Chapter 325: Lending

The only way a group of hostile boarders could disable every system at once was if they had taken control of the bridge or engineering.
Ves guessed they'd taken the latter.


Communications fell out as well.
Ves tried to contact anyone on the short-range bands, but all he met was static.
“They're jamming us as well!”


Ves had been reduced to mustering up the panicking crew members that had been running around like headless chickens.


“Get your heads back together! This is no time to give in to your hysteria!” He shouted at the clueless the men and women in the nearby compartments.
His hazard suit amplified his voice for further reach.
“Get into your hazard suits and grab a weapon! Take up your battle stations and wait for someone to take charge!”


That set the nearby Whalers back on track.
One of the deficiencies of the Whalers was that the rank-and-file rarely had a clue what to do in the absence of solid leadership.
Most of the senior Whalers such as Walter and Fadah hung around in the mech stables or the upper decks.
That left much of the middle and lower decks with a critical absence of direction.


Frankly, even a six-year old kid could take charge if he pretended to be authoritative enough.


Ves did not attempt to browbeat them into following him.
He was not a proper leader and he did not wish to be responsible if his decisions led to their deaths.


He jogged towards the stairs and went down to the workshop first.
He repeated the same actions as he had done last time whenever he met a confused assembly of crewmen.
It hadn't truly sunk in yet that they'd been boarded and sabotaged.


Once they realized the Happy Jelly had partially succumbed Mech Legion, Ves had to be firm in his tone in order to avoid infecting the crew with his concerns.


Even though he warned them time and time again to prepare for an attack, the Whalers aboard the Happy Jelly never expected the Vesians to go for a boarding action.
That threw them completely off-guard.
How could they have sneaked aboard their ship without getting spotted on approach?


Whatever the case, the enemy had already managed to get onboard.
His main priority should be to contain the Vesians and prevent them from dealing any catastrophic damage to engineering.


Once he reached the workshop compartment, he finally met with Melkor.
He wore a light combat suit this time and wielded a borrowed rifle.
He looked much more prepared to square off against the enemies than the Whalers themselves.


“Melkor! You're here! Good.”


“Ves, it's dangerous for you to be running around without Lucky! Get inside the workshop and hide in a locker or something!”


“Not this time.
I can fight, and you need me to figure out if anything is wrong at engineering.”


The two had a brief argument about it but Ves convinced Melkor to let him go along.
“If I die, then it's my own fault, but I won't accept sitting on the sidelines while the fate of the Happy Jelly is at stake!”


“We can still eject, you know.” Melkor pointed out.
“The escape pods run completely separate from the ship.”


“I don't think you're okay with back down without a fight.
So am I.
We lose this ship, we lose more than a couple of mechs and some ores.
This is the heart of Walter's Whalers.
Besides, there's no guarantee that the ships flying next to us aren't compromised as well.”


Ves lost the ability to check up on the situation out in space when most of the systems shut down.
The Mech Corps and the Mech Legion could be embroiled in an epic clash and he had no way of telling it went on.
Without a better picture of what was happening throughout the entire fleet, Ves refused to give up on the Happy Jelly.


The lack of communications made coordination extraordinarily difficult.
Eventually, Fadah came around and gathered a couple of mech pilots and brave men into an impromptu squad.


“This will do.
We are running out of time.
Let's move out immediately.” Fadah said as he walked up with his own light combat suit.


While these lightly armored suits failed to measure up against proper exoskeleton suits, they offered much better protection than hazard suits.


Ves saw that everyone else wore hazard suits, which disappointed him somewhat.
They'd be torn down by enemy fire.


At least Ves still had his old shield generator to back him up.
It still held an eighty percent charge, which was more than enough to fend off two or three attacks by a mech.


As Ves followed the squad while holding on to his Amastendira, Melkor slowed down his pace and came to his side.
“Where did you get this gun?”


“Uh, it's a gift.”


“It looks powerful and expensive, like an import from the New Rubarth Empire.
Do you even know how to use this gun?”


“I passed my basic training course when I studied at Rittersberg!”


Melkor shook his head inside his helmet and held out his gauntlet.
“That thing will kill you if you handle it poorly.
Give it to me.
I can make much better use of this weapon.”


To be honest, Ves really did not wish to relinquish the Amastendira.
He had just received it a couple of days ago and looked forward to putting its impressive capabilities to the test.


He wanted to shoot the Vesians himself and save the Happy Jelly like a hero from the dramas.
This was his gun.
Why should he give it away?


Eventually, his logic and reason overruled his ego and desires.
As much as he wanted to play the hero, he had no illusions that he could wield the pistol effectively.
It might have been different if Pierre Femento incorporated aim assist into the Amastendira, but the man only had master marksmen in mind when he designed the gun.


A weapon only reached its potential when used by someone with the skill to back it up.
Ves knew that more than most due to his profession as a mech designer.


Thus, with extreme reluctance, Ves handed over the Amastendira to Melkor.
His cousin holstered the laser rifle to the back of his light combat suit, which magnetically held it in place.


“It's locked.”


“Oh, let me program you in.” Ves replied and took back the Amastendira long enough to add Melkor's biometrics to its security systems.


Not anyone would be able to take off with his valuable possession.
The Amastendira had a nasty surprise in store if an enemy attempted to pick it up.
Supposedly, the weapon was smart enough to distinguish between allies and enemies, though Ves had no clue how the automated systems inside the weapon accomplished such a feat.


Once Ves added Melkor as an authorized user of the gun, he carefully handed it over.


Melkor treated the weapon like a lover and a piece of art.
The way he deftly navigated the weapon's projected display and rapidly skirted over its specs made it clear that he was no slouch with infantry weapons.


“This weapon is crazy.
This is the kind of toy a noble of the New Rubarth Empire would wield!”


“I know.
It's actually a replica of some sorts.
Compared to the original, this copy still falls a little short.”


“A little short? Hah! I can carve my way through an entire pirate ship with this gun!”


Ves frowned as Melkor visibly grew more excited about the Amastendira.
It was as if Melkor seduced his wife!


“Hey, try not to fondle it too much! This is still my gun.
I'll lend it to you whenever we're together, but make sure to give it back to me when we're out of danger.”


“Oh, uhm, sure.”


After walking down a lot of flights of stairs, the group of motley Whalers arrived at the deck that led to engineering.
Fadah, who took the lead, slowed down.


“We're lucky we haven't met the Vesians yet, but it's highly likely the Vesians are on this deck.
Let's crawl forward and take it slow.”


Ves immediately interjected.
“We can't afford to take it slow.
The Vesians have control over engineering and who knows what they're up to.
Once they decide to destroy the FTL drive, we have no way of returning home unless we abandon ship.
We have to move faster!”


“Look I respect you, but you're a nerd.
I'm the one in charge around here.” Fadah pushed back.
“I'm not about to waste the lives of my men by moving too fast.
We need to scout them out first and figure out if they've split up.”


All of it sounded too conservative.
Ves did not know where Fadah's characteristic daring had gone to.
The man acted like a daredevil in the cockpit.
Without the comfort of his mech, the older Whaler turned into a timid mouse.


I'll do it myself.” Ves turned to Melkor and opened a private communication channel with his suit.
“Remember the time when we got ambushed in the streets of Bentheim?”


You pulled off something remarkable with your comm.
Can you do it again?”


“I can stealth us, yes.
It will last shorter than last time, though.
Do you think you can make use of five minutes worth of complete stealth?”


His cousin considered the matter for a few seconds.
“It will be tough.
We can make it to engineering from here in that time, but we won't have enough time to scope out the enemy.
We'll have to go into action immediately.”


“Time is of the essence.
I'm really worried at what the Vesians are cooking up in engineering.
The Happy Jelly's FTL drive can't take any abuse.”


They decided to move out immediately.
Ves spent a couple of seconds to inform Fadah of their intentions before he engaged his stealth augment.
Ves and Melkor's armored suits turned invisible before Fadah could let out a word of protest.


“Damn these Larkinsons and their toys!”


Despite their hasty movements, the stealth augment muffled all of their sounds and vibrations.
If any pirates had been in the way, they would have been completely oblivious about the presence that ran past their bodies.


They reached the hatch that led to engineering with roughly a minute to spare.
The only problem was that the boarders had locked it shut.


“Damnit!” Ves cursed.
“I should have figured the Vesians barricaded this compartment! This is one of the best-protected portion of the ship.
There's no way I can circumvent this barrier in a couple of minutes.
A plasma cutter will take at least half a day to get through the hatch.”


Melkor suddenly pulled Ves away from the hatch.
“Stand back.
Let me take care of hatch.”


“What are you doing?! Don't shoot it at high power inside a ship!”


Sadly, his cousin didn't listen to him.
Melkor dialed the power setting a couple of notches away from maximum power and fired a bright golden beam that burned a hole straight through the hatch and continued on to damage anything placed behind.


The pistol continued to emit a beam, and Melkor quickly aimed the weapon in the rough shape of a box before the weapon ran out of steam.


I underestimated its power.
This is a really fine weapon.” Melkor praised the Amastendira before he kicked down the cutout he made from the hatch.


As the alloy block fell down, a number of menacing black exoskeleton suits trained their weapon on the entrance.


“There's only forty seconds left on my stealth augment! It's running out of power!”


“There's nothing to it, then.
Follow me when I move in.”


Even though Melkor just fired a massively overpowered pistol, the stealth field still worked as usual.
One of the best aspects about the Amastendira was that it shunted almost all of its excess heat into its dimensional heatsink.
It only worked up to a certain point, but it was more than capable of absorbing the heat of a single high-powered beam.


“Alright, let's go!”


Ves and Melkor sneaked through the hole as the exoskeleton-suited assailants puzzled over whether someone would still show up.
Neither their visuals nor their other sensors revealed the source of the intimidating laser cannon that had cut through the hatch.


They had no idea what kind of danger slipped inside engineering.

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