The only reason why Ves and the others remained calm was because the distance couldn ’t be closed within a short amount of time.
Still, due to the light that bounced off the Flagrant Swordmaiden fleet at an earlier time, the Vesians had already started accelerating towards their foes.

While the Flagrant Swordmaidens could have easily kited the Vesians around, right now their entire fleet suffered a substantial slowdown.
Not only did they still haven ’t taken complete control over their newly conquered light carriers, the Vandals also raced to repair the sublight propulsion and the FTL drives of the Finmoth Regal and the Linever Swan.

With the Flagrant Swordmaidens fleeing at half their maximum acceleration, the Vesian newcomers would eventually be able to catch up!

”When will the Vesians intercept our fleet? ” He asked with an increasing amount of worry.
”And have we identified their mech regiment? ”

”Sixteen hours.
And no, the sensor operators and analysts don ’t have a clue yet.
The Vesians who arrived apparently make use of standard Vesian combat carrier classes.
At this distance, it ’s too hard to make out any markings or variations. ”

If the Vandals brought a reconnaissance corvette or something like that, then they might have been able to resolve more detail.
As of now, the ominous Vesian fleet ’s origins remained a mystery to everyone.
Did they hail from Imodris? Venidse? Hafner?

Their exact origins made all of the difference.
So far, it didn ’t seem likely they hailed from Venidse because their fleet moved significantly faster than the sluggish, heavily-armored combat vessels the Venidsans routinely preferred.

The Vesians knew they held an information advantage and actively worked to extend it.
Almost immediately upon emergence, they activated a number of countermeasures.

”They ’re employing a reflective dust field to obscure our long-ranged optical sensors.
Their laser-armed mechs are also beaming their weapons in a dispersed angle in the direction fleet. ”

A cheap and convenient way to hinder optical sensors from resolving details in long range was to throw a lot of junk data at them.
The reflective dust bounced light that passed through them back and forth, which caused the images the optical sensors resolved to come out dimmer and distorted.

The dispersed laser emissions only exacerbated the problem.
At this distance, a laser beam dispersed most of its energy.
However, trying to stare at the fleet while distant lasers shone into the optical sensors was like trying to resolve detail while staring directly into a bright sun!

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Since Ketis hadn ’t experienced their run throughout Vesian space, Ves briefly filled her in.
”Of the three Vesian duchies the Vandals have pissed off in recent times, we ’re practically reviled by the Imodris and Hafner.
The former because we raided two of their planets, and the latter because we captured and ransomed one of their up-and-coming expert pilots. ”

”I heard some rumors about it, but to think you lived through that is impressive! ” Ketis exclaimed.
”It also sounds really humiliating for Imodris and Hafner.
No wonder you Vandals are shaking in your boots right now.
Do you think they ’re here to hunt you Vandals down? ”

Ves thought about it but shook his head.
”They wouldn ’t have entered the frontier or go all the way into the deep frontier just for us.
I bet they ’re likely after the same objective as us.
It ’s rather brave of them to travel all the way up here without allying themselves with a local pirate outfit. ”

How they managed to get here mattered little at the moment.
The point was that the Vesian vessels started catching up to the half-crippled Flagrant Swordmaidens and would certainly be able to reach them before the engineers replaced the FTL drives!

According to the reports sent by the engineers in charge of the replacement process, the sabotage did not only disable the FTL drive, but also the network of corrections around it.
Fixing all of it required an extensive teardown that consumed a lot of time.

Even if the engineers cut as many corners as possible to speed up the work, they still lacked too many chief engineers who knew how to work with the FTL drives! As the most sophisticated component of a ship, a bunch of junior engineers had no business messing with them! It took decades for the average engineer to pass all the certifications that allowed them to handle FTL drives responsibly.

”According to the latest update, the engineers estimate the Finmoth Regal ’s FTL drive will take at least twenty hours to repair, while the drive for the Linever Swan will take at least thirty-six hours! ”

Both repairs took far too long to fix! The Acolytes had really employed their explosive charges with a great degree of skill!

This left the Vandals specifically with an awful dilemma.
Would they choose to abandon another combat carrier and a vital logistics ship and transition into FTL without them, or stick around and wait until they completed repairs?

The latter option sounded patently unviable.
Although the Vesians hadn ’t brought a full mech regiment, they brought at least half of its strength.
If the Vesian fleet ’s mech roster consisted of an even mix of spaceborn and landbound mechs, then that meant the Vandals would have to contend against at least five-hundred spaceborn mechs!

The Verle Task Force may have been able to match their strength in their prime, but after all of the battles and casualties the Vandals could only bring half of their strength to bear.
Actually less so now that they lost a couple of mech captains.

”This is not good news at all.
Death is creeping onto our backs but we can ’t run away fast enough to escape its hungry grasp! Not if we cut off our wounded tail! ”

Having already lost the Antecedent, it would hurt if they had to discard the Finmoth Regal and the Linever Swan as well.
By now, the other independent pirate vessels had run away as far as they could from the Flagrant Swordmaidens, some even transitioning into FTL to depart the star system entirely!

Ves analyzed the plot and made a damning conclusion.
”Every neutral and hostile pirate vessel in our range has flown out of the FTL restriction zone for even the cheapest FTL drives.
They ’ve traveled far enough from the brown dwarf that they ’re unaffected by its weak gravity.
They can jump into FTL as soon as we send our mechs in their direction. ”

”So we can ’t hijack more ships in order to replace the two vesssels that you are about to lose. ” Ketis figured out.

”Just for the Finmoth Regal.
The Linever Swan is almost irreplaceable for us.
Both of us are depending on her to give us a continuing edge in terms of supplies once we reach the Aeon Corona System. ”

If the Swordmaidens captured a few spare ships while they had the chance, they might have been in a better situation as they would at least have some berths for one mech company ’s worth of mechs.
Still, even if they missed the opportunity, the rest of the fleet could still squeeze in the surplus mechs somewhere, though only half at most, perhaps even less.

The decision on whether to dump the Finmoth Regal and the Linever Swan all came down to Major Verle ’s decision.
After he returned from the infirmary, the man looked to be in a poor mood.
Right now, they had less than sixteen hours to see whether they could expedite the repairs or if they needed to abandon their crippled ships to avoid meeting the larger Vesian fleet in combat.

As a raiding regiment, the Vandals generally lost out to most combat-oriented Vesian mechs even if they possessed the advantage in numbers.
Right now, they not only dealt with this handicap, but for once the Vesians held the numbers advantage this time!

This double whammy of inferior numbers and inferior quality condemned the Flagrant Vandals to a certain loss! The addition of Lydia ’s Swordmaidens hardly affected the equation because they possessed even greater handicaps compared to the Vandals.
Their strength lay in their formidable landbound mech roster.
In space, the Vesians could easily tear apart the individualistic Misty Slashers.

Due to the distance involved, Ves had no data to work with.
Whatever patrol mechs the Vesians deployed were even harder to identify than their starships.
While he could still ride herd over the mech designers, he still had another, more important task to take care of.
Ves looked at Major Verle, who nodded back.

”Here are the files you need on the topics you requested. ” The commanding officer nonchalantly said, holding out his palm upon which rested a secure data chip.
”The chip will fry after use or in two hours.
The encrypted data held within can only be accessed with a keycode that I ’ve transmitted to you, which will cause the encryption itself to change after it is used once.
You have three hours to study the knowledge relevant to your assignment before the encryption irreversibly scrambles the contents into garbage.
As for the other topic, you have a week to digest them before they ’re scrambled as well. ”

Perhaps if Ves specialized in hacking or computer science and possessed a specialized comm, he would have been able to halt the time limits.
Too bad he didn ’t enjoy either of those advantages, so he just had to make do with these limits.

”Three hours is way too little time, sir. ” He protested.
”How can you expect me to become an expert in this extremely delicate field in the time it takes to cycle the FTL drive of a corvette? ”

”Deal with it.
Venerable Xie needs to become accustomed to the new upgrades as fast as possible, preferably within sixteen hours if we decide to put up a fight. ”

”What?! ”

Did Major Verle intend to kickstart the brainwashing process by forcing a battle here? That was madness!

”No arguments.
A shuttle is waiting for you at the shuttle deck.
Get on board the Gorgon ’s Gaze and perform your upgrades.
And don ’t forget to reflect the upgrades to the Venerable simulator pod as well! ”

Ves glowered a bit as he stomped out of the command center.
Not only did he have to ’upgrade ’ the Parallax Star within less than a day, he also had to incorporate the same upgrades into the expert pilot ’s exclusive simulator pod while keeping them a secret from everyone else.

All of these challenges continued to occupy him as he made his way down the shuttle deck.
After undergoing an extensive security check, he boarded his assigned shuttle and strapped himself in.
He was tempted to access the data chip immediately, but he had a feeling that activating his signal jammer aboard the shuttle would screw over his own ride.

As the shuttle rumbled and flew out of the shuttle battle bay, something very important popped into his mind.
Wasn ’t there an acolyte at large? Ves received no word that the assassin of Prince Hixt-Klaaster had ever been caught.

He also guessed that this was the first shuttle launching out of the Shield since the lockdown.

Ves started to have a bad feeling about this transit.
On a hunch, he summoned up his concentration and directed some of his spiritual energy into his left eyeball.
He disengaged the straps that held him secure against his crash seat and rose up as if stretching his limbs.

In truth, he used the motions as an excuse to swivel around his vision.
While his right eye spotted nothing except for empty seats, his left eye spotted a very ominous presence.

One that stood right behind his back.

His eye twitched.
The Acolyte standing behind him must have caught it! Already, the robed figure raised his arm as if to unleash a strike.

”Damn! Why are you here?! ”

Those useless security officers performed so many checks before they let the shuttle go, but they still managed to drop the ball!

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