630 Conserving Mechs
The Flagrant Vandals had multiple reasons to force a battle at this time. However, the rank-and-file had no clue. If anything, they would rather let the Masters of Combat go now that the mechs of he Caged backed them up.
Yet turning back now meant that the Vandals might be facing the full might of their formidable landbound forces in the future. To prevent such an awful outcome, the Vandals truly had no choice but to go through with their aggressive intentions.
Ves reflected on the conversation he just witnessed. Major Verle appeared to have failed in his attempt to intimidate the Caged. Yet Verle's reminder informed them that there was more to the conversation than what appeared on the surface.
First, Sub-boss Scornburned indirectly informed them of a couple of crucial points. They were under orders to cooperate, and couldn't simply place them aside in order to ensure their survival. Second, they were under the obligation to put up a fight. Running without unleashing a single shot would certainly lead to backlash. Scornburned couldn't afford to burn his bridges with his organization.
"Had the two made some sort of implicit agreement?"
Ves got the sense that the two came to a compromise. Would the Caged stab the Masters of Combat in the back? Would they simply exchange a couple of shots and split from their ally? Or did Ves just imagined something that wasn't there?
He found it difficult to make a confident prediction of what was about to ensue. If there was anything he had learned from watching the Vandals to go war, it was that something went wrong in every battle.
"The Masters of Combat aren't pushovers. They can do a lot of damage before they go down."
The Frosty Meteors traumatized the Flagrant Vandals a few months ago. The scars from that battle had never faded. Facing a mercenary corps from the same duchy and the same mech doctrine opened up all of those scars.
Ves realized that the Vandals needed to overcome this challenge. Their rest and recuperation in Harkensen had been interrupted. Many Vandals that had been stuck on Harkensen I were unenthusiastic about fighting another battle.
They lacked confidence in themselves.
Therefore, one of the reasons Verle prioritized this battle was because he saw it as a way to heal everyone's scars and restore their confident demeanor.
Over the next hour, Ves and the higher ups planned out their strategies and tactics according to the information they had on hand. Commander Lydia of the Swordmaidens brought in her own cadre to help with the planning.
Right now, they had plenty of time before the fleets came into battle range. The ships of the Masters of Combat and the Caged had engaged their sub-light propulsion and attempted to accelerate away from the Vandals and the Swordmaidens.
Of course, they were only delaying the inevitable. The best the lumbering Vesian ships could do was to buy more time for them to prepare their own plans.
The Swordmaiden officers all possessed a wild quality that couldn't be hidden through the projectors. While the Vandal officers reeked of professionalism, the strong and unsophisticated Swordmaiden officers didn't look out of place in the frontier.
"Lydia recruits most of her Swordmaidens from the frontier." A Vandal officer quietly informed his fellow Vandals. "She routinely visits the small and isolated settlements among the untamed stars and picks up stray young girls who aren't resigned to becoming breeding objects."
In civilized space, gender inequality was a thing of the past. The differences that separated men and women had been solved by technology. A female footsoldier was just as deadly in battle as a male footsoldier. When it came to mech pilots, their mental and physiological differences had a minimal effect on their combat effectiveness.
These rules didn't necessarily apply in the frontier. The primitive settlements were deficient in development. Setting up a facility that hosted artificial wombs was beyond their means, so women had to stay home and insure the continuation of the next generation, sometimes under duress.
"The frontier isn't a pleasant place to live, especially to women."
According to the intelligence Ves had accessed, Lydia's Swordmaidens offered a way out to the more rebellious and adventurous young girls. While Commander Lydia didn't have the means to force the settlements to halt their uncivilized practices, she could at least take advantage of the situation.
Every frontier girl that Lydia inducted into her gang became fanatically loyal to her. Ves recognized the similarities between Lydia's recruitment practices and Chief Haine's favorite strategy in Pirate Empires.
"They both build their organization around themselves. They demand absolute loyalty from their subordinates."
One of the most precious resources in the galaxy was loyalty. All the money in the world couldn't necessarily buy the dedication of another person. Humans were emotional and irrational, and did not necessarily behave as predicted.
Grooming those that sought salvation from young was one of the best ways to raise a completely loyal force. Though it took a lot of time, Ves had to hand it to Lydia. Her investment had definitely paid off, seeing that she grew her Swordmaidens into a formidable force in the frontier.
"All of these analyses are well and good, but at the end of the day we need to smash them into pieces!" The middle-aged woman spoke. Lydia may have aged past her prime, but her athletic body and striped grey-and-black hair conveyed a ferocious image. Her Amazon-like appearance alone deterred most people in the frontier from starting any trouble. "Since you Vandals are shaking in your boots whenever you think about the Masters of Combat, leave their thick mechs to us. My Swordmaidens will carve out their mech pilots from their protective shells."
"Commander Lydia, we don't wish to doubt your capabilities, but the Masters of Combat can inflict a ruinous amount of damage to us." Major Verle replied. "Their mechs are tough to fell without committing our mechs, but if we do so the ranged mechs of the Caged will box us in from the flanks."
"What're you suggesting, then?"
"Ignore the Masters of Combat for now and chase down the mechs of the Caged."
"That won't work. They'll turtle behind the Masters of Combat. We'll have to get through the Vesians in order to strike at the Roppongans, which puts us back to the beginning. We might as well aim at the Masters of Combat first."
The Vandals disagreed. If they didn't put any pressure on the Roppongans, they would be free to leverage their superior firepower. Getting pelted by an unending stream of lasers was not a pleasant experience.
It made no sense to throw their mechs to a force whose best aspect was defence. While they possessed a fair amount of firepower, their first emphasis meant they had made a lot of tradeoffs that had weakened their offensive firepower.
On the other hand, the ranged mechs of the Caged possessed a lot of offensive power but possessed few defenses. They mainly relied on their mobility to evade attacks, but that wouldn't help them very much if the enemy closed into knife-fighting range.
"There are ways to force them away from the Masters of Combat." Verle said. "We can play the long game. Though the mechs of the Caged are deadly at range, they haven't brought too many spaceborn mechs."
Major Verle proposed a battle plan that demanded patience. Though the Swordmaidens showed some dissatisfaction, Commander Lydia eventually agreed to the plan. If she had an opportunity to minimize her losses, she would take it over the objection of her Swordmaidens.
"My Swordmaidens will follow your lead this time." She nodded before the projections of the Swordmaidens winked out.
An hour later, the two combined fleets had caught up to each other. The servicemen aboard the Shield of Hispania already started referring to the combined Vandal-Swordmaiden force as the Flagrant Swordmaidens.
As for the opposing force, the Vandals all wracked their minds for a suitable moniker and eventually settled on calling them the Caged Masters.
Ves had a laugh when he heard those names. Some of the servicement must have been truly bored when they came up with those shorthands.
Still, the time for jokes was over as the mech forces came into fighting range. Though not all of the ships of the Flagrant Swordmaidens moved very fast, they had simply decided to split their ship assets in two.
The combat fleet would surge forward at their best acceleration in order to catch up to their prey.
The support fleet which consisted of all of their transport ships and logistics ships was left behind with a number of guard mechs to keep them safe.
It wasn't ideal, but cutting away their slowest vessels was the only way the Flagrant Swordmaidens could catch up to the Caged Masters without ruinously overloading their sublight propulsion.
The Masters of Combat weren't stupid. They could do the math like anyone else, and they quickly figured out that they couldn't avoid this battle if they ran away at normal acceleration. The First Master who headed the Masters of Combat knew his chances of victory was low at this moment, so he decisively chose to overload the engines and thrusters of his ships.
This ruinous decision would wreck the propulsion of his ships and force them into months of repair work if they ever made it out. Yet that was better than the prospect of total annihilation.
The First Master also made the cunning decision to split off his non-combat vessels in their own support fleet. The useless transports and logistics ships flew off in another direction, baiting the Flagrant Swordmaidens into diverting their forces.
Major Verle and Commander Lydia didn't take the bait. The key to destroying the Caged Masters was to wipe out their combat forces. Crushing their support ships might inconvenience them a lot, but they could easily acquire more supplies and support ships.
The combat fleet of the Flagrant Swordmaidens didn't bother to overload their own propulsion. Most of their ships were still able to keep up!
Now that they had entered effective combat range, the mechs of the Caged made their first move. Their laser cannons and rifles pelted the Flagrant Swordmaidens with surprisingly accurate aim!
They unleashed most of their firepower on the slower and heavier mechs of the Flagrant Swordmaidens. They ignored the ships because they possessed too much armor.
The medium mechs of the Vandals took the brunt of the offensive.
As for the Swordmaidens, their melee mechs remained in their hangar bays. They wouldn't be able to play any role in a long-ranged firefight. Their time would come when the fleets closed in on each other, but for now the Swordmaidens only deployed their limited number of space knights and rifleman mechs.
"Put our combat carriers to the front." Verle commanded. "Inform Captain Rakeshir to offer up our heaviest armored combat carriers as cover. Since we recently fixed them up, it should be no problem for them to take a beating."
Captain Rakeshir aboard the Antecedent quickly called back. His projected face looked angrily at the mech officer. "Major, I highly advise you to reconsider your last order! Our combat carriers are not slabs of alloys for your mechs to hide behind! We need our armor to remain in good condition for the challenges that lay ahead."
"I will take your suggestion under advisement, but my decision stands. We cannot afford to risk the lives of our mech pilots at this point. Right now, their lives are more precious than plates of armor. You can always patch up your ships afterwards with metals mined from asteroids."
The captain looked pissed, but he had no way to fight back. In the greater scheme of things, the major had a point. They needed to conserve their mechs and mech pilots more than the armor of their combat carriers.
"Very well, sir. I'll relay the orders and move our combat carriers into position."
This decision might bite them back in the future, but Verle gladly accepted this possibility if it meant closing in on the Caged Masters without losing a quarter of their mechs.