The Mech Touch Chapter 773

771 Born To Lead

Major Verle and Ves moved quietly through the corridor. Owing to the mech officer's rank, all of the Vandals passing through the corridors all acknowledged the major in some manner.

Ves studied the minor rituals from the side. Each Vandal, no matter how crisp or sloppy they behaved, expressed their respect to Major Verle in some manner. The man had earned their genuine respect.

Yet did all of his efforts mean nothing compared to the prestige of an expert pilot?

Neither of them knew quite what to make of the last battle. While they survived against a sandman onslaught at close range with fairly light casualties, Venerable Xie threw his Parallax Star under an unnecessary amount of risk.

Right now, the Flagrant Swordmaidens began to process the aftermath of the battle. Some mechs managed to get eaten by the sandmen, but most managed to survive by staying out of melee range.

The only downside was that arming so many mechs with spare ballistic rifles expended huge amounts of ammunition. Their logistics ships already started churning out more shells and kinetic projectiles to make up for the unexpected shortfall.

If they met the sandmen once, they might very well encounter them again! Ves didn't think it was a coincidence that the sandmen managed to intercept them in the middle of interplanetary space. The odds of bumping into each other when visibility was down to a hundred kilometers was too miniscule to count.

The sandmen must have possessed some other means of detecting a fleet at longer ranges!

"Mr. Larkinson."

"Yes, sir?"

"What do you think about the sandmen presence in the Aeon Corona System?" The major idly asked. As they walked through the passageways, they obviously couldn't discuss anything sensitive.

"I'm not an exobiologist or an astrophysicist, sir." Ves immediately responded with a disclaimer. "That said, in my inexpert opinion, we are knee-deep inside the core territory of the sandmen empire. They must have lived beside the Aeon Corona System for decades probably. I think that even if the spacetime storm that surrounds the system manages to block a million attempts at forcing an entry, the sandmen may have succeeded on the millionth-and-first try through sheer luck. I think that's one of the ways in which they can force an entry without possessing a key."

"If that's true, the sandmen may have thrown away enough fleets to conquer the Komodo Star Sector and more. That's not the most efficient allocation of resources."

"That's why I don't take much stock in this theory, sir. Perhaps the sandmen have calculated a way to enter the system without being thrown off course. Perhaps they utilize a different means of FTL that doesn't subject them to the vagaries of gravitic turbulence. I don't know, though I think we should be prepared to face more sandmen as we get nearer to Aeon Corona VII. Something must have attracted them to this star system, and I think the planet and the Starlight Megalodon may seem attractive to the sandmen as well."

Just the endlessly renewable power reactor should be enough to make the sandmen ruling caste release their race's equivalent of drool, not to mention the other wondrous technologies the battleship may have utilized.

Verle grunted in a dissatisfied manner. "Our performance against a twelve-escort sandman fleet has been exceptionally poor. In your opinion, is our spaceborn mech roster adequately equipped to defend our fleet?"

Ves didn't know why the major asked such an open-ended question to him. "Sir, with regards to our mechs, they are more than adequate to repel a sandmen fleet of the same strength. The only reasons why we dropped the ball in the last battle was that despite our drills and contingency plans, no one really expected the sandmen to actually show up out of the blue. In addition, we haven't fully adjusted our strategy and tactics to cope with the properties of the astral winds. These strenuous environmental conditions massively favor the sandmen."

A twelve-escort sandmen fleet may be an absolute menace to the average pirate gang or mercenary corps, but the Flagrant Vandals could have easily chewed them if they encountered the aliens under normal circumstances.Find authorized novels in Webnovel,faster updates, better experience,Please click for visiting.

In regular spaceborn combat, the great distances involved usually gave a force plenty of warning once a sandman fleet moved to intercept them. This enabled the human defenders to make plenty of preparations and bombard the sandmen from a distance, chewing them up before they ever reached close enough to engulf the yummy ships and mechs!

All of this became impossible when their sensors could barely peer through the higher-dimensional particles. Like a mist or smokescreen engulfing a terrestrial battlefield, those who entered such a region devolved into savages.

"You are correct." Verle finally replied. "I have been hesitant in deploying our patrols further away from the main fleet in fear of losing touch of them, but it has become clear that such a cautious approach will only render us vulnerable to a repeat of the last battle. It is not your fault nor the fault of the mechs that we have been pushed to the brink of defeat. The way we employ our gear is more important than their properties."

"Major, if I may ask. Why are you telling me this?" Ves asked. "I'm not a Vandal nor a military officer."

The man smiled sardonically. "It is exactly because you're an outsider that I feel at ease with my rambles. You aren't restrained in expressing your opinions. Besides, I feel you are a man of ambition. As a leader in your own right in the civilian world, there is a kinship between you and me. You possess an awareness of matters that is far above the other Vandals. Do you think Captain Orfan is as contemplative and "

"Definitely not, sir." Ves immediately replied. He felt no compulsion in demonstrating his contempt to the female mech captain. "The good captain may be a great warrior, but she is not as attentive when it comes to her other responsibilities."

The mech officer snorted. "I know what you mean. However, the reality of running a large mech regiment that easily numbers in the tens of thousands is that there are way too many leadership positions but not enough talents to fill them up. Compromises have to be made."

The mech officer proceeded to ramble a bit about how to select good leaders and how to deal with an absence of capable leaders. Ves felt as if Major Verle wanted to vent but couldn't really let down his guard to anyone but him. He particularly took note of the use of the word kinship.

The Skull Architect once mentioned several times that they were kindred. For Major Verle to tie them together in a similar fashion with the word kinship meant that the man saw Ves as a person of the same vein.

Ves felt flattered, though he recognized that he would never have as good of a human touch as the likes of Major Verle or Chief Haine. His failure to integrate with the Flagrant Vandals and his preference for delegation showed that Ves naturally gravitated to a more imperious style of leadership.

The pair reached the shuttle bay before he could contemplate the matter further, and Ves threw the issue of leadership out of his mind for the moment. Right now, he looked forward to obtaining a close glimpse at the remains of a high-class sandman leader!

"Are you familiar with sandmen crystallizations, Mr. Larkinson?"

"I've studied the sandmen before, sir." Ves nodded. "The sandmen bodies consist of sandgrain-sized substances that are animated through an energy construct that is either the source or an effect of their consciousness. When an individual sandman dies, the energy construct disappears but their physical bodies remain. The lowest caste of sandmen often utilize literal grains of sand, hence their name, but the higher castes adopt higher-quality materials as their base. Their leaders often blend a variety of precious exotics into a single solid crystal."

"Correct. These crystallized remains are the only objects of value that we can retrieve from a sandman force. Most of the time, the earnings from selling them won't compensate for the losses incurred by fighting the sandmen. Fighting them is a thankless job."

The two finally reached the shuttle that had recently gone out to pick up the sandman admiral's crystallization. Two security officers escorted a pair of exobiologists followed by a floating protective case. The transparent sides of the case showed off a small, finger-sized crystal shaded in red.

This tiny crystal used to be the center of a governing intelligence of a spaceborn sandman fleet! Ves stared at the strangely reflective crystal with great fascination. Though he sensed nothing spiritual or anything else that signified the crystal used to be alive, it nevertheless possessed an attractive luster that made for a great jewel.

To be honest, the red remains reminded him of Lucky's crystals. Did they share the same properties?

"The sources I've consulted never mention the use of these crystallization." Ves remarked as he stood up after having his fill of staring at the curiosity. "All the articles only tell their readers that the CFA pay a good price for the intact crystallizations of the sandmen ruling castes."

"It's no surprise they do so." The male exobiologist garbed in a hazard suit replied. "The sandmen ruling caste are born to lead. They are more intelligent on their own and have the ability to strengthen their cognition by drawing upon the spare thinking capacity of their subjects. You can say that they exhibit traits of both sentients and processors at the same time."

The other exobiologist, a woman, piped in as well. "The reason why the CFA is eager to acquire the crystals while the MTA show no interest is because of one of their philosophical disagreements. The Common Fleet Alliance mainly operate warships, which are huge, complex vessels that are run by huge crews. However, these warships are far too large and complex to be directed by human crew alone. By necessity, they rely highly on automation in order to help keep their ships running without relying on an excessive amount of spacers."

Ves frowned at that. "What does that have to do with the sandmen?"

"Well, a potential sandman leader has the ability to think similar to a human while possessing the ability to connect to as much hardware as possible to increase their raw capabilities. Don't you think that makes for a great AI core?"

"That's only a rumor." The male exobiologist retorted. "I doubt that the mighty Common Fleet Alliance will deign to repurpose the remains of a marginal alien race as an AI core of all things. Perhaps they are studying the crystallizations to advance their automation technology, but it's crazy to say that they are putting literal alien carcasses to use as the center of their operating systems!"

Verle held out his armored hand, halting the argument between the two exobiologists. "Inspect the crystallization for any lingering threats and learn what you can out of it. Once you are done, stow the remains in our vault. Don't scratch it. We can still earn a decent amount of money once we pass it over to the CFA."

Once the exobiologists and their escorts brought their encased loot out of the shuttle bay, Ves and Major Verle returned all the way to his stateroom. After they arrived, Ves activated his signal jammer before they began their long-awaited discussion.

"Alright, Mr. Larkinson, enough dilly-dallying around. Tell me what is going on with our good expert pilot. His insubordination is far outside the pale. According to the personality profiles my men have constructed, Venerable Xie would never dare to disobey a direct order from the Fourth Prince. Are the changes working or not?"

"I don't know." Ves simply replied. "I'm not a neuroscientist or a psychologist. My expertise lies in mechs. I think you are able to tell me more about mech pilots than myself. All I can say is that according to the telemetry I've observed from the Parallax Star in action, the changes I've made should have caught on. Venerable Xie may not have lost his loyalty to the Fourth Prince, but his newfound adoration for the Flagrant Vandals should have surpassed his prior feelings."

This was the most insidious part about the code that Ves had cribbed from Farund Inc. The company's much-maligned programming enabled them to subvert their victims with almost no resistance!

It should have worked perfectly if Ves understood the entire code and copied more than a couple of fragments, but alas he didn't have the time or capability to do so. His haste and sloppiness in the implementation had bitten him back this time!