Now that the fleet entered into FTL, they didn't have to worry about any enemy attacks for the time being. Each ship could stand down and let the crew relax. Not too much, of course. Plenty of work needed to be done, especially for the mech technicians and mech designers.
Ves frowned at the list of resources the Vandals needed to replenish their losses. The total price tag increased by a third, which signified how many raw materials was required to plug all of the gaps.
"Just a brief skirmish already inflicted so much damage!"
Despite their material losses, the Flagrant Vandals treated it as a win. No matter how skewed their losses turned out to be, they successfully fended off the Calico Dancer Bats and forced them to abort their stalling plans.
Ves knew why the mood was so upbeat. The servicemen really needed a morale booster. Major Verle explicitly ordered everyone smart enough to know the truth to play along with this charade.
He pressed his lips into a line as he wandered across the Shield of Hispania. Everyone acted as if they had become indomitable against all adversity.
To Ves, the Vandals only made it out because of some extreme decisions and the benefit of luck.
If Imodris had been a little more prompt in sending out their reinforcements, the Vandals wouldn't have made it out at all.
Back at his office, Ves worked hours on end to adjust the timetable in response to the heavy damage sustained by the Inheritors. Even mechs that hadn't suffered a single scratch would have soothy smoke emerging from the internals.
"More than two-hundred Inheritors are crippled! This is too much!"
The brief period where the mech pilots pushed the overload from twenty to thirty percent represented a painful spike to the mechs they piloted.
Just as Ves thought he would be handling logistical issues for the entire week, Major Verle suddenly called him up to his office. After entering it, the mech officer immediately brought up a disconcerting topic.
"I'm here to discuss the situation with the Finmoth Regal to you. Our investigators have achieved some preliminary results. Read this first."
The major handed over a data pad to Ves, who quickly scoured through the heavily-summarized report. His expression sunk as he realized how far this rabbit hole descended.
When Ves detected something strange from Nemo McAllister's mech, he traced the suspect work back to a trio of mech technicians aboard the Finmoth Regal. When Ves passed his suspicions to Major Verle, he ordered their arrest.
That was when the bombs exploded. The damage to one of the Regal's hangar bay was already bad enough, but taking out an engine almost forced the task force to leave her behind.
They couldn't afford to lose a combat carrier!
Fortunately, the Finmoth Regal was able to keep up by getting towed long enough for her to regain partial propulsion. She was also able to transition into FTL without a problem because FTL travel didn't rely on sublight propulsion in the first place.
Now that the immediate crisis had passed, Major Verle ordered an extensive inspection of the Finmoth Regal. From top to bottom, everything shady and dubious got exposed.
The data pad listed various minor infractions such as illegal gambling rings and fight clubs. None of those incidents really mattered too much so the Vandals who participated in these kinds of activities only suffered a slap on the wrist.
The investigators focused more on the serious infractions. A loose string of threats and blackmail eventually led to Chief Technician Michael Elin.
"I see now." Ves uttered with shock and disappointment. "Chief Elin was one of the ringleaders responsible for the embezzlement that we cracked down on. I can't believe he got mixed with traitors."
The three mech technicians who installed the unauthorized modifications in Nemo's mech couldn't be brought to questioning because they all blew themselves up. The investigators tried hard, but they couldn't identify any fellow conspirators. The three had always acted in a low-key manner and made few friends among the crew of the Finmoth Regal. The only person aboard the ship that had a connection to them was the chief that supervised their activities.
As their superior, Chief Elin should have kept a closer eye on what the hidden traitors had been up to. Letting them install unauthorized modifications without a single checkup was a massive act of negligence on the part of the chief.
While chief technicians couldn't possible ride behind the shoulders of every subordinate, they should at least be diligent enough to check off any completed modifications.
"How did Chief Elin get mixed up with the traitors in the first place?"
"Money, basically." Major Verle sighed and rubbed his tired face. "The treacherous trio got inside his good books and helped him facilitate the embezzlement. They became his left and right arms and did all of the actual work. Through years of pretending to be his dimwitted but loyal henchmen, Chief Elin completely trusted their loyalty."
"Even then, regulations state that chiefs have to double-check everyone's finished work no matter how much they favor them. How did the traitors manage to get the chief off their backs?"
"They took advantage of the embezzlement that Chief Elin was engaged in. It's very simple, Mr. Larkinson. As the mastermind behind this scheme, would the chief want to get caught red-handed trying to manipulate the machines that siphoned away a minute portions of valuable exotics?"
"He would want to stay away as far as he can. In fact, it would be better if Chief Elin exposed himself as little as possible."
The traitors certainly outsmarted the greedy chief who thought nothing about his own benefits. The man whose job was to supervise his underlings completely neglected his fundamental duties.
A chief technician's main job was to direct the mech technicians and stop them from doing any damage! Any other responsibility only served as extras compared to this first demand.
Thus, with the traitors aboard the Finmoth Regal going out with a bang, how could Chief Elin not escape from scrutiny. It took a lot of digging to uncover the hidden files and other shady matters that he had done.
From there, they uncovered a network of over a dozen conspirators, from a security officer that hacked and wiped the ubiquitous monitoring system, to a cargo handler who smuggled packets of high-value exotics to black market dealers whenever the Finmoth Regal berthed at a space station.
The worst thing about it was that the conspiracy even extended to a low-ranking mech designer called Loke Vedette. The hapless chump had immediately been thrown into the brig.
Major Verle emphasized the breadth and depth of the conspiracy. "Chief Elin's network extended throughout the middle and lower decks of the Finmoth Regal. Through the enticement of profits, he subverted over a dozen pliable Vandals. It's a failure on multiple levels. Chief responsibility for this failure rests on the Regal's chief security officer, but the captain is culpable as well. As for Mr. Vedette, he has not fulfilled the responsibilities that we expect from our mech designers."
In other words, Ves shared some of the blame as well for letting Vedette be pulled into Chief Elin's schemes.
Rather than come up with some excuse that all of this happened prior to being field promoted to head designer, Ves readily accepted the blame. "I have not been thorough enough in my supervision. His failure his my failure."
"Good" Major Verle smiled. "Accepting your faults is the first step to turning this disaster around."
He only acknowledged the blame because he didn't care too much about his current job. As for blame, in actuality Vedette should have been supervised by Bovis Mercator. So when it came to actual blame, Mercator should have shouldered the brunt of it. Ves already planned a way to get back at his rival for this screw-up. He felt a lot of threat from this ambitious careerist.
"Our security department and I will pass judgement over Chief Elin and his fellow conspirators. The punishments will be handed out by myself as well. While the others have mostly been duped or charmed into participating in Elin's schemes, the chief himself will likely face the ultimate punishment."
Verle didn't need to elaborate on what this punishment entailed. Ves heard enough stories from his aunts and uncles to know that the victim deserved every bit of suffering that they had in store.
If Chief Elin was found guilty of gross negligence and betrayal during an active battle in a time of war, he would get what was known as the Cold Burial or Lonely Trek.
The punishment was known as the cold burial because it was pretty much the opposite to the space burial of the honored dead. While servicemen who fell in the line of duty would be flung into the sun to let his physical manifestation experience a rebirth, no such privilege would be granted to traitors.
Chief Elin would pretty much be pushed inside an aircar-sized coffin and be locked with some loose restraints. The coffin would have a miniature life-support system that provided the former chief with a complete circulation of nutrient packs, water and oxygen. Naturally, the waste management system would recycle the waste products and blend them with cultivated organics to produce another batch of nutrient packs.
Basically, the coffin was a tiny prison where a human would theoretically be able to live out their natural lifespan. It cost a fair bit of resources to fabricate such a meticulous self-enclosed ecosystem, but the Bright Republic definitely had the technology to realize such a thing.
However, it was called a coffin and not a prison for a very good reason. Besides these basic amenities, the coffin held nothing else. No distractions, no connections to any networks, not even a shower.
On top of that, the coffin would be operated by an AI whose sole job was to keep the occupant alive as long as possible. The AI insured the prisoner kept being fed and watered while preventing them from committing suicide. To accomplish this, robust robotic arms would be affixed to the insides of the coffin. Like any other component of the coffin, these arms could not be broken by any human force and was meticulously built to last for centuries.
Any human occupant would die long before the coffin succumbed to time.
This cruel punishment where the occupant suffered an endless, lonely trek in the dark of interstellar space was one of the cruelest punishments that the Mech Corps could give out. Personally, Ves thought Major Verle was being a bit excessive by hinting at this punishment.
He much preferred a straightforward execution to end this matter quickly.
"Why did you tell me this, sir? While I'm not a lawyer, I don't think it's entirely appropriate for you to talk about Chief Elin's punishment before his formal trial."
"In this task force, I set the laws." Verle boldly stated. The man practically glowed when he said that. "Trial or not, Chief Elin's fate is sealed. In our flight from the Kingdom, we can't afford too many mistakes. Any treachery or acts of negligence puts us further and further away from crossing the borders. An example must be made. The slack that we've given the Vandals during peacetime was a mistake. This is the strongest message I can give that any further failures will not be tolerated."
Ves inched a little backward in fright. The mech officer was being really intense right now! "Ah, I understand. You want to kill the chicken to scare the monkeys. That's a good idea, sir. Maybe the rest of the Vandals that are scheming against our mech regiment will think twice."
"I'm not so optimistic about that. Vandals will be Vandals. Obedience is not in our DNA. There will always be incidents. The key is to encourage my men to tone them down. At the very least, outright treachery and negligence that leads to deaths must not occur again under my watch."
The man shouldered the responsibility of shepherding the task force safely across the borders and reach the promised land of the Reinald Republic. The pressure he faced was immense, so Ves somewhat sympathized with the mech officer.
"One more thing, Mr. Larkinson."
"You are responsible for building Chief Elin's coffin. Do it in person. Make it durable and make it last."