The sales of the Doom Guard continued to explode in popularity. After some delays, practically every state in Hegemony-aligned space aside from the ones with extremely restrictive economies put the model on the market.
Sales continued to grow apace, though the constant production challenges related with production continued to hamper its supply.
The mech industry suddenly generated a huge demand for strong-willed mech technicians! After a lot of trial and error, the mech manufacturing companies finally concluded that veterans performed the best when assigned to fabricate the Doom Guard mechs.
It made a lot of sense. Those who had served in the military and experienced war should not be so easy to crack.
Even if the veterans hadn't seen much action, the discipline and confidence they gained during their service time was of inestimable value. Ordinarily civilians couldn't hope to match their resilience against hardships and adversity!
As the mech community continued to explore the Doom Guard model, more and more knowledge was being shared. Everyone realized that there were a lot of facets of the mechs that weren't immediately apparent.
A new community around the Doom Guard had sprung up. Enthusiasts and professionals both gathered together to drool over the model and swap various theories.
An increasing amount of guidelines formed from this community.
They described what kind of traits a mech pilot needed to have in order to pilot the Doom Guard at its best.
They outlined what kind of methods should be used to repair or service the mech.
They suggested various battle tactics and deployment strategies to make the best use of the Doom Guard in battle.
They also elaborated on the distances that people should stay from an active Doom Guard in order to train their minds without the risk of suffering breakdowns.
More importantly, the community also started to describe possible counters to the Doom Guard.
The most obvious counter to the Doom Guard was focusing on it with an abundance of ranged fire.
Though the Doom Guard was 'technically' a ranged mech, it effectively posed no threat to a mech that floated a kilometer away. The Enison Spreader at its tightest concentration simply couldn't reach that far ahead!
The Doom Guard fit the striker mech archetype too well. It inherited all of the strengths as well as the weaknesses of this mech type.
However, though its vulnerabilities were obvious to everyone, that didn't mean that the enemy could exploit it so easily!
Those who bought the Doom Guard never let this precious mech fend off the enemy alone. Oftentimes, the outfits who fielded this mech carefully covered it with a host of ranged mechs.
Additionally, in order to protect it from ranged fire, the mech commanders also deployed at least one space knight piloted by a strong-willed mech pilot to serve as its shield!
Such fortress formations soon began to proliferate among the buyers of the Doom Guard. The tactics they utilized rapidly began to frustrate the pirates beyond belief!
"Ves Larkinson deserves to be killed! I lost half my boys and mechs due to his damnable new mech!"
"I'm putting a bounty on his head! Oh, he already has one? Well, I'll add some more, then! I can't stand the sight of another Doom Guard!"
In a state close to the Sentinel Kingdom, a medium-sized asteroid mining base came under assault.
The base had been built into the structure of a large asteroid floating in a large belt. The mining company put the base in operation for over ten years now, expanding its fleet of mining vehicles on a steady basis.
Prospectors had long discovered the presence of various junk exotics and low-grade exotics in the asteroid belt. The only problem was that their concentration and incidence was rather low. The prospectors at the mining base had to scan and inspect new asteroids every day in order to find a rock with a meaningful quantity of valuable materials.
Even though the efficiency and scale of mining operations was rather low, the base still generated a tidy profit for the mining company.
However, due to the relatively low value of the minerals being mined, the company never invested too much in its security. It merely contracted a local security company to garrison the base and man its handful of turrets.
Since the establishment of the base, it had never suffered an attack.
"Why are the pirates attacking us of all people?! We're just mining bulk exotics, for heaven's sake!"
"They must have heard our warehouses are almost full! The company was supposed to dispatch a convoy to us in less than a week!"
The pirate gang called the Purple Hangmen came prepared. Commander Brian Zecs was not an average criminal who worked his way up the ranks, but used to serve in a mech army before deserting!
Over the years, Commander Zecs managed to build a decent gang of pirates that employed a bit more tactics than was common among their ilk. Combined with the ferocity that was typical to their kind, the Hangmen made a name for themselves with their iconic purple mechs!
"Boss, you were right! The outdated guard mechs are no match against our new lasers!"
"Haha! Our inside man has come true! One of the turrets has just blown up and another is malfunctioning!"
Commander Zecs flicked his long silver hair and grinned as his axeman mech hung back. Two companies of melee mechs closed in. Though the makeshift shields they carried slowed down their advance, the firepower of the guard mechs weren't sufficient to repel the advance, especially since their turrets were rapidly being taken out through a combination of sabotage and focused fire.
While the defenders still fielded a lot of ranged mechs, the mining company had skimped on them and instead relied on a large number of stationary turrets to make up for the shortfall!
Now, that decision came to haunt the decision makers. Commander Zecs never initiated a blind assault. Owing to his officer training, he always researched his targets carefully and tried his best to stack the deck in his favor long before he launched his attack!
His favored tactic was to bribe a man on the inside to sabotage the defenses prior to an assault.
The deserter knew quite well that a typical security technician or security guard didn't earn that well. They worked long, monotonous jobs in isolated regions without any cities of settlements within reach. There wasn't much they could do in their off-time since they were pretty much stuck in the middle of nowhere!
The frustration of living in a drab environment combined with a lack of rich compensation always generated some malcontents.
For this attack, Zecs didn't just bribe a single worker. He threw money at several of them, each holding separate positions!
The money he spent on converting these greedy idiots was enough to add two or three cheap mechs to his lineup.
Yet the pirate commander knew very well that the benefit from adding a couple more mechs to his battle lineup paled in comparison to paying those bribes!
Even as the assault continued, the effects of the sabotage became more and more evident.
More and more turrets inexplicably lost power as some critical components malfunctioned.
A number of defending mechs faltered in their counterattacks as some of their rifles fizzled.
Though these disruptions weren't widespread, the fear and worry they caused in the ranks of the security personnel eroded their battle will!
As a former military officer, Commander Zecs recognized what that meant. A battle was not just about a contest of mechs!
It was also a contest of will and determination!
The signs of weakness within the ranks of defenders not only depressed their morale, but also boosted the morale of the attacking pirates!
His boys all smelled blood. Pirates all loved easy prey, and the declining trend of the defenders made it all the more easier to harvest a fortune!
Yet just as the melee mechs of the Purple Hangmen reached the defensive line in two prongs, a pair of mechs suddenly emerged from the ranks of security mechs.
The mining company had recently shipped the mechs to the base!
The ranks of pirate mechs shuddered a bit. By now, the notorious LMC mech model had already built up a dreadful reputation among the pirate community.
Yet to the surprise of the defenders, the pirates didn't let up on their assault!
"Continue the assault!" Commander Zecs hollared over the command channel. "We planned for this! We knew they would show up! Trust in my plan!"
The men on the inside already passed on word to Zecs that the base recently acquired a pair of Doom Guards.
When he heard the news, he almost aborted this raid.
Yet if he did so, he would waste months of preparations as well as the money he invested in bribes. In the end, he could bring himself to give up this long-anticipated attack!
In his military days, he learned the importance of intelligence and preparation. As long as he knew the mining base would field the Doom Guards, he could plan around this move!
After researching the Doom Guards extensively and trawling through all of the theories circulating on the galactic net, Commander Zecs decided to try out an interesting suggestion.
He grinned as his melee mechs closed in. As was typical in battles between pirates and security forces, the Purple Hangmen possessed an advantage in numbers, but their mechs were substantially weaker on average.
This didn't concern Commander Zecs too much because the disparity in numbers was often decisive in close-ranged battles! It was hard for a premium mech to defend against attacks from the front and back!
Just as the Purple Hangmen mechs neared the range of the Doom Guard, they decelerated!
The Doom Guards attacked anyway. Their large flamethrowers spewed hellish red flames in an expanding cone from their position, blanketing the surrounding space with persistent heat!
At the same time, the glow of the strikers already started to press on the minds of the pirates. Their high morale faltered a bit as they came under the impression that some awesome terror was looking into their souls!
If this continued, the Purple Hangmen might withdraw!
Yet before the situation reached this point, Commander Zecs issued a long-awaited command.
"Bring forth the Soldier mechs!"
Two mechs lingering behind his two mech companies suddenly moved forward!
The mechs looked second-hand and some of them bore marks of previous battles against the sandmen. The fresh purple coating applied to their exterior wouldn't be able to protect them much against the flames released by the Doom Guards!
However, the Desolate Soldier and Prideful Soldier weren't there to push through the wall of flames.
Commander Zecs merely acquired them in order to use their glows to counteract the glows of the Doom Guards!
"To fight monsters, we bought monsters of our own!" He viciously grinned.
One Desolate Soldier approached a Doom Guard while a Prideful Soldier approached the other Doom Guard!
Two different effects emerged.
The Desolate Soldier drawing closer to the enemy striker mech exhibited much less trouble. It seemed as if its mech pilot was much more capable of resisting the Doom Guard!
Unfortunately, the Purple Hangmen quickly found out that the Desolate Soldier's immunity only applied to itself. The mech pilot reported that the mech seemed to help with stiffening him up, but not much more.
The situation was a bit different with the Prideful Soldier. As soon as the mech approached the Doom Guard, the glow of both mechs started to change!
For some reason, the Prideful Soldier seemed to become a little more excited, while the glow of the Doom Guard gradually shifted in character!
The nauseous sensation along with the inexplicable sense of terror decreased. However, the Doom Guard soon began to grow more menacing, as if a slumbering exobeast had woken up in the depths of the striker mech!
It was too bad that the effect of this intimidating aura was less potent than the original glow of the Doom Guard!
Commander Zecs knew that this was the best he could get."
"Push through! The Doom Guards are neutered!"
The pirate mechs all accelerated forward even as their mech pilots came under the effect of a number of glows!
The positive glow of the Desolate Soldier seemed to pale in the presence of the Doom Guard. Though weak and feeble, the effect it had on the pirates was nonetheless useful as they became a little less prone to reaching their breaking points!
As for the Prideful Soldier, its glow had a very strange effect on the Doom Guard. Despite the latter's apparent weakness, it was still a very formidable mech. The flames it spewed seemed to have gained some life of their own!
The Doom Guards were still capable of functioning as regular striker mechs, and vigorously spread as many flames as possible!
The battle quickly grew chaotic and casualties rapidly mounted on both sides. In the confusion of all of the glows, every mech pilot fought different than usual!