Ves never put the software aspect of mechs in his eyes.
When he started out with developing variants, he always utilized the complete control system that came with the base model.
When he moved on to designing his own original mechs, he mostly pieced together the different software that came with with the component licenses. To get them to communicate and work together in a seamless fashion, he unified them into an off-the-shelf operation system that he randomly bought from the MTA.
The MTA developed these operating systems for maximum compatibility and minimal chances of bugs and errors. They'd been polished to such an insane degree that even the shabbiest heaps of junk on legs would be able to operate smoothly as long as its shambling components held up.
"A good operating system is like a very bright mind. The highest quality software can elevate the performance of the weakest mechs to a higher level."
With such a convenient solution at hand, Ves never spent much effort into improving his ability to program a mech, let alone hack its operating system. If Ves still possessed the System, his Status would clearly state that his Computer Science Skill still stood out with an abysmally low evaluation of Incompetent.
Normally, his approach to this field didn't pose a problem to him. As much as a mech designer pretended to be all-knowing when it concerned their profession, he never intended to learn every possible aspect about designing mechs. Even if he possessed something as absurd as the System, Ves would have to spend too much DP to upgrade every possible Skill and Sub-Skill.
"I should have at least spent a few thousand DP to upgrade my Computer Science to Novice or Apprentice or something."
If he had done something like that, then he may be in a better position to hack the tough cases that remained in the mech stables.
In truth, hacking was an extremely complex field and profession in its own right. Mech designers generally worked on the other side of the fence and tried to make their mechs as impenetrable to virtual invasions as possible. They never put any importance in learning how to hack someone else's mechs.
"If Captain Orfan has a full crew under her command, then she'd surely have a professional hacker under her command."
Hackers of all kind still thrived during the Age of Mechs. Much of their battles occurred out of sight, but their clashes sometimes reached apocalyptic proportions in virtual space. As poor as the 6th Flagrant Vandals might seem, they certainly wouldn't have neglected their hackers and virtual security experts.
Ves turned on his comm and contacted Lieutenant Burke. A projection of the communications officer's face appeared over his armored wrist.
"May I help you, Mr. Larkinson?"
"Does Captain Orfan have any hackers at her disposal?"
"No." The lieutenant shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Larkinson, but we've been prioritizing the search for hackers even over other mech pilots. Our efforts have turned up fruitless so far."
The crew complement of a combat carrier didn't include a lot of hackers. Chances were low that the few hackers aboard the destroyed vessels had ended up on Detemen IV. Even if their crash balls or hazard suits took them to the planet, they might have landed far away from Neron City.
Thus, they may never be able to retrieve their own hackers before their time in the system was up. Ves came up with a different solution to overcome this problem.
"Since chances are low that some of our hackers will return, I think we should enlist the services of local hackers instead."
The lieutenant frowned at that. "You want to rely on Vesian hackers to unlock those mech?"
"You're in touch with the Detemen League, right? Surely they can spare some hackers for us."
"We've already asked for assistance, but to no avail. Every hacker in their employ is busy with scouring through databases and records in a concerted effort to find out where Lord Javier is hiding. It's impossible for them to spare even a single hacker away from this crucial task."
That explained why the rebels hadn't lent a hand. Still, Ves didn't give up on his idea yet. "If we can't borrow the services of a rebel hacker, then why not someone else? Millions of people live in Neron City. There should be thousands of people among them with hacking expertise. Just grab the closest ones you can find and force them to work for us."
"That's madness!" The lieutenant blew up. "Although a skilled hacker might be able to unlock those mechs, they can also slip in any number of sabotage. Who can tell whether they'll embed spying software that broadcasts the positions of our mechs to House Eneqqin's troops? Hackers can do so much more than that."
She had a valid point, but Captain Orfan wouldn't be able to accomplish any of her tasks if they didn't do anything.
"If their loyalty is in question, then why not track down and kidnap their family members as well?" Ves suggested. "As long as you hold enough leverage over their heads, they'll obediently do what we want."
He thought that a Vandal would accept his words without blinking. Instead, the lieutenant looked at him with horror.
"We do not condone such behavior! The Flagrant Vandals might not enjoy the best reputation, but we uphold the values of the Republic. We do not approve of such despicable behavior."
Ves wanted to smack the lieutenant's face. What was she even saying? Their arrival into this system directly led to the misery on the streets. The Vandals already had a lot of blood in their hands, so what was the harm in dirtying them with a few more drops?
Just as Ves wanted to put out a retort, a third person intruded into their comm channel. "Lieutenant, back off."
The lieutenant saluted at her superior while Ves nodded at her presence. He hadn't realized that she listened in on their conversation.
"Let me preface this by saying that the Flagrant Vandals aren't pirates and will never be anything like them." Orfan said, yet she looked apologetic at Lieutenant Burke. "However, our circumstances have landed us in a difficult place. We are far away from any friendly help. Both the rebels and the main ground force are preoccupied with their own priorities, and they have nothing to spare for us. We're on our own here."
"That should be no excuse to loosen our standards!"
"We've never played by the rules!" Orfan overturned the naive-sounding lieutenant. "We've broken more rules than we can count simply to keep the Flagrant Vandals afloat. Perhaps your shipboard assignments hasn't allowed you to get in touch with what we do, but I can tell you that Colonel Lowenfield herself wouldn't reject Mr. Larkinson's suggestion out of hand."
"B-B-But ma'am, we're part of the Mech Corps."
Ves found Lieutenant Burke's protestations very sad, in a way. Under normal circumstances, her opinion should have been the prevailing one. Yet such an idealistic attitude would have doomed the Flagrant Vandals many years ago.
Captain Orfan spoke correctly. The Vandals never played by the rules.
"The Mech Corps is fighting on the frontlines, holding the Mech Legion back on Republican soil. We on the other hand have snuck knee-deep into Vesian space. Our only allies are the tenuous Vesian rebels, who only agreed to cooperate with us because our interests happen to align on some matters. Without any other friends that can bail us out, we are basically at their whims."
"The rebels have made it more than clear that they want to drag Lord Javier from whatever hole he's hiding and execute him in the most painful and public manner possible." Ves added, though perhaps he acted a little too presumptuously because Captain Orfan sent him a dirty look.
Orfan coughed a bit. "Our timetable is shot to hell. Nothing is going according to plan. During times like this, it's necessary for us to be flexible."
Against her direct superior, Lieutenant Burke had no choice but to retreat. "I understand, ma'am."
"I'll draft some orders for you to pass on in a moment. I want you to task our intelligence specialists in finding the probable locations of any notable hackers in Neron City. Make sure to find where there families might reside as well. We'll task our mechs and infantry to retrieve these Vesians once we find their locations. Mr. Larkinson will have his hackers soon enough."
The three-way channel closed, leaving Ves by himself. Just as he thought he had the Vandals figured out, the conversation just then showed that his judgement wasn't complete.
"Are the Vandals truly worthy to carry the banner of the Mech Corps?"
Perhaps they weren't as monolithic as Ves had initially suspected. He always treated them like a single monoculture where every Vandal more or less held similar ideas. Ves hadn't seen a dispute like the one between Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Burke even once since the months he had been with this mech regiment.
"Maybe it's a difference between a mech officer and a ship officer."
Even if they served under the flag of the Flagrant Vandals, they all formed their own cliques. Though they shared a common starting point when it came to their culture, they all possessed their own nuances.
In general, the ship crews let themselves be subordinated to the mech crews. A mech regiment revolved around their mechs, not their ships. Many mech pilots even dismissed the importance of modern carriers as space taxis for their mechs.
In the middle of this traditional dynamic, only Colonel Lowenfield broke the mold. By all accounts, she wasn't a mech pilot, yet she commanded the respect of all the Vandals, mech pilots or not. Even if her administrative skills had rescued the Vandals from the brink of bankruptcy, she must have mastered some secret sauce in order to win the hearts of every Vandal.
"Well, whatever. That's not important right now."
While Captain Orfan prepared her unit to follow his suggested course of action, Ves needed to make his own preparations.
Though the rudimentary network setup by the Vandals didn't allow him to connect to the galactic net, he still possessed his self-made comm.
Previously, in situations like this where his skills fell short, Ves would have spent his DP on upgrading whatever Skill was necessary to tackle the problem.
"I can't do that for the time being, but maybe I can do something similar."
Ves entered one of the many abandoned offices of the Dastardly Handsome Bastards and closed the door. After making himself comfortable, he activated his self-made comm and visited the virtual portal of the Clifford Society. He wasted no time to enter their Star Library.
As a Knight of the Society, Ves was allowed to read any textbook in the lowest library of the Society for free, and with much less restrictions.
If he tried to borrow a quality book from the Moon Library, he had to wait until someone physically delivered a special means for him to read the highly protected books.
"It's impossible for me to count on that in the middle of a war zone."
Fortunately, Ves didn't think of upgrading one of his higher Skills. He only wanted to brush up his extremely low-level Computer Science Skill, and perhaps pick up some pointers about Hacking along the process.
"My current Intelligence is rated at around 2.1, which is far above the genetic limit of humanity. I wonder how fast I can learn the basics of Hacking?"
Ever since he upgraded his Intelligence through the Transcendence Pill, he never made full use of his strongest Attribute in a learning capacity. His ability to cram new knowledge should have reached a frightening level.
His virtual avatar looked at the endless rows of simulated books and grinned like a shark. He already began to salivate at the prospect of devouring the knowledge hidden within at a record pace.