948 Pain in the Rear
Even though the stealth shuttle never managed to place all of the shaped charges it carried, over eighty percent had already been placed before the sudden accident.
Even as the Six-Sided Dice rolled away in space in an uncontrollable spin, Ves imagined a giant dice thrown across the galaxy in the largest casino game in the history of reality.
He quickly shook his head to rid himself of that inappropriate image. This wasn't the time to indulge in his fantasies!
"Mr. Larkinson, Chief Avanaeon, is there anything you can do to help the Six-Sided Dice to resume its stealth mode?!" The Vandal officer asked.
Both of them shook their heads. "No, sir. There is simply no way. The Six-Sided Dice needs days of repair work before it has any hope of recovering her ability to enter stealth!"
Let alone days, the stealth shuttle didn't even have seconds as a handful of deserter mechs immediately arrived next to the spinning stealth shuttle.
A Hellcat hybrid knight mech piloted by Mech Captain Bonnet herself came closer in order to make sense of the strange metal cube. Seconds later, realization came through as she connected the cube's appearance to the damage the Finmoth Regal suffered.
She opened up a channel to the shuttle. The CFA shuttle following in the distance listened in as well.
"Vandals." Bonnet spat acidly. "No one else wants to take us down as much as my old pals. I know it's you!"
"Heh." The stealth shuttle's pilot chuckled. "Friggin' traitors. What now, traitor? Your ship is dead in the water! You're going to have to be towed to get anywhere! Good luck asking the pirates for a tow when sandmen ships are continuing to scour this system of human ships!"
"Oh yeah? Too bad you won't live to see it, Vandal!"
Captain Bonnet's Hellcat lifted up its wrist and fired the nail driver mounted to it. A large, thick and sharpened alloy rod immediately launched from the wrist and punched a hole straight through the Six-Sided Dice!
The stealth shuttle immediately shattered afterwards, destroying it utterly without giving its occupants any way to survive!
"The Six-Sided Dice is destroyed at the hands of Mech Captain Bonnet." The Vandal officer noted with regret. "No life signals detected from the wreckage of the stealth shuttle."
Every other Vandals closed their eyes at the loss of two loyal Vandals.
As for Ves and Avanaeon, as the creators of the Six-Sided Dice they regretted its loss over the loss of the two Vandals. That was their escape vehicle!
While Ves didn't know how much Avanaeon cared about the shuttle, personally he deeply felt pained by its loss. He lost a valuable escape method!
While his recent stint as a Senior Mech Designer aboard the Starlight Megalodon allowed him to supplement his understanding of stealth systems by a little bit, he lacked the resources and industrial capacity to fabricate a second Six-Sided Dice.
He only managed to construct the one that just got driven a nail through by repurposing the salvaged remains of Venidsan stealth shuttles.
Perhaps if the Vandals still retained their logistics systems, he would still be able to cobble up an inferior copy, but for the moment the only shuttle that Ves could rely on was his CFA shuttle.
Thinking about the many capabilities of his CFA shuttle calmed him down a bit. Almost all of its parameters vastly exceeded the parameters of that sad excuse of a stealth shuttle. The CFA's standard ECM systems already approximated the functionality of an active stealth system. If not for its inability to hide itself from plain view, the CFA shuttle was already a nearly undetectable vessel in space!
Ves sighed and refocused himself before he decided to move away from the loss of the Six-Sided Dice.
Although the loss of the stealth shuttle pained the Vandals, they quickly whooped in joy as they saw the Finmoth Regal being wracked by various explosions!
Her recently-active propulsion systems suffered modest but incredibly focused and deliberately-aimed damage. The shapes charges damaged critical sections that not only disabled their functionality, but also caused certain active and volatile elements to explode as well!
This meant that immediately after the short and underwhelming series of detonations, more than a dozen more significant and more destructive secondary explosions wracked the stern of the Finmoth Regal!
"Half of her main thrusters are inoperable!"
"She is leaking fuel and propellant!"
"The Regal's engineering bay has been breached! Secondary explosions have inflicted moderate damage to the core engineering compartments before emergency seals have set in! One of her power reactors has been affected and is currently undergoing emergency shutdown!"
A raft of damage reports streamed in as the CFA shuttle easily peered through the mess of signals and mapped out the effects of their sabotage. After the secondary and tertiary explosions subsided, it became clear to everyone that they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Even if the Vandals suffered painful accident, this same coincidence also magnified the damage suffered by the combat carrier!
"Chief Avanaeon, what's your verdict? Can she move or resume operation within a short period of time?"
"She's dead in the water." Avanaeon declared with confidence. "No matter how good their engineers and repair crews are, the Finmoth Regal needs a drydock or the assistance of a well-equipped logistics ship if she wants any hope of regaining her mobility. All the secondary explosions have not only damaged the sublight propulsion systems directly, they also affected the structural integrity of the hull sections around them. Her entire rear is shredded!"
This was all they needed to hear, because the Vandal officer quickly ordered the CFA shuttle to retrieve its comm buoys and discreetly slink back to the Shield of Hispania.
During the journey back, Ves took note of the mood of the other Vandals. While they felt pained by the loss of the crew of the Six-Sided Dice, compared to the thousands of comrades that never returned from the surface of Aeon Corona VII, the deaths of two measly servicemen hardly weighed on their minds for more than a couple of minutes.
As soldiers, losing comrades and suffering casualties was a fact of life. The important point was that the two deceased Vandals didn't die in vain. They succeeded in their mission to cripple the Finmoth Regal, and did so to such an extent that the deserter ship and her traitorous crew could forget about participating in any hostile actions against the Flagrant Swordmaidens!
This opened a lot of options for the remnant fleet. Not only would they be able to escape through the hole in the net cast by the pirates, they also had the possibility to attack the Finmoth Regal!
Avanaeon didn't think Major Verle would go for such a satisfying but needlessly pointless course of action.
"The most important priority is to complete the mission. Hunting down pirates and deserters will only set us back on that front. While the Finmoth Regal has lost her legs, she still possesses a full set of teeth."
Ves nodded in agreeement. "Captain Bonnet is a capable spaceborn mech pilot and leader and her subordinates are as trained and disciplined as our own meh pilots. We'll lose mechs regardless how much of a local number advantage we are able to bring to bear."
Certainly, if their foes stood in the way of making it back to the Bright Republic, then the Vandals wouldn't shy away from a fight. However, the entire point of this sabotage was to push the weakest link of their enemies out of the way.
Now that they succeeded, Major Verle would definitely opt for the rational choice and escape!
As the CFA shuttle finally made its way back to the Shield of Hispania's shuttle bay, a small gathering of mech technicians and other folk to congratulate them for their success!
Every Vandal already heard about the Finmoth Regal's painful injury!
"Can you pass me the footage of the moment the Regal's rear blew up?"
"Hahaha! We sure went to town on the Finmoth Regal's butt!"
"The traitors are sitting ducks! Let's go recapture the ship and executive those lowlives!"
Crude jokes about doing unsavory things to the Finmoth Regal's rear end seemed to be especially popular among the rank-and-file. Ves smiled ruefully and shook his head at the banter.
At least everyone regained some of their cheer. After all of the losses the Vandals suffered and after running across half the star system while being hunted like dogs, it felt good to hit back for once.
Once Ves and the others came out of the CFA shuttle, they went through a round of debriefing. After reporting the events from his perspective and answering some routine questions, the man in charge summoned him up to his stateroom for another private meeting.
"It's unfortunate we lost your stealth shuttle, Mr. Larkinson. I've underestimated its capabilities. We could have performed many sabotage missions with such as useful shuttle in our hands."
Ves shook his head in regret. Though he already got over its loss, he would rather not lose it in the first place. "Sir, I won't be able to build anything like it considering our resource shortages. The loss of the stealth shuttle and the two crewmembers is a painful price to pay in exchange for crippling the Finmoth Regal."
Verle smiled grimly at Ves. "The lives of every Vandal under my charge is precious. They are my responsibility. The mutiny that occurred aboard the Finmoth Regal is my responsibility as well, and I'll be sure to face an inquiry once we return home."
"Home is very far away from here, sir." Ves said before he asked a question he wasn't comfortable with asking before. "Will we truly be able to cross the frontier and return to civilized space in one piece? Unlike last time, we don't have that inexplicable voodoo from the Church of Haatumak to shield us from sandman detection. Also, our diminished numbers will make us a lot more vulnerable to the opportunistic pirates that roam the frontier."
"It's a challenge, I admit, but we are more than the cowards of the Finmoth Regal who blinked in the face of despair. We will make it home, of that I am assured."
The major sounded very confident about his claims. Personally, Ves knew that more than courage would be required to cross the perilous frontier all by themselves.
"Could you tell me what our next steps will be?"
"I intend to take us through the gap opened up by the Finmoth Regal's loss of propulsion and take us all to the edge of the star system where we can finally leave the Aeon Corona System behind. After that… we shall have to retrace much of our old route as we make our way back to the border of civilized space."
"That's all I can tell you for now."
He already figured out what little Major Verle revealed. In fact, Ves learned almost nothing of substance!
"Okay, sir." Ves said simply. What else could he say to such a limited response? He turned his attention to another matter. "Can I ask you what your stance is on the Swordmaidens? How is Lieutenant Dise doing by the way?"
"Last I heard, the leadership struggle ended after Lieutenant Dise soundly defeated the Swordmaiden mech captains and other challengers in the sparring ring. It seems like she's become an exceptionally formidable warrior after experiencing some changes during her deployment on the ground."
The uncomplicated Swordmaidens disdained backstabbing and secret plots. If someone wanted a promotion, they usually challenged the Swordmaiden occupying the position above them. The ones who won the sparring duel usually got what they wanted.
Ves partially envied the simplicity of their governing system! Although there were a lot of flaws associated with letting the person with the biggest fist be in charge, he had to admit that during times of crisis it was a quick way to settle a contentious leadership struggle after the death of a charismatic leader and founder.
"I'm acquainted with Lieutenant Dise, and Captain Orfan is practically her bosom buddy. Now that Dise has taken the reins, why not propose a deeper cooperation?"
"Oh?" Verle picked up something interesting from Ves' demeanor. "What's on your mind? Do tell, Mr. Larkinson."