The Verle Task Force transitioned back into FTL immediately after the space burial. They needed to leave the vicinity of the Detemen System as soon as possible in order to throw off pursuit.
In truth, the caskets thrown out into space for the space burial might easily be detected by any scouts that entered this system. Ves guessed that Major Verle wasn't stupid enough to leave behind some breadcrumbs without a good reason. Perhaps there was a deliberate element of strategy here.
"I don't think anyone in the Kingdom expected your Vandal fleet to split up." Iris explained when she saw his puzzlement. "It's even more perplexing that this task force is heading in the opposite direction."
At the very least, it would scramble the defense forces of the Kingdom and force them to split their focus, but only up to a certain extent.
Each fief in the Kingdom hosted their own separate defense forces. Each noble House maintained their own garrison fleets that ordinarily guarded important star systems, but they were not above combining their forces and pursuing an intruding element like the Vandals passing through their domains.
Of course, each House eyed each other warily, so they wouldn't easily team up. Not even the royals possessed that much power. Even the Mech Legion couldn't resist being fractured by the competition between powerful interest groups.
"How dangerous will it be to sneak this task force to the Reinald border?" Ves asked.
"Very challenging." Iris said. "We managed to breeze through their territories because we successfully hid our presence. That's no longer an option."
"Your VRF can't keep hiding us?"
"Not when the entire Kingdom is alarmed and out for our blood. We're close to the heart of their Kingdom. There is no way the Vesian nobles will tolerate our escape. They'll deploy much more probes to the surrounding star systems. The rebel groups aligned with us can obfuscate some of the probes, but it's impossible to catch them all."
After some clarification, Iris explained that the VRF would only be able to keep their journey hidden at some points along their route. There were still many desolate star systems within the border of the Kingdom, but the odds of detection when transitioning out of FTL was roughly thirty percent.
"So one times out of three, the task force's presence is passed on to the Vesians. While that wouldn't be sufficient to catch up on us, they can make a good guess where we will transition to next and prepare enough ships to greet our arrival with a storm of fire."
"The odds of guessing our next destination shouldn't be easy." Ves pointed out. "There's dozens of potential destinations with each hop in our journey. Also, it's impossible for those selfish Houses to volunteer their valuable defense forces to clash against us wholeheartedly."
What benefit would they receive if they hindered the formidable task force? A force that consisted of half a mech regiment was no joke. Even though they split their mech compliment between spaceborn mechs and landbound mechs, not every noble House can conjure up hundreds of mechs at the snap of their fingers.
"You're right about that. Much of the Kingdom's military strength is transferred to the frontlines. With the absence of first-rate mech divisions and mech regiments, what's left behind are second-rate defense and garrison troops. They play a vital role in the defense of critical infrastructure. The moment that someone redirects these forces to somewhere else, the VRF will instantly instigate the local rebel groups to strike their defenseless assets."
In a way, this was an open conspiracy between the VRF and the noble Houses. Even if they wished to fight for the glory of taking down the intruders that brazenly raided the Detemen System, they couldn't afford to sustain any damage to their industries and defensive installations.
"Still, it's hard to believe that the Vesians don't have any large mobile assets available to defend their own territory. Or else, any random pirate swarm could have wreaked havoc within their borders."
It sounded too stupid if that was the case. The Vesia Kingdom stood stable for hundreds of years, and grew up alongside the Bright Republic that would have pounced on this weakness.
"That's the most dangerous part in our escape. The Mech Legion hasn't sent all of their mech divisions to the frontlines. Every duchy is still in the process of mobilizing their mech forces. Even if their mech divisions are incomplete, they can easily overwhelm our task force if they managed to catch up to us."
The premise here was that they could catch up to the Vandals at all. Splitting up the divisions into regiments or smaller allowed them to cast a wider net. However, the Vandals could easily pierce through a net that was spread too wide.
Basically, it all came down to luck and probability. Ves guessed that they would probably get caught a few times along their two-month journey to the Reinald Republic.
Ves summed up the task force's predicament. "It's as if we are playing a game. Each new turn, we get to take a step forward, but we also have to roll a dice. If our luck is good, nothing will happen."
When their luck took a bad turn, the task force might need to fight their way out. Battle was inevitable.
"Thus, it's important for you to get your act together, Ves. A head designer isn't just a figurehead. It's a position that demands tough decision-making. A critical oversight might lead to bad matchups in the coming battles! The lives of hundreds of mech pilots are at your mercy!"
Iris might have exaggerated a little, but Ves did wield enough influence over mech policy to affect the outcome of any battles during this period. Even if he maintained the status quo, that was also a decision in itself that may attract some blame to him if a battle went south.
At his first day of work, Ves needed to get apprised to current status of the mech companies under his purview. Naturally, Ves wouldn't be able to call up a convenient System-like Status page for every mech company, so he needed to do things the old-fashioned way.
He read. He read a lot. Major Verle's ships had a four-day journey ahead of themselves before they arrived at the next star system, so Ves spent almost every hour getting up to date.
In the meantime, he issued a broad instruction for every mech company to perform repairs at their own judgement. He only added an extra instruction to channel most of their available manpower and resources to fixing up their spaceborn mechs. Without the strength to contest in space, the task force could forget about escaping Vesian space.
For his reading marathon, Ves first tackled the welcome package sent by Professor Velten. Some of it contained regulations that reiterated the points in their discussion, but in more exact and official terms.
The most important point was that a head designer still fell outside the chain of command. Nothing changed in that matter. Ves wouldn't be able to point to a random crew member aboard the Shield of Hispania and order them around.
In practice, this meant that his scope was wide, but his actual authority was more nebulous. If he couldn't convince the mech officers and the staff officers that his decisions benefited the Vandals, they would be free to treat his words as air.
"This isn't very different from my days as an entrepreneur." He snorted. "The only thing that's different is that my customers have changed. Before, I tried to sell my mechs to the market. Now, I have to sell my proposals to a single customer."
In truth, the Flagrant Vandals didn't consist of a single 'customer' per se. Though a mech regiment imposed a high level of standardization, every mech company performed a different role. Besides distinguishing themselves as spaceborn or landbound units, they also pursued a broad specialization, such as scouting, defense or assault.
After reading the mountain of regulations, Ves dove into the nitty gritty of the Flagrant Vandals. He not only read through Velten's summary, he also dove into the databases to make his own investigations.
A clear picture started to form in his mind.
As a rule, the Vandals really liked to raid. Their spaceborn assets leaned towards lighter mechs and most of their mechs fulfilled some sort of offensive role. Their defensive capability was frankly piss-poor.
"We don't have a lot of knights or rifleman mechs on our rosters."
This presented a fairly substantial hole in their mech lineup. The Flagrant Vandals only excelled at a limited variety of mission profiles. Once they performed a mission out of their element, their strength took a nosedive.
From another perspective, the Vandals acted like a sharp and silent dagger. A large proportion of their combat carriers and mechs were quite fast, and could appear in unexpected locations with ease. Once an enemy detected their presence, they could either strike hard and fast or scurry away like cowardly rats.
"We're basically a one-trick pony."
This deliberate direction enabled the Vandals to become very good at what they did. It also earned them a decent amount of efficiency compared to a balanced mech regiment. Mech pilots could easily transfer between different mech models that performed the same role, and mech technicians were highly familiar on how to tweak the mechs to bring out their strengths.
Mechs that performed similar roles also used up the same broad pool of material types. For example, a knight mech design mainly utilized dense alloys, while a skirmisher mech exclusively made use of lightweight alloys.
Plenty of exceptions existed of course, but light and skinny medium mechs were responsible for the bulk of the task force's resource demands.
This emphasis tremendously eased the logistical burden of the Vandals. Rather than drawing up smaller amounts from a large pool of material types, they instead drew up larger amounts from a more limited pool.
It was like the difference between someone eating a varied diet of food and a crazy person that predominantly ate eggs. While the latter person also ate some fruit, vegetables and meat, but it was to such a small extent that they barely played a role.
After analyzing the task force's mech lineup from the perspective of the line officers and staff officers, he turned his attention to the giant anomaly in their midst.
"The professor wasn't kidding that maintaining an expert pilot costs as much as a combat carrier!"
The abundant amount of money in the form of resources spent on upkeep, repairs and overhauls easily surpassed several billion credits on an annual basis.
Even a normal mech regiment would have a heart attack if they wished to support an extra expert pilot!
This black hole in their roster and budget swallowed so many resources that even the Vandals couldn't bear the expenditure. Digging a little further into the database, Ves found out that the Vandals actually retained two expert pilots!
"They're already in the red for supporting one expert pilot. Adding another is straining their budget to the bursting point!"
The dire financial position of the Vandals could partially be attributed on their insistence in supporting two expert pilots. Some mech regiments outright went without any expert pilots because they couldn't find any or bear the cost of upkeep!
Naturally, the saying that you got what you paid for also applied in this case. An expert pilot paired with a supremely built expert mech formed a very powerful spearhead that could be sent to accomplish the impossible.
For someone like Venerable O'Callahan, fighting one against hundred wasn't out of the question.
"At least it's a good thing that he's piloting a spaceborn mech."
O'Callahan piloted a lancer mech, which was basically a spearman mech with a flight system. His mech excelled in duels where its lance could chew up any enemy mech in its way with a single charge. The only demerit to this mode of combat was that he couldn't eliminate mechs in a group.
"That should be another deliberate choice." Ves mused. "The regular Vandals can take care of the cannon fodder. O'Callahan should only be brought out when the enemy threatens our rank-and-file with elites."
The Venerable's lancer mech could also be converted into an aerial mech that was suitable to operating within the gravity well of a planet. The conversion process demanded a lot of time and resources, though, so the switch needed to be done well in advance.
All in all, the mechs of the task force appeared to be very strong in writing. However, Ves also spotted the cracks while riding between the lines.