Barley deployed on the field with his Jimenez along with Captain Osprey and ten other pilots. If anyone looked at their mechs, they'd shake their heads and say what a sad sight they represented. Every mech featured scratches, scuff marks and even pockets of rust. The melee mechs had it worse than the rifleman mechs..
Captain Osprey commanded only two medium knights, one of them being Barley's mech. The success of the upcoming engagement rested largely on Barley's ability to endure under pressure.
For a seasoned mech pilot who already went through this slog for two years, Barley shouldn't feel worried. For a young mech designer who mainly ran away when faced with threats to his life, Ves felt as if he entered the women's bathroom.
"I don't really belong here."
He kept those words to himself. No need to worry his comrades and his superior officer that their reliable knight pilot suddenly shared his mindspace with a mech designer from the future.
"Is this even the past? I don't believe that's even possible! This must be an elaborate simulation or an alternate universe at most!"
The implications of actual time travel frightened him beyond belief. Who knew how many entities messed about the timelines if it actually became convenient for them to travel back and forth in time.
"Barley." The captain uttered over the secure channel. The Jimenez's tranceiver was in a shoddy state, leading to a fair amount of static even if another mech stood right next to it. "I know your machine's sword arm is bad, so I won't let you take point this time. Johnson's Jimenez is in a decent shape compared to yours, so I'm putting him up as the vanguard. You'll be taking the rear to keep an eye out for ambushes."
"Got it, sir."
"Be sure to stay on your feet. If Johnson has to back out early, we're going to need your shield arm at the front!"
Barley's pride as a knight pilot swelled at being given the role as a protector. With his stodgy attitude and unsophisticated mind, he excelled in enduring the rigors of piloting a knight.
To Ves, Barley's personality provided him with a valuable window into his clientele. He realized that someone who specialized in piloting defensive knights would not enjoy switching over to an offensive knight. They preferred slow, deliberate and reactive combat over faster maneuvers and taking the initiative.
"I don't want to be in charge." He reaffirmed his thoughts.
Before Ves could mull over the implications, Osprey alerted them that they neared the projected zone where the scouts had been nosing about. "It's showtime, lads. Everyone, slip into battle formation. Johnson, stick close to Eloise, she's our sharpest shot after Fitzgerald kicked the bucket."
Barley took up the rear as ordered. His mech continued forward while its sensors scanned the rear. At their current state, the enemy would likely detect them first, but Osprey's personal mech possessed some pretty good sensors as well, so they'd be able to force a fight regardless.
"Contact!" Osprey barked. Their screens updated with the positions of the enemy mechs. "They're spreading out, pursue!"
Their mechs huffed towards the closest enemy bogey as fast as possible while still keeping together. The presence of the two lumbering knights slowed them down, making it impossible to catch the enemy scouts if they persisted in their flight.
"These cowardly dirtbags aren't even turning around to take a peek at us!" Osprey cursed as he decided whether to ditch his protection in order to catch up to the slower enemy scouts. Caution prevailed, however. "There's something funny about this. The dirtbags aren't splitting up. They aren't running closer to our base and into our trap either. It's as if... they're leading us into a trap of their own!"
Too late! The enemy scouts slowed their flight and turned around to close the net. From the sides, several more signatures emerged as mechs appeared from underneath their sensor-blocking camouflage.
"Two from the west, three from the east and three from the south!"
Along with the seven scouts that had been leading them on, that meant their unit faced a total of seventeen mechs! Several of his fellow pilots started to curse in the open channel. Someone even suggested that a traitor leaked the details of their deployment.
"Can it, folks! Traitor or not, there's enough enemies to go around, no need to look behind our backs!"
Captain Osprey eventually ordered them to make a stand while he hollared back to base to send some backup. Help would be on the way, but the chase had led them far away. The first wave of reinforcements was already on its way.
"Nine minutes! We have to hold our ground for nine minutes! That's all I'm asking for!"
Everyone became determined to last this long. Barley felt proud for being given the responsibility to help their unit endure the coming ambush. Ves did not share his enthusiasm for turning to a sitting duck, but he had to make do with what he got.
With contact imminent, Ves relinquished much of the control of their body back to the original personality. He had no delusions that he could outperform Barley's expertise in handling the Jimenez.
His decision proved wise, as Barley's instincts prompted him to jump his mech to the left and catch an errant sniper round aimed for Eloise's mech.
"No problem, sweetie!"
As Barley positioned his Jimenez to catch another volley of incoming fire, Ves grew fascinated with the way he fought. His perspective inside Barley's mind allowed him to witness up close how a knight pilot thought and acted.
"It's a lot more instinctive than I thought."
Many times, lasers and projectiles appeared too sudden to respond, yet Barley managed to anticipate at least a third of their fire. Much of it had to do with pooling his experience, instincts and his intimate knowledge on the armament of his enemies into his instictive reactions. It was akin to a form of enhanced gut feeling that allowed him to block so many shots.
"Is this what an advanced pilot is capable of?" His impression of defensive knights had already gone up a notch so far.
Skirmishers are closing in! Don't let them take out our rifleman mechs!"
Osprey's men shifted gears. They stopped trading potshots at distant mechs and started firing their weapons in longer bursts at the incoming light mechs. Barley quickly noted that the enemy mechs wielded daggers, which meant that they felt confident they could get past Barley and knife the vulnerable ranged mechs.
"Not on my watch!" Barley uttered as he changed the footing of his knight. The Jimenez waited for the closest skirmisher to come within a hundred meters before springing his mech to the side. "Caught you!"
The weak sword arm held up for now as the Jimenez managed to rake one of the skirmisher's arm with his heavy knight sword. The weight of the blade did most of the work, successfully chunking the thin and fragile limb.
The Skirmisher lost its balance from the blow. A friendly spearman mech quickly capitalized on the vulnerability and punctured the unbalanced enemy with a stab through the chest.
The first blow was made in haste and without momentum, allowing the Skirmisher to sacrifice much of its armor to bounce away from the blow. Unfortunately for the enemy pilot, Captain Osprey slashed it from the other side with a single stroke from his swordsman mech. The enemy didn't stand a chance.
"Help out Blazer and Eloise!"
Barley had already dismissed the first skirmisher as soon as it skidded out of his range. The limited mobility of his knight didn't allow him to chase after his opponents. Instead, his responsibility was to defend a zone and make it diffiult for enemies to approach his position from a certain angle.
The presence of the two knights at the front and the rear constrained the enemy by their presence alone. The light mechs possessed no wish to confront them directly, which forced them to approach the cornered Domain pilots from the sides.
In turn, the limited approach vectors allowed the defenders to concentrate their fire in only two directions instead of four. They already took out three foolhardy skirmishers who thought their speed and agility would make them impossible to hit.
The dirtbags learned their lesson and waited for the noose to tighten before they reengaged.
"The medium boys are here now!"
A handful of medium mechs that weighed on the lighter end of their weight class arrived to take point. Barley mainly had to deal with three swordsman mechs of different make. While he possessed a vague familiarity of their designs, he didn't know enough about their capabilities to prevail against three at once.
Sweat poured down from his head where the neural interface connected to his head. Barley had ended up in a number of tight spots over the course of the war, but never did he face such dire circumstances.
Ves found it admirable that Barley still maintained his duty towards the Domain and kinship towards his comrades. He never thought of flinching away. It betrayed the very core of the principles he held as a knight.
As the three enemy swordsman mechs closed in, Barley figured out their plans. They'd leave the middle mech to tie up his Jimenez while letting the other two mechs run roughshod over his unit's vulnerable ranged mechs.
The awful thing about their plan was that Barley could do nothing to stop them. Any decent pilot of a swordsman mech learned how to leverage its mobility to constrain a knight mech.
Even though Ves was shaking in his metaphorical boots, his considerable mind constantly studied the designs of the enemy mechs. He realized quickly that they didn't appear to be in tip-top shape either. The Alliance forces on this remote planet suffered from a lack of supplies as well.
The faded scars of battle damage told its own story. Ves possessed a decent amount of experience with repairing damaged mechs, so he was able to read the markings as clear as day.
"Target the middle mech's legs! It's been blown apart before, and whoever replaced them employed weaker alloys underneath the standard system!"
The mech technicians did a good job disguising the inferior patch job underneath a top layer of standard armor. Any regular mech pilot wouldn't know the difference, but Ves was different.
Upon his advice, Barley slammed the bottom edge of his mech's shield against the nearest leg of his immediate opponent.
The swordsman mech lost its footing as its right leg gave out. Barley spent an errant moment stepping his mech's foot against the other leg, which crippled the stricken mech.
Barley had no time to finish off his victim as he also had the other two mechs to contend. His comrades already had their hands full in fending off the remaining dirtbag mechs. If these other two mechs attacked them from the flank, then their unit would quickly be wiped out!
"Focus!" They both said to themselves as the turned their attention to the left.
Ves already analyzed its major weak point and relayed them to Barley with the speed of thought. Barley slammed the shield close and blocked the next sword strike before hitting back with his own thrust that slipped through the sloppily sealed gap between the lower left side of his opponent's torso.
The swordsman mech lost all power and dropped to the ground like a lumbering ox that got hit by a tranquilizer.
Having taking care of his second opponent, Barley strained his mech to turn around as fast as possible to hurl his shield high against the final swordsman mech's head.
The errant throw dislodged the head from the frame entirely, momentarily disorienting the pilot as he had to get used to a sudden shift in perspective as his mech's backup sensors took over his primary view. A sword thrust from the rear downed the bewildered mech before it could recover.
"I don't know who you are, but you're goddamn smart! Keep 'em coming!" Barley yelled as he shifted his mech towards Eloise to help her fend off a skirmisher mech.
The enemies closest to his Jimenez noticed his abnormal performance. They lessened the pressure on his comrades in order to deal with the greater threat.