When Ves first received an introduction of the Harkensen System, he felt some deja-vu.
In his eyes, the Harkensen System was the poor man ’s version of the Bright Republic ’s Bentheim Region.

”Harkensen III is a pale copy of Bentheim.
Harkensen II is like Rittersberg but a bit less snobby.
Harkensen I is like Moira ’s Paradise but without the aquatic culture. ”

Still, copies or not, each of the planets provided something different to the star system.
Having them concentrated in a single star system provided enormous conveniences to visitors, especially the bigger ones that brought a whole fleet.

Ves wouldn ’t be able to see the thousands of ships that flew back and forth from the viewports, but he easily called up a chart that showed how many vessels were present in the Harkensen System.

The chart depicted thousands of dots, each of which represented a fully capable starship.
Many of them were in transit.
They either transitioned at the edge of the system and burned their way to the interior, or finished their business at one of the planets and burned towards one of the many highly congested Lagrange points.

One indicator of success to a star system was to see whether congestion took place at their Lagrange points.
Considering that the ships needed to wait up to an hour for them to get their turn, Harkensen ’s success only paled in comparison to Bentheim.

”This is truly a melting pot of different origins. ”

Ves casually read through the registries of the ships present in the system.
Only a portion hailed from Reinald.
Many came from other third-rate states such as the Roppo Principality or the Council Stars of Lisz.

He even spotted lots of trade ships bearing the flag of the Bright Republic! They mostly traveled in convoys escorted by foreign mercenary corps.

A significantly greater amount of Vesian trading vessels flew back and forth as well.
It couldn ’t be helped as the Reinald Republic was a direct neighbor of the Vesia Kingdom.
Even though relations between the two states were rather frosty, that didn ’t hinder the pursuit of benefits among their trading conglomerates.

”Earn money first! What? Pirates? Who are you calling pirates?! I ’m an honest Reinaldan, I swear to my mother and grandmother! Hey, I ’ve got a great deal for you! This five percent discount is yours! ”
Although the Vesians and Brighters waged a very intense war against each other, the ships that hailed from the two wartorn states behaved especially discrete.

Neither side attempted to bump into each other, not that their cargo ships could deal a lot of damage in the first place.
Reinald ’s traffic managers also paid a lot of attention to every ship ’s origin.
They did their best to separate ships from rival states from each other and forced them to adhere to separate routes.

The Verle Task Force received a lot of attention from the Honored Ones, which was Reinald ’s mech military.
Every unit of the Honored Ones bore an emblem that consisted of a silhouette of ancient viking warriors.

Just after the Vandals arrived, a patrol squadron flew alongside the Vandals and transferred over a bunch of inspectors.
Every mech aboard every Vandal ship needed to be sealed.
Ves had already arranged the mech technicians to seal the mechs beforehand, so the inspectors found very few problems.

Of course, people always slipped up.
Some of the seals put on damaged mechs didn ’t look very proper.
These mechs could still inflict a lot of damage at their current state, so the mech technicians worked overtime to fix their mistakes.

”With the problem cases taken care of, I don ’t see any further problems, Mr.
Larkinson. ” An Honored One bearing the uniform of an inspector spoke.
His accent bore the clipped and harsh tones of a typical Reinaldan accent.

”I ’m glad our condition finally meets your approval. ” Ves replied as they both arrived at the airlock in one of the corridors of the Shield of Hispania.
”We ’re all looking forward to entering the Harkensen System. ”

”You certainly deserve it! I ’ve eagerly followed mech regiment ’s exploits.
You Vandals sure gave the Vesians a good thrashing. ”

”It wasn ’t without cost. ”

”We understand. ” The inspector nodded with a smile.
”The Harkensen System is always open to warriors with honor such as the Flagrant Vandals.
Our berths are already reserved for the arrival of your ships.
I understand that many deals are in the works.
I hope your mech regiment enjoys doing business here! ”

Ves scratched his head once he saw the inspector off.
From the information he received from men aboard the other ships, the Reinaldans only exerted their efforts on detecting weapons of mass destruction and making sure the mechs bore the proper seals.
Their inspectors barely paid attention to anything else, including other threats or contraband.

Their conduct carried an implicit message.
Any visitors could bring as much shady stuff as they wanted, as long as they made an effort into keeping their contraband out of sight.

Ves had no doubt that at least a quarter of the ships paying a visit to the Harkensen System sought to offload their contraband to the grey or black markets.
Frankly speaking, the Harkensen System appealed more upright outfits that largely worked within the boundaries of the law.
Their grey market was far more prominent than their black market.

”If you want to see the really bad stuff, you should visit the Mulendrone System instead. ” Iris once told him.
”That place is a cesspool of humanity.
There ’s no greater black market in the neighborhood than the one in Mulendrone.
Everyone there is a wolf in sheep ’s clothing.
If the pirates don ’t make such a good effort to disguise themselves, the MTA would have imploded Mulendrone ’s star by now. ”

Fortunately, the Flagrant Vandals carried the official sanction of the Mech Corps.
Despite the lukewarm support they received from headquarters, the Vandals didn ’t have to suffer the ignomies of being branded as outlaws.

Now that the Vandals finally entered neutral space, it was hard for them to shake off the habit to regard everything outside with hostility.
Many servicemen had been so inured in war that they found it difficult to adjust to a neutral star system.

At the next conference meeting, Major Verle explained their upcoming plans.

”We will be spending up to four weeks in the Harkensen System.
This won ’t be enough time for us to restore our full strength, but we ’re down almost five-hundred mech pilots, so it won ’t help us if we have more mechs than we can make use of.
From what the repair yards we ’ve contracted have promised, four weeks is enough to restore the FTL drives of our logistics ships. ”

Both their landbound and spaceborn contingents endured heavy damage in the previous journey.
Though the Vandals finally made it out alive, they permanently lost almost half of their precious mech pilots.

These were Brighters who trained from ten years old to pilot a mech.
After graduating, they entered into the Mech Corps and underwent another round of intensive training before they were assigned to their mech regiments.
Although the Flagrant Vandals might not have been very prestigious, their training standards wasn ’t too far off from the premier mech regiments.

Each mech pilot admitted into the Mech Corps was a treasure.
Those with poor skills, insufficient aptitude or attitude problems would be rejected right out of hand during normal times.
Everyone who made it through the initial inspection possessed the right qualities to become a soldier.

These people weren ’t as common as everyone thought.
Many potentates failed to live up to their promise and could only find a piloting job in the private sector.
Those who had what it took to join the military belonged to a privileged class that wasn ’t easy replaced.

The shortage of qualified mech pilots pained the Vandals who attended the meeting.
It was impossible for them to refresh their ranks in Reinald space.
They had to go all the way back to the Bright Republic to receive replenishment from the Mech Corps.
Until then, they had to make do with half as much mech pilots.

Ves raised his hand.
”Sir, how extensively do you want to restore our mechs? Do you wish to contract out their repair to the workshops on Harkensen III or do you want to keep it in-house? ”

”At the end of our downtime, I want to see five-hundred pristine mechs. ” Major Verle grinned savagely at Ves.
”It ’s very important for us to pair each mech pilot with a mech that is ready for war.
Since it ’s unlikely we can accomplish this aboard our own ships while they are all under repair, we ’ll have to resort to outside workshops to do the work. ”

”Are the Reinaldans principled enough to repair our mechs without fudging them in any way? To be honest, sir, everything I ’ve heard about the Reinaldans makes me think that it ’s better to keep everything under our control. ”

”You make a fair point, Mr.
Larkinson, but we aren ’t strangers to doing business with the Reinaldans.
As with everything, whenever possible we should trust but verify.
The workshops and shipyards that we are working with have already agreed to let Vandals observe their work.
This is important as many components integrated within our ships and mechs are rather sensitive.
We ’ll let the Reinaldans take care of the less-important repair work while our own men will perform the critical repairs. ”

That sounded like a messy arrangement to Ves.
”This is going to be difficult to arrange, sir.
We ’ll have to rent a secure workshop on the surface of Harkensen III to do all that work. ”

”Then it is a good thing you have a lot of experience in this area.
Since you ’ve founded a mech business before, setting up a temporary workshop won ’t be any trouble. ”

Ves smiled thinly at Major Verle.
”I will do my best, sir. ”

Major Verle turned to a more anticipated matter.
”Let ’s move on to shore leave.
We ’ll be adopting a rotating schedule for every Vandal.
No one is excepted from this, not even you, Chief Avanaeon! Go have some fun on Harkensen I.
I practically order it.
Perhaps you will finally see how much renown we ’ve gained in the greater galaxy. ”

Some other staffers stepped in to lay out a detailed schedule for shore leave.
Everyone pretty much enjoyed a two-week period of downtime where they could do as they pleased.

Those who wanted to enjoy a pure vacation would doubtlessly flock to the entertainment paradise of Harkensen I.
Every Vandal received a fixed salary in bright credits which they could easily convert into Reinaldan marks.
With the bump in payments due to serving during wartime, no one should be short on money.

Those who couldn ’t divorce themselves from mechs could hang around at the endless amount of mech pilot establishments on Harkensen III.
The third planet from the sun also featured a robust mech duelling scene.
Though only specialized and registered mech athletes were allowed to compete in the major mech arenas, the planet was notorious for hosting many underground fighting venues.

A Vandal mech pilot with a bone to itch would surely pay a visit there.
Major Verle didn ’t approve of these fights, but he could hardly control his own men.
A couple of Vandals would doubtlessly chew off more than they could bite and lose their lives in the process.

”As far as possible, make sure that your men won ’t get in trouble with the law.
They can drink until their liver needs a regeneration treatment, they can pump their veins full of stimulants for all I care, but whatever they do, I better not hear any stories of a Vandal getting into a fight with Reinaldans! ”

As guests of the Reinald Republic, the Flagrant Vandals needed to retain some scruples to their hosts.
The tolerance of the Reinald Republic was fairly high when it came to scuffles between different groups of foreigners, but once a proper Reinaldan got hurt, the Honored Ones cracked down hard on the offenders.

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