The Mech Touch Chapter 303

Chapter 303: Expert
The situation on and above the Glowing Planet had deteriorated enormously in the past week. Ghanso Larkinson spent more time in space than in the fleet carrier. Everyone only caught four to five standard hours of sleep, and some didn't even bother going to bed.Right now, the Volari Starhawks battled a large fleet of unknowns who didn't consider the Mech Corps to be an obstacle. Unlike the other pirate fleets who constantly tried to maneuver around their forces, this strange group of carriers and spaceborn mechs boldly tried to bulldoze through the Starhawks."Who are these guys?! I don't recognize any of their models!""They're exiles from another star sector." Old Man Alex replied as he endured another barrage of lasers in front of Ghanso's Vhedra-S. "All kinds of scum are attracted to the frontier. These fellows must have come to our star sector to excavate some treasures before they decided to go for the Glowing Planet instead."In truth, the Volari Starhawks outnumbered the unknowns, but the invaders obviously consisted of some elite force. Much of their mechs turned out to be second-class and possessed a distinctive edge against the cheaper mechs used by the Mech Corps. If not for their excellent training and coordination, they would have been smashed to pieces by the foreign mechs.Watch out for those orange-striped mechs!" Lieutenant Fairfax warned. "They've shaken off our elites and are heading in our way!"Ghanso quietly cursed the foreigners. Why did everyone want to stick their fingers into the pie that represented the Glowing Planet. Was a planet's worth of junk exotics that much worth the effort?The Volari Starhawks learned quickly not to underestimate the orange-striped mechs among the foreigners. Besides being better quality mechs that boasted significantly higher specs, their pilots all appeared to be advanced pilots that had reached their upper limits. Even though they lacked the deterrence of an expert pilot, so many elites gathered into a single squad could affect the course of the entire battle."Ghanso! Focus on their rifleman mechs! Suppress them as best as you can!""On it!"The battle had turned into a wild battle for speed and maneuverability, which made it hard to secure a kill. The incoming enemies approached Ghanso's squad with so much acceleration that his Vhedra-S only scored some glancing blows with its laser rifle."They're circling around us!"Insteading of clashing head-on against Fairfax's squad, the orange-striped elites took up a wide orbit around them. Ghanso kept firing calmly despite his disadvantageous position. The frequent skirmishes he'd been through beforehand had polished his instincts to the point where he scrubbed any clues that he'd once been a rookie."They've got more rifleman mechs than us! I can hardly hold my ground here!" Alex yelled over the comm as his space knight took an increasingly more severe beating. "We should bring the fight to them!"Ghanso agreed with his squad mate. "Alex is right, lieutenant! Please give us the order to engage!"His Vhedra-S rapidly accumulated heat as its rifle spat out beam after beam. Most of them ended up splashing ineffectually against his opponent's superior armor. It took sustained hits on the same location to do lasting damage.In a battle with such speeds, Ghanso found it impossible to accomplish such a tall order. His beam often splashed all over the place. Any pilot whose mech got hit would instantly juke in a spin or in a different direction. The more surface the laser beam affected, the shallower the mark it left on the armor."Captain Rynsel and her men are on the way! Just hold out for ten more minutes!"As he fired another ineffectual laser beam, Ghanso glanced at the proximity map and noted ten incoming friendlies approaching from below. Everyone on the squad cheered at the thought of being reinforced. These elites had been hammering their rifles at their mechs. They wouldn't last more than a minute at this rate."Alert! High energy emission detected!""Incoming comet!""That's not a comet, that's a mech!"A bright blue-white flare approached the section of space where Ghanso and his comrades fought against the foreigners. Their collective sensor readings quickly resolved the incoming contact as an unknown mech of a unique design. One thing stood out the rest. It outputted as much energy as five heavy mechs."Oh mother! We've kicked the hornet's nest!" Alex exclaimed. "HE'S COMING STRAIGHT FOR US!"The comet-like mech crashed straight towards Alex's mech. Its extreme relative speed hardly allowed anyone else to respond to its appearance in time. Ghanso narrowly engaged his mech's flight systems to back up, just in time to evade a narrow glowing stripe that passed just in front.While the comet mech darted away, the space knight that had always stood by Ghanso's side suddenly parted in half from the waist before exploding in a violent conflagration."No!" Ghanso yelled as he couldn't believe how fast his partner's space knight had been killed. "Alex!"Old Man Alex didn't have the time eject. His odds of survival was nil.Captain Rynsel's squad suddenly stopped and turned around. "Fairfax! Disengage right now! You just got hit by an expert pilot! He's turning around for another pass!"Everyone panicked when they heard they faced an expert mech. Lieutenant Fairfax swiftly ordered everyone to split up and flee in separate directions. Even with Alex's mech, the entire squad stood no chance of surviving against a single expert pilot."AArghh! I'm ejecting!"One of their squadmates had to eject because the foreigners that had continued to circle around them took advantage of their loss of cohesion. The orange-striped elites had shifted their aim so smoothly that Ghanso suspected that they must have practiced this tactic."He's here!"This time, the expert mech slashed two of their mechs in quick succession. Only one of their squad mates ejected in time. The other perished when his mech blew up.Ghanso felt immense pressure to eject, but he held back due to the obligation to bring back his machine intact. The Mech Corps took a dim view on those who wasted their expensive war materiel. He continued to pray that the expert pilot wouldn't target him next.In the next couple of minutes, the expert pilot targeted their reinforcements. Captain Rynsel feebly tried to resist, but eventually had to eject.Just when Ghanso thought he made it away, the expert pilot curved his high-speed trajectory in a straight path towards his Vhedra-S."He's on to you, Ghanso!""Eject already! You don't stand a chance against this expert!"Ghanso didn't want to abandon his mech so soon. Even if his fellow Starhawks wouldn't blame him for the early ejection, it still would have left a stain in his heart. As a mech pilot born to the cause, the last thing he could tolerate was to carry a brand of shame. Such a shame had a high chance of affecting his potential advancement to expert pilot.The Vhedra-S threw all caution to the wind and fired beam after beam at the swift and relentless expert mech. No matter what tricks Ghanso pulled off, the expert pilot dodged his aim again and again. It was as if the expert read his mind!Even then, Ghanso never gave up his attempt to land a single hit. He even increased his rifle's rate of fire to a ruinous level. Even if he stopped firing right now, both his mech and his rifle had been ruined irrevocably.Ghanso didn't care. His mind sublimated during the brief interval as the expert mech came closer and closer. He vented his grief for losing Alex and his fellow squad members through his weapon. Each laser that struck out into the vacuum of space was another defiant scream to the unfairness of facing an expert pilot without support."Come on! I need a hit! Just one hit!"In the final three seconds, Ghanso had become so fired up that his mind momentarily breached an invisible barrier. At that moment, a spark of flame exploded within him that guided his aim towards another direction.His laser only scorched the expert mech for 0.15 seconds. The incredibly skilled expert swiftly adjusted his course before the laser could even begin to burn away the outer coating."Pull out!"This time, Ghanso listened to the communication channel. He sent out a mental command which instantly disconnected the cockpit from the rest of the mech. The sudden loss of connection jarred Ghanso sufficiently that he didn't witness his cockpit escaping from the mech in time for the expert pilot to slash through the rest of the frame in a single slash.Instead, as soon as he recovered, he laughed. "Hahahaha! I scored a hit! I scored a single hit!"As his cockpit flung away from the battle and followed an arcing course to the rear lines of the Starhawk fleet, Ghanso laughed and cried at the same time. He laughed for surviving an encounter against a dread expert pilot, and he cried for the friends he would never be able to see again."Damn this Glowing Planet? It would have done this galaxy a favor if it came across a black hole and disappeared beyond its event horizon."Battles erupted across the entire orbit of the Glowing Planet. The Vesians had also been hard-pressed to hold back as many pirates as possible. In the meantime, hordes of pirates and mercenaries slipped through the gaps and descended to the surface of the Glowing Planet.Battle raged throughout the airless skies above the rogue planet. The pirates fought against the mercenaries, the mercenaries fought against the military, the military fought against the pirates, and the pirates fought among themselves.Infighting was rife even among allies in the same fleet. It only took a couple of stray shots to splash against a nominal allied outfit to provoke a brawl. Even the pirate lords that browbeat the small outfits together couldn't alleviate the constantly rising tempers.Broken mechs and chunks of space ships kept descending from above in regular numbers. Back at the base erected by Walter's Whalers, their turrets sporadically fired at an incoming artificial meteorite from above.Sometimes, even the rifleman and cannoneer mechs had to lend a hand in order to break apart a particularly large piece of spaceship debris.Still, that was child's play compared to the incoming pirates. Sometimes, elements of a pirate fleet got so confused that they lost their course and landed somewhere close to the red zone occupied by the Mech Corps. Any mech carriers that landed in the vicinity of the Blood Claws and the Whalers had to be destroyed before they could get away."You've improved!" Fadah complimented Raella as she swiped the head off a pirate mech in a single blow. "It was just last week when you could barely hold on against a single pirate.""That scum was an elite!" Raella spat back as her Sliverath danced around the disarrayed pirate mechs with as much grace as the Blackbeak. The two made for an intimidating pair, and together with Dietrich's long-ranged support they developed a practiced routine. "I'm hungry. I hadn't been able to eat my lunch all day. Let's wipe these bastards out fast before I starve to death!"The mechs aligned to the Bright Republic fought without holding anything back. Ever since Ves submitted his undercharged energy cell designs, every mech received the new energy cells. While the mech pilots faced a couple of complications due to their lower capacity and unstable energy supply, they all sighed in relief because they wouldn't get blown up anymore.Naturally, such a momentous development couldn't be kept to themselves. The Mech Legion somehow got ahold of the designs and began producing their own replacement energy cells.Some of the other well-connected factions such as the Dragons of the Void followed suit.This had divided the forces on the planet in three.First came the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion who had fully converted their energy cells to the safer designs.Second were the poorer pirate outfits and mercenary corps who didn't possess enough connections to get their hands on the valuable designs for the safer energy cells.Third were the incoming pirates, mercenaries and treasure hunters who just descended upon the planet. Since they hadn't been subjected to the surface energy fields for long, their energy cells hadn't developed an overcharge yet. This would change in the next couple of days, but until then they swaggered around their landing sites, provoking trouble wherever they went.Thus, the Blood Claws and the Whalers constantly had to fight the smaller outfits while the Mech Corps mopped up the largest concentration of scum. After fighting multiple battles, everyone started to feel the strain.