At first, the pirates approached without contest. Once they walked past the debris field, they bypassed the walls and trudged into the interior of the base. Their prey had gone ahead and retreated towards the center of the base, where a host of ships awaited their arrival.
Surprisingly, the pirates hardly encountered any opposition. The lack of any obstacles among the empty prefab buildings lulled them to a sense of complacency. They unconsciously dismissed any threats among the empty streets and gathered up their numbers before they approached the final defensive envelope.
A fair distance away, at the very center of the red zone, a horde of mechs started to load up to their carriers.
Badly damaged mechs entered first, followed by ranged mechs that expended all of their ammunition. Only a final defensive line of laser rifleman mechs and undamaged melee mechs held their ground.
Alongside these mechs, a large number of anti-air and anti-missile turrets dotted the massive landing field. These formidable military-grade turrets fended off the occasional orbital and missile bombardment as well as any mechs that approached from the ground. A handful of turrets specializing in fast response even reacted swiftly enough to intercept ballistic shells.
The only way to break through the final defensive line was to commit to an all-out assault. Even though the final defensive line intimidated the pirates, their courage continuously swelled as their numbers grew.
On the opposite of the pirate mechs, Raella grinned as she looked forward to the show to come, though she sighed as she thought of her Nimue.
Her light mech hadn't fared too well in recent deployments. Many of its compressed armor plates showed signs of intense blows and some of them had even been peeled away. This meant she had very little buffer left to absorb further damage.
"Will they fall for it?" She asked.
"They're not acting like they've caught on." Fadah said as he sat in the cockpit of his worn-out Blackbeak. His mech had fared better than Raella's, but consecutive battles had stripped quite a bit of layers from its Veltrex armor system. "This is our last gambit. If it fails, we'll be having a rough time."
Fortunately, the pirate mechs cluelessly congregated in the open fairways between the abandoned prefab structures. Their standard sensors detected no explosives and not a hint of undermining beneath their feet. Thus, they swarmed into the base without reservation.
Once the numbers turned from hundreds to thousands of mechs, Colonel Ilos who commanded the evacuation issued an order. "Set off the trap!"
The prefab structures blew up all at once. The explosions had been synchronised down to the microsecond, leaving no opportunity for the pirates to take any precautions at all. Over fifty percent of the base suffered devastating explosions with a familiar electric bent. It turned out those prefabs had been stuffed with overcharged energy cells!
Screams filtered out into the open channels as the lucky ones survived with mangled mechs. As for those who used the prefabs as cover, both their mechs and their pilots had been torn apart from their proximity to the blasts.
The level of violence thrummed throughout the base and even the defenders had to fight to keep their footing. The massive shockwave from the simultaneous explosions even shifted some of the ships!
As the explosions faded, Raella struggled to understand why the pirates hadn't detected the energy cells. "How did the Mech Corps managed to fool their sensors? By now, every mech has their detectors peeled for overcharged energy cells."
"It's because the Mech Corps came with a specialized design that's purpose-built as a bomb." Another pilot in the channel said. "You see, those mech sensors are calibrated towards detecting mech-sized energy cells, but the base has lots of tools that run on smaller energy cells. If the sensors picked all of those smaller energy cells up, the pilot would eventually grow deaf from all of the alarms, so they are all set to ignore the cells below a given size."
Raella understood the ploy. "I see. So instead of making one large cell, you produce lots of smaller ones instead, and bunch them together so their chain reaction is still as devastating as the explosion of a single cell."
Even though the magnitude of the explosion hadn't managed to envelop the entire pirate force, it still brought a devastation to their ranks. At this stage, they lost at least a third of their mechs outright. Another third sustained moderate damage, while the rest got off lightly.
However, even if they still retained enough mechs to overwhelm the defenders, they completely lost their confidence. The devious trap that had devastated the entire outer base had completely smashed their illusions of achieving an easy win.
Some of the ornate mechs at the rear showed up to stiffen up the pirates and prevent them from turning back. A swordsman mech with dragon patterns even strode ahead and beheaded the cowards mechs who had already turned back.
"There's no way back!" Takeru shouted over the channel. "The Mech Corps is at the end of their ropes! Look forward and don't turn back!"
To add some weight to his words, the Dragons of the Void decided to launch their own gambit early. Something twinkled in the airless sky, prompting the anti-air turrets to swivel upwards and fire lasers and projectile at the incoming threats.
The Nimue possessed better sensors than most of the other mechs, so it easily resolved the incoming signatures diving towards them from low orbit.
"Incoming kamikaze ships!"
That set off a throng of alarm. One of the most prevalent and destructive means to circumvent the MTA and CFA's taboos on developing weapons of mass destruction was to employ massive objects originally built for another purpose as payloads.
The amount of damage a single multi-ton ship could deliver upon crashing was immense, and right now over a hundred ships of varying sizes headed straight in their direction.
"Shoot them down!"
Fortunately, the Mech Corps hadn't completely dismissed the possibility of such a tactic, though they never thought the pirates had the guts to commit so many ships. The anti-air turrets started overheating in rapid succession as they struggled to blast apart the sturdy ships.
The transport vessels broke up easily enough, but the converted carriers often carried substantial armor at their bows, making it incredibly difficult to wear them down from the front.
"Mechs, help the turrets. Their firepower isn't enough!"
The ranged mechs all aimed their weapons at the sky and fired them without concern for ammunition or heat. Even some of the melee mechs with backup pistols contributed some of their firepower.
The enormous weight of fire had effect, but not enough. Though the defenders easily took down half of the ships, those had been the easy targets. The rest absorbed a lot of concentrated firepower until they eventually broke up.
Even then, the debris remained a threat. They'd been carried forth in a parabolic arc that ensured that any pieces that emerged would continue to sail forth until it hit right in the middle of the base.
Some of the kinetic turrets and cannoneers had been tasked with knocking these pieces from their trajectory, but it was like pouring water through a sieve. Too many chunks emerged from the wrecks.
"Brace for impact!"
Eventually, the turrets exhausted all of their firepower and managed to destroy most of the ships.
Only a couple of intact ships crashed in the giant landing field. Those that collided directly with stationary ships blew up in an awesome conflagration that affected the closest ships in the vicinity.
Others missed the mark and impacted empty terrain, but the blast and the sheer amount of shrapnel heavily damaged several mechs and ships.
In actuality, the falling debris caused much more damage. Most of the fleet carriers and combat carriers made it out with scratches and dents. Their robust construction and plentiful armor cladding enabled them to shrug aside most of the blows.
The converted carriers and transports fared much worse. The Blood Claws lost six ships when the heavy remains punched through their relatively thin armor and impacted the engines or power reactor. Many other outfits suffered worse.
Worse, much of the debris field fell upon the mechs on both sides. The pirates cursed as they tried to move out of the way of incoming debris that had gone astray, but most of the pieces fell amid the defenders.
Fadah suffered a spate of bad luck as a sharp section of ship armor tore aside his entire shield arm. The momentum of the blow forced his Blackbeak into a spinning crash.
"Fadah!" Raella yelled, though she had no time to help her comrade in arms. She clumsily tried to dodge the smaller pieces raining down upon her Nimue.
"I'm okay!" He said as he instructed his mech to drop its sword and pick up the discarded shield. The Blackbeak tried to lift it up in front of it to face the incoming rain of terror. "I can take care of myself!"
Even the Happy Jelly suffered a lot of scratches as a torrent of fine components scratched her outer service. Luckily, she escaped the worst of the incoming debris as she'd been posted at the edge of the landing field. All of the pirate ships had originally aimed to hit the center of the field where all of the most valuable transports resided. They'd been filled to the brim with high-value exotics.
Indeed, many of those transports suffered substantial damage, and a fair amount had been destroyed outright. Despite the tragedies unfolding in their midst, Colonel Ilos kept her calm and urged the mechs to retreat to the surviving ships.
"The pirates have given us all they got! They don't have anything left to threaten us! Board your ship as fast as possible! We depart in ten minutes!"
Trying to load every defending mechs onto the carrier within ten minutes was a tall order, especially with the sheer amount of confusion going on. Some of the mercenary mechs who'd lost all of their carriers had to beg the other outfits for a berth.
To their credit, the gangs and mercenary corps with space to spare had welcomed these orphaned mechs. They all experienced the same disaster, so they unconsciously grew closer to each other.
Most of the mechs that survived the attack managed to get to their carriers in time. As for the mechs that lost their mobility, their pilots decisively abandoned them and ran towards the nearest ship on foot. Still, not everyone made it to their ships for various reasons.
After a couple of minutes of delay, Colonel Ilos finally had no choice but to cut off the final stragglers.
A majestic sight appeared when thousands of ships ascended from the landing field at the same time. Some of the pirates who regained their wits shot their weapons at them, but the sporadic volume of fire barely tickled the vessels.
The Glowing Planet exhibited lower gravity than the standard Terran norm, so the ships accelerated upwards with ease. The ships quickly boosted out of range and departed from the surface at a clip pace.
Inside the Happy Jelly's workshop, Ves had constantly kept an eye on the situation happening outside. Even as he supervised some last-minute field repairs on the Happy Jelly's spaceborn mechs, he still couldn't help but feel powerless.
"It's impossible for me to influence a battle with thousands of ships and mechs."
The Mech Corps had the situation well in hand, but even then Ves hated the thought of being a bystander. His moody thoughts affected his disposition, which in turn cowed the mech technicians acting on his instructions.
He started to get the hang of managing subordinates. Leadership came increasingly natural to him once he established his authority.
The Amastendira he won from the lottery also strengthened his nerves. The laser pistol he used to keep at his side had barely given him reassurances that he could take out any personal threats by himself. Ever since he received the mastercrafted laser pistol, he gained a lot of confidence that he could even take out a full squad of exoskeleton soldiers.
The thought of wielding so much firepower unconsciously bled through his attitude. People who looked at him regarded him as an elite.
Ves didn't care what others thought of him. He constantly kept his eye on the projected proximity plot which broadly displayed the tactical situation of the ascending fleet. They slowly climbed up to orbit, where a friendly spaceborn fleet awaited their arrival.
Ominously, many pirate vessels had begun to converge along their projected trajectory. The pirates weren't willing to let them go.