The Mech Touch

 
 

The Mech Touch Chapter 626 Players of the Game


The Verle Task Force was about to reach the Remoss System in one more day. The Remoss System was a popular stopover point for treasure hunters and pirates traveling back and forth between the frontier and the Harkensen System.

The Remoss System offered nothing interesting to any visitors. With a big neighbor like the Harkensen System, it lacked the ability to offer anything worthwhile to tourists and outfits. Its domestic industries was rather anemic as they were forced to produce low-value bulk goods that sold for a pittance in Harkensen.

While Remoss didn't station any garrison forces in the outer system, they nonetheless maintained a small but capable defense fleet.

Since the upcoming battle would likely take place in the outer system, the local defenders likely wouldn't intervene. Though the relationship between the Reinald Republic and the Flagrant Vandals had soured, it shouldn't have come to the point of provoking them into action.

"Even if the local garrison is compelled to act, they're too weak to challenge the Vandals."

He focused most of his attention on preparing the Vandal spaceborn mechs for battle. He first read up on the Masters of Combat in order to see whether he missed something crucial.

The Masters of Combat turned out to be a few decades old, the same as the Flagrant Vandals. That was sufficient for them to develop their own unique culture and mech tradition, but not to the point where they had reached the ranks of the elites.

"Battling them won't result in a repeat of the battle against the Frosty Meteors."

Ves recalled the desperate circumstances of that fight. Though the Frosty Meteors only managed to intercept the Verle Task Force with three or four companies of spaceborn mechs, they practically halved the Vandal mech roster with their near-unyielding charge.

He scratched his chin while he processed the extra data. "The Masters of Combat excel on land, so we definitely have to catch them before their mechs make landfall. This is a rare opportunity to take out one of our competitors before they become ten times harder to dislodge."

He could already imagine the horror of trying to stem the tide of Vesian mechs on the surface of the Super Earth. In such an extreme environment where their power-hungry gravitic backpacks formed their only means of succor, the best asset was experience.

"It makes sense to force the Masters of Combat off the board. If they're one of the participants of the game, their prowess on land is too scary to contemplate."

This also explained why the Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordmaidens went to bed with each other. Though the two had little in common, it also meant their interests didn't collide. Besides chasing after the same prize, they had little else to fight over.

"I wonder what Lydia's Swordmaidens are good at. They sound like they're a bunch of melee maniacs."

Diving into the records revealed sparse details. Because they operated entirely in the frontier, detailed records was hard to come by. Nonetheless, Ves stitched together various scraps of intelligence and formed a decent impression of their fighting style.


He snorted at the result. "They're a bunch of robbers!"

Just like any other pirate outfit, the Swordmaidens earned their living by robbing others. The main distinction with the Swordsmaidens was that rather than intercepting fleets in transit in space, they favored attacking ongoing expeditions on land!

This required a lot more effort than sitting in wait at the edge of a random star system. Pirates generally lay in ambush near popular transit points. In practice, the huge distances involved and the inherent lack of precision of FTL technology made ambushing fleets in space exceptionally hard.

If the incoming fleet of ships ended up several light-hours away from the ambushers, the pirates would never be able to close the distance in time. Even if the pirates predicted the route and vector of their targets, they still let too many victims slip from their grasp.

The pirates couldn't help it. Space was simply too big.

Compared to ambushing fleets in space, ambushing an expedition that was chained to the ground was a lot easier. The Swordmaidens knew where they could find their targets, and as long as they enjoyed orbital superiority, they could drop as much mechs as necessary to subdue the forces on the ground.

The only challenge with this method was that Lydia's Swordmaidens depended upon tip offs and their own intelligence gathering efforts to sniff out juicy treasure hunting expeditions.

"Still, it seems they've become quite good at it over the years."

This meant that the Swordmaidens had become very formidable in this aspect. They had fully taken root in the lawless society of frontier space.

Maybe the Flagrant Vandals could easily demolish the Swordmaidens in civilized space. Yet if the battle took place in the frontier, the Swordmaidens would easily be able to gain the upper hand through various means.

In general, their focus on robbing treasure hunters had turned them into formidable landbound combatants. As their name suggested, they highly favored swordsman mechs. This mech archetype offered a flexible balance between mobility and protection under challenging environments. The best part about swordsman mechs was that they offered a high amount of offensive power that enabled them to overwhelm guard mechs in the flashiest manner possible.

Most treasure hunting expeditions surrendered on the spot at that point.

As a gang of robbers, the conduct of the Swordmaidens turned out to be rather mild. They never killed the treasure hunters after they surrendered and never demolished their means of escape.

Crueler pirates either slaughtered or enslaved every single captive. If they were lazy enough to do so, they could still drive the expedition members to despair by stealing their mechs and ships. With no way out of the wild and untamed planet, they lost every hope of returning to civilized space!

In fact, the frontier wasn't made up a vast stretch of unpopulated or alien-occupied star systems. A small but critical portion of planets hosted humans that had gone native over the years. Either willingly or not, they managed to persevere where others had fallen and erected functional, self-sufficient settlements, some of which turned into fiefs for the brutal pirate gangs that held sway in those regions of space.

"Compared to those hardcore pirates, the conduct of Lydia's Swordmaidens is positively angelic."

The Swordmaidens only attacked targets they knew for certain they could overwhelm. They picked their targets wisely and backed off from any threats beyond their means to defeat. Over time, they steadily grew their numbers from a collection of women to a formidable outfit that became a mainstay in the frontier.

"Still, even if they're admirable for being able to survive in the frontier, they're similar to the Flagrant Vandals. They prey on the weak and run from the strong. They won't do well against a battle-oriented mech outfit."

When Ves compared their mech doctrines and battle records to those of the Masters of Combat, the Swordmaidens had no chance of winning. It couldn't be helped. The Masters of Combat always deployed a balanced force of defense-oriented mechs. Each mech model and mech type rounded out each other's weaknesses.

The Swordmaidens on the other hand deployed a disproportionate amount of swordsman mechs. Although a small number of Swordmaidens piloted knights or ranged mechs, this uneven mech roster basically forced them into a singular strategy.

"Attack! Attack! Attack!"

This also happened to be strategy the Masters of Combat excelled in dealing with. They loved to foil the advances of their opponents, blunting their offensives and tiring them out until the Masters of Combat could deliver the coup-de-grace.

In this perspective, taking the Masters of Combat out of play before they reached the Starlight Megalodon made more and more sense.

From a greater perspective, the alliance between the Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordsmaidens reeked of desperation. Alone, they lacked the strength to compete against other outfits. Only after combining their forces did they gain the necessary footing to win the game.

Maybe the Vandals would be able to muscle out the other outfit if they brought their full numbers. However, the Verle Task Force alone was unable to deter their competitors, especially when they never had the opportunity to replenish their fallen mech pilots.

"It's unfortunate that they're both raiding outfits."

However, this had given both of them the grounds for cooperation. Neither of them were strong enough to succeed without each other's help. Only by marrying their strength would they be able to contend in this brutal game.

Relevant to the upcoming battle, just because the Swordmaidens didn't focus on spaceborn combat didn't mean they neglected it entirely. Without adequate spaceborn forces, they wouldn't have been able to wrestle orbital superiority from the expeditionary fleets.

Their spaceborn battle capabilities didn't seem exceptional, but different from the Vandals, the Swordmaidens cultivated a strong and formidable boarding force. Just because they didn't strangle the lifeline of their victims didn't mean they disregarded the value of starships. A capable boarding force was necessary to take over high-value starships without risking any shenanigans.

The Swordmaidens earned as much money from selling their prize ships to selling the expedition's spoils. The only ships they left behind were low-value rust buckets such as old cargo haulers or decrepit converted carriers.

It still seemed rather strange to Ves that Lydia's Swordmaidens expressly cultivated an elite boarding force while slightly neglecting their spaceborn mechs. It sounded incongruent to their strategy.

After all, it took a lot more effort to capture a ship intact than to blow it out of the skies.

Ves shrugged. "Oh well. We'll soon come into contact with each other, so I'll probably find out the truth behind the matter."

He couldn't forget that Lydia's Swordmaidens possessed a backer. Ves hadn't been able to dig up any accurate information about the power behind the scenes besides the fact that they were a part of a more moderate faction.

Reinaldan politics was rather polarizing. One faction sought to expand their influence in the Komodo Star Sector, and they weren't above using force. They wanted to push the Frozen Leaf Alliance from a defensive alliance into a greater union that would allow them to push their weight around.

The other faction advocated for maintaining the status quo. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This was pretty much the essence of their motto. They liked the fact the Reinald Republic had grown into an unofficial trade hub that carved out its own niche.

Not everyone from the military fell into the aggressive camp. Neither did every merchant believe the Reinald Republic would be able to remain safe.

Lydia's Swordmaidens was a tool that extended the reach of the moderate faction to the frontier. If worst came to worst, the Swordmaidens could also lead their backers beyond the reach of their enemies if the Reinald Republic ever fell.

In this context, Lydia's Swordmaidens were less like pirates and more like intelligence assets that pretended to be pirates. Perhaps their budget was truly dependent on their spoils, but Ves figured that there was definitely more the Swordmaidens than what the shallow records had revealed.

Almost every outfit involved in this game had a backer propping them up. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been so desperate to obtain the life-prolonging doses.

If not for themselves, why compete for it in the first place? This property was far too hot to be sold to someone else.

From what Ves could gather up to now, there were at least four players in the game.

One had to be a senior official from the Bright Republic. That person wielded enough power to direct the Flagrant Vandals.

The player behind the Masters of Combat had to be a Vesian, though not necessarily a Venidsan.

The player depending on Lydia's Swordmaidens had to be a part of the moderate faction of the Reinald Republic.

The identity of the fourth player was the most mysterious. This individual had ties to the terrorists who turned Harkensen I into a hellhole. This was the most thorny player of all, because he displayed the least scruples of all.

 
 


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