A sandman fleet entered the Cloudy Curtain System!

This should have been impossible, or at least extremely unlikely!

After the fall of Sydney Superior, a part of the interior of the Bright Republic became vulnerable.
Sandmen fleets were much more able to travel to Bentheim.

The port system already fended off a dozen different sandman incursions, and this was just the start.

While Cloudy Curtain was situated close to Bentheim, the latter was much more attention-grabbing to the sandmen.

Hardly any sandman ought to be interested in a trivial star system with an average sun and no exotic mineral deposits to speak of.
It was one of the least attractive star systems in the Bentheim region with a human population.

”How strong is this fleet and where did it come from? ” Ves demanded as he entered the command center of the Living Sentinels.

Commander Magdalena Larkinson, who sat in the command chair, answered his question.

”The sandman fleet we ’ve discovered first emerged in Bentheim, sir.
Unlike every other fleet that transitioned there, it resisted the incredible temptation to travel closer to the energy-rich planet in the inner system and transitioned back into FTL before the nearest defense force could reach its position. ”

”This is too abnormal! The sandman admirals never resist the temptation to absorb more energy! ”

The Sand War lifted the veil that obscured the sandmen.
Previously, many people only knew scant details about this alien race.
Now that they became a threat, everyone began to know what they were like.

Perhaps in an attempt to raise everyone ’s confidence in winning the war, the Bright Republic revealed many details about the race.

As a whole, the sandman was more akin to a superorganism than a genuine civilization of sentients.

While the sandmen were able to process data like computers, they didn ’t have much of a personality.

As a result, they were more like nature ’s version of bots.
Most sandmen were so simple and stupid that they didn ’t have the drive to do anything when isolated.

Only the presence of higher-caste sandmen changed the equation a little.
Smarter and more capable of independent thought than their lower cousins, these sandmen were able to make their own decisions and command trillions of sandmen to follow their orders.

Naturally, this did not mean that a sandman admiral was just as smart as a human fleet commander.
Time and time again, the sandman admirals had shown that they didn ’t have much imagination and usually followed their orders to the letter.

No sandman admiral should have the initiative to abandon a juicy target for a rotten target, especially several ones at the same time!

”How many sandman admirals are in this fleet? ” He asked next.

”Three to five.
The local defense fleet is more than capable of addressing this threat, sir. ”

Ves sighed in relief.
While it would be a bit painful to fend them off by relying on the Avatars of Myth and Living Sentinels stationed at Cloudy Curtain, they weren ’t alone.

The Mech Corps stationed a small force in the star system.
The Starfighter Corps also donated some starfighter wings to serve as cannon fodder.

The government also contracted some mercenary corps to bolster the defense.
Along with the Cloud Whalers, the private outfits were more than capable of defeating half of the sandman fleet as long as they didn ’t cut and run.

”Don ’t expect too much from the starfighter wings. ” The Sentinel Commander warned.
”There are only two of them here, and they all consist of castoffs. ”

Ves reached towards a nearby control panel and summoned up a page that displayed the readily available assets to meet the incoming threat.

As Magdalena had said, the starfighters patrolling in space all consisted of outdated, first generation models.
Their flimsy armor succumbed far too quickly against the sandmen these days.

The sandman fleet that decided to invade Cloudy Curtain this time happened to have adopted the dreaded swarm configuration!

This meant that facing a storm of lasers was practically assured!

”The starfighter pilots will have to prepare themselves for the worst. ” He muttered.

”I ’m not so certain of that, Ves.
The Mech Corps has recently sent a notice to us.
They plan to repel the sandmen without involving starfighters.

”What?! ” Ves grew concerned.
”That ’s ridiculous! Who will draw fire away from our mechs if the starfighters aren ’t there to act as bait? ”

”Captain Xera Monlin believes that it isn ’t necessary to rely on a screen of starfighters.
The starfighter wings will be placed in reserve to offer long-ranged fire support and provide additional assistance as needed. ”

”What about us, then? ”

”We are expected to deploy our new Dawnbreakers in the forefront of the battleline.
Together with the Novabreakers fielded by the 2nd Equinox Stingers, our mechs are expected to absorb most of the firepower, at least until the machines can ’t take it any longer. ”

Ves wanted to puke.
What was the point of fielding cannon fodder if the officer in charge valued their lives too much?

However, considering how badly first generation starfighters performed against the swarm configuration, the mech captain ’s orders made a bit more sense.

Unlike the starfighters, the Dawnbreaker and Novabreaker models had been designed while the destructive potential of the sandmen came to light.

The armor systems of those mechs were anything but ordinary at a response.
The mech already came with a considerable amount of damage mitigation properties to preserve the life of the mech pilot.
Paired with a decent application of compressed armor, it took a lot of firepower to crack through their shells!

Even so, Ves was deeply reluctant to put his Dawnbreakers at risk.
A sandman fleet led by at least three sandman admirals was a significant threat that could not be repelled without cost!

While the relative strength of the defense forces ensured that they would definitely win, the real question was what price they must pay to achieve victory.

Each Dawnbreaker was a premium mech.
They cost as much as a Blackbeak and repairing their damaged armor plating was very costly.

”We don ’t have to worry too much about that. ” Magdalena noted.
”The Mech Corps has already promised us to fund at least half of the cost of repairs.
We ’ll also earn a lot more merit and appreciation from them if we follow orders. ”

Ves grunted in frustration.
”You ’re in command of our Avatars and Sentinels right now.
I ’ll defer to your judgement. ”

”In that case, I intend to follow instructions. ”

He expected her to do so.
She used to serve in the Mech Corps, after all.

”Can you tell me why? ”

”While it ’s a bit abnormal that the sandman admirals decided to divert to Cloudy Curtain, we can ’t assume that it ’s a one-time exception.
Not a single star system in the Bright Republic is safe.
We have to prepare for the worst, and that means that we need to make decisions in light of attrition warfare. ”

The sandmen loved attrition warfare.
They didn ’t value their lives at all and were more than willing to sacrifice hundreds of sandman fleets to exhaust the defenders of a single star system!

”If that ’s the case, then we should sacrifice our least valuable assets first.
I don ’t see how it benefits us more if we accrue considerable damage to our most powerful mechs.
The starfighters are far less valuable! We ought to place them in the vanguard instead! ”

”I understand where you are coming from, Ves, but… for now Captain Monlin wants us to sacrifice material assets rather than precious human lives.
While the old generation starfighters don ’t pack the new Sandbreaker weapon system, their ballistic gun mounts still pack a considerable punch.
Letting as much of them stay alive as possible will pay off in future battles. ”

A relatively unimportant star system as Cloudy Curtain didn ’t receive much attention from the Mech Corps and Starfighter Corps.
It shouldn ’t have been a surprise that the Equinox Stingers wanted to keep up as many machines intact as possible.

”Will our forces intercept the sandmen, or let them approach this planet? ”

The government already installed a loose belt of defensive platforms in geosynchronous orbit to the planet.
The amount of firepower they could contribute was considerable, but the downside was that the sandmen would have already reached the final lap when they entered the range of the final defenses.

”Captain Monlin will never risk the population of Cloudy Curtain in an attempt to reduce the casualties suffered by the forces under her command.
She has her orders.
She must protect the lives of those who are stuck on Cloudy Curtain.
She can ’t allow a single grain of animated sand to go through and make landfall! ”

In the end, the Mech Corps got their wish.
The entire base of the Silver Sentinels became a hive of activity.
Though not every Sentinel was eager to fight, this was one instance where every able mech pilot had to step up and fight!

If the sandman fleet managed to bull through the defenders, the lives of billions of humans were at stake!

Any mech pilot who shirked their duty and avoided battle would immediately be dealt with by the military police after the battle had ended!

Light carriers landed directly in the base of the Sentinels and conveyed numerous Dawnbreakers, Desolate Soldiers, Aurora Titans and other spaceborn mechs into orbit.

Over a hundred grave-looking mech pilots boarded the vessels as well.

If Ves could gather all of his forces, he could easily field over three-hundred mechs at once.
Sadly, he sent a portion of his Avatars and Sentinels to the front.
He also dispatched his Battle Criers on some errands.

In truth, he could have committed even more defenders, but Ves did not wish to leave the Mech Nursery vulnerable.
There were far too many assets there that still needed protection.

As Ves waited for his own ride, Commander Magdalena addressed one more topic before she accompanied her Sentinels into space.

”Can we depend on the Glory Battalion, sir? ”

He immediately shook his head.
”Don ’t get your hopes up.
Their primary mission is to protect Gloriana ’s life.
While we all know that the detachment assigned to accompany Gloriana is powerful enough to crush the aliens, the Glory Battalion will never fight for our sake. ”

Gloriana was still unconscious and would remain so for at least a day.
As long as she was out cold, she would never be able to object to being taken away from Cloudy Curtain.

”That ’s a shame. ”

”This is why it ’s important to cultivate our own second-class mech mech force, commander.
As long as we possess enough strength, we don ’t have to rely on others for help. ”

The two eventually parted.
While Commander Magdalena planned to command the Avatars and Sentinels from one of their carriers, Ves decided to observe the battle aboard the Barracuda.

While Ves was tempted to accompany Magdalena more, he didn ’t want to get in the way.
He wouldn ’t be able to contribute much anyway.

Moments later, he boarded the Barracuda with Nitaa, Crindon and Lucky.
He was tempted to bring Gavin and Raymond as well, but they wouldn ’t be of any use in a battle.

”Welcome aboard the Barracuda, Mr.
Larkinson. ” Captain Silvestra greeted his arrival.

”It ’s been some time since I last stepped on my ship. ” Ves remarked with a smile while he carried Lucky.

”Meow. ”

”Oh, shut up.
If worse comes to worst, I won ’t have to order the Barracuda to descend back to the surface in order to pick you up! ”

That was extremely unlikely unless the sandmen somehow mastered stealth technology.

The group headed to the bridge which immediately became a little crowded as it hadn ’t been designed to accommodate too many people.

Please assist in monitoring the communication channels.
If there is anything going on behind our back, I want to know right away. ”

”Yes, sir. ”

As the Barracuda lifted off and ascended to the surface, Ves settled himself on a spare seat while observing the proceedings.

He already watched a lot of footage of battles against the sandman, but that was not enough!

If he truly wanted to understand the sandmen and how they changed in comparison to his previous personal encounters with them, then he needed to get closer to the action!

He needed to get close enough for his heart to pump like a war drum!

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