The Mech Touch
Chapter 324: Unease
The pirates left behind in orbit of the Glowing Planet turned their attention to themselves and started to fight over the spoils left behind.
This truly showcased the lack of integrity among their ilk.
The moment they lacked a common enemy, the gangs that made up their alliances broke apart like like a meteor falling through atmosphere.
The smarter pirate fleets had already pulled back from the Glowing Planet.
Ves found to his regret that the Dragons of the Void had begun to pull back even before the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion linked up.
In any case, Ves enjoyed a rare moment of peace as the Happy Jelly made her way to the edge of the Glowing Zone.
Along the way, they stumbled along a couple of smaller pirate vessels that had sought to park themselves out of the way from the most contested regions.
These outfits and lone wolves instantly moved out of the way of the allied fleets and never turned back.
If even the massive pirate alliances hadn't managed to beat them above the Glowing Planet, then nothing else stood a chance.
“Looks like we can definitely rule out any more shenanigans from the pirates.” Ves observed as he took a look at the plot.
“It's a shame they're too scared to pressure us further.
They're the only reason the Mech Corps and the Mech Legion haven't started shooting each other yet.
I think it's time we take some precautions.”
“Precautions? What for?” A mech technician scratched his skinny head.
“They're maintaining a steady fifty kilometer distance from our fleet.”
“Fifty kilometers is nothing in space.
That's enough distance to allow any laser to hit our ships with perfect accuracy.
Even if the Happy Jelly is juking back and forth to hinder any predictions, it's not going to help us a lot at this distance.
We're too close.”
His pronouncement depressed the joy that ran throughout the Whalers for making it out of the Glowing Planet alive.
A significant amount of mech pilots had met their end on that rock.
No one was in the mood to fight another battle.
Ves noticed that everyone instinctively avoided thinking about the possibility of clashing with the Mech Legion, so he took it upon himself to kick the Whalers out of their potentially fatal complacence.
“Look, we plan for the worst and hope for the best.
There's a chance the Mech Legion is just as fed up with fighting as we are, but we can't make that assumption.
The Mech Legion hates our guts and wants nothing more than to destroy the Republic and take away our stars.”
Ves eventually got through the mech technicians that they had plenty of work to do.
He presented them with a projection of the Happy Jelly's schematics.
“I've prepared some plans to repair and strengthen the Happy Jelly's structure with the supplies and scrap we have on hand.
We don't have the time to apply all of these fixes, but every little bit helps us make it through the final fight.”
An older female ship crew frowned as she studied the schematics.
“Some of this looks really complicated.
Did you come up with these plans yourself?”
“I've spent some time aboard large machines.
While I don't specialize in starships, there are plenty of things in common to all machines.
I'm mainly focused on strengthening the Happy Jelly's structural integrity, so there is little need to disrupt the delicate internal workings of the carrier.”
To be honest, Ves did not have any confidence he could improve any of the Jelly's badly maintained functions.
The FTL drive especially looked iffy.
He was afraid that if he bumped into it once, it would malfunction entire and leave them stranded in local space.
After some convincing, the mech technicians and ship technicians went to work.
Ves did all he could now to prepare the Happy Jelly for the coming the fight.
He had his own preparations to make.
He returned to his bunk and looked at the flashing orb placed on his bed.
“I miss you, Lucky.”
His cat finally couldn't hold his evolution back.
The moment it became clear that they made it off the Glowing Planet, Lucky curled in on himself and extruded an unknown white material around himself to begin his level up process.
Basically, he turned back into an egg.
Ves didn't dare to stroke the egg with his bare hands.
He first let his antigrav clothes cover his hand with a glove before he dared to caress its bone-like surface.
“This feels a lot like Rorach's Bone.”
The resemblance to bone made the egg feel truly real.
Only the lines of glowing blue crisscrossing the surface of the egg made it clear that the egg possessed a mechanical aspect.
“I know you can't help it, but I really wish you'd waited with this level up.”
Once the Happy Jelly began to move away from the Glowing Planet, they traveled out of range of its insidious energy fields, including the one responsible for the Overcharge phenomenon.
Every overcharged energy cell slowly lost their excess charge and turned back to normal, though in the perspective of the energy cells, nothing had changed at all.
Lucky must have noticed that he began to lose his temporary condition, so he immediately decided to evolve as soon as the immediate danger subsided.
Unfortunately, this left Ves without his closest companion and bodyguard.
He had always relied on Lucky to keep him safe against any threats on foot.
“For now, I'll only be able to rely on Melkor and my shiny new toy.”
Ves activated his Privacy Shield and retrieved the Amastendira from his Inventory and put it in one of his pockets.
He did not wish to reveal the System's ability to materialize and dematerialize objects in a possible fight.
A couple of days went by as thousands of ships boosted their way out of the Glowing Zone.
The further they traveled from the Glowing Planet, the weaker its influence on local space.
The amount of naturally occuring spacetime anomalies had decreased to such an extent that they ceased to be a threat.
This was not good news.
Previously, the Mech Legion might have scruples about launching an assault.
If they sent out their mechs towards the Mech Corps, they'd have to cross a brief No Man's Land where they wouldn't be covered by the dimensional smoothers.
After that, they'd have to rely on their enemy's dimensional 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.
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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