The Frosty Meteors broke. There was no way around it. With the Parallax Star fighting alongside the rank-and-file Vandal mech pilots, the entire mob fought harder than they had ever done so before.
The Flagrant Vandals knew they had to stop the Frosty Meteors from completing their doom charge against the Vandal ships. Several hours had gone by since Venidse's commando shuttles crippled their propulsion. It would take days for these ships to regain their mobility, time which they couldn't buy unless they could transition into FTL.
Fleeing into FTL meant abandoning their vitally important logistics ships. Every chief engineer in the task force gathered at the Beggar's Bounty and the Linever Swan to get their replacement FTL drives operational as fast as possible. The battle raging out in space seemed to have fired up their motivation to get them fixed, even managing to find a way to cut even more corners that shortened the repairs by two hours!
Still, the FTL drives couldn't be brought online immediately, so the Frosty Meteors had to be stopped at all costs.
The final tally was fairly gruesome. Ves glanced at the panel showing a summary of the mechs the Vandals deployed."
"Two-hundred casualties. More than a hundred mechs are wrecked while the rest have suffered heavy damage. Over seventy pilots have been killed."
The death toll for this battle was particularly brutal. Even with Venerable O'Callahan doing all of the heavy lifting, the mobbing tactic at the end resulted in a huge amount of casualties in just ten minutes of time.
The Flagrant Vandals succeeded, though, and that ultimately mattered more. After Venerable O'Callahan slaughtered the heavy mechs, the remaining Meteors had been torn down in quick succession. When their numbers diminished to only fifty mechs, it became clear that the Meteors wouldn't be able to inflict any fatal damage to the Vandals.
The Frosty Meteors called for a truce.
"Enough have suffered for today." A tired voice began from the other side of the line.
Though the Vandals ate through the four mech companies of the Frosty Meteors until they were only a shadow of their former selves, the remnants could still take a ship or two down in their death throes while the aggravated Vandals extinguished them. Nobody wanted this tragic battle to escalate up to that point.
Major Verle quickly assented to the cease-fire.
"We'll stop killing you if you stop killing us. However, make no mistake, your survivors are only alive due to our benevolence. From the way I see it, we've won this battle. Salvage priority should go to us."
According to the terms, the Frosty Meteors would halt any offensive actions for the rest of the day. They had thirty minutes of time to retrieve their dead and wounded mech pilots from their wrecks or escape pods. They had also been allowed to retrieve as many wrecks as they could, but only their medium mechs.
In the meantime, the Vandals did the same. They suffered a lot more casualties so buying this reprieve was much more important to them. A myriad of shuttles emerged from the combat carriers and headed towards the expanding debris field that was on a ballistic trajectory towards the local star.
Rescuing the wounded took priority over the dead and healthy. The faster they retrieved the wounded Vandals, the more they would be able to save at the end. Other mechs joined in the rescue effort as well, though they kept their guard around the remnants of the Frosty Meteors.
An awkward situation ensued as both sides tried their best not to pick up the fight again. The Vandals also kept their guard around their vulnerable ships for any stealth attacks. Just because Venidse's commando shuttles hadn't shown up again didn't mean they already left.
Complacency at this stage might doom them all, so the Vandals didn't dare to let down their guard.
Truly, this battle was an enormous shame for the Frosty Meteors. Only rarely had they ever admitted defeat, and they certainly never expected a lighter regiment such as the Flagrant Vandals to get the upper hand.
In the end, they had been too arrogant. They never accounted for the presence of Venerable O'Callahan. If not for the drastic intervention of the expert mech pilot, then they should have been able to defeat the Vandals by a very wide margin.
Venerable O'Callahan regained his cool after the battle. Once the heat and adrenaline of the battle against the Meteors faded into the background, his body became wracked with aches. His old body caught up to tiredness with a vengeance, and he slowly realized that the battle took a greater toll on his lifespan than he thought.
"I lost an entire year! Maybe more!"
Whatever the case, the hysterical O'Callahan immediately returned to the Gorgon's Gaze and hopped into his hibernation chamber as fast as possible. Every second counted in his view.
As the nominal winner of the battle, the Flagrant Vandals abused their privileges as much as they could. Ves hadn't been very useful during the actual battle, but at this moment he and every other mech designer became relevant as they picked and choosed which wrecks to retrieve.
"Should we salvage their heavy mechs?" Pierce asked over the comm. "They're extremely powerful if we can get them up, and we can also earn a lot of money if we simply sell the wrecks as is."
There wasn't an easy answer to this question. Pierce was correct that the mechs could be powerful in their hands, but they didn't fit in with the Vandal mech doctrine. They also lacked the design specifications of the Kenas Oliphant so it would be impossible to repair the heavily damaged mechs up to their previous standards.
In addition, the Vandals probably didn't have any mech pilot with the right training to pilot a heavy mech.
Still, salvaging the wrecks for their material worth alone was very worthwhile. The mechs was made out of highly valuable alloys that still held their value in pieces. Retrieving them now and selling them down the road would allow the Vandals to trade for lots of essential supplies.
"Let's retrieve them, but only for resale. You don't have to be gentle with them and it's fine if you only retrieve portions of the heavy mechs. In any case, we don't want to leave the wrecks to the Frosty Meteors who will be able to piece them back together in no time."
The Vandals on the field followed his instructions. The greedy Vandals had an eye for value, and they instinctively knew that the wrecks of the heavy mechs could be sold for a decent fortune. They didn't need much convincing to nab all of the valuable pieces, though finding some place to store the more intact wrecks turned out to be a challenge as well.
Slowly, half an hour went by as the Meteors finished rushing to retrieve all of their men. As previously agreed, the Meteor mechs returned to their combat carriers, which promptly transitioned into FTL immediately after. Since FTL travel couldn't be interrupted through regular means, this insured that they would no longer be able to play a role in this star system.
Of course, the truce only applied to the Frosty Meteors. If any other mech force from Venidse happened to drop by, they would start all over again.
Nobody wanted to see that. During the negotiations of the truce, the Frosty Meteors had been tight-lipped on the subject of reinforcements. They might arrive in a couple of hours, or they might only arrive a day later. It was imperative for the Flagrant Vandals to leave this star system as soon as possible.
"We're completely exposed here. Venidse not only knows we are in this star system, they also know our exact coordinates. Maybe the next batch of Venidse mechs will transitioned out of FTL right next to us instead of half an hour's flight away!"
The Flagrant Vandals continued to rush through their repair and cleanup efforts. They policed the battlefield as best they could and salvaged the most valuable wrecks in record time.
Two-and-a-half hours after the end of the battle, the Beggar's Bounty and Linever Swan finally regained their FTL functionality. Sort of. Maybe. Tentatively.
The chief engineers hadn't been too certain about their work. If they had an extra hour or two, they could provide more assurances, but Major Verle wasn't willing to stick around any longer and let another wave of Vesian reinforcements catch them at their weakest.
"We leave immediately!"
They let the two logistics ships transition into FTL first, if only to make certain that they could make the jump. With a hazy flicker, the two ships transitioned into FTL with obvious difficulty. Still, the chief engineers declared their work a success.
"The FTL drives require a lot of servicing after the ships come out of FTL, but we are confident that the FTL drives are working as intended, sir."
"What are the odds of failure?" Major Verle asked.
"That is difficult to pin down. Our rough guess would be five percent."
Any chief engineer would be horrified to hear such words. Twenty percent of failure meant that one out of twenty FTL transitions led to horrific disasters. If such odds became the norm throughout the entire galaxy, all FTL travel might collapse after a couple of years.
Right now, their dire situation didn't give them the luxury to lower this error rate. If the task force still remained in this star system by the time the next wave of reinforcements arrived, their odds of failure would reach a hundred percent!
"Let us leave this bloodied star. Begin transition!"
The rest of the task force followed suit and disappeared into FTL.
The battle had finally come to an end.
Some people cheered. Others cried. More simply turned numb. This was because the battle truly hadn't been good for the Vandals. Sure, they fought and beat the mechs from one of the most formidable Vesian mech regiments. This certainly brought a lot of glory to the Vandals once they sent word of it back home. But did that bring the dead back to life?
"At least seventy dead so far. More may follow suit in the coming days as some of the wounded might not make it through."
Any mech pilot that suffered injuries would certainly be in a very bad state. This was their fate should a cockpit be breached. A human body could not withstand the the level of damage inflicted by a mech.
Most of the Vandals couldn't sit still yet in order to mourn the fallen. They still needed to process the aftermath of the battle. Of acute importance was to repair the sublight propulsion systems of every combat carrier that suffered from the previous stealth attack. This would take days as the damage required both interior and exterior repairs.
Fixing up the engineering bay and the interior systems didn't require any special circumstances. Engineers had already begun the repairs.
The exterior repairs on the other hand could only be done when the ships transitioned out of FTL. It wasn't safe for humans to crawl over the hull of a starship in FTL. Very weird things tend to happen to humans that find themselves exposed to the higher dimensions in a direct fashion.
Most tend to... disappear. Where they went, nobody knew.
This meant that once they arrived at their next star system, the task force required at least several days to finish the repairs to the thrusters and other exterior elements.
Combined with the need to service the newly-installed FTL drives on the logistics ships, this basically meant they would be stranded yet again.
Everyone hoped that Venidse wouldn't be able to catch up to them before they finished repairs at the other end.
"Our engineers have their work cut out for them. Mech designers like us have our own duties to fulfill." Ves said as he read through his increasingly large to-do list. "We're short on at least a hundred spaceborn mechs, and hundreds more require essential repairs. Let's get to work."