The Vandal fleet emerged at the edge of the Remoss System in a flash.
FTL transitions couldn ’t be hidden because the entries rippled through gravitic space.

”Pulse the surrounding space. ” Major Verle ordered with force.
”Launch patrol mechs and secure the perimeter.
If there ’s anything hiding nearby, I want to find it out yesterday! ”

”Yes, sir! ”

The officer in charge of sensors implemented a pre-planned arrangement.
As the starships of the task force recovered from their stint in FTL travel, a large number of Inheritors launched from their hangar bays.

Some of them hadn ’t been worked on since the Vandals got them back from the repair businesses.
The mech technicians only had time to upgrade the sensor arrays of only a handful of Inheritors.

Still, this small change was more than enough to make a difference.

”We ’ve detected a cold sensor pod several light-seconds in-system! ”

”Shoot it down! ”

”Sir, considering its position, the sensor pod likely belongs to the local garrison fleet. ”

”Shoot it down regardless. ” Major Verle repeated, throwing a menacing glare at the sensor officer for doubting him.
”The Reinaldans are as dirty as anyone.
I don ’t want anyone receiving up-to-date telemetry on our movements. ”

A precise laser took out the distant sensor pod.
Though it was challenging to destroy something so far away when it moved, the sensor pod possessed no mobility at all.
It was as immobile as a floating piece of rock orbiting around the sun, so its trajectory was a cinch to predict.

A few more seconds went by as the sensors of the ships and mechs started to resolve the vicinity in an expanding range.

”We ’ve detected several unknown fleets! One has been identified as the Masters of Combat! The other is broadcasting their identity as Lydia ’s Swordmaidens.
The third fleet claims to belong to the Caged! ”

They expected the first two fleets.
They did not expect the presence of the Caged!

”That Roppongan gang! ” Verle shouted as he slammed his fist against his armrest.
”Tactical, analyze their movements.
Tell me why they are here! ”

When the various outfits involved in assaulting the spaceport departed from the Harkensen System, they supposedly split in every direction.
Now, four of the outfits involved had coincidentally ended up in the Remoss System!

Worse, because they all jumped from the same starting point and emerged at the same exit point, every fleet was a stone ’s throw away from each other.
While that still amounted to countless kilometers in absolute terms, it only took a couple of hours to close the distance, and that was if one fleet tried their best to run away.

Ves watched on from his observation seat in the command center.
The amount of aid he could offer at this point was limited, but the preparations he drafted beforehand had already shown their fruits.
At this point, his analyses of the enemy mechs would be of limited use, since the Masters of Combat had a tendency to employ high-quality mechs with all-encompassing defenses.

Mech designers and mech technicians contributed as much to a battle as mech pilots.
The former two made a difference before the battle even started.
The latter contributed to victory once the fighting commenced.

Therefore, even if his presence wasn ’t entirely useful, Ves still earned the right to witness the battle from the command center.

Still, the presence of the Caged might change all of that.
While the Vandals had done their homework on the Masters of Combat, they couldn ’t say the same for the Caged.
Ves immediately pulled up every scrap of readily available intelligence on the gang.

The limited number of reports in the central database depicted them as a major criminal influence in the Roppo Principality.
The governments of Roppo and Reinald maintained close ties to each other because they were both part of the Frozen Leaf Alliance.
However, the same could not be said of their criminal elements.

In general, Reinald ’s gangs held a lot of sway in the surrounding region.
The massive amount of commerce and trade in Reinald had empowered the gangs and pirates overseeing the underground markets.
This turned them into bullies who weren ’t afraid to throw their weight around.

This little fact immediately explained why the Roppongan fleet adopted a defensive position against the Reinald-backed Swordmaidens.
The pair ’s backers might have been allies in public, but their outfits were definitely rivals.

The communications officer spoke up.
”Commander Lydia is hailing our ship! Do you wish to accept her comm request, sir? ”

Major Verle sighed.
”Accept her hail but put it on my console.
I ’ll be taking this call in private. ”

A privacy screen emerged around the major ’s command chair.
Nobody could eavesdrop on their conversation unless they brought a high-tech listening device.

Ves really wanted to hear what the two commanders had to say to each other.
Obviously, they hadn ’t expected the Caged to tag along.

He dove back into the archives and tried to figure out what their mech doctrine looked like.
As a gang that held a lot of territory in the Principality, they put more emphasis on their landbound mechs than their spaceborn mechs.
However, they hadn ’t neglected the latter to a great extent.

Whereas the Masters of Combat went all-in on beefy armored mechs, the Roppongans opted to base their spaceborn mech doctrine around the concept of hit-and-run.
They employed large numbers of long and medium-ranged mechs that might not be very tough, but could always be counted upon to move quickly in space.

”Looking at it another way, the Masters of Combat have imitated Venidse ’s mech doctrine, while the Caged have taken a page off Klein ’s mech doctrine. ”

The Klein Duchy ’s cowardly mech legions may have been a laughing stock in the Kingdom, they were still hell to fight against in certain situations.
Lydia ’s Swordmaidens, the Flagrant Vandals ’ erstwhile allies, invested most of their resources into fielding melee mechs.

Even an idiot could tell that throwing melee mechs against a prepared force of ranged mechs was a bad idea.
The Swordmaidens risked losing at least half their mechs before their first swordsman mechs managed to close in.
Worst of all, the Caged had gained a lot of experience in kiting around their enemies in circles.

The fighting style refined by the Caged was an anathema to the honor-obsessed Roppongans.
Many Roppongan elites dedicated their training to perfecting their ability to wield mech-sized melee weapons.
Among these armaments, mastering the sword was the perennial favorite.

This meant that the Caged possessed a lot of experience in countering swordsman mechs.
As a criminal gang with a lot of contradictions with rival Roppongans, it was practically mandatory for them to develop means to cope against melee mechs.
As much of their members were made up of Roppongans who rebelled against the stifling society of their state, they took up ranged mechs without any hesitation.

Ves frowned a bit.
”The Masters of Combat ’s mech doctrine counters the mech doctrine of the Flagrant Vandals.
The usual fighting style of Lydia ’s Swordmaidens won ’t work against the methods of the Caged. ”

This was an awful situation to be in.
Ves had experienced the consequences of a poor matchup several times.
Just thinking about the battle against several mech companies of the Frosty Meteors had shown how costly such a battle could play out for the disadvantaged side.

”We can only count on other advantages if we want to win. ”

After a brief period of time, Major Verle finished his little talk with Commander Lydia.
The projection of the female pirate commander swept her view throughout the Shield of Hispania ’s entire command center before winking out.

”Commander Lydia has informed me that the Caged are ’old friends ’ with her Swordmaidens. ” He informed the crew.
”While neither of us have received any indication that the Caged have come an understanding with the Masters of Combat, we should assume the worst.
Unless directed otherwise, we will treat the fleet from the Caged as hostiles. ”

On the central plot of the local space, the icons depicting the ships from the Caged took on an ominous red shade.

Right now, the random spread after emerging out of FTL had flung every fleet at least an hour away from each other.
None of the fleets were close enough to each other to launch a surprise attack.
If any fleet held any hostile intentions, they first needed to move closer to their targets.
Anyone could see the attack with hours to spare.

”Sir, our sensors have detected movement from the Masters of Combat and the Caged! They are converging upon each other while widening the distance from us and the Swordsmaiden fleet! ”

It would take hours to catch up to a fleeing opponents, but it took much less time for two fleets to meet each other! The Vandals and the Swordmaidens could never stop their enemies from teaming up in time!

Major Verle was already resigned to this outcome.
”Please inform Captain Rakeshir to get our butts moving as well.
Since the Masters of Combat and the Caged have decided to combine their forces, let us do the same with the Swordmaidens.
We can make our next moves from there. ”

The Shield of Hispania and the other ships of the Vandals rumbled as their thrusters came to life.
They made their best speed over to the ships of the Swordsmaidens.
This wouldn ’t take too much time.

Right now, the balance of power had tipped towards their opponents.
The Flagrant Vandals initially traveled to the Remoss System in order to catch up to the Masters of Combat.
They dragged in Lydia ’s Swordmaidens to guarantee a victory, only to see their advantage evaporate now that the Masters of Combat had called up a buddy as well.

Larkinson, I trust you have studied the force composition of the Caged.
Tell me what we are facing and explain the odds of winning against the combined hostile force. ”

Ves took a moment to gather up his answer.
He didn ’t spend nearly enough time on figuring out what made the Caged tick, but right now they weren ’t exactly swimming in time.

”The Caged fight like the Klein mech legions.
They predominantly field swift and agile ranged mechs that can take out their opponents from a distance.
This goes for both their spaceborn and landbound mech contingent, captain. ”

He quickly explained the background behind this development, making it clear that the Caged did not fight like an orthodox Roppongan mech outfit.
Many Vandals needed to wrap their minds around this concept, because the mech pilots of the Roppo Principality had gained a stereotype of being obsessed with swords.

”I see. ” Verle frowned.
He understood the disadvantages facing the Swordmaidens better than anyone among the Vandals.
”Leaving out the Swordmaidens and the Masters of Combat, how do you judge our chances against the Caged? ”

”The news isn ’t all that bad, sir. ” Ves released a rare smile.
They all needed to hear some good news.
”The mech pilots from the Caged possess a lot of enthusiasm, but they are hardly elites.
Similar to the members of other gangs, the average skill level among the mech pilots of the Caged is lower than average.
Even if they are a force to be reckoned with in their home state, skilled mech pilots can pursue better career opportunities.
In short, most of their mechs consists of spaceborn frontline mechs. ”

In other words, the mech pilots of the Caged wage their battles in the most basic mech models imaginable.
While frontline mechs could be deadly in the right circumstances, their fixed weaponry and cheap construction meant that they exhibited poor flexibility.

”The mechs of the Caged are fast.
At their most optimal states, they can outrun our Hellcats and our other medium mech models. ” Ves continued.
”Yet even their lightest mechs can ’t outrun our Inheritor mechs.
Our skirmishers can close the distance at a fairly good pace, though they ’ll have to endure several minutes of accurate laser fire.
As a force based around long and medium-ranged supremacy, they rely mostly on lasers, which isn ’t as effective in punching through the armor of an Inheritor mech as kinetic or ballistic rounds. ”

Some of the Vandals in the command center smiled.
As long as the Vandals faced the Caged, they could use their inherent advantages to negate their threat against the Swordmaidens.

All they needed to do was to maneuver their elements to make this favorable matchup possible.

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