The three young Larkinsons disgorged from their forcibly landed aircar in a run. They approached the entrance of what appeared to be a junkyard. A single security officer along with a host of rickety security bots held them up at the entrance.
“Stop! No entry allowed!”
“Let us in! It’s an emergency!” Ves retorted as he banged his fist against the gates. “The BLM is after us right now!”
The portly security guard appeared puzzled. He looked around and failed to notice anything amiss. “I don’t see any rebels. Are you sure you’ve got your heads on straight?”
Just as Ves wanted to respond, everyone flattened themselves when a huge explosion threw them off their feet. His antigrav clothing instantly righted his body in place, but his cousins had to roll on the ground before they came to a stop. Everyone gawked at the gigantic plume of smoke a few blocks away.
“We’re under attack!” The guard panicked and quickly slammed his fist against a button. The entire junkyard started to go into lockdown as metal shutters rolled down windows and all of the fences became electrified.
“At least let us in before you hole up in your little corner!”
“It’s no use.” Melkor said and pulled Raella back before she could bang her fist against the metal shutters. “Look around you. Everyone’s running scared.”
All of the airtrucks and shuttles zipped away, even those who were still in the progress of loading their goods. Some of them even dropped their cargo as their hatches hadn’t closed in time.
Along with the retreat of every vehicle, every factory and warehouse started to put up their barricades. In an unsafe environment like the industrial district which was plagued with criminals and other unsavory characters, such an exaggerated level of security was a basic requirement. Even as the air grew a little hotter due to the nearby flames, no one looked out for others.
As the Larkinsons tried to find some shelter at the warehouses and workshops next door, they were only met with stony silence.
“It’s no use.” Ves eventually said. “This is one of Dorum’s worst neighborhoods. A lot of gangs like to threaten and steal from these facilities. You won’t be able to find a good samaritan in this part of town.”
Melkor frowned behind his glaring red visor. “I don’t see any police. How could Bentheim let its public security deteriorate to this degree?”
Even if the Dorum Police Force sleeped on the job, they should have sent some help over. Ves brought up his comm but only got an invalid signal.
“Our comms are still blocked! The rebels must have sabotaged the nearby broadcast towers!”
Things weren’t looking good, Ves thought. A nefarious force had blown up something big and blocked their wireless communication attempts. Had the rebels given up on the quiet option and therefore opted to go loud?
An intense sensation suddenly engulfed him. For some reason, Ves felt as if an apex predator stared hungrily at him. Sweat trickled down his brow as he tried to parse this unfamiliar probe. His so-called Sixth Sense only triggered when he came into contact with the X-Factor.
Did this mean that one of his own mechs was close?
“The flavor is wrong.”
For lack of a better word, he described each different sensation from the X-Factor as a flavor. As someone who personally designed and fabricated the Mark I’s and Mark II’s, they possessed a unique blend of daring and aggression.
The flavor currently pinging his senses lacked the boldness he had personally imbued. Instead, it tasted like a cold winter wind snuffing out a lonely candle.
“VES! GET DOWN!” Melkor suddenly yelled and tried to tackle Ves to the ground. A sudden shield sprang into being that forcibly bounced him back.
Distracted by his attempt to parse his Sixth Sense, his entire vision suddenly bloomed as a solid projectile suddenly crashed against his shield. Master Olson’s gift prevented the incredible amount of kinetic energy from affecting his fragile body.
“That’s a railgun!” Raella yelled and haphazardly fired her laser pistol in the direction of the attack. “We’re all going to die!”
Melkor forcibly bent down her weapon arm so that her deadly laser beams burnt harmlessly against the pavement. “Calm down. Ves didn’t die. We can still make it through.”
The attack had pulled Ves out of his stupor. He finally realized that his Sixth Sense hadn’t picked up a mech, but rather an assassin. His heart beat loudly inside his chest as he belatedly learned he just escaped death. He quickly looked at his comm and had a scare. His shield generator just lost nine percent of its charge!
“Screw it!” He swore, and pointed at the barricaded warehouse they were currently standing in front of. “Lucky, cut down an opening for us.”
Lucky didn’t act cute this time and directly clawed a crude man-sized opening in the metal shutters. The three along with the cat barged their way inside the storage area which blared in alarm at their intrusion. Security bots armed with both lethal and non-lethal weapons started to hover over their heads.
“Damn it! These assholes want to shoo us out!” Raella exclaimed and raised her pistol at the robots.
Just as she pulled the trigger, they all lost power and crashed to the ground. The three had to jump away in order to avoid getting pummeled in the heads.
“These are ancient models. Even if their firmware is up to date, they’re nothing compared to the models used in Rittersberg.” The man grinned with satisfaction and tapped his finger against his glowing red visor. “I’m not wearing this for show, you know.”
It turned out that Melkor had taken a course in hacking. Though he wasn’t a genuine programming expert, he had more than enough skills to apply a standard script to old vulnerabilities. As long as the system wasn’t too new or advanced, he’d be able to bypass its lock.
“Why didn’t you hack open the doors in the first place, then?”
“It didn’t work.” He shook his head. “Every property in the block is secured with both mechanical and electronic means.”
This wasn’t unusual as the people who operated these facilities couldn’t afford to update their cybersecurity. Just because Ves could afford to employ Sanyal-Ablin to fortify his systems didn’t mean that anyone else could do the same. The cutthroat competition along with all of the other dangers on Bentheim often forced the local businesses to cut corners.
“Is anyone around?”
No one made a peep. Whoever supervised the warehouse must be holing up somewhere safe.
Just as they started to move forward, a loud bang sounded as the sniper shot another round. The projectile punched straight through the warehouse wall and only lost a bit of energy before crashing before the shield that sprung up again in front of Ves.
He just lost another chunk of his shield generator’s charge! He only had about eighty percent left!
His cousins didn’t even ask about his shield generator. Both Melkor and Raella urged Ves to run towards the middle of the warehouse. “Hurry up and run! The railgun won’t be able to penetrate all of these goods.”
They all ran towards the stacks of what appeared to be various bulk materials. Ves recognized that most of them were often used in producing mechs, such as titanium and a number of composites.
Just as they reached the middle, they started to hear a large number of footsteps from the entrance Lucky had created.
“Our target’s inside!” One of the new entrants announced. “Fan out and shoot the bastard as soon as you see him. Don’t forget to call out his position!”
“On it boss!”
“Death to the Republic!”
“Shed Blood for Bentheim!”
The Larkinsons groaned. They recognized the BLM’s slogan.
“How many?” Raella asked.
“Twenty-five. They’re not wearing armor. No heavy weapons.” Melkor slowly analyzed as his visor appeared to see straight through the stored materials. “We’re outarmed and outnumbered. We should surrender.”
“No.” Ves replied, immediately shutting off this line of inquiry. “The BLM never returns its hostages. Anyone who’s taken by them will suffer and agonizing fate. We’ll have to fight our way out.”
“You heard Melkor. We’re vastly outnumbered.”
“Those guys must be ruffians. Their sniper is something else, but he’s too constrained while we’re indoors.” Ves explained with burning hope in his eyes. “You two are mech pilots are you not? You’ve spent more than a decade learning how to kill. Even without a mech, you should be able to handle some untrained thugs.”
“We’re not dealing with ‘some’. There’s twenty-five rebels closing in and we have no way to beat them all!”
“Are you sure about that?”
One reason why Ves insisted on entering a packed warehouse like this was because it contained a lot of vertical space. He turned to Lucky who vigilantly stood at his side and petted his back.
“Go get ’em, Lucky. Don’t show them any mercy.”
His deadly pet replied with a dangerous yowl and jump up to a shelf above his head. Lucky quickly disappeared from his sight as he instantly entered hunting mode.
A few seconds later, the thugs started to scream. About half of their screams cut off mid-way as if their throats had been cut. The other half
Ves gritted his teeth and pushed his two cousins forward. “We should attack now that they’re distracted. I don’t know if Lucky can hold on for long.”
He always noted that Lucky was never able to sustain his claws for long. Though they possessed an incredible amount of cutting power, Lucky’s cat-sized body could only store so much energy. It also took a fairly long time for his mechanical pet to recharge.
“He’s right. The rebels are in disarray. We have to stake our lives for this.” Melkor decided and ran towards the direction of the screams.
“W-W-We’re really doing this, aren’t we?” Raella stuttered for a moment before slapping her head. “What the hell am I doing? I’m better than this! I’m a Larkinson!”
Raella followed after Melkor with Ves closely in tow. He started feeling really guilty for not possessing a weapon. He always intended to purchase one whenever he ended up in situations like this, but always forgot about it after the danger had passed.
Ves resolved to address this shortcoming if he managed to survive. He tried his best to keep up with his athletic niece. “Let me stand in front! My shield can still take a couple of hits.”
She didn’t argue his decision even if a professional guard would balk at his words. She cleverly positioned her body behind his so that she only exposed her eyes and her pistol.
They passed a couple of brutally savaged bodies of men and women. They all wore dirt-crusted rags but wielded fairly pristine weapons.
“These guys have been hiding in tunnels in order to evade the local security sweeps.” Ves remarked as he bent down and picked up a basic but brand-new ballistic rifle. His face quickly soured. “Gene locked. Whoever supplied them with these weapons must have a lot of money in their pockets.”
Ves might be able to bypass the gene lock if he kludged up a workaround, but the situation didn’t allow it. He discarded the rifle and picked up a plain combat knife. “This will do.”
They caught up to Melkor who currently exchanged fire against a pair of thugs. Three bodies lay scorched on the ground. His shooting skills surpassed Dietrich’s by a considerable margin as Melkor neatly squeezed a laser beam through a finger-sized slit between two large containers. The rebel screamed as the high-powered beam turned his stomach into a blackened mess.
“My pistol is overheating.” Melkor said and turned to Raella with a hand. “Give me yours.”
“No way! This is mine!”
“This isn’t the time, Raella! You know my marksmanship scores are better than yours, and I can interface my weapons with my visor.”
The lack of living opponents lessened their urgency. They all believed the situation had been handled.
“Just hand over the pistol already.” Ves commanded his cousin. “We need to clean up these men as quickly as possible before-”
He abruptly stopped when his Sixth Sense started tingling again. He felt another chilling wind blow past his undefinable senses.