Interception happened fairly frequently in chases. A force with a superior number of ships would cast a net over a range of star systems and observe every ship transitioning in and out of FTL. If they spotted a fleet heading into a specific direction, as long as the sensors captured enough details, it was possible to trace a line between the starting point and the end point.
Naturally, the line only served as a rough guide. FTL travel followed curves instead of straight lines, and a more turbulent gravitic environment distorted the actual route even further.
Therefore, intercepting a ship in FTL by laying down gravitic disturbances at the midpoint was plainly unrealistic. It would be like casting a man-sized net into an enormous river.
In addition, the current level of FTL technology at the Komodo Star Sector's disposal didn't allow ships to stop midway. Ships could only set their destination on some sort of gravitic anchor such as star systems, black holes or rogue planets.
Thus, setting a possible ambush at a possible midpoint was moot, because the ambushing force wouldn't be able to reach that area of space in the first place.
The best solution would be to ambush a fleet at or near the end destination. The closer a ship reached her destination, the more it funneled closer along the line that ran through the starting point and the destination point.
This made it possible to lay down a minefield and sprinkle it with gravitic mines to act as FTL disturbances.
Even then, the odds of catching a fleet was minimal due to unreliable intelligence and the randomness involved with FTL travel. In truth, the star system laid down several different minefields spread out over other possible approach angles.
This increased the odds of catching their prey.
In truth, the Verle Task Force was bound to be caught in a net of gravitic mines once they decided to jump to this system. The trapping force had cast too many nets at the mouth of the river.
"Identify those mines!"
"I got it!" Ves said as he finished matching the parameters of the mines to the ones in the database. "It's the MEX-LIGHT 25-E, from the same manufacturer as the XX-REX missiles! They're military-grade light mines fabricated from Imodris!"
Imodris had finally caught up to them!
"Tell me more!"
Ves quickly read through the traits of these mines. "The MEX-LIGHT mines are meant to be employed as traps. They're stealthy, light, networked, cheap and are built to be fast! They aren't very evasive but due to their speed it becomes possible to spread them very wide, covering the highest volume possible. Their only weakness is that they don't have much of a payload, but because they're employed in an enormous volume that isn't too much of a problem!"
"We are getting stung by a hive of bees." Major Verle concluded.
This succinctly described their current predicament. Bees couldn't deal much damage to a human, but once they gathered in a swarm, they gained the ability to deal fatal damage.
Because the minefield encompassed a huge volume, it took a lot of time for the mines to boost towards the ships in their midst.
Every space mine possessed powerful but short-ranged thrusters that allowed them to mimic missiles in some sense. Though they lacked some of the capabilities of true missiles, it nonetheless allowed them to approach their targets instead of passively waiting for their targets to bump into them at point-blank range.
Every second, more mines converged onto the task force. Fortunately, the Vandals had been prepared for every eventuality so they deployed remarkably quickly. The ranged mechs took out mines from afar while the Akkara heavy mechs that hid behind the bunkers built along the hulls of the combat carrier acted as the last resort.
Mine impacts began to decrease, but they never ceased!
The Flagrant Vandals never employed enough ranged mechs. Their bias towards melee mechs came to bite them back with vengeance. It would be suicide for melee mechs to destroy the mines up close, as they possessed just enough power to take out a mech in a single blast.
Still, while the Vandals didn't have much experience in dealing with minefields, they encountered this kind of situation a number of times.
"Arm the useless melee mechs with any spare rifles we can give them!" Major Verle ordered.
"Sir, that would put us at risk of a mech ambush!"
"No enemy force would want to mingle in this minefield! The odds of friendly fire is too great! Still, leave twenty percent as guards but arm the rest!"
The Vandals fielded an overwhelming amount of humanoid mechs, and this provided them with a lot of flexibility. Swordsman mechs and spearman mechs holstered their primary weapons for bog-standard laser rifles. The melee mechs wielded the rifles awkwardly, as their limbs lacked the delicate precision that was necessary to handle them with accuracy.
Nonetheless, the melee mechs didn't need to be too accurate. As long as they kept shooting, they were bound to hit one of the mines, especially since the mines single-mindedly approached the fleet at the cost of evasion.
The situation came under control as the task force intercepted most of the mines on approach.
"Light to moderate damage to armor cover throughout the fleet! The Antecedent sustained the heaviest damage!"
"Good!" Major Verle grinned.
The Antecedent was one of their fatter combat carriers. Though she lost her original compressed armor coverage, the bulk of her cheaper armor made her more resilient than the Shield of Hispania. During this ambush, the Antecedent released the strongest signals, acting as a beacon for ordnance to home in on.
Other ships suffered a fair amount of damage as well. Some impacts even targeted the same armor section, causing it to lose all protection and exposing the closest compartments to the vacuum of space.
Bee stings or not, successive mine explosions hurt the combat carriers a lot.
Even worse was this might only be the start.
"Minefields are never left alone! There should be some ships from Imodris lurking in the vicinity! Watch for signs beyond the minefield!"
Unfortunately, their sensors detected nothing at all. The constant mine detonations only made it harder to find an enemy that tried their best to hide.
"Identify the shortest distance to the edge of the minefield and orient our heading towards that direction! We need to escape this field!"
It took some more scanning but they finally managed to develop a vague estimation of the scope of the minefield. The Vandal ships had emerged from FTL in the lower portion of a massive sphere. They only needed to traverse a third of the sphere's radius to escape the minefield.
The only problem was that the sphere was in the process of contracting. Every mine received instructions from a hidden vessel that transmitted the exact coordinates of the Vandals. Thus, it would take a lot of time to build up speed and shake off the mines.
Major Verle ordered the ships to move in any case. Mines generally couldn't move for long before running out of fuel, so the most effective way to shake off the mines was to wait for them to expire.
Yet to do so would take too long.
A change overcame the mines. They no longer tried to press into the Vandals as frantically as before. Their pacing became more measured. Fewer mines came in, allowing the defenders to relax and even rotate their defense.
"We haven't managed to detect any enemy vessels in the vicinity, sir." The tactical officer reported. "This tells us that Imodris likely hasn't deployed enough ships to threaten us. This minefield has been laid out on a contingency. If Imodris has readied a fleet, it must be elsewhere. It will take at least an hour to several days for that fleet to converge on our location. The minefield is has gone from trying to destroy our ships to trying to delay our escape."
Though this reduced the chances of sustaining significant damage, no one smiled, including Major Verle. "Reinforcements are on the way. If we fall for their stalling tactics, it will be too late to escape once their main fleet arrives. Seems like Imodris has learned from Venidse."
Ves and Major Verle expected to face these kinds of situations from Venidse. It was right out of their playbook. First, they spread out mines and mixed them with gravitic emitters. Once their nets caught a fish, their heavy fleets converged on the fish that frantically tried to escape. Once Venidse's forces caught up with the trapped fish, they would ground it down and make it impossible for it to escape.
"We need to get out this trap!" Verle stated. "Find me a solution!"
The endless mines made it impossible for the ships to transition back into FTL. It was as if someone tried to sleep but the person next to them snored like a trumpet. There was no escape from their predicament unless they changed their situation.
Ves tried to look through the central database to see if they developed any hacking solutions for the MEX-LIGHT mines. He found nothing. "The mines are too new. The Mech Corps hasn't been able to crack their programming yet."
Relying on the hackers serving with the Vandals to hack the mines was unrealistic. They needed months or years to overcome their virtual security. Imodris would only give them a day at most to get away.
Ves concluded that unless they retained a genius hacker, the Flagrant Vandals wouldn't be able to do a thing about the mines. Other than shooting them, they would continue to obey the programming of the hidden Imodris stealth ship lurking just outside the minefield.
Even destroying the stealth ship wouldn't change anything as the mines would continue to follow their last instructions. Even without any human holding their hands, mines could persist for decades trying to follow the same order.
"How long until we escape this minefield?!"
"At least six hours, depending on their fuel reserves!"
The mines obviously switched to some sort of fuel-efficient mode. This allowed them to move around for an extended period of time. That the controllers opted to switch to this mode meant they felt confident that their reinforcements would arrive in less than six hours.
As the command center's officers attempted various solutions, often without result, Ves continued to scour the database for possible solutions.
He couldn't find any viable solution. The military-grade space mines left no loopholes for them to exploit. Ves also lacked the expertise to attempt to hack the mines himself or interfere with their programming.
He wanted to pull out a solution so badly, but with no mechs in sight, most of his expertise couldn't be brought to bear.
Right now, the mech officers kept it all together. Their mechs had been split up into three shifts. Each of them took turns to shoot down the relentless mines. Once a shift ran low of energy or ammunition, they swapped with the next shift and replenished their supplies. This happened on and on for hours because they couldn't think of anything better.
All the while, a hidden doomsday clock ticked above their heads. At the predestined time, their end would come in the form of a massive Imodris punitive fleet.
"Iris. Is there no way the rebels can lend us a hand?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry but all of their assets have been chased away from this star system. Besides, they won't be of much help even if we do enlist their aid. They aren't particularly well-equipped."
This highlighted their helplessness in the face of an enemy trap. No matter what, for their FTL trajectory to be predicted accurately to this extent meant that they had some traitors among the Vandals. At the very least, an insider leaked valuable navigation data to the enemy.
The traitor might even be transmitting their telemetry to the enemy right now!
Ves looked up and activated a rare command. He wanted to speak to Major Verle in private.