"Reporting, sir, Venerable Relia Foster has been captured alive!"
"Good! Make sure to keep her sedated, and don't give her the opportunity to commit suicide!"
Everyone on the command center cheered or sighed in relief. Ves was one of the latter, since this entire ordeal had far surpassed everyone's limits!
"Sir, the garrison troops that landed at the other edge of the oval scar is diverting away from the beachhead! They are moving to intercept our pursuit group!"
"They are moving to rescue Venerable Foster! Don't let them intercept our pursuit force!"
The plot depicting the positions of the mechs on the ground shifted in response. Dots representing Vandal mechs moved away from the beach head in order to cut off the approach of the Hafner garrison mechs.
This caused the Hafner mechs to adjust their course, which led to another shift from the Vandal mechs. This dance went on and on, with neither side willing to get close enough to fight it out.
The only reason why the Vandals didn't allocate more mechs to take care of the garrison force was because they needed to fend off another wave of monsters. Now that they slaughtered hundreds of beasts, the Vandals gained a great understanding of their weaknesses. They didn't need as much mechs to ward them off in the next attacks. It was sufficient to leave behind a single line of melee mechs while entrusting the duty of slaughtering most of the monsters to the Akkaras.
"It's getting more chaotic here! Prepare for extraction! Make sure to chase the garrison troops away from our beachhead!"
Now that the Vandals managed to capture their prize, they had no reason to linger on the Kamwin continent. The sooner they departed they departed this star system, the better!
Ves glanced towards another plot that showed the state of the Nova Migolatus System. Two seperate fleets of combat carriers had crossed into the star system and would take less than twelve hours to reach the Vandals!
They were running out of time!
Both fleets represented entire mech regiments. One of them was a spaceborn regiment called the 3rd Silent Starpiercers. Their mech composition was made up almost entirely of cavalry mechs, more specifically lancer mechs. One or two lancer mechs might not seem so scary, but when they numbered more than eighteen-hundred mechs, a single charge could easily demolish the Flagrant Vandals even if they hadn't split up the main fleet!
Of particular alarm to the Vandals was that the intelligence on the 3rd Silent Starpiercers mentioned that they had an expert pilot among their ranks! Venerable Cordoba Hunt piloted the same kind of lancer mech as Venerable O'Callahan, but unlike the latter Hunt was in the prime of his life.
In a contest between the two, the best result the Vandals could expect was mutual self-destruction.
"And that's not all."
The other fleet that headed towards Nova Migolatus was made up entirely of the 7th Hostland Warriors! This was Venerable Foster's mech regiment, and fielded both landbound and spaceborn mechs. Though their strength was nothing special, the fact that Venerable Foster hailed among their ranks meant that the Warriors wouldn't hold anything back!
The bonds between mech pilots of the same mech regiment could rival the bonds between siblings. Everyone treated each other like family and would never hesitate to rise up and rescue a beleaguered comrade. As the villains of this story, the Flagrant Vandals would not enjoy a good end at their hands!
In short, the Vandals on the ground needed to wrap up this operation quickly to escape the calamity heading in their direction. Once the Silent Starpiercers or the Hostland Warriors caught up with the Vandal fleet in orbit, they would never be able to escape this star system!
"Come on, hurry up!"
Fortunately, in the time it took for the pursuit to return to the beachhead, the garrison troops failed to sum up the courage to attack. This allowed the pursuit force to smoothly enter the temporary base. A handful of doctors escorted by lots of armed security officers placed the unconscious expert pilot on a floating stretcher and transferred her to the heaviest transport the Vandals had on site.
"Drive the Hafner garrison mechs away from the oval scar! Don't let them take potshots at our transports!"
Support personnel already began to dismantle the base. The pursuit force that succeeded in capturing Venerable Foster quickly paused to replenish their supplies. Every mech technician worked hard to replace their energy cells and supplement their ammunition with rapid tempo. Time was short and each mech technician needed to pull their weight.
When Ves patched into the observation systems, he watched on as his mech designers each took up responsibility over important tasks.
Vedette had the unenviable task of supervising the replenishment process. A lot of mechs from the pursuit force had sustained some damage. The impact marks from the native beasts often dented the armor of the lighter mechs. This caused certain functions to cease functioning, such as opening up the rear of the mech to allow the mech technicians to replace the energy cells.
All of this required a quick resolution. Ves saw that Vedette utilized his recent gains in his studies on mechanics to propose expedient solutions. Though they weren't always the best, at least the man had the sense to prioritize speed over minimizing damage. Right now, they couldn't care too much if they sent out a mech with half of its rear armor plating missing!
"He's the most capable mech designer, but he's the most grounded of the bunch."
Trozin on the other hand liaised with the mech pilots. Ever since the start of the Vandal ground operation, she acted as a mediator between the mech pilots and the mech technicians. Ves faintly thought she was slacking off a little too much because she didn't do anything else besides talking.
"She hasn't showcased her technical skills all that much, but she's great when it comes to communicating with mech pilots."
Ves remembered that Trozin was related to a mech captain of the Vandals. Ves already looked up the connection before and found out she was the uncle of Captain Branser, who was stationed aboard the Wolf Mother.
"Right now, the Wolf Mother is part of the other fleet commanded by Colonel Lowenfield, so Trozin can't stir up too much trouble at the moment."
As for Mercator, the other high-ranking mech designer on the ground mainly bossed around the remaining mech technicians. Though the man's behavior was rather loathsome to Ves, the ambitious mech designer made sure that none of the mech technicians slacked off. Under his strict supervision, every technical personnel working on site exerted their utmost into keeping everyone's mechs running.
"He's way too abusive, but maybe that's the only way to keep everyone's productivity high. There's no room for soft-heartedness in the middle of a risky operation."
All in all, the mech designers all fulfilled their roles and prevented any major jams. Transports and shuttled landed and departed from the landing site with hardly any delays. It wouldn't take too long for the Vandals evacuate from the planet.
His only regret was that the Vandals weren't able to retrieve all of their fallen mechs. Many of their wrecks were strewn at least an hour away from the oval scar. The roaming monsters and dense trees made it far too dangerous for them to send out transports to pick up the valuable wrecks.
While the Vandals gained a tiny bit of earnings by salvaging the mechs from the training camp, it far outweighed the losses they sustained so far. Ves roughly estimated their casualties to reach up to half of their landbound contingent!
"Leaving so many mechs behind will hurt our finances a lot." Ves murmured. "Venerable Foster hasn't been merciful to our mech pilots either. She deliberately targeted the cockpit whenever she saw an opportunity."
The latter led to a lot of nasty glared towards the unconscious body of Venerable Foster. Still, most of the mech pilots would never condone any mistreatment of an expert pilot. Even if they ended up in captivity, they still retained their dignity!
More importantly, the Mech Trade Association paid close attention to the treatment of any expert pilot in enemy hands. The organization cared little if someone executed any captives on the battlefield or in a cell. Honestly speaking, the population of humanity had reached a mind-boggling figure. Even if only three-and-a-half percent of them could call themselves a potentate, that left way too many people left.
"An individual mech pilot is worth nothing. An expert pilot is worth an entire mech division."
This was only a figure of speech, but it highlighted the extreme valuation of expert pilots at the state level. The worth of a young and promising expert pilot such as Venerable Foster might reach as high as ten-thousand mechs!
Of course, this reference value could only be taken loosely, as states rarely paid so much in ransom for a captive mech pilot. The actual ransom payments were much more modest as states only paid a ransom up to a certain point.
Nonetheless, their captive was a real prize for which both the rebels and the Hafner Duchy would fight hard to gain. The Vandals directly gained the power to affect the balance of power over this territory.
Right now, the ground forces hurried up to evacuate their beachhead at the oval scar. They successfully managed to evacuate over half of their mechs so far. After driving away the timid garrison mechs, the Vandals bought enough time to evacuate the other half of their mech force.
The ground force left a lot of supplies and other goods in their hasty evacuation. They simply didn't have the time to attend to these matters as the Silent Starpiercers and the Hostland Warriors
"We've retrieved all of our essentials from the surface, sir!"
"Begin our departure from the system!"
The Verle Task Force moved towards the nearest Lagrange point. However, just like on the surface, the Vandals also needed to be wary of the garrison fleet that miraculously kept themselves alive during this operation. Their fast and nimble combat carriers continuously played hide and seek against the spaceborn mechs the Vandals sent in pursuit.
Right now, they formed the largest threat to their escape. As long as they continued to pester the Vandals, they could easily prevent any transitions.
"These cowardly garrison combat carriers are a thorn in our sides." Major Verle stated. "It's a good thing we've come up with a plan."
The only way the Vandals could halt the pestering was if they made some sacrifices. At first, they retracted all of their spaceborn mechs as the fleet moved towards a Lagrange point.
This lured the garrison fleet closer to the Vandals. It didn't take too much time for them to enter into range. Some of their mechs already started firing at the Vandal combat carriers.
However, just as the Hafner spaceborn mechs began to get comfortable, all of the Inheritors and Hellcats boosted from the fleet and overloaded their flight systems! Their rapid acceleration towards the garrison fleet alarmed the Hafner mechs. They quickly boarded their high-speed carriers in an attempt to dance out of reach.
Due to the modest head-start of the Vandal mechs, the garrison fleet risked getting caught. This only prompted the stripped-down Hafner combat carriers to accelerate even faster.
This chase lingered on for half an hour. The Vandal mechs had ceased to overload their flight system, but they still posed a large threat to the Hafner mechs.
Just then, the Vandal mechs collectively turned around and burned back to the task force. They never intended to catch up to the garrison fleet!
As the Inheritors and Hellcats burned their way back to their motherships, the garrison fleet halted their acceleration in confusion. Eventually, they realized what the Vandals were up to and frantically turned around their ships to return to the vicinity of the Vandal fleet!
"Hah! I knew they were scared!" Major Verle exclaimed. "Just like their landbound force, the spaceborn garrison fleet is full of rot. They clearly treasure their lives over the mission."
The Vandals gained a decisive delta-v advantage through their maneuvers. Simply said, the garrison fleet had run away so eagerly that it took a lot of time for their ships to turn around and catch up to their targets. It would take at least fifteen to twenty minutes for their mechs to be in range to disrupt their enemy's attempt to transition into FTL.
The entire task force successfully entered into FTL with more than enough time to spare. The impotent garrison fleet could only watch on as their cowardice allowed their prey to slip away untouched.