The Mech Touch Chapter 112: Treasure Hunt
The fourth underground floor was the best defended one. The observation bots painted a gruesome picture of a desperate last stand. The reinforced walls and plentiful fixed emplacements suggested that this was a very important part of the base.
Once Ves and Dietrich's Harrier stepped past the ruined vault doors, they came across the remnants of a massacre. While, the invading force spent some efforts in cleaning up their tracks, they didn't put too much effort in wiping out the bloodstains.
"Whoever attacked this base has been very thorough so far. They're experienced and covering up their tracks. You'd think they do a better job on this floor."
Ves nodded in agreement. "Maybe they ran out of time."
If the attackers were in a hurry, they might have missed a couple of gems. The possibility fueled their anticipation. The abundant fortifications suggested that this floor certainly held a lot of value to the former owners of the base.
This also meant that the odds of encountering a lingering threat had risen by quite a bit. The observation bots found nothing active, but who knew what kind of booby traps remained.
"Lucky, can you scout ahead?"
The mechanical cat hissed at Ves.
"Oh, come on, I've gifted you that unknown chunk of ore. Can't you at least return the favor?"
After a brief back-and-forth, Ves convinced Lucky to act as their scout. In return, Ves promised Lucky a million credits worth of minerals when they returned home. The expenditure took out a big chunk of his savings, but considering his current gains, he could spare the money.
Motivates by piles of delicious food, the cat went about his role with gusto. The cat moved swiftly if a bit recklessly. Ves had to warn the cat to slow down several times.
They combed over the administrative department first. Not a single record remained. A scavenging party meticulously cleaned out all the terminals, processors and backups. Ves wasn't stupid enough to think they missed a spare.
Instead, he banked on the suspicion that the scavengers were in a bit of a hurry. He meticulously scanned the walls, floor and ceiling. Lucky helped out by employing his sensitive nose.
The mechanical cat's nose handedly outclassed the multiscanner. Ves borrowed the device from the Barracuda's lab, so that spoke volumes of Lucky's ability to distinguish smells.
The excited cat led him to a maintenance closet of all things. Lucky pawed a specific section of the wall.
When Ves came close, he held out his scanner. Nothing. Almost nothing. The only thing he registered was a faint rise in temperature. The difference was minimal. If Ves wasn't so close, he'd miss the signs.
After interpreting the data, Ves threw out a guess. "An active system is generating heat behind behind this wall. There's a box-sized area in front of us that's blocking out the rest of my scans."
"Sounds like we're dealing with a safe. In a place like this, it's bound to trigger an alarm or a self-destruct mechanism."
"That's quite possible. Even I'm not confident in disarming this trap." He obtained a good impression of the build quality of this facility. This was the work of experts, not a bunch of pirates with too much free time on their hands. "If it wasn't for Lucky, we'd be clueless. For now, let's leave this safe for last."
They didn't want to trip any alarms. For now, Ves prioritized the recovery of the parts for the Dortmund. In his eyes, the utility of a functioning high-quality 3D printer trumped any other possible gains.
After sweeping the administration department, they crossed the corridors and reached an even larger fortification. The size and thickness of the broken vault doors showed that it wasn't easy cracking this last part open.
"The attackers came prepared." Dietrich noted as he tried to puzzle out the sequence of battle from the remaining traces. "They brought enough mechs to overrun this base. It took a while for them to crack open this barrier, but they came prepared."
With Lucky taking the lead, they entered what used to be a highly secure research complex. Different from the rest of the base, only the main corridor and a couple of chambers were large enough to accomodate mechs.
They sweeped these giant chambers first. Everything had been swept clean. Only empty furniture and useless markings remained. Despite Lucky's best efforts, the cat failed to sniff out anything the scavengers had missed. Clearly the research labs was one of their main targets.
The Harrier bumped its feet against a wall. The lack of atmosphere dampened any noise, but the impact spread vibrations through the mech-sized chamber.
"I wonder what kind of research was done that requires this kind of elaborate setup." Dietrich idly wondered.
"Someone spent around five billion credits to set this place up." Ves estimated from what he saw. "The extravagant production lines alone points to a major commitment."
If a corporation wanted to mass produce a line of mechs, they were better off doing it open and above board.
After exploring the mech-sized chambers, Ves and Lucky proceeded to clear the smaller rooms alone. Dietrich remained in his cockpit in order to guard against major threats.
The remaining rooms differed little from their larger counterparts. Large amounts of servers, lab equipment and more had been completely swept away. The scavengers even dug out a couple of hidden stashes. Instead of feeling despondent at the sight, Ves found cause for hope.
"Another stash might be left." Ves informed his cat. "Go and take a sniff of these hollows. Perhaps you might encounter a similar smell."
Lucky hopped inside the hollowed-out stashes and memorized the smells. After an affirmative meow, the cat hopped back to the floor and slowly sauntered across the empty rooms.
The cat found one more possible stash. The cat indicated that a large, broken piece of machinery blocked the way to the potential treasure. This must have been the reason why the scavengers missed this find.
"How's it look like, Ves?"
"It's larger than the suspected safe we found at administration. My scanner tells me that there's a room-sized hollow hidden behind this wall. I found no traces of heat or energy so there shouldn't be a trap, but I can't tell for sure."
This final find marked the end of their exploration trip. Now they needed to decide how much longer they should stay and what to recover during that time.
Dietrich wanted to leave as fast as possible. "This place is creepy. If you tell me, we should empty the smuggler's cache first. It will only take half a day for the bots to load the goods into our ship."
"May I remind you that the Barracuda is my ship." Ves firmly asserted. It was important for him to remind his friend that he was in charge. "The broken Dortmunds are worth a thousand times more than a random collection of parts."
"Yeah, says you. It's all well-and-good for you to drool over a stupid printer, but even if you finally kludge something together, it only benefits you. I don't get anything out of this."
Ves did not want to argue too much with Dietrich. As the owner of the ship that brought them here, he should possess most of the rights to the salvage. He held back because he was armed with only a single pistol while Dietrich currently piloted a very deadly mech.
After a brief argument, the two hammered out a compromise.
They would stay as long as required for Ves to salvage the necessary Dortmund parts. Anything concerning the printer belonged solely to Ves.
After that, Ves would crack open the remaining two stashes. If he hadn't screwed up and triggered a self-destruct, they'd retrieve the treasures and split them up with Ves claiming eighty percent of their value while leaving Dietrich with the remaining twenty percent.
There was no guarantee that they'd get anything useful from the caches. Ves might also inadvertently trigger an alarm. In that case, they'd bug out as fast as possible and leave this star system.
The base still held a lot of value even after they emptied all of the caches. Dietrich had the option to turn in his twenty percent share for the sole right to exploit the ruins on behalf of Walter's Whalers.
Dietrich was confident that his father's gang would send a couple of transports to this star system and strip it down to the bone. This naturally included the smuggler's cache. Due to the Barracuda's limited cargo space, the ship did not have any room left after taking in the Dortmund parts and the Harrier.
The terms of the agreement heavily favored Ves. He was able to secure the prized Dortmund parts. As for Dietrich, as long as the base remained abandoned, he could earn massive amounts of credits from the remaining salvage.
The defenses, vault door and debris all consisted of high-quality alloys. Dietrich intended to get his gang to strip them down and melt the pieces in order to extract the exotic materials. The mech pilot estimated that the Whalers could earn as much as half a billion credits from the recovery effort.
"That's an optimistic assessment. You'll need a lot of ships to bring back the salvage. The defenses here are tough, so you'll also need a lot of time to break up this base."
The longer they lingered in this system, the greater the risk of discovery. Walter's Whalers had to invest in lots of transports and manpower to salvage the base. A major movement like that was bound to leak.
Dietrich didn't look worried. "If anyone comes looking for a fight, we'll kick their asses."
"If you say so." Ves shrugged. It was his problem to deal with. "Let's begin with the salvage operation."
Now that they've cleared the base, the Barracuda lifted off from the outskirts and approached the entrance of the base. After touching down, the cargo bay opened up and released a small fleet of cargo handling bots along with a couple of observation bots.
Ves directed the observation bots to thoroughly scan the internals of all the Dortmunds. He tasked the cargo bots with collecting the loose junk scattered around the third floor.
Meanwhile, Dietrich patrolled the perimeter, making sure that no one sneaked up on their vulnerable operation. Lucky on the other hand ran off to feast on the many wrecks left behind.
While the observation bots did their work, Ves was not assured he could piece together a single functioning machine. "I should get a detailed schematic."
If Ves tried to reconstruct the Dortmund without preparation, he was bound to screw up. In order to assure the reconstructed machine worked properly, he had to get his hands on an official blueprint. He returned to the Barracuda and booted up his terminal. He searched for any leaks on the galactic net but came up empty.
"It's too good to be true if the blueprint of the latest Dortmund is leaked."
In the past, Ves would end his inquiry at this point. "I'm not a nobody anymore. I've got connections now."
Ves logged in to the Clifford Society. His virtual avatar spawned in the clouds. He looked down and located the city at the foot of the mountains. His form descended from above.
Once he landed on the streets, he walked to the market district and browsed every store. Many stores sold only mechs or designs relating to mechs. Only a couple of Squires sold equipment related to fabricating mechs, and none of them possessed any blueprints.
Just as Ves threw in the towel, he finally found a place that traded in blueprints. Surprisingly, a Knight opened up this storefront. Since the Knight was absent, the store only offered Ves a projection of a catalog.
The Knight sold hundreds of thousands of blueprints. Ves couldn't imagine how he was able to get his hands on so many detailed schematics.
For now, it didn't matter. Ves selected the 3D printer sub-category and found a listing of the Dortmund V3-B. The Knight charged only five merits for the blueprint along with a repair manual for internal use.
Ves instantly bought the files. Five merits was a lot for just a blueprint, especially considering that it was impossible to use an existing 3D printer to build another 3D printer.
The developers and manufacturers of these expensive machines weren't stupid. The last thing they wanted to see was someone printing their own printers at home. The commercial 3D printers available on the market were designed to incorporate many complex components that could never be printed into existence.
Therefore, these leaked and stolen blueprints were of little use. Only someone like Ves who managed to come across a pile of broken printers could make full use of these schematics.
Ves grinned once he exited the Society's virtual portal. With these plans in hand, he might be able to piece together a working industrial-class printer.