When the Vandals prepared the gear for the exploration party, they put some thought in maintaining contact. The large amount of interference made it impractical to receive wireless signals from more than a few kilometers away, so the only way to remain in contact was to use a physical medium.
Chief Dakkon and a handful of other engineers designed a small spider bot. It was as small as someone's palm and could traverse over very steep angles, though speed was not its forte. Even though they should be somewhat resilient against the breakdown effect, in truth they were just cheap bots designed to be as small and cheap as possible while still capable of navigating through the rough terrain.
No matter. The Vandals produced thousands of them in short notice and packed them up in crates that held hundreds of them at a time. They took up very little space when folded up, so the fast transports could easily carry them all.
Every hour or so, the exploration party released two of them and programmed them to reach specific drop points a fair distance away from the temporary camp.
Most wouldn't be able to make the journey. They'd either be crushed underneath the foot of the errant godlings that roamed the sparse lands inside the red zone, be delayed for weeks, get stuck in a pit or difficult terrain or even get picked off by rival forces who detected the spider bots!
However, each spider bot that made it to the drop points provided a valuable status update to the Vandals and Swordmaidens left behind.
"Seems like the survival rate of bots is around thirty percent so far. Not bad. That's higher than we expected." Chief Dakkon complimented his own work.
"It's only been a day." Ves noted. "The distance the bots have to traverse isn't very far. Once they reach the Starlight Megalodon, who knows if we'll receive any bots at all."
"I have faith in my bots. They're crafty little buggers."
Right now, Captain Byrd called up a small group of mech officers and chiefs to inform them of what the exploration party encountered so far. Everyone looked forward to see and hear what the fabled red zone had to offer.
A projection came to life. Captain Byrd began to summarize the first reports. "As we've expected, the terrain has grown increasingly rougher. This could partially be explained by a large impact happening in the past, such as a battleship the size of a city crash-landing in the region. However, the irregularities in the terrain may also have been affected by strong spikes in spacetime distortion. The worst possibility is that these strong spikes are still ongoing and remain a huge hazard."
Everyone looked serious, including Ves. From the Glowing Planet campaign, he witnessed the horror of spacetime shenanigans. Anyone who became victim of a spacetime wrinkle or whatever might suffer a fate worse than death!
The projection shifted to various alien plants and strange animals being preyed upon by hardy godlings.
Dr. Tillman stepped up this time. "So far, we haven't spotted the presence of any wildlings or wildling tribes, but there are sparse amounts alien creatures and godlings roaming the red zone. The alien exobeasts appear to be the remnants of the planet's indigenous wildlife that have survived the terraforming process. The likely reason why they are in the red zone is because the environment is unsuitable for Earth-based life."
Basically, the red zone gave the Flagrant Swordmaidens a taste of how Seven looked like before human intervention.
"Are the alien critters dangerous?"
"We do not believe so, but it's better if you don't try your luck. Their flesh is almost certainly inedible to baseline humans and they are remarkably adapted to the heavy gravity. Due to their small stature, they shouldn't pose too much of a threat to a properly armed and armored individual on foot."
The rest of the meeting devolved into other miscellaneous observations. For example, the Enduring Protectors that Ves designed held up well, as did Mayra's Asterias. Both mechs marched stably and strongly through the rough terrain and withstood the frequent spacetime distortions with stoic solidity.
In fact, the upgraded fast transports exhibited some malfunctions already, and this was only the first day!
Chief Dakkon's face grew ugly when he noted this awful performance. Although it might have just been a bad day for his fast transport, it still reflected a potential weakness. Without the transports and the supplies they carried, how far could the exploration party go?
"Have there any been signs of our rivals?"
"None yet so far, but it is only a matter of time."
Due to the increasingly strange circumstances, the exploration party slowed their pace to a crawl. They thought they might have been able to reach the Starlight Megalodon in a single day, but as they got deeper and deeper in the red zone, various hazards started to pop up.
"Is that a weapon crater?"
"A powerful explosion caused this crater. Even now, it is throwing up high amounts of radiation. While the danger isn't so acute at a distance, the exploration party already stumbled upon dozens of craters like this. More exotic weapon scars dot the lands as well."
Even several hundred years ago, the CFA made use of a large variety of advanced weaponry. As the Age of Conquest amply demonstrated, their warships could inflict a devastating amount of damage on any planet if they held no scruples.
Fortunately, the battle scars showed that the big guns hadn't been taken out. Even a single antimatter torpedo could have turned the entire red zone into a huge crater!
"From the signs of battle, the survivors of the Starlight Megalodon have likely come to blows with each other." Captain Byrd said. "We don't know the nature of the conflict or which sides emerged as the victor, but we don't stand a chance if any of the remnants brings these devastating weapons to bear on us."
They already knew that some portion of the Starlight Megalodon still remained operational after enduring several millennia of accelerated time.
Who knew how they would react when the exploration party finally arrived at their doorstep. Would they allow the visitors to plunder the Starlight Megalodon at will?
Still, even if their chances didn't look good, the Flagrant Swordmaidens had come too far to go back empty-handed. They at least needed to make an attempt, if only to please their backers.
The meeting ended and everyone returned to their duties. From what the spider bots already relayed, Ves felt as if they only brushed upon the tip of the iceberg.
This was the most dangerous region on the planet. Even the hardy dwarves, who seemed to be practically everywhere, avoided this region like the plague!
Four days from the exploration party's departure, the number of spider bots that reached the drop points reduced drastically. The last spider bot that limped its way back on three legs notified the main forces that they had reached within view of the Starlight Megalodon!
The vague footage they captured and stuffed into the data chips of the spider bots showed the shadow of an enormous beast that left a huge furrow onto the ground!
Though the distance and interference in the air only revealed a glimpse of the mythical battleship, the entire camp erupted in celebration.
"The battleship is still intact!"
"Look at the size of that beast! They weren't kidding when they said that battleships are floating cities!"
"Look at how the Starlight Megalodon hasn't broken up upon landing! Her main armor belt must be thicker than several mechs stacked on top of each other!"
Everyone could see that the Starlight Megalodon survived a rough landing where they skidded over the terrain at an angle. She must have endured an enormous amount of stress, but still managed to hold together under these extreme conditions.
And she managed to accomplish all of this on a Super Earth that increased her already prodigious weight by six times!
Her survival up to now was a testament of pinnacle CFA engineering, and only underscored the formidable nature of the Big Two!
However, even though the battleship seemed to have survived her forced orbital landing on Seven, the immense craft did not look entirely normal. The Flagrant Swordmaidens all received detailed information packages about the Starlight Megalodon's ship class, but her current contours diverged from what she looked like at the start.
It was as if her hull gained a lot of extras.
"What is that?"
"I don't know. Extra armor?"
"You idiot! Do you think a battleship like the Starlight Megalodon needs any extra armor? Their city wall-like armor belts is completely made up of the most advanced varieties of compressed armor!"
Some of the Vandals guessed that the extra construction might be weapon mounts. Others guessed that the survivors built structures along the hull. Nobody knew the answer as of yet as the footage simply couldn't resolve that much detail at this distance.
The exploration party needed to get closer.
The people back at the camp continued to perform their duties while they waited for the next status update.
Only... no other spider bots came back. An entire standard day went by without any spider bots making it to the drop points!
What had happened?!
The uncertainty gnawed at them all. Even Captain Byrd grew irritable. Even if only a single had passed, the lack of spider bots and status updates made everyone fear the worst!
"How can this be? We got the Enduring Protectors and the Asterias escorting the fast transports. We even sent out a friggin' sacred god!"
"Maybe it's just plain bad luck. The terrain did get more hazardous the closer they approached the crash site, right? None of the spider bots can endure the hazards in they get too close."
When two days went by without a word, everyone's worries doubled. Even Ves lost some of his composure. Had his Enduring Protector design failed for some reason? Did the mechs fall short against a superior force?
Captain Byrd called up Ves for a private meeting and asked for his opinion on the matter.
"There are too many unknowns, captain. We don't know what the exploration party has encountered." Ves began. "There may be threats out there, whether from our rivals or from something native to the planet, that can explain the lack of status updates. Still, I have faith in my design. I refuse to believe that any of our rivals could have fielded an overwhelmingly strong mech force."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
"What if they fielded wild gods or sacred gods?" Captain Byrd pointed out. "After all, we managed to secure the service of a sacred god, while the Caged Tongs conditions a dozen wild gods into becoming their cannon fodder."
"Even so, the god beasts are extremely slow, ma'am. If the exploration party ever bumps into them, my Enduring Protectors can easily cook them with their laser cannons."
Ves really didn't have much to say except to express his confidence in his own design. Mayra's Asterias weren't half-bad either. They shouldn't have fallen so easily no matter what.
In the end, Captain Byrd passed him an order. "I've discussed this situation with Commander Lydia and we've come to the decision to prepare a follow-up party. This one won't bring any people on foot, but is merely tasked with following the footsteps of the exploration party in order to ascertain their status. Can you fabricate six Enduring Protectors on short notice?"
Ves frowned, but only mildly. "This request is rather unexpected, but I'm sure I can divert enough resources and manpower to finish the job. However, I don't think I can deliver six new mechs in less than six weeks. Our 3D printers and other equipment are acting up due to the breakdown effect. Even routine jobs takes three times longer to complete. Are you sure you're willing to wait that long, captain?"
"As long as we have the resources to spare, I want you to prepare extra mechs. Even if the exploration party is wiped out, we need to confirm what happened!"