nal smoother to keep them safe from the ravages of spacetime.
The Mech Corps could easily decide to shut one off to spite the attackers.


Now that they flew several light-hours away from the dangerous planet, they had nothing to be afraid of anymore.
An attack could come at any moment from either the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion.


Even if the Mech Corps enjoyed some bolstering by the Blood Claws and the other major outfits, they did not possess too much strength in space.
Gangs mostly focused on controlling valuable territory.
Therefore, they invested mostly in their landbound capabilities.


The mercenary corps who signed up with the Mech Corps fared better in this regard.
Mercenaries always found stable gigs working as escorts in trade convoys.


Still, their relatively smaller scale meant that they'd be looking out for themselves.
Nobody had the energy or motivation to spare some consideration for the Happy Jelly.


“We've got to save ourselves.”


To his disappointment, the Whalers failed to keep up their vigilance after a day.
The campaign on the ground had truly exhausted them to the bone.


Sometimes, Ves considered whether he went overboard.
The odds of an attack would not be very great if the Mech Legion possessed little advantage.


“The Vesians are aggressive, but they aren't stupid.
They won't start a fight they can't win.”


Both fleets possessed roughly equal strength.
The Mech Corps had more dependents to soak up the damage while the Mech Legion formed a more cohesive whole.
His discussions with Melkor helped him figure out the most likely course of action by the Vesians.


“The carriers of the Mech Corps are tough and still in good shape for the most part.
The Mech Legion won't easily be able to crack their shells.
It's us who should be worrying about a surprise attack.” Melkor tapped his foot against the deck of the ship.
“Converted carriers like the Happy Jelly are tin cans waiting to be peeled.
Once the gangs and mercenary vessels start to fall, a panic will ensue.”


Ves easily imagined such a possibility.
“If you can think about it, the Mech Corps has it figured out as well.”


“Even if that's the case, they won't go out of their way to save us if we're in trouble.
Knowing about a vulnerability and doing something about it are two completely different things.
Trust me, I know how the Mech Corps works.
They take a dim view on gangs and mercenary corps.
Any suggestion that they should reinforce their hired help will be shut down by their leadership.”


He could not dismiss Melkor's judgement of the Mech Corps.
The man had trained in their ranks for several years.
He should know what he was talking about.


From his own interaction with the Mech Corps, Ves considered them to be an organization that was swamped with responsibility.
They had way too many fires to put out and too few firefighters to address every crisis.


The unease among the crew grew as they neared the edge of the Zone.
Home and safety came within reach.
They'd just have to make the final stretch before they could return to their homes with a full haul of highly valuable ores.


As Ves put down a wrench on the toolbox hovering next to him, he rose up to his feet after putting the deck back together.
He had just added a couple of redundant safeties to the channels running below this corridor.


He activated his comm and pulled up the schematic of the ship to see what else needed to be done.
As he scanned the up-to-date readout, his eyes flicked over to the lower decks.


He remembered assigning someone to reinforce the compartment next to the cargo bay.
By now, the job should have been done.
Was the guy sleeping on the job again?


Ves tried to contact the tech.
“Yavic, come on.
Wake up!”


Strangely enough, his signal went nowhere.
Yavic's comm might have glitched.
Ves tried to contact another crew member who worked at the lower decks.


“Simmons, are you there? Pick up the call, please.”


Again, nothing happened.
His comm messages successfully routed to the lower decks, upon which they disappeared into a black hole.
He tried contacting other people assigned to the lower decks but came up with a disconcerting lack of responses.


A bad feeling crept up behind his back.
He slammed his comm and activated an emergency transmission that he'd programmed beforehand.
“Alert, I can't reach the lower decks! I highly suspect that this is no regular malfunction but deliberate sabotage! Enemies have sneaked aboard the Happy Jelly! I suggest you sound the alarm at once!”


He sent out the message to Walter, Fadah, Melkor and a couple of other people.
They'd be able to check up on his claims and bring the ship to readiness.


As for Ves, he left behind his floating toolbox and sprinted back to his bunk.
After glancing at Lucky's egg, he approached the hazard suit he placed in the corner and entered it from behind.


“A hazard suit is not as protective as an exoskeleton suit, but it's better than nothing.”


He mainly wore the suit in case he got ejected into space.
With the miniature thrusters and the magnetic harpoons built into the suit, he'd still be able to fly back to the Happy Jelly if he'd been launched off the ship for some reason.


He unfolded the Amastendira and wielded it with his gauntleted grip.
He felt dangerous wielding such a prized mastercrafted weapon.
The sheer amount of luxury and class exuded by the ornate laser pistol contrasted sharply with his utilitarian-looking hazard suit.


The last thing he did before he left his bunk was to put Lucky's egg inside a padded crash safe.
After that, he stepped out and intended to link up with Melkor and the rest.


“I'd be a fool to walk down to the lower decks.”


He wondered why the alarm hadn't been sounded as of yet.
By now, the crew of the Happy Jelly should have figured out if they'd been boarded.


Suddenly, the entire ship shut off.
Every light and every system ceased to function.
Moments later, a handful of backup systems went online.
The ominous red lights cast the corridors in a dangerous light.


Much of the existing life support systems remained offline.
If the ship couldn't get its ventilation and oxygen generators back online, those without a suit would suffocate within a day.


“Damnit! They got to engineering!”

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