With only seconds left to make a decision, Major Verle made the right if difficult choice.
"All mechs, fire upon the mothership!"
"B-But sir! Venerable Xie is still in the line of fire!"
"The Parallax Star can take care of itself!" Major Verle immediately bulled over everyone's objections. "Target the bottom port side of the mothership! If Venerable Xie has any sense, he will move his mech to the upper starboard side."
A direct command from Major Verle should have been obeyed at all costs. However, neither the Swordmaidens nor the Vandals followed their latest order with much enthusiasm.
In fact, some of them dithered and didn't do anything at all!
Just a fourth of the Swordmaidens and a third of the Vandal mech pilots opened fire on the sandman mothership! While the vessel incurred significant damage from the weight of fire, the incoming rounds hadn't been enough to deter the sandman vessel from focusing all of its efforts into trapping the charging Parallax Star!
"What are the slackers doing?! Open fire, damnit!"
The other mechs that refrained from shooting only reluctantly added their rifle and cannon shots to the ongoing barrage. Their aim wasn't even that accurate, as they missed far beyond what should have been possible against a large and fairly preoccupied sandman mothership.
No one wanted to be responsible for harming an expert pilot!
The Swordmaidens revered strength, and their regard for Venerable Xie far surpassed that of any other Vandal including Major Verle and any of their mech captains.
As for the Vandals, their hero worship for an authentic expert pilot and the pervasive cultural norm of respecting expert pilot vastly overpowered their ingrained sense of duty of following orders.
The martial tradition of the Flagrant Vandals placed more emphasis on initiative and free expression than discipline and an absolute compulsion to follow orders. This enabled them to integrate a wide variety of misfit mech pilots relatively smoothly without causing any of them to feel caged or oppressed.
The downside to this loose and casual regimental culture was that at important junctures, the Vandals may outright decide to ignore their orders!
Managing a rowdy bunch like the Vandals required a rare human touch. One of the reasons why Major Verle had been promoted ahead of the other mech captains was because he possessed this touch! His ability to read and manipulate the general mood among the Vandals impressed Ves the most.
Yet at this critical moment, even the major's vaunted command abilities fell short against the men and women's sheer regard for the prestige of an expert pilot!
Despite his origins as a foreigner formerly in the service of a royal prince of a far-away kingdom that vaguely resembled the Vesians, Karol Xie already commanded everyone's respect by sheer dint of ability.
Each and every mech pilot, whether they were pirates or servicemen, both dreamt of becoming expert pilots, and therefore worshipped those that have already reached this exalted rank as mech pilots elevated to the first steps of becoming a god!
No mortal was allowed to sully a demigod! Especially if that demigod fought on the same side!
Ves saw that Major Verle's face grew increasingly ugly. Although enough mech pilots managed to gain enough sense to fire their weapons earnestly against the sandmen mothership, the delay had been long enough to cause their tunnel-visioned expert pilot to get caught by a net of sandmen tendrils!
Strong streams of stand-like material continued to flow around the slowed and hindered energy field surrounding the Parallax Star! Ves studied the telemetry in detail and found out that the protective energy field could only last a short time before the emitters reached their limits and cracked!
"Sir! The Parallax Star's energy field can only last less than thirty seconds at this rate!" He reported.
"How soon until the mothership loses integrity?"
"Two to three minutes, sir!"
In other words, the status quo didn't favor them at all. With the lackluster performance of their mechs, they would never be able to rescue their trapped expert pilot in time!
Major Verle could order the mech pilots to reinvigorate their attack and put some actual effort in their marksmanship. Yet would the outcome be any different? They already showed a disregard against his orders despite their necessity, because from their perspective the accusation of inflicting friendly fire on an expert pilot on their own side was enough to tarnish their honor and career!
"What are our options?"
No one responded. Mechs weren't bots that could be taken over or shut off from remote. Each of them carried a mech pilot that functioned as the true intelligence behind their actions. When a mech pilot didn't want to do something or did so half-heartedly, then those behind the scenes had little recourse in affecting any change.
Ves learned another important lesson here. Sometimes, official authority broke down when they clashed with the fundamental values ingrained within their subordinates. Mech pilots especially belonged to a class on their own, enjoying a sufficient amount of reverence and respect from others that they felt less compelled to follow every order to the letter.
In the end, even a mech major who served with the Flagrant Vandals for decades earned less respect than a foreign expert pilot!
No matter how much merit Major Verle had earned or how much he reinforced his authority, when the mech pilots had to choose between the two of them, they respected godly authority over mortal authority!
Ves discreetly shook his head in disappointment. "Expert pilots are both an asset and a liability to a force. Those who hire them have to make sure they command enough respect, or else they may find the expert pilot taking over the hearts and minds of their own subordinates!
Even the expert pilot's actions unconsciously increased everyone's respect for his martial prowess!
Instead of dodging the sandman mothership's powerful energy beam that possessed enough strength to bore through a combat carrier, Venerable Xie opted to resist it head-on at first!
Instead of continuing to bombard the frightening sandman mothership with a slow but powerful railgun from a safe and healthy distance, the expert pilot instead abandoned his gun for the lance, a weapon that he never excelled in unlike the previous pilot of his mech!
Instead of making a few half-hearted charging passes, Venerable Xie fought with all his might, not even considering his own safety in his efforts to destroy the mothership from up close!
All of his actions exemplified the courage, honor and valiance of an ideal mech pilot! While the expert pilot may be fighting hard on behalf of the Flagrant Vandals, in actual fact each of his reckless heroics undermined Major Verle's authority and threatened to undermine the Vandals' original command structure!
If Ves didn't know any better, he would have suspected that Venerable Xie intended to plot against the existing leadership!
"That's not possible, however."
He recognized that the tampering he performed on the neural interfaces may have affected the expert pilot's judgement. Ultimately, Karol Xie should have remained loyal to the Flagrant Vandals. The only flaw that Ves had overlooked was that loyalty to the Flagrant Vandals was an open-ended question that could be answered in many different ways!
For example, if Venerable Xie thought that Major Verle was no longer qualified to lead the task force, then he may feel just in attempting to take it over!
Ves knew he'd be getting a lot of flack from their commanding officer after this battle.. but first, they had to win it! Right now, the Parallax Star had less than fifteen seconds left before its emitters reached their limits!
Fortunately, salvation came from an unexpected angle. The sensor officer immediately stood up! "Sir! My men and I have identified the probable location of the sandman admiral on the mothership's structure! It's oriented near the top of the hollow structure!"
Major Verle didn't even glance at it when he issued his next order. "All mechs, fire at the sandman admiral!"
The mech pilots started to become clued in to the fact that their expert pilot had landed in a lot of trouble. Thus, when the order came to fire upon the sandman admiral's suspected location, not a lot of Vandal and Swordmaiden mech pilots showed any reluctance this time.
Over eighty percent of all available guns fired at the top of the sandman mothership. Though the vessel adjusted its structure quickly after being targeted by so much mech, it reacted far too late! Huge gouts of sand the size of mechs chunked away from the main amalgamation.
The mothership visibly shrank and became filled with holes as the rounds kept impacting the vessel. A volley of missiles impacted the mothership from the top, causing a rumble of explosions that cut off an extremely hard portion of the mothership from the rest of the structure.
The mothership immediately lost cohesion!
"Sir, we've separated the sandman admiral from the mothership's structure! It's currently attempting to flee!"
"Send in the Inheritors and finish off the admiral!" Major Verle immediately ordered with a swipe of his palm. "Don't let it hide within the astral winds! Once it has been rendered inert, send in a specialist retrieval party to recover the crystallized remains of the sandman admiral. What is the status of the Parallax Star?"
"It's in a bad shape." Ves reported. "When the sandman admiral became separated from the main mothership, it turned into an independent entity without strong control. While Venerable Xie has managed to extract the Parallax Star from the belly of the ship, its energy field failed at the end. Some of the sand has managed to inflict material damage on the exterior of the expert mech, but its armor held up long enough for the machine to escape intact."
Some expressed relief at the expert pilot's successful escape, but neither Ves nor Major Verle smiled. Ves already estimated the repair bill and it wasn't cheap, while Major Verle still glowered over his inability to control the expert pilot.Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
Both of them needed to reflect after the battle, but right now they still needed to take care of the aftermath.
Verle maintained a confident expression as he issued a series of orders. "Order our mechs to continue to pound on the leaderless mothership until it's completely rendered inert. Tell our near-perimeter patrols to be vigilant against any approaching streams of sand. Dead or not, fire upon them and force them to disperse. I don't want to risk any surviving sandmen slipping into our vessels."
Small detachments of sandmen had a tendency to burrow into ships or mechs unnoticed. They could do a lot of damage if left unattended. This was why the Vandals and the Swordmaidens inspected every mech returning to their berths.
Fortunately, not a lot of mechs came into close proximity to the sandmen escorts or motherships. None of the mechs came back with a hitchhiker so far, though checking out the Parallax Star was a very different matter.
The damaged mech looked as if it withstood a lot of sanding. Streams of sand had rubbed away the original coating to reveal a silvery metallic tint intrinsic to the top layer of its armor. While the sand lacked the punching power to burrow through the extremely resilient compressed armor, they achieved a little more success when they attempted to bore through the softer joint sections.
All of that damage took both time and resources to repair, something which the Vandals were in short supply. Ves already planned to board a shuttle to the Gorgon's Gaze in order to assist in the repairs!
"Sir, our retrieval party has secured the crystallization of the sandman admiral. They are on their way back to the Shield of Hispania."
"I will meet them personally at the shuttle bay. Don't let the remains out of their sights until I arrive." Their commanding officer said before turning to Ves. "Mr. Larkinson, please join me at the shuttle bay. We have matters to discuss."
"Yes, sir." Ves almost sighed and stood up from the observer's seat.
After instructing Ketis to stay put, he followed after the armored form of the overburdened mech officer as they made their way out of the command center.
The battle against the sandmen fleet revealed a lot of deficiencies, ones they needed to address before they bumped into larger threats.