One might think that the most precious resource in a battle consisted of manpower. Without able men and women trained to fight, no force would be able to sustain themselves in battle.
Others might argue that mechs counted for more. A force that invested in the quantity and quality of their mechs would possess more depth and options even if their mech pilots fell short.
Through the progression of the battle on Detemen IV, Ves learned that both manpower and mechs played second fiddle to the most crucial resource of all: time.
"There's never enough time."
The entire operation on the Detemen System rested on the premise that the Flagrant Vandals and the Detemen League could complete their objectives within four days.
If they stuck around longer than that, then enemy reinforcements might arrive to close their window of escape.
The rebels numbered hundreds of thousands at the very least. Though most didn't possess any exceptional skills, it was undeniable that they had numbers on their side, or else they wouldn't have been able to wrest control of the auxiliary regiments that guarded the planet.
The only downside was that they hadn't been able to cultivate a mech force that could compete for global hegemony on the planet.
As for the 6th Flagrant Vandals, as a legitimate mech regiment, their numbers was only a fraction to the rebels, and only about two-thousand of them consisted of the actual fighters. Yet their ability to fight was arguably more superior than the Detemen League due to their abundant ships and mechs.
Both of them had managed to overwhelm the defenses around Neron City and enjoyed free reign in certain parts of the city. While a lot of different outfits still possessed enough mechs to resist the Vandals, their internal rivalry and mistrust ruled out the possibility of forming a common front against the invaders.
Over at the manufacturing district, the Vandals picked their targets carefully. They didn't overwhelm every manufacturing complexes in their way with brute force, but rather focused their efforts on a handful of plants at a time. Through this fashion, they deliberately let off valuable sites whose defenders sighed in relief.
The company defenders of the complexes that had been spared all thanked their lucky stars that the Vandals chose to pass them by. They had zero incentive to bail out the industrial sites that the Vandals raided.
In fact, the lucky ones even cheered the Vandals on for ruining their competitors and make it easy for them to expand their businesses after this ordeal.
Yet while the Vandals achieved a decent amount of success in one of their objectives, the hunt for Lord Javier consumed far too much time. The noble's whereabouts only became known on the last day of the operation, and it wouldn't be easy to take him into custody.
"Lord Javier is a tough bone to chew." Ves surmised.
Not only did he pilot the Loquacious Raphael, which was arguably the best mech on the planet, he also relied on the protection of his elite honor guard. Furthermore, the entire area around the recycling plant was riddled with traps and tunnels.
The attacking force made out of Vandal mechs and rebel auxiliary troops faced two unappealing options.
The most direct option was to push through regardless of the cost. No matter how many traps Lord Javier prepared, it was undeniable that he didn't bring too much mechs when he escaped the palace.
Still, anyone could imagine the cost might not be worth it. Depending on how well Lord Javier and House Eneqqin prepared their battlefield, the Vandals might lose all of the mechs committed to this assault.
The other option would be to take it slow. This was the most proper response to the situation the attackers faced. By scouting ahead and detecting the traps beforehand, they could easily dismantle them one by one before they exploded in their faces.
The problem with this choice was that it would take days or even weeks to tighten the envelope around Lord Javier's hideout. This course of action might be viable in other campaigns, but in the time-sensitive operation of the Vandals, they needed to scram from this star system by the end of the day or risk never coming back to Republic space.
In essence, the defenders deliberately served an unpalatable binary choice to Vandals and the rebels. Taking it slowly was out of question, and barging on ahead would lead to unacceptable losses.
The mastermind behind this defense plan therefore hoped that the attackers would pick the third option, which was to give up on Lord Javier and abandon any thoughts of pushing through.
Commander Breskin and the rebels already leaned towards this exit that the defenders had magnanimously prepared for them. Although failing to take out Lord Javier would discredit their organization, they could always make a comeback.
The Vandals on the other hand couldn't afford to fail when they were so close to completing this objective. They staked much more than their credibility, but locked themselves into a contract with the opposition forces within the Vesia Kingdom.
If they stepped away at this critical moment, then their return to friendly space might be in question.
This was why Major Verle rejected all three options, and chose a fourth instead. When facing an elaborately prepared board set up by their opponent, the best solution wasn't to play the game on the enemy's terms.
No. The best solution was to flip the board entirely.
The artificial meteorites sent down from orbit plummeted through the atmosphere like the wrathful hammers of a god. The sheer kinetic energy these meteorites could unleash was unimaginable. Though anti-air batteries successfully shattered a handful of of the hardy meteorites through sheer weight of fire, that still left around a dozen more.
The fleet in space already estimated the amount of anti-air fire the meteorites would be subjected to. They flung enough of the meteorites to push through the storm and make it to the surface.
Half a minute before the first impact, every civilian still in range despaired. Madness and resignation took over, and a few of them even did things they never would have done if not for the glowing specs streaking towards their location from the air.
"HAHAHAHA! It's the end of the world!"
"Shhh honey. Don't cry. It will all end soon."
"Screw Lord Javier and screw the Brighters! They can all go to hell!"
The Vandal and rebel forces evacuated as far as they could. Even though they escaped the most acute danger zone, they could still suffer a substantial amount of damage by staying in the vicinity. Once time almost ran out for them, they braced their vehicles and mechs as best they could.
Even Ves, Addy and the others in the underground rebel base huddled into their crash seats. Ves put his helmet back over his head, enclosing him in his worn but serviceable light combat armor.
Someone projected the ticker for the first impact above their heads.
"Brace for impact!"
Three. Two. One.
A huge roar sounded out in the distance, and various vibrations and shocks ran throughout the entire underground base. Substances fell from the ceiling while some of the haphazardly piled crates fell over. Several rebels cried out in pain as these crates smashed against their bodies.
The deep shakes and vibrations continued in succession as more artificial meteorites landed on the ground and unleashed all of the energy they built up in a single instant to the ground and its surroundings.
Through the projections of the impact area, they witnessed the devastation as it progressed.
The first artificial meteorite landed directly on the recycling plant itself. The large structure crumpled instantly became engulfed in a massive upheaval that destroyed the entire complex.
Other meteorites devastated the area around the annihilated plant. Dozens of structures disintegrated like crumbling sand, much of which the collision launched far into the air. Debris rained like apocalyptic ash many kilometers away, causing hundreds and thousands of unsuspecting citizens to lose their lives.
A handful of mechs, troop transports and hovertanks sustained incidental damage as well. Two mechs even got hit by aircar-sized chunks that almost crippled them. At their current state, they lost at least half of their combat effectiveness.
As for the area within the danger zone, virtually no civilian made it out alive. The kinetic impact, the ensuing shockwaves, the raining debris and more all turned the danger zone into an area of death. Without any form of protection, a human stood no chance of survival.
Those who cowered underground fared no better. The reason why forces in space still resorted to artificial meteorites was because as much as the damage on the surface looked bad, they inflicted the same level of destruction to any underground construction in the vicinity.
Many tunnels collapsed outright as the powerful impacts rearranged the underground terrain. Vast craters emerged in the place of boltholes and panic rooms. The massive tunnel complex that House Eneqqin prepared to play with their opposition transformed into upturned soil that was indistinguishable from the ruinous terrain.
As the impacts and immediate destruction subsided, everyone in the underground base lowered their guard.
No one celebrated their survival. Instead, they stared at the shaky footage of the aftermath of what the artificial meteorites had wrought.
"You bastards!" One rebel suddenly shouted and started to assault a nearby logistics officer from the Vandals. "Now I know why you're called the Flagrant Vandals! It's because you have no compulsion to destroy everything in your way!"
"Cut it out!" Addy yelled, and quickly ordered her more level-headed subordinates to pull the maddened rebel away. "What happened was tragic, and we will definitely account for it with the Vandals, but this is not the time to fall out with our allies!"
Through a mixture of persuasion and cajoling, Addy successfully managed to keep a lid on any potential outbursts. Ves quietly sighed in relief and loosened his armored hand.
If the rebels truly turned on the Vandals, Ves would have pulled out the Amastendira without hesitation. For now, he could keep his weapon a secret for a while longer.
A few minutes after the disaster, the rebels sent out various bugs and floating sensors. An increasingly detailed picture emerged from ground zero. The footage sickened most of the occupants of the base.
Ves was no different, even though he understood the brutal chain of logic behind Major Verle's decision. Just because he recognized that throwing down a bunch of heavy objects from orbit was the most expedient solution to their dilemma, didn't mean he agreed with the decision.
Yet what else could Major Verle have done? Give out a warning and delay the launch? Giving the civilians the time to evacuate the impact site would also provide the same opportunity to Lord Javier and his honor guard.
They could not let the slippery bastard slither out of their grasp again.
"We're not done yet." Ves spoke, cutting through the fog and depression that hung over most of the rebels. "A proper underground stronghold is always meant to withstand weapons of mass destructions. If Lord Javier and his escorts fled into their strongholds in time, they won't be taken out by a bunch of meteorites."
The possibility that Lord Javier survived was in fact very strong. The artificial meteorites managed to inflict a lot of damage, but beyond the immediate impact site, the damage quickly spread out. A tough enough bunker wouldn't crack under the pressure.
"You heard the man! Deploy more bugs and focus them underground! Find me their bunkers and mark their locations!"
It would be too easy for Lord Javier to perish from such a banal attack.
The investigation quickly confirmed his guess.
"We've detected a major bunker underneath the recycling plant! It's.. it's partially intact!"
A score of mechs and hovertanks proceeded towards the site. While the mechs had trouble finding their footing in the complex terrain, the hovertanks displayed no strain as they hovered over the debris that used to be places where people worked and lived.
This time, the fight against Lord Javier proceeded in a completely different way. The meteorites wiped out the tunnels and traps, leaving the Vesian noble with very few advantages.