The Mech Touch


The Mech Touch Chapter 282 Smooth


The Happy Jelly emerged at the edge of the Glowing Zone in a lurch. Its oft-repaired and barely functional FTL drive strained to bring the ship into realspace without breaking her apart.

Ves gripped the cushioned pod seat sight at the moment of transition, but everyone else simply shrugged off their nausea and went back to work. They had already become used to the violent transitions from the higher dimensions back to the lower ones.

"Damnit, this ship will really kill them all some day." He muttered as the seat automatically withdrew the straps that held him in the pod. "Tell me you didn't enjoy the ride, Lucky."

"Meow!"

Lucky didn't look too chipper either. The glowing blue lines of energy between the gaps of his elegant bronze plating burned bright now. Ves surmised that Lucky already accumulated enough energy to evolve from level 2 to level 3. For some reason, the gem cat held back, likely because Ves needed his help if he wanted to make it through the upcoming campaign.

It didn't help that many of the mechs the Whalers used enjoyed less than stellar maintenance. The lack of leadership, the shortage in manpower and the pervasive attitude of doing the bare minimum resulted in a lot of heavily degraded mechs.

The mech technicians often dismissed the minor problems that piled up in a mech, unaware that several unrelated errors could cascade into catastrophic faults down the line.

Ves had accessed some of the logs and noticed that the Whalers didn't fight very often. This had allowed the problems to fester, because the Whalers never really experienced a significant loss arising from a lack of maintenance.

Now they faced a reckoning. According to some of the contingency plans the Blood Claws passed to the Whalers, each mech might be facing an average of six intensive engagements. In these kinds of pitched battles, the mechanical state of any mech was of extreme importance.

Too bad none of the Whalers really listened to him. The few times he got hold of Walter, the burly man told him to piss off and bother someone else. When Ves approached the officers like Fadah, they'd tell him that he worried too much.

"Sure, our equipment is crap. That's a fact. They're cheap to get and cheap to use. We break things a lot, so we don't actually bother trying to keep our gear in shape."

Indeed, over seventy percent of the mechs aboard the Happy Jelly consisted of frontline mechs. In addition, the Whalers acquired at least half of them through the grey or black market, so their reliability was questionable.

Their only advantage to the gang was that they cost only several million credits a pop. The most basic frontline mech in the Bright Republic could be bought for five million credits. In comparison, Ves thought that some mechs looked like they'd been salvaged from a battlefield and refurbished up to a point where the Whalers snapped them up for half the minimum price.

Very obviously, the Whalers could put a lot of mechs on the field this way. Most of its members consisted of local recruits from Cloudy Curtain who hadn't been able to attend a fancy advanced academy offworld.

This meant that most of them lacked the training and skills to pilot anything more sophisticated than a barebones frontline mech. It would have been useless for them to pilot something as sophisticated as the Blackbleak as they wouldn't be able to control the mech efficiently.

"That's still no excuse to neglect the maintenance of their mechs!"

Ves wanted to tear his hair out. Even though he kicked the mech technicians assigned to his command into action, they quickly returned to old habits once he walked away. Discipline was nonexistent and playing games on their comms turned out to be their most frequent activity.

It also didn't help that Ves didn't quite fit in with the loose and casual brotherhood the Whalers fostered among themselves. His goodwill for gifting the Blackbeak quickly faded away, and his constant prodding of getting people to work quickly earned him a reputation for being uptight and serious.

He didn't care about what other people thought. Everything he accomplished now was one thing he didn't have to compensate for when the Whalers made landfall.

"That's not far away now. I've got to get the fast-reaction squad in decent shape before we touch down. I won't be able to overhaul these mechs on the surface of an active planet."

The Happy Jelly and the rest of the Whaler fleet slowly gathered in a protective formation and began to fly deeper into the Glowing Zone. On the bridge, a large amount of alerts sounded out as the Jelly's sensors strained to identify all of the active thruster emissions.

"At least five-hundred ships are already burning their way towards the inner zone! Over a third of them haven't activated their transponders!"

"Hah! Looks like the pirates are scrambling to get a piece of the action as well." Walter joked as he gazed upon the giant projection of the Glowing Zone and the ships they detected so far.

It did not look too good. While the Whalers brought around twelve functional mech carriers and four supply ships, much of those ships only carried a dozen or half-a-dozen mechs. Only the Happy Jelly was large enough to receive acknowledgement from the Blood Claws.

Over the next day, the Whaler fleet sluggishly brought their ships towards a random coordinate relative to the Glowing Planet. The Blood Claws along with a handful of smaller outfits already gathered there. The Whaler fleet turned out to be among the last who arrived, much to the consternation of the crew.

"You should have invested more in your ships, then." Ves pointed out to Fadah.

"Every extra credit spent on a ship is one credit less we can invest in our mechs."

Ves could have said that their entire budgeting rested upon a flimsy foundation. Sure, they might not have been able to do anything about the quality of their mech pilots, but they should have put more care in the quality of their mechs.

Right now, Ves had given up on changing their mindsets. They needed to experience the folly of their ways with their own eyes before they became more receptive to his ideas.

"When are the Blood Claws setting off?"

"I'm not sure." Fadah shrugged his shoulders as he patted the Blackbeak. He constantly came back to Ves to demand more adjustments. "Last I heard, all of the outfits that we know of have arrived. We've got over two-hundred ships by ourselves. That's got to be enough to put the Mech Corps to pause."

"I don't think so. The Mech Corps always goes for quality over quantity. The Republic doesn't have the mech pilots to spare for them to throw their lives away so easily. Just one of their carriers can accomplish the same things as your entire Whaler fleet."

"That's a lie!"

"Fadah, even a single fleet carrier outmasses your entire collection of ramshackle converted transports. I can tell, because I've been on one."

There was no getting through Fadah's thick skull. Practically all of the Whalers except Walter only possessed a limited perspective on how the galaxy truly looked like. Walter could have disabused them of their notions, but the gang leader didn't seem to bother.

The delays annoyed the Whalers and much of the other outfits that answered to Monty. Several other fleets such as those led by the mercenary leaders already flew past them as they made their way to the juicy planet. It galled the impatient gang members to see others getting ahead.

That was until one mercenary transport randomly erupted into pieces.

At first, the mercenaries aboard the ship around them thought that someone had sabotaged the vessel. The mercenary commanders quickly acted to stop any trigger-happy mercenaries from firing back.

It turned out the transport had fallen into an invisible curl in spacetime. That quickly halted the vanguard of the fleet. Who could tell if the space ahead hid something else?

The transport met its end at a fairly significant distance of three light-hours away from the Glowing Planet. Such a distance should have been more than enough to ignore any possible emissions from the active planet due to the inverse-square law.

"That's why the Blood Claws haven't gone ahead." Ves realized. "They're waiting for something that can mitigate the glowing planet's hazards."

"Do you reckon it's the Mech Corps we're waiting for?"

"I don't know of the Mech Corps even understands what is happening with the Glowing Planet. My gut tells me they'll borrow the technology from the Coalition or the CFA."

They only had to wait a couple of hours before their answer arrived. The 4th division of the Mech Corps arrived with massive splendor. Their large, specialized carriers had no trouble recovering from the transition and quickly formed into smaller elements before they soared into the Glowing Zone.

Hundreds of carriers built for war escorted a smaller number of essential transports. Ves estimated that the 4th division's fleet brought over ten-thousand mechs spread over five unique regiments.

All the pomp and circumstance succeeded in cowing the other powers. The 4th division boldly sped their way towards the inner zone without fear for falling into any inexplicable hazards.

Before everyone could scratch their heads and wonder whether the Mech Corps had lost their mind, a number of strange transports split up from the main fleet. Several transports moved to each major fleet, including the one centered around the Blood Claws.

News quickly passed on what they contained.

"Those transports are carrying the Republic's gifts! They're carrying something called a dimensional smoother! They emit some kind of field that anchors local realspace and makes it harder for the Glowing Planet to do its freaky stuff!"

The explanation barely satisfied Ves. The so-called dimensional smoother probably had a better name, but the Blood Claws or the Whalers probably couldn't wrap their heads around the original meaning, so they grasped for something simpler to describe its effects.

The name did its job, he supposed. Everyone had been able to imagine the implications of a dimensional smoother. They had to get close to it and hope that it emitted enough power to withstand the Glowing Planet's mood swings.

The Blood Claw fleet received three transports, which quickly took up a triangular formation. Naturally, the ships under Monty's the Betrayer's direct control received the privilege of flying alongside the transports carrying the dimensional smoothers.

The Whalers had been assigned at the furthest edge of the formation. That said a lot about their worth to the Blood Claws.

"They don't think much of us!"

"Worst mistake they ever made!"

"We'll show them what we're made of once we start fighting!"

Truly, the amount of delusion that had infected the Whalers reached a ridiculous level. No matter who he talked to, everyone seemed to think the campaign would be a walk in the park, or at worst a slog through a muddy road.

Only Ves thought that the road ahead resembled a treacherous cliff. Sometimes, he regretted joining the Whaler fleet. He hadn't imagined they'd be so incompetent. Then he thought about Raella and the missions he accepted from the Society and the System.

He had a feeling the System knew more about the Glowing Planet than anyone else in this star sector. When the System broke its silence and demanded him to seek out something from the planet's core, Ves received a massive fright.

"There's something about the Glowing Planet that nags me. If it only hold a huge amount of junk exotics, how come its emissions are so strong?"

It would have been explainable if a ship ended up dead if it wandered close to the Glowing Planet's orbit. Yet to be able to influence its surrounding space so much to the point of tearing apart a vessel light-hours away, it must be hiding something special.

"I guess we'll see in a day or two when we make landfall."

Once the Blood Claw fleet settled into place, the huge formation slowly swept forward. All the other fleet resumed their journey to the Glowing Planet as well once they gathered around the dimensional smoothers.

Everything seemed fine and dandy, until a large number of ships arrived from a different angle. Alarm swept throughout the ships which figured out the identity of the newcomers.

"It's the Vesians!"



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