Chapter 2342: Pirate Warships
The news soon spread to the rest of Task Force Predator.
Neither Ves nor Calabast thought it was best to hide the news. Morale dropped immediately after everyone found out that the entire Nyxian Gap was out to get them. Not even Major Verle or Venerable Jannzi could do much to restore everyone's confidence.
"It's better this way, sir." Major Verle told Ves. "While we need to be careful not to exaggerate the threat of the pirates, we need to give each of our people some time to process the threat. Eventually, they'll conclude that the only way to overcome this challenge is to do their absolute best. I expect a lot of good results in a week."
Though the possible enthusiasm sounded great, many battles weren't solely won by that. When Ves thought of the possibility of facing the notorious Gravada Knarlax and her massive cruiser-grade cannons in battle, his heart almost stopped!
A warship, even a third-rate, bootleg pirate version of the genuine article, could easily demolish his entire task force under the right circumstances!
"While the exact specifications of the Gravada Knarlax is not publicly known, she has revealed various properties the few times she engaged in battle." Major Verle explained while he activated a projection that depicted a wireframe model of the ship.
Compared to actual design schematics, the wireframe model of the Knarlax only exposed her exterior layout. Only the Allidus Alliance knew what lay beneath, and every pirate who served on the heavy cruiser never leaked any details.
"What is known about the Knarlax is that she is 800 meters long. She's a sub-capital ship, but don't underestimate her for this reason. She was built several decades ago when the Allidus Alliance wasn't as formidable as now. This means that much of her internal structure should be relatively weak. They're thick and heavy in order to prevent the ship from rattling herself to pieces. As a consequence, she should be very slow and quite vulnerable if any attacks make it through her exterior."
"I guess that punching through her hull plating is easier said than done." Ves remarked.
Verle poked his finger at the projection, highlighting the thick belt of armor wrapped around the ship. "It's a lot easier for relatively low-skilled shipbuilders to upgrade the armor plating and exterior modules. What we know is that over the years, the Allidus Alliance has continued to invest in upgrading the armor plating of its flagship. This allows them to exert more power, thereby increasing the Alliance's power. With greater power, the Lord Hivex is able to channel more resources into strengthening the heavy cruiser once again."
It was a virtuous cycle. In the Nyxian Gap, the ones with the biggest fist had the most say. The Allidus Alliance knew that growing wealthier without increasing their ability to defend their gains was counterproductive. Ves would have upgraded the Knarlax too in order to boost her deterrence factor.
"What about the other warships?"
"The Allidus Alliance don't want to put all of their eggs in one basket, sir. While it is very difficult to build another heavy cruiser like the Gravada Knarlax, the pirates have instead opted to build numerous smaller ships. From what we have heard, at least half-a-dozen armored destroyers and frigates are accompanying the Knarlax. Any one of them are already capable of destroying entire mech companies."
The scale of their weapons and armor simply couldn't be compared to the loadout of mechs. Size mattered. Even if the tech base of those pirate warships were low, their sheer size was enough for them to prove deadly against second-class mechs!
Major Verle spent some time outlining the different weapons on the Knarlax.
"The secondary armament of the Knarlax consists of over hundred smaller gun batteries. In this case, the word small is relative. Since the pirates aren't constrained by any taboos, they have been able to fit much more secondary guns onto the heavy cruiser's hull. Each of her gun batteries are centrally fed from the ship."
The cumbersome requirements of the MTA imposed a lot of inefficiencies in normal starship design. For example, his own upcoming factory ship came with numerous empty bunkers to accommodate powerful heavy artillery mechs as a form of defense.
No matter how strong or impressive heavy mechs may be, forcing them to play the role as gun batteries on ships was incredibly inefficient!
Heavy mechs massed so much and took up so much space that they brought much less firepower than if the space was taken up by dedicated gun turrets.
It was for this reason that the Gravada Knarlax, despite being less than half as long as the Larkinson Clan's upcoming factory ship, already possessed substantially greater firepower by virtue of her secondary armaments alone!
"While the secondary guns are already enough to chew an entire mech regiment to pieces, it's the primary guns we need to watch out for. The Gravada Knarlax has nine main cannons in total."
Major Verle tapped the turrets. "The main cannons are grouped up in three turrets, which are placed in a triangular scheme around her hull. Two of them are placed close to the bow while the remaining one is located at the stern. While this turret layout means that the Knarlax is only capable of bringing all of her guns to bear against a single target positioned forward or to rear. Any enemies approaching from the side will only have to risk getting hit by two out of three of the triple-barreled turrets."
That was not much of a consolation. Just one of the cannons on those turrets already possessed enough power to hammer the Scarlet Rose into pieces!
"Do the main guns consist of laser or ballistic cannons?"
"The latter, sir. The Gravada Knarlax is designed to be a brawler. While she is rumored to possess numerous missile batteries to attack longer-ranged targets, her guns make her very suitable to advance forward with unstoppable might. The closer she gets to her target, the easier it is for her guns to hit their targets. With decades worth of upgrades to her hull plating, not even a nuclear missile can punch through her armor belt."
Obviously, the heavy cruiser was easily avoidable under the right circumstances. Her acceleration was abysmal so it was not that difficult for mobile fleets to bypass the sluggish pirate warship.
To Ves, the Gravada Knarlax was the warship equivalent of a doom crawler. Both were slow, but stuffed with armor and weapons. They were mostly used as the centerpiece of a dedicated assault. Their indomitable advance couldn't be stopped. Any enemies who were cornered by them were surely doomed!
Before, Ves never really worried about the Gravada Knarlax coming after Task Force Predator because the mobility of the two weren't even on the same level.
It was different now that the Allidus Alliance somehow managed to shift the Knarlax and the rest of the pirate fleet to Wreckage Paradise all at once!
Ves had heard about the secret space lanes that were spread across the Nyxian Gap. These lanes effectively served as shortcuts that allowed anyone to instantly emerge at a completely different part of the Gap.
They were supposedly rare and rarely used. How could Ves ever anticipate that the Allidus Alliance would go crazy and send so many warships through one in order to take revenge against the Larkinson Clan?
This was absolute madness!
"What about the escorts? Those destroyers and frigates?" Ves asked.
"Their main armaments are likely armed with laser cannons, sir. They aren't as massive or tough as the Knarlax, but they make up for it in speed and agility. The Allidus Alliance designed them to complement the Knarlax."
"These warships are ideal ship killers." Ves concluded. "The Knarlax can be deadly to mechs up close, but strictly speaking the warships don't need to go through all of that trouble. As long as their guns destroy all of our carriers and other ships, our mechs won't be able to last forever."
How were the mechs supposed to get back to civilized space without FTL drives? How were mechs supposed to last in space by themselves when they no longer had any opportunity to resupply? Hardly any of the mechs in the task force were designed to operate longer than a day!
"Don't forget about conventional carriers and mechs, sir. You can expect the punitive fleet to be accompanied by at least a couple of thousand mechs."
"Of course. These pirates don't want to give us any opportunity to overpower their warships if our mechs ever manage to get close."
The cost of doing so was too ruinous for Ves to even think about it. The secondary armaments of the Knarlax and her escorts were already enough to repel any frontal assault!
The strength of the pirates was depressingly overwhelming. Neither Ves nor Major Verle could think of any way to defeat them in any sort of open battle.
It wasn't as if the warships were invincible. No matter how tough they were built, enough concentrated firepower or getting any melee mechs up close ought to be sufficient in taking them down.
The problem was that none of those warships were alone or content to let themselves get beat up without retaliating. While Ves was a child of the Age of Mechs, he learned enough about the Age of Conquest that the might of any fleet that consisted of genuine warships simply couldn't be overcome by lighter forces.
The difference in scale was too oppressive!
Unless the Larkinson Clan could whip out some warships of its own, there was no chance of victory. Ves doubted that even sneaking Lucky inside the Knarlax would accomplish anything.
The Allidus Alliance would surely be on guard against infiltration after the fall of Ulimo Citadel. In addition, Ves knew that his clan had pissed off the formidable Hallowed Abyss Temple, so performing any spiritual tricks against the pirates probably wouldn't work either!
The entire situation pushed him close to despair!
If not for the fact that it would take at least a month for his task force to clash against the punitive fleet, he would have considered bailing out.
There was one obvious way to save at least some of his people. If Ves commanded every ship to separate from each other and flee from the Nyxian Gap by themselves, then at least some ships would be able to make it back.
Sadly, individual carriers and mech companies were highly vulnerable to even the weakest pirate gangs. Hardly any pirate could resist such juicy prey, especially when the major pirate factions offered a lot of incentives to take down the Larkinsons!
"How will we solve this predicament?" Ves hopelessly asked. "Do you have any ideas?"
"I'm still working on them, sir. I will share some of them during the upcoming emergency meeting. We need to be creative in order to survive this crisis. Don't hold back. Grasp at any opportunity we can get. I'll be happy as long as we can get out alive."
"That's easier said than done." Ves sighed. "Wait, since the punitive fleet has emerged in Wreckage Paradise, doesn't that mean that we can ask the Wodin Warriors to destroy the pirate fleet?"
Verle shook his head. "The Allidus Alliance isn't that stupid. They emerged deep in Wreckage Paradise. It will take too long for the Wodin Warriors to venture inside the Nyxian Gap and chase after the pirate fleet. We don't know what countermeasures the pirates have prepared against third-party interference. I doubt the Wodins want to risk so much of their main combat forces on such a risky venture."
The conditions they would demand would also be prohibitive, and it might not even work. The pirates had a long track record of defeating stronger opponents. The Nyxian Gap wasn't regarded as a bottomless abyss for nothing!
"I hope to hear some very good ideas then, because we need them. I won't let the Allidus Alliance crush my forces!"
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