Ves chose to take his shore leave in the final two weeks of their stopover in the Harkensen System. He wanted to spend the first two weeks into making sure the repair work stayed on track.
Dealing with slime balls like Lester Tubrok or keeping the Vandal mech designers and mech technicians alert was a lot of work. Without his intervention, the massive repair effort would have suffered massive delays. Forget about repairing six-hundred mechs on time. Fixing up just three-hundred mechs would have been a miracle.
His cognition of the repair industry grew by leaps and bounds as he shuttled through the various companies the Vandals had contracted. Once he became more familiar with their circumstances, he grew a little more understanding of their difficulties.
"Do you think it's easy for us to work with thousands of different mech models on an annual basis? We get every shape and size of machines in our hands, all of them using a billion different parts!" Tobruk snapped at Ves one day. "The only person in the galaxy who can master so many different mechs is the Polymath! Don't expect mortals like us to match that kind of versatility!"
Ves wasn't fooled. The fat bastard simply put up an act in order to weasel his way out of another problem of their own making. "Your stance is fine if you're running a maintenance department for a mech regiment or a private outfit, but you're not. You are operating a repair business. I didn't see you whine when you signed the contract. If our mech models are baffling your men so much, then you should have thought twice before accepting our demands."
Mr. Tubrok wiped the sweat off his brow. "Hehe, Mr. Larkinson, can't you be more merciful to us? The troubles I've mentioned are truly affecting our work. Out of all the mech regiments that I've worked for, yours is one of the worst! Not only are all your mechs completely battered down to their internal frames, you also make use of too many different mech models! There's no way for my men to learn the ins and outs of a mech model and apply a set routine on other copies!"
"We're not asking you to perform the most difficult repair jobs. That's reserved for our own mech technicians. If you can't even do the simplest repairs, then It's a wonder you're still in business!"
"We can do better! If you would just transfer some extra funds to us, I know a few friends who can lend us some senior mech technicians!"
"We are not paying a single mark more than what the contract stipulates."
Conversations like this happened every day. Half of the time Ves met with the owners, he had to reject their efforts to squeeze more money out of the Vandals. Perhaps this was a deliberate Reinaldan custom of eliciting bribes, but Ves had enough confidence in the contracts to stick to his guns.
After two weeks of close supervision, the repair businesses learned that Ves was not an affable sucker. Whenever owners such as Mr. Tubrok did business with a military mech regiment, they were used to dealing with careerists with zero business acumen or military officers with access to a virtually unlimited budget.
If he Flagrant Vandals maintained a cordial relationship with the Mech Corps, then they would have accepted an inflated price quote without blinking a single eyelid. After all, they could push all of their expenses on to headquarters back on Rittersberg and have them pay the bills.
No wonder the repair businesses attempted to levy ridiculously high surcharges at the start. For example, they attempted to bill the Vandals five-hundred-thousand marks for a single cockpit seat replacement!
What a luxurious chair! And the repair business claimed the cost was justified because it used authentic leather from an alien creature!
Ves only needed to run his finger on the seat to know that the chair was covered with synthesized leather made out of cheap waste materials.
It took a week to stomp on such attempts, and another weak to teach the Vandals to watch out for these kinds of scams. The Reinaldans were truly imaginative in this area.
The worst incident by far left Ves angry for the entire day. This was because he caught the repairmen deliberately botching up a working mech! They even did so under the nose of an inattentive Vandal mech technician!
The culprits would have gotten away with it if Ves failed to recognize the deliberate marks of sabotage. The business owner had to let the repairmen involved in the incident go, and promised to be more diligent next time.
Days like this, Ves regretted getting into bed with the medium-sized repair businesses. He vastly preferred working with the larger businesses even if they charged a significant premium. At least they could be relied upon to deliver a satisfactory job.
"Is the repair industry truly so scummy or is the local business culture at fault?"
He believed that both played a part. Each reinforced the other, turning slightly scummy businesses into a scam factories.
It didn't help that many of the outfits that did business with the repair businesses on Harkensen III came from elsewhere. The foreigners that stopped over in the Harkensen System for business rather than pleasure tended to operate in the grey area at best. They mainly arrived at Harkensen to dispose of their ill-gotten goods in one of their many shady markets.
Outfits like these weren't use to high-quality service. Scummy business practices was a daily fact of life for them. This was the price they needed to pay for profiting from the shadow or the dark.
It all highlighted the fact that despite its legal veneer, the Harkensen System was actually a hive of scum and villainy.
"What a dangerously two-faced star system."
While he disliked dealing with these kinds of incidents, he couldn't help but admire Harkensen's overarching design. There was no doubt that the small and weak Reinald Republic derived a lot of revenue from both tourism and commerce involving mechs. This was probably one of the many ways in which the Harkensen System narrowed its disparity to genuine port systems such as Bentheim.
Fortunately for his sanity, besides rotating among the repair businesses, Ves also undertook other matters. The Vandals stopped over this star system for many other reasons than to repair their ships and mechs. They also appeared to be preparing for the next leg of their journey.
Inklings of a follow-up mission became clearer and clearer as Ves received assignments to help the logistics department procure more supplies. In particular, his help was needed whenever the planners wished to procure a batch of mech-specific goods.
The latest shopping run involved a set of very specific and very expensive components. The matter was of such import that Lieutenant Commander Soapstone took care of it in person this time.
"Mr. Larkinson." She greeted Ves as he stepped inside a rented Reinaldan shuttle. The vehicle quickly lifted off and sped towards one the cities on Harkensen III. She handed over a data pad to Ves. "Please look at these parameters. We are in need of specialist mech equipment that isn't easy to obtain. I've scheduled a meeting with an equipment broker who can supply us with what we need, but I'll need your advice on what to purchase."
Ves instantly frowned when he read through the document on the data pad. "You're looking to buy... Vesian MFS gravitic backpack modules? And not the regular ones either, but the heavy-duty ones that can exert a massive amount of counter-gravity. This... this is not something you pick up from an average mech shop!"
The Reinald Republic sold plenty of backpack modules that fit the Vesian Modular Fitting Standard. A gravitic backpack module was basically a giant anti-grav generator outfitted onto the back of a landbound mech. Their anti-grav fields specifically worked to counteract strong gravity exerted onto the frames of the mechs.
In general, gravitic backpacks were rather troublesome to use because of their bulk and incredibly high energy usage. This was because the gravitic backpacks effectively lightened the weight exerted onto a mech.
This was vitally important for landbound mechs being deployed on giant terrestrial planets with massive amounts of gravities. If an ordinary mech stepped onto a super earth with two g's or up, the mech was liable to crush its vulnerable internals as it walked.
How could a mech even begin to fight when it couldn't even defeat a planet's gravity?
Of course, people didn't often fight on super earths. No state went through the trouble of terraforming them and establishing settlements on the surface. The only reason why anyone would fight on a super earth was if the place hid a lot of riches.
"A heavy-duty gravitic backpack module is not only fifty percent bulkier than the regular product, they also run out of energy extremely quickly. Going solely by their internal energy cells, they only last half an hour on a normal medium mech."
"We are aware of the drawbacks of heavy-duty gravitic backpacks, but we truly need them. They need to be rated to withstand up to five g's in atmospheric conditions. The pressure they will have to endure is very substantial."
That made it worse. A super earth with an atmosphere basically pressed a mech from all sides. Still, this request that came out of the blue practically startled Ves. Why did the Vandals seek for specialist equipment that only the most extreme treasure hunting outfits bought?
The whirlwind that the Vandals involved themselves with became murkier and murkier in his mind. He didn't dare speculate anymore because he lacked too much information to make an accurate judgement.
For now, all he needed to do was to focus on his current assignment.
"The set of criteria you've provided are hard to fulfill, but not impossible. The only problem is that it's going to cost us a lot."
"No problem. This is one of the expenses that Peace for Hafner has agreed to reimburse."
That was another strange concession. The Vandals definitely didn't decide to go to a super earth for no reason all of a sudden. Everything the Vandals planned to do appeared to be premeditated. Ves felt as if he had been caught in a very large net.
"These heavy-duty gravitic backpack modules don't look bad. However, are you sure you want them? Piloting a mech with a gravitic backpack on a super earth introduces all kinds of weirdness to the mechs affected by this technology."
"We are certain of their need, Mr. Larkinson. I'm sure you are curious exactly why we would seek this specialist equipment, but I advise you to keep your questions to yourself. Major Verle will explain the full details when needed."
"How many are we looking to procure?"
"Enough to outfit all of our landbound mechs, and some spares besides. These backpacks break easily during combat. Let's set the figure at four-hundred backpacks."
Ves widened his eyes when he heard that. The cost of a heavy-duty gravitic backpack wasn't as much as a high-quality mech component, but purchasing four-hundred of them at once was a major transaction.
"Since you're already asking for gravitic backpacks, are there any other novelties you want to get hold of? We might as well shop for other gear while we are there."
"We are going to need some high-quality transceiver towers and jammers rated for base defense."
"Those are easier to acquire, and they're cheaper to boot." Ves nodded with a little less tension. "Anything else?"
"Heavy-duty hazard suits." Soapstone added. "If the gravitic backpack fails, we don't want to see our mech pilots get crushed."
"If those backpacks fail during battle, the mech will practically become inoperative under such a terrifying amount of gravity. Cockpit ejection will likely fail as well. They won't be able to fly very far under five times the gravity of old earth."
"Our budget is limited. We will have to make do with the favors we received and the liquid funds we have left."
Ves already started to groan. This sudden spending spree came completely out of the blue.