Ves followed after Alloc and stepped on board the shuttle. The Vandal fleet had finally arrived at the edge of the Detemen System. Throughout the haste of making the final deployments, Ves only caught a smattering of what went on.
Apparently, things somewhat went according to plan.
The rebels successfully struck the completely complacent defenders of Detemen II and Detemen IV. Supposedly loyal auxiliary regiments fell within moments as the traitors within their ranks completely turned against their clueless loyalist comrades. Those that remained took stock of the remaining weapons and began to sow an enormous amount of chaos.
Right now, the Detemen System hosted three different battle fronts.
First up was Detemen II, which the rebels hadn't been able to deal too much damage. House Jier held the second planet from the twin suns in a tight grip, and they never mistreated their inhabitants. This was why the rebels hadn't been able to deploy too many of their assets at this planet.
Detemen IV on the other hand fell into a different situation. The resentment against Lord Javier had reached a boiling point, thus a large portion of the local inhabitants rose up as well and rioted on the streets. This completely disordered the planet and caused the defenders to button down in their bases and fight back against the traitor forces that took over the auxiliary regiments.
The third front consisted of the battle in space. A garrison fleet placed in the Detemen System by the Imodris Duchy normally handled all of the deep space patrols. Due to the relative security of the system as well as the pressing need for war assets at the front, the garrison had been left with a number of combat carriers and around three-hundred spaceborn mechs.
Still, defeating three-hundred mechs when they had the run of the entire system was extremely difficult. Keeping them alive and unharmed would be very detrimental for the Vandal fleets, as they would certainly nip at their heels and harass them from the flanks.
Thus, a plan had been set in motion to pull them into a trap. The rebels employed an elaborate distraction with many cheap carriers converted into supposed pirate ships.
The garrison fleet successfully took the bait and pursued the pirates. This drew them away from their bases and towards the edge of the system, right into the jaws of the Vandals.
By the time the garrison fleet realized that they had been duped, it was too late to redirect their momentum away from the Vandal fleet. It took too much time to change their course and shift their huge bulks back to the inner system.
"Strap yourself tight." Alloc said as he sat down on a crash seat and let the straps buckle him tight. "Even if battle is a couple of hours away, you might never know what the Vesians planted here."
Ves sat next to Alloc and after bucking in, he looked at the handful of other servicemen that transferred out of the Wolf Mother. The Vandal fleet had made a lot of reassignments, but it wasn't safe to send out a shuttle during FTL. They could only wait until they transitioned back into realspace before they could send out their transfers.
Now that they entered into a hostile star system, it was as if a switch had flipped in everyone's minds. The Vandals stopped messing around or display any signs of insubordination. They became highly focused and professional, just as Ves had imagined them to be before he arrived in their midst.
The shuttle lifted off from the shuttle hangar of the Wolf Mother and traversed a short distance towards one of the combat carriers heading towards Detemen IV.
He turned to Alloc. "Yes?"
"Your record states that you took part in the fight for the Glowing Planet. Is that true?"
"Pretty much. I was there from the start, and witnessed lots of fighting, sometimes up close. It's not something I'm eager to repeat."
"You've seen more action than me. Besides a couple of mech duels in an arena, I've never seen a real battle between mechs up close. I've always stayed aboard the ships looking at live or recorded footage."
"Recordings usually have very high fidelity, sir. There is no disadvantage in studying the way mechs fight through a projector."
"I used to believe that's the case, but after seeing you at work, I'm not so sure." Alloc sighed. "You're a conundrum, you know that? You're a decade younger than me, but sometimes you make me feel as if I'm the Apprentice and you are the Journeyman. It's not only your wealth of knowledge that astounds me, but also the amount of consideration you have for mech pilots and their mechs. Your advocacy for the Inheritor mechs is like a gust of fresh air in our stale and stagnant design teams."
What was Ves supposed to say to that? "I appreciate your compliments, sir. It's not that hard to show a little more appreciation for the mechs we work with on a daily basis."
"It's not just your consideration that's notable compared to the rest of us. You have a strange way with mechs. It's as if everything you touch turns into something exotic."
"I like to think of it as bringing mechs to life." Ves boldly said on an impulse. Though it strayed a little close to the secret of the X-Factor, he had already become well-known for this saying due to the rising profile of the Living Mech Corporation. "My fundamental philosophy on mechs is that they are more than machines, and deserve to be treated as such."
Alloc fell silent for a moment. "Interesting. I never looked at mechs in that light. You look at mechs and see life. You draw up a design and see the potential of life. It's different for me. My main focus lies in programming the software of my designs, so I have always considered mechs to be blank slates. They start out as nothing, but as I fill in their programming, the details begin to fill in. Once I'm done, I've created a perfect whole design."
Alloc's perspective differed substantially in that he treated his designs as puppets to be pulled by his strings. His puppets were never meant to think or feel for themselves, and they did not deserve any special treatment.
Ves couldn't say which one was better. They both excelled in different circumstances. A programmer like Alloc was used to exerting a high degree of control over his creations. Ves on the other hand left a lot of autonomy to the mech pilot and whatever image took root in his mech.
Their shuttle quickly arrived at its destination and docked inside the hangar of a combat carrier called the Stubby Growler.
The Growler was a hefty combat carrier that conveyed around fifty spaceborn mechs and spares. Designed as a commander center, her class held fewer mechs than the other classes of combat carriers in the Vandal fleet, but made up for it in the thickness of her armor and her powerful means of communications.
"Major Verle would like to see you." A junior officer greeted them as the two mech designers stepped onto the deck of the crowded hangar bay. "Please follow."
They jostled their way through mech technicians performing last-minute repair jobs and mechs slowly walking away from the repair bays and into a position where they could launch at a moment's notice.
From the activity in this hangar bay, Ves got a good read on the attitude of the Vandals. Everyone radiated eagerness in a way that made him feel as if he was in the middle of a pack of wolves drooling at a juicy prey off in the distance. The mech pilots in particular displayed barely checked aggression. They couldn't wait to dive into the Vesians and tear their mechs apart.
They exited the hangar bay and climbed up a couple of decks. After traversing a couple of winded corridors and passing through a number of security checks, they entered what appeared to be a command center. Over two-dozen specialists sat behind a number of varied consoles, and they managed everything from sensors to mech deployment.
Guided by the young officer, they approached the grey-haired officer looking down on the central plot from an elevated seat. The man obviously possessed the physique of a mech pilot and looked as if he could still fight on for a couple of decades more.
"Mr. Brandstad, good to see you again!"
"Major Verle, it's a pleasure."
"And who is this young fellow?"
"This is Ves Larkinson, an Apprentice Mech Designer under my wing."
"Larkinson, you say? Is he related to...?"
Here we go again, Ves sighed. "I am part of the famous Larkinson Family, sir."
Everyone he met so far treated the Larkinson name with respect. Not so for Major Verle. As soon as Ves confirmed his lineage, the Major's face turned flat. "I suggest you take your cues from Mr. Brandstad and stay out of our way. We cannot afford any distractions during the heat of battle. Understood?"
Did the man got duped by a Larkinson or something? Or did he know the true story behind Colonel Lowenfield's exile, and felt indignant on behalf of his superior?
Both Ves and Alloc sat down on a pair of basic seats meant for guests. They quietly observed the proceedings as the Vandal fleet closed in on the hapless garrison fleet that had strayed too far from its base to call for reinforcements.
"What's our job here?" Ves whispered to Alloc.
"We're here to serve as technical advisors. We assist Major Verle in identifying the weaknesses of enemy mechs and answer any questions he might pose to us as long as it falls under our area of expertise. However, don't mistake this assignment as a way to command over mechs. We are not here to usurp Major Verle's authority."
"Does this mean we stay shut most of the time?"
"There's definitely a lot of waiting involved. Unless it's truly urgent, don't speak up unless our advice is called for. I expect we won't be needed during the upcoming battle against the garrison fleet. It's when our detachment enters into the orbit of Detemen IV that we'll be needed. In the meantime, I suggest you while away your time by studying up on the data that is made available to us. There's a projector embedded inside the armrest. Squeeze this part here to turn it on."
Ves did as he was told and a small projected terminal appeared in front of his face. As he explored its interface, he found out that the terminal mainly presented sensor readings to him. The AIs in charge of interpreting the raw data already translated the observed mechs in the distance into a number of familiar Vesian designs.
"First, study the sensor readings and double-check the designs. Many designs used by the Vesians are continually developing, just like our three designs, so there will always be minor and major variations between the iterations. Before the Vandals enter into battle, we have to make sure that we pinned down the exact versions and provide accurate estimates of their specs."
"Understood. I'm on it."
Ves hadn't expected to do something like this, but he couldn't complain. At least he wasn't one of those poor bums who would soon be deployed to the surface of the moons and Detemen IV.
Due to his extensive knowledge, Ves rapidly adjusted to his job of analyzing the mechs identified by the AIs. The enemy fleet had finally found out that they had been lured into a trap. Their carriers frantically turned around to head back to the lunar fortress above Detemen IV, but they couldn't beat the awesome amount of inertia that slowly brought them to their inevitable doom.
At this moment of time, the Vandal fleet hadn't split up into two detachments yet. Colonel Lowenfield wanted to keep her assets together and crush the Vesian garrison fleet in a single blow.
Unfortunately, the enemy did the smart thing.
"The garrison fleet is splitting up!"