457 Split Up
Battles between two hostile fleets had always been rare even during the golden age of warships. Space was too vast and ships moved at a snail's pace compared to the scale of an average star system. Though technology advanced and ships these days traversed a lot faster than their predecessors from the Age of Conquest, it was safe to say not a lot of battles actually took place.
The main reason why was because fleets often saw each other coming. Space was empty, so therefore an approaching enemy would always be spotted many hours before they actually arrived at their targets.
Accounting for the lag due to the speed of light needing time to travel from the outer system to the inner system couldn't be applied. A well-defended star system was littered with sensors that relayed their up-to-date readings to a hidden quantum entanglement node that instantly sent the observations to the inner system.
Basically, surprise attacks were rare and hard to pull off. Most battles in space happened because the two sides thought they both stood a chance of winning it. Once a side believed that they didn't stand a chance of winning the impending battle, they wouldn't hesitate to cut and run.
"Cowards!" Major Verle swore and slammed his fist against the armrest of his command chair. A myriad of projections appeared before his eyes. He studied them rapidly before issuing new commands.
In the meantime, the flagship of the Vandals relayed new deployments. The Vandals would split off as many ships as it took to run down each escaping Vesian vessel and crush them into bits. Due to the differences in speed, the Vandals would still be able to go after the individual ships. It would just take a lot more time and bring some of their ships off-course.
"The Vesians are delaying the inevitable." Alloc explained to Ves. Though Ves had seen a lot more action on the ground, Alloc had sat in a command center for more than two-dozen times in his career. "Splitting up their fleet is a test of our priorities. While the Vesians are letting us mop them up one by one, they're forcing us to spread out mech forces thin. One of our combat carriers won't be enough to defeat one of the Vesian combat carriers without sustaining severe losses."
"So we are sending out two ships in pursuit of each Vesian ship?"
"Exactly. That's the only way we can insure a crushing victory with very few losses."
Already, the Vandals started to redeploy. Many combat carriers split up from the main fleet and spread out into pairs. Each pair moved to intercept the frantic Vesian combat carriers.
While their defeat wasn't in question, the delay they imposed on their timetables meant that the Vandals suffered a very consequential setback. They only had four days at most to accomplish their objective and be on their way out before the Vesian reinforcements arrived.
"How long will we be delayed if we try to stick to the plan?"
"Not sure." Alloc grunted. "I'm not an expert in complex space maneuvers. At a guess, I would say that if the Vandals are keen on sticking together, we might be delayed by as much as half a day."
This placed a decent amount of pressure over Colonel Lowenfield's shoulders. Either she would wait until they completely chased down the Vesians and annihilated them, or she would decide to split up the fleet into three.
Two of the detachments would move towards the two inhabited planets as planned, but the third detachment that consisted of the chasers would linger in the outer system until they completely mopped up the garrison fleet. After that, they should return to the other two detachments as fast as possible, but due to the differences in relative speeds, it would take a while for them to catch up.
At the very least, the stragglers wouldn't be able to assist the other two detachments as they initiated their battles against the remnant loyalist forces on those planets.
Ves did not envy Lowenfield's position. Both choices came with a lot of risks that could make or break this bold assault.
"What would you choose to do, sir?"
"I'd take the safe option and stick together. There's no guarantee that the intelligence that the rebels have gathered is accurate. The Vesians might have buried a hidden base somewhere, and offer a stiffer resistance than we expected."
Too many things could go wrong during this operation. What Alloc mentioned was only one of the ways in which the battle could turn against their favor. Ves thought back on the rebels and questioned whether they would truly be able to suppress the loyalist forces that were keen to root them out. It was an unquestioned fact that the rebels would never be able to subvert the mech pilots. They enjoyed too much privilege to turn against the local regimes.
Eventually, Colonel Lowenfield came to a decision. New orders showed up which stated that the rest of the Vandal fleet would continue according to schedule, but with around six-hundred Vandal mechs less.
The Stubby Growler took on an important role within second detachment that headed towards Detemen IV. The command center buzzed and grew busy as they tried to coordinate their formation after the loss of vital spaceborn assets. Missing a few hundred mechs put a severe dent into their defensive envelope.
As the larger offshoot of the Vandals raced towards Detemen IV, Ves and Alloc paid a keen amount of attention to the relentless chase.
The garrison fleet might have been able to divert some of the Vandals, but they payed a grievous price for it. With each ship looking out for themselves, they all faced twice as much mechs.
For the first time in his life, Ves finally witnessed the Inheritors in action in a live battle. Even as he kept his eyes on the live footage, he also kept analyzing the readings that continued to pour in. With his help, the AIs refined their identification and determined the exact mech models used by the Vesian garrison fleet.
"They're goners for sure." Alloc remarked as he beheld the list of mech models. "All of these are second-line designs. They're cheap and haven't been updated in years."
The battles that ensued underscored the disparity in strength. Each fleeing Vesian combat carrier fell behind in terms of the quantity and quality of mechs they could deploy.
The Vandals employed their advantages as hard as possible. Hordes of Inheritors sprung from the hangar bays and raced around the the trajectory of their prey, seeking to cut off its escape route.
Their extremely high speeds allowed them to outpace the best efforts of the fleeing ships. In the meantime, the Hellcats accompanied by a diverse menagerie of mechs stolen from Vesian factories and depots harried their rear.
Pincered from behind and in front, the ships futilely tried to wriggle out their way, but failed.
"The first ship is already going down!"
The first battle that broke out ended the fastest as well. The Inheritors straightforwardly slammed into the formation of of the Vesian garrison mechs just as they focused on repelling the Hellcats and the other Vandal mechs.
It was then that Ves witnessed the true value of the Inheritors. If given enough assistance, the Inheritors wouldn't suffer too much as they approached their targets. Once they got into melee range, they would make mincemeat out of practically every spaceborn mechs.
Only a handful of knights and other melee mechs lasted a little longer against the Inheritors, but the fall of their ranged mechs quickly led to being piled up multitudes of Inheritors.
"They're like a hive of angry bees." Ves softly uttered. "Individually, they're weak. Together, they are strong."
Their speed and swarming potential lent themselves well in these pursuits. Multitudes of Vesian carriers self-destructed as soon as it became clear that they wouldn't get away. Naturally, their captains issued evacuation orders beforehand. Thousands of escape pods flung into every direction just before the carriers exploded.
Ves keenly looked on to see what the Vandals decided to do with the escape pods. Would they capture the fleeing Vesians, shoot at their defenseless pods or leave them be?
Major Verle sent out a message to another commander. "Ignore the escape pods. We don't have time to process them. Get back to us as soon as possible."
As the first battle ended in a tedious but predictable victory, the second detachment had almost reached the vicinity of Detemen IV. More information started to pour into their terminals as their rebel allies supplied more data over their quantum entanglement nodes.
The current status looked worse than expected.
[MTA FORTRESS: PASSIVE. NO SIGNS OF INTERVENTION.]
[LUNAR FORTRESS: UPRISING QUELLED. REBELLION SUFFERED HEAVY CASUALTIES. MANY VESIAN MECHS REMAIN OPERATIONAL. SUPPLIES DESTROYED OR SABOTAGED.]
[MECH RESEARCH BASE: INTACT. NO ATTEMPTS MADE TO OVERRUN THE RESEARCH BASE DUE TO INABILITY TO OVERRUN THE LUNAR FORTRESS. DEFENSES ARE LIGHT, BUT PREPARED.]
[DETEMEN IV: HEAVY RIOTING IN EVERY POPULATION CENTER. MANY MECH REGIMENTS HAVE BEEN TAKEN DOWN, BUT REBEL FORCES ARE EXHAUSTED. CHAOS AND ANARCHY IS SPREADING DUE TO FAILING SERVICES. LORD JAVIER HAS GONE INTO HIDING. UNABLE TO ASCERTAIN LOCATION, BUT EVERY SHUTTLE OR SHIP THAT ATTEMPTS TO ASCEND IS SHOT DOWN.]
The news spread to the rest of the command center as well, causing everyone to frown. Major Verle chewed over the issue for a moment before hardening his eyes. "If we delay even once, we'll rapidly fall behind, and it will be impossible to meet our goals set out for this operation. Continue forward and maintain course!"
A new series of orders spread to the mechs that would soon be deployed to finish the jobs that the rebels hadn't managed to complete. Though the rebels ran out steam a lot faster than anticipated, the Flagrant Vandals had never counted on their allies to do the heavy lifting.
What the rebels accomplished so up to this point gave the vandals enough of an opening to drive through a wedge. Their first concern was the lunar fortress on the second moon.
"Go over the battle logs the rebels has sent us and determine the weaknesses of the surviving Vesian mechs. Find a way to topple them in a single blow!"
Ves naturally joined Alloc into scouring through the logs and battle footage. They encountered a lot of difficulties in this because the rebels hadn't exactly been stellar at maintaining logs. Many of the pieces they sent to the Vandals came in fragments, as some of the data had to be salvaged from corpses of wrecks.
Nevertheless, the footage painted a fairly simple picture of the defending forces. "They started out with half a mech regiment of House Eneqqin's household troops. They sustained a lot of losses, but at least five to six-hundred mechs remain operational. The outer fortifications are all intact, but many of the turrets have been taken out of action."
"What of their mech composition?"
"They are predominately lunar gravity-optimized landbound mechs. They have a heavy propensity for rifleman mechs, which are ideal for defending a static fortification. The good news is that their primary weapons are equally divided between laser rifles and ballistic rifles. The rebels managed to destroy most of their ammunition stockpiles, so their ballistic rifleman mechs will only have a few magazines left each."
That still left them with a defensive advantage. With the absence of the mechs that chased after the garrison fleeet, Major Verle had no choice but to deploy his remaining forces against the lunar base with much less of an advantage in numbers than he anticipated.
Though the defenders sounded like they were at the end of their ropes, cornered rats had a tendency to lash out hard.
Ignoring them exposed the rear of the Vandals to a surviving Vesian element, but overcoming them required the Vandals to pay a price that it could hardly stomach. Either way, Major Verle was in a very difficult position.