Ves immediately suspected their uninvited guests as the ones responsible, but ruled them out just as quickly.
Though the worshippers of Haatumak exhibited freaky abilities, they had kept themselves quiet over the weeks, never making any moves that suggested that something invisible lurked amid the Vandals.
Going out of their way to kill a random mech designer that the Vandals picked up along the way didn't benefit them at all. Not only would they alert the Vandals that a presence had boarded the ship that could elude every means of detection, they also plainly lacked a motive to kill this specific individual.Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
Why kill someone as irrelevant as Mr. Kichiro when they could easily assassinate Major Verle or even Ves?
Of course, cultists being what they were, they hardly adhered to logic in the first place. They might have decided to kill Kichiro on a whim because they could or because they wanted to frighten the Vandals.
Still, Ves might be reaching there with this theory. He much preferred to consider the murder a deliberate act, because the killer risked an awful lot to do the deed.
"Why kill Mr. Kichiro?" He asked out loud. "This chump doesn't know anything. He's only useful as a source of intelligence on the technical specifications of the mechs used by Chopra, but that's no use as most of their machines are dead and broken."
Ves turned back to what Eric Kichiro said to him back then. Those controversial words.
"Cowardice is a virtue."
"What did you just say?" Major Verle said from the side.
"Cowardice is a virtue. That's what Mr. Kichiro said to me at the end of the interview. You can pull up the footage of my interview with the man if you want to verify it, sir. In any case, did you know what I felt when he said this phrase?"
"No. Tell me, then."
"I felt like I wanted to punch his face, sir." Ves revealed without compunction. "Sure, a mech designer is a no combatant, but you can say the same thing about the ship ratings and the mech technicians and the doctors. Just because we aren't the ones who are armed with guns or sitting in a cockpit piloting a multi-ton machine into killing our opponents, doesn't mean we are any less of a soldier. Mech designers.. even in the middle of a conflict, we can still be useful in many ways, if only to hurry along emergency repairs."
In fact, Ves felt torn between two different impulses. The Larkinson blood within him screamed for him to reject this cowardly principle, to prove that mech designers ought to be brave in the face of danger.
Yet his rational mind warred against his hot-blooded impulses and cautioned him that no matter how eager he might be to contribute to a battle, he really had no place in the thick of the battle.
His contributions and influence outside of any battle was enormous, but once the rifles started barking and the cannons began to boom, his immediate ability to influence the battle became incredibly minimal.
A large reason why a mech designer became irrelevant was because anything he could do to affect the ongoing battle took far too much time to effect. It wasn't as if a mech designer could instantly whip up fifty spare mechs over the course of a few hours. Most battles didn't even last that long.
So the phrase uttered by Eric Kichiro was in fact an expression of common sense. A mech designer was an important part of any outfit's support services, and thus required a lot of protection. Killing them crippled an outfit's ability to recover after a battle and to maintain and tweak their mechs.
It was in everyone's best interests to safeguard the lives of the mech designers if they had any in their outfit.
Yet this logical consideration clashed with the cultural norm that fellow comrades in arms had to stick together. It would be the height of selfishness to bail out of a ship in the middle of a battle when the outcome was still in doubt.
"I remember that the rescue teams picked up Mr. Kichiro from the periphery of the debris field, sir." Ves added as he recalled this detail. "His escape pod actually strayed the farthest from every other pod. Do you know what that means? He ejected not long after the NIN initiated their ambush!"
This did not mean that Kichiro had anything to do with the ambush, but it definitely didn't do him any favors by abandoning his comrades so soon.
Verle caught on to the implications. "Hm. I see. He's not the most courageous or loyal member of the Choprans, then. His early escape might have even incited other Choprans into bailing out as well. What was his position in the mercenary corps?"
"From what I gather, the Choprans treated Mr. Kichiro as a glorified chief technician. He's not particularly skilled as a mech designer and he's been out of practice for so long that he's only capable of performing minor tweaks and modifications to commercial designs."
Overall, the mech designer earned no appreciation from his employer. He didn't enjoy a leadership position like Mayra at the Swordmaidens either. All in all, Ves pegged Kichiro as the typical unambitous mech designers who only cared about themselves and predominantly followed the path of least resistance.
"I think I have this pretty much figure out, major." Ves said after he combined all of his observations and made a few predictions. "I think one of the Choprans here shot Mr. Kichiro in the head. Not a single incident like this has happened in our fleet for months, but the moment we pick up the survivors, Mr. Kichiro is suddenly dead. Nobody among the Vandals really knew him, but his fellow survivors must have all known him for a pretty long time. They're the prime suspects."
"And the suggested motive that you put forward is Mr. Kichiro's early escape?"
"That, or any other offense the mech designer is responsible for. It would help if we can reconstruct the NIN's ambush on the Chopran fleet. If we can determine if Kichiro's early escape triggered some sort of panic, sir, then we have established a pretty clear motive of doing him in. The Choprans might have already been doomed from the start, but Mr. Kichiro's cowardly actions hastened their defeat!"
Even though Ves spun out this tale from a small number of observations and a lot of conjecture, he felt pretty confident about his prediction. Spending months harboring all sorts of suspicions did that to a person.
"While your claims are merely guesswork so far, you make for a compelling case, Mr. Larkinson. I'll task some security officers into studying the archival footage that we've pulled out of the data banks of the Choprans."
Ves felt a bit embarrassed that Major Verle actually supported his wild conjecture to this extent. Then he realized that the mech officer faced an enormous amount of pressure to catch the culprit before they could do anymore damage.
Since they lacked any clues to begin with, the line of reasoning provided by Ves provided a clear direction to investigate.
Moments later, they joined the crowd of security officers running through some old footage they dug out of a backup data bank of a shipwreck.
"Mark this timestamp. According to the logs of his escape pod, this is the moment where Mr. Kichiro's escape pod emerged into space."
The ambush barely started three minutes ago. While the NIN performed a devastating alpha strike that took out a lot of Chopran mechs, the mercenary corps still fought as hard as they could still do so, though their lack of coordination hindered their response.
Major Verle immediately tutted in disapproval.
"You can see and hear from the logs in this data bank that most mech pilots are calling for orders from their mech lieutenants. The mech lieutenants have no clue what to do, so they defer to their mech captains. The mech captains don't have time to deliberate with each other and give out the first orders that come to their mind. One order their men to close in to melee range. Another captain orders them to pull back to their ships and consolidate their defensive perimeter. It's an awful mess that only further divided the Chopran mechs on the field."
"It's like they have the worst of both worlds in terms of management style." Ves remarked. "Their mech captains and other leaders concentrate all of the decision-making power among themselves, but when they finally need to exercise decisive leadership, they are never unified enough to be in sync. If they decided to go for a top-down approach to running their mercenary corps, they should have gone all the way and appoint a single commander among their leadership committee."
Something that looked so irrelevant at first glance in fact became the nail in the coffin that doomed the Choprans from reserving this ambush. Though the NIN vastly outnumbered them with a swarm of spaceborn frontline mechs, the Choprans could have leveraged their superior mechs if they all chose to go on the attack.
Sure, the rush might have failed, but it gave the Choprans a viable chance to turn the battle around. Every Chopran mech pilot trying to survive the battlefield out there still held out hope.
That was until that lone escape pod emerged on everyone's sensors.
Ves counted the number of escape pods that followed suit after a minute. "One becomes two. Two becomes four. Four becomes eight. Eight becomes sixteen. The more escape pods in the air, the less essential crew that's left behind. That doesn't immediately affect the fighting strength of the mechs in the air, but it will definitely slow down the deployment of the reserves."
"The abundance of escape pods launching into space does in fact affect the mechs that are fighting for Chopra's survival." Major Verle corrected Ves. "How would the mech pilots who are piloting those mechs feel if your side begins to launch escape pods en masse? They'll think their own comrades have no faith in their ability to fight and win the battle!"
The overall picture became clear. Kichiro may have been the first of many who decided they needed to be elsewhere while their ship and mechs came down, or he may have triggered an irreversible stampede to the escape pods.
No matter how culpable he may be in kicking the Choprans while they were already down on their luck, his conduct reflected extremely poorly on him. The man perpetuated every stereotype of mech designers as cowardly wimps who gladly push mech pilots to fight to the death while they themselves ran at the first sign of trouble!
Even if Ves quietly applauded Kichiro on his decisiveness to save his own hide, the man shouldn't have been so brazen about his flight!
Ves mentally took notes of his fellow mech designer's example. If he ever befell in a similar situation in the future, he would wait until others bailed out first before he followed suit! Ideally, he'd be in the middle of the pack, inconspicuous and unexceptional in terms of courage!
Kichiro's murder also taught him that he needed to think beyond the immediate escape. If Ves ever met up with his comrades, he needed to make sure that his conduct didn't give them any reasons to shank him. There was nothing worse than to meet the victims of your bad conduct in the flesh!
"What I don't understand is why Kichiro needed to die this instant." Ves mused. "I mean, whoever did it has to know this has riled us up. Why can't the killer wait until this mission is over and everyone is released?"
A security captain offered a suggestion. "It may be that the murderer doesn't believe we will make it out alive. If they're all doomed to die, he might want to kill Kichiro with his own two hands as a form of catharsis."
That sounded rather bad.