Shortly after the defense force gathered together, the fleet flew out to meet the incoming sandmen.

All of the vessels in the fleet consisted of light carriers.
Only the detachment of the Equinox Stingers possessed a speed-oriented combat carrier.

Ves looked enviously at the projection of the combat carrier.
Though he wasn ’t a shipwright, his vast technical competence and his prior experience in traveling aboard ships gave him a very good appreciation of combat carriers.

”She ’s a beauty. ” Captain Silvestra whistled as she walked up to him.
”Ships like these are built with enough exotics and materials to produce at least ten standard mech companies.
Some combat carriers are even more expensive than expert mechs! ”

She was right.
Due to the large variety of combat carrier classes, their costs varied very widely.
However, even the cheapest ones cost as much as a hundred Blackbeaks!

Ves understood the horror of their value very well.
He remembered the losses the Flagrant Vandals had suffered.
Not only did they lose hundreds of mechs, but also several highly valuable combat carriers and other vessels.

However, even more grievous was the loss in trained and loyal soldiers.

While the Flagrant Vandals appeared to suffer from money problems, with a backer like Flashlight, they probably would have been able to scrounge up the money to rebuild their lost assets.

However, trained mech pilots, engineers, ship captains, medical doctors and other highly valuable personnel were not so easy to accumulate.
They formed the true heart of any organization!

As an employer himself, he experienced the difficulty in hiring competent and loyal subordinates.
It was already difficult to ensure a new hire fell into one of those boxes

That reminded him of the crew of the Barracuda.
Captain Silvestra and her girls had been serving on the ship for many years.
From one of their earlier conversations, Ves learnt that they didn ’t plan to stick around forever.

”Do you ever wish to captain a combat carrier? ”

Silvestra smiled wryly.
”Who wouldn ’t? I ’m not qualified, though.
I ’m just a captain of a tiny corvette configured as a pleasure yacht.
I haven ’t acquired the relevant experience and knowledge to captain a vessel that ordinarily requires a crew of at least a hundred spacers to function properly.
Unlike the mechs you work with, ships are incredibly ponderous vessels that can never function by a single person alone. ”

”There ’s the dummy mode, right? ”

”Haha! ” She chuckled.
”Excuse me, sir.
That was a funny joke.
Think of what starships represent to us.
They are more than means of travel.
They are self-contained habitats that just happen to possess the capability of stellar travel.
A ship regularly launches into the cold and breathless void of interstellar space for months and years at a time.
Think of what might happen if an accident occurs and there aren ’t any knowledgeable engineers or specialists to fix the problem. ”

”You risk losing a ship worth hundreds of mechs or more along with all of the valuable cargo and people onboard. ”

”Exactly, sir.
Ships aren ’t just empty shells with an engine and FTL drive strapped onto them.
There are thousands of different systems running at the same time.
Since you ’re a mech designer, you should probably know that the more systems are present, the greater the chance that something can go wrong.
Even the latest vessels such as our Barracuda are not exempt from unexpected incidents. ”

”So the need to staff a trained and knowledgeable crew onto a ship is because they are a form of insurance, then? ”

The captain nodded.
”It ’s cheaper and more effective to pay for a crew than to let an automated starship be subject to the whims of Murphy ’s law.
Automation has come a very long way.
Bots and AIs can run entire starships by themselves, but you never see a ship that is automated to that degree for a very good reason. ”

”That said, ships still incorporate a lot of automation, right? ”

Some degree of automation is indispensable to modern starships due to their incredible complexity.
I believe that is the same case for mechs.
The key is to strike a balance between control and convenience.
The personnel also have to be trained in taking over the automated functions if they malfunction somehow. ”

”And this makes combat carriers extremely difficult to crew? ”

Aside from a combat carrier ’s high procurement cost and the difficulty of ordering one from the few shipyards capable of constructing them, finding the right crew has always been the biggest challenge.
For the captain position, I need to accumulate at least twenty years more experience.
For the chief engineer position, Jenn not only has to do the same, but also study all kinds of complicated engineering subjects! The amount of engineers who manage to gain a proficiency in FTL drive theory is extremely small! The position of chief engineer is often the most difficult one to fill! ”

Ves gained a deeper appreciation of combat carriers.
Unlike small and relatively simple ships like his Barracuda, a big combat carrier truly required highly-trained personnel to function optimally.

”Are light carriers the same? ”

”Of course not. ” Silvestra shook her head.
”Light carriers do not have to fulfill so many functions.
They ’re not designed to participate in battles directly, so they lack much of the defensive and damage control systems that are prevalent in combat carriers.
Light carriers are more like taxis for mechs.
As long as they can fulfill this function adequately, there is no need to add anything more complicated. ”

”I see.
So it ’s much easier to crew a light carrier. ”

Even if you manage to obtain a combat carrier somehow, with the spacers employed by the Avatars and the Sentinels, you won ’t be able to make full use of your new acquisition. ”

”How difficult is it to fill up the positions of a combat carrier? ”

”Extremely difficult.
These spacers are cherished talents.
Usually, the ones who enter the private sector are often spacers who have been discharged from the military.
Big organizations such as trade consortiums usually keep a very close eye on them.
It ’s practically impossible for you to hire a chief engineer on the open job market! ”

Just like every other profession, there were too many people and organizations looking to snap up the truly valuable talents.
Even before a chief engineer resigned from the military, he would have probably received hundreds of job offers!

There was little chance for Ves to beat those offers at this time!

”I see.
I ’ll take your words under consideration. ”

Now was not a good time for him to procure a combat carrier.
He didn ’t have to worry about hiring a crew in that case.

After a brief moment of silence, Captain Silvestra took the initiative to ask a question.

”Sir, do you intend to participate in the invasion of the Red Ocean? ”

Ves nodded.
This wasn ’t any secret.
It was just that many people quickly dismissed him due to his youth and relative lack of ability.

”I am.
Hopefully, Gloriana and I will be able to scrounge up enough merits to redeem a fleet beyonder tickets within a decade. ”

She looked astonished at his boast.
Forget about Ves, even Seniors and some Masters wouldn ’t be able to earn so many merits that fast!

However, she did not look as surprised as Ves anticipated.

”I believe you can do it, sir.
If not ten years, then twenty years.
If not twenty years, then thirty! ”

”Thank you for your vote of confidence.
I didn ’t expect to hear that from you, captain. ”

”I have witnessed your rise when you were just an Apprentice, remember? ” She smiled.
”I know how remarkable you are, Mr.
I don ’t believe your growth has stalled at all.
Mech designs such as the Desolate Soldier show that you have only become more capable after you ’ve advanced to Journeyman. ”

He admired her judgement and her faith in him.
Part of it was due to her lengthy years of service in his employ, but a part of it was also about her expectation of his future growth!

Of course, the captain would not bring up this topic for nothing.
Ves recognized that Silvestra subtly signalled an intention to climb up in his organization and be a part of his grand expedition to the Red Ocean.

He did not leave her hanging.
”Considering your crew ’s dedication, I might have a place for you and your women in my grand expedition.
However, there is a large possibility that some if not all of the starships that make up my expeditionary fleet will be second-class vessels.
You will need to become very proficient in crewing them if you want to occupy some of the senior positions of my fleet. ”

This demand caused her to fall silent in consternation.
It wasn ’t easy to master a second-class ship.
The Barracuda alone already consumed a lot of time and energy for her and crew!

”We will do our best. ” She eventually promised.
”We have already invested much of what we learned into developing our skills.
We have all neglected our social life in order to serve you better.
The life of a spacer is often restrictive and monotonous, but we don ’t have any other ambitions. ”

Ves frowned at that.
”When was the last time you girls stepped off your ship? ”

”Months? ” Silvestra shrugged.
”I ’m not sure.
As long as the Barracuda doesn ’t undergo an extensive maintenance or overhaul like last time, we aren ’t inclined to step on solid ground.
There is nothing planetside that interests us.
We have already adapted to spacer life. ”

”You sound as if you fit right in with the CFA or the spaceborn clans! ”

The captain ’s eyes shone at their mention.

”They are the most eminent spacer groups of humanity! Ever spacer dreams of becoming a part of them.
To be born in a spaceborn clan is one of the greatest privileges you can enjoy! While there are many spaceborn clans, the true ones which are affiliated with the CFA are no weaker than first-rate states! ”

This statement was very true.
While the population base of true spaceborn clans was a lot smaller than states that offered an abundant amount of living space, none of the people born in a spaceborn clan was useless.

The limited space and vast resources required to run a powerful ship meant that anyone born into a spaceborn clan was subject to an intense training regime from youth.

It was not without reason that the CFA almost exclusively recruited new blood from the spaceborn clans! Those born elsewhere often lacked the necessary discipline as well as the respect for tradition and hierarchy.

Having spent a fair amount of time on the Starlight Megalodon, Ves had already concluded that a rigid and tradition-bound organization like the CFA did not fit him at all.
He would always have to answer to higher authority!

While the same applied for the MTA as well, at the very least the Association was a lot more loose and decentralized in its internal structure.

However, Ves shouldn ’t discount the merits of spaceborn clans.

”Unless you are planning on colonizing a planet or founding a state, you should start looking into how you can keep your organization together for several years or decades in space.
It is absolutely not simple to sustain an entire society in space.
If you don ’t make the necessary preparations, your expeditionary fleet will surely fall apart after a few years of isolation! ”

She had a good point.
Ves neglected to consider these difficulties.
Of course, with all of the people working for him, someone would have pointed out these problems eventually.

That didn ’t lessen the importance of her warning.
The topics they discussed earlier prompted him to think much more seriously about what ships should make up his expeditionary fleet and how to fill their positions.

It would be easy for him to form a complete third-class expeditionary fleet.
However, it was practically impossible to form a second-class fleet.
Just procuring the factory ship alone was way beyond Gloriana ’s means!

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