342 Citadel Havensworth
The Havensworth Star System was one of the most important and strategic locations in the wars between the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom. Situated right at the border between the two warring states, the fortified star system played an essential role in curtailing the advances of the aggressive Vesians.
People once said that the Bright Republic couldn't exist without this star system.
"The Vesia Kingdom is larger and more prosperous than the Bright Republic. The only reasons why we haven't lost to them is because their nobles are constantly stabbing each other's backs and because Havensworth is tying down a large portion of the Mech Legion."
Most star systems of note consisted of a number of stars and some orbiting planets along with a couple of asteroid belts or clouds. What made Havensworth extraordinarily hard to invade was due to its two peculiar properties.
As a binary star system, it consisted of two stars, a bigger one and a smaller one. The bigger one was a giant, which made it easier to travel to from a longer distance. Besides radiating a lot of electromagnetic radiation, it also ejected a fair amount of stellar wind, which made the entire Havensworth System a hazardous place for ships.
Any invaders attempting to conquer the system's sole inhabited planet had to endure the grinding stellar winds that constantly emerged from the giant star. The strength of the stellar wind varied from time to time. Even a capital ship would buckle in front of the strongest winds.
The giant's larger mass also widened the star system's gravitic field, which meant that a hostile fleet emerged out of FTL from a much larger distance. This provided the defenders with ample time to respond to the new presence. It also made it harder for the losers of a conflict to run away into FTL.
If that wasn't bad enough, the smaller star emitted a strange disruptive field that blocked all means of communicating through a quantum entanglement node. This effectively meant that anyone that went inside would be isolated from the rest of the galaxy. No form of communication could reach any ship of base in the disruptive star's influence.
Such stars were rare, but the Bright Republic happened to have occupied it before the Vesians could get their claws on it. Ever since then, the Bright Republic always managed to hang on to the Havensworth Star System no matter how much they'd been pressed.
The Mech Corps turned the largest rocky planet in the system into a veritable fortification. Havensworth II or Citadel Havensworth formed the nucleus of the Republic's defense against the Vesians. Although the citadel planet lacked any signs of life, the Mech Corps comprehensively transformed its underground terrain into a deep and exquisite set of fortifications.
It was virtually impregnable from above. The only way to crack this shell was to utilize taboo weapons or to invade the tunnels with a crushing amount of mechs.
An illustrious member of the Larkinsons commanded over the largest and most important bases underneath the surface. With Colonel Ark Larkinson holding the fort, the mech pilots of the Mech Corps would never give in to despair.
"So long as the Magnificent Knight still draws breath inside these tunnels, the Republic shall never fall!"
The Vesian Mech Legion had never succeeded in taking over the citadel planet, but they often tried again with each war. They faced a lot of difficulties due to the lack of instant communication and the stellar winds that pounded their ships.
Only heavily armored ships would be able to linger in the star system, and only up to a month or so. This forced the Vesians to divert much of their precious capital ships to the Havensworth System, leaving their lightly armored transports and logistic ships behind.
The Mech Corps on the other hand built up an enormous stockpile of supplies in their underground bases. They could comfortably hold the citadel planet for a decade, tying down their adversaries without any help from the rest of the Republic.
Right now, the Vesians pressed the Havensworth Star System with two divisions worth of fleet carriers and mechs. They destroyed the space stations that orbited the various planets in the system before proceeding to surround the citadel planet in a wide orbit.
They stopped short at invading the dreaded fortified planet. Even though its exterior looked as barren as any lifeless rocky planet, an extensive reinforced tunnel network ran many kilometers underneath.
They stretched for thousands of kilometers in every direction, branching out and converging back together in a random pattern meant to obfuscate even their own designers. Not a single Brighter possessed a complete map of the tunnels.
Furthermore, the Bright Republic collapsed and rebuilt the entire tunnel network after every war. This meant that the Vesians had to send out scouting parties to map out the upper levels of the tunnel at the onset of each new war.
Such an operation took several years to complete. The Vesians had already become familiar with this time consuming task, so they spared no time in starting their mapping operations.
Dozens of mech squads emerged from the fleet carriers and quickly dove to the surface of the rocky planet. They had to enter the planet's magnetic field as fast as possible in order to shield their frames against the stellar winds that occasionally penetrated closer to orbit.
The aerial mechs did not require any assistance in descending onto the planet, though they needed help getting back up into orbit, which the fleet carriers would send out after they completed their mission.
Once the squads of aerial mechs reached the surface, they fanned out towards the underground entrances the ships in orbit had already spotted.
One squad consisted of mechs from the Grand Chasers regiment. As a squad of light mechs, they excelled in scouting duties such as this. They swiftly flew inside the tunnels and mapped out the interior in rapid tempo.
The Mech Corps quickly sent out their own response. A squad of mechs from the 6th Stellar Lancers Regiment emerged from an underground hatch. A mix of twelve light and medium aerial mechs flew out to block the Vesians from going any deeper.
The two squads encountered each other a couple of minutes later. The initial clash went poorly for the Grand Chasers as they struggled to dodge the incoming Lancers.
At least half of the squad from the Stellar Lancers consisted of spearman mechs. Their mechs had all been designed to pierce through anything in their way.
The dreadful opening clash heavily damaged two hapless light mechs from the Grand Chasers. The subsequent battle turned into a brief and intensive dogfight until the Vesian interlopers finally managed to turn the other way around, dragging their damaged mechs with them as they fled like rats.
The Stellar Lancers tried to catch up to their prey but it was to no avail.
"Tch. They're too fast. The Grand Cowards are only good at running away."
Skirmishes like these happened every day. Due to the abundance of tunnels in Havensworth II, some of the scouts penetrated deeper into the tunnels before they met any opposition. It couldn't be helped as the Mech Corps only had so many mechs to spread around.
The scouts emerged from the tunnels a handful at a time. They converged on the heavily armored transports that had been sent out from the fleet carriers in orbit. The mechs filed into the transports which brought them back to their ships.
This pattern repeated again and again as the Vesians sent out squad after squad. The operation only stopped when the fleet carriers had to escape the brutal stellar winds that wore down its exterior armor.
Fleets from both sides occasionally dropped in, but they never stuck around for long.
Compared to the tame battles that took place on Citadel Havensworth, the other border systems encountered a lot more grief.
Cities burned while civilians fled to underground shelters as the Mech Legion overran the token defenses put up by the poor and underdeveloped border systems.
Frankly, the star systems situated at the border of the two states had changed their allegiance so often that the inhabitants possessed no intrinsic loyalty to either powers.
Someone's parents might have grown up onder Vesian rule while they themselves grew up under Brighter rule.
Everyone born in these border systems had become used to shifting their loyalties at the drop of a hat. Once the fighting died down, the garrisons shamelessly pledged to serve the Vesians while the citizens welcomed the occupying infantry forces as liberators.
"Down with the Republic!"
"Long live the Vesian King!"
Even though the Mech Legion easily occupied these border systems, they held no strategic value at all. They offered very little wealth and except for a paltry amount of taxes. Instead, they acted as a drag on the Vesia Kingdom. In order to hold on to the systems and push up the frontlines, they had to allocate a significant amount of mechs to hold these worthless territories.
The Vesians didn't dare to be too negligent in occupying these systems, because the Mech Corps sometimes used them as outposts in their counterattacks in past wars.
These were actually just the opening moves in the war. Both sides knew that the war would drag on for at least three to four years. In order to smooth the way for the subsequent years, the Republic and the Kingdom both held back the bulk of their strength. A pitched battle so early in the war benefited neither side, especially since they recently slugged it out at the tail end of the Glowing Planet campaign.
Across the entire Republic, the drums of war began to beat its citizens into action. Several potentates that pursued civilian lives had been called up by the Mech Corps. They enjoyed a lot of privileges in times of peace, but in exchange they signed up as reservists. Every citizen who could pilot a mech had to be ready to fight for their state.
A handful of reservists protested their reassignment during each and every war. They had become inured to the indolent life as civilians. They became scared at the prospect of piloting mechs in the middle of an active war zone.
"Don't take me away! I can do better at home!"
"Unhand me, you uncouth barbarians! I am a potentate! It's illegal to touch me!"
"My skills are atrophied! I'm hardly fit to pilot a mech these days!" A portly man squealed.
An armored infantryman bashed the potentate with the butt of his rifle. "Oh shut up. You spoiled potentates are always hollering the same things. Man up for once in your life and accept your duty!"
"What duty?! I never wanted to be a soldier! I'll faint at the sight of blood!"
The fat man received another thunk on his head.
"Hehe, we don't care. By the time you've gone through your remedial training, you'll get used to seeing buckets of blood. Take this lard ball away!"
Alongside potentates, the Republic also drafted plenty of norms. Every war nowadays centered around mechs, but there was still a place for infantry in order to manage occupied or liberated territories. Mechs also needed a lot of servicing from support personnel, and turrets and vehicles had to be manned as well.
Right now, the level of mobilization had only reached an early state. Even as the Republic shifted its society into war footing, it had to do so with care in order to prevent an overall collapse of its economy.
Only a handful of sectors thrived during a war. Mech manufacturers benefited most as long as long as their designs had merit. Their suppliers also did good business so long they could operate their mines without interruption.
The Vesians knew this very well, and sent out a handful of deep strike fleets to harass their adversary's infrastructure.
As a center of Republican industry and commerce, Bentheim often received the brunt of these raids.
But that was a story for another day, for the Barracuda had finally reached her destination after more than a week of travel.