A small convoy of shuttles slowly entered one the shuttle hangars of the Independent Harbor. After a little hitchup with what passed around for traffic control, they diverted to a VIP section and touched down amidst hundreds of other parked shuttles.
The passengers exited with their bodies fully enclosed in their protective suits of armor. While the Vandals came out with a bit of discomfort due to their gaudy and spiky additions to their armor, the Swordmaidens comfortably jumped out of their craft like it was another stroll.
Whereas the Flagrant Vandals largely adopted a uniform color scheme in dark and burgundy tones, the Swordmaidens expressed a lot more individuality. They switched out their vacuum undersuits and exobeast pelts for solid suits medium and heavy combat armor.
Though they shared the same green and blue color scheme, the Swordmaidens heavily customized their armor pieces with tribal markings and exobeast bones from deadly predators they slew by with their own swords. Skulls of real or imagined exobeasts prominently adorned their helmets.
Naturally, their broadswords and greatswords took up a prominent place on their backs. The floating scabbards keeping them sheathed fitted neatly into a standardized slot to the rear. This kept the weapons safe from prying hands.
The average bulk of the two forces differed substantially. The Vandal security officers escorting their VIPs all wore full suits of exoskeleton armor. They were power incarnate, and their heavy weapons possessed enough firepower to mow down a mob of hundreds within seconds.
The Swordmaidens only brought out a couple of suits of exoskeleton armor on their own. Most of their Swordmaidens made do with heavy armor, but that was still formidable enough in their own right.
As they walked towards the decontamination checkpoint, Ves turned his helmet towards the medium combat armor suit worn by Ketis. "I thought you Swordmaidens are fans of personal combat. Why not make more use of exoskeleton armor?"
"A sister is more machine than woman if they wear those suits." She replied over the comm channel. Right now, the entire hangar area was exposed to vacuum. "The exoskeleton armors are strong, but slow and inflexible. They're meant to carry heavy caliber cannons and the like. That's also how we make use of them. As for swordplay, exoskeleton armor is completely incompatible with it. It's as unwieldy as a heavy mech with a dagger."
Ves winced inside his helmet. The image of a heavy mech swinging around a dagger with agonizing slowness offended his sensibilities.
"Got it. I guess it makes sense that you Swordmaidens favor combat armor which is more compatible with your combat style."
"Our bodies have all gone through extensive genetic modification." Ketis added. "We may look like half-alien freaks to you, but we can swing our swords with enough force to split five men in half without any servo-assists."
Ves believed her boast. They had already shown how much damage they could inflict on their flight decks.
The Flagrant Swordmaidens both arrived at the decontamination checkpoint. If there was one thing the dangers of the frontier had taught the pirates, it was that germs could be found in every planet with life. With so many wild and untamed planets in the Faris Star Region, pirates and treasure hunters constantly contracted the rarest and most unusual diseases.
While Ves never had to worry about infections after his ordeal at Groening IV, the same couldn't be said to the rest. Even the Swordmaidens for all their genetic manipulation became prone to new alien diseases that ordinarily passed harmlessly through human bodies.
This led to the absurd situation where the decontamination protocols for pirate stations worked a bit better than those on regular space stations.
The pirates learned the hard way that spreading a single potent germ might turn entire ships and space stations into empty hulks!
The entire detour took some time, but nobody complained. The medical experts employed by the Bosey Clan took their responsibilities seriously and hardly batted an eyelid at all the unusual half-alien physiques they needed to inspect.
Once they passed the health inspections, they entered the space station proper. Each of them retracted their helmet face plates and shut off their internal air supply to conserve their oxygen.
The interior of the space station was marked with centuries worth of rust, dirt and other marks of age. It was as if the Boseys stopped caring about hygiene once the checkpoints cleared the visitors from any infectious diseases.
Overworked and severely outdated cleaning bots with so many dents that seemed as if they were kicked on a regular basis buzzed over various surfaces. Some of their sensors were so murky and fogged up that they occasionally bumped against their armored feet.
"Annoying gnat!" Ketis grunted, and performed a spendid kick against the poor scrubbing bot that collided against her greaves. The magnificently powerful kick propelled the cleaning bot into the air like a ball and caused it to crash against the partially corroded alloy wall.
Despite the impressive force behind the kick, the bot barely gained another bump. The little thing beeped some nonsensical error tones before resuming its programmed duty of scrubbing off the stains of dirt marring the deck.
"Those cleaning bots are some of the toughest I've ever seen." Ves noted with an interested eye. "The exterior of these bots are actually fashioned out of salvaged mech armor plating!"
This seemed to be a trend throughout the entire space station. Much of the interior structures and compartments were made out of salvaged and recycled ship and mech parts. It made everyone feel as if they entered a junkyard turned into a slum.
As they all entered deeper into the station proper, the Vandals and Swordmaidens split up to run their own errands. Ves separated from Soapstone and the other Vandals on a shopping spree in order to take care of his own matters.
Their appearances had already attracted enough attention already. The exaggerated additions to their armor suits had increased their intimidation factor to the point where almost every visitor parted in their way.
Ves evoked different reactions from his better-armed security escort due to his slimmer form and his billowing cape. The fabric caught easily in the air, but possessed enough weight at the bottom to prevent it from smacking in the face of someone walking behind.
While Ves wasn't the only person in the station who wore a cape, for some unspoken reason only the higher-ranking members of the outfit wore them. This caused many more eyes to stare at Ves, wondering what position a young man like him held to deserve this impressive privilege.
The only ones who refused to make way were those who wore similar gear. Men and women from other outfits adhered to the same rules of showing off their prowess, so they all came geared for war.
Each group of armed and armored men tread confidently through the public areas of the space station. Encountering rival groupings on the street led to sparks of tension, but the friction never led to conflict.
The Bosey Clan did not appreciate fighting within their space station. Mancroft was a very useful stopping point to pirates so they generally wanted to keep it intact. Any attempts to sow death and chaos meant making an enemy out of all the pirates docked to the space station.
The glares the other pirates directed to Ves and the Vandals only served to measure their grit. There were plenty of playboys on this station that pretended to be greater than they actually were. The Flagrant Vandals were the real deal, so they stared right back with provoking glances.
"This is getting rather tiresome." Ves muttered after fending off yet another unspoken challenge to their right to carry around so much bling. "If pirates have to deal with this stuff each time they step into public, then I would rather stay back in civilized space."
This sounded absurd to Ketis. "I don't see what the big deal is. Don't you always have to look tough when you pass by some pirates?"
"It's not as automatic to us as it is for you. It's not polite to stare people in the eyes with a greedy expression."
She shrugged. "Sometimes I don't know how you people in civilized space managed to stay alive. How can you scare off muggers when you aren't able to show you're strong enough to beat them up?"
"We have a thing called law and order there. The police or planetary guard will step in if someone tries to rob you in their jurisdiction."
Ketis looked speechless at that. Police? Planetary Guard? What did those words mean?
Ves brushed aside her confusion and activated a navigation app on his comm. With Ketis, Nolsen and three more exoskeleton brutes in tow, he followed the directions projected by his comm towards the only comm center in Mancroft.
They walked past various Bosey guards in heavy and exoskeleton armor. Ves walked up in front of the desk and greeted the clerk.
"I'd like to establish a connection to Malligan's Pitstop via your Tzianti crystal."
The clerk perked up at that. Communicating through Tzianti crystals only happened for important transmissions. "Do you have a referral or a set of protocols?"
"I have the right protocols."
Ves transmitted the files to the clerk, who inspected them before determining they were valid.
"Everything is in order. The Tzianti crystal connected to Malligan's Pitstop is available for your use. The price for a single transmission is currently set at thirteen K-coins per minute. If you wish to inspect them under heavy supervision of our own experts, you may do so for an additional fee of two-hundred K-coins."
Ves almost wanted to slap the clerk's face for charging such a ridiculous. Thirteen K-coins amounted to five-thousand bright credits! Still, Ves had no cause for complaint, as using the crystals introduced cracks that needed special materials to repair. Besides, someone like Ves hardly blinked his eyes anymore when he spent a couple of thousand bright credits.
Luckily, he was authorized to use the regimental account for this expenditure. Since he got someone else to pay his fees, Ves might as well take full advantage of it. He requested to make a personal inspection, which the clerk accepted like he already expect it. Ves was not the first customer to be paranoid enough to double-check the comm center's arrangements.
The clerk led him down a stairway and into a heavily-fortified compartment. Roving patrols of Bosey guards occasionally passed them by.
The inspection didn't take very long. Ves was mildly impressed as he beheld the house-sized crystal. He whipped out his multiscanner from the toolbelt he had wrapped around his armor and methodically scanned the entire space.
Due to time concerns, he couldn't spend as much time as he wished, but his inspection was thorough enough to reveal that the Boseys had indeed kept the chamber free from bugs.
At some point further inspections were redundant. His military-issued multiscanner might be better than the civilian models, but its size and power limitations prevented it from performing any deeper or more thorough scans.
"I guess I have to put my faith in the existing arrangements."
Ves was about to have a sensitive discussion with a notorious expert pilot killer. It may have been one thing to slay an expert pilot in battle. It was another thing entirely if an expert died by someone from their own side for 'academic' purposes.
He silently grumbled at the Skull Architect's audacity. If he really wanted to butcher an expert pilot or three, he should have been more patient. The best choice would be to arrange the kidnapping of an expert pilot from the Hexadric Hegemony, the Friday Coalition's hated rivals.
If that wasn't possible, then the weak third-rate states surrounding their territories also had a bunch of expert pilots to spare.
"Though, if that really happened, the MTA will get pissed even more."
Every elite pilot who advanced to expert or higher automatically received protection from the MTA. Wholesale assasination or coercion on these privileged classes always provoked the ire of the Mech Trade Association.
"The Skull Architect was doomed either way."
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