With the obligatory offer of surrender over with, the pirate mechs began their assault. They carefully pelted the star-shaped base walls from a single direction with lasers and shells.
It became clear that the quality of mechs and weapons used by the pirates adhered to the standard of a third-rate state. They matched relatively poorly against the better armed mechs of House Kaine and their mercenary partners from the Grey Willow Star Sector.
However, the local mercs enjoyed very little superiority in this regard as they obtained their mechs from similar sources.
The defenses held up better than Ves had thought. House Kaine hadn't skimped on the prefabricated walls that had been anchored into the hardy soil. As they were meant to withstand a horde of hexapods, they took little damage from kinetic and explosive projectiles.
Unfortunately, the alloys used in the construction of the walls fared a little worse against lasers. The pirates quickly wised up and started to concentrate their laser armament at a single spot, trying to carve a very large hole in the defenses.
The defenders gave it as good as they got, though only half of the mechs had been equipped with ranged weapons. The fixed emplacements picked up the slack. The turrets had been designed to take a beating and dish it out in turn, and they fired back with accurate volleys that chewed up the pirates in the forest.
The dense, hardy metallic forest provided some level of cover to the pirate mechs. The trees proves to be incredibly resilient, though they were too thin to cover a mech's entire frame.
Losses piled up on both sides as a low-intensity firefight extended for half an hour. The pirates slowly softened up the expedition's formidable fixed defenses. The walls and turrets couldn't move, so the pirates simply aimed to wear them down by focusing their fire.
Before the pirates committed to a full assault, they wanted to lay the groundwork first. The defenses bought valuable time to the groundside team with their sacrifices. Yet with every turret down, the pirates faced a little bit less pressure, allowing them to position their forces more aggressively.
In the meantime, the Kaius stayed hidden and out of sight. The partially repaired and improved chimera mech had no place in this long-ranged firefight. To maximize its impact, Commander Tregis ordered it to be revealed at the last possible moment.
The situation changed for the worse when missiles rained from above! They ended their arc flight paths straight into the interior of the base, focusing mostly on the mech workshops and other critical infrastructure.
The base only possessed a limited amount of anti-air emplacements that took out half of the incoming ordnance. The rest impacted against the workshops with debilitating explosions that deformed their roofs but didn't manage to break through.
Like the walls, the other prefab structures had been formed out of highly durable alloys that didn't lose out too much compared to those utilized in mechs.
Still, another volley of missiles arrived right after the first wave! Explosions continued to rain down in the same area of the base, weakening the targeted structures until their roofs finally collapsed. Distant screams emerged as some of the subsequent volleys killed and wounded mech technicians ready to service damaged mechs.
Ves could have been one of them. If not for the special dispensation he received from Tregis for being an integral part in killing Jutland, he'd be among the thick of it. "Don't we have any countermeasures?"
"Missiles aren't useful against the hexapod, so we left them out of the defense plan." D'Amato explained. "The base planners never took into account that we had to face a pirate invasion alone."
The missiles continued to wreak havoc while the mechs that launched them stayed far away. A couple of light mechs acted as relays that sent back targeting data for them to focus their missiles on. The Empyreans harassed them with their extremely powerful railguns, but they had little effect against the agile mechs.
"Something has to be done against those missiles!" Ves screamed over the din as the missiles started to drift over their direction. He imagined that the pirates brought plenty ordnance in order to force the base into a quick surrender.
A large explosion set off in the distance. The volleys of missiles suddenly cut off. A couple of nearby officers cheered.
"That's the hunting platoon at work! They succeeded in sneaking up on their artillery!"
Ves looked around and noticed that the Cathrec had quietly disappeared from the walls. Captain Kaine must have brought the Volmars along to strike at the artillery mechs quickly before they could seek refuge from their guards.
The Cathrec and its fellow melee mechs returned triumphantly a half hour later. From the rumor mill, Ves heard that they not only took out the artillery mechs, but also destroyed some of their spare supplies.
"It's a pity their transports are tightly guarded. They're holding back a solid number of mechs to keep their escape route open."
The removal of the artillery mechs and the earlier mishap that had befallen the aerial mechs had taken out a lot options for the pirates. They ran out of tricks to pressure the base except for a straight-on slugging match.
A normal commander would have pulled back and given up the fight. The losses far outweighed the gains, unless they heard an inkling of the windfall the expedition earned so far. So many kilograms of monoexurite made plenty of people see red.
In fact, Jaded Serpent even urged his mechs to intensify the attack. "Stop pussyfooting around! Get closer and disable all of the turrets! We won't be able to bypass the walls with them intact!"
As the champion of the pirates, his sleek black adorned with twin red dragons attracted a lot of fire. However, the pirate commander possessed a sly sense of evasion, managing to dart in and out of cover just in time to spoil the aim of the most heaviest guns arrayed against him. Sometimes his mech even dodged in a bewildering pattern that made Ves spin his eyes.
"That's the Roulette Spin! Not every advanced pilot knows how to perform that maneuver!"
The Roulette Spin could only be done with light and medium mechs focused on agility and flexibility. The mech half-spun into arcing paths that made it difficult to predict how far the mech moved and where it would orient itself next. It worked great against automated targeting systems and less skilled pilots, which happened to include most of the local mercs.
"That Jaded Serpent is a tough customer." An analyst remarked. "His mech can outmaneuver most of our melee mechs that focused more on brute force than finesse. Even our Volmars would be hard-pressed to match blows against his mech."
The firefight faded out another hour later when most of the turrets facing the direction of the pirates got destroyed. The pirate mechs also burned a number of holes in the solid walls of the base, though it took an extreme amount of energy to accomplish such a feat. The pirate mechs finally drew back to their landing site in order to replenish their ammunition and energy.
"They'll be back soon." D'Amato noted with grim resignation. "Our base is not in good shape at the moment. It's going to get ugly once the knife-fighting starts."
With the temporary reprieve, the defending side took the opportunity to replenish their own mechs. Mech technicians also received some of the mechs that sustained damage, though the missile barrage destroyed most of their workshops. This forced them to perform rudimentary repairs in the field.
Ves wanted to join them, but he knew his contribution wouldn't matter much at this point. The more complex repair jobs required time and facilities that the defenders didn't have anymore.
Some of the mech pilots milling around looked agitated. Ves saw that quite a few bots and security personnel kept a very close eye on them. He imagined that some of the mercs would turn their coats in a heartbeat if they could.
As Ves had helped with the maintenance of some of those mechs, he knew the expedition also slipped in another safeguard. The mech technicians installed kill switches next to their control circuits that could instantly turn the mechs off if they received a special signal.
Such a function normally risked being exploited by their adversaries, but the trustworthiness of the local mercs left a lot to be desired, especially after some of them mutinied. House Kaine basically trusted in their technological superiority over the pirates. So far, nothing has happened, to the pirates must not have brought any exceptional hackers.
The pirates returned some time later. This time, they brought a few knights with hefty tower shields to take the lead.
Jaded Serpent didn't waste any time. His dragon mech brandished its sword and extended it forward. "Charge!"
Well over a hundred different mechs charged forward at the same time. They maintained a fairly dispersed formation in order to avoid bumping into each other, but they also kept up with their assigned squads. Vast clusters of mechs converged around the numerous gaps in the walls with the shield bearers in front.
The defending mechs shot back with a vengeance, stopping some of the mechs in their tracks but not enough to make a difference. The ranged mechs finally received the order to fall back to the walls of the inner base. They fled the outer walls like rats jumping out of a leaking boat!
The defenders finally showed their teeth when their melee mechs met the incoming pirates. The shield bearers received special attention from the Cathrec. Its powered spear darted forward like a loosened arrow as it bypassed the shield and hit the bearers in the flank. Their armor easily parted against the special spear, allowing it to deal catastrophic damage with each single hit.
The pirates faltered for a moment as they witnessed Captain Kaine's prowess. Her mech truly outmatched most machines. No one wished to take a step forward into the jaws of death that her mech represented.
Until Jaded Serpent stepped forward with his swordsman mech. His sleek machine flourished its sword in preparation of a duel. "Your opponent is me!"
The other mechs made way for the two elite mechs and resumed their fighting at the other gaps. Every mech pilot adhered to the common convention of letting their leaders duel without interruption from others.
Of course, this could only be maintained if both sides possessed somewhat equal strength. While the Dragons of the Void brought much greater numbers to bear, the defending side had the edge in terms of quality and training. Neither side wanted to risk the consequences of doing something rash.
"Captain Felicia Kaine of House Kaine."
"Ah yes, a direct scion of our visitors from the illustrious Constance Grand Kingdom." Jaded Serpent replied in a taunting tone. "You are far away from home, little miss. You will find no easy prey out here in the frontier."
"I can take on tough guys like you any day!"
The two mechs began to clash after that. Both pilots showcased the full capabilities of their mechs by dancing around their probing strikes.
The Cathrec had the advantage of reach. Captain Kaine extended her spear very far but darted back as soon as the dragon mech stepped closer.
The differences between the frames became clear after the first dozen clashes.
The dragon mech turned out to be a deviously designed machine. It possessed a lot of leg strength that allowed Jaded Serpent to leap in any direction at any time. It reminded Ves of the old Hoplite design he used as a basis for his popular Young Blood variant. The dragon mech possessed a very modern iteration of the system.
In turn, the Cathrec held a decisive edge in the quality of its weapon. When Jaded Serpent acted a bit too boldly, Captain Kaine traded blows by taking the incoming sword chop with its shield while puncturing the dodging dragon mech in the side.
The powered spear almost encountered no obstruction when it dug into the dragon's mech armor. Jaded Serpent immediately pulled his mech backwards and assessed the damage.
"That spear! That's a Destroyer Weapon! How did you get your hands on such a treasure?!"
"I'm friends with the Terrans!" Captain Kaine brashly responded as she went on the offensive in earnest. "You'll be the first pirate scumbag I'll slay with this weapon!"
The dragon mech fell into leeward for a while as the Cathrec pressured it backwards with unrelenting spear thrusts. With his perception, Ves saw that Captain Kaine employed a precise, rhythmic pattern to her thrusts that unsettled Jaded Serpent.
"Enough! Dragon's Breath, deploy!" The pirate leader turned the tide by activating a special feature on his mech. Hidden flamethrowers popped open around various points of the dragon mech and spat out small jets of highly flammable liquids at the Cathrec.
Captain Kaine hadn't expected such a surprise. While the Cathrec managed to disperse half of the jets with its duelling shield, the other half encountered no obstruction. Her spear-wielding mech quickly became engulfed in flames.