A bad feeling crept up to Ves. Simply put, there were several questionable points about the Finmoth Regal's state and her decision to hole up on Aeon Corona IX.
Ves voiced his concerns. While the Swordmaidens seemed receptive to his suspicions, Captain Orfan found them to be overblown.
"What are you thinking, you dolt?! Just because one of our combat carriers missed the fleet doesn't mean she turned hostile all of a sudden!"
"I still feel uncomfortable about this. I'd rather we hide the shuttle somewhere and wait for the arrival of the fleet. There shouldn't be much of a difference, right?"
Although Captain Orfan wanted to reach the Finmoth Regal as fast as possible so she could unwind in the company of fellow Vandals, both Ketis and Dise supported the suggestion proposed by Ves.
Inwardly, both of them would rather wait until a Swordmaiden ship arrived to secure their own share of the loot.
A tense situation descended upon the shuttle as Captain Orfan found herself outnumbered by three skeptical people. Although nominally, she should be in command, the others weren't exactly her direct subordinates. She wouldn't be able to dictate their actions by herself.
She turned to Ves, as she recognized that she at least stood a better chance of gaining the upper hand with his support. "C'mon, Ves, aren't you looking forward to a nice long shower and a comfy bed to rest and relax? We never really had the time to put down our guards ever since we landed on Seven."
"It's because we're so close that we need to be at our highest state of vigilance." Ves firmed up his resolve. Though his intuition didn't tell him much, his suspicious nature compelled him to doubt the circumstances. "Look, let's just wait for a day and see if the fleet manages to catch up. If they aren't coming, we can always rendez-vous with the Finmoth Regal."
With no one else to back her up, Captain Orfan had no choice but to agree to wait. She access a comm panel and sent a brief transmission to the Finmoth Regal.
"Heya, Finmoth Regal. We've decided to wait for the arrival of the rest of the fleet. Last I heard, they're fighting through a horde of sandman ships, but they'll definitely be here within a day or less. Hang tight, okay? We'll all be reunited with the fleet and can leave this forsaken star system together."
"Captan Orfan." The Finmoth Regal's comm officer replied over the channel. "Mech Captain Bonnet insists that you land on our carrier. Our long-ranged sensors have detected a massive amount of activity and weapon emissions from Aeon Corona VII. We believe it is prudent to follow the second contingency plan and fall back to another Star System. Are you in possession of the cargo, ma'am?"
Ves pressed a button that momentarily muted their comms. "Don't answer that question, please."
"Fine, you suspicious git." Orfan scowled at him before brushing aside his block. "Ahem, we are indisposed at the moment. If you don't mind us, we'll park ourselves out of the way while we wait for the rest of the fleet. Tell Julie Bonnet that we'll be sharing drinks some other time!"
A short crackle sounded out from the channel before someone else patched into the comm channel. "Rosa! I don't know what's gotten into you but you better get your butt down here in our hangar bay! This isn't the time to play one of your stupid games!"
"That sounds just like Julie Bonnet." Orfan whispered to Ves. "Look Julie, I'd love to join you, but there's a bunch of spoilsports on my shuttle who would rather for the Shield of Hispania and the Jaded Sword. So I guess you'll have to keep that beer you owe me in the cooler for a while longer!"
The two began to argue like a pair of familiar drunks. Captain Orfan actually enjoyed frustrating Captain Bonnet and she went along with the plan to wait just to spite her fellow mech captain.
Of course, as Bonnet's orders and cajoling grew more heated, Ves noticed from the sensor readings that the mechs of the Finmoth Regal erupted into activity.
"The Finmoth Regal is launching out more spaceborn mechs. Their mechs are also fanning out in a search pattern."
Captain Orfan frowned at that development. "Julie, what the hell are you doing?"
"We're dragging you back kicking and screaming, that's what we're doing! As I've already stated, this is a critical time and we should evacuate as soon as possible!"
"What about the fleet?"
"You need to face reality, Rosa! They're dead or delayed for such a long time that there's no point in waiting!"
Even as the two mech captains continued bickering over the comm channel, the mechs accelerated as they traced the comm channel in the direction to the shuttle. Ves noticed that the mechs flew very fast.
Lieutenant Dise's expression grew even graver as she zoomed in on the footage provided by the shuttle's advanced optical sensors. "Those mechs are making an aggressive approach. I don't like the way they are brandishing their weapons."
When Orfan studied at the footage, she lost her jovial mood. "Julie, call off your dogs. They look like they are itching to take someone down. Why are you guys so nervous, anyway? There's hardly an enemy ship or mech in sight."
"You obviously haven't seen how desperate we fought to keep our ship from fallen apart or being eaten by living sand! It's not safe out here!"
While Captain Bonnet's answer sounded plausible, Ves made an alarming observation as he zoomed in as close as possible to the rifles of the ranged mechs. "Their weapons are hot! All of their safeties are disengaged and they can instantly shoot us down if they get in range!"
"What?! What is the meaning of this, Julie?!"
"It's as I've said. I'm bringing you back whether you want to or not. Forget about waiting for the fleet!"
Nothing about Captain Bonnet and the Finmoth Regal's response to their presence reassured Ves. While this might all be just a huge misunderstanding, their complete lack of willingness to wait sent alarm bells ringing in his head.
"Please keep our distance from the Finmoth Regal's mechs." He said to Dise.
She did not even solicit anyone else's opinion before she turned around the shuttle and quietly flew away.
"Captain Orfan, please close the comm channel. It's leaving behind a trail for them to follow back to our shuttle."
"Sure, sure." She grumbled, though a bit less severe than before. Even she noticed something strange about the Finmoth Regal. She turned back to her comm to transmit one last respond. "Julie, if you are hearing this, call off your boys and cool off their heads! They're coming in really hot for what is supposed to be a friendly reunion!"
As she closed the comm channel, the mechs didn't slow down or stow away their weapons. Instead, they flew even faster and kept their weapons poised in their grasp. It seemed as if they were really desperate to track down their shuttle!
This uncharacteristically aggressive search pattern seemed far too overblown for the situation! Even if they guessed correctly that the shuttle held the mission objects, they shouldn't have lost their composure to this extent.
"Can anyone tell us what the hell is going on with the Finmoth Regal?" Orfan asked in shocked bewilderment. "Because the Julie Bonnet I know wouldn't be so impatient to send all of her mechs on the warpath. Look at them! They've sent out so many search parties that the Finmoth Regal practically has no escorts left!"
The Finmoth Regal launched over thirty mechs, mostly Inheritors along with a couple of Hellcats and some other miscellaneous models. This was less than her old complement of spaceborn mechs, but the problem was that the combat carrier hadn't launched any other mechs to take over patrol duty.
This strongly hinted that Captain Bonnet sent out every mech she had, perhaps even possibly deploying her personal mech as well!
Ves didn't know this very well, but this pattern of behavior deviated from standard procedures. Both Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise recognized that Captain Bonnet unnecessarily jeopardized the safety of the combat carrier in an attempt to intensify their search.
So far, the shuttle easily managed to dance outside the effective detection range of the Vandal mechs. Ves knew their parameters very well and he also familiarized himself enough with the CFA shuttle's capabilities to know that it could easily outpace any mechs, even the Inheritor light skirmishers which possessed excellent mobility.
The Finmoth Regal and the mechs transmitted numerous hails to the shuttle, each of them bearing more and more urgent-sounding demands.
The inability to understand their intentions really grated on Captain Orfan. She turned accusingly at Ves. "You got us into this mess. Now the Finmoth Regal's entire crew is freaking out!"
He understood her frustrations. The lack of information frustrated him as well. He began to think of a way to solve this problem.
"We should try and make contact with a couple of people on the Finmoth. Preferably outside official channels."
"How do you suppose we do that?"
"This shuttle isn't any good in combat, but it offers us a bunch of other options. One of them is to establish a pinpoint comm channel that is only detectable at a single coordinate. We can do this by launching three of the shuttle's miniature comm buoys and send them close to the Finmoth Regal."
It wouldn't be possible to really do this with any accuracy or stealth if the Finmoth Regal moved through space. Right now, the Vandals on the ship parked her on the surface of Nine, which made his suggestion viable.
None of them really understood him, so he took action anyway. The CFA shuttle discretely disgorged finger-sized comm buoys which quietly started to zip to the Finmoth Regal. Unless the mechs scanned specifically for small objects like this, they'd probably stay undetected.
The only problem was that it took some time for the slow comm buoys to reach their positions. Ves set them up so that they surrounded the Finmoth Regal in a triangle. This allowed Ves to open up a comm channel with the highest degree of accuracy.
In the meantime, he engaged a low-powered scanner and tried to map out the Finmoth Regal's interior. Although he visited the ship a couple of times, he wasn't familiar enough with her layout to pin down exactly where people might be. Though the scanner only returned a fuzzy result that grew even fuzzier as it penetrated deeper, Ves mainly wanted to scan the mech workshops and mech hangar bays.
The fact that the shuttle's scanner managed to return all of these results without the ship being the wiser impressed Ves enormously. This was just a cheap, outdated shuttle in the eyes of the CFA, yet its technological prowess still allowed him to perform various actions that completely confounded a modern mech force.
"Got it!" Ves said and honed in on a specific lifesign aboard the Finmoth Regal. "I know one of the mech designers there. Let me try to hail him through this pinpoint comm channel."
The shuttle connected to the comm buoys, which then attempted to open up a comm channel with the comm of a specific individual who currently sat in an office next to a mech workshop.
The channel connected.
"Who is this?" An uncertain voice sounded out from the noisy comm channel.
"Loke Vedette. It's me. Ves Larkinson." Ves stepped in and replied. "I'm aboard the shuttle with Captain Orfan. We recently arrived at this planet and we didn't expect to find the Finmoth Regal. What happened to you guys?"
"Damnit! I can't tell you this! The monitoring system probably caught me! I can already hear the security officers rushing to my office! Damn, you Ves!"
"Look, stay put and we'll rescue you somehow. Just tell us what is going on at the ship!"
"You bastard! If you must know, Captain Bonnet and half of the upper echelon! They quit the Mech Corps and plan to go pirate! And that's not all!"
"What else is worse than deserting?"
"The deserters banded together with the Dragons of the Void!