"As you may have heard, the 3rd Imodris Legion inflicted substantial damage to the Bright Republic's morale. Although the Republic can cope with the material damage of their raids, it is much harder to restore the hearts of our citizens. The Mech Corps therefore expects the Flagrant Vandals to pay back the Vesians in kind. Colonel Lowenfield has therefore decided to pay back the 3rd Imodris Legion in kind by striking at their dukedom."
This alarmed Ves and some of the others because Imodris was a prosperous dukedom situated in the interior of the Vesia Kingdom. The Vandals would not only have to cross the border, they also needed to hop from star system to star system without revealing their presence inside Vesian space.
That was almost impossible to accomplish.
The moment the Vesians detected their presence within the border, they would surely dispatch a hunting party to the Vandals. Owing to their territorial advantage, the Vesians have an easier time to surround the Vandals than the latter slipping the noose and returning to Republic space.
"In the short but illustrious history of the Flagrant Vandals, our regiment has deployed to Imodris several times. Each time the alert garrisons of Imodris detected us quickly, sparking harrowing fights where we broke through the blockades at heavy costs. While the colonel does not intend to flinch from Imodris, neither can we afford to make the same bull-headed approach."
Therefore, the Vandals cultivated some relations among the rebels.
"With the help of the so-called Vesian Revolutionary Front, Colonel Lowenfield is confident we can circumvent the strict Vesian monitoring in their desolate star systems and approach a highly industrialized planet without any forewarning."
In other words, it was like breaking into a heavy defended mansion by bribing the butler into letting them in. The risks and perils of such a move could be imagined.
Perhaps the ultimate plan was a little more elaborate, but from what Ves heard so far, many things could go wrong.
The first and most important they should ask was whether they could trust the rebels to keep their word.
Professor Velten didn't reveal too much about this. "The colonel is handling it. We have collaborated with this group of revolutionaries before, and they have been proven to be reliable as long as they are handsomely paid. Admittedly, this raiding expedition can't compare to the minor border incursions we collaborated on before."
From Professor Velten's description, the VRF didn't sound like much.
As a monarchy in a time where humans advanced to a point where they settled half the galaxy, their existence was very controversial.
Those who grew up in the kingdoms and empires usually took their existence for granted, but those who grew up in Republics and other forms of non-hereditary governments thought of monarchies as backwards.
This last point was a generalisation, not an absolute. This meant that not every Vesian believed in letting a bunch of spoiled and entitled nobles and royals dictate every facet of their lives.
A governance system where a small number won big would always present a lot of losers. Those who suffered directly from the injustices within the kingdom eventually formed several resistance groups.
True to their chaotic nature and their rejection of strong authority, they couldn't manage to form a united front. The VRF was one of the only rebel groups that still worked to unite the different resistance movements together. They achieved limited success in this area as many groups only paid lip service to this ideal.
Nevertheless, it could not be denied that the VRF was well-connected. However, this also increased the risk of cooperating with them. The Vandals not only needed to trust the VRF, they also had to put faith in their ability to persuade the local rebel movements into facilitating this risky operation.
"As of now, the Wolf Mother will enter into an elevated state of readiness. Contact with the outside galaxy will be even more restricted than before, so our database will no longer receive any updates from the central database maintained by Mech Corps. Keep this in mind when you work on the designs. You will not be able to rely on recent innovations to solve your problems."
Half of the mech designers in the room groaned. Quite a few of them managed to solve long-standing problems by applying something that wasn't possible before. Cutting off the updates to the database forced them to revisit old methods and try to get them to work. This was extremely slow and frustrating work.
"Professor?" Someone asked. "What kind of tweaks do we have to make to ready our mechs for the coming battle?"
"Good question. While I am unable to inform you of our target, I am still allowed to relay some conditions. First, the star system is heavily defended from space, but the Vesians pulled half of the defending mechs to reinforce the frontlines. What remains of its garrisons consist of reserves, much of them recruited from the local population."
This was an important detail.
"The planet in question isn't being run very well. The nobles in charge are decadent and the planet has been running a deficit for years. The planetary administration is forced to skimp on their services, which has made much of the underclass very mad. It's a breeding ground for rebels, and the VRF thinks they can convince the local rebels into disabling some of the local defenses in orbit and letting us in."
This time, Ves raised his hand and asked a question. "Ma'am, why would the local rebels agree to let their home planet suffer? Won't we be making things worse for them by raining down death and destruction?"
"That is a valid point to make." The professor nodded, yet waved her hand dismissively. "We have made the appropriate precautions. We are more than aware of the risks and we know more about the Vesia Kingdom than most of their citizens. Almost everyone in this state has a bone to pick with someone else. This is nothing new for us."
The Flagrant Vandals hadn't run amuck in enemy space without learning a thing or two about their enemy. Although most of the time they operated alone, sometimes they cooperated with the local factions if they needed access to a sensitive area.
Although Professor Velten didn't intimate anything of the sort, Ves read more from her answer and the way she chose to answer it than she wanted to reveal.
If Ves wasn't wrong, one of the major reasons the Vandals stayed afloat up until now was because it also collaborated with the noble factions!
Though Ves kept his expressions neutral, inwardly he felt shocked at the audacity of it all. He would bet that no one in high command even knew about this! What would the Mech Corps think if one of their mech regiments collaborated directly with a faction of the Kingdom?
The news alone would shock the entire Republic!
Professor Velten couldn't blame his level of observation. Ves heard many stories about some of the murkier deeds of the Mech Corps from his father and the other Larkinsons. Even then, none of those tales matched the brazenness in which the Vandals shook hands with the Vesians.
Ves guessed that the Vandals only cooperated in an opportunistic fashion. The rivalry among the Vesian nobles was legendary, and the Vandals probably presented themselves to discontented nobles as a convenient way to ruin their rivals.
As the meeting wrapped up, Professor Velten called up the Journeymen to hold a more private discussion while letting the Apprentices enjoy a rare break.
Ves, Laida and Pierce gathered around in a corner turned into a makeshift lounge area. A couple of comfortable chairs and sofas provided an oasis of calm during the most frustrating moments of work.
Pierce looked at Ves and Laida with a questioning pair of eyes. "Have you two been getting overwhelmed by the work they pile up on your desk?"
Laida nodded. "The Inheritor design is frustrating. Nevermind that it's a spaceborn mech and that I only specialize in aerial mechs, but the Inheritor is showing its age. There is hardly anything we can improve without drastically overhauling its design."
"So it's a legacy design?"
"It's not old to the point to be called a legacy, but it's design originated from the first half of this current mech generation. We are now late in the cycle and there are several major advancements in currentgen technology that we are missing out on for the Inheritor because the effort required to transform every Inheritor mech in existence is too much."
The Inheritor mechs serve as the workhorse of the Vandals. It was one of their most common mechs, and highlighted their preference for close-ranged combat against other mechs.
"Ves, what do you think about the Inheritor?" Laida asked him in a way that made it hard for him to withhold his answer.
"I don't know. I've never seen the Flagrant Vandals in action besides some incidental battle footage. To me, the Vandals are living at the edge of the moment. It's true that fielding lots of light mechs is cheap and easy, but that lack of weight will cost them dearly if they are ever forced into a position to fight against a proper Vesian mech regiment. For example, any of the 3rd Imodris Legion's regiments can smash them into pieces."
"That's counterbalanced by the fact that they are easier to pilot and excellent in overtaking supply convoys."
This was why the Vandals regarded the Inheritor so highly. The Vandals faced a lot of difficulties in recruiting capable mech pilots. Any recruit with promise would be snapped up by the more desirable regiments. The Vandals mostly received the dregs the service. They couldn't do much against mech pilots with attitude problems, but those with lack of talent in piloting could still be brought up as cannon fodder inside an Inheritor mech.
Compared to Laida, Pierce faced a very different problem with the Akkara.
"Heavy mechs are different from light mechs. There's much more leeway in their design. Even though it's rather old as well, its internal architecture changed so much over the years that I can hardly call it outdated. My team has done well in updating it to the latest standard. The only problem is that our implementations fall short."
"Because there are too many systems inside a heavy mech, am I right?"
"That's right. My father once taught me that it is a heavy commitment if you wish to embark on designing a heavy mech. The Akkara design is a basket case of incompatibilities. There is hardly any optimisation done because the Wolf Mother's processors would crash if we threw too many things at it. Heavy mechs should be designed in proper research bases, not aboard a factory ship."
Lack of manpower and computing power slowed down the development of the Akkara design. It was a very unsubtle mech and required brute force to solve many of its problem.
"Is your design team biting off more than they can chew?"
"That's an understatement!" Pierce huffed. "In my eyes, while the Akkara design fills an important gap in the lineup of the Vandals, we can't keep up with the complexities of this parade horse."
Ves could have said the same. Though the problems with the Hellcat didn't sound so extreme as the Akkara, a hybrid knight came with its own bag of issues.
"All three designs developed internally by the Vandals have one thing in common." Ves remarked as he put his mind on them. "They're products of pride."
Ves shrugged a bit. "Maybe you can call it stubbornness. If the Flagrant Vandals wanted to, they could have borrowed a ready-made design from the central database. I'm sure the Mech Corps developed a raft of highly-optimised designs of a light skirmisher, a medium hybrid knight and a heavy cannoneer."
"Why stick to the current designs then?"
"Because every mech regiment prides their own identity. Only rarely will a mech regiment borrow a design cooked up by other design teams within the Mech Corps because that would be admitting that they can't wipe their own butts."
"That's crazy." Laida murmured as she shook her head. "We're not like any other mech regiment. Our design team is less than a fifth the size of any other team. We can only cope with developing one design at most."
No matter how much they think the current policy was stupid, none of it could be changed. Ves sighed and sank down into his sesat. "This isn't the only area where the Vandals are sticking to their guns. These guys have taken self-sufficiency to an unprecedented height for a mech regiment of the Mech Corps. It's baked into their DNA."
That has served the Vandals well so far, but how long could they go on in the same manner? Eventually, they would hit a wall.