Before switching to condition red, the two fleets danced around each other.
The expeditionary fleet centered around the Ark Horizon kept trying to transition into FTL.
In order to bar their way, the Dragons of the Void kept bombarding them with miniature gravity bombs. These bombs did nothing much but radiate a strong local gravity field that quickly tapered off. However, they were cheap to make so thousands of these bombs rained over the expeditionary fleet at any moment.
At its current state, the expeditionary fleet's FTL drives couldn't handle the disturbance. The constant ejection of the bombs was like throwing stones into a formerly placid lake. The ripples that ensued when the stones touched the water prevented the ships from going into FTL.
However, the Dragons of the Void miscalculated. In order to disturb the expeditionary fleet, their own pirate ships had to come fairly close. When Lord Kaine decided to turn his ship straight into the pirates, he surprised everyone but putting the Ark Horizon in the vanguard.
Putting his flagship in the heart of the offensive thrust exposed the valuable ship to significant enemy fire, but also allowed him to use his best ship in the best possible way.
The expeditionary fleet's maneuvers had caught the Dragons of the Void off-guard. Lord Kaine ordered the fleet to close up its formation and assemble into an arrow. The man wanted to pierce straight through the dispersed formation of pirates before they could do the same.
Their disparity in strength became evident after the two fleets collided. The vast distance between each ship ensured no actual collision occurred. However, many spaceborn mechs came into medium or close range to each other, which allowed House Kaine to flex its superior ships and mechs.
The pirates fell short on both firepower and armor. Many pirate vessels simply consisted of civilian transports converted into improvised mech carriers. These ships generally didn't possess exceptional armor and their keels and support structure were never rated to handle heavy abuse.
On the other hand, the ships controlled by House Kaine and their partners boasted thick layers of exotic armor. Each ship cost a fortune, but all of them made it through the thick of the fight with nothing but scratches.
In terms of offense, House Kaine chewed up the pirate fleet with its abundant number of riflemen and cannoneer mechs. They had been equipped to handle the sandmen, so they possessed a large amount of kinetic weaponry such as ballistic rifles and railguns. These weapons possessed a very large punch and were capable of crippling any small-to-medium sized ships in a couple of volleys.
Yet the pirates didn't go down without a fight. After experiencing the ferocity of the forces from the Grey Willow Star Sector, they shifted the bulk of their firepower towards the mercenaries who remained loyal to House Kaine.
The mercenary ships already had to deal with their colleagues who turned their coats. They suffered heavy casualties once they became the focus of the enemy mechs, especially considering that most of them carried mechs kitted out for melee combat.
While George's Cavalry eventually swooped in and came to their rescue, even they couldn't cover every direction. The mercenaries sustained casualties up to around thirty percent.
In the meantime, some pirates went crazy and plunged straight towards the Ark Horizon. The massive ship utilized both her broadside bunkers to lay down a massive field of fire in two directions. Her prodigious firepower disrupted the pirate formation and softened them up to follow-up blows.
While many pirates valued their own lives and tried to fly away, some daredevils running on stimulants dove straight towards the behemoth. The defenders aboard the Ark Horizon focused their fire towards these dangerous lunatics, but some of them managed to get through.
The pirate mech that sneaked into one of the hangar bays made for a sorry sight. It lost an entire arm and much of its torso lost its armor plating. Despite the catastrophic damage, it held on to its laser rifle with its remaining arm and tried to raise it towards a group of bewildered mech technicians.
The mech suddenly crunched into pieces as a dazzling white mech fell on top of its prone form. The newly arrived mech featured a light feminine contour with marvellous red streamers hanging from its head. From the way it collapsed a pirate mech merely by stomping on it, the white mech must be a highly advanced mech.
The white mech flourished its spear, the tip of which glowed in a mysterious white glow. The mech transmitted Captain Kaine's voice to everyone's hazard suits. "Lock down the hangar bay! Close the ramp and man the defense turrets!"
Everyone sprung into action. The huge opening that exposed the hangar bay to space started to close up. Just as the ramp covered the giant gap, another pirate mech appeared and slammed a sword through one of the mechanisms.
The ramp abruptly stopped midway, leaving enough space for more intruders. A handful of pirate mechs that survived the initial barrage flocked to the opening and tried to squeeze into the vulnerable hangar.
The pitfalls of deploying a fleet carrier straight into the fray finally became apparent. In the end, the Ark Horizon lacked the armor coverage and anti-mech defense systems of a true warship.
"Mechs, hold your ground! Repel the invaders!"
A significant amount of House Kaine's mechs remained on standby. All of them mobilized at this moment in order to respond to the new threat.
In the meantime, Melkor raced towards his own mech which had been stowed in the corner since their arrival. His Stanislaw wielded a deadly mid-range laser rifle which could wreak havoc if he recklessly fired the weapon. Thus, as soon as his mech came online, he dialed down the power and aimed carefully before firing at the pirate mechs making a mess of things.
Internal defense turrets came online at this moment and helped repel the pirates. Some enemy mechs collapsed after suffering a couple of blows, while other mechs required much more effort to defeat. All of the latter mechs carried the emblem of a white-and-black dragon's head.
"Turrets, focus on the rabble. Leave the Dragons of the Void to us!"
As the mechs started to fight around the broken ramp, Ves hurriedly sought out Chief Ramirez. The man had hunkered down behind a control terminal. He hastily tried to activate various settings only to encounter error messages.
Ramirez cursed. Everyone on the local channel heard his frustration. "The pirates knew where to strike! The earlier explosion wrecked the primary power channel to the ramp. The damage the pirate mech inflicted to the mechanism shouldn't be able to cripple the ramp if it still had full power!"
Perhaps the random attacks hadn't been so spontaneous. All of the evidence so far pointed out that the local mercs weren't the only ones dealing with questionable loyalties. Still, Ves shook his head. Now was not the time to sniff out any traitors. Ramirez just pointed out an area where he could be of use.
"Calm down!" Ves demanded and put his hands over the chief's broad shoulders. "We have to repair the broken power channel!"
The repair work had to be done out in the open where almost any mech could fire a stray shot at the location. Chief Ramirez didn't dare to send out any men to fix the broken channel. Even if he cut every possible corner, the work would still take over ten minutes of frantic working!
"If the ramp stays open, the pirates will keep pouring in! The longer this goes on, the higher the chance our Ajaxes will suffer damage! I don't need to tell you how much it will set back the expedition. Chief, make a decision. We have to get that ramp moving again!"
Ves had a very good point. Even as the Ark Horizon threaded her way out of the pirate formation, the large amounts of reckless pirates deployed in space ensured that a trickle of enemies would always squeeze through the opening.
The chief gritted his teeth. "Fine!"
The man finally got his head back together and ordered a team of his most solid mech technicians to grab some tools. Meanwhile, Ves and Ramirez entered one of the storehouses and retrieved the materials to replace the broken power channel. They couldn't lift the load by hand, so they piled it on top of a loader bot and brought it with them back to the main hangar.
"Let's go, boys!"
The group of technicians tried their best to remain inconspicuous. They slowly neared the main entrance of the hangar and entered the area affected by the initial explosion. The wounded had already been retrieved while the dead still lingered where their breaths snuffed out.
Most of the dead wore simple vacuum suits covered with simple work coveralls that provided them with an abundant amount of pockets. They provided little protection against a serious blast like the one that broke the power channel. Ves felt a little queasy walking past the unfortunate dead.
Lucky on the other hand revelled in his newfound freedom. The harness had irritated him for weeks, preventing him from running around without restriction. Now that Ves had cut off his bonds, he eagerly took the lead and made sure that the repair team encountered no other threats.
Too bad he couldn't help if a pirate mech decides to shoot in their direction. Ves might survive on account of his shield generator, but everyone else only had their hazard suits to protect their bodies.
Once they reached the affected portion, Ves and a number of competent technicians turned on their plasma cutters and separated the wrecked portion of the power channel.
They worked for several minutes, trusting their comrades to cover their back. Melkor in particular shot at every mech who turned their weapons to the work team, drawing attention away from their vital effort to secure the hangar.
Captain Kaine also intervened with her top quality machine. Unfortunately, her mech lacked a flight system and had to borrow a spare ballistic rifle in order to fight back against the pirates.
While she might be an excellent warrior with a spear, her marksmanship barely sufficed. Many of her shots missed her target and traveled on to hit the deck or bulkhead. Despite her abysmal hit rate, she succeeded in distracting the pirates, causing them to forget about the puny humans who worked out in the open.
Everyone in the repair team made brisk progress trying to improvise a new channel. They couldn't afford to go through a checklist of procedures. They merely settled for a crude and improvised channel that would hold up to the stress of channeling a significant amount of power. It already sounded good if it lasted for an hour before burning out.
"Skip the safeties! Work faster! Don't wait for the couplings to settle in. Just skip to the next part!"
While Ves possessed a vast amount of theoretical knowledge, the best mech technicians surpassed him in handling the tools and conducting the actual repairs. The mech designer had been pushed in a supervisory capacity and made sure the mech technicians took the right actions to repair the power channel quickly.
Several minutes flew by as the ugly-looking kludge took shape. Once the power channel finally took shape, Ramirez raced to the nearest console and forcibly tried to order the ramp to close.
The half-broken ramp shook, then abruptly moved as its remaining mechanisms powered through. The few remaining pirate mechs tried but failed to sabotage the ramp again. Reinforcements arrived just in time to contain the rogue mechs.
The ramp finally slid shut and powerful locks kept the heavy cover in place. The hangar bay now enjoyed as much protection as the rest of the ship.
The repair team led by Ves and Chief Ramirez collapsed on the ground. The stress of working under fire completely drained their energy. After giving everyone a minute of rest, Ramirez started to kick his men up their feet.
"Get up! This is no time to sleep! We still have work to do!"
The battle wasn't over yet. The Ark Horizon paid a significant price in her attempt to cut the pirate formation in half. While the expeditionary fleet succeeded in disintegrating the enemy formation, a lot of ships and mechs suffered various amounts of damage in turn.
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