The loss of Hoyler and the way he died left the Whalers in a somber mood.
Ves hoped their rude awakening would push them to work more meticulously, but the Whalers showed a remarkable ability to move on from tragedy.

They held a festive party over the night where over half of the Whalers drunk themselves into a stupor.
By the time they woke up the next morning, the pain at losing Hoyler had become a distant pang.

Everything went back to normal, although the Whalers heightened their alertness.
No more pirate vessels fell from the sky in their vicinity.

In fact, every descending carrier aimed to land in the middle of unclaimed terrain.
The ships that crashed near the Vesians or the Brighters had been forced to veer from their original trajectories due to the damage they suffered from the battle up in space.

This left everyone with a bit of reprieve.
Until the pirates recovered from their landings and gathered together, they posed no threat to the Whalers.

Fadah and Ves gathered at the stables where the Blackbeak rested.
The mech didn ’t suffer anything more than a couple of scratches at the hands of the pirates.
It actually sustained more damage from its fall when Hoyler ’s mech blew up, and that had to be fixed.

”I can fix the Blackbeak up in half a day. ” He said, eying his own work with a new sense of appreciation.
The lack of armor didn ’t seem so bad now that he knew that Fadah would be able to make the most of it on the Glowing Planet.
”Is there anything else you ’d like to be modified while I ’m at it? ”

”No. ” Fadah lethargically shook his head.
”The Blackbeak is still in a pretty good shape.
Just do the basics and move on to fixing the other mechs. ”

”Alright. ”

Ves quietly went to work, though inwardly he sighed again.
Fadah expected too much from him.
He wasn ’t a miracle worker.
The Whalers piloted cheap and badly maintained mechs.
Their workshops lacked a lot of advanced tools and the mech technicians resembled bums more than professionals.

Still, he kept his complaints to himself and tried to make the best of it, knowing that he might need to get accustomed to working under trying circumstances.

With his penchant for diving into trouble, he might be put into situations where he ’d be forced to work on a mech without any tools or supplies.

A couple of days went by as Ves modified mech after mech.
Nothing much happened on the ground.

The pirates that landed on the surface gathered up and formed a series of underground bases.
Occasionally, the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion up in orbit bombarded their positions, but the sheer amount of distance and some unknown influences from the Glowing Planet caused most shots to miss their mark.

It was a waste of time and energy to bombard the pirates unless they gathered at least an entire regiment.

However, whenever they did so, the pirate fleet that remained in the vicinity of the Glowing Planet would move in and threaten the mechs.
This led to complicated orbital maneuvering where the three sides tried to box each other in to no avail.
All of the fruitless course adjustments frustrated the pilots that had to remain on standby like Ghanso.

”When will this ever end?! ” He moaned inside his Vhedra-S.

”It ’ll end when the pirates slip up. ” Old Man Alex replied.

”Like that ’ll ever happen.
Those Dragons of the Void bastards are cunning as hell, and slippery to booth.
They keep bluffing us over and over and we keep falling for their tricks. ”

”That ’s spaceborn combat for you.
It ’s not as if we ’re on land where we ’ll halt our movement once we shut off our engines.
Everything is in motion.
In order to thrive in space, you have to understand the mechanics behind all this stuff. ”

”Do you? ”

Are you crazy? I ’d rather improve my piloting skill than to go back to school.
Leave the thinking to Lieutenant Fairfax and Captain Rynsel.
I heard they took some extra courses in order to qualify for promotion. ”

That opened up some doors in Ghanso ’s mind.
He understood the need to become more familiar with how movement worked in space.
The basic courses taught in the academies only scratched the surface of what had happened here.

”Maybe I ’ll register for those classes as well. ”

”Good luck, then.
You ’re young enough to keep learning, so make the most out of it while you still can.
Don ’t ever stop improving! ”

Ghanso detected some regret in Old Man Alex ’s voice.
Perhaps the man missed a lot of opportunities in his youth.
”Thanks for the guidance. ”

”It ’s nothing.
You Larkinsons are able to figure things out sooner or later.
If not me, then some other relative of yours would have clued you in. ”

That did not detract from the value of Alex ’s advice.
Ghanso opened up his comm and browsed for the next available openings for the classes he had in mind.

While a stalemate continued to persist in space, back on the ground, Ves took a break after modifying the tenth mech that passed in his hands.

”Alright, this is enough.
Go take the rest of the day off! ”

The exhausted mech technicians whooped as they dropped their tools on the deck.
Ves winced at the careless treatment of their gear.
If only the Whalers had a proper chief to knock some sense into their skulls.

Lately, Ves did all of his work underground.
The Whalers finished tunneling a coupe of secure mech-sized halls, and finishing moving most of their surface assets to these empty spaces.
Ves felt better for having layers of rocks stand between his head and a laser beam from orbit.

”Melkor! ”

He met Melkor by the entrance of the workshop.
Lately, his cousin had been volunteering to go on patrols.
Even though Lucky had run off to dig up highly valuable exotics, Ves hardly felt any threat from the Whalers.
Thus, he allowed Melkor to volunteer for other duties.

”We need to discuss something. ” Melkor as he guided Ves by the arm.
”It concerns the battle in space.
There ’s a chance we might get cut off from escape, at least for the next couple of weeks. ”

Ves turned sour as he contemplated the possibility.
Nothing good ever happened when a groundside force got cuff off from support up in orbit.
He already went through a munity in his previous adventure to Groening IV.

’What ’s the Mech Corps up to? ”

”My guess is that the ’ve decided the 4th division iss too exposed and outnumbered to make a play for orbital supremacy.
It might even be impossible to maintain geosynchronous orbit over their men on the ground.
They ’re pulling back to a higher orbit over the planet where they have much more room to maneuver.
The Blood Claws and the Whalers and the other outfits who signed on with them will follow suit. ”

So we ’re letting the pirates hover over the planet with impunity?

”Not exactly.
They ’ve been forced into an even higher orbit.
They ’re so far away in the skies that they won ’t be able to threaten our base.
The men I ’ve talked with heard from other men who speculated that the pirates are waiting for reinforcements.
Either they ’re expecting a lot of help, or they ’re holding secret talks with the mercenaries who haven ’t signed a contract yet. ”

Ves understood Melkor ’s concern.
They couldn ’t rule out the possibilitity that the mercenary lords would throw their lot with the pirates, who possessed the most ships out of the three principal forces battling for control.

They started to discuss contingencies.
Anything could happen in the next weeks, and the Whalers might end up facing a threat that none of them could beat.

”I ’ll divert some supplies from the Whalers.
They don ’t even guard them.
All they ’re focused on is the growing pile of exotics that they ’ve dug out of the soil. ”

Melkor nodded.
I will volunteer to go on patrol outside the walls.
I ’ll be mapping our escape routes and note any dangers along the way. ”

They both prayed that they never had to enact their contingencies, but the balance of power kept shifting out of the favor of the Bright Republic.
The mercenary lords who decided to stay neutral did so because they lacked faith in the Republic ’s strength.

Over time, the Mech Corps would continue to diminish in power.
Melkor passed on to Ves that the Mech Corps refused to send more divisions to the Glowing Planet.
They couldn ’t afford to strip their defenses in favor of chasing after riches onto an unknown alien planet.

”What about the Vesians? ”

”I have no clue. ” Melkor shrugged.
”The Mech Legion doesn ’t appear to be expecting any reinforcements either.
I think they ’re too scared to commit so many forces across the border.
It ’s easier for us to ambush us them if they have to enter our territory first. ”

Ves nodded in understanding and walked away.
Now that he had some time to himself, Ves intended to return to the barracks and sleep.
He exited the workshop hall and traversed the hollowed-out corridors towards his destination.

The grim underground tunnels cast his surroundings in a depressing light.
He preferred the creepy green glow over the corridor ’s harsh white ceiling lights.

The only upside to working underground was that the Whalers sealed the entrances shut.
Everyone inside ditched their bulky hazard suits, including Ves.
Even if the base suffered an attack which caused the air to leak out, he still had his anti-grav clothes to provide him with some oxygen.

Ves passed by an empty room that hadn ’t been put to use yet.
As he turned his head for a peek, he suddenly felt a slim but incredibly strong palm push him inside.

He tumbled into the room into a heap.
That palm carried a lot of strength, much more than his enhanced body could handle!

”Who ’s there!? ” He yelled and whipped up his back pistol towards the entrance, only to meet a familiar sight.
”No! You can ’t be here! You ’re not real! ”

A chill ran through his body as he met his mother ’s apparition again.
After his first encounter with his mother, he tried to convince himself that she hadn ’t actually risen from the dead.

”Vessssss….. ” His mother dragged on as her body hovered closer to her son.

Each time his mother came close, Ves took a step back.
The chill in his body grew more frigid and his mind grew sluggish.
The ghost of his mother called out to him in a way that turned him into a helpless young toddler that yearned for his mother ’s embrace.

”You ’re… not… real… ” Ves hissed from between his gritted teeth as he fought back against his uncooperative mind and body.
”This… is… all… in… my… mind… ”

”My Vessie boy.
The heart doesn ’t lie.
Don ’t you recognize me? ” His mother asked as she neared his son.
She grew more substantial the closer she got to Ves.
”Dreams and reality are interconnected.
What you see in front of you doesn ’t need to exist in order to exist. ”

”Stop acting like my mother! You are nothing like her! ” He uttered as his back bumped against the wall of the room.
He slid his body sideways until he trapped himself in a corner.

His mother closed in with a disappointed expression.
”Ves… I never meant for you to be involved with mechs.
Your father always insisted that mechs is in your blood, but it ’s not.
You shouldn ’t have become a mech designer and you shouldn ’t have come here in the first place. ”

”Why…? ”

”Because I had someone change your genes. ” She revealed as she stopped in front of Ves.
Her finger reached out and trailed his cheek again.
Her ghostly finger felt very real to Ves.
”You used to be a Larkinson.
When I thought about my baby boy risking his life on a foreign planet, I couldn ’t bear the thought of losing you.
I went behind your father ’s back and visited a clinic in Bentheim to take away your genetic aptitude. ”

”What? Mother, that ’s nonsense! ”

”It ’s true.
I took away your affinity for mechs. ”

”You ’re lying! ” He screamed, though his voice lacked his usual strength.
”You loved me.
You always promised me you ’d support me if I became a pilot… ”

Even though he already reconciled himself with his lot in life, his mother had brutally ripped open his mental wounds.
The pain of disappointment and the despair of knowing that he could never be a true Larkinson had always lurked in his mind.

His mother didn ’t seem to care.

You should have stayed at Cloudy Curtain.
You should have been safe there. ” Her face turned ugly.
”But your father ruined it all! ”

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