The Whalers went back to work while the Technicians modified every machine. They manually disabled the safeguards that prevented them from working if they detected any abnormalities from their energy cells.
It all put the workers operating the mining equipment on pins and needles. They hardly became enthusiastic about the prospect of working next to potential bombs.
"I didn't sign up for this! Even slaves have it better than this!"
Walter raced down towards the idiot who said that over the local channel and knocked his helmet with a meaty fist. "Shut up you idiot! How can you call yourself a Whaler when you cower away before an enemy has even showed up? Stop dragging your feet and get back on that machine!"
Ves felt a vindictive sense of satisfaction at seeing Walter try to push his men and women to work. He finally reaped what he sowed for making it normal for his men to skip out on their work.
Still, if the mining operators had it bad, then the mech pilots had it worse. Their high-powered mechs burned through energy as fast as Lucky munched through minerals.
Not only did mechs carry lots of energy cells, they also used more potent types that crammed as much energy in as little space as possible. While they came with the latest and most advanced safeguards available to their manufacturers, it still didn't detract from the fact that they blew up under certain circumstances.
Now, all those energy cells slowly turned into portable bombs slotted straight into the spines of every mech. Ves estimated that around eighty percent of all mechs ran on energy cells. Mechs that ran on fuel cells typically enjoyed less popularity due to the difficulties involved with resupply.
In fact, the Whalers themselves had to borrow a few containers of medium-density mech-grade fuel to keep the Blackbeak running.
Ves approached Blackbeak. He ordered Fadah to exercise the mech and see whether it showed any abnormalities with regards to its power supply. Right now, a technician replaced the spent fuel cells, showing that the exercise had finally finished.
"Did anything stand out when you used up all of its fuel?"
Fadah yawned behind his helmet. 'Yeah, the mech lasted far too long. This rogue planet's reduced gravity also isn't helping much. Your mech is so goddamn efficient that I had to dive in the operating system and crank up the power past its ordinary limits."
That didn't sound so good to Ves. "Overloading your mech won't do it any good. Now I'll have to check your Blackbeak again for any faults."
"Whatever. In any case, the Blackbeak worked like a charm. Every move is light and responsive and the power draw looks normal as well."
Ves confirmed Fadah's observation by inspecting the logs. Everything operated within parameters. The fuel cells hadn't suddenly become stuffed with additional fuel, and the power reactor also functioned as normal.
It was as if the Blackbeak cheerfully went about its day while most of its fellow mechs developed diseases.
This finding came as a huge relief to Fadah. "Looks like enemies won't be able to pop me in a single hit."
The news spread quickly, and over the next couple of hours, Ves received word from the Blood Claws that they observed the same results, barring some exceptions. Certain ranged weapons drew their power from magazines instead of a mech's internal power supply. These mechs still remained vulnerable to the overcharge phenomenon even if the mechs themselves ran on fuel.
"There's nothing we can do about it." Ves told the people who asked for a fix. "As far as I'm aware of, the Glowing Planet is emitting a field that changes the properties of the energy cells on the fly. We can't even detect it, let alone block it from affecting our gear."
"Don't we have the dimensional smoother to protect us from this stuff?"
"The dimensional smoother is not a miracle device. It's designed to fulfill a very specific role. Its main job is to stabilize the surrounding gravitics so people won't get turned inside out or get thrown into orbit all of a sudden. You'd need a different machine to affect electromagnetic fluctuations."
The Whalers, the Blood Claws and every other force on the planet eventually resumed their work. After the first modified machines operated normally, people started to let down their guards. Ves had been right that the energy cells wouldn't blow up on its own if it received a tiny bump. It took a lot more effort to get them to explode.
A couple of days went by as everyone on the planet hurried to extract as much exotics as possible. As long as nobody attacked their mechs or equipment, they didn't have to be afraid of anything.
For some reason, the Glowing Planet didn't agree. Ever since they made landfall, the men started to suffer from hallucinations. They saw things that shouldn't be there, talked to people who already died and even thought they'd been sent to an alternate universe.
Only one in thousand reported abnormalities like this, and everyone else dismissed them as paranoid delusions triggered by anxiety. No one wanted to admit that the Glowing Planet had even more weirdness in store for them. Half of the energy cells they brought to the surface had already become overcharged.
Two developments in space delivered bad news to the forces on the planet. The Bright Republic's mortal enemy had finally made their move.
"The Vesians are coming!"
The massive Vesian armada consisted of over two-thousand ships, the majority of which carried a mix of spaceborn and landbound mechs. Sending so many ships must have meant the Vesians had committed to a battle for supremacy over the Glowing Planet. They obviously played for keeps and angled to take its bountiful wealth away from the Republic.
"We only have three more days until the Vesians reach orbit! Mine as much as we can, because we'll be moving camp in two days!"
The workers finally disregarded their concerns about safety in an effort to dig up as much higher quality exotics as possible. They left the ubiquitous junk exotics aside in favor of smaller quantities of ores that yielded tiny amounts of pure exotics. The Whalers didn't possess the necessary facilities to process the ores on site, so they had to leave the bulk materials behind.
During this time, the mercenaries finally arrived over the glowing planet. A significant amount of mercenaries hired themselves to the Republic, enabling them to make use of the 4th division's dimensional smoothers.
Still, despite being in their camp, the Mech Corps didn't trust them very much, leaving them to make landfall in some of the least active zones on the Glowing Planet. The mercenary lords probably aimed to avoid contesting the hotspots in favor accumulating a steady amount of exotics.
Not every mercenary lord decided to bat for the Republic. The wanted to remain independent in order to reap the richest harvests. The mercenary lords in charge of those fleets held back their forces at the outer edge of the Glowing Zone in order to wait for an opportunity to pounce.
That left the scattered pirate groups. Each outfit stayed on their own. Unlike the mercenaries, the pirates lacked a charismatic leader that could draw the separate groups together. They seemed destined to remain scattered and distrustful.
That was until the notorious Dragons of the Void arrived.
They came with only three hundred ships, many of which appeared to be of dubious quality. Ves was old friends with the Dragons of the Void, so he knew about their modus operandi.
"Most of those ships are cannon fodder. Don't mistake their crew as part of the Dragons of the Void. They're actually brainwashed to the point where they'd eagerly meet their deaths if the Dragons gave the order. The real core of the Dragon fleet consists of only a dozen ships at the center of their formation."
Fadah frowned at that news. "If they treat those ships as trash, then they'll treat their mechs the same way. Do you reckon they'll be scared of any overcharged energy cells?"
"The leaders will probably see it as a welcome surprise." Ves pressed his lips. "I can already imagine them looking forward to strapping additional energy cells onto their mechs and sending them off as suicide bombers."
The Bright Republic enjoyed the home advantage of being nearest to the Glowing Planet. They'd also been able to forge a loose cooperation with the non-governmental forces that nominally swore allegiance to the Republic. The Mech Corps continually reinforced the 4th division with ships and mechs, but their efforts were hobbled by the need to defend vital territories such as Bentheim and their bases.
If every non-Republic force decided to gang up on the Mech Corps, they'd be hard-pressed to last more than a couple of days.
"Keep watch on the mercenaries who haven't picked a side." Fadah advised Ves as they continued to tweak the Blackbeak. "As soon as one gets the upper hand, the mercenaries who remain free up to that point will throw their entire weight behind the strongest faction."
Ves found that advise to be perplexing. "Most of those mercs are based in the Republic. Many of them have families and friends who are Republican citizens as well."
"Do you think that matters if they can become rich overnight? They'll sell out their own mothers in a heartbeat if they can earn a couple of million credits."
All of this led to an increasingly tense mood in the camp. The Whalers regretfully secured their harvest and packed up their gear as they waited in line to be brought to their new location by their small rickety transports.
The transfer finished a day later. This time, the Whalers maintained serious expressions as they worked to setup a defensive position.
Using prefabricated structures provided by the Blood Claws, they built a tall but easily erected set of walls. To prevent any aerial mechs from bypassing the walls with impunity, the Whalers also prioritized the construction of the anti-air turrets.
The only snag came when Walter ordered the defenses be powered by a central power source.
"These laser turrets are designed with energy cells in mind." Ves replied when Walter ordered him to make it happen. "I can't just snap my fingers and make them run on a power line!"
"I don't care. I don't want these turrets to be a hazard in our defenses. I'm hardly able to get my pilots to keep piloting their mechs. I can't deal with a base that's riddled with bombs. Everything needs to be run from two or three underground power sources, nothing more."
Ves quietly shook his head as Walter turned to yell at someone else. The man had been in an awful mood ever since the overcharge phenomenon shook up his men. The technicians already worked their sweat off by overriding all of the safeties. Now they had to deal with another pile of work by hooking up the turrets to a central power supply.
At least the Blood Claws had been generous enough to supply a few spare reactors. Their condition looked decent as well. Unlike the Whalers, the hardened Blood Claws didn't stint on logistics.
"Let's get to work." He sighed, and began to gather up some mech technicians to assist him with the task.
Even though he grumbled about the job in front of Walter, it actually didn't require too much thought to hook up the laser turrets to a different power source. The feature had already been baked into their design. Ves merely needed to teach the mech technicians to make the right connections.
The Vesians would arrive near orbit in less than a day. Anything could happen at that point. Currently, the Bright Republic's mech carriers would be fools to stay in orbit. They'd likely pull out later in the day in order to give themselves more maneuvering room while still staying close enough to the Glowing Planet to provide support for their troops on the ground.
"This will be the first time I'll face the Vesians in open combat."
"Hah! They're not as scary as they look once you look past their craziness." Fadah remarked over a beer. They both took a break from their tasks and left their bulky suits to eat dinner. "I fought the Vesians in the last war. They always press forward, and you can expect their lower ranks to never give up. The officers are always the first ones to run away once the battle turns against them. Pff. Nobles."
A low anticipation had built up inside Ves for weeks. Even though the prospect of facing an extremely well-armed mech force terrified him to the bone, he also felt some eagerness to test his mech against them. The Blackbeak's entire purpose centered around fighting the Vesians.
"Whatever happens, tomorrow we'll be tested."