Ves came up with one word to describe Lord Javier's fighting style. "Shameless!"
Instead of hiding inside his hiding place like a rabbit shivering inside its burrow, Lord Javier evidently decided that the best defense was offensive. He boldly jumped on his adversaries before they could start to storm the recycling plant!
His actions brought incredible results. The hovertanks didn't possess sufficient armor to withstand the enhanced explosive shells fired by the Raphael's rifle. They all crumpled and blew apart when hit, and Lord Javier never seemed to miss.
Right now, the rebels and Vandals fell into further confusion at Lord Javier's despicable tactic. The Loquacious Raphael completely went against its heroic tendencies. The surroundings of the recycling plant had obviously been prepared well in advance, leaving the attackers naked and vulnerable to the unknown.
All of it pointed to a trap.
Even Captain Orfan could no longer let this farce continue. Her spearman mech she appropriated from the Dastardly Handsome Bastards, simply couldn't keep pace with Lord Javier's movements.
They could only withdraw and figure out something else.
"Cowards!" Lord Javier broadcasted from his mech as it popped out yet again to wreck a couple of infantry transports. "Fight me if you dare!"
Every Vandal on the battlefield gnashed their teeth. Who dared to go toe-to-toe with his elite mech on a location of his choosing. They would obviously be sending themselves to their deaths if they meet Lord Javier on his terms!
While Lord Javier taunted his attackers, back at the base, Ves already started to analyze the Raphael. Though the sensors of the hovertanks only caught a couple of glimpses of the hero mech, footage of the Raphael in a live battle was very precious.
Ves constantly observed new details from its brief appearances.
He noticed something important. "The Loquacious Raphael isn't carrying any spare magazines! Javier is likely replenishing his ammunitions from caches prepared in the tunnels!"
Addy relayed his observation to Commander Breskin, but it wasn't what they needed to hear. They wanted a silver bullet that could cripple Lord Javier in a single blow.
Breskin mulled over his options as he rubbed his face. After a moment of consideration, he relayed new orders to his infantrymen. "Penetrate the underground tunnels and track down those ammunition caches. Destroy them all if you can, or mark them if you can't. Move out!"
The infantry bravely went into action. Some of the soldiers were fully decked out in exo-skeleton suits, but others only wore varying levels of combat armor, much like what Ves wore at this moment.
Still, no matter what kind of armor they wore, they both wouldn't last an instant against an attack from a mech. They faced instant death if they ever bumped into the Loquacious Raphael.
The first screams erupted two minutes after Breskin issued the orders. Ves switched his feed to the sensors of an exoskeleton soldier. The man tried to avoid an enemy mech while firing his heavy rifle at it, to no avail. Every bullet bounced from the mech's thick armor until a foot finally stomped the exoskeleton soldier flat.
"Javier's honor guard is patrolling the tunnels!"
Many infantry squads got massacred. Not a lot of soldiers reached the ammunition caches, but even then they couldn't step any further, because each cache was guarded by a handful of turrets with enough firepower to deter a medium mech.
"Commander, we can't complete our objective!"
Breskin cursed up a storm at that news. Eventually, he sounded the retreat. Apart from mapping out parts of the tunnel, they hadn't gained a lot of benefits.
His eyes turned over to his allies. "Captain Orfan, many of my men have sacrificed themselves, while your mechs are running back and forth. Don't you think you should make a contribution?"
"We've deployed a countermeasure against the tunnels. We highly urge you to evacuate your forces at least six-hundred meters away from the recycling plant!"
The mechs already stopped their useless chance and began to fall back in an orderly fashion. Their ranged mechs pointed their gun barrels in each direction while the melee mechs positioned themselves in a way that allowed them to pounce on the Raphael if it emerged somewhere close.
"Run if you can! No matter where you flee, I'll kill you before you escape my planet!" Javier laughingly taunted.
No matter the soundness of their actions, retreating in the face of an enemy hurt their self-esteem. Javier's taunts only rubbed in the humiliation. Yet they listened to Captain Orfan and Commander Breskin because they recognized the danger of their surroundings.
Before neutralizing Javier's advantage of the terrain, it wasn't wise to make a forceful push.
Several minutes passed by as the two forces successfully pulled back. The entire area around the recycling plant had been thrown into disarray. Amidst the damaged and destroyed hovertanks, a lot of civilians looked out the windows of their apartments, offices and workplaces with apprehension.
In order to make this area appear as normal as possible, Lord Javier hadn't done anything to chase the nearby citizens away. It would be too conspicuous if every citizen had been chased away from this important location. Their ignorance formed the best kind of camouflage for the heir.
Too bad he didn't count on his mech giving away his position. The civilians completely lost their utility now that the game was up. Many concerned civilians gathered together for safety or because they were scared. Children clung to their mothers as they endured yet another frightening event.
"What's happening next?" Ves asked Addy.
"I'm not certain, Mr. Larkinson. We've underestimated Lord Javier's preparations. This isn't a hasty setup at all. We don't even know how he managed to prepare the field without us getting wind of it. We shouldn't have missed the extensive tunnel complex around the recycling plant!"
Ves didn't blame the rebels for the oversight. A lot of heavy activity went on at that plant, which caused it to throw a lot of interference in the air. The activity far surpassed what went on in a mech manufacturing plant because breaking down broken products into useful resources took an immense amount of effort.
Orfan and Breskin feared the unknown. Who knew what else lurked in these tunnels and how many other traps Lord Javier prepared. At the very least, they should scout out the underground terrain extensively before doing anything else.
Yet even on this issue, Captain Orfan and Commander Breskin held differences of opinion.
"We should bomb half the district flat. Give us the word, and we can demolish every structure and expose the tunnels within an hour."
"Out of the question!" Breskin roared back. "There are thousands of civilians living in the vicinity of this plant! A significant amount of people who live in the nearby apartments are the women and children of the plant workers!"
The two argued back and forth on this matter with so much vitriol that Ves palmed his face. "At least evacuate the civilians. They have no reason to be present there!"
Some nearby apartment blocks got hit by the shockwave of the Raphael's explosive shells. Many windows shattered from the blasts, and several civilians sustained heavy injuries from the shockwaves and flying shrapnel.
"Detecting unknown objects descending from orbit!" Someone in the base abruptly announced.
Ves turned away from Addy, who was relaying some instructions to the rebels on the field to call for the civilians to evacuate. Cherishing their lives, most of the people who lived there ran from the district as fast as their legs could urge them forward. Others entered various vehicles and made an even faster getaway.
"Objects identified! They're… they're artificial meteorites!"
"What's their trajectory?!" Addy asked with widened eyes.
"They're on course to impact the vicinity of the recycling plant!"
Everyone stopped when they heard that. The artificial meteorites could have only been sent from one source, which was the only force that held orbital supremacy over Detemen IV.
"Mr. Larkinson!" Addy shouted with fury and abruptly approached him and grabbed his shoulders. She tried to drag him up his feet, but his combat armor and firm body prevented her from gaining any purchase. She opted to grab his hair instead. "What have you Vandals done?!"
"I have no idea! I'm not a Vandal, and I'm not in their chain of command!"
It was obvious what the Vandals had done. While it was a war crime to bombard a location from orbit with meteorites or other debris that floated in space, nothing was said about artificial weapons.
The bottom line of the MTA was that any weapon employed within human space against a human adversary needed to small enough to be deployed by a mech.
Artificial meteorites formed something of a loophole of that rule. Most often, the meteorites were up to half as large as the mechs that launched them. Nobody dared to make them any bigger for fear of running afoul of the MTA's taboo on weapons of mass destruction.
When a meteorite was big enough, they could wipe out entire cities or continents.
Forces in space often resorted to artificial meteorites due to their low cost and incredible convenience. The launching mechanism consisted of nothing more than the mechs pushing them towards a planet with their limbs. Small boosters built into the artificial meteorites took over from there, and insured the meteorites would roughly land where they were supposed to hit.
The problem right now wasn't that the Vandals resorted to artificial meteorites, but that they went ahead and launched them without consulting their local partners on the ground!
To say that the Detemen League was incensed was putting it lightly!
"The evacuation isn't complete! Over twenty percent of them has made it out of the probable blast site! The rest won't make it out in time!"
"Who ordered this orbital strike?!" Commander Breskin repeated again over the command channel.
"I did." A new voice interrupted. Ves recognized the voice of Major Verle. "On my authority as the highest commanding officer of the 6th Flagrant Vandals, I agreed with Captain Orfan's suggestion to strike the area from orbit."
The spaceborn mech officer was evidently back in command over the detachment orbiting above Detemen IV after surviving the Stubby Growler's destruction.
"Heartless filth from the Republic! Countless lives will be lost!"
"No more than what the rioting populace have already inflicted upon themselves. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made. The longer we equivocate about the matter, the higher the chance that Lord Javier will spring another surprise on us. He might even be attempting to flee!"
The Loquacious Raphael hadn't shown itself after the attackers pulled back their forces. Perhaps whatever command center House Eneqqin erected underneath the recycling plant detected the incoming artificial meteorites as well.
Not even the best mechs could withstand the sheer kinetic force of a falling meteorite. Artificial ones were much deadlier than natural ones because they had been purpose-built to do survive entry into the atmosphere. The Loquacious Raphael had no chances of survival even if the artificial meteorite landed next to the mech!
"Impact in three minutes!"
"Stop the meteorites! Shoot them down!" Breskin ordered.
"Don't! Stay your hand!"
"Ignore this murdering Brighter and execute my orders! Use every anti-air battery and missile platform in range!"
A multitude of lasers and projectiles soared into the air. Hundreds of missiles followed suit. Due to the predictable trajectory and the incredible density of the artificial meteorites, even the dumbest targeting systems could land a hit on the falling objects.
Sadly, the lasers barely accomplished anything but melt some potholes on the surface of the heat-resistant meteorites. The kinetic impacts from the ballistic projectiles hardly even chipped away at their surface, while the explosions from the missiles only caused their surface to crack a bit.
The meteorites were too tough!
"Impact in one minute!"
Practically nothing could be done. With one minute to go, Ves envisioned almost complete devastation from the orbital strike. Even the tunnel network underneath would collapse in the face of fury from space!
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