Chapter 4552 More Conflicts
Calabast stood in front of a projected map that depicted the border region between the Krakatoa Middle Zone and the Zelmar Upper Zone.
The map conveyed a lot of data. Not only did it show off the relative position of different star systems, they were also accompanied by symbols and labels that showed the events that took place in those locations.
There weren’t many reliable sources of intelligence in this chaotic area, but the Black Cats were more than up to the tasks. The large number of a.n.a.lysts, experts and investigators that Calabast had recruited over the years were truly doing their best to prove they had been worth all of the investment.
As Ves employed multiple instances of his attention to absorb and process the huge amount of information conveyed by the map, he felt that he hadn’t wasted all of the MTA credits he poured into the Black Cats.
Sure, the Larkinson Clan spent a disproportionate share of its budget on the Black Cats and other intelligence services, but he knew that this was pretty much the only way to acquire a reasonably competent and reliable spy agency within a decade.
Trying to take it slow and prioritizing savings over results would only land him in trouble. He could point to many incidents in the past where stumbling blindly into hotspots had resulted in close shaves and heartstopping incidents.
As Ves rapidly processed all of the intelligence processed by the Black Cats, a separate thread of attention took a step back and looked at the situation on a more galactic scale.
“The frequency of combat has increased by at least 15 times over the last two months.” He remarked. “What I find curious is that it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. The trend is continuing to rise at a faster rate. The pioneers can’t blame it on the aliens either. The vast majority of open conflict in the border region are intrahuman battles.”
Calabast nodded in agreement. “People are starting to get antsy, Ves. Not a sign of Lord Pearian Yorul-Tavik has been found so far. The only clues that the pioneers who descended in this area have managed to uncover are sporadic battle wreckage that signify the pa.s.sing of an increasingly less impressive first-cla.s.s pioneering fleet. It doesn’t help that not all of the wreckage can be attributed by Lord Pearian’s doomed attempt to stride across the Red Ocean like those explorers from those cliche adventure dramas.”
“Well, that certainly isn’t stopping all of these pioneers from beating each other up. New arrivals are constantly pouring in from multiple directions, which will increase the concentration of pioneering forces in this border region even further. That will inevitably lead to more scuffles between different forces.”
The Golden Skull Alliance had already noticed this to an extent. Even though the expeditionary fleet had already traveled fairly deep into the border region, it was not strange to enter a star system that was already occupied by one or multiple pioneering fleets.
The good news was that most of them were located at least multiple light-hours away. They had reached this destination from a different direction and star system, which meant they were unlikely to drop right on top of the Golden Skull Alliance and vice versa.
Back in the old galaxy, this meant that battle was extremely unlikely to erupt so long as one side did not wish to fight.
It took a lot of time for one fleet to intercept another fleet in the same star system. No matter how fast the former traveled, their sub-light propulsion systems were unable to traverse faster than the speed of light.
Light was information. The emissions released by the fast approach of an entire fleet was like igniting a bonfire in the dark.
The target of this aggressive approach would most definitely pick up on these emissions and figure out that they were about to get into trouble.
The potential victim therefore had plenty of time to turn around and flee to a Lagrange point or the edge of the outer system where they could safely depart the star system with the help of their FTL drives.
The strengths and limitations of conventional faster-than-light drives pretty much determined the rules and frequency of combat in the Milky Way.
Pitched battles were relatively rare unless an aggressor collected enough information about a target and set up an ambush beforehand.
The other instances where pitched battles took place was where the defending side was anch.o.r.ed to a single site, for example a planet or a s.p.a.ce station.
Those rules no longer applied in the Red Ocean.
As the annotated map clearly showed, the amount of battles that took place in this part of the new frontier vastly exceeded the amount of combat that would have erupted in any part of the old galaxy!
Even though Ves had already acclimated to the Red Ocean for over half a decade, he still found it difficult to reorient himself to this new and much more violent reality.
The existence of warp drives and superdrives no longer guaranteed safety to fleets in s.p.a.ce.
The ability to travel faster than the speed of light in reals.p.a.ce meant that looking at emissions no longer provided sufficient advance warning!
Just like how thunder lags behind thunder, the actual approach of a threatening fleet could precede the arrival of its emissions!
All of this meant that the expeditionary fleet constantly had to maintain a higher-than-average state of readiness. Ambushes coming out of nowhere was always a small but distinct possibility.
The only reliable way to defend against such opportunistic a.s.saults was to build up as much deterrence as possible.
“It’s too bad the Third Fleet of the Adelaide Mercenary Company said goodbye to us.” Ves sighed. “We formed a much greater deterrence against other pioneering fleets when we had twice as much mechs, expert mechs and ace mechs at our disposal.”
Calabast chuckled as she scratched Lucky’s ears. The lazy cat had jumped into her arms as usual.
“The security risks of traveling in close proximity to a fleet that is almost on par with ours are too great. I am much more at ease now that those mercenaries have finally taken their upgraded equipment and left our side. We don’t have the capabilities to learn whether the Adelaides secretly contacted their buddies and had them converge upon our coordinates in order to tear us down.”
Ves grimaced at the possibility. He could see on the map that incidents like this comprised at least 10 percent of the battles that had erupted in the border region. Friends could turn into enemies within a heartbeat as long as there was any sign of vulnerability.
Trust was in awfully short supply in the Red Ocean.
“I understand. For what it is worth, I agree that it is probably for the best, especially now that we have found a more solid trace of the mission objective.”
His lips curled into a smirk. With the Palace of Shame behind it, the expeditionary fleet had finally traveled deep enough for Ylvaine to determine the direction that could bring him closer to the missing scion of the Yorul-Tavik Clan.
Calabast looked a little more skeptical. “For all of the intelligence at my disposal, I have found very few clues that suggest that Lord Pearian is hiding in the star systems that are located in this direction. I don’t mean to question the accuracy of a prophecy made by one of your so-called design spirits, but are you sure it is reliable? I have no way to tell as I am completely in the dark about the capabilities of these ‘spiritual ent.i.ties’.”
Though Calabast was a highly competent spymaster that Ves was lucky to have on his staff, her lack of understanding of the more mystical and esoteric side of reality was becoming a growing hindrance.
Her lack of spiritual potential meant that Ves couldn’t employ an easy method to activate her spirituality and help her develop at least a rudimentary awareness of the forces that he contended with for many years.
For now, Calabast would have to wait if she wanted an upgrade. The most promising method to impart spiritual potential to mundane individuals was the Empowered Blood Sharing System, and that only applied to mech pilots for the time being.
Ves still needed to complete his revision of the Blood Knight Project and instruct the Larkinson Biotech Inst.i.tute to grow a batch of experimental biomechs to verify the viability of the Blood Pact.
So long as the Blood Pact worked as advertised, Ves would immediately be able to proceed with follow-up experiments!
“How long will it take for our fleet to reach the coordinates where Lord Pearian is presumably hiding?”
“We are not certain about that.” Calabast said as Lucky meowed for more attention. She obliged and stroked his slender metal back. “Ylvaine only gave us a rather imprecise direction. The lack of precision meant that we must consider all of the star systems in an expanding cone in front of our s.h.i.+ps as potential destinations. Depending on how many light-years you are willing to consider, we are easily talking about hundreds if not thousands of star systems.”
Many of them were rather obscure and worthless, but those tended to be the best hiding places.
Ves frowned deeper as the projected map changed by visualizing the expanding cone.
“If Ylvaine can only determine a direction but not the distance, then we can a.s.sume that Lord Pearian is not too close to us. We can dismiss the nearest star systems. That still leaves us with a lot of remaining possibilities, but I don’t think the man is too far from us either. Ylvaine would have a much harder time picking him up if that was the case.”
The narrow front and the wide back of the cone disappeared at Calabast’s direction. This left the two with ‘only’ a couple of hundred star systems that were reasonably cl.u.s.tered together.
“I guess the best way to proceed forward is to travel through the center of this shortened cone and ask for course corrections from Ylvaine.” Ves surmised.
The spymaster nodded. “Those are our thoughts as well. We estimate that it will take two to four weeks to arrive in the right star system. It may take longer if there are any complications.”
“Friction with other pioneering fleets, for example.” Calabast said. “Even though the concentration of other forces within this cone is lower than in the periphery of the border region, the odds of having company in the same star system is fairly high. If we are particularly unlucky, then we might not be able to rescue Lord Pearian Yorul-Tavik without the presence of a third party.”
“Ugh. I can see how that can be troublesome. We’ll figure out a solution if that scenario comes to pa.s.s. We can always hope the destination star system will be empty.”
Calabast’s flat look showed how confident she was that this would happen.
? “Is there other news I should take note of?” Ves asked.
“Yes. There is one important development that you should take into account.” Calabast waved her arm at the far side of the cone. “The Zelmar Upper Zone is rather close if we continue to go forward. While the chances are small, we may encounter a first-cla.s.s pioneering fleet or two. Not all of them will contain as many s.h.i.+ps as ours, but even a small gathering of s.h.i.+ps and mechs can pose a life-threatening danger to our troops.”
Ves dismissively shrugged. “It should be fine. The Big Two heavily cracks down on first-raters dropping by the middle zones in order to bully the weak. Besides, my relations.h.i.+p with the MTA should deter these strangers from starting any trouble.”
“And if that is not enough?”
“Well, we can only fight hard, I guess.” Ves morosely said. “The casualties will inevitably be great, but we will take down as many b.a.s.t.a.r.ds with us as we can. Between our battle formations, our blessed weapons and the Mars, we might even have a shot of winning the battle.”
Although the disparity between the Golden Skull Alliance and a genuine first-cla.s.s mech force was still great, Ves no longer harbored as much fear towards the latter!
With each new innovation, Ves was steadily closing the gap between himself and the first-raters.
Though it would take many more years before he and his clan could reach this impressive level, it was no longer as unattainable as before!
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