Chapter 150: Man Against Machine
Using the souped-up Privacy Shield, they exited the warehouse through the hole Lucky had cut at the beginning. They left the heavily-armed mercs behind as they spread out and tried to track their targets down. From their cussing and swearing, they hadn’t expected Ves and his cousins to disappear in thin air.
During their clumsy flight to somewhere safe, Ves felt a chilling wind brush past his Sixth Sense. Every time, the feeling went away, but it still frightened him to no end. Could the sniper use his own senses to suss their bodies?
The wind suddenly spiked!
The streets suddenly boomed as a railgun projectile rocketed towards their previous location. The entire pavement cratered as the solid slug delivered an incredible amount of kinetic energy. Anyone hit by it directly would have no chance of survival.
The Larkinsons quickly dashed away!
Ves remembered the description of the stealth augment. Its open-ended description didn’t explicitly say that the temporary upgrade could block someone’s metaphysical senses. Ves always suspected the reason why the System steered him into studying the X-Factor was because it didn’t have much of a clue how it worked as well.
It might be one of the reasons why the Skill Tree excluded any mention of the X-Factor. Even if others already figured out some clues, no one had laid down a systemic path to understanding this nebulous field of study.
In fact, the Skill Tree actually lacked a couple of other skills that should have been there. Ves had noted that some of the more advanced specialties pioneered by many famous masters hadn’t been included.
For now, he urged the group to continue running past some blocks. Melkor appeared to guide them all towards a security checkpoint of some sorts. The small one-story structure usually staffed by a handful of police officers.
Now, they only saw death and ruin. The place had been torn up with bullet and scorch marks. The bodies of the fallen police officers were left behind like discarded trash.
Ves looked down on his comm. They only had four minutes left before the stealth augment ran its course. After looking around, he spotted something interesting. Right across the street, a massive storage area took up an entire block.
It must have been the place where larger shuttles and transports deposited heavy containers before ground-based transports picked them up and delivered them to their final destinations.
He ignored the large stacks of containers and instead turned his gaze towards the half-dozen industrial loader mechs standing off to the side. Their operators probably parked them to the side once the alarms went off before running away to safety.
“Look over there.” He said, but quickly remembered that the stealth field dampened his voice. Instead, he tapped their shoulders and pointed at the mechs.
They both understood his intentions. Raella looked skeptical but Melkor nodded in understanding. They crossed the street and stopped before the storage yard’s sturdy gates. With another prompt, Ves got Lucky to slice a narrow opening. Once they entered the yard, Ves suddenly felt the cold wind return.
The sniper must have noticed the sudden cut as soon as his Privacy Shield moved away!
With its stealth charge about to run out, they all ran towards the industrial mechs. Compared to combat-oriented mechs, the industrial mechs emphasized cost savings and strength. They were mostly designed to be an affordable way to carry heavy loads of goods without relying on expensive heavy-duty lifter platforms.
An industrial mech might cost more upfront, but a lifter platform guzzled energy like an alcoholic stuck in a wine cellar. The limbs also offered very fine manipulation when needed.
The ones employed by the storage yard weighed heavier than medium mechs and featured very robust limbs. They might not be able to outrace an aircar, but their heavy arms and legs allowed them to lift hefty loads without straining their frame.
The stealth field fizzled out just as they reached the lifter cables that could bring them up to the cockpits. “It’s out! We’re exposed now. Melkor, can you hack into these mechs?”
“I should be able to, but I might need your help. Sometimes, the owners of these low-quality mechs
Raella rapped her knuckle against the scratched and dirty surface of one of the machines. “Are we really going to hijack an industrial mech? They don’t even have neural interfaces, let alone armor that is able to withstand an infantry-grade railgun!”
“If you can point out an actual combat mech, then be my guest!”
That quickly shut her up. Melkor quickly put his foot down on a step, which promptly zipped up the cable until he reached the cockpit. The step then climbed down, allowing Ves to follow after his older cousin.
For now, it appeared the sniper hadn’t caught up to them yet. Ves quickly squeezed inside the narrow cockpit and analyzed his surroundings. The omission of a neural interface meant that the cockpit offered a lot more manual controls. He didn’t bother figuring out what they did and instead tried to find out how to force the mech online.
After some fiddling, Melkor spoke out. “I’ve cracked the digital codes, but the mech isn’t turning on. The owners of the mech must have installed some kind of hardware lock!”
Ves took over at that point. He swept the consoles until he found a plain mechanical lock underneath the main screen. Using an old-fashioned lock and key was a fairly easy way to secure an industrial mech. It prevented them from being taken for a joyride at the very least. Even a mech technician could install something as simple as this setup.
He forced open the lock in thirty seconds. Such a simple mechanism didn’t faze him in the slightest. As the mech started booting up, the two Larkinsons descended using the same stepper cable.
“Raella, take this mech and stand guard for us!”
The woman zipped up the cable and entered the booting mech.
“You better get inside your own mechs before they catch up!” The hatch in front of the torso quickly closed up. It gave her a measure of safety against a railgun attack, though Ves doubted its worthless armor could withstand such a strike.
“They’re already on their way.” Melkor grimly replied as Ves and him climbed inside the cockpit of another mech. “We won’t have time to unlock a third mech, so get yourself comfortable Ves.”
Even if he could, Ves had no doubt he’d probably trip his mech. Even industrial mechs needed a fair amount of training before anyone could pilot them proficiently. An untrained norm like him had no business trying to turn one into a hazard.
After they both disabled the various locks, they settled in as best they could in the cramped space. Ves had to squeeze to the side in order to provide Melkor enough room to operate the industrial mech.
The screens showed various settings that Melkor efficiently tweaked to his liking. Once he finished his modifying its settings, the lumbering mech finally started to move.
Raella had already turned her mech towards the incoming enemies. The same mercenaries who tried to corner them in the warehouse had tracked them down to the storage yard. A large number of hard-faced thugs armed with rifles and pistols followed after the heavily armed mercs.
“Look at that mech! It’s moving!”
“Shoot the rust buckets!”
While the mercs slinked off to the sides, the thugs simply dove to the nearest cover and started to shoot their guns at the industrial mechs. Most of their weapons simply plinked or seared the surface of their mechs.
Ves gripped arm handle of the cockpit’s seat. The amount of weapons arrayed against them could chew up an entire crowd of people. Yet nothing happened other than scratching their mech.
Even if their borrowed machines didn’t incorporate any exotics in their armor, they still came out largely unscathed.
The Larkinsons finally fought back. The mob of separatists started to grow apprehensive as the two hijacked mechs moved close. Raella’s mech adopted a strange gait that pushed her mech past its maximum speed. Only a truly skilled pilot could manipulate their mech’s limbs in this fashion. Though it also strained the machine, it wasn’t like they owned it in the first place.
As Raella closed in, Melkor hung back with his own mech and grabbed a nearby crate of goods.
His mech threw the crate at the shooting mob. Somehow, the crate landed in the very middle of the crowd, splattering four people instantly.
Raella’s mech almost tripped due to her shock, but she recovered quickly and reached the closest concentration of men. Her mech grabbed a nearby pipe from a whole stack of them and started wielding it like a blunted spear.
Even as Melkor continued to throw all kinds of junk at the frightened mob, Raella bashed her closest assailants into broken wrecks. Her mech wielded the pipe like a lumbering oaf. Even if she couldn’t wield the weapon as fast as she liked, she still reaped a horrible toll due to the incredible power behind each swing.
A railgun suddenly fired at her. Ves had no warning this time, as the sniper hadn’t aimed at the mech he holed up. The railgun burrowed straight through Raella’s mech, boring a small but nasty hole through its torso. The projectile narrowly missed the cockpit due to her amazing reflexes.
The single hit slowed down her mech by twenty percent.
“We’ve got to take care of that sneaky shooter!” She yelled as her mech practically went berserk. Her machine moved like a drunken fatty as she employed her piloting skill to the utmost in an attempt to make it harder for the sniper to hit her cockpit. Her dented pipe battered a lot of rebels to death. Their morale and enthusiasm started to waver.
The sniper shot her mech again, this time pummeling its leg. The mech lost most of its meager nimbleness as the mech had been forced to its knees. Its damaged leg couldn’t handle much weight.
“We’re getting chipped to death! How long do we have to wait?!”
“Help should be coming at any moment!” Ves remarked as he looked at the time. “Even if the rest of Bentheim is in flames, they should still send out a squad of mechs by now!”
Melkor’s cockpit started to beep out an alarm. A squad of mercenaries sneaked up to their rear and launched about a dozen plasma grenades at his mech’s vulnerable rear. The industrial mech could never dodge in time to avoid getting burned.
His mech started to turn its torso while whipping out its arm holding a crate of minerals. Half of the grenades hit the arm or crate, causing it to be engulfed in several balls of fury that crippled the entire limb.
The remaining grenades either missed the mech or pelted its torso. Melkor’s mech hitched up as its power lines received a lot of disruptions.
The mercenaries started to poke out of their cover and fired at the holes created by the grenades. Their powerful weapons were capable of dealing significant damage to the industrial mech’s internals. Melkor turned his mech away from the incoming fire as best he could, but the mercs had cleverly encircled them in order to negate such a move.
The industrial mechs fared poorly against the infantry dismantling them piece by piece. A fire broke out in the lower torso of Raella’s mech, while Melkor’s hijacked mech showed diminishing power as the incoming fire pummeled its internals into junk.
Just as they started to lose hope, a trio of mechs suddenly landed in their midst. Both the mercs and the surviving mob lost their footing as their landing threw off minor shockwaves.
All of the aerial mechs that landed sported the black-and-blue checkered pattern of the Bentheim Planetary Guard. The mechs were kitted out with a shield and a specialized fluid projector that looked like a flamethrower.
“PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS NOW!” A Guard mech boomed out. “THIS FIGHT ENDS HERE!”
Everyone on foot tried to run. As if expecting this response, the guard mech fanned out in three directions and activated their fluid projectors.
A disgusting-looking slime shot out of their nozzles and engulfed the fleeing men. Two of the Guard mechs continued to engulf every fleeing combatant. Even if they had a head-start, they could never outpace a building-sized combat mech.
The final mech didn’t chase after the rats but instead walked towards Raella’s half-burning mech. Her projector ejected a fire suppressant that stopped the flames. It then turned to Melkor’s mech.
“I’m sorry about the late response. I hope you’re not too banged up.”
The Larkinsons finally put down their guard. Their own cousin arrived to save the day. With her mech standing guard, the sniper probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to shoot again.
“Better late than never. Thank you for saving us.”