Ves was no spacer.
He only possessed a shallow understanding of the spaceborn life.
His time with the Flagrant Vandals and his brief experiences on the Starlight Megalodon only gave him a taste of the difficulty of living years in space.

Considering that it would take a couple of days or so to meet the sandmen in combat, Ves decided he might as well learn more about spacers from the captain of the Barracuda.

”Humans aren ’t inherently beings who are adapted to space. ” Silvestra instructed when they moved to the ship ’s lounge to avoid disturbing the crew working on the bridge.
”Unless you are born and raised in a starship environment, it ’s very hard for you landbound to adjust to living in a cramped living environment which you are bound to share with dozens, hundreds or thousands of people. ”

Ves calmly petted Lucky ’s back as his pet dozed in his lap.
”What is the main challenge of spaceborn life? ”

”There are many challenges. ” She sighed.
”We could go on for days if I have to mention them all.
The bigger issue is that many people are different.
A problem that can drive one person crazy is just a trivial annoyance to another.
This massively complicates the matter because you can ’t implement a single solution to address all of the problems related to adapting to spacer life. ”

All of that sounded rather overwhelming.

”Do you have some more general advice that I can put to use right away? ”

”Don ’t wait until the start of your expedition to put all of your people on your vessels.
At the moment your fleet heads for the Red Ocean, it should already be in a mature state.
Your crews and other personnel should already have adapted to life aboard starships.
If you don ’t test them beforehand, then I can guarantee you that up to thirty percent of your hires will become problem cases! ”

”That much!? ” Ves gasped.

If thirty percent of his subordinates went stir-crazy from living on a ship for years without touching solid ground, then his expeditionary fleet would definitely enter a dire state!

”Those who can ’t adapt to spaceborn life pose a threat to themselves, their colleagues and the fleet! Don ’t underestimate the damage a human can do when they are in charge of a critical section of a ship. ”

Ves could imagine the possible problems.
Perhaps one crazed subordinate might sabotage the FTL drive of a ship in transit to another star system, thereby stranding the ship in the middle of nowhere forever!

Although ships were usually built with a lot of redundancies, those determined enough to ruin everyone ’s lives might be able to find some way to plunge everyone into the abyss!

For this reason, he took the captain ’s advice very seriously.
If he could test the ability of the subordinates he planned to take along and filter out the ones who wouldn ’t do well in space, he could save himself a lot of trouble.

”Thank you, Silvestra.
This is a very valuable reminder. ”

”That ’s what I ’m here for, Mr.
My girls and I used to be a landbound just like you, so we know what it ’s like to transition to shipboard life.
While it ’s simple for you to come up with the idea of forming an expeditionary fleet, you are not a spacer.
I highly suggest you search for a suitable fleet commander who thoroughly understands the challenges I ’m talking about and also understands the ships you intend to add to your fleet. ”

”Don ’t we already have a fleet commander? ”

Silvestra sighed.
”Fleet Commander Rofane is old and unsuitable to lead a fleet of this scope.
He will definitely be the first one to reject your offer.
You need to find someone who is much more capable than him to take charge of your fleet and bring up the problems that you have never thought about. ”

sounds like a challenge.
Competent fleet commanders ought to be just as hard if not harder to hire than chief engineers, right? ”

”Ordinary, yes, but I don ’t think you will suffer from this problem. ” She smirked.

”Oh? Why so? ”

”Because you intend to head for the Red Ocean! Think about what that means! As long as you are able to earn enough merits to redeem a beyonder ticket, you ’ve already demonstrated that you are an extremely capable person.
Many people would definitely be clamoring to work for you! Not only that, but there are plenty of people in the Milky Way who are tired of the existing order and want to change their lives by taking advantage of the opportunities lying in wait at the dwarf galaxy! ”

That eased some of his worries.
”I see.
I ’ll be sure to keep that in mind.
I don ’t think that I ’ll be able to attract a lot of people at this stage, though.
Right now, almost no one believes that I can earn enough merits. ”

It wasn ’t simple to satisfy the MTA ’s demands.
As one of the most powerful organizations in human space, it was already capable of meeting most of its own needs!

Even if they provided others the opportunity to earn merits, they still had to abide by the same high standards the MTA applied to its internal members!

The only consolation was that the MTA offered much more opportunities for mech designers and mech pilots to earn merits.

As Ves continued to discuss how he should prepare his expeditionary fleet, time slowly passed by.
The defense force continued to close in on the sandman swarm, which for some reason hadn ’t traveled straight to the only settled planet in the system.

Instead, the sandmen traveled straight towards the nearest asteroid belt, which was something that no one had ever seen before!

The deviating behavior of the sandman fleet was so odd that it immediately attracted a lot of attention!

Commander Magdalena called him on his comm.

”There is a huge issue with this sandman fleet, sir.
Not only has it ignored the energy-rich Bentheim System, it isn ’t even flying close to the inner system where the local sun can provide them with a large amount of energy. ”

”What does Captain Monlin have to say? ”

”She wants us to continue our pursuit.
In fact, we ’re about to accelerate as stopping this sandman fleet has become a lot more urgent! We have to intercept this sandman fleet before it reaches the asteroid belt! ”

Ves quickly realized the implications of this development.
His eyes widened.

”Since the bodies of sandmen consist of sand and minerals, they ’re very difficult to distinguish from ordinary rocks! As long as they blend into a rocky asteroid belt, our sensors will lose track of them! Finding the sandmen will be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack! ”

”This is especially the case if the sandman admirals split up.
High command is already worried about the possibility of a strategy adopted by the sandmen.
Before, the sandmen used to be manageable despite their overwhelming numbers because their fleets always travel straight to the nearest occupied planet as if it was their only mission.
This allows us to defeat the fleets one by one because they aren ’t waiting to pool their strengths with other incoming fleets. ”

Horror began to suffuse his face.
He could very well imagine once the sandmen smarted up and waited to group up with many different fleets before launching their invasion!

As long as the sandmen managed to hide in the middle of an asteroid belt, they could escape destruction and consume the attention of many mechs and starfighters!

The sandmen might even be able to build up their numbers in a star system to the point where they finally possessed the capital to overrun every opposition!

The Bright Republic would never be able to hold out against the sandmen if the aliens actually adopted this alarmingly clever strategy!

”Is it possible that this is the newest evolution of sandmen? ”

The Sentinel Commander nodded gravely.
”That possibility is on everyone ’s minds.
While nobody is sure that the fleet in this star system is the only one that has adopted a different strategy, high command doesn ’t want to risk the chance that the sandman admirals leading this fleet might pass on their strategy to other high-caste sandmen! ”

”What is their response, then? ”

”They ’ve already dispatched some reinforcements from the Bentheim System to assist in the pursuit.
If the sandman admirals split up once they reach the asteroid belt, our current troop disposition isn ’t enough to scour the hiding sandmen. ”

Splitting up the defense force meant that they became a lot more vulnerable in case the sandmen decided to prepare an ambush.

”There is something else, sir. ” Magdalena said.
”Captain Monlin has ordered you to cease accompanying us.
You have to return to planetside immediately! ”

”Why? ”

”Because it ’s too dangerous for you! Some of the higher ups speculate that the reason that the sandmen sent this abnormal fleet to Cloudy Curtain is because of you! Your Soldier mechs have made a huge impact on the Sand War to the detriment of our opponents. ”

”What?! I ’m just a mech designer! The sandmen don ’t care about humans at all! They ’ve never shown any desire to go after high-value targets! ”

”I thought so as well, but apparently we ’ve sold the sandmen short. ” Commander Magdalena darkly responded.
”We should discuss your future security arrangements after this incident has passed.
For now, you should immediately reverse course. ”

Technically, Commander Magdalena worked for the LMC, which by extension meant she worked for him.
This meant that it was inappropriate for her to issue orders to him as if they were still in the Mech Corps.

He didn ’t intend to object and throw a tantrum, though.
He recognized the urgency of the situation and knew that his continued presence behind the defense force would only pose further problems.

The last thing he should do was act like a spoiled brat and stick his nose into matters that didn ’t concern him anymore!

The Avatars and Sentinels under Commander Magdalena ’s command were more than competent enough to address the current threat.
That was what he paid for, after all.
Leaving this matter to the professionals was the best decision he could make at this point.

”I ’ll leave the sandman hunting to you, then.
Take care, commander. ”

Once the call ended, Ves sat back and frowned even deeper.

”What are the sandmen up to? Why is this sandman fleet so weird? ”

If he was just like any other Brighter, he would have been clueless why the sandmen in the Cloudy Curtain System acted so strange.

Not Ves.

He immediately smelled a plot involving one of his old acquaintances.

It was no coincidence that the sandmen had been stirred into a frenzy a few short years after Ves returned from the frontier.

The sandman race had always maintained their distance to human space out of a healthy respect for humanity ’s strength.
For this centuries-long status quo to change all of a sudden was very odd.

Even now, many analysts in the Komodo Star Sector were scratching their heads why the sandmen decided to commit collective suicide all of a sudden.

Not Ves.

Unlike everyone else, Ves and Calabast were perhaps the only two humans in the galaxy who guessed the truth behind the sandman invasion.

”Damn Sigrund! Can ’t you leave me alone?! ”

This was definitely the hybrid sandman processor pulling tricks on him! Only Sigrund appeared to be able to make the entire sandman race go mad and attack human space without any regard for their own survival!

If the sentient AI could make the sandmen do something as drastic as that, he could definitely pull off another prank by ordering the sandmen to disturb Cloudy Curtain!

After so many years without contact with Sigrund, Ves finally came into direct contact with a shadow of his immense power and influence.

Now that several years had passed since Ves inadvertently released Sigrund into the galaxy, how far had the sentient AI progressed?

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