The offending hacker never returned.
Ves imagined that the interrogation hadn ’t managed to cough up the answers they needed.

”Why did he sabotage us? ”

The Vandals made sure to grab his family members as well, so the man staked not only his own life, but everyone else he cared about as well.
From what Ves had seen from his brief encounter with the family, they didn ’t appear to be a dysfunctional family either.

What brought a Vesian to risk damnation to everyone he cared about? Was it worth it to spite the Flagrant Vandals?

”I don ’t understand. ”

Was the hacker a patriot? Did he truly hold so much loyalty to his state that he didn ’t hesitate to risk everything he held dear?

”It ’s so stupid. ”

Perhaps he shared some of the blame as well.
Though he kept a fairly keen eye on their actions, to the hackers it appeared that Ves only barely paid attention to them with his multitasking.
If they thought they could get away with something, then his own behavior only encouraged them to go through.

In the end, nobody won.
The hacker and his family would surely suffer a miserable fate because they directly crossed the Vandals.
Captain Orfan couldn ’t afford to be lenient in this regard, not if they wanted to keep the two surviving hackers in line.

The Vandals also suffered a setback due to the uncertain condition of the mech in question.
It happened to be a powerhouse of a knight mech, one of the few in the stables of the Dastardly Handsome Bastards that could endure a beating.

Every other mech of the former mercenary group served offensive of support roles, so they dearly needed a solid knight to protect their backline.

”Can this mech be recovered? ”

Ves investigated it for a time, but quickly figured out that it possessed one of the most advanced security suites of the mechs in their possession.
The knight mech must be one of the prestige mechs of the Bastards for it to be so stuffed with security measures.

That hacker must have bided his time until he began to work on this mech. ”

Captain Orfan and her band of shipwrecked Vandals already ran a threadbare operation in Neron City.
The loss of a single mech severely impacted their chances to survive and complete their objectives.
The amount of restraint they needed to adopt alone would set them back by as much as half.

Yet what could they do? Ves couldn ’t trust the remaining two Vesian hackers in their grasp and neither did he possess the ability to reverse the afflicted mech ’s condition.

In the end, Ves decided to punt the decision to the woman in charge.
As soon as he contacted Captain Orfan through his comm, the woman looked back with a serious expression.

”I am already aware of what transpired.
These Vesian slimes are willing to do everything they can to ingratiate themselves with the nobles.
The hacker holed up in our holding cell must have thought to buy Lord Javier ’s favor.
Hmph! He won ’t be receiving a good end, I can promise you that. ”

Ves brushed the fate of the hacker aside.
He could care less about that worm right now.
”That still leaves the question on what to do with the mech in question, ma ’am.
I ’d hate to leave a knight mech unused, but in my professional judgement the risks of deploying it are substantial. ”

The script that the hacker had slipped in only contained a few lines of code, but they might have activated some traps embedded in the knight mech ’s programming.
It could be anything from shutting off the mech in the middle of a pitched battle to breaching the containment around the cockpit and dumping loads of waste heat inside.

Certain mech designers liked to employ such traps in their mechs and offer them to the market as security features.

With the amazing amount of power and value associated with mechs, theft was an unavoidable fact of life.
The amount of potentates willing to make a living by stealing mechs instead of piloting them in battle was quite a lot, and over hundreds of years they became rather inventive in their methods.

Security suites kept pace as well of course.
When Ves licenced a cockpit production license, it already came with an appropriate security suite.
Since the cockpit models he selected for the Blackbeak and the Crystal Lord designs fell into the premium range, Ves had never heard of someone managing to steal them from their rightful owners.


There would always be freaks and genius hacking teams that could accomplish the impossible.
To deter these threats, mechs sometimes incorporated a couple of hidden self-sabotage measures that would spring their traps at the right time.

Ves himself never thought about using such inane methods because he didn ’t care too much about in whose hands his mechs ended up with after his company sold them off for the first time.

The mech designer of the knight mech in front of him thought otherwise.
This person must have been a rather vindictive fellow, because its multi-layered security was replete with traps and other obstacles.
It took the two remaining hackers a lot of effort to get past the final locks.

”The risks of taking the knight mech along our deployments is too great. ” Orfan eventually decided.
”Yet it ’s a shame to keep it in the stables.
Tell you what.
I ’ll allow it to be brought online, but assign the mech to guard this base.
The damage it could do to our other mechs will be kept to a minimum. ”

That safeguarded the Vandal mechs deployed on the streets, but opened the door to other risks inside the base.

Ves did not know whether to feel comfortable with this solution, because the fallout of a compromised mech might spill out to the rest of the base.
Still, it wasn ’t as if they had any choice.

”Let ’s do that then. ”

A mech pilot came to wake the dubious mech up.
Nothing strange happened at the start, so the sabotage didn ’t go into effect at once.
Ves read the telemetry transmitted by the mech but couldn ’t spot any anomalies either.
In the end, he gave up trying to figure out the consequences and let the mech take up its guard duty.

”Alright, get back to work! ” Ves yelled at the Vesian hackers.
”There are still several more mechs to go! ”

It took a long time to get the handful of remaining mechs to unlock.
Night had fallen by the time the mech stables became empty.
The only untouched mechs that remained consisted of a handful of damaged mechs that the Vandals had somehow taken out in the process of conquering this base.

They didn ’t have enough time to bring them all online.
Ves hounded the hackers past their exhaustion and forced them to unlock the one mech which the mech technicians labored to restore to limited functionality.

Its lame leg might not provide the damaged mech with a lot of mobility, but when it came to standing guard, its crippled limb didn ’t pose much of a hindrance.

”This is all I can do for now. ”

Both the mech technicians and the hackers worked in a neverending shift.
While Ves himself felt he could go on for a entire week, the others only possessed a limited physique.
Pushing them on was out of the question.

”You can rest now. ”

The mech technicians sighed and dragged their weary bodies out of the mech stables.
Troopers carried the prisoners back to their cells.
Hardly anything of value remained in the empty mech stables.

Ves didn ’t feel like sleeping now, so he stood on a lifter platform and ordered it to bring him up to the roof of the stables.
He sat down on its surface and looked out towards Neron City ’s skyline at night.

From the din over the city, he determined that most of the riots had petered out.
Right now, this was the time when mechs came to the fore.
With their advanced sensors, they encountered no hindrance when they fought during the night.

A staccato of explosions, collisions and collapsing structures constantly sounded out in the distance.
Even if the Vandals managed to break House Eneqqin ’s household troops, that still left plenty of opposition in the manufacturing district and the city proper.

The government may have fallen back, but the private sector still had some teeth left into them.
It was a shame that they would never lift a finger to help each other out.
Most of the fighting that he could hear from the distance must have come from the Vandals defeating each private sector outfit in a piecemeal fashion.

Again, this was another sign that Lord Javier fell short.
A unifying leader should have been able to call up every mech in Neron City no matter who they owed their allegiance to and form them into dedicated defense units.

”That hasn ’t happened, though. ”

Instead, Lord Javier went underground as soon as the Vandal fleet arrived in his star system.
The noble descendant of a powerful count completely disgraced himself and never hesitated in throwing away a substantial amount of his defense force at slowing down the Vandals.

Many Vesian mech pilots lost their lives against the Vandals.
All of them had been nurtured by House Eneqqin at at a significant cost.
Loyalty couldn ’t be bought at an instant.
It could only be nurtured over time.

Losing these mechs and men certainly affected House Eneqqin ’s overall strength.
The disaster happening in the Detemen System already affected their prestige in many ways.

Obvious to all, Lord Javier failed to step up and showed the Vesia Kingdom what a noble was made of.
He disgraced his House and his father who put him in charge.

Let alone the count, the Duchess of Imodris herself must feel awfully pissed at his actions.

”Still, chances are he ’ll make it out alive. ”

Right or wrong, Lord Javier picked the option with the highest chance of survival for himself.
Even if the rebels and the Vandals made a concerted effort in scouring the palace and its surroundings, Neron City was simply too big to find someone who wanted to hide.

Ves gazed out at the city and wondered what the Vandals would do.
They only had one day left before they needed to depart the system.

”Even if the Vesians are a little tardy, reinforcements shouldn ’t be too far away. ”

Ves heard a couple of sounds of fighting in the distance.
Another conflict heated up, insuring that this would be a sleepless night for many.

As Ves considered whether to turn in for the night or do some extra work, he spotted something in the distance.
A lof sound of something massive being launched brushed past his ears.

”Huh? ”

Instinctively, he looked up, and saw some faint reflections arcing in the sky.
It fell directly towards the base that used to be owned by the Dastardly Handsome Bastards.

His eyes widened as the explosive shell landed on one of the base ’s administrative buildings.


The nearby explosion rocked Ves off his butt and bounced him backwards on the roof.
He didn ’t care about his sorry state but tried to scramble up to his feet.
He ran back towards the side and looked at the impact site in horror.

The office building hadn ’t been built with defense in mind.
Though it was resistant to incidental damage from mechs, it had never been built to withstand a direct artillery shell.
Base turrets should have intercepted such attacks, but the Vandals already destroyed them when they took over the base.

Alarms rang out throughout the entire base, and much of the Vandals started to move.

”Incoming mechs! ”

”Evacuate the remaining structures! Take the underground escape tunnels! ”

Ves cursed as he spotted a second shell arcing down towards the base.
This time, the explosive payload seemed to be aiming straight at the mech stables.

”I gotta go! ” He hurried onto his floater platform and tried to urge the sluggish device to bring him away from the roof.
He also grabbed his floating helmet and slammed it onto his head, just in time for the shell to land and explode against the roof of the mech stables.

This time, the blast almost engulfed Ves as he desperately rode his floater platform to safety.
The fragile device instantly crumpled, leaving Ves to lose his only support in the air.

His armored body started to fall.

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