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 The skirmishes heated up as the Meandering Monkeys probed the Flagrant Swordmaidens on all sides. The portend of a battle loomed over everyone's heads, and even the Swordmaidens started to put away some of their arrogance as their own scouting mechs continued to suffer a loss against the Vesians.

The Meandering Monkeys had succeeded in gaining the measure out of the Vandal and Swordmaiden mechs.

The same couldn't be said for the defenders, as the abundant amount of tricky battle tactics of their foes continued to confound the Vandal and Swordmaiden scouts.

Ves already saw that the battle between the scout mechs started to go downhill. Damaged scout mechs continued to pour into the workshops. Mech technicians constantly worked double shifts in order to keep on top of the repairs. With the breakdown effect constantly breaking down mechs without rhyme or reason, the workload started getting out of hand.

The problem was that Ves couldn't do anything to reverse this adverse trend!

Every damaged mech was another mech that they couldn't field in the upcoming battle. If the backlog of damaged mechs continued to grow, the Flagrant Swordmaidens may be forced into a decisive battle with significantly less mechs!

Against an enemy as formidable and prepared as the Vesians, every mech counted!

Ves pretty much already pushed the mech technicians to the brink. Under his tyrannical leadership, he managed to push their productivity to the highest sustainable state he had ever seen. The fact that their work directly affected the odds of winning also motivated them to work honestly and diligently for once.

Yet even then, the backlog of damaged mechs continued to accumulate. Perhaps one day the backlog consisted of 2 damaged mechs. The next day 2 more damaged mechs joined the list.

Before they knew it, the Vandals might have as much as thirty damaged mechs waiting in queue to be repaired!

Obviously, Ves needed to nip that problem in the bud right at the start. Even the smallest wound could bleed a person dry if left unattended!

Ves pulled up his metaphorical sleeves and spent almost every waking morning in the trenches with the other mech technicians. He knew mechs better than all the other mech technicians, and only the most experienced chief technicians among the Vandals could still teach him a trick or two. His speed in fixing up mechs sometimes surpassed the effort of an entire crew!

Through this humble sacrifice, Ves managed to stay on top of the bleeding for now. Yet the backlog quickly threatened to grow out of control as the Meandering Monkeys continued to invade the perimeter of the Flagrant Swordmaidens.

"They don't know when to stop!"

"They are popping up more frequently every day! It's like they're determined to wear us all down!"

The lifespans of the Vandal light mechs shortened by months or even a year every time they rolled up the workshops in a beaten and damaged state. Ves intimately felt that the light mechs couldn't take this kind of abuse forever.

"Is that the goal of the Meandering Monkeys?"

If the Meandering Monkeys succeeded in wearing down or outright breaking their light mechs through these frequent skirmishes, then the Flagrant Swordmaidens missed a vital element in their lineup for the decisive battle.

Though the medium mechs took the leading role in any frontal clashes, the role of light mechs couldn't be ignored!

It would be too easy for the Meandering Monkeys to become unrestrained in their attempts to flank the positions of the Flagrant Swordmaidens or to sabotage their supply train. A stab in the back could unsettle the entire arrangements of the allied forces.

In the backdrop, the status updates of the exploration party and the follow-up party fell out of everyone's radar. The brass deliberately let the matter fade away from everyone's consciousness because at this point, nobody knew whether the Vesians slipped in any listening devices.

Though the extreme environment and high levels of interference in the air made it extremely difficult to implant bugs among the Flagrant Swordmaidens, even Ves could come up with a dozen or so tricks to bypass these restrictions.

"The easiest way is to turn someone traitor and have that person feed intelligence."

As much as Ves didn't want to believe that the Vandals and Swordmaidens would turn their backs on their comrades, he was too paranoid to dismiss the possibility.

The Vandals possessed a wide variety of personalities. Cowards and weak-willed servicemen also counted among their number, unfortunately. If the Vesians promised safe harbor in exchange for turning their coats, then a number of Vandals might actually take up the offer!

The Swordmaidens on the other hand possessed a lot more internal cohesion. Every Swordmaiden shared a strong bond with each other, and it would be unimaginable for any of them to stab their comrades in their backs. They would rather die than do something so egregiously dishonorable!

Yet the Swordmaidens didn't only consist of indoctrinated warrior women. They also brought along thousands of overwhelmingly male slaves that performed all the grunt work the Swordmaidens found unworthy to do themselves. Though the slaves underwent thorough brainwashing that locked them into perpetual service to the Swordmaidens, who knew if the Vesians could exploit or circumvent these conditions to their own ends?

For example, one of the simplest ways to get a brainwashed slave to spill was to impersonate their masters and order them around! The mentally-programmed slaves didn't possess the discernment and critical thinking necessary to distinguish between real and fake. Any decent spy that dressed up as a Swordmaiden could easily extract loads of intelligence from an absent-minded slave.

"Well, it's not going to be as easy as it sounds. I doubt the Vandals and the Swordmaidens are blind to these possibilities."

Ves already noticed changes in the camp. Both forces began to institute stricter patrols and inspections. Teams of security officers and armed warriors patrolled every corner of the camp and the nearby perimeter. Bots and high-tech scanners scoured every area for the presence of microscopic bugs or listening devices.

The number of people who received the privilege of accessing the status updates dwindled to a small number of core confidants. Ves surprisingly found himself among this gathering. He contributed too much to the Vandals and more than proved his loyalty.

There was no way that Ves could turn to the Vesians for asylum. Just his Larkinson pedigree alone precluded a warm welcome.

"As you know, the follow-up party split up and sent some of the mechs over the invisible boundary which cut us off from the first exploration party. It took days for one of them to come back. We have just received the first spider bots that brought back their findings." Captain Byrd began the meeting in the much emptier meeting room.

Right now, all kinds of shielding and precautions blocked any bugs from eavesdropping on the meeting. Ves even activated his signal jammer to boot, though this had the unfortunate effect of shutting down most electronic devices including the projectors.

"Why did they take so long to return?" Someone asked.

"The short answer? They entered a territory under the complete control of the Starlight Megalodon. To be more precise, they fell under the control of whoever is currently controlling the Starlight Megalodon's systems. What happened was that any mech that came close enough lost control! Even Qilanxo is rendered helpless by a targeted constricting effect."


The small number of Vandals became gobsmacked. It didn't surprise them that the Starlight Megalodon possessed a means to put any approaching mech under a stasis effect.

What surprised them was that it still worked after so many years, and that someone still possessed the expertise to control such a system!

"Do we know who is in control of the battleship, ma'am?"

"The sole Enduring Protector who returned hasn't managed to come close enough to discern any details from the Starlight Megalodon. All the footage we've obtained still show the battleship as a distant, hazy shape. However, the surviving mech still managed to capture the process where our other mechs crossed the line and succumbed to the stasis effect. Tractor beams subsequently picked up the immobilized mechs and dragged them in the direction to the battleship. Their current status is unknown."

A very depressed mood spread throughout the meeting room. How many breakdown-proof mechs fell for this trap? Who exactly captured them, and why would they do so?

Ves hoped that whoever controlled the Starlight Megalodon's systems would be merciful to the captives. The fact that the Starlight Megalodon opted to capture the intruders rather than to wipe them out with a warship-grade cannon or something gave the Vandals a lot of hope for their continued existence.

The success of the mission depended on their conduct! Even if they'd been captured for some reason, at least they had a chance of negotiating with their captors!

"Captain, what do we do now with this information?" Ves asked.

"There's nothing we can do." Byrd answered unwillingly. "Fabricating more breakdown-proof mechs will only weaken our forces further. This is extremely foolish considering we are facing the prospect of a decisive battle against the Vesians. Anything else we send inside the capture envelope of the Starlight Megalodon will just be put to stasis and dragged towards the battleship without any way of transmitting any news. I'm not willing to throw anymore assets into this proverbial black hole. Let's repel the Vesian attack before we plan our next steps."

This was the most prudent course of action. They first needed to address the more acute crisis before they had the luxury of solving this thorny problem.

Getting cut off from the exploration party and most of the mechs of the follow-up party worried the Vandals immensely. So much time had already passed. Had the people they sent in suffered a mishap? Were they being tortured?

Perhaps they already died, with those outside the red zone none the wiser.

All of these possibilities depressed the Vandals, and Captain Byrd couldn't do anything to lift them up. She wasn't Major Verle, who always knew how to manage everyone's morale.

Ves hadn't noticed this flaw in Captain Byrd before, but now that bad news poured in from every direction, the differences in leadership style became especially notable.

Captain Byrd exhibited a detail-oriented leadership style. She prized data and facts over feelings and hunches. This made her a very thorough commanding officer who paid attention to every detail no matter how boring it may be.

Yet such an objective approach failed to stoke the passion of her subordinates. She had no charismatic bone in her body, and while she was capable of expressing emotions just like any other human, she wasn't adept at manipulating the feelings of others.

To Ves, Captain Byrd seemed like the middle manager type. Ves vastly preferred Major Verle over Captain Byrd.

Because to Ves, it seemed that Major Verle didn't bother to dig too deep into every detail. He merely needed to receive an overview of pertinent facts and set the broad strokes every policy.

As for the details? Major Verle could let his deputies take care of that stuff. A commanding officer never let themselves be bogged down by facts.

As the meeting turned to planning against a Vesian attack, Ves continued to observe Captain Byrd's handling of the situation. She was doing the best she could, but she handled matters like a bot. No matter how dismayed the other mech officers and chiefs became, Captain Byrd paid no notice to their own feelings.

What was she thinking? How could she pay so little attention to morale?Find authorized novels in Webnovel,faster updates, better experience,Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.

Ves wanted to speak up and provide some words of encouragement to the Vandals, but he didn't. Not only would it be unbecoming for a mech designer like him to broach this matter, it also risked putting him at odds with Captain Byrd.

For better or worse, Captain Byrd was in charge, and no matter how much Ves disagreed with her methods, they couldn't afford to let dissent run rife among the Vandals.