Against the fury of so many missiles bearing down on her, the Stubby Growler simply ceased to exist. Fragments of the former ship slung in every direction, and the final missile blast even cracked open the command center's containment shell, flinging the crash balls loose and out into space.
Some of the white balls hit other debris. They either bounced in another direction or cracked apart, which spilled its occupants. Those that strayed too close from residual blasts, extreme radioactive materials and flinging shrapnel could count their prayers.
One crash ball happened to escape largely unscathed. Ves curled himself up in a fetal position inside his ball and kept his eyes on the HUD projected by his helmet.
He didn't have the time to feel sorry about the Stubby Growler and the handful of other combat carriers that got hit. The final explosions launched his crash ball with a hefty push. It flew away away far too fast for anyone to retrieve it amid the chaotic aftermath of the missile impacts!
The takedown of the carriers which held the established leaders of the Vandal detachment threw the survivors into temporary confusion. Protocols quickly came into being and the surviving mech officer with the highest seniority quickly asserted his authority.
"Damage control teams, assist the damaged carriers! Rescue teams, go out and recover our men! Mechs, replenish ammunition and cool down, we need you up and running in case the Vesians send a follow-up attack!"
A second response such as launching mechs or another wave of missiles was unlikely. The Vesians likely blew their entire reserves at that single instant in order to maximize their kill potential. So far, despite the costs, they definitely scored ahead of the Flagrant Vandals.
"How much losses have we sustained so far?"
"Reporting, two combat carriers lost, including Major Verle's Stubby Growler. Three more carriers sustained heavy damage. Eleven only suffered negligible damage. Casualties are estimated to be around seven-thousand Vandals, spread disproportionately among the lost and heavily damaged carriers."
"Our logistical ships?"
"No damage reported other than scratches from incidental impacts against floating debris. They're safe and sound."
A small load lifted off their chests. Losing those combat carriers hurt a lot and set the Vandals back enormously, but with the logistical ships intact they could still carry the survivors home.
The newly-elevated commanding officer stared out at the projection that showed the chaotic Vandal ships converging back together. "The Vesians had their fun. Now it's our turn to dish back the hurt."
All of this happened far away from Ves. As rescue mechs and shuttles flew out to help those nearest to their positions, the crash balls and loose-flying hazard suits kept spreading out in every direction with rapid speed.
Each and every one of them suffered a violent push that flung them far too much for the rescue teams to reach them quickly. They might have been able to make it to them if they flew towards them at their best speed, but the mechs and shuttles priorities recovering the nearest survivors.
For most, who got rescued first didn't matter too much. However, a small portion of hazard suits and crash balls had been thrown in the direction of Detemen IV. The planet exerted a light but ever-present gravity that still drew on the approaching objects.
Some would sheer past and bend their trajectories. Others would slingshot away at a sharper angle like how a stone attached to a string could be launched away by employing Detemen IV's gravity as centrifugal force.
As for a small portion of unlucky survivors, they traveled almost straight towards Detemen IV at such an angle that it would be impossible for them to skate past.
Basically, they were on course for planetary entry, wrapped in shells that might or might not survive the incredible amounts of heat generated from the friction of their breach into the atmosphere.
Inside one particular crash ball, Ves tried to stretch his body but couldn't do anything due to the strong padding that surrounded his hazard suit. With hardly any room to move, Ves focused his full attention to the head-up display projected by his helmet. It interfaced with the electronics in the crash ball, allowing him a glimpse of what happened outside.
Its basic systems managed to determine that there was a really big planet in its path. It even managed to call up a pre-installed map of the planet, and trace out the crash ball's approximate trajectory.
If nothing changed, the ball would likely crash in the middle of an ocean.
"That's not good. I'll either be left alone for weeks or be taken prisoner by the Vesians."
With the Vandals unlikely to rescue him before his crash ball started its descent, Ves intended to rely on his own. He couldn't do anything in the middle of the ocean.
He needed to change course.
"Crash ball! Set destination to Neron City!"
Tiny boosters affixed to the exterior of the crash ball spurted out tiny jets. This caused it to spin and alter its trajectory. Ves saw that it adopted a shallower angle in order to arc its ultimate end point away from the ocean and closer to the capital city of Detemen IV.
[COURSE CHANGE COMPLETED. RESERVE FUEL: 27 PERCENT REMAINING.]
The crash seat even allowed Ves to finetune his landing point, though the crash ball didn't make any guarantees. Ves only took a moment to select a mech workshop district in the outskirts of Neron City.
As a mech designer, Ves fared best when surrounded by mechs or other machines. Though it was extremely risky to mix with the local Vesians in one of the most densely-populated cities of Detemen IV, it beat landing in complete wilderness.
"Without anyone watching my back, I only have my skills and my Amastendira to rely on."
While he could have gone for the much more massive manufacturing complexes located nearby, Ves thought it would be too risky to sneak inside those places. From what Ves had gathered during his stint at the Stubby Growler's command center, most of those complexes still enjoyed protection from their company forces.
And since these prosperous manufacturing complexes attracted a lot of attention, any place that fell would be overrun with rioters and robbers. That was not the kind of people that Ves wanted to mix with. He merely wanted to scrounge some machines together in order to protect himself long enough for the Flagrant Vandals forces on the ground could pick him up.
The crash ball started to encounter an increasing amount of air. As a terraformed planet, Detemen IV contained nearly the exact same atmosphere as Old Earth. Therefore, the crash began to be slowed down by drag but also started heating up because of that.
The heat began to scorch the white surface of the ball, but the emergency device had been built to withstand just these kind of situations. Almost every crash ball flung to the planet endured the heat generated by friction.
Some of the poor sods in the hazard suits had it worse. As much as the hazard suits had been designed to endure all manner of damage, in the end they weren't as robust as full exo-skeleton suits.
The main issue with the suits was that it couldn't deal with the heat. Everyone that fell towards the planet without a crash ball started heating up inside their suits. Some of the older units based on outdated hazard suit designs even failed as certain fragile components suddenly broke under all of the stress.
Dozens of people died this way, burnt to a crisp from inside-out.
Ves had no time to mourn for the fallen. His crash ball shook and shuddered so violently that he could hardly read his helmet's HUD. The figures and numbers kept shaking all over in front of his eyes.
"Damnit! The Vandals cheaped out on the hazard suits!"
At least they had the decency to employ decent crash balls. None of the balls so far had failed under the stress, though the handful of units that got damaged by flying debris started to shake a little harder.
Nevertheless, Ves started to feel mildly uncomfortable as some of the heat outside started to bleed into the interior. Pressed on all sides by cushioning materials and enclosed in a hazard suit that couldn't move, Ves started to feel very claustrophobic. The shaking and the knowledge that the descent could go wrong at any moment also failed to reassure his concerns.
"Note to self: invest in proper emergency equipment!"
The pressure also started to bore into his body, but at least Ves had it better than most. The g-force did almost nothing to his strengthened body, and the miniature inertial compensators bled off some of it when it began to exceed a certain amount.
Still, everything depended on the continued operation of a handful of critical systems. It was far too fragile to his tastes.
Ves felt like he returned right back to the Glowing Planet or Groening IV. Just like before, Ves fell into a circumstance where everything went out of control and where his actions couldn't change the outcome at all. He hated feeling helpless like a newborn lamb.
"This is far too crazy!"
Mech designers shouldn't even be exposed to direct combat. Ves thought he had escaped such a fate by digging himself out of the pit filled with low-ranked mech designers, but of all the mech regiments he could end up with, he got assigned to one of the few that didn't maintain a permanent base.
Ves always thought the Vandals held ulterior motives in keeping all of their assets mobile. Maintaining a safe and secure base on a planet far away from the frontlines might offer safe harbor to the Vandals, but it also tied them down.
By now, his crash ball had gone through the worst part of the descent. The shaking subsided and the speed of the ball's descent had slowed down to a more controllable and manageable state.
This finally reassured him a little. "At least not everything has gone wrong."
One downside of entering atmosphere was that the crash ball lost contact with its fellow. From what he gathered until the connections broke, most of the crash balls had the same idea as he did and tried to converge around Neron City or one of the other major cities within their fuel allowance.
Last he counted, around fifty or so or so crash balls specifically directed their course towards the capital city, but they all chose different districts to land on. Some even wanted to go fall directly towards the landing site of Vandal combat carriers that carried landbound mechs to the ground.
Such an action was exceedingly risky because the Vesians on the ground weren't vegetables.
Neron City started coming into view.
Several areas in and around Neron City started to be lit up as hidden turrets emerged from their underground enclosures and targeted the descending crash balls. Most of the anti-air turrets clustered around the palace and other important government buildings situated downtown. The manufacturing complexes also contributed some of their anti-air turrets or mechs into taking down the errant crash balls.
The districts adjacent to the area where the Vandals established their beachheads hosted plenty of turrets as well.
Any Vandal the Vesians took out now would be one Vandal they didn't have to face on the battlefield.
"Those bastards! Next time, we better not take any prisoners!" Ves cursed as he programmed a last minute course change to take him further away from the center of Neron City.
[COURSE CHANGE INTERRUPTED. RESERVE FUEL: 0 PERCENT REMAINING.]
His ball expended its last remaining available reserve of fuel, and it was barely enough to get him to the furthest edge of the mech workshop district. Fortunately, the district looked a little rundown and held nothing of importance, so the Vesians didn't bother posting a turret in this area.
As his crash ball neared the surface of Neron City, his crash ball expended the final remaining bits of fuel and power it reserved to make a safe landing. A powerful antigrav module came to life, allowing the final landing boosters to slow down its fall to a more controllable descent.
For a moment, Ves felt as if he was weightless.
The next, a firm thud pushed him against the cushions as his crash ball embedded itself into an abandoned and overgrown park.
The ball finally fell apart after that. Ves shakingly emerged from the remnants of the broken ball and shook his hazard suit to get some life back into his limbs.
"So this is Neron City."
The twin suns just started to fall under the horizon. Nevertheless, plenty of flames lit up the darkening skies in the distance. Weapons fire and mechs clashing against each other could be heard from the distance.
The entire planet fell into turmoil, and as Lord Javier's seat of power, Neron City bled the most.
Ves almost felt sorry for the citizens, but he quickly reminded himself that he wasn't one of them. "The entire planet is my enemy."