The time for battle arrived. Though the Flagrant Vandals already spent hours reducing the space mines homing in on them, they posed a nuisance at best.
In the eyes of mech pilots, only other mechs could threaten mechs.
The 2nd Calico Dancer Bats of the 3rd Imodris Division enjoyed a rich martial tradition.
The martial tradition of a mech regiment formed the core of their identity and strength. Measured in years, they served as a convenient measuring stick to compare to other mech regiments.
The Flagrant Vandals had only been founded less than two generations ago. With less than sixty years of development since their founding, they built up an adequate but lackluster martial tradition.
As for the Calico Dancer Bats, their founding was several hundred years ago. Entire generations had been raised to serve in the Dancer Bats. Some mech pilots could even point back to their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so-on as generational Dancer Bats.
Over hundreds of years, the Dancer Bats evolved into a unique mech regiment that was truly unique in the galaxy. With a rich culture and strong camaraderie, their willpower was practically unbreakable. No matter how badly a battle progressed, they never faltered in the line of duty. They fled only when ordered to and they wouldn't hesitate to fight to the last man if the stakes were high.
Their rich martial tradition not only strengthened their belief, they also refined their battle methods. With their abundantly-staffed design teams, they designed the most optimized mechs for the roles the Calico Dancer Bats demanded out of their mechs. Over many decades, they practiced, tested, and revised their tactics and strategies with their unique mech models until they honed themselves into a razor sharp killing machine.
The Calico Dancer Bats nominally consisted of a spaceborn light regiment, but that belied their ferocity in battle.
Some light regiments exclusively dealt with reconnaissance, harassment, stealth and anti-stealth warfare. Such regiments acted as support for the heavier regiments that did all of the fighting.
The Calico Dancer Bats didn't believe in letting other mech regiments do the fighting in their stead. While they often fulfilled support roles, more often than not they sought to enter the fray in earnest. This earned them a lot of renown over the years as a true battle regiment.
The Vesian regiment's rich tradition and exemplary battle record weighed down heavily upon the Flagrant Vandals. They hadn't even clashed yet, but already most mech pilots started to feel suppressed.
It was ridiculous, but over five-hundred mech pilots felt apprehensive about going into battle against a meager force of eighty Calico Dancer Bats.
That was because the Dancer Bats embodied their name in battle. They developed exquisite tactics and routines that allowed their light mechs to pose a serious threat against a larger but clumsier force. Their favorite tactic was to disperse into a chaotic sphere around a slower group of mechs and pelt them endlessly with their light submachine guns.
Though the Dancer Bats wouldn't be able to deal much damage at the start, neither could the enemies do anything to the annoying circlers. The Bats were too hard to hit with ranged weapons and they were too fast to be caught by melee mechs. Their marksmanship with their famous submachine guns wasn't too shabby either.
Ves had quickly read up on these facts from the intelligence section of the central database. As their mortal enemies, the Bright Republic possessed a good understanding of each Vesian mech regiment, especially one that showed up often during every Bright-Vesia War.
"The difference between the Calico Dancer Bats and the Flagrant Vandals is too big." Ves spoke softly.
Iris nodded in agreement. "The Calico Dancer Bats are one of the premier light mech regiments from the Imodris Duchy. Their mech pilots throw themselves into battle without hesitation. That's not so unusual, but the remarkable thing about them is that they are crafty in battle. They always manage to survive or turn around a bad situation. Their adaptability is their strongest trait."
Perhaps the Calico Dancer Bats wouldn't be as good in raiding ships and facilities as the Flagrant Vandals, but when it came to large-scale mech brawls, the Vesians would feel right at home.
In this situation where the Vandals almost lost heart even before the battle had begun, Major Verle stood up and activated a fleet-wide broadcast. Every serviceman halted their work as projections of their commanding officer emerged in the middle of each compartment.
"Vandals. We stand at the precipice of annihilation. I won't mince words with you. If we don't depart from this star system in the next hour, we might never be able to leave forever. Standing in our way are the fine warriors of the Calico Dancer Bats. They are but eighty active fighters among them. Will we allow ourselves to be disgraced by an outnumbered force?"
Indignation swelled among the Vandals.
"The Calico Dancer Bats are formidable, but so are we! With our numbers and our grit, it's impossible for the Dancer Bats to overcome us! Don't be fooled by their reputation, their mechs are just as vulnerable as ours! There is nothing to fear from them, because they are but an egg trying to smash against a rock! Believe in yourself and believe in your comrades! Remember who you are! We are the Flagrant Vandals! We take what is ours!"
"We take what is ours!"
Major Verle didn't let his speech go on forever. The mech pilots only needed a slight reminder to regain their confidence.
Ves witnessed as the various mechs finished their resupply. By now, most of the mines had lost most of their fuel. They only retained a fraction in the case the minelayers returned to retrieve them. In any case, the mines had done their job. The initial strikes peeled away a significant amount of armor from several combat carriers while the rest had rattled the Vandals and exhausted some of their stamina.
Thus, the Vandals deploying into battle at this moment weren't fresh anymore. Though they had been trained to endure adverse conditions, their readiness couldn't compare to the eighty Calico Dancer Bats that stood in opposition.
Their pristine mechs split up in two companies and awaited the arrival of their adversaries. In any case, the Vandals needed to take the initiative, leaving the Dancer Bats free to react whenever they wanted.
Against the menacing burgundy and black Vandal mechs, the mechs of the Calico Dancer Bats coated their mechs in their namesake calico-colored pattern. On their left chest, they bore the emblem of their mech regiment, which depicted a stylization of a cheeky calico-colored bat.
The two companies employed two different mech models in equal proportions. They consisted of a submachine gun-wielding skirmisher mech and a longer-ranged frontline spaceborn mech. Ves already read the details on their designs. The former was called the Pinprick and the latter became known as the Brain Scrambler.
Both the Pinprick and the Brain Scrambler served as the mainstay mechs of the Calico Dancer Bats. They hadn't brought any other models along, but the two that showed up so far enabled them to employ plenty of tactics already.
If the Flagrant Vandals couldn't overcome a force that deployed their two lightest and cheapest mechs, then they might as well disband their regiment on the spot.
Compared to the cohesion and uniformity of the ranks of the Dancer Bats, the Vandals appeared a lot shabbier despite fielding over three-hundred spaceborn mechs.
Major Verle decided to throw almost all of the Inheritor mechs at his disposal as well as some frontline mechs of their own to chase after the enemy mechs. Meanwhile, he would put their slower mechs on reserve, which included the Hellcat hybrid knights.
He was rather helpless in this decision because the mechs and combat carriers of the Calico Dancer Bats were all capable of swift acceleration. They could both outpace the Inheritors in ordinary circumstances.
Unfortunately for them, this wasn't a regular circumstance.
"Sir, the Inheritors are ready to be deployed."
"Send them in! Follow the plan and don't overload too early."
A sweeping number of Inheritors and a smaller group of frontline mechs that provided ranged support accelerated away from the task force. They started to close the gap to the Calico Dancer Bats and would eventually bridge the entire gap in fifteen minutes.
The Bats didn't want to get caught so early, so they immediately increased their propulsion to match the pace of their pursuers.
Naturally, they also didn't forget their primary duties. Their long-ranged mechs occasionally fired long-range laser beams at the Vandal ships. The attacks dealt little damage against the armored prow of the combat carriers, but nobody felt good about being pelted all day.
The Vandals replied with at least double the number of laser beams. However, their level of marksmanship was much lower, so they missed more often than not. They focused most of their fire against the enemy combat carriers, but the ships waded through the laser grids like graceful dolphins.
The few laser beams that scorched their exterior hardly affected any section of armor.
This was just an appetizer for both forces. Nobody took these errant laser beams seriously. What mattered more was whether the Vandals would be able to catch up with the fleeing Calico Dancer Bats.
Their reputation was not for show. As soon as it appeared the Vandals inched closer with each passing second, the ships and mechs and the Dancer Bats accelerated at full power. The distance widened yet again.
In these circumstances, the Inheritor mechs had no choice but to overload their power reactor and flight systems in order to have any chance of catching up.
Every minute they overloaded their systems, the affected components suffered months worth of wear and tear. Fighting for an hour at this level would already be a commendable feat.
They needed to finish this in half an hour or less. Otherwise, the Inheritor mechs would degrade up to the point where they became total write-offs after the battle.
The Vandals couldn't push their Inheritor mechs too much. They still needed them in subsequent battles.
With that in mind, Ves minutely calculated the most optimal overload level to push their systems. Too little, and the speed boost was too marginal. Too much, and the mechs wouldn't be able to last the entire battle.
Because the mechs hadn't received any significant modifications to accommodate such abuse, Ves had been forced to pick a somewhat conservative overload level of twenty percent. This basically meant the mechs performed twenty percent better in certain areas.
With the sudden twenty percent speed boost, the Inheritors suddenly appeared capable enough to catch up to the Calico Dancer Bats.
This definitely surprised the Vesians. Several minutes went by as the Vandals waited for how their enemy would respond. Would they overload their systems as well to drag out this chase?
"What are the odds they will choose to overload their systems?" Iris asked Ves.
He shrugged. "How would I know? I'm not too familiar with the Calico Dancer Bats. If they want to fulfill their mission, they should choose to reciprocate. However, unlike us, they not only need to overload their mechs, but also their combat carriers. I can tell you that the consequences of overloading the propulsion of a combat carrier is no laughing matter."
The bigger and more complex propulsion systems of these robust vessels granted them greater leeway in overloading their systems, but the expensive was also ruinous. In addition, anything that could go wrong might blow up an entire ship. Thus, the Dancer Bats needed to decide whether to continue to stay out of reach or counterattack in order to preserve their carriers.
In the end, the Dancer Bats continued to flee without adjusting their current course. They chose to stall for time but preserve the integrity of their mechs.
"Looks like we won this first round." Ves sighed. He silently applauded Major Verle for being able to pressure the Dancer Bats without inflicting too much damage. "It looks like the Dancer Bats are too arrogant. For an aggressive mech regiment like theirs, fleeing to the point of overloading their systems is probably a step too far. They would rather let us catch up to them in order to beat us down."