Through his many interactions with Major Verle, Ves noticed that they gradually grew closer and more amiable in each other ’s presence.

Ves realized that Major Verle trusted him more and more.
Especially after the conclusion of his ground deployment, Ves seemed to have inadvertently entered the commanding officer ’s inner circle.

Not only did Major Verle indulge Ves whenever he made an unconventional request, the mech officer also talked more freely about the major decisions meant to steer the scattered and diminished fleet to safety.

”The Aeon Corona System is a frighteningly large star system.
The edge of the star system is much more distant than usual due to all of the planets and stars it holds.
There are pirate ships following behind our wake and there is the Finmoth Regal taking position in front of our route.
They are cutting us off. ”

Ves widened his eyes when Verle mentioned the Finmoth Regal!

”So let me get this straight, sir.
Not only have the Vandals assigned to the Finmoth Regal betrayed us, they ’re also coordinating with the pirate ships to corner us? ”

”That ’s the gist of it. ” Major Verle shrugged in seeming helplessness.
”We ’ve been playing the maneuvering game with them in the vicinity of Aeon Corona IX while we wait for more allied ships to arrive.
Yet so far, no other ship has showed up.
Right now, it ’s highly unlikely that any of the other carrier vessels of the Flagrant Vandals or Lydia ’s Swordmaidens will show up any time soon. ”

To Ves, it sounded as if Major Verle already wrote off the missing carriers! This was a massive loss in combat capability!

”I take it our spaceborn combat strength isn ’t looking to good right now. ” Ves probed.

”It ’s deplorable. ” Verle sighed as he let down his guard and revealed his weakness in the face of the events that caught the fleet off-guard.
”Our two carriers can only muster up fifty or so spaceborn mechs for battle.
All the desperate fighting against the sandmen ships caused a lot of our mechs to suffer the fate of being crushed by sand.
While we ’ve supplemented our numbers somewhat by taking in mechs abandoning the slower combat carriers, our two ships are well below capacity in this regard. ”

”How are the Swordmaidens faring? ”

”Our contact with them is spotty.
Right now, the sudden loss of Commander Lydia has come as a near-fatal blow to their morale.
From what we heard, Lieutenant Dise who you brought from the surface of Aeon Corona VII is currently making a power play over the established mech captains for control of the gang.
I don ’t know why she bothers.
The Swordmaidens are nearly completely annihilated. ”

”What? ” Ves frowned.
”Shouldn ’t there be mech captains among the Swordmaidens who are closer to the line of succession. ”

”There are, but the Lieutenant Dise has one advantage over the older and more experienced Swordmaidens.
She ’s an expert candidate. ”

”Ah. ”

With how much mech pilots idolized expert pilots, the revelation that one of their own might possibly be able to reach such a height gave Dise an invincible position among the Swordmaidens.

Unless she was a complete idiot, Lieutenant Dise should easily be able to take over the position vacated by Commander Lydia ’s untimely demise.

Why she wanted to take control, Ves didn ’t know.
Right now, the Swordmaidens were only left with the Jaded Sword and two low-quality light carriers.
This was a far cry from their peak!

”To be honest, our relationship with the Swordmaidens have cooled down a bit. ” Verle explained.
”If not for the presence of mutual enemies in each direction, they would have split off from us and make their own way back to their old haunts in the frontier. ”

Ves understood that now that both forces retrieved the mission objects, they didn ’t have much of a reason to stick together besides depending on each other ’s strength.
Even then, the two would always eye each other ’s spoils.
Wouldn ’t it be great if they could grab another lockbox from their erstwhile allies?

This was also why the remnant of the Flagrant Swordmaidens avoided going into battle and tried to outmaneuver the Finmoth Regal and the ships of the Dragons of the Void trying to confront them.
If a battle ever occurred and if one side suffered too many losses, then they couldn ’t rule out the possibility that their ally would finish the job and stab them in the back!

Hearing these concerns directly from Major Verle in the flesh placed Ves in a position to provide his own take to the challenges.
This was because the commanding officer not only enlightened him to the full challenges facing what was left of the Vandal forces in this star system, but also asked him what he thought and how he would respond.

”Why ask me, sir? I ’m not a mech officer.
I ’m not versed in matters of strategy and tactics. ”

”If I wanted to ask a mech officer, I could have asked myself. ” The major retorted.
”A good leader facing a difficult problem should always be exposed to a diversity of perspectives when they can afford to do so.
As a mech officer, I believe our best course of action is to punch through the Finmoth Regal ’s blockade.
However, it is one thing to attack pirates.
It ’s another thing entirely to attack our former comrades. ”

”I can ’t speak about the skill of Finmoth Regal ’s mech pilots, sir, but their mechs are just as formidable as ours, even if they aren ’t in a great condition due to their own battles against the sandmen.
Nevertheless, the Finmoth Regal has their own complement of Akkara heavy cannoneers.
Their prodigious firepower alone can chew up half of our mechs before we are even able to get close! ”

”The deserters of the Finmoth Regal are well-versed with standard Vandal tactics and formations.
Part of the reason why we ’ve always gained the upper hand against the pirates is by making use of our superior coordination.
Against an equal opponent who knows every trick in our book, we lose this critical advantage. ”

”So in the end, it ’s not such a good idea to attack the Finmoth Regal. ”

This is why we are in a stalemate right now. ”

Ves couldn ’t provide any useful suggestions to get the Flagrant Swordmaidens out of this awful fix.
They were practically trapped in a jar with no easy ways to get out.
He figured that Major Verle mainly brought up their circumstances in order to solicit a viable solution.

”I ’m sorry, major, but I can ’t think of anything that can help you out. ”

”What about a technological solution? ”

”Sorry, sir.
There are no backdoors or weaknesses for me to exploit.
Aside from their battle damage and recent wear and tear, the Finmoth Regal ’s mechs are just as deadly as our own. ”

The confidential meeting between them ended in disappointment.
Even though Ves hadn ’t been able to conjure up a magical solution to Major Verle, he nonetheless felt appreciated for being given the opportunity to provide his input on such an important matter.

As Ves stood up, he received his next orders.
”You ’re reinstated to your old post as temporary head designer.
Right now, the workshops urgently need your help restoring as many of our mechs as possible.
The more mechs we can field in upcoming battles, the higher the chance we can all make it back to the Bright Republic alive. ”

I ’ll do my best to get our mechs back in fighting condition! ”

Ves left the stateroom and stopped by at the shuttle bay.
His CFA shuttle had been secured to the deck by temporary restraints, but overall the shuttle technicians stopped gawking and poking at it once they learned that all of its systems only responded to authorized personnel.

Right now, Ves was the only person who could unlock the shuttle and enable it to fly.
There wasn ’t any use trying to authorize someone else to fly the shuttle without his presence because it only responded to the commands of a genuine CFA officer in possession of a properly-configured CFA comm.

If Ves ever lost his CFA comm, he ’d lose the ability to unlock and command the shuttle.
This was aso why the Flagrant Vandals stopped casting greedy eyes at his gear and his shuttle.

Once he unlocked the hatch and slipped into the shuttle, he checked all of the cargo stowed in the cargo compartment.
All of my nutrient packs are still in one piece! ”

Evidently, the security officers hadn ’t bothered to perform more than a cursory sweep on them, dismissing them expired survival rations.
Obviously, none of them even attempted a taste, thereby never finding out how sublime they tasted.

Ves grinned.
These vintage nutrient packs are all mine. ”

While he didn ’t value the crates of vintage nutrient packs over the shuttle or the Squalon, he did regard them as genuine treasures.
There was no way he would relinquish them to the military!

”All mine! ” He huffed with greedy breaths as he took in his haul.
”I don ’t care what everyone else says.
These nutrient packs are all mine! ”

After indulging in his fancies, Ves slowly sobered up and checked the contents of one particular crate.
Hidden right in the middle among the nutrient packs was a small and nearly undetectable container that held Adeseus Longhorn ’s bioimplant.

”Looks like the security officers didn ’t search these crates closely. ”

Who could blame them? They only contained some worthless nutrient packs in their eyes.
Besides, the container as well as the bioimplant itself didn ’t trip up many alarms unlike a pistol for example.

Ves did not report this treasure to anyone else.
A bioimplant, even an old one, wasn ’t common goods in the Bright Republic.

Even though he didn ’t dare to have the Archimedes Rubal implanted in his head right now, he hadn ’t given up on it yet.
So long as he found a reliable biohacker or other relevant specialist to update its bioprogramming, Ves would be able to augment his memorization capabilities to an enormous degree.

The more he came in touch with a variety of alien, classified and high technology that even the System didn ’t include in its Skill Tree, the more the ability to instantly store a vast amount of information would be of enormous use to him.
Aside from that, the bioimplant also offered a number of other useful functions.

”People ask too much of a mech designer. ” He sighed to himself.
”No wonder why there aren ’t many Seniors and Masters. ”

As Ves took on the role of the deceased Mr.
Longhorn aboard the Starlight Megalodon, he put on the shoes of a Senior Mech Designer for a few weeks.

It turned out they were very big shoes to fill.

If there was anything Ves found out about Senior Mech Designers, it was that they depended on accumulating an enormous amount of knowledge.

”Seniors are always pushing the envelope of what is already known.
From a broad and deep base of knowledge, they jump off the beaten path and try to pierce what is beyond the fog of the unknown. ”

In the perspective of Ves, a Journeyman Mech Designer mainly concerned themselves with designing the best mechs as their abilities allowed.
Their design philosophies aided them in distinguishing and empowering their designs with their unique touches.

However, once someone advanced to Senior, the act of designing mechs turned from a pivotal means to earn money and fame into a vehicle to pursue a near-impossible goal.

”Senior Mech Designers aren ’t that interested in designing today ’s mechs, but only cast their eyes towards tomorrow ’s mechs. ”

Original research became a vital component to their development as an advanced mech designer.
Performing research was also crucial in their pursuit to bring their design philosophies to fruition.

”It ’s too bad that it ’s extremely expensive and difficult for Senior Mech Designers to attain their goals. ”

The transition from Apprentice to Journeyman was the first watershed of a mech designer.
Yet the amount of Seniors who successfully advanced to Master was even less!

Two main reasons lay behind their inability to pioneer a new path in the field of mech design.
One was the lack of funding and resources.
The other was the lack of knowledge and research ability!

For now, Ves couldn ’t do anything about the former, but he always considered the latter to be his strong suit.
The earlier he strengthened this aspect, the more distinct this advantage played out throughout his career!

”I am practically made to be a research-oriented mech designer! Kind of like…
the Skull Architect. ”

Ves suddenly felt less jubilant about this declaration.

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