Chapter 323: Keep Your Enemy Closer

Back aboard the Happy Jelly, Ves constantly monitored the situation in space.
He even turned his attention to the expert pirate mechs when they flew into range.


Their incredible performance and amazing construction dazzled his imagination.
He continuously tried to figure out their principles but failed to make any progress beyond some rudimentary generalizations.


“My study into metaphysics and exotic alloys are still too shallow for me to understand designs at this level.”


He still had a long way to go before he reached the threshold of understanding and designing his own expert mech.


And this was just the start of elite mechs.
Ace mech pilots and god mech pilots demanded their own specialized machines in order to make full use of their strengths.


The ambition welling inside Ves kept burning brighter as he witnessed the extraordinary performance of each expert mech.
The battle became much more exciting once the Mech Corps sent out their own experts.


Only three arrived because they hardly required additional help.
The Mech Corps sent out the Fire Worm against the pirate swordsman mech because it directly countered its type.


In the same vein, they sent out an expert skirmisher to deal with the enemy rifleman mech and an expert rifleman to suppress the enemy space knight.


“Even experts can't escape the limitations of their type.” Ves concluded as he witnessed the pirate mechs getting beaten back by the well-chosen expert mechs from the Republic.


The pirates only had themselves to blame for sending out their expert pilots first.
The main reason it took so long for the Mech Corps to respond was because they kept their experts back in their hangars until they saw fit to deploy them.
They could have sent twice as many experts, but that would have revealed their trump cards.


Neither Ves nor the Mech Corps forgot that the Mech Legion constantly monitored their performance.


The Brighters and the Vesians continuously fended off the pirate waves as they neared each other's position.
No matter how many mechs the pirate alliances threw at them, they never managed to break through their defensive lines.


Though the pirates continuously bled the ranks of both military fleets, they suffered at least twice as much casualties in return.
Eventually, their cowardice overshadowed their greed, and many of them cut and run without a hint of any organized retreat.


Still, it mattered little as the Mech Corps wasn't in a shape to pursue.
The pirates pushed them close to their breaking point and required a lot of rest and replenishment before they regained their strength.


The battle against the pirates had ended, but the struggle against the Mech Legion only started from here.
With the pirate alliances in disarray, they failed to stop the two military fleets before they converged.


Naturally, the Mech Corps kept its distance from the ships and mechs of their rivals.
A tense half hour went by as the commanders of the two fleet negotiated behind the scenes.
Once they came to an accord, the two fleets flew closer, but not enough to merge their assets into a single whole.


Rather than consider their formation a combined fleet, Ves figured it was more as if they reluctantly chose to use the same bathroom at once.
The Brighters and the Vesians hardly trusted each other to maintain their current state of ceasefire.


The only question was who would pull the trigger first.


“Sparks will fly at the end of this retreat.” He surmised.
Once the fleets reached the edge of the Glowing Zone, they'd be able to engage their FTL drives and transition back to friendly territory.
“I bet the Vesians can't resist at that point.”


Until then, the two fleets benefited more if they held back their animosity for each other.
THe only way the massive blob of ships and mechs could deter the pirates from launching another attack was to present a united front.


As of now, none of the pirate fleets had dared to stand in their way as the two fleets slingshotted their way out of orbit.
The extra speed granted by their maneuver made it difficult for other fleets to catch up to them unless they followed a similar trajectory.


Of course, this would betray their intentions and potentially isolate them for a devastating counter-attack.


“So no one chased in the end.” Ves remarked as he turned away from the plot.
Nothing more exciting would happen for a few days.


Fadah crossed his arms and leaned back against an empty container.
“The pirates are greedy, but they aren't stupid.
As long as the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion split up, they could conceivably overwhelm any single one of their fleets.
The moment that possibility went out the window, the pirates don't have a reason to pester us anymore.
They'd be able to harvest much more riches from the surface of the planet.”


“They still lost way too much mechs in this campaign.
Even if they bloodied the nose of the Mech Corps, it doesn't change the fact that they've lost a hundred-thousand mechs or more.”


Thinking about such an astounding loss of mechs quaked his heart.
Ves could not even imagine the amount of lives and money the pirates discarded in their ultimately futile attempts at stealing someone else's gains.
It would have made some sense if they attacked an isolated mercenary corps, but where did they summon the courage to fight against the Mech Corps directly.


“Sometimes, it's worth it.
Everyone knows the Mech Corps harvested big, to the tune of earning trillions of credits worth of exotics.
Felling a single ore-laden transport ship is enough for a gang of pirates to live like kings for the rest of their lives.”


Ves truly couldn't get a grip around such a remark.
It all sounded reasonable, but the pirates had to be a special brand of stupid to think they could vanquish the Mech Corps without paying a ruinous price.


“THat's another thing you don't understand, Ves.
The pirates don't mind all of the losses.
As long as not too much of their own men lose their lives, they're fine with throwing away so many mechs.
The fewer their numbers, the bigger their share.
Don't you want to eat a whole pie instead of just a razor-thin slice?”


That really made Ves speechless.
Pirates never cared or trusted any of their colleagues.
Their greed had grown to such an extent that they would easily kill their fellow comrades if they could get away with it, all to pursue the greatest share of booty as possible.


“You seem to know a lot about pirates, Fadah.
Have you…”


The older man grimaced.
“I'm not a pirate and I never was, if that's what you're wondering.”


Although Ves tried to pry the truth out of Fadah, the man remained obstinately silent.
He obviously had a bad history with pirates, and it was very personal to him.
Ves wondered if he lost a wife or children to a pirate attack.


“Alright, let's get back to work.
The Vesians won't act friendly forever.”


Fadah took the words right out of his mouth.
Ves dropped the topic as the man walked away.
At least he was right in one thing.
The Vesians would tear down this facade in time.
He'd better get the two spaceborn mechs fixed up.


Ves spent the next two days performing maintenance on the Harrier and the other spaceborn mech.
Both mechs barely suffered any damage in the previous battle, though that was mostly because played second fiddle to the Mech Corps.


The lack of major damage allowed Ves to introduce a couple of modifications to both mechs.
He mainly emphasized their ability to track incoming missiles.
Considering the Vesian obsession with missiles, he found the precaution to be prudent.


The modifications hardly required his personal intervention once he fabricated the extra parts in the Happy Jelly's workshop.
By now, he retrained the mech technicians just enough to be able to follow his instructions.


After making up his mind about allowing the mech technicians to work without his supervision, he exited the workshop and sought out Melkor.
He found him in his bunk, where he quietly inspected the records of the previous battles in space and on the ground.


“We haven't been in touch lately.” Ves said as he sat next to his cousin on the bed.
“What are you studying?”


“I'm tracking the behavior of the different pirate alliances.
Each of them favor different strategies.
You already know about the Dragons of the Void for example.
They treat their slaves like they are trash.
They're happy to sacrifice an entire mech company if it can earn them a net profit of only ten million credits.”


Melkor patiently pointed out the traits of the other pirate groups, from the Event Horizon Specters who favored stealth and misdirection to Ballard's Brutes who employed the most heavy mechs of all.


“This all sounds interesting, but what does that have to do with us?”


“Have you counted their numbers? How many pirates have shown up until now? This is only a fraction of their true numbers.
They possess enough power to threaten the Bright Republic as a whole, especially if they band together with the Vesians.
Can you imagine what will happen if we are attacked by both forces at once?”


That sent a chill through his spine.
Ves could hardly imagine the amount of devastation that would ensue from such a conflict.
However, he quickly dismissed the possibility once he remembered some important rules.


“The MTA will never let the pirates get away with such a brazen invasion.
They consider them an enemy of all mankind.
The main reason why they're so difficult to exterminate is because they are always dispersed.
Once they concentrate their numbers, it'll become trivial for the Mech Corps to mop them all up.”


“That's true.” Melkor reluctantly nodded.
“Yet that's only the case if the MTA has the mechs and ships to spare.
What if something else draws away their attention?”


“Even then, the pirates will pay.
If not now, then years from now.
Besides, as an accomplice to pirates, the Vesia Kingdom won't escape retribution either.”


That last point poked a big hole in Melkor's theory.
The Vesians wouldn't have the guts to collaborate with pirates.
They'd make an enemy of the entire human race!


Still, Melkor didn't relinquish his suspicions.
“Maybe I'm wrong about this specific instance, but I still think I'm on the right track.
I've been trained to spot patterns and all my instincts are telling me that there's a conspiracy afoot.”


That didn't sound very encouraging to Ves.
“To be frank, I've witnessed some signs as well.
It's difficult for me to conclude anything solid, but the pirates are definitely an important part of what is to come.”


Ves could never forget that more than a year ago, he and Dietrich stumbled across an illegal underground production facility that successfully developed gamma laser rifles.


Even though the pirates ordinary considered themselves lawless, they almost never dared to break one of the MTA and CFA's important taboos.
Using any prohibited weapon like gamma lasers and nuclear weapons instantly brought down the full wrath of the MTA down upon their heads.


The MTA maintained a strong presence on almost every major planet exactly for this purpose.
They did not hesitate to mobilize trillions worth of assets to annihilate a trivial pirate gang once it began to dabble in forbidden weaponry.


Still, as invincible as the MTA appeared, even they had their limits.
The MTA allocated most of their strength in the galactic center.
They maintained a fairly robust presence in the galactic heartland, but the galactic rim had always been something of an afterthought for the highly centralized organization.


If Melkor suggested that the MTA's presence in the Komodo Star Sector could be neglected, then Ves couldn't dismiss it out of hand.
However, who would actually dare to fight against the MTA directly?

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