When Lieutenant Feray swung his gauntlet, commanding the floating crate behind him to set down on the deck, Ves finally beheld his new custom-made combat armor they prepared for him, even if it was a few months late.
He had long requested a suit of combat armor to replace his unwieldy and inadequate hazard suit. For some reason, he ended up in way too many combat situations for a mech designer.
Fortunately, their impending foray in the frontier had given everyone a kick in the butt. Due to the massive perils involved with crossing over into wild space, every safety regulation and procedure had been checked. Handing over suits of combat armor to the servicemen had been put on the agenda at some point.
While Ves had long looked forward to receiving an armored suit that could endure the rigors of battle, the one he received seemed.. a bit more theatrical than he expected.
Once he brought it out of the crate, Ves was able to inspect the entire ensemble's appearance.
Fundamentally, the full kit of armor had been based around a light combat armor pattern. Light in this context meant the suit was light enough to prevent burdening a servicemen who too much. Small servos and other powered assists helped with lifting the arms or moving the legs, but they were so small and limited that they only served to compensate for the modest added bulk of the armor pieces.
The helmet featured a semi-open design which in normal circumstances left the face open. In an emergency, the face-plate could quickly be affixed in place, vacuum-sealing the suit and allowing its occupant to subsist on the suit's slim oxygen reserves.
Light combat armor had never been designed for mainline infantry combatants. Instead, they were cheap but cost-effective pieces of armor to be adorned by support personnel stuck in the field. It wouldn't be able to withstand the firepower of a rifle for long, but it had never been meant to be a punching bag. The suit was light and fast enough for its wearer to dive to cover if they ever faced an attack.
"Combat armor is supposed to protect. This one adds so much bling to my person that I'm practically inviting trouble if the public sees my appearance!"
The armorer involved with customizing his suit of armor must have possessed an artist's touch. Ves felt sympathetic about any craftsman with a penchant for art because it was part of his mech design repertoire as well. Seeing similar works from others ordinarily put a smile on his face, but the work done to his abomination of a protective suit really wanted to make him pull out his own hair.
The first change was that it shared the same black-and-reddish color scheme of the Flagrant Vandals. Formally, it should have either been coated in a camouflage pattern or the default dark green color scheme of a mech designer. Painting him in the same brush as the Vandals wasn't actually proper, not that anyone this far out cared about the official regulations in the first place.
The part he objected to was the added bling, for a lack of a better word. The armor turned into some demented artist's skewed perception of what a mech designer ought to wear. Engraved with silver lines, depictions of mechs in battle adorned its surface. The armor parts partially lost their smooth organic contours and instead acquired some of the blocky mechanical shapes of a mech.
"At least the extra armor will come in handy when I get shot at." He concluded. "But do I really need to wear this thick and unwieldy cape?"
A rich burgundy cape lined with sharp black accents completed the high noble look. The fabric was thick and fluffy enough to drown half-a-dozen babies. On its back, the emblem of the Flagrant Vandals marked out the wearer's allegiance. The emblem depicted a stylized city in flames, which was apt considering the destruction the Vandals were prone to spread.
"Hopefully Mancroft won't end up in ruins by the time we leave." He muttered before turning to Lieutenant Feray. "Do I need to ask why the armor looks like what a parody of a jumped-up nouveau riche Vesian nobleman would wear?"
The security officers collectively chuffed at that.
"When in Rubarth, do as the Rubarthans do. The Swordmaidens told us that we can't rely on our name and official sanction from the Bright Republic to deter the pirates. The only language they understand is violence, and the best way to make them understand we can't be messed with is to dress like the part. All of these modifications may be theatrics, but don't underestimate the effectiveness of posturing. The Swordmaidens have shown us that a single show of force is enough to stop unscrupulous thoughts."
Ves understood the logic behind this decision. The Flagrant Vandals ordinarily laid low when they weren't out in the field. Then they showed their fangs, but by then it was too late for their victims to save themselves.
The Vandals had a habit of understating their strength and presence when out among the public. Unlike other mech regiments, they did not excel at upfront combat. And while they valued honor and valor like any other military unit, the Vandals prized their lives over their reputation.
In the frontier, the equation was different. Reputation, fame and notoriety all added directly to an outfit's ability to survive. There was no overarching authority in charge of dispensing justice in the untamed stars, so the only form of protection outfits could rely on to deter troublemakers was their ability to look formidable.
It worked for Lydia's Swordmaidens, so it also ought to work for the Vandals.
The light combat armor prioritized protection over convenience, so it didn't disassemble in midair to encompass his body. The armor pieces had to be opened up manually, and getting kitted out took a cumbersome fifteen minutes, though much of that time had been spent on last-minute adjustments.
"This isn't a regular combat armor model." Ves noted as he experimentally tested the dexterity of his gauntlets. "I've worn some before, but they don't feel as sturdy and solid as this one."
Affixing the cape to his shoulders practically doubled his outward stature. There was a reason why capes became the favored addition to nobles throughout the galaxy. Powerful men and women just looked better with a cloth hanging behind their backs.
Despite its complete lack of utility to the cape, Ves had the strange sense he had become a prince of the galaxy. The delusion flooded his imagination and he had to concentrate his mind in order to repress these dangerous thoughts.
"The clothes make the man." Nolsen said as he and his security officers watched Ves take in his new gear. "You're not about to turn into a commando at this rate, though, so don't think you can tear through an entire infantry regiment on your own."
"I know. It's just that this is way better than anything I've ever worn before. I'll never go back to hazard suits again if I can help it. They feel like tin cans compared to this well-crafted kit."
Nolsen taught him the ins and outs of the combat armor. The high-quality suit came with various gimmicks and auxiliary functions that made life a little bit easier for Ves if he ended up in another crisis. Its overall parameters were also very decent, almost matching the protection level of the lowest quality suit of medium combat armor.
"That's everything you need to know, Larkinson. If everything goes smoothly on Mancroft, you probably don't need to use all of these functions."
Ves nodded as he reveled in the confidence boost this suit provided him. He felt more like a soldier than ever before. Its gaudy, exaggerated appearance gave him an intimidating factor that Ves could combine with some of his Spiritual tricks.
"Alright, if that's everything, let's prepare for departure."
The Vandals and the Swordmaidens both kept their delegations small. Only a handful of shuttles from both groups departed from their carriers. Ves shared his shuttle with Lieutenant Commander Soapstone and a couple of other logistics officers as they made their way to one of the public landing bays of the massive space station.
From the outside, Mancroft Independent Harbor looked as haphazard as always. Over the centuries, the original space station gained a lot of expansions and side modules that increased its capacity and allowed it to offer more services. Very little attention had been spent on their care, though, and its scarred, splotched and tarnished exterior bore the marks of centuries of micro-impacts.
In short, it looked exactly like Ves expected a pirate station to look like.
"Soapstone, if I recall, we already stocked up on some extra goods when we dropped off the loot we acquired from the Masters of Combat. Why do you need to step foot in Mancroft?"
The lieutenant commander wore a suit of combat armor that looked nearly identical to his. The bling adorning her armor made Ves think she looked like an admiral.
The woman grimaced. "The Swordmaidens warned us that bright credits isn't a very useful currency in the frontier. The same goes for nova sovereigns, Reinaldan marks and even coalition credits. They all lose their store of value because many pirates don't tend to trust bank servers in civilized space."
"So you're going out to exchange bright credits for hard currency?" Ves probed.
"You guessed it right. Among the hard currencies we can choose, this part of the frontier heavily favors Kavenit coins. We plan to acquire a few crates of K-coins and K-bars to facilitate trade if needed."
Ves winced at the enormous sums of currency the Vandals planned to exchange. "The horrendous exchange rate will waste a lot of money."
"We have no choice. Blame the pirates for not patching into the galactic financial network."
Kavenit was a heavy metallic substance and one of the most common low-grade exotic materials in the galaxy. It was ubiquitous enough that every star sector contained a substantial amount of ores with Kavenit present in their composition.
The exotic saw much use in various low-grade armor. In fact, the HRF armor system that Ves utilized in his Marc Antony series and portions of the Crystal Lord incorporated small amounts of Kavenit. The exotic meshed so well in countless alloys that it always held some value no matter where in the galaxy you travelled that it gained the status of a universal hard currency.
One K-coin as a piece of Kavenit stamped into a coin was called weighed one-hundred grams. The thick but compact coin looked far lighter than it actually weighed. Nobody could mistake its exceptional status when they held it in their hands, though the material's outer appearance only shone like dulled steel.
A standard K-bar made out of Kavenit was worth as much as a thousand K-coins. In turn, a massive K-slate that could only be lifted by machines was worth as much as a thousand K-bars.
"Working with hard, physical currencies is a pain in the butt." Soapstone complained. "Hauling around the K-coins and K-bars is a chore and tempts every pirate in the vicinity to rob us. We have no choice, though. The only other alternative is to barter goods with goods, and that's an even bigger headache to us than working with these primitive coins and bars."
Ves adopted a sympathetic face, but he paid a lot of attention as well. If he wanted to expand his dealings with the frontier, he needed to become familiar with matters like this. "How much is a K-coin worth these days?"
"The 'official' galactic exchange rate amounts claims that 370 bright credits can get you a single K-coin. Given the sharks we are about to approach, we'll likely have to pay upwards of 375 bright credits for a single K-coin."
That was a pretty massive hit, but neither the Vandals nor the Swordmaidens could do anything about that. Nobody offered a more favorable exchange rate in Mancroft.