The mech workshop district sat in the furthest reaches from the center of the city. It held a very poor location, being far away from the spaceport and the well-developed infrastructure that supported the manufacturing complexes on the other side of Neron City.
The only thing the district had going for was that beginning mech designers could easily rent a workshop for a pittance. They could also hire cheap manpower from the slums in the neighboring cities, though that also caused this part of town to be ridden with petty gangs and crime.
A gang member happened to spot a crash ball landing in the abandoned park. He didn't recognize the object and only thought it might be some space debris separated from a ship.
"Ol' lucky me! Anything that can survive entry is bound to fetch a few hundred sovvies."
The Vesia Kingdom utilized the nova sovereigns as their state-wide currency. Almost everyone referred to them as sovvies, and they held a value roughly twenty-five percent weaker than a bright credit.
To an average bottom feeder, a few hundred sovvies was more than enough to live on for a month or two. The gang member eagerly climbed over the rusted fence and entered the overgrown park. He pushed his way past the wild bushes and long grasses until he finally reached a small clearing with a lot of cooling debris.
"Treasure!" The man's eyes lit up and he practically threw himself on his knees to touch a piece, only to scald his hand from the residual heat of the exterior part. "Hot hot hot!"
After blowing his fingers, the man turned his attention back to the pieces and smiled. "So much stuff! Maybe it'll be enough to get a thousand sovvies!"
He had never owned so much money in a single instant. Everything went to pay for food, shelter and the occasional stimulants. Anytime he held more than a hundred sovvies, the money just seemed to slip through his fingers the next day.
As the man dreamt of what he would do with all of that wealth, his thoughts flew away when a thin, surgical laser beam pierced his head.
For a second, the dead gang member appeared to struggle with what had happened to him. The next, his body fell flat to the debris-strewn soil as his brain had completely given up the ghost.
Ves in his hazard suit emerged from behind a tree trunk with his Amastendira extended cautiously towards the corpse. The gang member looked dead, but was that truly so? He slowly inched forward until he was able to stretch out his armored foot and bump the motionless corpse.
After making sure the fellow was dead, Ves sighed in relief and held the man by his neck and quickly dragged him away. The landing site of his crash ball was a conspicuous spot and his landing here might have attracted someone else's attention.
After reaching a thickly-grow portion of the park, Ves let down his guard and studied the corpse. Despite the awful damage done to the head, the poor chap's remains hadn't spilled onto the rest of his body, which was exactly what Ves intended.
He stared at the man's cheap mass-produced clothes and compared them to his nearly spotless green mech designer uniform underneath his hazard suit.
The problem with his outfit was that it carried a couple of emblems and other trappings that marked him out as a mech designer in service to the Mech Corps. If Ves dared to stroll through Neron City's anarchy-infested streets with these clothes, he'd be liable to get mobbed by hateful citizens who decried the disastrous invasion of the Flagrant Vandals.
"Sorry buddy. I need your clothes."
Ves disengaged from his bulky hazard suit and shed his mech designer uniform. Then, he proceeded to strip the corpse and draped them to his own bare body. Their stature fortunately matched somewhat, so Ves didn't feel uncomfortable by their fit.
He also took the man's cheap comm from his wrist, but Ves couldn't manage to get past the security check. Alloc or Melkor would have been able to hack into it, but Ves had never learned how to hack a comm without assistance. He didn't specialize in this field.
"Great. I'm going to need to get my hands on an unsecured comm."
His ultimate goal would be to return to the Vandal fleet up in space. Despite the destruction of a handful of ships, the Vandals should still be aiming to continue their operation. They invested too much resources to make this daring assault, and the loss of a handful of extremely expensive combat carriers only spurred them on. They needed to loot enough riches to compensate for their substantial losses.
"The only problem is that they've landed on the far side of the manufacturing complexes."
The Flagrant Vandals chose to land outside the city's perimeters, but close to the district which held all of the major industrial complexes. It was obvious to everyone what the Vandals intended. Half-organized mech units of House Eneqqin's household troops had already deployed a substantial amount of mechs to that district, but as far as Ves was aware of, their numbers couldn't match the invading Vandals.
Making his way through Neron City's various districts while bypassing rioters and loyalists sounded very daunting to Ves. However, he would rather take his chances than to sit tight and wait for rescue that might never come.
With his new clothes, at least he wouldn't be mistaken as an enemy by the locals. With potentially the entire planet as his enemy, Ves could ill afford to be known as a stray Brighter who arrived from the stars.
After fiddling but failing to accomplish anything with the comm, he threw it on the ground next to his discarded clothes, his hazard suit and a stripped corpse. Ves extended the barrel of his Amastendira yet again and set it on a wider angle at a higher power setting.
As he fired the pistol at the pile on the ground, the wider beam caused the entire mess to melt or burn apart. A huge sizzle escaped from the body as a lot of its moisture evaporated into disgusting steam. Ves leaned away from the conflagration and tried to avoid breathing in the foul air.
The hazard suit took longest to melt down. It had been designed to withstand heat to some extent, but in the end it couldn't resist the vast power of his Amastendira.
Once the suit turned into a molten puddle of alloys and composites, Ves released his finger off the trigger and shoved the weapon back into his intangible Inventory.
"That takes care of that."
Ves felt oddly guilty about killing the Vesian. He had been responsible for the deaths of several people, either directly or indirectly as was the case with supplying others with his mechs. Ves did not lose any sleep over this responsibility, but the act of killing another human being in person oddly discomforted him in the back of his mind.
He could have found another solution, such as breaking in one of the nearby structures or workshops and scavenge some clothing from there. He could have knocked the fellow out with a hefty bump on the head and stripped him without killing the lad.
"I can't obsess over these what-ifs. Not with my life at stake."
He quickly got over his dilemma and resolved himself to escape from this planet. Ves was no saint, and he cared nothing for the lives of the people who lived on Detemen IV. Killing them was distasteful, but if it kept him alive, he would do whatever was necessary.
Ves moved from the park as casually as possible. He tried out various postures before settling for a slightly slouched one that mimicked the sleazy gang member that he turned into ashes.
The trouble was that it would be difficult to pass for a genuine local. Ves obtained no training in this regard, and the differences between Vesians and Brighters was large enough that one would instantly recognize the other as soon as they opened their mouths.
Ves wouldn't be able to mimic the two defining cultural traits of a Vesian. First, their society was a lot more hierarchical, and even the commoners themselves split up their social class into several layers.
Second, the Vesians adopted a local accent that was slightly different from the Republic. They also used different idioms and word choices in some cases. Ves couldn't mimic the Vesian voice at all, let alone the Detemen accent which was another subset of the Vesian accent.
He actually didn't know too much about these differences, but his recent interactions with Iris taught him a lot more about the Vesians than he wanted to. It turned out that the things he learned about the Vesians might prove very helpful in his current predicament.
Ves moved in the direction of his destination, bringing him closer to the city proper. This far out, the streets only held a few workshops, and none of them looked to have been used in the past several years.
"Times are tough for them as well, huh?"
The Vesians must have drafted much of their bottom feeder mech designers as well. This led to many empty and abandoned mech workshops. Debt collectors, scavengers and thieves looted them empty. The scavengers even took away near-worthless objects such as towels or cutlery.
Practically everyone looking to make a quick sovvie had picked the entire street of workshops clean. Ves wouldn't be able to cobble up anything together with what little they left behind. He needed to go deeper into the district and break into a proper workshop.
Though entering deeper into Neron City scared him, Ves urgently needed to make something. He didn't forget that the Vandals only allotted four days at most for their assault on Detemen IV. Ves needed to reach the Vandal beach head on the other side of the city in order to get away from his hellhole.
As Ves passed through several intersections, he met a couple of people on the streets. Most appeared to be tough guys looking to make some trouble. Ves kept his head down and tried to shuffle away as fast as possible from these types.
"Watch where you're going, bunghole!"
Most people who looked at Ves stared at his dirt-encrusted clothes and dismissed him out of hand. They probably thought that Ves didn't own enough wealth to make it worthwhile for them to rob him. One burly man thought otherwise.
"Watcha looking at? You looking at me? You looking at me?!"
The thug went as far as grabbing the hem of the stolen shirt.
"Let go." Ves softly said.
"How about… no. What are you gonna do about it?"
"Nothing much, except this!"
Ves instantly punched the thug's head with a sloppy hook. The incredible force behind the punch launched the Vesian across the street until he smacked against the wall of an abandoned workshop.
He felt something crunch with the punch, and he would bet that his accoster would never stand up again. He didn't feel bothered at that, as thugs weren't worth his time. Still, he attracted a lot of attention to himself. A few bystanders turned their gazes at him, prompting Ves to flee from this part of town in a quick jog.
A couple of minutes later, Ves arrived at a street that looked a little better than normal. A lot more thugs and gang members prowled the streets, but the workshops in this area looked like they were still in business, if only barely.
"This is more like it, though why are there so many people out on the streets?"
Ves shuffled forward and tried to act like he belonged. He made for a very poor actor, but the thugs weren't the most discerning people. They had other things in mind. Ves listened to their hushed conversations.
"They say the Vandal raid has Boss Nyerson all up in a tizzy. Why else would he call us out here out of the blue?"
"Can't blame him. I heard it's hell downtown. What is our planet coming to? I'm glad that we escaped most of that. I hope Boss Nyerson keeps it that way."
Soon enough, a beat-up low-flying aircar arrived from the distance. The car obviously feared being taken out by anti-air batteries, so the car flew as low to the ground without scraping its bottom. After a while, the aircar reached the largest group of thugs and plopped itself flat on the ground.
A door opened and revealed a tall and muscled brute. The man's scarred face turned into a grin.