The Mech Touch Chapter 866 Fallible Leader
Ves glanced at the data pad in his armored hands. "Chief Glayce Retton-Fukumoto, is it?"
The grey-haired man gestured with his cuffed hands. "Just call me Glayce."
"Chief Glayce…" Ves stared at the face of the man who knew his ultimate fate. Against such a self-conscious man, lying wouldn't accomplish anything. "Unfortunately, there is very little animus among the Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordmaidens to extend any mercy to your forces. Neither your Caged nor your Red Tong allies have given us any reason to spare any of you. All I can say is that you played your games but lost."
A fatalistic mood struck the captive chief technician.
Glayce laughed to himself before cursing his commanding officer. "Our friggin' Sub-Boss Scornburned led us all to our doom. He insisted on continuing on this wild goose chase. It's all because of him that the Caged entered into an alliance with the filthy Red Tongs despite all of the protests from the rank-and-file."
"Tell us more about Sub-Boss Scornburned."
"We all thought he acted on orders of the main organization at first. However, we slowly found out that he never received any instructions from the Roppo Principality. All of the wild decisions he took, he did so by himself! Ever since we allied with the Red Tongs, it all went downhill for us. We Caged possessed a lot of pride, but the longer we hitched up with the awful pirates, the more our standards degraded."
Glayce proceeded to ramble a bit about all the atrocities and stupid decisions the Caged undertook under the incitement of their erstwhile allies. To Ves, it sounded as if the Caged never enjoyed an equal position in this alliance. The Red Tongs fielded significantly more mechs, leveraged their superiority in strength and numbers to dictate the running of the alliance.
"Did Sub-Boss Scornburned do anything to fight for the rights of the Caged?"
"What did he care?" An apathetic Glayce shrugged. "The Sub-Boss increasingly hung out with the Red Tongs instead of our own folk. He might as well transplant an alien red tongue in his mouth, because I know for sure he participated in their depraved 'feasts'."
The chief technician didn't elaborate on what happened at the feasts. He didn't need to. Anything associated with the Red Tongs likely wouldn't be anything pleasant.
Ves turned his attention elsewhere. "Since your ground forces landed on this planet, did you ever develop a long-term plan to survive on the planet?"
"Not really." Glayce shrugged. "Even if some of us voiced concerns since the start, Scornburned didn't listen as long as it came with a price. Since he acted outside the orders of our main organization, he couldn't access the regular funds. He had to seek alternate sources of funding."
"Where did he get the money to equip the mechs with gravitic backpacks?"
"Some murky money source, I don't know. I'm not in charge of the finances. Now that you mentioned it, I think Scornburned was acting on the orders of someone else. There's no other reason why he pushed us to travel all the way out of our comfort zone and all the way into the deep frontier."
When Ves questioned Chief Glayce about this mysterious backer, the chief technician really couldn't tell them anything. The Caged might not treat their chief technicians as outright slaves, but they didn't enjoy a high position either. Most of the stories Glayce passed on mostly consisted of rumors rather than first-hand accounts.
"So what's up with the dwarves?" Ves asked instead.
"Well, despite our warnings, Sub-Boss Scornburned and the Red Tongs insisted on landing on this planet with inadequate supplies. We didn't have a lot of orbit-to-surface transport capacity as most of our flying transports wouldn't survive orbital entry. So we mostly did our thing in the first few weeks, and then our fleet got blasted to kingdom come."
"We didn't expect your spaceborn forces to suffer such retaliation either." Ves spoke. "Who knew that the Starlight Megalodon still possessed teeth?"
"Well, ever since then, all hell broke loose as far as we were concerned. We were homeless and no longer possessed an avenue for retreat. The only possible hope we could come up with was to seek our salvation at the Starlight Megalodon. Since the crashed battleship is functional enough to fire an antimatter torpedo, she must surely have some shuttles or transports, right?"
Ves doubted it, but it wasn't as if the Caged Tongs could ask the Flagrant Swordmaidens or any of the other rival forces for a ride home. "Your ground forces didn't have enough supplies to make it to the Starlight Megalodon, right?"
"Right. We warned the officers plenty of times, but Scornburned continued to hang out with the Red Tongs. Each time he came back from their revelries, it's like he lost a couple more brain cells. He always came back jacked up with highly potent stimulants and a belly full of booze. Our doctors had to flush out his bloodstream of intoxicants every day."
"So what does this do have the dwarves?"
"Well, even if the Red Tongs did their best to ignore reality, the strange phenomenon that causes our mechs to malfunction at an increasing rate along with our dwindling material stockpiles finally alarmed the stupid pirates. After weeks of arguing, they finally decided that if they can't make use of mechs anymore, we'd make use of the locals instead."
The Caged Tongs ambushed several large dwarf tribes and forcefully wrested control over them. While the dwarves and wild gods resisted at first, the handful of exobiologists in their midst eventually cooked up a bunch of addicting mind-altering substances that turned them into pliable slaves.
Ves frowned at that. "Our exobiologists have barely managed to formulate intoxicants that work on the hardy dwarves and wild gods. How come your scientists managed to
"The Red Tongs have a lot of practice." Glayce said. "This isn't their first rodeo. Besides, synthesizing extreme stimulants is one of their side businesses. They have an entire team of pharmacists and chemists at their disposal."
All Ves could say about this was that the Red Tongs only invested in logistics if it gave them their next high. Despite their dependance on mechs, they didn't really invest as much resources and funding as they ought to. Even without the disasters they suffered in this star system, they would have crashed and burned eventually.
What Glayce told him about their efforts at subverting the dwarf tribes in order to eventually form a huge amount of controllable wild gods really sounded ambitious in a way.
It reminded Ves that the other rival forces may be turning to this kind of solution as well, as not everyone possessed the means and capacity to develop and produce a handful of breakdown-proof mechs.
Ves continued to interrogate Chief Glayce about certain particulars, though the man didn't really deliver any notable intelligence. Mayra herself remained silent and let Ves do the talking.
The two may have been able to glean more relevant information from a mech designer instead of a chief technician, but the Caged Tongs didn't bring any of them along.
As the interrogation session came to an end, Glayce made a final request. "Can I ask you something, buddy? When it's finally time to dispose of me, can you allow me to dig my own grave? I'd also appreciate it if I can put a laser beam through my own head instead of letting one of your goons do the job. It's more personal that way."
Ves turned to a security officer that stood guard in the corner of the room. "Please grant Chief Glayce his wish. It's the least that we can do."
"Handing him a laser pistol poses a security risk."
"Just do it out of the way. It's not like a laser pistol can burn through your combat armor, especially if you lock it to a low power setting."
Ves carried a lot of weight within the Flagrant Vandals. Only moments later, the security officer passed on word from his superior that they'd be willing to make an exception.
"Thank you buddy!" Chief Glayce smiled with relief. "You don't know how much this means to us!"
Ves thought the man was too decent to suffer from his superior's misdeeds. Sub-Boss Scornburned deserved most of the blame for subverting the Caged under his command.
This event served as a cautionary tale to Ves. The Caged sounded like decent people from what he heard. Yet the unilateral decisions of an important leader within the gang led them directly into hell where they allied with devils dressed in human skin.
"It's a shame about the Caged." He said as they finished their inspection and returned to their workplaces. "A single bad apple in the wrong place at the wrong time drove tens of thousands of them to their deaths."
Mayra nodded sagely. "Leaders aren't always right. We elevate and worship them when they make the right calls, but we aren't very quick on the uptake when they make mistakes. They're fallible just like us. An organization that relies too much on a single leader is bound to that person's fortunes. The rise and fall of a single leader affects the rest of the organization in the same way."
"Does that apply to the Swordmaidens as well?"
Mayra wordlessly smiled at Ves, but didn't respond with a firm reply.
When Ves returned to the supply train, the Flagrant Swordmaidens already setup camp. They couldn't help it as the sheer amount of damaged mechs and salvage they had to go through necessitated a thorough amount of processing.
Ves deftly went through the damaged mechs and drafted efficient repair plans for each of them. He already had plenty of practice in this kind of work so he did so with admirable skill.
Over the next several weeks, Ves actually spent more time directing the salvage efforts. While the Caged and the Red Tongs mostly piloted garbage mechs, that didn't mean they held nothing of value.
Ves wanted to hoard as many spare parts and rare materials and exotics as he could get his hands on. Even if the Vandals didn't possess a robust recycling operation, Ves hated the thought of leaving any valuables behind.
The Caged Tongs partially met their end because of dwindling supplies. Ves did not wish for the Vandals to suffer the same fate!
All of the work on his lap forced him to put his design project on a temporary hiatus. While he found it regretful that he couldn't spend his time on finishing the Enduring Protector design, what he learned from repairing the Vandal mechs and salvaging the badly-maintained mechs of the Caged Tongs already provided him with a couple of new ideas.
He couldn't wait to add more revisions to his stalled design.
While the repair and salvaging efforts were fully underway, the security officers slowly managed to crack the more stubborn officers of the Caged Tongs.
An alarming piece of news spread among the ranks. The Caged Tongs didn't locate the Flagrant Swordmaidens through their own efforts. Instead, they received a mysterious transmission that provided them with the coordinates of the Flagrant Swordmaidens on the ground!
Someone else incited the Caged Tongs on the warpath!
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"Damnit! If the sneaky bastard can do it once, he can do it again! Someone out there really wants to stop us!"
The Vandals developed the suspicion that whoever pointed the Caged Tongs in their direction didn't actually hope that the pirates would win. No matter how little chance they stood, at the very least the Flagrant Swordmaidens suffered an unavoidable delay.
As the rival forces slowly approached the eye of the storm, they also converged upon each other.
All roads led to the Starlight Megalodon.