Chapter 139: Chaotic
As the duel raged on, both sides started to suffer. Vincent’s aptitude was quite good. He controlled his mech with enough fluency and precision to outmaneuver his opponent.
Caruthers on the other hand possessed years of experience. His advantage in years polished his moves until they flowed seamlessly despite their deliberate speed.
The contrast between young and old affected their battle in many ways. While Caruthers kept pulling off tricks, Vincent always managed to avoid the damage by taking advantage of his superior reflexes.
The two hybrid knights eschewed all their other weapons in favor of their melee weapons. The beams fired from their wrist lasers splashed ineffectually against a shield while Vincent already expended his missile complement.
The younger combatant carefully noted how his opponent still hadn’t launched any missiles. Vincent was wary of anything the captain’s mech might disgorge, so he kept his mech on its toes and never fully committed to a single attack.
This caused the battle to drag on in an even matchup where both mechs suffered similar amounts of damage. Vincent gave up on striking his opponent’s mech directly and instead worked to bash its damaged shield apart.
“You’ve built up a lot of pent-up anger I see.” Caruthers remarked as his mech accepted the hit but retaliated with a chop that Vincent barely managed to block. “Going pirate isn’t doing your stress any favors!”
The Phoenix Cry suddenly changed its pattern by unleashing a bewildering assault. Sword after sword struck the battered rebel’s mech, with at least half going through the young man’s clumsy guard. The mercenary leader gave Vincent absolutely no reprieve from his furious strikes.
Instead of panicking, Vincent patiently endured the constant attacks. He knew the model intimately and was aware the Marc Antony couldn’t sustain such an aggressive pace.
“Haha, how long can you hold on, old man?”
“Long enough to make you cry!”
The seasoned bounty hunter fought like an old but prideful lion while the young rebel held off the attacks like a patient turtle. Though Vincent fared relatively well, he still missed a couple of blocks, allowing his opponent’s sword to chip away at his vulnerable joints.
Once the Phoenix Cry ran out of steam, Vincent finally gained the opportunity to dish back the hurt. His mech resumed hammering its mace against the bounty hunter’s increasingly wretched shield. All of the damage it absorbed so far had not done its integrity any favors.
Its durability was at the end of its rope and both sides knew it. Despite his seemingly inevitable defeat, Caruthers still made use of the shield while it lasted, trading blows for blows.
Unlike his younger adversary, the bounty hunter ignored his opponent’s shield and sought to damage the mech directly. Vincent only exposed his openings briefly, so most of the attacks glanced off his durable shield. Whenever the Phoenix Cry succeeded in landing a blow, it often lacked the force to punch through the model’s substantial armor.
A huge crash echoed throughout the cavern as Vincent finally bashed an ugly hole through his opponent’s shield. The Phoenix Cry staggered back and fired off a wrist lasers to cover its retreat.
The beams splashed harmlessly against Vincent’s shield. The younger pilot ignored the lasers knowing that a hybrid knight like his own could take it. He did his best to pursue the wiley bounty hunter only to find out his opponent clearly his tactical retreats.
“You coward! Get back here!” Vincent yelled as his mech fired off its own laser beams in response.
The situation changed abruptly when additional forces arrived at the cargo hold. Vincent broke off his pursuit once he spotted that the mechs varied wildly in appearance.
Vincent finally realised why Caruthers dragged out the duel. “You honorless dog! You were buying time!”
“Did you think treacherous scum like you deserve to be treated with honor? Hahahaha!” The mercenary captain laughed as about twenty mercenary mechs fanned out to surround Vincent and his crew. “Your little sister Catelyn sends her regards!”
His dreaded sister must have put a massive bounty on his head. Certainly it must have been quite a sum, or else the mercs would have competed against each other for his head.
Just when things couldn’t go worse for Vincent, Caruthers finally unleashed his missiles. Vincent’s mech quickly braced its shield, but the streaks of death flew right over its head and impacted the exit leading to the power plant.
Everyone momentarily lost their footing as the missiles detonated their non-standard high explosive payloads against the cavern. The large amount of successive explosions weakened the rocks and dislodged a significant amount of chunks that piled up in front of the exit.
Caruthers just cut off their escape route.
“FIGHT!” Vincent uttered and pushed his mech into a thundering charge.
The sudden act propelled the rest of his men to resist to the end. There was no point in surrendering, as the Bright Republic never forgave the rebels for its many bombings.
With their lives on the line, the rebels fought with no reserve. Their sudden ferocity pushed back the complacent mercenaries who thought the bounty was already in their grasp.
The mercs all held back for fear of damaging their expensive mechs. They mostly focused on containing the aggression and preventing the rebels from breaking through their lines.
Compounding their disparity was that the mercs fielded cheap, disposable frontline mechs. Most of these mechs lacked the flexibility of a regular humanoid mech due to the absence of fully articulated arms and specialized shapes.
One such mech looked like a walking gun platform. The crude-looking mech sported twin ballistic cannon barrels instead of fully articulated arms and it also lacked a head entirely. The sensors and many other essential systems had been integrated in its large barrel-shaped torso.
Such a design might not be versatile, but when fielded in large enough numbers they made for an intimidating sight.
The large number of frontline mechs kept peppering the outnumbered rebels with their prodigious firepower. Meanwhile, Caruthers and the handful of other melee mechs tried to slow down their desperate opponents.
Two crazy mechs focused their wrath on Captain Caruthers. Even as the mercs continued to shoot apart the rebel mechs, they both hammered the Phoenix Cry with axes and lasers. The bounty hunter barely fended them off using his threadbare shield.
He still managed to take a peek at the overall situation and discovered something disconcerting. “Where is Vincent?”
The young rebel’s mech had left the fight and approached one of the containers. It bashed apart the hatch with its mace before stowing the weapon to free up its hand. It retrieved a large, reinforced barrel that barely fit in the mech-sized hand.
“You think you got me? Think again!” Vincent roared as his mech threw a threw the barrel in the middle of the fight. The mech quickly repeated its actions, causing half-a-dozen barrels to spill a strange, fluorescent fluid over some of the mechs.
“Heavens! That’s high-density spaceship fuel!”
“Stop fighting! Don’t ignite the fuel!”
The mechs belatedly stopped fighting, but it was too late. Vincent’s mech raised its arm and and fired off its laser cannon. The thick beam instantly hit a patch of fuel, causing it to ignite in a massive blaze that overloaded everyone’s sensors.
By the time their systems compensated, they realized that half of the mechs erupted into flames. The inferno didn’t distinguish sides as the fuel splashed both mercs and rebels alike.
Most of the mech pilots followed their training and quickly ejected once they realized they couldn’t put out the fire. Those who remained performed all kinds of shenanigans such rolling their mechs over the ground.
While the mercs fussed over their friends, Vincent quickly took the chance to flee. His battered Marc Antony charged forth with its shield and slammed into one of the lighter frontline mechs. The impact crunched aside the flimsy mech into an awful heap. The rebel leader quickly took advantage of the opening and slipped past the mercs.
“General Vasil won’t let you get away with this!”
Vincent felt no regret in leaving his subordinates behind. He only cared about saving his own hide. Besides, the general likely wouldn’t fault him as Caruthers conveniently collapsed the route to the power plant. The only way to get past that obstacle quickly was to use a digger module which none of the mercs possessed.
“Get back here Vincent!” Caruthers yelled as he and a couple of mercs followed on his heels.
They quickly neared the conflict zone where the 3rd Infernal Hellhounds stubbornly blocked the routes to the ship bay. The chaos of battle quickly engulfed Vincent’s fleeing mech, causing the pursuing mechs to lose track of their prey.
Despite their best efforts, the mercs failed to sniff out their bounty. The rebels and pirates who desperately tried to punch through the Hellhounds increasingly brought more mechs to the fore. Caruthers and the rest of the mercs were forced to drop their search and help the Hellhounds withstand the latest wave.
Captain Caruthers gnashed his teeth as his mech moved into position. “I’ll get you for this, Vincent! You haven’t seen the last of me!”
As a significant portion of the Bentheim Liberation Movement fought for their lives, Ves leisurely ate his lunch aboard a fairly expensive passenger liner.
Though impressive in the standards of the Bright Republic, the Vision of Astoria did not measure up to the floating resorts of the Friday Coalition.
Unlike the Torch of the Vanguard, the Vision used an older generation FTL drive that forced the ship to jump further from the edge of a star system. Everytime the passenger liner made a stop, she had to spend a large amount of time to reach the inner system and dock at a station.
Ves patiently endured the stops as this was already the most direct route from Bentheim to Rittersberg. The two core star systems were located at the opposite ends of the Republic’s borders. It made for a lengthy and somewhat boring flight.
Even Lucky stopped exploring the ship. The lazy gem cat simply sought out Ves and slept on his lap whenever possible.
“We’re almost there, Lucky. Our ship is almost out of FTL.”
After finishing his lunch, Ves brought his cat to the upper deck and entered the observatory. Many other passengers had already arrived to take a seat or grab a snack from one of the vendors.
A shipwide alert informed the passengers of the Vision’s imminent transition back to normal space. Ves quickly took one of the dwindling seats and looked upwards at the swirling grey confusion beyond the ship’s transparent windows.
A few minutes later, a black expanse of stars replaced the hypnotic view as the Vision of Astoria finally reached the Rittersberg System.
Beyond the emptiness of space, a large amount of ships and defensive installations loomed over a massive starfort.
The ancient structure along with three identical forts had been built by the descendants of the original pacifists who settled this remote system. They salvaged many unique systems from their old Rubarthan capital ships and incorporated them seamlessly into the central structures of the forts.
Among those, the gravitic anchor played an essential role in keeping the starfort relevant. They distorted the surrounding gravitic topography and drew in every incoming ship that travelled to the Rittersberg system.
Any hostile force that wished to invade the Republic’s capital had to overcome a starfort before they opened up the rest of the system. The Republic hadn’t slacked off and constantly reinforced the forts until they reached a point where they were virtually impregnable to any conventional force.
Perhaps the Vesians might be able to overwhelm one of the forts if they were willing to sacrifice a couple of divisions of mechs. Such a price was too much to bear. If any Vesian monarch tried to force an offensive, they’d be deposed by their own subjects before such madness could go through.
“I’m finally back.” Ves sighed as he drew his eyes past the giant starfort and tried to spot one of the twinkling lights that represented the capital planet. “I wonder if anyone still remembers me.”
He graduated from the Rittersberg University of Technology with grades that were only slightly above average. Most likely, no one expected Ves to amount to anything. His father had to go into debt in order to cobble up a shabby mech workshop, and that still left him with little means to acquire a production license.
Things were different now. With the help of the System, Ves rapidly established his chops as a young but promising mech designer. In fact, Marcella recently transferred 60.8 million credits to his bank account after handing over his finished products.
“I wonder what my grandfather will say when he sees how much profit I’ve made.”