Every major star system that developed into a nexus of trade, services and tourism dealt with thousands of starships a day. From small pleasure yachts to massive fleet carriers, the amount and variety of ships that dropped into the Harkensen System far surpassed the patrol fleets of the Honored Ones.
A significant portion of the visitors dropping into this star system consisted of outfits looking to resupply their ships and mechs while sending their crew on shore leave. Ordinarily, the Reinaldan inspectors never really bothered to sweep the ships of the outfits very thoroughly. They primarily scanned for dangerous weapons. Everything else was free game.
How else would Harkensen's black and grey markets get their illicit merchandise? If the inspectors did too good of a job, all of the excitement in the underground markets would be gone!
Those who intended Reinald ill exploited the downside to this approach. The half-hearted inspections allowed cargo haulers filled with explosives to sneak into the inner system and position themselves close to other ships and space stations.
This operation had been done with great care. In order to avoid detection from remote scans, the payload consisted of a much less potent substance, but the cargo holds held many tons of the stuff. Once the signal had been given, all of the cargo haulers exploded with power that exceeded a tactical nuclear bomb!
Over two-dozen carefully placed cargo haulers erupted in unison in the orbit of both Harkensen I and Harkensen III! Only the restricted orbit of Harkensen II had been saved from the chaos!
In truth, the damage done by the explosions only hit a small number of ships, some of which perished instantly while many others survived due to their thick armor cladding. Many thousands burned up while many more suffered the fallout of secondary explosions and cascading faults!
The damage to the space stations had been a little more severe. Many compartments crumbled or depressurized in an instant, killing tens of thousands of people at once!
Though that sounded a lot, space was big. Even with thousands of ships orbiting the same planet, it was customary for ships to park in their own separate bands of space. With hundreds or thousands of kilometers of distance between each parked ship, the cargo haulers were only able to do their damage under special circumstances, such as docking at a space station or flagging a fueling ship to refill their fuel tanks.
Nevertheless, the initial detonations only formed the spark of the panic that ensued.
"I told you that those inspectors from Reinald were no good! Look at how many ships blew up! Ours could be next! We've gotta out of here!"
"We demand compensation! We lost more than two-hundred million marks worth of cargo! We're facing double that amount in penalty fees!"
"I went to Harksensen I to get away from the war, not jump right into it! This is the worst holiday destination ever! I'm leaving right now and I'm never going back again!"
"My children are dead! My wife is dead! My entire family is dead!"
The galactic net exploded with indignant remarks. Ves casually browsed the news portals and all of them painted a picture of doom and gloom. The arrival of dawn had chased away the attackers, but that did not put an end to the suffering.
Everyone wanted to leave the planet and the star system! However, the Reinaldans wouldn't allow them to leave willy-nilly. Reinforcements arrived to maintain order on the surface and in orbit, but they could barely hold back the masses that wanted to depart!
Blockades, traffic jams, curfews and more all hindered the stranded visitors from leaving. With the unknown assailants at large, the Reinaldans could not afford to let the guilty party slip away from Harkensen I by blending in with the crowd.
After taking such an enormous hit to their credibility, the only way to salvage the pieces was to catch the people responsible and put them all on trial!
Back at the hotel, the leading Vandals gathered for an emergency meeting. Various mech and ship officers entered a conference room meant to host business gatherings. They took their seats with grim faces and murmured to each other with subdued voices.
Ves attracted a lot of attention as he sat down. Practically every Vandal in the hotel had heard how he somehow wiped away the lives of eighteen infiltrators.
The fact that their seemingly weak mech designer was capable of such slaughter earned him a lot of respect from the men. Ves didn't care too much about the opinions of others, but he changed his mind once he found out his exploits strengthened his authority among the men!
The Vandals respected the strong!
Just as the meeting was about to start, the door slid open yet again to reveal a familiar form. The mech captain sauntered in like a queen about to hold court.
"You owe me a beer, Rosa!"
Every Vandal officer saluted or greeted her with evident respect. Though no one was in a mind to revisit the glory of the honor duel, her recent achievement had pushed her prestige to new heights!
The Vandals respected the strong!
"Alright Vandals, let's get down to business." Captain Orfan declared as the gravity of the conference room seemed to center around her position. "First up, what's the numbers?"
A logistical officer stood up. "Currently, our headcount amounts to over four-thousand servicemen. Due to our shore leave policy, almost every Vandal that is present on Harkensen I is accounted for. There are a small handful of stray Vandals that have absconded from our midst, however. They can be anywhere."
"Try and locate them and drag them back." The mech captain commanded, as if this matter didn't require any discussion.
"What if we can't?" Someone asked. "There are bound to be Vandals stuck on the other side of the planet."
Captain Orfan waved dismissively. "Then leave them behind. If they were stupid enough to wander off, then they have to pay the price. Right now, we have to fend for ourselves. What are our assets?"
"Precious little, I'm afraid." A security captain replied. "When we initially requested the Reinaldans to send down a security detail to secure this hotel, we had to fight to get this much armaments down. The strict anti-mech and anti-weapons policies have hampered our attempts to bring down heavy armaments."
Every Vandal received a spare pistol, but this weapon was only good for repelling petty thugs and rioters. Against a serious military or paramilitary force, the low caliber of their weapons wouldn't do them any good.
"How many fully-armored soldiers do we have?"
"If we use up all of our spare equipment, we can field just over a hundred security officers. I have to warn you that my men are trained for base and ship defense. They are not adept in any offensive actions."
In other words, the security officers acted more like guards or military police. Their primary duties entailed throwing drunken Vandals into the brig and repelling hostile boarders.
"Well, they better learn quickly, because I've got plans." Captain Orfan said as she adopted a confident grin. "Let's begin with the first issue. Are we safe here?"
The Vandal officers looked at each other and shook their heads. Ves spoke out his own opinion on the matter. "The Reinaldans have proven themselves to be incapable of guarding their heavily-populated cities. From what I've gathered, the True Sons of Vesia made an orderly retreat and shook off the pursuit from the Reinaldan aquatic mechs. With much of the defensive infrastructure in shambles, the shorthanded Reinaldan mechs are stretched too thin. When night falls again, who knows if the terrorists return?"
"We can't stay here." A spaceborn mech officer said. "We have mech pilots but no mechs. We have mech technicians but no supplies. We have ship crew but no ships. We're as helpless as unarmed babes in the woods. Our highest priority should be to obtain war material so we can put our training to use!"
"First sane idea I've ever heard!"
Without someone like Major Verle to maintain order, the participants didn't restrain themselves too much. Captain Orfan listened on with a smile.
"Increasing our ability to protect ourselves is important, but I'd rather work to leave this planet." Ves interjected. "Right now, all of our assets are stuck on Harkensen III. In my opinion, we should work to rendez-vous with our brothers and sisters at the other planet and get the hell away from this star system."
"The sooner we're off, the better!"
Another ship officer shook her head. "How are we going to get off? The Reinaldans have set up a blockade and revoked every vehicle's permission to lift off into orbit. There's been reports of hundreds of shuttles and transports attempting to escape. All of them ignored warnings before being shot to pieces. The Reinaldan patrols in orbit really aren't messing around at this moment!"
This put the Vandals in a grim mood again.
"How long will the blockade last?"
"Until the Reinaldans caught all of the perpetrators or aren't able to hold back the tourists looking to leave. Say, a week or a month."
"We can't wait that long." Ves stated. "I don't know about you, but the terrorists targeted us as well. We've attracted their ire for some reason, and the presence of the infiltrators prove that we've landed on their list. The longer we stick around, the greater the risk of calamity."
"From what I heard, the sneaky bastards primarily targeted you. Why don't we split up so you won't bring us all down?" A shifty-looking Vandal proposed.
"Ridiculous! Mr. Larkinson is one of us! Without his assistance, we would have never succeeded so well in the Detemen Operation!"
"Are you stupid or something?" Captain Orfan slowly commanded with force. "It's one thing to leave behind the dimwits who skeeted off in the middle of the night. It's another thing to kick out one of our own! Besides, from what I've heard, those pretend-Vesians are targeting all of us, so there's no point in singling our mech designer."
"I agree with our captain. This is no time to point our guns at ourselves."
Ves sighed in relief. Captain Orfan's decisive words instantly solved this matter. Though he regarded her rather poorly, her simple thought patterns happened to benefit him this time.
For the next thirty minutes, the Vandals hashed out a plan. Their primary objective was to reach orbit. From there, they would wait and see whether their fellow Vandals back on Harkensen III had managed to reconstitute the fleet and was able to pick up the Vandals stranded on Harkensen I.
If this hadn't happened, then Captain Orfan vowed to reach Harkensen III by any means possible. "Even if we have to hijack a ship, we're getting back no matter what!"
The crazy Vandals cheered her bold plan, though a couple of people such as Ves didn't join in. Driven by a lack of patience, the Flagrant Vandals lived up to their name and planned out a bold series of actions!
If Ves had to summarize the plan, it could be described by a single phrase. "Steal or scavenge what they needed!"
They had no mechs to protect themselves against other mechs? Let's just salvage the wrecks strewn about on the beaches and hammer them back into working condition!
They possessed no tools to fix up those mechs? Fine then, let's raid the nearby tool stores and miscellaneous boutiques to get our salvage operation going!
They had no shuttles or transports to flee to orbit? There are thousands of them stranded at Harkensen I's spaceport! As long as we can incite the crowd, we can overwhelm the Reinaldan guards and lift off this wartorn planet in no time!
That last step was especially tenuous. Too many conditions needed to be met. During a time of crisis, who could tell if the Reinaldans wouldn't point their weapons at the rioters itching to board the stranded craft?
Naturally, the most eager proponent of this plan happened to be Captain Orfan! In her mind, it was better to do something than to do nothing at all! Hunkering down in the hotel and waiting for their deaths was not an attractive option to the aggressive mech captain.
Ves palmed his face when he saw that the Vandals took this suggested course of action seriously. "Am I surrounded by madmen?"