The appearance of a Vesian raiding force into the quiet star system of Cloudy Curtain sparked an enormous panic. The only inhabited planet of the system turned into a beehive of activity.
With a population of less than twenty million, the people of Cloudy Curtain never really paid attention to what went on in the stars.
The planet was content to ignore the galaxy, and the galaxy in turn left it alone. Its status as an agricultural backwater always caused others to overlook Cloudy Curtain as a place of importance. In the previous wars between the Republic and the Kingdom, the aggressive Vesians always seemed to overlook this tiny planet in favor of the much more attention-grabbing Bentheim System.
In any case, if the Vesians ever succeeded in conquering the Bentheim System, the peripheral star systems around this core location would automatically fall in the Vesian hands without another shot.
Therefore, the sudden appearance of the Republic's eternal boogeymen in the Cloudy Curtain System of all places caused an enormous ripple effect among the populace. Many sleepy citizens didn't even know what to do in the event of an emergency, which was something unthinkable in a crisis-ridden place like Bentheim.
With millions of people running around like headless chickens, a number of influential organizations forcefully took charge.
The Planetary Assembly was not among them. During a crisis of life and death, no one paid attention to the local politicians. In recent times, the ruling coalition had taken a large hit in popularity. Their stranglehold on local politics was a thing of the past.
Nevertheless, The Greens and the White Doves never relented in their public criticism of the Pioneers, the LMC and Ves. The White Doves in particular rightfully argued that they had warned the people for years.
"I told you so! What was Mr. Larkinson thinking for setting up a giant mech plant on our peaceful planet?!"
"Say NO to mechs! Tell the LMC to blow up their entire factory before the Vesians land! Don't give them a reason to lay waste to our cities!"
"The war has nothing to do with us! Brighter, Vesian, I don't care what I call myself. Just leave us alone!"
"The immigration authorities lied to us! I thought this was one of the safest planets in the Komodo Star Sector. I wanted a quiet retirement, not a first-class seat to a mech battle!"
Most of these voices came from the capital planet of Orinoco, which in recent times became a bulwark for the previous status quo. The businesses and influential people who congregated there purposefully amplified the voices of the discontent.
On the other side of the planet, Freslin, which had become a lively city of mech enthusiasts, fought back with their own words.
"You fricking cowards! The Republic should have you shot for your treasonous words!"
"News flash, dumbasses, mechs are prevalent in every corner in the galaxy! No matter how hard you try to bury your head in the sands, there's no way you can avoid bumping into mechs!"
"Millions of Republican mech pilots have fought and bled to preserve your freedom, and you want us to roll over and destroy our own mech builders on our own accord? You should be ashamed of yourselves!"
"I don't know about you, but the Vesians are the enemy, not one of our own! If you're so eager to lend them a hand, then go tumble out of the Bright Republic this instant!"
The raucous debate grew superheated even as the Vesian combat carriers neared the divided planet.
For some reason, the Republican Commissioner remained mum and did not face the public in order to advocate for calm and solidarity. With the critical absence of the only figure on the planet that could unite both sides, the contradictions between the two sides widened to an extreme.
In the middle of this debate, the response of Walter's Whalers revealed their stance on this issue. As the only organization on the planet with a substantial amount of mechs, they had a responsibility to defend the citizens against unbridled Vesian slaughter.
According to the social compact between the Republic and the gangs, the latter would only be obligated to fight if the Vesians ran out of control and unscrupulously harmed civilian targets.
As a mech manufacturer, the LMC fell outside of this consideration, as every business of this nature was by definition a military target. This meant that nothing forced the Whalers to defend the LMC's new partially underground megacomplex.
However, Walter himself released a statement professing friendship and support to the local mech company. They decreased the amount of mechs stationed around Orinoco, stating somewhat correctly that Orinoco did not hold anything worth destroying by the Vesians.
Naturally, all of the pampered politicians and magnates in Orinoco howled loudly at the Whalers, to no avail. The Whalers operated mostly outside the jurisdiction of the local government, so they had absolutely no reason to listen to the instructions of a bunch of self-absorbed fat cats.
Along with the Whalers, the Pioneers also provided a crucial amount of leadership and support in these trying times. They mobilized thousands of volunteers to reassure the inhabitants of Freslin and stem the outbreak of panic and hysteria.
"Hold together, people! We are not alone! Hold yourself together and don't forget that we are part of the Republic!"
Once the initial confusion subsided, the citizens of Cloudy Curtain began to make their preparations. Several emergency services came together and formed coordinated response plans.
They also wiped the dust from the almost-forgotten emergency shelters that had been built just after the founding of the planet. Even though many of the systems had rusted away or fallen into disrepair, the emergency services brought them back to minimal functionality and opened them up to the public to take shelter.
Many more inspiring moments occurred in the hours leading up to the Vesian arrival. Doom mingled with hope in equal measure as Cloudy Curtain faced its first true test against adversity in centuries.
At ground zero of this event, Ves just stepped out of the bunker and thought of something great. He abruptly turned his body and regarded a floating Lucky with a gleam in his eyes.
"Hey Lucky, you can turn intangible whenever you want, right?"
"So why not do me a favor and wipe out the raiding force? You can pass straight into their cockpits and kill the vulnerable pilots with ease!"
Lucky very avidly shook his head, which caused Ves to frown. What was the problem? The plan sounded perfect!
"You can't, or you won't?"
"Why can't you do what I just described? What's limiting you?"
"Meow meow meow!"
It was times like these that Ves wished the gem cat came with a human vocalizer. Many artificial pets possessed the ability to speak in a human language. It helped a lot with kids. However, Lucky somehow lacked this function. Ves spent over five minutes trying to communicate with his pet.
"So not only does it take a lot of energy to pass through mech armor, you can't maintain your intangible state if subjected to extreme amounts of kinetic or thermal energy?"
Vs always thought that Lucky could maintain his intangible state without limits, but even that turned out to be too good to be true. Lucky always expended a certain amount of energy and processing power to maintain the state. Both of them spiked whenever the cat faced a major disturbance, such as getting shot at by projectiles and lasers.
This wouldn't be too bad if Lucky got shot at by infantry weapons. Guns of that scale only led to minor stress.
Mech-scaled weapons were a different matter entirely. They unleashed so much energy that Lucky could only last a few seconds if targeted directly by such an awesome amount of firepower.
Once Ves found out about these limitations, he changed his mind about pushing Lucky in a direct combat role. Instead, he wanted Lucky to stick close to him until the Vesians arrived.
"After they begin their attack, try and see if you can sneak inside a vulnerable mech in the periphery and pick off its pilot."
"Meow meow meow!"
Lucky made it clear that it took a lot of effort to do such a thing, as Lucky found it very difficult to pass through the armor and working systems of an active mech. He could only take care of three or four mechs in this manner before needing replenishment.
"Three or four mechs are enough. We can use all the help we can get."
Besides Lucky, Ves also planned to go into action once the Vesians breached the walls and attempted to smash through the tunnels that led to the underground floors. With a clever application of his Full Stealth augment, he might be able to unleash a full-powered laser beam from the Amastendira.
"It's better if Melkor wields the Amestendira, but he can do more with a mech than with a pistol."
Ves did not trust any of the security officers who worked for Sanyal-Ablin with the precious laser pistol. Thus, for lack of a better alternative, he planned to keep hold of the Amastendira and use it himself if he found the right opportunity.
The recent shooting practice he got when he played the lottery at the crystal city refined his handling of the pistol. Though his marksmanship could not be compared with a professional soldier, he could at least shoot straight at a stationary target or a giant moving mech.
After taking stock of his own situation, Ves resumed his journey towards the Mudriders. When he arrived at their mech stables, Commander Husaan took him aside again and looked at him with a hopeful expression.
Ves did not have good news for him. "Melkor has apprised me of the situation. While I'm not an expert in these matters, I trust his judgement. We need more mechs at the front. If your mechs can bolster the mechs of Sanyal-Ablin, we can blunt the Vesian charge and force them to reconsider the merits of attacking the Mech Nursery."
"This is a gross misuse of the Mudriders!" Husaan instantly protested. "Let us range outside, and I'll promise you that you won't regret it!"
Unspoken in the mercenary commander's words was that if Ves insisted otherwise, that he might regret his decision. Ves took note of the commander's tone but remained firm.
"You signed a defense contract with us. I skimmed over it along the way and it states quite clearly that while you have operational command over your forces, you still have to deploy them according to the needs of your employer. Now, as your employer, I'm telling you that you are needed at the walls, not away from them. I won't brook any further argument on this issue."
Although Commander Husaan was at least twice as old as Ves and experienced countless of conflicts, he still felt a sliver of a threat from the mech designer's tone. The mercenary leader turned grim.
"The contract also states that the Mudriders still reserve the right to refuse any unlawful or suicidal orders."
"Don't kid yourself. This isn't a suicidal act. We aren't facing the full might of the 3rd Imodris Legion! They just threw two companies of mechs at us as an afterthought. Their raid on our facility is just an afterthought! As long as you work together with us, I'm sure we can succeed in fending off the Vesians!"
"We can't!" Husaan shouted back at Ves. "The Mudriders have been through hell and back, and we've changed beyond recognition! One more trip back to hell will break our men. I'm not sure there will be anything left of the Mudriders if I announce your plan to my mech pilots."
Ves stood silently in front of the mercenary commander with a grim expression. He could not afford any further compromises. Not when it concerned the well-being of his company.
"Are you a mercenary or a crybaby? I'm not so sure, because you sound a lot like the latter."
Commander Husaan looked indignant at Ves. He tightly gripped his fists. The two fell into an impasse. The fate of the LMC and the Oodis Mudriders both rested on who yielded first.