A day quietly passed while the stealth crawler traversed the rough terrain. Due to the highly uneven elevation and the crawler's many limitations, the vehicle only traversed twenty kilometers or so. They still had four days ahead if the crawler made it all the way through.
"Strange." Miss Calabast muttered behind the controls. "While some of the parts are already starting to creak, it's not deteriorating as fast as I thought. I think we can make it at least two-thirds of the way before we have to abandon the crawler."
This sent Ves into thought. Did he somehow extend the same immunity against the breakdown effect towards the crawler? It still sounded as if the range of this immunity field wasn't all that extensive, as the crawler still suffered from a shortened lifespan.
Nonetheless, the longer the three occupants rode the stealth crawler, the less they needed to worry about traversing the red zone on foot.
The rear compartment truly didn't offer Ves and Ketis much room to settle in. Only after an extensive amount of squirming did they manage to settle into a somewhat comfortable half-leaning position.
No one entered into conversation. The shock of losing the battle and the trauma of losing their comrades affected Ves and Ketis profoundly. The only person who didn't care about the final fate of most of the Vandals and Swordmaidens calmly piloted the stealth crawler.
She needed to put her full attention on navigating through the complex terrain. Not only did she need to be attentive about encountering gaping crevices and sheer cliffs, she also needed to keep her senses peeled against highly corrosive and radioactive craters.
The closer they got to the Starlight Megalodon, the denser the hazards in their way. The fighting that occurred in the past left very few traces behind. Ves occasionally spotted remnants of ancient mechs and other pieces of corroded equipment scattered among the terrain.
He zoomed in on them with the crawler's screen projection and attempted to figure out the properties of the remnants. He wanted to understand what exactly went on all those years ago, but so far he found little clues. Some infighting occurred between the survivors of the Starlight Megalodon, but what did they fight for and why did their differences became so heated that they didn't hesitate to come to blows?
"You're not going to find out anything no matter how intently you stare at the remains." Miss Calabast remarked without turning back her head. "My operatives attempted to decipher the history behind the traces left behind by that ancient battle, but too much time has passed. Time wipes away all traces. The only way you can ever uncover the truth of what happened so long ago is to dig it out from the Starlight Megalodon."
It seemed the battleship held every answer. The reason for the mission, the justification for all the sacrifices and the truth of Aeon Corona VII's grand design.
"You know something, do you, Calabast?" Ves tried to fish for information again. "Since you went through all this effort to retrieve me from the sinking ship of the Vandals and the Swordmaidens, can you tell me now why you need my help?"
"Patience, Ves. All will be explained in due time. There is no need to go into the details right now."
"Can you at least tell me if it has to do with designing mechs? I'd like to know the answer so I can mentally prepare myself."
Miss Calabast threw a brief glance behind her shoulder. "It's a little complicated, but you will definitely be required to demonstrate your design abilities. The better you are, the higher the chances of success. Rest assured that I won't skimp out on the rewards as long as you put in your full effort."
Ves frowned at that. "If it's design ability that you need, why didn't you approach Mayra of the Swordmaidens? She's a bona fide Journeyman Mech Designer."
"She's a woman." Calabast shrugged. "What I need is a man."
Ketis shot up at that, causing both her and Ves to jostle in the rear compartment. "Hey! What is that supposed to mean?!"
"It's exactly what it sounds like, kid. There are strict identity requirements. A woman won't do. Out of all the available mech designers in the vicinity, little Ves here ranks at the top of the list."
Neither Ves nor Ketis understood Calabast's intentions.
However, Ketis still felt indignant that this inscrutable spy passed over a highly capable mech designer like Mayra in favor of a much younger Ves. If Calabast approached Mayra, then Ketis might not have lost her mentor.
She adopted a pained expression as she stared daggers at Calabast. The spy took no notice of the girl, dismissing her as an inconsequential passenger.
Ves understood he wouldn't be able to milk any information from someone as shrewd as Miss Calabast. The woman only released information that she wanted him to know, and nothing more. His intuition always warned him that this woman constantly weaved truths with lies, and she did it with such a deft fashion that even the most advanced lie detector would be thrown into confusion.
The matter of her allegiance still nagged at Ves. It was like a discordant noise hitting his ears that just didn't go away.
Who did she work for? What was her position? How did she arrive at Aeon Corona VII?
Too many questions of this nature lingered in his mind, and Ves had the feeling that he was overlooking something huge the longer he was ignorant of her true loyalties.
Even the technology and gear that Calabast bandied about didn't reveal anything about her origin. The stealth crawler and reinforced infiltrator suit seemed to be a bit too advanced to be supplied by an intelligence agency of a third-rate state, but they were also somewhat underwhelming for an intelligence agency of a second-rate state.
Ves couldn't even rule out if she was an agent from another star sector or even from a trans-galactic organization.
Naturally, none of the gear she used displayed any brands or symbols. Ves doubted he could even find a single serial number even if he disassembled the entire stealth crawler.
A slight rumbling rattled the compartment. A beep sounded out from the control panel.
"Incoming enemy mech! Hold on, we're hunkering down!" Miss Calabast warned.
She quickly guided the stealth crawler against a small cliff that blocked it from view from many directions. The crawler folded and restricted its six insectile legs and turned its stealth systems up another notch while deactivating every non-essential systems.
The moment the vehicle secured itself against the ground, Miss Calabast leaned back on her chair, causing it to press against the passengers of the back. Only then did she slowly dial down the antigrav field until it faded away entirely.
Painful moans escaped from Ketis. Six times standard gravity pressed down on their bodies without any discrimination.
Surprisingly, Ves didn't feel too much pain, though he still suffered from the discomfort. The interior of the stealth crawler simply didn't offer enough room for the three of them! The increase in gravity only amplified their suffering, but everyone tried to bear it in their own way.
Both Calabast and Ketis seemed surprised that Ves didn't show any signs of further pain and discomfort. They figured him to be a weak-bodied mech designer. His transhuman physique came in handy this time.
Ketis suffered the most, but her genetic modifications allowed her to hang on without fainting or suffering any other ill effects.
As for Calabast, she showed nothing but stoic determination at their circumstances. It was as if the heavy gravity formed a minor hindrance to her. Ves was really curious to know how far her body's parameters exceeded the baseline human norm.
No one asked each other's secrets, though. Everyone bore the heavy gravity in total silence, as if afraid that a single word might attract the attention of the enemy mech.
Only a handful of passive sensors remained active, allowing those inside the crawler to see a glimpse of the mech hunting for stragglers.Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
As soon as the mech came into view, Ves and Ketis widened their eyes. "That's the Belisarius!"
The appearance of Venerable Foster's expert mech shook the both of them. This was a supremely advanced mech with the power to withstand the attacks of several mech companies at a time!
Yet it was also a highly complex mech that incorporated countless advanced system. How could it recklessly appear in the red zone where the breakdown effect did its best to wreck all kinds of technology?
The dreaded Belisarius walked out into view and held a new laser carbine in a casual grip. It seemed that Venerable Foster was leisurely hunting for pirates.
Miss Calabast sighed. "I can't believe the two of you are so blind. Think about what the Belisarius is made of. Are you still surprised that it's able to function this close to the Starlight Megalodon?"
"Rorach's Bone!" Ves uttered. This wondrous exotic's main property was to bestow regenerating properties to anything it's blended with. "A normal mech accumulates an increasing amount of stresses and faults that will slowly cascade into a mechanical breakdown. Yet a mech like the Belisarius is constantly repairing those stresses and faults as soon as they pop up, preventing them from building up to a breakdown!"
Ketis looked dazed at that revelation. "Isn't that a massive cheat? That's so unfair! How can a mech like this show up on Seven! None of our breakdown-proof mechs can last a single second against the Belisarius!"
The magnitude of this revelation stunned Ves and Ketis as they continued to think over the implications. Such a mech being able to operate in the red zone with impunity would be able to stomp over any other mech no matter how well they were designed.
That was because the Belisarius wasn't bound by the limitations imposed by the environment!
The only entities that could ever stand a chance against the Belisarius was a sacred god. This wasn't good news for the Flagrant Swordmaidens that went in first. Qilanxo may be a powerful sacred god, but her abilities leaned towards defense. A capable expert pilot like Venerable Foster wouldn't be so stupid to let the lumbering Qilanxo whack the Belisarius with its limbs.
"Don't worry." Miss Calabast soothed them. "While I'm not too clear on the details of the safe zone, it's not so easy to shake off its shackles. Even if the Belisarius steps inside the range of the Starlight Megalodon, the battleship will surely restrict it from massacring those already inside."
"How do you know that?" Ves asked pointedly as the Belisarius continued to search the surroundings without any result. "You're quite well-informed about what is going on over there."
Miss Calabast grinned despite the deathly threat roaming just a few hundred meters away. "It's my job to know things, kid. You may be someone of some stature in the mech industry, but you have no idea what someone in my field is capable of. The secrets of the Starlight Megalodon aren't completely inaccessible to me. You just need to have the right capabilities."
She had a point. Ves knew little to nothing about spycraft or whatever Miss Calabast specialized in. He did not have an affinity for this kind of murky business.
Yet his continued entanglement in these matters prompted him to do something about this deficiency. He realized that if he ever wanted to go anywhere in the future, he would need to recruit someone who could take care of these matters on his behalf.
The idea of forming a shadow force as a hidden counterpart to his personal force gained a higher priority. Still, even the best-laid plans could go to waste without a good leader at the helm. After all of his ordeals, Ves knew that selecting the right people for the right position mattered enormously.
Where could he find a trustworthy spy to lead his shadow force in the future?
And did a trustworthy spy even exist in the first place?