Nobody objected to his suggestion, but the question was which ship should they approach and how should they meet them midway?
The troublesome part right now was that the lingering astral winds still caused their sensors to capture hazy readings, especially at longer ranges. Right now, the CFA shuttle's sensors had only been able to track the fleeing ships by the weapon emissions from their escorting mechs.
Now that the fighting subsided, the only way the shuttle could rendez-vous with one of the ships was through extrapolating their possible routes and hoped they picked the right interception route.
This took a lot of judgement and familiarity with both orbital mechanics and navigation. Lieutenant Dise may be a passable shuttle pilot, but she could only fly the shuttle directly from point A to point B. The intricacies concerning space navigation was beyond her as she usually just programmed a destination on the autopilot to determine the most optimal route.
In short, it was up to Ves who possessed the broadest grasp in the sciences to extrapolate and guess the route the fleeing ships followed and hope he selected the right ship to reunite with. Ves had very little data to work with as the long-ranged sensors only captured strong weapon emissions, but for a mech designer that was enough.
"I think I can calculate which fleet and which ships belong to the Flagrant Vandals." He stated as he started to set up the control panel for his calculations. "The weapon emissions that we've been able to capture mostly come from strong explosions and strong laser fire. The Akkara heavy cannoneers are capable of inflicting both types of damage, and I'm sure I'll be able to identify their distinctive weapon discharges."
Both Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise looked at him as if he was speaking an alien language. Only Ketis understood a bit of what he wanted to do, but she wasn't capable of performing this kind of analysis at all.
She simply gave him a thumbs up. "Good luck, Ves!"
All of this sounded complicated, but Ves knew what he was doing. Sort of. He knew the theory, but once he went to work, he struggled a bit and his calculations came out clumsier than he thought.
Nonetheless, he succeeded in determining an approximate route that should bring the shuttle close enough to a ship to recalibrate their route.
The question now was whether they should go meet up with a ship or continue to wait in high orbit above Aeon Corona IX.
"Major Verle told us to stay put here, remember?" Captain Orfan reminded them all. "What do we do if the Vandals and Swordmaiden ships arrive but we're not here to greet them all?"
Lieutenant Dise shook her head. "The major's orders didn't anticipate the presence of deserters hanging around here. I'm willing to take my chances with another ship instead of staying in the vicinity of a hostile ship and her complement of mechs."
Ves and Ketis both agreed with Dise. Even if the shuttle's ECM systems managed to fool the enemy sensors for now, it wasn't a good idea for them to rely on a single system to keep them safe. Any form of technology could fail, even from the CFA!
Therefore, all of them quickly came to a consensus that it was better to take their chances than to sit here and risk the deserters sniffing them out.
As for any ideas about taking back control of the Finmoth Regal and rescue the loyalists such as Vedette? None of them were delusional enough to support such a crazy plan!
The CFA shuttle quietly slipped away from Aeon Corona IX and headed back in the direction towards Aeon Corona VII along a curve in order to meet with the fleeing ships.
Unfortunately, Ves miscalculated somewhat. He did not anticipate the fleeing ships converging with each other at some point. This caused the shuttle to fly in the wrong direction.
Fortunately, the shuttle's sensors managed to pick up the thruster emissions from the other ships once it came close enough. After readjusting their course, the shuttle flew off to intercept their presumed comrades.
As the shuttle came nearer and nearer, the shuttle's sensors finally managed to make a more precise visual confirmation of which ship they managed to find.
"Yes! We found the Shield of Hispania!"
Since Ves was most familiar with the spaceborn mech contingent of the Shield of Hispania, he aimed to identify their weapon emissions from the start. Though he had never been quite sure of his guess, it still gratified him to come within sight of the flagship of the Verle Task Force.
"The Jaded Sword is also with the group!" Ketis burst with pleasure.
Overall, two Vandal combat carriers along with the Jaded Sword and two light carriers made it out of the confusing mess that engulfed Aeon Corona VII's orbital space.
Yet even as they managed to flee and congregate again, they also brought unwanted guests. Flying in the wake of the Vandal and Swordmaiden ships, a mix of unknown carriers followed along.
"They must the Dragons of the Void. Who else but them would flee towards Aeon Corona IX?" Captain Orfan spat.
"The pirate vessels doesn't appear to be able to catch up to the Vandal and Swordmaiden ships. Even if they do, they'll have a tough fight on their hands. They don't have the numbers to overpower our mechs."
Even so, being pursued by an unknown and very likely hostile force did not seem very reassuring!
"There are sandman motherships trailing further ahead as well, but they're falling further behind." Ves observed as the sensors picked up their comparatively weaker energy signatures.
Nonetheless, even if the situation seemed precarious, it was better than floating around in space with just a shuttle!
As the CFA shuttle flew close enough to communicate comfortably, Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise both contacted their respective flagships and exposed their identities. They also explained what went on with the Finmoth Regal.
"What?!" Major Verle shouted over the comm channel. "You better not be pulling my leg, Captain!"
"It's true! I swear! That traitorous cow Bonnet and her deserter buddies completely surrendered to the Dragons of the Void and became their lackeys! I have the comm logs to prove it! Aeon Corona IX is not safe!"
"Damnit, Aeon Corona IX is our planned rendezvous point! If we avoid it and change course, we'll miss reuniting with the other scattered ships of our allied fleet. We'll talk later once you come aboard. Welcome back, captain!"
All four survivors practically broke into tiers when the shuttle came close enough to see the battle-scarred carrier ships and their tired but unflinching mech escorts.
For a moment, Ves couldn't believe their luck was that good! While the others already started to let down their guards, he discreetly pointed the shuttle's scanners at the various vessels and tried to figure out if they'd been compromised in some way.
No matter how many scans he performed, nothing seemed amiss. No strange sandmen agglomerations hid inside the ships, nor did he spot any strange armed personnel keeping the crew in captivity.
"Come on, Ves! We're coming home!" Ketis celebrated with a smile.
His paranoia didn't allow him to accept such a lucky break at face value. He obsessively kept scanning for something suspicious, and by some chance stumbled upon the hidden compartment he found some time ago.
Ves remembered the hidden compartment contained a cell which kept an important Vesian noble from the Detemen System captive.
Lord Javier still lived for some reason. Ves didn't know the significance of this. Shouldn't the Vandals get rid of this fellow now that he had no use? The longer the noble scion stayed aboard the ship, the greater the risk of an accident!
Or did the Vandals make some kind of arrangement with Lord Javier or House Eneqqin?
Could it be that the Vandals turned their coats and betrayed the Bright Republic to work with the Vesians?
"There's no basis to these suspicions!"
Ves shook his head to dismiss the silly thoughts his overactive imagination conjured up inside his stressed and tired mind. What mattered was that Ves and Captain Orfan would finally be able to return to a Vandal ship while Ketis and Lieutenant Dise went back to a Swordmaiden ship.
After dropping the two Swordmaidens off at a shuttle sent from the Jaded Sword that met them halfway, the CFA shuttle finally entered the shuttle bay of the Shield of Hispania.
A team of heavily-armed security officers greeted them upon their arrival. Though they looked menacing, they merely came to secure the strange and foreign CFA shuttle and to be sure that the occupants inside belonged to their own side.
"It's us!" Captain Orfan said as the security officers came to confirm their identities. "What's all this about?!"
"Sorry, ma'am, but who knows if you're a clone sent as a decoy."
"The hell?! You'd know it if I'm a clone! Is a clone able to talk like this?!"
"You make for a convincing argument, but orders are orders."
Despite the rough welcome, Ves did not sense any particular malice from the security officers. As he looked around the shuttle bay, he spotted at least triple as much crew than this section ought to host. He also spotted way more shuttles, many of which were plastered with markings of other ship names!
"Did the Shield of Hispania take on survivors from other ships?" Ves asked while he jerked his head at the others.
"The blasted sandmen ships that have been roaming blind and deaf all converged on Aeon Corona VII as soon as the flow of higher-dimensional particles cut off!" A nearby shuttle technician answered. "I don't know if it's because they regained their vision or if something on the planet drew them there, but the entire space around Seven became engulfed with sand!"
After asking a few questions, the technicians confirmed the fleet cut off their own tails in order to escape the reach of the sandman ships.
"What about the pirate carriers following behind you?"
"Them? I'm just a technician. The brass never tell us anything important, so who knows what we'll do. The pirate ships can't catch up to us anyway, so I don't see how it matters."
Their escorts quickly guided the two survivors to the medbay while posting more guards around the CFA shuttle to keep anyone curious from putting their hands on the advanced vehicle. A separate team also received the lockbox handed over by Captain Orfan and immediately put it into a bigger lockbox, as if they were afraid that the CFA lockbox was too fragile to hold something as important as the mission objective!
"What you're doing is completely redundant." Ves commented from the side as the security officers seemed to treat the bigger lockbox like a holy container. "A high-quality CFA lockbox is worth as much as this combat carrier, I think. The entire ship can plunge into a sun and vaporize into atoms and the lockbox would still be fine, if a little hot to the touch."
The security officers ignored him, of course.
"Oh well. Make sure not to touch my shuttle! It's keyed to my identity and it's my personal property now!"
In the next hour, Ves split up from Captain Orfan as various doctors and other specialists performed a complete checkup on him. The security officers also compelled the both of them to remove all of their gear and have them undergo a thorough checkup, not that Ves believed that they'd be able to determine anything.
Their CFA gear had all been updated with modern security suites, courtesy of Miss Calabast. There shouldn't be anyway for the Vandal hackers to crack the CFA comm or any of his other gear.
Still, getting out of his armor for the first time in many days made him feel very uncomfortable. He also didn't like getting poked and prodded by the doctors and being stuffed inside various medical devices once they detected an enormous change in his genes and physiological equipment.
"I went through three rounds of CFA gene optimization treatments!" Ves admonished the doctors who couldn't decide whether he was a botched clone or not. They really hadn't faced anything like this before! "
"This clone is really sophisticated." A doctor scratched his chin as he observed Ves with a clinical eye. "CFA technology sure is wondrous. Their clones are so expressive and they even believe they are the originals."
Ves didn't know whether to laugh or cry!