they may have stumbled upon foundered citizens from their own state!

”How can there be Brighters all the way out here?! ” Someone couldn ’t help but hiss nearby.

”Idiot! What else is there? These guys have also been tasked with finding the Starlight Megalodon! ”

”Then how did they got intercepted right before they reached their goal? ”

”Beats me.
We ’ll find out later if there are any survivors left to interrogate. ”

Once the surprise died down, Major Verle remained silent and pensive as a number of considerations flitted through his mind.
Eventually, he came to a decision.

”Please make haste towards the debris field.
We Vandals have a duty to safeguard the lives of every citizen of the Bright Republic, no matter where we may appear! Let it not be said that we are callous towards our fellow enlightened brothers and sisters! ”

That caused everyone to feel relieved.
For a minute, some of them believed that Major Verle would instead choose to prioritize the mission.

Ves knew why Major Verle decided to direct the Vandals to go out of the way to rescue their fellow Brighters.
Besides lifting the morale of his own subordinates, he likely wanted to hear the stories of the Choprans in person.

No mercenary corps randomly stumbled all the way out to the deep frontier for a pirate hunting mission or something.

Even with two stars in the same star system, the dim light emitted from both brown dwarfs simply made it hard for everyone to do their jobs.
Ves in particular had nothing to work with because with the optical sensors down, he needed to rely on alternative sensors to identify the mech wrecks strewn about along the debris field.

The sharpest sensors he had access to told him nothing more than the approximate mass of each object.
That only enabled him to classify the wrecks by weight class, nothing else.

”This is really pointless. ” He sighed when he stared at his projected control panel and how little details it displayed.
”I could have spent hours tinkering on my side project, but because the alert is still active we ’re forced to stay at our posts. ”

Ketis on the other hand entertained herself when Ves assigned her to read up the limited amount of intelligence the local database contained about the mercenaries.

”Hey teacher! These Choprans are really good at their job.
They started just thirty years ago when a band of discharged veterans from your Mech Corps pooled their savings together to lease a couple of cheap mechs and a ramshackle converted carrier.
They immediately started taking small-time contracts, completing them one after another until they slowly spent their earnings back into expanding their mechs and their roster.
This went on for three straight decades until they grew to the point where they fielded a hundred-and-twenty mechs! ”

It sounded like a typical rags-to-riches story to Ves, though Mech Corps veterans had a tendency to be successful in their transition to a private sector career as long as they remained physically fit.

”There ’s two details that stand out from that summary. ” He said.
”First, inspect their mission records.
Have they ever failed a contracted? ”

Ketis peered through the abbreviated record.
”This record isn ’t very detailed, but it doesn ’t state anything about outright failures.
It did say that the Choprans fell short of fulfilling the terms of their contract, though.
The partial failures weren ’t enough to earn them any red marks from the Mercenary Association. ”

”That ’s impossible! There ’s no way a mercenary corps that has operated longer than I ’ve been alive can maintain a near-perfect mission record! Look at the issuers of the missions.
Are the Choprans working for the same employers? ”

”Uhmm… I don ’t see anything except a whole bunch of boring corporate names.
There ’s rarely any duplicates either.
They always accept a contract from a different company after they are done with the last one. ”

”Hmm.. ” Ves tapped his lips with his finger.
”The fact that they have traveled all the way up to this star system in the deep frontier practically screams to me that they owe their success to their backers.
Hmm, does it state which bank or financial institution facilitated their initial loans and leases? ”

”According to the record, it ’s some bank based in Bentheim called the Yellow Fox Bank. ”

”That ’s probably the arm of their backers, but I ’m not too sure.
Take note of it anyway. ”

Yellow Fox Bank.
He ’d remember that.

It was too bad the local database didn ’t offer anything more than a stub when he searched for it.
He needed to access the galactic net to obtain more information, but in this exceedingly sensitive time with the entire fleet at high alert, Ves would never be able to obtain permission from Major Verle to establish an outside connection for information gathering purposes.

As the Flagrant Swordmaidens drew closer, the lack of any open threats pushed them into a more vigilant stance.
What if enemy mechs hid amid the debris? What if they coasted towards them on a ballistic trajectory, pretending to be loosely-spinning chunks of slag? What if some mechs under stealth attempted to creep up to them at this very moment?

Therefore, the Vandals intensified their patrols, not even hesitating to put up half of their available spaceborn assets into orbit around their ships.
Inheritors augmented with stealth detection arrays continuously scanned each possible angle of approach.

Nothing turned up.
The battlefield seemed eerily quiet and absent of any activate threat.
Not even mines or boobytraps made a surprise appearance.

They found nothing but broken ships, broken mechs and maybe broken dreams.
The frontier had a way of chewing out everyone who entered it like an endless abyss.

As much as roaming the frontier sounded like a risky prospect where catastrophe lurked in every corner, Ves began to enjoy it actually.

While most of the Vandals aboard the Shield of Hispania started to behave jumpy and apprehensive, Ves acted more like Ketis, who treated this foray into the deep frontier as nothing more than an interesting vacation.

The frontier was exceedingly dangerous.
Ves couldn ’t deny this fact.
Yet he felt liberated by the absence of structure and law.
He could do almost anything he wanted without repercussions.
The only requirement one needed to possess in order to survive out here was to be strong.

Ves couldn ’t help but be attracted to such a harsh but self-sufficient philosophy.

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