The Mech Touch Chapter 556 Candidate
A true mech design project could not be conducted alone. Ves constantly yearned to gather his own design team at the LMC. They would be able to assist him in all manner of minor tasks in the same way the Mech Corps hired massive amounts of mech designers to pad their design teams.
As long as he controlled the main aspects of his design project, the help of others shouldn't be able to contaminate the spiritual nature of his designs.
"My Spirituality is stronger than any other mech designer, or perhaps it's better to say that I'm stronger in the creation and manipulation of imaginary existences."
Ves already proved several times that the mechs that carried his X-Factor wouldn't easily be contaminated by the fingerprints of other mech designers and mech technicians. Their non-existent spiritualities simply couldn't contend with an active one.
Still, Ves suspected that higher ranking mech designers possessed their own abilities that might be tangibly be related to spirituality. "I'll have to advance to Journeyman before I can answer this question."
It might seem strange for him to focus on his plans for the future while his survival in the coming months wasn't guaranteed. He still had to help the task force survive the obstacles that Hafner put in their way.
"It's never too early to lay some ground."
This was a key period in his life in which he would be able to connect with other mech designers without too much suspicion. If Ves attempted to recruit mech designers after the war, he'd face a lot more difficulties, the most important of which was to verify their loyalty.
"There is no better proof of loyalty than to put it to test in the harshest conditions."
The bonds of brotherhood he forged with the mech designers and the Vandals may lead to a lifelong advantage later on. That was something that his Larkinson heritage had taught.
For now though, Ves did not dare spend too much time on future matters. He still had a lot of work in the present to take care of. With a tired sigh, Ves returned to his regular duties.
Two days later, Major Verle finally stopped withholding his plans. He called for another massive conference meeting in which every mech captain and ship captain gathered in the same compartment via projections. The only physical people present were Ves and others assigned to the Shield of Hispania.
"I'm sure you are aware that the Hafner Duchy is alerted to our presence. From the intelligence we've received from the local rebels, Hafner has allocated the bulk of their uncommitted forces to the star systems near the border. Once we enter their perimeter, they'll instantly lock on to us and converge on us with rapid tempo."
Everyone nodded. This was a standard blockade tactic that the Vesians proficiently employed when they really wanted to stop a specific target. Though it was possible for the Flagrant Vandals to escape the net, the risks were unimaginably high. At the very least, some Vandals preferred to fight another round with the Frosty Meteors rather than face the full fury of the Hafner mech legions.
"We've gathered a lot of intelligence on Hafner distributed their forces. Though their core systems remain heavily guarded, the substantial drawback of uncommitted forces has left many smaller star systems bereft of a comfortable buffer against raids. After discussing the possibilities with one of the local rebel groups, we've decided to hit a specific star system. Let me show you."
A new projection appeared above the conference table. It looked like a rather small and unremarkable place. "The Nova Migolatus System centers around a fairly normal main sequence star and has four significant planets. Nova Migolatus IV is a gas giant while Nova Migolatus I is a terraformed terrestrial planet which is also the only occupied satellite in the system. Our target is here."
The details listed next to Nova Migolatus I didn't list anything worth raiding. Its overall development resembled Cloudy Curtain in that it was largely rural. It held a few large cities, but most people lived in towns and villages and kept the vast farms going. The planet did not host any form of heavy industry, which made it a very unattractive target for the Vandals to raid.
"This place is worthless!"
"What is there to steal here? Grains? Dirt? Farmers?"
Major Verle knocked his fist against the table, shutting everyone up. "Our goal here is not to go on another robbing spree. The truth is that we've accepted a commission from an influential rebel group called Peace for Hafner. Helping them in this task is scratching their back. Once we've given them what they want, the rebels scratch our backs in turn when the time comes for us to cross the border."
Ves narrowed his eyes at that. It left a lot of things to trust. Major Verle must be very confident for this so-called Peace for Hafner to return the favor.
"If we aren't robbing the place dry, what are we after, sir?"
The commanding officer resumed his briefing. "If you didn't know any better, Nova Migolatus I looks like any other rural planet. However, its highly diverse biosphere, vast stretches of mountains and hills and non-existent satellite coverage makes it a perfect place for training mech pilots how to survive in the wild. There's a training camp on this planet, and a very special one at that."
"Our mission is to smash a training camp?"
"Not exactly. Peace for Hafner doesn't care too much about the training camp or most of its trainees. They only care about taking out a specific person. Meet Captain Relia Foster, a mech officer of the Hafner mech legions."
A supplementary projection appeared alongside the projection of Nova Migolatus I. It showed the profile of a very attractive Vesian mech officer.
"She's young, she's talented, and she's a thorn in the side of Peace for Hafner. Though Captain Foster is from common stock, it's already a done deal for her to be elevated to a baron. That's because she's a verified expert candidate."
A faint gasp could be heard throughout the conference room as everyone present looked at the woman with respect. An expert candidate!
"All of you know what an expert candidate represents." Verle stated as he glanced at everyone's expression. "They are peak advanced pilots who have pierced through the threshold that holds them back from becoming a bona fide expert pilot. When measured by precise instruments, they'll be able to measure a resonance value of 0.00001 laveres or something. Even though that is nothing compared to an actual expert, it still represents a near-assurance of advancement."
A newly advanced expert pilot exhibited resonance that measured 1 laveres on average. These values didn't sound very impressive, but the vast majority of mech pilots never registered anything on the lavere scale. They could forget about reaching 0.00001 for the rest of their lives.
Many mech pilots thought that they either possessed the right magic or not. No matter how much the overwhelming majority of mech pilots challenged themselves, they would never be able to scratch the wall that barred their advancement.
Major Verle continued his clarification. "An expert pilot is a strategic weapon to any state. The rise and fall of even one of them is significant enough to affect the national strength of a state. The situation is even more significant here because the duchies that make up the Kingdom never share their expert pilots. An additional expert in the ranks of Hafner will make all of their opponents tremble in fear. They won't be as free to invade the borders and raid a seemingly defenseless star system. It only takes one expert pilot to annihilate a small-sized raiding force. A future Venerable Foster is enough to make Peace for Hafner and many other factions suffer a substantial amount of losses."
A mech captain raised his hand. "If Captain Foster is such a valuable mech pilot, won't she have a lot of guards around her, sir? I can't imagine Hafner would be willing to treat her as anything less than a chunk of high-grade exotic."
"Good question. The reason why I've decided to accept this commission is because Hafner has made some missteps. First, an expert pilot only comes about when facing a lot of stress and the threat of death. If Captain Foster is surrounded by too many guards, why would she feel any dangerous impulses? The training camp and her guards are not as overwhelming as you think. They mainly rely on secrecy to keep themselves safe. Secondly, the Nova Migolatus System used to host a significant garrison fleet. Only, Hafner later decided to split it up and send half of the ships to the border."
This was a response to the arrival of the Flagrant Vandals in this territory. Everyone knew that the Verle Task Force sought a way out of the Kingdom. The mech regiment had no reason to linger in Hafner, therefore boosting the defense of the border was a logical decision to make.
Too bad the Flagrant Vandals didn't always adhere to logic.
Ves raised his own hand. "I have a question. Expert pilots are highly regarded, and young expert candidates are even more important. Captain Foster obviously looks young. This means that if she managed to advance into an expert, she'll likely have decades ahead to serve in Hafner's military. Her value exceeds veteran expert pilots that are getting on in their years."
"What is your question, Mr. Larkinson?" Verle interrupted with an impatient tone.
"Killing Captain Foster is like strangling Hafner's favored child in the crib. They're bound to go mad at us. Won't we be dooming ourselves by provoking their retribution?"
A heavy atmosphere descended in the conference room. Ves did not like to play the spoiler, but no one seemed to have the courage to speak out this important concern.
Major Verle seemed prepared for this question, though. He smiled back at Ves. "Your concerns are legitimate, but we already have plans in place. We believe that the panic of our sudden invasion of the Nova Migolatus System will mainly provoke a different reaction. If we can attack one of Hafner's star systems once, who says we won't be able to do it again? Hafner will certainly be forced to pull back some of their border patrols. This will outweigh Hafner's desire to exact revenge."
Ves did not think it would be that simple, but Major Verle left no other opening for him to follow up. Obviously, the mech officer did not wish to entertain too many questions at this time.
"There is more to the Nova Migolatus System than their training camp. There are secondary objectives which we can attempt to complete while we are hunting for Captain Foster. Our preliminary timeframe for this mission is three days."
"That's too short, sir!"
"It's tight, but I am confident that we can complete this mission. We really can't afford to stick around longer than seventy-two hours. Any longer than that, and the nearest reinforcements will be bound to corner us. Don't think that these reinforcements will be as reluctant as those sent to help out the Detemen System. Time is our most precious resource and our most important constraint."
Three days sounded short because it would take a long time for the fleet to travel all the way from the outer reaches of the star system to the closest planet from the sun. Depending on how hard the Vandals pushed their ships, they could reach it within two days at a minimum. That meant that the Vandals only had less than a single day to hunt down this expert candidate.
Ves looked back at the profile of Captain Foster and shook his head. "What a shame."