The Mech Touch Chapter 287

Chapter 287: Ghanso
The Glowing Zone reached out around five light-hours away from the Glowing Planet. It was an empty mass of space that contained virtually nothing except the malignant influences of the exotics residing on the Glowing Planet. The further you went in, the more susceptible to anomalies you became.All of this rested on probability. The chance of crashing your ship went up to a hundred percent once you reached close enough to orbit the Glowing Planet. Even if the dimensional smoothers helped with negating the worst of the dangers, the Glowing Planet still found ways to torment the visitors disturbing its silent vigil.Ghanso Larkinson chewed on a stimulant as he stared out of the porthole of his tiny shuttle. He recently finished an additional training course and had been transferred to the 1st Volari Starhawks of the 4th Bentheim Division."Are you nervous, kid?" An older mech pilot casually asked from the seat next to Ghanso's. "The big bad Vesians are less than a day away. If you want to back out from the fight, you best pull out now.""I'm a Larkinson. Fighting the Vesians is in my blood.""Hah! A Larkinson, are you? Then I hope you don't fumble about like Melinda Larkinson. I would have whooped Captain Vicar within five minutes!"Ghanso believed the older pilot, but that comparison wouldn't have been fair, considering that Captain Vicar was still in his early thirties.The shuttle slowly entered the belly of a fleet carrier and parked itself on a busy loading platform. Every transfer debarked from the shuttle and followed the navigational guidelines projected by their military-grade comms.Ghanso and the old man happened to be assigned to the same unit. When it became clear they walked to the same destination, the man introduced himself."Looks like we'll be putting our lives in each other hands." The man casually laughed while scratching balding grey hair. Unlike most other men, the pilot didn't bother seeking any treatment for his baldness. "You can call me Alex Dirge. I'm a tried and true space knight pilot."That garnered some respect from Ghanso. In the vast distance of space, most battles occurred across very long distances. Lasers and missiles formed the bedrock of a spaceborn mech squad's armaments. Sometimes, enemies veered close enough to make railguns and ballistic rifles effective.Yet spaceborn mechs almost never resorted to melee weapons. Mechs in space possessed too much mobility for them to be pinned down. A rifleman mech always massed lighter than a knight mech, so it could easily dash away from any knight that tried to approach it from afar.This fundamental disparity relegated the space knight archetype to a purely defensive role, whose only job was to absorb enemy missile fire that would have otherwise struck their allies. There was nothing wrong with that role, but the sheer amount of firepower being exchanged made it very difficult for space knights to remain relevant throughout the battle."I should be thanking you for covering my back." Ghanso said sincerely. "I'm a laser rifleman, so I'll be counting on you to block the Vesian missile volleys."He truly respected anyone who piloted a space knight and survived long enough to the point of growing grey hair. The Vesian penchant for fielding lots of missileers gave the pilots of the Republic a lot of appreciation for the underutilized defensive mech type.The pair reached a hangar that predominantly serviced spaceborn mechs. They followed the end of the line projection by their comms and met their new commanding officer, who turned out to be a middle-aged female captain with violet eyes and short black hair.After a brief introduction in which the pair passed over their orders, the captain looked at them with an eager glint in her eyes."I'm really glad you made it in time. You're sorely needed to replace a pair of cowards who chickened out when they heard we'd be facing the Vesians in the first wave.""Seriously, ma'am? A couple of Volari Starhawks actually lost their nerves?" Alex asked with incredulity in his tone."Hey, don't get caught up by all the propaganda. Sure, we're the Volar Starhawks, one of the Republic's best spaceborn regiments, but not all of us are crack troops."Captain Rynsel had been with the Volar Starhawks for a fair amount of time, but like many other mech pilots, she stagnated at the upper limit of what an advanced pilot could reach. As Rynsel grew older, the prospect of ever advancing to expert pilot became further out of reach.This diminished her importance to the brass. She only made it to captain because she also possessed enough skills to lead a regular platoon."You're going to have to become used to your mechs as fast as possible, because the Vesians are expected to reach orbit at the end of the day."Alex grumbled a bit. "They sure are in a hurry. The Vesians must be confident of their numbers.""We still have the edge in quality." Ghanso quickly replied. "Even if we didn't bring a lot of ships, we made sure to send some of our best. Besides, we also have our allies to soak up some of the incoming fire.""Heh. Allies. More like parasites. You can't count on gangs and mercenaries to stand up to the Vesians. Mark my words, their ships will find all kinds of excuses to drop out of action."The Mech Corps had a very dim view on gangs, and barely tolerated their existence due to their uncanny ability to evade crackdowns.Mercenaries also earned some contempt for two reasons. First, they employed a lot of talentless hacks that failed to pass the entry qualifications of the Mech Corps and often made a mess of things on the battlefield. Second, they also took away talented pilots with promises of better pay.The two transferred pilots passed over to Lieutenant Fairfax, who led their assigned squad."Right." Fairfax spoke as he regarded the younger Ghanso and the older Alex. "It's about time you two showed up. I've been asking for more bodies but the bureaucrats upstairs keep reinforcing the elite squads before I get a turn. As if they don't already have enough resources!"Privately, Ghanso thought he deserved a spot on those elite squads as well. He was a Larkinson, for the Republic's sake! Still, at least he secured a place amongst the Volari Starhawks, one of the most distinguished spaceborn regiments of the Republic.The two recruits had very little time to familiarize themselves with their mechs and tweak them to their liking. Ghanso had been assigned to a fairly standard Vhedra, a model developed in-house by a design team working for the Starhawks."The Vhedra is an old design, but that means it's been tested over the years. It's a reliable frame, and a classic in the Starhawks." The chief technician explained to Ghanso as he patted the surface of the giant dark blue rifleman mech.. "This one happens to be the Vhedra-S. It's a minor variant that gives you faster flight speed but will last a little less. Its long-range accuracy also won't be as impressive, as the added power to the flight system introduces a lot of extra vibrations.""I see. That's not what I expected. I specifically noted that I'm a marksman.""Yeah, and Lieutenant Fairfax has been nagging command for new replacement pilots for ages now. You're the unlucky chap command has sent to shut him up."Ghanso had a relatively balanced skill-set for a laser rifleman pilot, but he preferred to pick opponents off from longer ranges. Still, he could roll with the changes. His mech just had to get closer to the enemy in order to land a sure shot."Let's take a look and make some quick adjustments."Ghanso said. "We need to be ready to fight within eighteen standard hours. That's when the Vesians will get in range."To be honest, eighteen hours was not enough for Ghanso to acclimate himself with a new ride. A mech pilot always required weeks of practice, immersion and tweaking in order to make a mech entirely his own.The Vesians wouldn't give them the time. The hours went by quickly, and besides a brief but necessary rest, Ghanso worked frenziedly to get the Vhedra-S to behave a little more like its base model.A red light flashed through the hangar and throughout the rest of the fleet carrier."It's time!""The Vesians are here!"A surge of fear and anticipation swept the mech pilots and the crew of the ship. They realized that this might be the outbreak of the latest Bright-Vesia Wars. The Volari Starhawks happened to receive the dubious honor of blunting the first charge."Mech pilots, get to your mechs!" Captain Rynsel hollered as she swept up her piloting suit. "We've received orders to deploy within ten minutes, so chop chop!"The mech technicians had already wrapped up most of their maintenance work, so every mech under Captain Rynsel's command came online in record time.Alex opened up a private channel to Ghanso. "Hey, little Larkinson. Is this your first deployment?""I'm not a rookie. I've fought over six separate engagements against pirates.""Well, the Vesians are nothing like those ruffians who can't coordinate their mechs to save their lives. We're playing in a whole different league right now. Don't lose your breakfast in the next fight, little Larkinson."It irked the young Larkinson to be treated like an inexperienced recruit. He was a Larkinson! He grew up hearing stories about fighting the Vesians. And unlike his crippled cousin Ves, his genetics gifted him with sufficient aptitude to fulfill his dreams."Don't worry about me. Focus on doing your best in your own mech."Ghanso went back to finishing his preparations. His Vhedra-S boasted fully charged energy cells and a robust cooling system to vent and store the rapid build-up of heat. This came at the cost of its armor and stealth. The Vhedra series had always been particularly vulnerable to getting locked on by Vesian heat-seeking missiles.He only hoped that Alex would be able to shield him from the impending attacks.Captain Rynsel spoke over the platoon channel. "Command is ordering us to standby along with the rest. Only the scouts are deployed so far. We're still waiting to see if the Vesians want to commit to the attack."A general rule about space combat was that if both sides wanted to avoid combat, they had a million different ways to make it possible. Space was to big, and relative velocities sometimes reached absurd amounts that made it difficult for two different fleets to exchange a single volley.Most times, a battle in space would only ensue if one force happened to be immobile and therefore vulnerable to attack.This generally happened in two instances: when a fleet just transitioned from FTL to the edge of a star system, and when a fleet wanted to maintain orbital superiority over a planet, moon or any other object in space.This time, the Mech Corps had to make a stand near the Glowing Planet. If they yielded control of the planet's skies, the Vesians would be able to bombard their ground forces with impunity.While the groundside forces already made some headway into digging underground fortifications, they needed a lot more time to setup an effective, bombardment-proof bulwark.Over the next two hours, the two fleets slowly danced around each other. Ghanso stared at the projection like a hawk, tracking the movements of the various fleet elements. The Vesians had finally come close enough to identify their make-up."The vanguard consists of the Grand Chasers! They're fast buggers!"The Grand Chasers had accrued something of a reputation, and was recognized by both the Vesians and the Brighters as one of the fastest spaceborn mech regiments in the region.By putting out the Grand Chasers in front, the Vesians signalled that they wanted to test the waters first. The Republic's fleet moved in response, putting forth its lighter elements while keeping its heavier ships and mechs around the transports carrying their dimensional smoothers."They're deploying mechs!"Over a hundred heavy mechs poured out into space. They arrayed themselves in a neat formation before readying their launchers."Detecting torpedo launches!"Each mech launched a dozen torpedoes, all of which took up so much space that the heavy mechs became useless. In any case, the sole purpose of their existence was to circumvent the MTA's taboo of incorporating ship-grade weapons onto ships.The sight of over twelve-hundred torpedoes burning towards the Vesian fleet sent a chill through Ghanso's back."Deploy now!" Captain Rynsel ordered. "Command wants us to help bring those torpedoes down! Don't wait for my orders once you get out. Just start shooting!""Hahahaha!" Old man Alex laughed. "What a way to start of the war! I hope your aim is decent, Larkinson, because the fleet carrier's survival is in your hands!"