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Chapter 1981 Forlorn Hope

The Mech Touch
     Chapter 1981 Forlorn Hope

    The blockading of the star system not just prevented the MTA from rapidly reinforcing the Bentheim System.

    It also blocked the fleeing outfits from transitioning into FTL!

    Fortunately for the cowardly mercenaries, the sandmen weren't interested in hunting them down. The huge number of sandman monoliths instead focused on advancing to the inner system while simultaneously exerting a huge amount of pressure on the MTA task force!

    For all of their advanced technology and might, the MTA's Komodo Branch was hardly representative of the Big Two's might!

    Underfunded and overlooked within the huge organization, the Komodo Branch had to do more with less.

    Their warships were just a bit less fully featured than the warships stationed in the galactic center.

    Their multipurpose mechs were a bit less powerful due to the widespread scarcity of high-grade exotics in the galactic rim.

    Most of the mech pilots and personnel of the MTA in the Komodo Star Sector also belonged to a lower caliber. Many of the local recruits came from low-quality stock in the eyes of the Pure Humans and other elitist fraternities.

    Those transferred to the galactic rim from the more prosperous parts of the galaxy had effectively been exiled from the more important centers of power. They did not represent the best what the Association had to offer!

    All of these factors and more effectively resulted in a case where the MTA had been caught flat-footed!

    The tech required to blockade FTL travel in a star system was not something that a low-class alien civilization was supposed to possess!

    With the sandmen keeping outsiders from entering the Bentheim System, the MTA forces found out to their horror that they had to resist the sandmen mostly by themselves!

    Though the mechs and warships had already managed to destroy thousands of sandman monoliths, they expended a considerable amount of energy and ordnance to accomplish these feats.

    The problem was that there were thousands of sandman monoliths pressing forward! The huge armada of the sandman monoliths might be somewhat dispersed at the start, but a day after the start of the battle, some of their limits started to become obvious.

    Mech pilots were forced to fight intensive battles without any rest. Though their physical bodies were more than capable enough to fight for days on end, their mental fortitude was not able to keep up as well!

    Their skill started to slide and their mental acuity had begun to slip. When piloting a powerful but very advanced multipurpose mech, a loss of concentration could easily result in lots of errors!

    Right now, the mech pilots were making more mistakes than usual, but with so many sandman seeking to destroy the MTA carriers and warships, there was little choice but to throw them into battle once again!

    The warships meanwhile were much more capable of duking it out with the sandmen. These large and resilient vessels were able to resist lots of attacks due to their powerful energy shields and very thick armor. Their firepower also wasn't anything to scoff about as their large caliber weapons fired shells the size of mechs or unleashed beams of energy that contained enough energy to punch through large asteroids!

    Yet for all of their formidable offense, defense and mobility, even they possessed certain limits!

    The MTA finally had a taste of the attrition warfare that made the sandman race so dreaded by humanity. While the MTA task force could easily defeat the sandman monoliths as long as it concentrated its fire, the fact that there were always sandman monoliths ready to take the place of their fallen brethren turned their momentary victories hollow.

    Just like the local forces, the MTA task force found itself forced to retreat and give up a lot of space!

    With the MTA occupied with fending off the bulk of the sandman invaders, the ones left to attack the Bright Republic's crown jewel were still numerous enough to overwhelm the increasingly more ragged soldiers left to hold the last lines of the defense!

    As the circle of envelopment tightened, the sandmen loomed increasingly closer to the planet where billions of citizens began to lose their hope at a rapid pace!

    After her fifteenth sortie, Captain Orfan directed her half-destroyed Novabreaker inside the hangar bay of the Princely Jackal.

    Even with the strength of an expert candidate, she found it difficult to stay on top of the battle!

    With the fall of numerous mech officers, she was forced to take more and more responsibility until she became the most senior officer in the field!

    Fix my mech! She yelled after she turned off her mech and hopped out of her cockpit. My men need me! I'm not done yet!

    It's not possible, captain! A chief technician waved a soot-stained hand at the mech she had just brought back. Just look at the damage of this machine! It's missing an entire arm and huge portions of its internal structure! We need at least a day to restore its battle effectiveness, and that is only if we jury-rig some hasty repairs!

    Then give me another mech!

    We don't have any! Just look at the other mechs parked in this hangar and count how many we have left. We lost over 60 percent of our mechs! In fact, the casualty rate is higher if we don't count the orphaned mechs that have been forced to land on our ship after the destruction of the Wolf Mother!

    The Vandals were running out of mechs and mech pilots! Captain Orfan gritted her teeth. She had lost far too many comrades since the start of the battle!

    A chime sounded from her comm. She noticed that Major Verle requested a private meeting with her at a conference room close to the bridge.

    I've got to go, chief. Find some way to get me a mech. I don't care if you have to take it from another mech pilot. However good the other pilot is, I'm better!

    Moments later, she entered the conference room where Major Verle greeted her alone.

    Come take a seat. I know you're eager to continue the fight, but this battle is far from over. You can afford the rest.

    Just get to the point, major.

    Major Verle knew that Captain Orfan wasn't one for subtleties, so he immediately brought up his suggestion.

    Though the crew has been doing its best to hide it, I've noticed that there has been a lot of talk about.. desertion circulating through the halls.

    That's nothing new. You know how we Vandals are. We are treated like garbage by the Mech Corps on a regular basis. That doesn't change the fact that we have proven in the last Bright-Vesia War that we are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to complete our mission. We've also fought the aliens during the entire stretch of the Sand War. We still have a lot of fight left within our bones!

    I don't necessarily disagree, captain. Major Verle slowly responded and bent his head. It's different this time. We can't constantly focus on our duty. We need to think about what happens afterwards.

    A brief silence stretched between the two Vandal officers. Captain Orfan slowly narrowed her eyes.

    I thought better of you, Quinlist. You were always the one to keep our spirits high. If not for your leadership, we would have never been able to make it back from the Aeon Corona System!

    This is different, Rosa! Major Verle lost his cool and slammed his fist against the metal conference table! He quickly activated some commands that projected the current battle state of the Bentheim System. Just look at this! Look at how many forces the Mech Corps and the Starfighter Corps lost! Look at how many sandman monoliths are still left intact. We only chewed through a third of their monoliths, and that was with the help of the MTA task force!

    The MTA isn't down for the count. They're strong.

    The MTA forces are doing their best to survive! They don't have the luxury to assist in the defense of Bentheim! All of the assets that we have left to fend off the sandmen are our diminished mechs and the defenses installed in orbit, neither of which are powerful enough to prevent the inevitable!

    Captain Orfan couldn't believe it. Major Verle had truly gone crazy. His defeatist mindset was completely anathema to the Major Verle in her memories.

    Do I need to relieve you of your command?

    You won't enjoy the support of the remaining Vandals. Verle crossed his arms. I'm not saying that we should follow in the footsteps of the mercenaries, but there are times when we are asked to sacrifice our lives when the gesture is futile. From my correspondence with high command, it has become increasingly clear to me that we may soon be asked to make a last stand for a planet that is already doomed. Not only would we be asked to throw away our lives, our gesture wouldn't even shift the final outcome!

    We're soldiers! She retorted. She patted her piloting suit. It means something when we wear our uniforms! The battle is far from over, major. Maybe the MTA manages to break through the blockade. Maybe the Bright Republic prepared a lot of reserves on the planet. Maybe the sandmen all lose steam once they expended their energy. There is still a chance that we can win!

    Major Verle shook his head. I entrust the lives of our fellow Vandals on those overly optimistic assumptions. This is not about winning. This is about saving who we can and protecting those we consider comrades. The government may not like what I am saying, but I am long past the point of caring about the opinions of those who stabbed the Larkinsons in the back.

    Both of them glowered at the mention of this dark incident. Captain Orfan may not have met many Larkinsons in person, but if they were anything like Ves, their honorable reputation was not in vain!

    The meeting ended on an inconclusive note. Though Captain Orfan didn't want anything to do with desertion, the thought continued to linger in her mind as she wandered the Princely Jackal.

    She looked at the passing Vandal crew members as they performed their duties through one of the most arduous times in their lives.

    Some of them were shedding tears. Too many Vandals had died! The deaths of the mech pilots of the fallen mechs and the crew members who failed to escape from the collapsing Wolf Mother weighed heavily on the survivors.

    How many more had to die? Would there be any Vandals left after this battle? Would the Bright Republic still be a hospitable home for them? All of these questions and more began to haunt Captain Orfan more and more.

    What is my duty?

    Officially, she was an officer of the Mech Corps. She took an oath to defend the Bright Republic from enemies from within and without. Defending the Bentheim System was a crucial objective to the state.

    To turn her back on the planet and the billions of people living on it was unacceptable to her! In her decades-long career as a mech pilot and a mech officer, she never exhibited cowardice!

    Yet.. she saw the writing on the wall just as well as Major Verle. It didn't take a genius tactician to see that the sandmen monoliths were simply too strong and numerous to be repelled by the MTA task force.

    If the MTA couldn't take care of the sandmen, then how could the forces of the Bright Republic ever hope to do any better?

    Who should I protect? She whispered to herself. Do I fight for my people, or do I fight for my comrades?

    When she returned to the mech hangar, she looked out at the depressingly small number of intact-looking mechs. Nonetheless, the mech technicians worked around the clock in order to service them so that they could return to the field as quickly as possible!

    How many mechs will be left by the time the day is over?

    She was afraid there wouldn't be any mechs left.