechs armed with laser barrels. Laser weapons are a lot more forgiving at longer ranges than weapons that employ physical projectiles. Even though our mechs followed a routine evasion pattern when on patrol, the NIN must have spent hours deciphering their movements and predicting where they should aim. Halfway through the cycling processes of our FTL drives, the pirates struck."
The initial volley hit over half of the Chopran mechs on the field. Most of them got hit so many times by laser beams that they all suffered some debilitating damage. Subsequent hits quickly finished them off.
Upon this sudden ambush, the Choprans failed to respond fast enough to defend themselves. With half of their patrol mechs going down in quick succession, the other half belatedly tried to organize themselves.
It didn't help that the NIN deliberately aimed most of their laser weapons at the officers of the mercenary corps!
"Mechs in reserve on our carriers sortied out as fast as they could, but the NIN mechs quickly turned their firepower towards our ships. They're light carriers. They're large and purpose-built to transport mechs, but they were never meant to withstand the combined firepower of over a hundred frontline mechs! Our ships succumbed one by one before we could push out the rest of our reserves from the hangar bays!"
Ves sympathized with their fate. Despite the vigilance of their rank-and-file, much of the Choprans simply became used to the antics of the NIN. They became used to traveling alongside the ill-behaved pirates and therefore became less psychologically prepared to respond to a possible betrayal.
None of the lower ranks deserved any blame. Whether they eyed the NIN with caution or not, they had to follow the instructions from the top. The only thing Ves couldn't figure out was why the leaders were so blind to the possible dangers.
"Who leads Chopra?"
"The mech officers, mostly." Eric replied. "Chopra is run by a council of them that included descendants of the original founders as well. The council takes a long time to agree on anything, and what they do decide is usually the most careful decision out of their range of choices."
Basically, while the top officers wielded a lot of power, their subordinates had no say in the running of the mercenary corps. Such a top-down management style echoed the way the military liked to run their units.Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
The difference was that each military unit was part of a larger unit. They also benefited from a range of advisory and support services.
A private sector outfit on the other hand mostly had to make do with their own strength and capabilities. Perhaps they deserved to be proud of their military strength, but what about vital services such as intelligence gathering or technical support?
It was obvious that Chopra Interstellar Security devoted insufficient resources into a proper intelligence gathering network that could have sniffed out the NIN's impending betrayal.
Ves knew that a mercenary corps often compensated for the lack of these services by relying on the varied talents of their lower ranks. Each of them were intelligent beings in their own right. Granting them a bit of autonomy and say in the mercenary corps allowed them to contribute their other talents to their cause.
Though running a mercenary corps with a bottom-up or grassroots approach risked a lot of chaos or indecision, most independent corps actually ran in this matter. Every upstanding mercenary felt appreciated because their opinions mattered.
It sounded like Chopra could have dearly benefited from listening to their lower ranks instead of the higher officers who isolated themselves in their ivory towers.
"Have the NIN ever hinted or revealed why they might set upon you Choprans?" Ves asked. "It's rather incomprehensible for your erstwhile allies to turn against you before you reached your destination. I mean, the only reason for a mercenary corps and a pirate gang to band together would be to pool your strengths."
In the case of the Flagrant Swordmaidens, the Vandals provided the muscle while the Swordmaidens lent their familiarity to the frontier. Both of them couldn't do without the other, so they had a comfortable basis of cooperation that neither side wanted to ruin.
Ves surmised that the partnership between Chopra and the NIN lacked such a mutual recognition. Obviously, the NIN decided they wouldn't be much worse off if they dumped the Choprans.
"The NIN never really liked us. Each time we gather together, they make their disdain for us very clear. They all think we're too stuck-up and rigid for their tastes." Eric answered, thereby confirming some of what Ves had come up with. "Our bosses kept insisting to give the NIN a break, that they can't help their own boorishness. We.. never managed to do so. As mercenaries, we've gone on a lot of missions that compel us to fight against pirates. None of us have ever met a decent pirate in our lives, so you can imagine how awful it was for us to try to get along with some of the worst examples of pirates in the galaxy."
The two chatted a bit more about the pirates. Eric helpfully supplied Ves with an analysis of the frontline mechs utilized by the NIN in their devastating surprise attack.
The information wasn't very helpful, though. The mechs the NIN employed were so cheap and simple that they contained no depth at all. Their designs possessed little ingenuity and even less imagination, and they carried no other special features than the bare minimum of what a mech ought to possess.
"That's frontline mechs for you." Eric muttered with the sage of a mech designer who managed to survive the previous war. "The NIN may be bastards, but they're very cunning and effective when it matters. They unleashed their ambush in almost perfect coordination with no inherent confusion or hesitation at all. That tells me that they're being led by a strong leader. It takes a lot of leadership ability to wrangle this horde of wild animals."
Besides this detail, Eric didn't have a lot to say about the NIN. At some point, Ves decided he heard enough. Even as a mech designer, his status with the mercenary corps was equivalent to a chief technician. The real decision makers at Chopra never pulled him into any of their discussions.
As Ves was about to leave, he asked one more question. "Do you wish to pass along anything else to us?"
The Chopran mech designer sat up straighter in his chair. Yeah. I've got some advice for you, Ves. Take it as a friendly tip from one fellow mech designer to another."
"Let me hear it, then."
"If you ever find yourself in a situation like mine, don't trust anybody. Just run. The earlier you bail out, the greater the chance you escape the net that is closing in on your allies. It is a mech pilot's duty to fight to the death, but it is a mech designer's duty to save their own hide! Cowardice is a virtue for our profession! As non-combatants, we have no role on the battlefield!"
Ves almost gaped. He didn't know what to say about that.
"Okay. I'll take that into account. Good day, sir."