The entire surface of the Glowing Planet had turned into a salvager's paradise. The amount of damaged and destroyed wrecks reached a mind-boggling number that would make any scavenger salivate at the prospect of unearthing this hidden wealth.
Yet at this moment, nobody spared a glance at the valuable remains. Neither the pirates nor their adversaries put the wrecks in their eyes as they steadily maneuvered in low orbit.
"At least three major pirate armadas are heading in our direction!" Ves concluded loudly. "Get the spaceborn mechs ready. We're going to need their protection very soon!"
The mech technicians obediently quickened their servicing of the two mechs. One of them actually consisted of Dietrich's old Harrier. Though it had been designed as an aerial mech, it still functioned decently in space.
The Little Boss himself walked over to Ves. "Is the Harrier in good shape?"
"Good enough for your purposes. I made some last-minute tweaks that will push more speed out of your mech. How are your wounds?"
Dietrich padded his recently regenerated arm. "The Mech Corps used their best facilities on hand to clone my arm. It's going to take a year to work it in, but it won't affect my accuracy when I'm back inside the Harrier."
A mech pilot interfaced with their mechs with their minds, not their muscles. In theory, a brain in a jar could also pilot a mech.
In practice, the state of the pilot's body had a profound influence on the connection between the pilot and the mech. A pilot with an imperfect body often carried his ailments through the connection, thereby affecting the ultimate performance of the mech.
Ves refrained from mentioning these facts to Dietrich because it went over his head. He let his friend keep his delusions in order to retain his confidence. It wouldn't do to pop his bubble just when he was about to sortie.
"So many pirates have come to spoil our escape." He sighed. "I never knew there would be so many pirates in the Komodo Star Sector."
"You haven't even seen the tip of their numbers. I can tell you there are way more pirates in the frontier and the Nyxian Gap who haven't taken the bait. Most pirates are cowards, you see. Brawling out in the open like this isn't their style."
"Even then, it's still ridiculous to see so many pirates sporting so much hardware. Even if their ships and mechs are scraping the bottom of the barrel, they still brought enough numbers to overrun a major region of stars. Why haven't they carved out their own state with their firepower?"
Dietrich laughed a that question. "That's because they never see eye-to-eye with each other! Except for the Dragons of the Void, all of those other pirate groups can't manage to keep a hold of more than a few hundred mechs. The moment they try to subjugate more pilots, they'll all rebel and break apart."
The mention of the Dragons of the Void caused Ves to frown. "Those guys again. Who are these people? They're able to brainwash so many pirates it's a wonder they're still around. I would have thought the other pirates would have ganged up on them already."
"It's the same story. Pirates are fundamentally cowards and they never get along with each other. It takes a massive pirate horde to wipe them out, which is something that will never happen. Even now, those three pirate alliances heading to intercept the Mech Corps are guarding against each other as well."
Ves hadn't noticed that, but as he eyed the plot, it started to become clear. The pirates made sure to approach from opposite directions and follow trajectories that didn't intersect with each other.
"I'm not sure this will help us right now. The pirates seem content to stay out of each other's way."
Multiple predators of the same race wouldn't quibble with each other in front of their prey.
"Contact in twenty minutes! Mech pilots, please board your mechs!" An announcement rang out.
"This is my cue." Dietrich said and turned around to race towards his Harrier. "Wish me luck!"
Over the next minutes, the situation started to become clearer. Ves got a better idea of what went on when he analyzed the movements of all of the fleets.
"First, we'll converge with the spaceborn mechs of the Mech Corps. Second, we'll combine forces with the Mech Legion!"
That last one came as a surprise to Ves, but he quickly understood the logic. Neither the Mech Corps nor the Mech Legion stood a chance if the pirates decided to commit all their forces on one of their fleets.
Rather than take the gamble and pray the pirates decided to go for their enemies, the two military fleets decided to take the certain path and gather together into one giant concentration of military-grade mechs and carriers.
"Even the pirates will quell at the thought of facing such strength."
The only problem was that the Mech Corps couldn't trust the Mech Legion and vica versa. They only had an incentive to band together when they were knee-deep into the Glowing Zone. Once they reached the edge, all thought of cooperation would vanish. Ves predicted that it would be a game of chicken to see which side struck the first blow.
"This is a mess."
If his relatives back at the Larkinson Compound heard about the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion banding together, they'd laugh at him for being a liar. Yet this momentary alliance of convenience presented the best option by far to make it through their common enemy.
The first part of the plan went smoothly. The pirates failed to intercept the ascending fleet before they merged with the spaceborn fleet. Bolstered by a significant amount of ships and mechs from the 1st Volari Spacehawks and some other regiments, the fleet gained a lot of teeth all of a sudden.
Still, the pirates resolved to stop them before they converged with the Mech Legion. Even they could extrapolate their trajectories and figure out the military fleets intended to back each other up.
Dietrich joined the massive formations of spaceborn mechs with his Harrier and continued to fend off the increasingly formidable waves of pirates. At another corner of the fleet, Ghanso Larkinson fought with relentless hatred against the pirates with his Vhedra mech. Their earnest defense caused the pirates to falter in their attacks.
"I don't see those Dragons of the Void bastards anywhere!"
"Push hard and fast! They'll pull back as long as we make them suffer!"
A prodigious amount of firepower travelled through space. The defenders fought with fury as they vented their frustrations accumulated in recent times onto the pirates that dared to face the Mech Corps directly.
Pirate mechs fell in great numbers, prompting the first of the cowards to turn back. However, a few of the daredevils continued to push onwards as they'd been promised great rewards for killing even one enemy mech.
At this stage in the campaign, both sides had lost their edge. Every mech pilot fought at least a dozen different battles with only occasional bouts of sleep as their rest. The constant vigilance and nerve-wracking patrols wore down their mental states and slowed down their reflexes.
Their mechs also dropped in quality. The pirates had it worst, as they often used cheap, salvaged mechs that ordinary mercenaries disdained. Many of the mechs they piloted had been scavenged from the scrap belts orbiting the Glowing Planet. They only enjoyed a rudimentary repair before being put back to service.
This led to the unfortunate tendency for pirates to eject early. They possessed no faith in the strength of their mechs. Some pirates even piloted their fifth or sixth mechs.
As for the Mech Corps, they used to field large number of high quality mechs. However, months of campaigning had ground down a substantial number of those premium mechs, which forced the mech pilots who ejected from a bad situation to take up cheaper run-of-the-mill mechs that had been kept as backups.
Ves noted that despite the somewhat tepid enthusiasm among the pirates, they still scored plenty of kills. The Mech Corps continued to hemorrhage mechs as they attempted link up with the Mech Legion.
"It's the attrition and weariness that gets to you." He said as other mech pilots and mech technicians gathered at his side.
Landbound mechs ceased to be useful in this conflict in space. Walter's Urmech and Fadah's Blackbeak had no way of maneuvering in space. They had to possess a flight system at the very least to travel back and forth.
Not all landbound mechs lost all of their power. In an emergency, a couple of rifleman mechs could position themselves next to the hangar doors and shoot out when they opened, but usually that was a waste of time. The Whalers didn't even bother with that nonsense.
Fadah grumbled a bit when he stared at the Mech Legion's fleet. "I'm more worried about the Vesians. We all know that we won't be playing nice once we make it to the end."
Even Ves worried about the possibility of falling out. They had to stick close enough to present a united front, but they also had to keep enough difference to discourage any funny business.
"I'm sure the Mech Corps has the situation well in hand. They're not stupid."
They could only trust in the Mech Corps to see them through. If nothing else, Ves had learned how little he mattered in a conflict that spanned over countless mechs and tens of thousands of ships. Unless some kind of mythical ace mech pilot showed up, the battle between the different factions depended upon thousands and thousands of mechs.
The sheer number of mechs involved in this struggle really opened his mind. As he tracked the slow convergence of the two military fleets, his despair about his insignificance increasingly took over his mind.
Then, he stopped.
"What am I thinking?" He shook his head. "I'm a mech designer. There's always a way for me to influence a battle."
As long as he designed better mechs that sold pretty well, he did his part in helping out the Republic. Ves imagined a day where his designs dominated the market and elevated everyone's strength.
Such a dream may take a long time to come into fruition, but it would definitely come to pass sooner or later.
As Ves dreamt of better times, the battle out in space grew into a tangled and dispersed running skirmish. Thousands of carriers and transports of all shapes and sizes desperately boosted in a particular direction. They constantly built up their speed as they leveraged the Glowing Planet's gravity well for their upcoming slingshot maneuver.
This made it difficult for the pursuing pirates to catch up unless they followed the same trajectory. However, this would put them into a permanent chase where they wouldn't have a lot of chances to catch up once they fell behind.
Ghanso knew that he had to hold the pirates back at this stage. As long as they linked up to the Mech Legion and sling-shotted their way out of orbit, they'd buy some precious time.
His Vhedra soared in space alongside his diminished squad and snapped off a series of shots. His laser beams disabled two approaching pirate mechs. While the machines hadn't blown up, his lasers successfully disabled their fragile flight systems, stranding them in a helpless ballistic course that brought them further away.
"Your aim's improved!" A colleague at his side exclaimed. "Just a week ago you would have only taken out a single mech!"
"I had a lot of practice." Ghanso replied nonchalantly.
Even as many mech pilots performed worser and worser, Ghanso was one of a few who constantly improved. Ever since he escaped death by ejecting early against the foreign expert mech, he found that some kind of limit had broken in his mind.
Many skills he'd been struggling with for years saw rapid improvement all of a sudden. It turned him from a well-trained but inexperienced mech pilot into a force to be reckoned with. His marksmanship trumped over his squadmates by a significant margin, and he continued to improve every day.
In truth, many mech pilots broke past their limits and experienced something similar to Ghanso's state. Mech pilots who experienced true combat and survived with their spirits intact grew more passionate about piloting mechs and bonded deeper with their mechs.
To a lesser extent, both Raella and Fadah experienced brisk improvement in their judgement and skills.
While Ghanso was taking out enemy pirate mechs left and right, he hadn't realized he attracted a lot of attention. The pirates shifted their deployment and a squad of extraordinary mechs veered towards his location.
An alarm sounded off his console. "Priority alert! Incoming expert mechs!"