Life aboard the Wolf Mother did not seem so hectic to Ves. He spent most of his time in the compartment assigned to the design department. This only took up a fraction of the space aboard the massive factory ship.
The factory ship was like a city compressed into a capital ship. It housed thousands of servicemen and devoted caverns of space to the industry of keeping the Vandals afloat.
A lot of responsibility rested on the shoulders of the Wolf Mother. While it wasn't unheard of for vagabond outfits to pursue a nomadic lifestyle aboard their ships, in the Komodo Star Sector, it was rarely seen on this scale.
From the basic information that Ves received on the factory ship, she used to start off as a smaller logistics ship. After some time, the voracious demands of the Flagrant Vandals necessitated further expansion.
Modules kept being added along her hull. The rising demand for services caused the Vandals to expand the capabilities of the logistics ship to a reckless extent. More asteroid breakers, more refineries, more alloy forge, more repair bays.
The expansion never ended, though it slowed down at this point due to physical constraints. The shipwrights among the Vandals did their best to accommodate the expansions. They strengthened the hull, overhauled the internal structure and sized up the essential components such as the power reactor, the thrusters and the FTL drive.
Ships of the Wolf Mother's current size were hardly seen in the Komodo Star Sector. Further expansion necessitated an essential upsizing to her FTL engine, something which could not be done by in a third-rate state like the Bright Republic. Only the Hexadric Hegemony and the Friday Coalition could afford to field capital ships of that scale.
In truth, it was cheaper to maintain a single base on an asteroid or an abandoned moon. Running a ship came with its own costs, and a vessel that ballooned to such a size must be using up an enormous amount of power and fuel each day.
Yet that was also the genius of it. The capability to move their main logistical base around gave the Vandals unparalleled flexibility in their deployments. From the stories he heard, the Vandals became famous even before the outbreak of the current war for their deep raids. They struck Vesian star systems situated well within the Kingdom's interior are fleeced their complacent industries to the bone.
While this sounded impressive and commendable, not everyone in the Mech Corps thought so. People would hardly be able to distinguish them from pirates, and their conduct of sneaking around to attack the weakest parts of the Vesians was seen as dishonorable.
While the warrior culture of the Mech Corps allowed for clever tricks and strategies to defeat an enemy force with ease, the Flagrant Vandals took it too far. The shamelessness in which the Vandals avoided standing battles against the Mech Legion led to their estrangement from the conventional military order of the Republic.
A mech pilot of the Vandals regarded themselves as Vandals and not as a serviceman of the Mech Corps. This was a problem, because the mech pilots who served in any other regiment held loyalty to both without any conflict.
Occasionally, Ves heard some talk of that nature whenever he ate in the canteen. Mech designers only made up part of its clientele. A lot of crewmen working in the nearby compartments ate their meals in this canteen.
"We're Vandals, not soldiers."
"Leave the heavy fighting for the big boys."
"I heard they're downgrading our paychecks again. As if they couldn't get any lower!"
"Damn, what are the field marshals up to? They're letting the Vesians intrude upon our territory for the umpteenth time. When will they ever have the guts to hit them back?!"
"Hah, we're the only ones who give a damn about that. We might as well be an alien species to the big chiefs."
Talk like this was a bad indication of how far the Vandals became estranged to the Republic. The Tarry region was already isolated enough, and this undercurrent of resentment posed a lot of risks to the Mech Corps.
Maybe it was the Larkinson within him, but no one else shared his concerns. Outsiders like Pierce and Laida didn't know anything better, but for Ves who grew up with the Larkinsons, some of the talk sounded outright mutinous.
"You know, won't things be better if we just pack up and go?"
"Whadda ya mean?"
"Think about it. What has the Republic ever done for us? We built up the Vandals all by ourselves without a single credit from the state. We worked hard to pay for what we got, so how are we any different from a mercenary corps? If you think about it, we're actually worse than mercs. At least they get paid, whereas we get nothing at all!"
"That's not entirely true. We still have access to their facilities and their database. We couldn't have gotten this far without all of the advanced technology at our fingertips."
"I still think we should make a getaway. It would be easy as pie. We aren't anchored by any planets. Those with families who live on the surface of one can just take them along for the ride when we leave Republic space."
"It does sound easy. Getting cut off from the data banks will hurt us hard, but the Wolf Mother has a lot of life in her yet."
This was merely a sample of the talk that sometimes popped up from the lowest ranks of spacers. It did not mean their officers or the mech pilots fostered the same ideas. Without a better exposure of life among the Vandals, Ves couldn't make any definite conclusions.
It still looked bad though. The canteen was surely monitored. Why hadn't any officers come and reprimanded the spacers?
"Maybe they don't care."
The crewmen aboard the Wolf Mother could be extremely dedicated to the Vandals and did their utmost to keep the Wolf Mother running. Yet they could also be extremely lethargic when it came to the rest of the Mech Corps.
The only person who could make or break this regiment was the elusive Colonel Lowenfield. Despite her name popping up everywhere in every important event in the last few years, Ves still had no clue what made her so respected among the Vandals.
"Did you hear? The colonel has recalled all of the detachments. We're almost done with our repairs and resupply."
"Oh, finally! I'm bored to tears staying in this noname star system. I want to see some action!"
"Me too! There's always a good score to be found when we shear the wool off the Vesian sheep. I'm broke and need more money!"
Ves shook his head and finished his meal before returning to the labs. He returned to his terminal only to see that the simulations in the queue needed another hour to complete.
He still had some free time on his hands.
He was pretty much the only person who enjoyed this privilege. A less capable mech designer would have spent a couple of hours trying to get the settings right or spend many late nights on interpreting the data.
The workload put into his lap could not keep up with his capabilities. If not for Alloc's current preoccupation with getting the software right for the Hellcat, then he might have been more attentive to how fast Ves completed his work.
Ves quietly sighed. He looked around and saw that one of the mech designers had left.
While everyone except Ves constantly faced a mountain of work, it was important for the mech designer to keep in touch with how the mechs performed for real. Occasionally, Alloc assigned a mech designer to liaise with the mech technicians and the mech pilots that worked with the Hellcats. They mostly gathered feedback and measured the state of the existing Hellcat mechs.
He wanted to come into contact with the mechs as well, if only to get out of this tiny corner of the Wolf Mother. Ves had never seen a true Hellcat mech and that hampered his work somewhat. Other mech designers might be fine with a bunch of technical documents, but much of what made his work great was his feel for the intangible qualities of a mech.
Within a day or two, the Wolf Mother finally moved. She first exited the asteroid belt and headed towards the border of the lifeless star system with a couple of escorting combat carriers in tow. Once they reached the edge of the system, they transitioned into FTL.
The entire factory ship bucked and groaned while Ves momentarily lurched when that happened.
The other mech designers laughed. "The first time is always the worst!"
Ves rubbed his head for a bit. The moment the factory ship entered FTL, Ves felt as if a nail had been driven through his skull. "How come it's so painful? It is safe to be aboard the ship when it enters FTL?"
"This is normal to us." Alloc answered gently. "You have to keep in mind that the Wolf Mother expanded in an ad-hoc fashion. There was hardly any planning involved. Slapping modules onto her hull without restraint has made the Wolf Mother rather unstable. The Wolf Mother's FTL drive is barely rated to carry along a ship of her size and mass. Some kinks are to be expected."
In other words, the FTL drive could barely cope. The worst case scenario was that it might eventually break from the all of the strain.
Bad things happened when FTL drives blew apart, especially when the ship was still in FTL.
Only a handful times did ships drop out of FTL after their drives became inactive. Most of the time, something freaky would happen and the rest of the galaxy never saw the ship again.
"How well is the FTL drive protected?"
"Oh, the Vandals aren't unaware of dangers posed by a faulty FTL drive. They've put their best engineers to keeping it in shape. There's also a lot of security surrounding this component. Nobody can wander in and do what they want with this critical part of the ship."
That might protect the FTL drive from boarding troops and internal sabotage, but it did not help the Wolf Mother's inherent vulnerability to outside attacks. She was not a ship meant for battle.
Therefore, the recent orders concerned Ves a bit. Heading deep into Vesian space was a perilous matter even in times of peace. There was always the risk of getting tracked down by a dogged Vesian task force on its way to the frontline.
Ves id not know whether to see it as a good thing or bad thing, but it was undeniable that he would be able to grasp a lot more opportunities in that case. His time with the Vandals might stretch for years, so he would have plenty of time to ingratiate himself with the crew.
"Ves, are you available?" One of the young men looked around for help and saw that Ves was basically daydreaming behind his terminal. "I need some help with this stupid equation. I followed all of the instructions according to the handbook but the simulations are getting out of whack."
"Show me what's the problem."
This was the first time someone asked him for help. The three permanent Apprentice Mech Designers often consulted among themselves and never asked Ves or the other designer from Rittersberg for any input.
Vse took a look at the model and spotted the problem at first glance. "It's no wonder your simulation delivers such a nonsensical result. There's nothing wrong with the equations or the model. It's this bad set of data that is at the root of the problem. This is a typical case of garbage in, garbage out. Look at the input data. Do these measurements seem correct to you?"
The mech designer worked with actual measurements taken from a previous visit to the mechs. Whoever took these measurements made a mistake somewhere down the line.
Once Ves pointed out the problem, the mech designer could handle the rest. The young man nodded at Ves with a modicum of respect this time.
As Ves wandered back to his terminal to go back to his daydreams, he smiled in satisfaction.
"It starts with small steps."