The Vandals all possessed spunk. Though they lacked training in infantry combat, many of them could throw a punch and most of them knew their way around with pistols.
However, Ves didn't place much hope on their fighting capacity. Separated from their mechs and ships, the Vandals were worse than a bunch of Planetary Guard recruits in an infantry-level engagement. Due to the restrictive weapon laws in the Harkensen System, none of them except for authorized security officers possessed anything heavier than handheld pistols.
"Where are the Honored Ones? Are the Planetary Guard asleep?!"
"Forget about them! They've turned lazy after decades of peace on this planet!"
"The Reinaldans rely too much on turrets and fixed defense installations." Ves quickly spoke. "The saboteurs took most of them out, and those amphibian mechs are wrecking everything that's left!"
He'd been worried about subsequent pursuit, but it appeared the infiltrators favored discretion over upfront fighting. Though the Vandals who turned up in the corridors didn't particularly look threatening, they numbered over fifty on this floor alone!
However, their only merit was that they had numbers on their side. If an enemy squad kitted out in full combat gear showed up, they would easily be able to mow everyone down!
Under the lead of the officers, the Vandals organized into their original groups of ten, many of which had slept on the same floor. Ves approached his group which Lieutenant Nolsen Feray served as their beacon.
"What happened to you?" The lieutenant asked.
"I felt something was wrong. I called security, who sent two men to check out my room. Just as scans showed that my body is doped with sedatives, several infiltrators dropped from the ceiling and killed the two without a sound!"
"How are you still walking about when you should have been sleeping like a light?" Nolsen probed with suspicion clouding his eyes. "Infiltrators never make mistakes when dosing someone with sedatives."
"I have my advantages." Ves replied simply. "In any case, I manage to run out of my suite and call for alarm. This is also just after those amphibian mechs emerged from the water and is currently bombarding every defensive fixture in sight!"
The fighting outside had never ceased, though the changing sounds indicated that the battle had entered another phase.
"The Planetary Guard finally showed up!" Someone who peeked out one of the windows yelled. "Damnit, an entire squad of amphibian mechs jumped out of the ocean! They're kicking the butts of the Planetary Guard!"
Ves risked a peek at one of the windows. He couldn't make out a lot of detail from this distance, but the overall trend became clear.
"These Planetary Guard mechs are first-response units. They're equipped for rescue and riot control! Their fluid projectors don't have the range to stop the amphibian mechs!"
The enemy mechs primarily consisted of amphibian machines armed with dual-purpose kinetic weapons. Kinetic projectiles worked great on land and decently in water, though only at very short ranges. They were accompanied by a couple of knights, who seemed like an afterthought more than anything.
Ves had seen many aquatic mechs before when he visited Moira's Paradise. He had a taste of their weapons, which had to be adapted to work in water and under pressure. This insight along with the large build of the amphibian mechs led him to believe they held missiles and torpedoes in reserve.
"Careful for missiles!" He warned the Vandals. "They're saving the best for last, I think!"
Nolsen cursed. "This hotel isn't safe at all. We need to go downstairs and go underground. If that's still not enough, we can evacuate through the emergency tunnels. Anything is better than remaining above ground where mechs can continue to take potshots at this structure!"
The Vandals fled downstairs in an organized fashion. Ves blamed his bad luck for being situated at the upper floor. This meant that they had to wait in line for the stairway and emergency tubes to clear out the clogging.
"Don't press against me!"
"This tube has lost power! Don't enter!"
The stairway was the most reliable exit. A faster way to go down besides taking the elevator was to slide down the emergency tubes. People got down much faster through the tubes, though they formed a bit of a risky prospect if the antigrav modules failed to modulate their sliding speeds. Their bodies might go splat at the other end!
Due to the EMP attacks, many high-tech escape methods failed to work despite their heavy shielding. In fact, besides the emergency lights, the only other devices that still remained working was their military-issued comms!
The Vandals managed to connect to their brothers and sisters on Harkensen III, rousing them to the highest level of alertness. So far, the Vandals at Harkensen III hadn't encountered any attacks, but they managed to convince the Reinaldans to send some mechs to reinforce their compound.
"I've been thinking, Ves." Nolsen said as they slowly moved down the stairway. "The timing of the attack of the beach matches the moment when the infiltrators determined they were exposed."
"What are you getting at, lieutenant?"
"Our attackers are aiming at you. At the very least, the fact that they tried to sedate you at the start means you're more useful to them alive than dead. Yet they aren't hesitant about taking you down if they aren't able to smuggle you away."
"I don't know." He frowned. "This infiltration is a little too daring to be happening in Harkensen I. The Reinaldans must be furious right now. I think it's possible that I'm not the only target they are after."
"Even if you're not alone, you are definitely among the primary targets."
"That makes sense, considering what I know." Ves murmured. As the temporary head designer of the task force, he knew more about the Vandal mechs than any other mech designer or serviceman in this star system. "Who are our attackers anyway?"
"My money is on Calabast!" Tiss called from the side. "Don't you think it's creepy that she approached us in person right before this attack? It's definitely the Seven Stars who are responsible!"
The Vesians possessed a poor reputation in the field of intelligence. This was because each duchy pretty much maintained their own intelligence agencies. Many times, their spies and agents crossed each other's paths, to the point where lots of stories circulated where rival Vesian intelligence agents killed each other while technically being on the same side.
The only Vesian intelligence agency with a barely passable reputation was the Seven Stars Intelligence Agency, which was loyal to the Kingdom as a whole. Their funding was in regular contention since many dukes wanted to neuter them in a bid to weaken the power of the royals.
"The Seven Stars won't be stupid enough to implicate themselves in a terrorist attack on Harkesen I." Nolsen pushed back against that theory. "If anything, 'Calabast' is indicative of a false flag operation. Not that the Reinaldans will fall for this trick."
"If Calabast can't push the blame on the Vesians, why show up and suggest they're Vesians in the first place?"
"That's why we can't make any assumptions about our meeting with her group. There's an entire rabbit hole of mind games taking place in the background. For all I know, Calabast is truly a Seven Stars intelligence operative who is pretending to be a Reinaldan pirate acting as a fake Vesian spy in an attempt to deceive the Reinaldans in ruling out the Vesians as the primary suspects."
"Uhh… I don't follow." Trian said from the other side.
The mech pilot sorely missed his mech. He could have easily helped stomp out the terrorists if only he was piloting a multi-ton machine instead of controlling a weak human body.
"Don't think about it, Trian. Let the smart people do all the thinking." Nolsen said.
Even Ves couldn't figure out the depths of this conspiracy. All he knew was that this attack certainly didn't come without reason. His suspicion that the Vandals weren't resting and recuperating in the Harkensen System grew stronger. With all the shenanigans taking place behind the scenes, had the Vandals provoked a sleeping tiger?
The hotel shook from another impact, this time hitting the floors above!
"The energy screen is overloaded!"
Another volley of impacts followed suit, causing the upper floors to become dangerously unstable! The groans of overstressed alloys and sounds of falling debris made it clear the structure hadn't been built according to the strictest building standard!
The Reinaldan developers trusted so much in the competence of the Honored Ones and the Planetary Guard that they certainly cut a lot of corners when they constructed their properties!
Ves quietly cursed the greedy Reinaldans as their group finally made their way to the ground floor. Heavily-armed security officers guided every group of Vandals down the rear halls and towards an underground entrance.
"I'm sorry friends, but I have to gear up and join up with my mates." Nolsen gestured his head at the patrols of armed Vandals.
"Go ahead. We can survive without you."
They all understood Nolsen's need to help strengthen their guard presence. Once he adorned a suit of combat armor and equipped a heavy rifle, he would become a hundred times deadlier than his current state. Right now, he was still wearing his sleeping clothes while armed with only a pistol!
A string of Vandal guards guided the nearly-defenseless servicemen into an underground shelter. Dust and air revealed that the Reinaldan owners hadn't even bothered to send down some cleaning bots or maintain the ventilation system. Perhaps they had already forgotten the need for underground shelters!
Just as Ves and his group shuffled into the shelter, a couple of Vandals suddenly started dropping down the floor.
Nobody screamed or panicked. Instead, they called out for medical assistance while keeping their eyes peeled for any attacks.
More Vandals dropped. In fact, they fell onto the floor in an increasingly alarming frequency.
"There's something wrong in the air! We're being intoxicated!"
"Hurry inside the shelter! Masks should be available in the storage vaults!"
An increased sense of alarm overtook the Vandals as they all tried to press into the shelter while avoiding stepping on their unconscious comrades. Other Vandals turned around and attempted to open the gates that led into the underground tunnel complex that could take them elsewhere.
"The exit gates are locked! We can't get them to open! We're stuck here!"
"The storage vaults are sealed tight as well! We can't access the supplies stored inside!"
After a dozen seconds, half of the Vandals fell unconscious. Everyone was either wearing summer clothes or sleeping clothes. Even if they consisted of smart clothes, they were also designed to be permeable, which meant they couldn't be turned into an airtight suit!
Ves helplessly looked on as more and more Vandals collapsed on the floor or on top of each other. After thirty seconds, everyone fell unconscious except for him. Seeing thousands of Vandals in a state that was only a few steps away from death was mind boggling to him. How did the assailants manage to pervert the entire hotel to the extent they were able to intoxicate everyone?!
He took a few steps forward, trying to keep his footing away from any bodies. Ves slowly moved towards the exit to the ground floor. He could only lay his hopes on Nolsen and the other security officers garbed in airtight suits of combat armor.
Yet after he took a couple of steps, the vault-like door slammed shut on its own. Ves heard screaming from the other side. The security officers hadn't intended to shut the entrance!
Another gate creaked open at that moment. It was the exit to the underground complex! Ves turned around, expecting to meet the Planetary Guard, only to behold an entire squad of infiltrators garbed in the same black getup!
"That's quite enough, Mr. Larkinson." A monotone electronic voice sounded out from the lead infiltrator. "Follow us quietly, or else."
The man shot a couple of unconscious Vandals with his silent gun, spilling blood and killing several Vandals!
"Stop! I'll follow!" Ves raised his hands in a sign of surrender.