Ves had never seen so much blood in his entire life. It pooled into a couple of puddles as deep as the carnelian he installed on his first mech. The two bodies of the armored pirates laid still in an undignified heap, as pathetic as the manner in which they died.
"Meow." Lucky released as he retracted his claws and gently brushed his body against his owner's legs. It was as if the last minute simply didn't happen.
"Okay. Okay. So my pet is a killer assassin. Okay. That's too much crazy for me to process."
If Dietrich could see him now, he'd probably slap his back and tell him to man up. The pirates were out to get him and the only way he could stay free was to rob them of their lives.
Over many weeks of interaction with the confident pilot, some of it must have rubbed on Ves, because he recovered after only a couple of minutes. "I'm pathetic. This is life in the Age of Mechs. I design and produce massive machines of war goddammit. I already have a lot more blood on my hands."
After all, did he not sell a mech to Vincent Ricklin, who used it to massacre scores of innocent bystanders? It was not as if Ves ignored the consequences. The true impact of his actions were too distant, and he received some training in college to rationalize his actions.
Still, coming so close to a death caused by his circumstances made him feel extraordinarily queasy.
"I've got to snap out of it. The pirates must still be connected to each other. If I'm right, they must have noticed the deaths already."
Ves snapped back into action. If any other pirates came and saw him dazing around over the bodies of their comrades, they'd shoot him in a heartbeat. He quickly entered the bathroom and rinsed away his vomit. Then he returned to the main cabin and grabbed a fallen laser pistol.
"Tch. It's locked, but that won't stop me."
He went to the half-burned dresser and retrieved a small pack of mini tools from his luggage. As a mech designer, he always ensured he had access to a set of essential tools in case he wanted to tinker on something, or needed to conduct some emergency repairs. He did not stop to mess around with the laser pistol but instead left his cabin as quickly as possible.
"C'mon Lucky! We can't get caught by any pirate right now."
The cat dutifully followed Ves as they both ran down the corridors. Now that they left the soundproofed cabin, they heard clear footsteps, screams and weapon discharges. It turned out that some of the other passengers had also smuggled in some weapons. Unfortunately for them, anything they sneaked past the ship's sensors failed to scratch the paint of an advanced exoskeleton suit.
To be honest, even his pilfered pistol lacked sufficient punch, but he still brought it along. After running down the stairs and entering a random opened cabin, entered the bathroom and shut himself inside.
"Right. Pistol. C'mon and open for me." Ves whispered as he opened his miniature toolbox and started to fiddle with the laser pistol's control module. Though he had no background in infantry weapons, his familiarity with their mech-sized counterparts allowed him to identify almost every component underneath the weapon's casing.
"Alright, so this is the control module. Now how can I disable its identity check?"
Ves had no means of hacking its software. The modern weapon appeared to be an upscale luxury model, so it's safety features must be quite substantial. Still, as a compact weapon its manufacturer did not devote too many components into keeping the weapon locked.
After a couple of minutes of identifying what each component did, he retrieved a couple of tools and went to work with his utmost focus. His heightened concentration allowed him to shut off his fear and other external influences. His jury rigging skill allowed him to solve his problem with unconventional solutions.
His hands remained as steady as a machine as he delicately cut off some parts while forcibly welding other parts together. After finishing with the locking mechanism, he even started to mess around with the energy cell and capacitor.
"There. That should do it." He said as he packed up his tools and attached his set to his belt. He gingerly picked up the laser pistol and turned it on. The lights turned green as the weapon started to accumulate a charge. His hasty tinkering succeeded in unlocking the weapon.
After pressing a button, a projection came into view over the rear of the barrel. The simple figures displayed the pistol's charge and heat capacity. Currently, the pistol showed that it was ready to fire a charge of 200% in a single heavy beam. Such a charge went way above the weapon's maximum safety limits. Only his recent tinkering allowed the pistol to go beyond its limits.
"Well, I doubt the pistol will last an entire day, but at least I stand a better chance of penetrating heavy armor."
Such a weapon was exceedingly dangerous. If Ves did not aim carefully, the laser beam might burn through a bulkhead and damage the rooms ahead. If any passengers huddled nearby, Ves might actually kill someone innocent. He'd be in big trouble if he caused the deaths of anyone other than pirates.
"It's a risk I have to take. I can't sit still and let the pirates decide over my life."
He also wanted to keep Lucky safe. Though the cat mostly acted lazy, he felt a deep connection with what could be his only link to his missing father.
"Let's go hunt some pirates." He whispered to Lucky, and they both snuck out of the bathroom and peeked outside the corridor. "I don't want to take the fight to them, but I won't let myself be cornered either. We have to retake control of the ship."
He doubted the still-fighting crew members appreciated his involvement, but he did not trust them to have the interests of the passengers in mind. Though the laws obligated them to defend the passengers to the death, he occasionally came across some news articles where the captain and the crew were less than passionate when facing down the barrel of a gun.
A pair of heavy footsteps approached his hiding place. Ves guessed that they possessed sensors that were capable of detecting heat, so they could follow the traces of footsteps and his lingering body heat. From the lack of haste, they probably did not realize that Ves was one of the bastards who killed off a couple of pirates. That was good.
"YOU. IN THAT CABIN. GET OUT OF THERE."
Ves slowly rose and held onto his charged-up pistol. Since exoskeletons possessed all kinds of sensors, he did not bother to hide its substantial heat emissions.
"FUCKER! HE'S ARMED!"
The pirates still remained human. The pair of armored men focused all of their attention to his radiating pistol, ignoring the gem cat sneaking up from behind. As a mechanical pet, Lucky barely released any heat as long as he did not deploy his energy claws. By moving slowly and regularly, he was as inconspicuous as the ship's standard cleaning bots.
Just as they directed their aim at him through the bulkhead, Ves yelled out, "Lucky! Now!"
Like a silent killer, Lucky jumped in the air and landed atop the back of the rearmost pirate's neck armor. His claws sank deep inside the plating as if it didn't exist and shredded the vulnerable flesh underneath.
As one of the pirates gurgled and died, Ves poked out his body from the broken door frame and shot his pistol with haste. His aim drifted a bit to the left, causing him to hit the surviving pirate's shoulder instead of his center mass. Still, the overloaded laser beam managed to convey a lot of heat at a single spot which spoiled the pirate's aim. His rifle barked upwards well over its target's head.
"Damnit! Lucky, finish him off!" Ves swore as he jumped back inside the empty cabin. His pistol started to smoke and his confidence evaporated. He waited until the scream cut off before taking a peek again. His eyes gazed at another pair of bodies. This time he processed the act of killing without losing control over his stomach.
He managed to approach the rear of the Saint Hearst with remarkable haste after his latest killings. The boarding parties mainly concentrated their efforts in controlling a few critical compartments along with subduing the passengers. As most of the passengers still huddled inside their rooms, once Ves left the cabin area he encountered a lot less patrols.
"Huh. I thought so. If these pirates are still fighting with the mechs outside, then that means they can't risk sending out too many boarding shuttles. They sent just enough pirates to subdue the passengers and crew. If they lose a couple of men, then it's no big deal for them as long as they recover their gear."
Ves did not envy the life of a pirate grunt. Unless they could pilot mechs, they were treated as no better than a slightly smarter combat bot. At least one merit to the use of living bodies was that they could not be hacked.
"Just because the bigshots don't care about their lives doesn't mean they will obediently roll over."
Ves had very little means in repelling the hundred-odd or so pirates aboard the Saint Hearst. The cheap passenger liner's security contingent obviously lacked exoskeleton armor as the dead crew members that Ves encountered sported nothing heavier than lightly armored suits.
He approached the engineering compartment which hosted the ship's engines and the power reactor. A lot more pirates milled just outside the heavily armored hatch. They installed a portable laser driller that was in the process of dismantling the blockade.
Once the pirates had access to engineering, the game was up. The pirate engineers could do a lot of things, from cutting off the connection to the bridge to redirecting the Saint Hearst's course. As a last resort, they could also threaten the entire ship by blowing up its vulnerable reactor.
"Lucky. Can you sneak closer and count how many pirates are there?"
The cat bobbed his cute head and snuck around the corner. A minute passed before he returned. The cat softly scratched a bulkhead with single claw.
"Twenty-four pirates. Are they all inside an exoskeleton?"
"Okay, so they only have two lightly armored engineers. Right. I know what to do now."
He instructed Lucky briefly, then got ready to take action. He kept a healthy distance from the pirates in order to avoid tripping their sensors. He approached a hatch and used his tools to fiddle with its control mechanisms. After finishing his work, he packed up his tools and readied his pistol. The long wait caused him to drip in sweat again. He was about to do something very foolhardy.
"ENGINEER DOWN! PROTECT THE OTHER ONE! SHOOT DOWN THAT BOT!"
The two pirate squads rose into action as Lucky went to town. While Lucky bounced around and spoiled the aim of the pirates by hiding behind their comrades, Ves quickly crept around the corner and aimed his smoking pistol at the drill.
The beam melted the laser drill into a pile of slag. He immediately jumped back, but a pair of pirates who ignored the commotion and kept their eyes peeled in his direction shot their own weapons in response.
A laser almost hit him before Ves rounded the corner. The bulkhead blocked out the beam long enough for Ves to get away.
The other pirate adjusted his light cannon's aim. Its massive size could only be carried by a powered suit of armor. The pirate pulled the trigger, causing an shell to accelerate towards the intersection where Ves briefly fired his weapon.
Though Ves managed to take a few steps back, the shell exploded into a nova of force. The shockwave pushed him off his feet while a small fragment clipped the side of his torso.
His vacuum suit automatically sealed up the gap and stemmed the flow of blood as best it could. The suit injected him with a small dose of painkillers in order to suppress his agony.
"Damn it, I got hit. Lucky! Get out of there!"
Ves hobbled away as some of the angry pirates thundered after him. He quickly jumped past the closest hatch and waited.
"THE BOT IS RUNNING AWAY!"
He did not have to wait for long until ran past. Now that Lucky succeeded in getting away, Ves slammed his palm onto the hatch's control console. A heavy slab of metal fell down, shutting him momentarily from the enraged pirates.
"Don't fuck with a mech designer." Ves impulsively spat at the closed hatch as a small group of pirates pounded its surface from the other side. He raised his middle finger and saluted the frustrated gang of criminals.
"C'mon, let's get out of here. They'll be on guard against us now."
With his trusty cat in tow, he smartly made himself scarce. While Lucky possessed unimaginable capabilities, Ves did not want to risk his life against two entire squads of heavily armed pirates. Killing the engineers and disabling the drill was the best he could do for the ship. Hopefully he bought enough time.
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