The rest of the battle progressed with no suspense. After overwhelming and dismantling the Nyven Skrats, the Masters of Combat lost their principal force of mechs. Their slow and hefty frontline mechs and ranged mechs crumbled in quick succession.
"They really counted on their stealth attack to turn this battle around." Ves recognized.
That had given the Vesian mercenaries enough hope to put up a heroic last stand against a superior force. However, once the Vandals caught and demolished the stealth shuttles in an instant, the Masters of Combat folded within seconds!
The Flagrant Swordmaidens encountered no significant resistance upon mopping up the rest. While they allowed the remnants of the Caged to flee from the star system without any further harassment, the ships of the Masters of Combat needed to fall in their hands.
"Contact the Masters of Combat. Issue a surrender demand." Major Verle spoke as soon as the Masters of Combat lost every remaining spaceborn mech in the field. "They've lost enough lives as it is. There is no need for further bloodshed."
While the Vandals didn't mind exterminating every last Master of Combat, driving their defeated opponents to the brink might provoke them to self-destruct their defenseless ships. The comba carriers and light carriers all possessed a lot of resale value. It wasn't a bad idea for the Vandals to attempt to recoup their losses by selling their spoils.
The communications officer quickly received a reply. "Sir, the First Master has declined the officer. He intends to resist until the very end."
Major Verle was afraid of that, but he already expected their recalcitrance. It was one thing to let the Caged scurry back to their homes. While the gang was formidable in the right circumstances, in the end their main force consisted of untalented mech pilots and lower-end civilian-grade mechs. The threat they posed to the Flagrant Swordmaidens was minimal, especially now that they received an abject lesson on how outmatched they were against a military force.
The Vandals coordinated with the Swordmaidens in disabling and boarding the fleeing starships of the Masters of Combat. Vandal marksmen surgically struck the thrusters and engineering bays of the vulnerable ships, leaving them wide open to the Swordmaiden boarding parties entering the crippled vessels.
This turned out to be a tedious affair as the Masters of Combat split up all of their remaining assets. This wasn't enough to stop the ferocious Swordmaidens clad in exoskeleton armor. Though they encountered stiff resistance in the interior of the vessels, this was just the last gasp of a dying mercenary corps.
The Masters of Combat ceased to exist after this day. Though they left behind a lot of assets as well as a base back at Venidse, the core of their fighting strength was completely gone. The remains consist of a hollow shell that would never be able to bring back their past glory.
The Vandal mech pilots returned to their motherships with pride. Casualties remained limited throughout the engagement. Besides a few unlucky pilots, most returned without a scratch. This was one of their best battles in recent times, and a good start for what was about to come.
As Ves walked up to Chief Haine as the Shield of Hispania greeted the returning victors. Mech technicians whooped and laughed as the smiling mech pilots emerged from the their mostly-intact mechs.
If there was one thing Ves was glad for, it was that the battle hadn't been too strenuous on their side. With an advantage in numbers, training, discipline, coordination and more, the only way the alliance between the Caged and the Masters of Combat could eke out a victory was if their stealth shuttles succeeded in their surprise attack.
Though the desperate move ultimately failed, the attempt reminded Ves that he should never underestimate any opponents. Even though the Vandals retained the upper hand throughout the battle, it only took a single mistake to turn the tide.
"There are too many risks involved with battles."
If he hadn't taken the time to upgrade the detection capabilities of the fleet, it might have been the Vandals who would be running with their tails between their legs.
Ves felt apprehensive about the fickle nature of combat. His overactive imagination revisited the key moments of the battle and modeled alternative outcomes. In hindsight, many things could have gone wrong.
He had overlooked so many aspects that he admired the mech officers for keeping a cool head throughout the engagement. The measured leadership of Major Verle and the other mech officers had been crucial in responding to changes in the battlefield.
"I'm not cut out to lead men into battle." He shook his head. Ves wouldn't be able to see the forest from the trees. "I'll have to leave the strategizing to others."
Once Ves reached Chief Haine, he watched on as she hollered at some celebrating mech technicians to pick up their tools and go back to work. This was no time to take a day off!
"Vandals will be Vandals." Ves commented to the chief. "Let the lads have their fun. They deserve to celebrate their first clean battle."
The chief scowled. "You can't let off on these lazy bums. As long as I'm their supervisor, they're destined to be my slaves. Mech technicians are amazingly productive as long as you whip their backs now and then."
Ves was aware that the chief was only speaking in hyperbole. She didn't literally treat her mech technicians like slaves. However, out of every chief that Ves had met, Haine was the most serious about maximizing productivity.
They both observed the returning mechs in silence. Ves mainly wanted to observe the condition of the mechs. From what he saw so far, the Vandal mechs mostly incurred surface damage to their exterior and armor plating. Each mech pilot had been skilled enough to prevent the incoming long-ranged laser fire from focusing on a single section of their mechs.
"Looks like we'll mostly be fixing surface damage in the next couple of weeks."
Chief Haine nodded. "The only mechs that need disassembling are the Inheritor mechs. Those fragile light mechs sure break easily. The upside is that fixing their internals is much easier than trying to fix a Hellcat that suffered a breach."
The internals of their hybrid space knight was at least an order of magnitude more complex than the elegant internal architecture of their light skirmisher. The latter was devoid of complicated components with punishing material requirements.
They talked shop for a while. Ves drew up the outline of a repair schedule, to which the chief had few objections. "Major Verle wants us to prioritize the task of preparing our landbound mechs for high-g conditions. It's extremely important we optimize all our landbound mechs for crushing gravities within two months."
"That's only doable if your mech technicians provide some guidance for my boys and girls. We don't have a single clue on how to strengthen the internals of our landbound mechs."
"Don't worry, I'll take care of it. You just focus on making sure that our work proceeds on schedule. We can't afford to delay the plans our superiors have in mind."
At this moment, Chief Haine should not be aware of their true mission. Ves couldn't say anything more on this topic. He had a feeling that the time of disclosure would come by the time the Flagrant Swordmaidens crossed into the frontier. The Vandals deserved to know why they were leaving the war behind in order to chase after a fairy tale in the frontier.
"I really don't know what we're supposed to do with high-g compensation gear in the first place." Chief Haine scratched her head. "If the Mech Corps want to send us off to a Super Earth, then they could have sent out a mech regiment that's better prepared."
"Maybe the other mech regiments are already committed, and we're the only mech regiment around that's available."
"You mean we're the only ones around who the Mech Corps won't lose sleep over if they cut us off."
It also helped that the Flagrant Vandals were largely disposable. It wouldn't affect the Bright Republic at all if they got ambushed and ceased to exist the next day. Just like how the Masters of Combat was destined to disappear in the annals of history, so would the passing of the Vandals effect very little change.
"What is your perspective on this last battle?" Ves abruptly asked.
Chief Haine pointed back to him with a meaty finger. "You first."
"I thought ladies are supposed to go first."
"Hah! I'm hardly a lady! And don't distract me, I really want to hear what your big head has to say about this battle."
Ves thought about his answer. The truth was that he didn't really know what to think about it either, so he wanted to borrow the opinion of the chief to form the right perspective.
"Well, it's clear that the higher ups hadn't decided to annihilate the Masters of Combat just because they were conveniently close. There's a definite intention to do more than inflict a military defeat. I just hope our gains have paid off."
"Whatever the reason, I'm glad we fought right out of the gate." Haine remarked. "Ever since you folks returned from Harkensen I, you guys acted all stoic and depressed. No offense, but you needed to be loosened up. Now that everyone has returned to normal, I'm ready to dive head-first into the frontier!"
Everyone pretty much knew that their next destination was somewhere deep in the frontier. The gravity compensation gear took up too much space and couldn't be hidden under the observant eyes of the mech technicians.
This first battle was just an appetizer to the challenges that lay ahead of the Flagrant Swordmaidens. They would likely compete against other rivals along the way. Not all of them were despicable or had too much blood on their hands. Perhaps they might even bump into a mech outfit from their home state!
The thought of running down Brighter citizens just because they competed over the same prizes left a sour taste in his mouth. Ves had fully figured out why he felt so discomforted by the recent battle.
"Something fishy is afoot. If our opponents weren't Vesians, then there would have been a lot more discontent. Can we even say that we are still involved in the war?"
This issue had been bugging him ever since Miss Calabast shed open the veil of secrecy that shrouded this game from prying eyes. The thought of working his butt off for some elderly official who should have left his job for the younger generation rankled his mind. Was the hunt for the Starlight Megalodon really about the life-prolonging doses?
Ves blinked and shoved away those thoughts. Thinking about these doubts only increased his discontent. Right now, this did not fit with the celebratory mood of running through the entire fleet. Perhaps the Vandals would mistake him for a Vesian who mourned for the loss of the Masters of Combat!
"Pirates are your favorite outfits in Pirate Empires, right?"
"Uh huh. Why did you bring that up?"
"Oh, I figured you know how pirate outfits are run. Do you know why Lydia's Swordmaidens ignored our battle plans?"
Chief Haine smirked and crossed her arms. "That's easy. It's all about showing who's boss. From what I know about pirates, they don't like to play second fiddle. From what I've gathered, Commander Lydia probably didn't expect us to be so powerful or field so many mechs. We're the senior partner of this alliance. That's got to do a lot of harm to their self-esteem."
"So the Swordmaidens threw out a completely sound plan that was almost guaranteed to minimize our losses just because we hurt their egos?"
The reason sounded preposterous to Ves. His logical mind simply couldn't parse this excuse. Certainly, the deviation hadn't resulted into a cascade of failures, but if the Swordmaidens deviated once, they could certainly do it again. Resolving this issue should be a top priority to the Vandals.