The Mech Touch Chapter 436: Left Behind
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The Bright Republic truly transitioned into a war footing by now. Spending on consumer goods decreased while spending on all things related to war ballooned. Prices of basic goods already started to rise as everyone started to stock up on basic goods.
Food, water, weapons and more began to be sold at greater quantities. This came at the cost of luxury goods, whose manufacturers found it increasingly difficult to convince the citizens to spend their money lavishly.
"Will luxury be able to feed me when our planet is blockaded? Will the most fashionable pair of shoes around be able to defend my children if the Vesians want to take them away?"
Most of the newer companies started to go bust while the older, more conservative companies endured. They had gone through this rodeo many times before, and squirreled away lots of liquidity and resources beforehand. This largely mitigated the economic impact on the Bright Republic's economy, though a downturn in activity was inevitable.
Although the Republic did not suffer a lot of material damage in the opening stages of the war, the damage to morale was more significant. Public confidence had taken a large nosedive ever since the 3rd Imodris Legion stomped their boots all over of the Bentheim region.
While the aggressive Vesians didn't have the guts to attack a stronghold, their strategy of attacking many lightly-defended targets succeeded in harming the spirit of the citizens who lived on those same rural planets.
That the Mech Corps never caught up to Lady Amalia's legion before it successfully returned to Vesian space really struck as a blow to the Mech Corps. The will of the people was a very ephemeral entity. It could swing up and down depending on the most notable events.
Right now, everyone went about their lives with their heads bent a little down. Ever since the war broke out, the Vesians had marched through tons of border systems. While the Mech Corps achieved some victories here and there, the larger trend made the Vesians seem as if they were on fire.
The veterans and the elderly knew that this wasn't anything unusual. The Mech Corps purposely drew back their lines and consolidated their defenses. Their counterattack would come sooner or later after the Mech Legion ran out of steam. The Vesians always had a tendency to overextend.
"You ain't seen nothing yet, son. The Vesian bastards don't move as one. Their nobles are a bunch of jackals who only think for themselves. Just you wait. They'll split up eventually."
In the meantime, many planets increased their defenses and started to recruit more militia from the populace, even if they didn't possess the right aptitude to pilot mechs.
Though it was a generally accepted fact that a non-mech force would never be able to defeat a force of mechs, norms still played a vitally important role in many areas. Besides acting in a support capacity, regular humans also fought as infantry or in manned vehicles such as tanks and aircraft.
After all, a mech force was good at destroying things, but they weren't too suitable in occupying conquered planets and couldn't reach everywhere.
Infantry, tanks and aircraft might not play the main role, but they provided an effective form of support to any mech force.
However, recruitment was heavily stymied by the fact that it wasn't very popular to join these branches of service. Pretty much every action drama that have been broadcast in the last four-hundred years depicted them as easily-beaten foils to any enemy mechs that wandered along.
If the citizens wouldn't volunteer, then the state just had to push them along. Already, several waves of conscription swept the populace. They mostly picked up the unemployed youth and young adults who had been laid off when the companies they worked at shuttered their doors or downsized their operations due to the difficult economic conditions.
This further depressed the general mood in the Republic and made it seem awfully empty at times.
On Cloudy Curtain, Calsie watched over the premises of the Mech Nursery. The white-faced office structures blended harmoniously with the trees planted in their midst. They also neatly hid the ugly forms of Sanyal-Ablin's defensive turrets.
She looked a far cry from the college graduate from before. She underwent a minor makeover that made her appear more mature, though the wisps of youth was still present under her makeup. She wore a white power suit that mentally stiffened her spine. She sorely needed all the help she could get in order to browbeat the different interest groups involved with the LMC to comply with her directives.
Somehow, she managed. Running a company as its temporary boss wasn't easy, but she enjoyed plenty of help.
Under her tentative leadership, the company largely followed the same trend as before. The Living Mech Corporation had just expanded its number of production lines from three to five. This allowed the company to produce the silver label Blackbeaks and Crystal Lords without excessively neglecting either of the two highly sought after mech models.
The doors to the penthouse office suddenly opened, allowing Melkor to enter the expansive space. The maturing Larkinson was the only other person besides Calsie who possessed unfettered access to the office that used to be occupied by Ves.
"How is the training coming along, commander?"
"The 'rookies' we've recruited have are starting to show signs of advanced coordination, ma'am. They've always been ready for battle, since we only signed up experienced mech pilots, but it's hard work to get them to unlearn their previous routines and get them to adopt our own."
"Will the Avatars of Myth be able to repel a company of the 5th Vavulan Chasseurs if they come again?"
"Not quite, ma'am. The Chasseurs are a battle-hardened mech pilots with centuries of tradition to guide them. They aren't pushovers and they won't be cowed by the current state of my men. It will take years of training to get to that point. The only edge we have is our advanced mechs."
The Avatars of Myth employed the Crystal Lord in greater numbers than anyone else. Not only did they possess four exclusive gold label copies, they also fielded a whopping twenty silver label Crystal Lords.
Fabricating them all out of the LMC's own pocket cost the company a lot. Almost the entire board of directors howled when Calsie and Melkor came up with the plan, but they pushed through regardless of the pain. At least Grandpa Benjamin remained ambivalent about the matter.
Naturally, the LMC also spent itself broke by expanding their number of production lines. They had no choice but to go further into debt, with the excuse that the company would be better off with the extra defenses.
Though the LMC's mountain of debt had ballooned, the production lines had been put to good use. Mechs started flying off the premises as fast as they could produce, and the extra per-unit licensing fees streaming in from the third-party manufacturers did much to reassure the frazzled Financial Department.
"Do you think we've moved too fast?" Calsie asked as she turned away from the window and its marvellous view. "I've taken the company into a direction that won't make Ves very happy. We're knee-deep in debt and heavily reliant on our partners to keep the sales volume of our prodcut lines high."
Melkor dismissively huffed. "Ves is a little too selfish for his own good. He expects everything to dance at the palm of his hands. I'm not an expert in business, but from what I see, the faster we get things done, the better we're all off. We needed those mechs in our hands as fast as possible."
"Why so? Are the Vesians winning?"
"Not as such. Simply think of it as a contingency. It's better to go into debt and have the mechs ready than the other way around. The previous raid on the Mech Nursery has made that more than clear to me. What does a healthy balance sheet mean against the Mech Legion? No matter how exemplary the LMC handles its finances, it's of little use when civilization gets thrown out the window in order to make way for war. The only thing that counts in a fight is how many mechs and weapons we possess. That's the true measure of wealth in my eyes. Ma'am."
"Excellently said, commander. Money that's sitting in the bank is of no use at all when the Mech Legion comes again. Only money that is spent on increasing our strength can make a difference during wartime." Calsie replied with a smile. She always felt uneasy about her decisions, but Melkor's reasoning provided her with the mental crutch she needed to alleviate her guilt. "I'm sure that Ves won't be pleased if he returns from his tour of service with the Mech Nursery in ruins."
Compared to this piece of mind, dealing with difficult and pushy creditors hardly seemed like a bother to her now. "Why have you come? Our next scheduled meeting is in three days."
"It's about the Crystal Lord. I've finished my own investigation about its… effects."
"Oh? Do tell me the results."
As the mech pilot of one of the coveted gold label Crystal Lord mechs, Melkor possessed a unique opportunity to experience the best of what Ves had fashioned into being.
"Piloting the Crystal Lord is an entire experience. There is nothing routine about this mech. Everything I enter the cockpit and before I even engage the neural interface, I feel as if my mech is already welcoming me home."
"What do you mean? Are you saying that the Crystal Lord is running an AI even in its active state?"
"Nothing like that, ma'am. It's… hard to describe. I can feel from my heart that I belong to my mech, and my mech belongs to me. Even now, I can't bear to be away from my precious mech."
"That sounds unhealthy. Have you checked with the doctors?"
"We have performed more than enough tests to rule out any explicit brainwashing. In that, our investigations concur with the ones done by the Mech Corps and any other pundit who have tested this out."
"Then I don't see what the problem is. Certainly, the reason why you feel addicted to your mech is because it's a really good machine, right?"
"Right. Something like that. My apologies, ma'am. I'm not the best with words."
"No need to apologise. You are doing good work as the commander of a company-sized outfit."
The two discussed a little bit more about the Crystal Lord. Since the Avatars possessed the largest amount of Crystal Lords, they gained a lot of practical insights about the model. Melkor conveyed what they learned to Calsie so she could use the information to tweak the marketing of the product or introduce some other changes.
As they spoke, they kept a respectful distance from each other, both physically and status-wise. For whatever reason, Ves chose to appoint Calsie at the helm, so she took precedence over the mech pilot.
Melkor didn't mind. As long as Calsie did a decent job and avoided steering the LMC into disaster, he wouldn't mind taking orders from her. Of course, he constantly kept his eye on her in the event she took the wrong turn.
"How is the ship component of the Avatars doing? Your force is about to receive the first Trieste-class light carrier from the shipyard, if I recall. Are you prepared?"
"To be honest, no." Melkor shook his head. "We're having difficulty recruiting competent and reliable spacers to staff a single ship, let alone two. Fleet Commander Rofane is doing his best, but the hiring market is practically dried up. Anyone with the skills to serve on a spaceship have already been snapped up by companies and outfits left and right."
"This doesn't sound very good." Calsie frowned. "Can't we hire from abroad?"
"I'm not very keen to hire foreign spacers. The chance of something going wrong is unacceptably high. I'd rather keep the light carriers in a depot collecting dust than rush them into use while they are riddled with hidden threats."
"What does Rofane think?"
"The fleet commander is less than enthused by my opinions. In his view, spacers are spacers. Once they sail the endless night, they have renounced their ties to the land. He's a true-blooded spaceborn ship driver, that's for sure."
Fleet Commander Rofane had been recommended to lead the ship contingent of the Avatars by Captain Silvestra. He was an old but boisterous barrel of a man who worked for several mercenary corps in his lifetime.
Though he was highly competent and his record was straight, he possessed rather strong beliefs about the superiority of spaceborn humans over their landbound counterparts. Keeping the outspoken fleet commander in line was very troublesome to Melkor.
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