The Shield of Hispania's conference room hosted a lot of contentious meetings lately. Ship captains, mech officers and staff officers all congregated in a single room to decide on which Venidse star system they should descend upon.
Everyone had their ideas. The hawks, which predominantly consisted of mech officers, wanted to raid a resource-rich system. Of course, they didn't aim their sights to systems comparable to the Detemen System. They couldn't afford to get bogged down by several hundred mechs.
The hawks picked out a number of targets that seemed very ambitious to Ves. Even if the Vandals rolled over the opposition, they would still pay a significant price.
The risk-averse crowd that comprised of other mech officers and the majority of the staff officers advocated for caution. The fleet was running low on certain resources, and they weren't at their best. Attacking a smaller, safer target should be the way to go.
These two groups had been at loggerheads for days. Ves watched on as the majority swung back and forth, all the while Major Verle showed uncharacteristic indecisiveness.
Ves was about Verle's stance. Throughout all of their time together, his impressions of the grizzled veteran had been as a staunch leader and a ruthless decision maker that wouldn't hesitate to take the most expedient course of action.
For him to withhold his decision at this junction puzzled Ves a little bit. Did he truly hesitate on his decision right now, or did he wish for the argument to play out?
His instincts believed that it must have been a deliberate choice. Ves mostly sat in the sidelines, so he could look at the entire situation with some detachment. Looking at the various officers attending the meetings via their projections while arguing passionately about their opinions, perhaps it all served as one giant distraction.
Every leader in the task force focused their energies into deciding which star system to raid. Some spent hours in research and preparation to present the most compelling arguments on why their targeted star systems was the most suitable ones to attack.
The momentous discussion distracted them from the misfortune they suffered in the past. Rather than allowing them to dwell at their failings, Verle sneakily used the meetings to direct his most important subordinates into thinking about their next steps forward.
Ves would have applauded the shrewd commanding officer if he wasn't afraid of giving the game away. He felt as if he constantly absorbed new tricks by staying in Major Verle's vicinity.
Eventually, the game had to come to an end. After yet another exhausting back-and-forth, Verle abruptly stood to announce his decision.
"We shall change course towards the Hachew System."
As expected, Major Verle chose to settle on a compromise. His answers didn't satisfy any of the participants, but it hadn't snubbed anyone either. An awkward atmosphere descended as everyone came to grips with the decision.
"The Hachew System isn't as well-defended as prosperous systems, but neither is it barren to the point of calling it a rural system. It hosts a moderate military presence and a handful of mines. Its value is nothing special, but it happens to extract some of the materials we are desperately short on. This should be sufficient to replenish some of our scarcity."
Ves quietly nodded as he read through the basic details of the Hachew System from the panel projected in the middle of the conference table. While it wouldn't enrich the Vandals and allow them to gain more trade goods for them to exchange for what they needed from the rebels, it did happen to contain some of the ores and materials that was vital in repairing and strengthening the Inheritor mechs.
The Hachew System actually looked like a destination that Ves would recommend himself if he didn't wish to refrain from taking part in the internal politics of the Flagrant Vandals.
"Prepare for battle. The Hachew System isn't very far away. Make sure our mechs are ready to deploy with as much strength as they can muster."
The task force had been drifting deeper into Venidse. It wouldn't take too much of a course change to reach the Hachew System. This told Ves that the entire show had been premeditated from the start. Major Verle already had a destination in mind before they even crossed into Venidse space!
Ves could tell that some of the other Vandals came to the same realization. However, they only amounted to twenty percent of the participants at most.
After the meeting came at an end, every projection winked out while those who were physically present left the compartment.
"Ah, yes sir?"
Major Verle walked up to him and asked an important question. "The next raid will require both spaceborn and landbound mechs. Can we field a sufficient amount of both at this stage?"
"Our spaceborn mech contingent requires more time to get back up to full strength. I'm sorry, but it will take at least two weeks to recover the majority of the Inheritors that sustained internal damage. The material damage was light but very comprehensive, so we have to rebuild them from the ground up. This is a necessary but time-consuming process. Even if you exhort my mech designers to work faster, it's unrealistic to expect them to be up and running in time for the Hachew raid."
The major furrowed his brows. "I did not anticipate the damage has reached such an extent. This isn't the first time we've overloaded the Inheritors. Every time, they bounced back fairly swiftly."
"I know, sir. I've browsed the archives. This is different, though. Previously, we had access to the Wolf Mother, which is an ad-hoc but fully functional factory ship. The production lines aboard that ship is capable of mass-producing an enormous amount of mech parts as long as we can feed enough materials into them. That's not possible now that we split up the main fleet. The two logistics ships our task force has retained can only do a fraction of the work of a factory ship."
To put it simply, the Verle Task Force got the short end of the stick when it came to the split. The Wolf Mother, Colonel Lowenfield, Major Verle and two of their remaining Journeyman Mech Designers had all been retained by the diminished main fleet that was on their way back to Republic space.
"Our landbound mechs?"
"They require a lot of repairs as well. We've never had the time to recover all of the damage our landbound mechs sustained in the Detemen Operation. It's been something of a low priority for us. According to our original schedule, we should have shifted more workers towards repairing the landbound mechs after crossing into Venidse. The destructive aftermath of the recent skirmish delayed that plan."
This put Major Verle in a worse position than he wished. Though the task force was still capable of fielding a respectable amount of spaceborn and landbound mechs, the shortages would hurt. Less mechs meant less reserves and a smaller margin for error.
Verle should have access to most of this information already. Ves was very punctual in his reports. It seemed to him that the man was desperate for hope.
Unfortunately for the both of them, Ves couldn't magically conjure up additional mechs. Hope didn't work that way.
"I will endeavor to ready as much mechs as possible in time for the raid, but don't expect too much from us, sir."
"We shall settle on that."
Ves walked away with a lot of uncertainty from that. The longer this trip progressed, the more he understood Verle's burden. Despite knowing little about the mech officer's history, he felt he became more in tune with Verle with each passing day.
The Hachew System shouldn't pose any threat to the Vandals. It was a system whose wealth sat between a rural system and an industrial system. In other words, wealthier than Cloudy Curtain but poorer than the Detemen System.
Unless Venidse predicted their destination beforehand, the Hachew System shouldn't be capable of inflicting heavy casualties to the Vandals.
Yet hadn't the LMC once trounced a Vesian raiding party?
"Don't underestimate the locals."
The Flagrant Vandals chose to raid the Hachew System because it held a number of strategically important mines to them. Any mine of value would be guarded. Fighting past these company forces was a nuisance at best, and a serious hindrance at worse.
"Besides the company forces, there's also reinforcements to consider."
The Vesians were still up in arms about their mortal enemy gallivanting in their space. Venidse might have felt a lot of schadenfreude when Imodris failed to stop the escaping Vandals from leaving their territory. Now that they ended up in Venidse space, the duchy couldn't afford to be as incompetent as Imodris back then. They would be hard at work trying to seek and destroy their vulnerable fleet.
The next couple of days, Ves threw himself into his work again. He exhorted his subordinates to speed up their repair work. Even one extra mech could make a lot of difference on the battlefield.
He even decided to pull up his own sleeves and perform some hands-on repairs of the most difficult cases aboard the Shield of Hispania. A lot of mech technicians looked perplexed when the head designer got his hands dirty, but Ves had been able to shorten a broken Inheritor's repairs in a single day where it took a full crew of mech technicians an entire week.
The work served as a nice distraction from the difficulties he had to deal with on a daily basis. That was also why he didn't show up again after repairing two of the most difficult mechs. It wasn't appropriate for him to devote all of his time to grunt work.
Back at his office, Ves got to play the manager. He juggled various responsibilities and priorities at once. All of this work and effort sent him into a contemplative mood.
"Is it worth it?"
Iris looked up again from her corner desk. "What's that, boss?"
"Do you ever think about how much effort we put in fabricating, selling, using, repairing and recycling mechs? How much money and resources are we expending on using mechs? The Flagrant Vandals alone are wasting billions of credits on an annual basis to maintain their strength. It's mind-boggling once you think about it. Are we working in vain?"
"I hope not." Iris furrowed her brow. "We're mech designers. If everyone stops using mechs, we'll all go out of business."
"The mech craze that has infected humanity four-hundred years ago is pretty much an artificial phenomenon. If not for the restriction on warships and the enforcement of the taboos, we would still be waging war with mighty ships."
"We would have been extinct by that time, sir. We were too eager with wiping out our own planets. I'm glad our race as a whole had managed to come together and agree to switch to mechs as a way to resolve our differences. We don't have to fear from genocidal maniacs anymore."
Ves shrugged at that. "All I'm saying is that there is a price for that. If you compare mechs to warships, which one do you think will prevail?"
He once witnessed a single small warships tearing apart a horde of spaceborn pirate mechs in the Glowing Planet campaign. That image of complete annihilation had been seared into his brain like a trauma that would never go away.
Ever since then, his faith in mechs had been cracked.
"Much of humanity has been proven to be too irresponsible for their own good. The intervention of the CFA and MTA was necessary to save our race from a spiral of destruction. Even they treated us as kids playing with fire, it's for the best."
"Being treated like children means we aren't allowed to grow up." Ves retorted. "It's been four-hundred years. I think we've learned enough lessons now. All of this mech warfare seems like play-acting to me sometimes."
Iris looked concerned. "Are you ill, sir? Do you need to visit the infirmary again? I've never heard of a mech designer who questions his own craft!"
"I don't know what's wrong with me either, but I'm not sick. I just have a premonition that the status quo can't go on forever. One day, the system will break."
Even without any solid proof, Ves believed what he said. Mechs were fine tools of war, but when it came down to it, a mech could never match the destruction that could be unleashed by a proper warship.
Some day, all of humanity had need of that destruction.