Senator Tovar didn't linger his gaze towards Ves for long. No matter what happened just before, he could hear it all later. Right now, they still needed to get through this crisis.
Once Captain Hoskie issued some orders to her men, she turned back to the most critical person in their midst. "Senator, the Felicitous Remembrance is highly compromised. The odds are high that the ship will either blow up from within or becomes a target to the enemy mechs outside. Word will come at any time of their failure to capture you. Once they realize it's not feasible to capture you, there is a great chance that they'll settle for killing you and everyone on this ship instead! You need to make a decision. I highly suggest we evacuate the Remembrance."
"I will defer to your judgement." The old man spoke.
The senator's gracefully admitted that he was no good in combat situations. Despite his authority, his expertise laid in statecraft, policy-making and diplomacy. Military matters were far outside his ballpark.
Fortunately, aside from Professor Ventag, they also managed to rescue Lieutenant Colonel Xelven. Although the high-ranking military official served behind a desk for most of his career, he was competent enough to take charge this time.
"I concur with Captain Hoskie." Xelven said as he emerged out of the pod. "The Felicitous Remembrance is rotten from the inside. We should go down to the lower decks and head to the shuttle bay in order to evacuate to the Lormant Carnival as expediently as possible. If the flagship of the escort fleet isn't a convenient destination, then any other light carrier that is escorting the peace delegation will do!"
"Why not take the escape pods? They're much closer." Lord Javier asked.
Xelven ignored the question. Escape pods may offer a faster exit, but they lacked the speed and maneuvering power of a shuttle. They also only held one or two passengers at most and it would be difficult to keep everyone together.
They abandoned the breached site and moved towards the nearest stairway leading downwards.
Ves walked alongside Professor Ventag, who seemed awfully shaken at what happened to them all. The assault on the bridge had been a particularly traumatic experience to him, though Colonel Xelven and Senator Tovar brushed managed to brush it off or hide their discomfort.
The vacsuited professor turned to Ves with admiration. "I've just heard you've been pivotal in rescuing the stranded survivors at the armory and freeing us from captivity. Captain Hoskie reports that you are in a possession of a very powerful weapon."
"I'm the only one who can use it." Ves replied defensively. "Besides, a weapon like that has a cost. It's out of power."
The professor smiled sardonically. "I won't quibble with how you could possibly manage to smuggle such a deadly weapon through all of the security checks. I must admit that I am a little out of my depth here. Your actions so far on the other hand stood out enormously. I regret not letting you into the bridge when you arrived at the entrance earlier. When someone informed me you wished to enter, I declined to consider it as your presence wasn't needed."
The regret in the professor's voice was palpable. If he knew that the Felicitous Remembrance was compromised and that the pirates were so determined to attack the bridge, he would have made a lot of other choices than that!
To Ves, the earlier issue didn't bother him anymore. With the determination shown by the pirates in their successful attempt at breaching the bridge, he might have been one of the bodies there by now.
"Do you know what's going on outside? I'm not patched to any important comm channels or networks. Why hasn't our escort fleet sent any assistance?"
"As far as I am aware of before the pirates overtook the bridge, the pirate vessels that emerged out of FTL entered into fighting range within minutes." The Senior Mech Designer explained. "The carriers disgorged a large number of mechs, outnumbering our forces by at least one-and-a-half times. It is taking every bit of effort for the Spiral Shockers to hold such a large number of mechs back. It doesn't help that the Remembrance has lost all power and propulsion. Her predictable ballistic course through space makes it exceptionally easy for the enemy to concentrate their fire on this ship!"
This added a bit more urgency to their evacuation as those mechs could turn their weapons on the Remembrance at any moment once they gave up on capturing Senator Tovar alive!
"Did you figure anything out from their mechs?" Ves asked.
"I've observed much." Professor Ventag nodded. "The enemy makes use of genuine pirate mechs. Some of them are low-quality products designed by unworthy Novices. However, at least half of them are high-quality mechs designed by an infamous mech designer from the frontier."
"Oh?" Ves looked up. "Which infamous mech designer are you talking about?"
"The main mech models utilized by our attackers are on par with the mech models employed by the Spiral Shockers. I recognize their make. They carry the uncharacteristic pursuit for perfection exhibited by the Skull Architect!"
Ves suddenly stumbled in his steps. He quickly recovered. "What?! Are you certain?"
"Oh yes." Professor Ventag said seriously, not even realizing that Ves once talked to the Skull Architect in person! "He is one of the few Senior Mech Designers that somehow managed to base himself in the frontier. His continued existence is an affront to the MTA."
"I see." Ves said flatly, trying to keep himself calm. "So what does that mean for our defenses?"
The professor chuckled. "The quality of the Skull Architect's mech models are truly praiseworthy. Even if the fabricated copies are a little inconsistent compared to the design specifications, they are all high-performing machines and deadly in the right hands."
This was a familiar-sounding flaw to Ves. After all, he once worked with the Skull Architect's mech designs! "Are the pirate mech pilots good enough to take advantage of the full capabilities of their machines?"
"It is to our luck that the skill requirements are very stringent. While the pirate mech pilots are better than you'd expect from pirates, even the best of them can only utilize eighty percent of the capacity of their quality mechs at most. This skill mismatch is the only reason why the Spiral Shockers have managed to hold back the pirates while outnumbered."
Ves was very glad that he hadn't been able to help the Skull Architect solve this fatal flaw of his! He made a deal with the infamous criminal and fugitive mech designer to design variants that offered a much easier and comfortable piloting experience than the Senior's usual mech designs.
It was a good thing that the deal would only commence after the war!
"Is it safe to cross over to the Lormant Carnival, sir?"
"It depends on how close they've managed to push. I am not up to date with the battle taking place in space, so I'll have to disappoint you there, Mr. Larkison."
The group of surviving security officers and delegation members soon reached the lower decks. They'd be able to reach the entrance to the shuttle bay within a few minutes at this pace.
They encountered little resistance here. The pirates allocated most of their men elsewhere, and many of them had already died. The scattered crew and security officers managed to strike back as well, hindering the pirates from taking complete control.
The shuttle bay hadn't been a priority for the invading pirates. They just stationed enough men to prevent the technicians and other workers from breaking out. Captain Hoskie's men quickly wiped them out and convinced the crew inside to allow them entry.
"Let us evacuate!" Senator Tovar commanded. "My personal shuttle has enough space for most of us. Come!"
The shuttle in question was a souped-up shuttle that looked sleek and elegant. Although it didn't offer too much seating, it offered more than enough space to fit Captain Hoskie's men with a couple more people to spare.
Ves came along as well, though he privately expressed some doubts whether Camden Tovar's personal shuttle had been compromised as well. If the Felicitous Remembrance already contained so many planted explosives, how could the shuttle be any different?
"I make use of my personal shuttle for several years now." The senator explained as as he sat on the most luxurious seat in the passenger compartment. The open space around it became a little crowded with all the extra soldiers trying to squeeze inside. " My personal pilot and shuttle technicians frequently inspect it on the surface and perform a more thorough inspection every week. Their loyalty isn't in question, and even if there is something amiss there, my people always work alongside other technicians when performing their thorough inspections."
Even so, some of the security guards insisted on scanning the shuttle from top to bottom in case they found any explosives.
They already analyzed the composition of the explosives that took out the security department and the armory, so they knew which substances to look out for. As they searched, everyone else waited until they determined that the shuttle likely hadn't been planted with those specific types of explosive charges.
That might not mean much considering there were so many other substances their enemies could have planted on the shuttle. However, it wasn't very easy to obtain them in the first place.
"Exhibiting an obsessive amount of concern is not helpful." Senator Tovar calmly shook his head. "If we are constantly double-checking our actions, we are playing into the hands of our enemies. Trust in my arrangements."
Ves wanted to snort at those words. Everyone trusted that the Felicitous Remembrance that had been personally prepared by the Tovar Family would be safe. She turned out to be the opposite.
Even so, he trusted the other shuttles even less than this one. Even if Senator Tovar made a major miscalculation, Ves did not underestimate him for that. Their enemies may be powerful but Senator Tovar was no vegetable either!
As the shuttle launched into space, Ves managed to look over to Senator Tovar's seat projection. It displayed a plot of the local space. Amidst the symbols representing friendly ships and mechs, a large number of enemy mechs assailed them from all sides!
"The battle is still ongoing!"
Ves tried to count the number of friendly mechs in in space and came up substantially short. The Spiral Shockers brought five companies worth of mechs, but only a hundred-and-forty or less still remained.
The survivors fought as hard as they could, and the enemy suffered a higher rate of attrition than the elite Spiral Shockers.
However, the disparity in numbers made it very difficult for the Spiral Shockers to utilize their advanced tactics. They were also burdened by the need to keep the enemy mechs busy in case they wanted to take a shot at the Felicitous Remembrance!
In fact, many pirate mechs already took potshots at the coasting passenger ship. The only saving grace was that her excellent armor plating allowed her to withstand most of the incoming fire.
Even so, many holes still marred her surface. The artfully-designed passenger ship would quickly reach the point of no return.
Escape pods already started to fire out of various points of the doomed vessel!
Ves found the Felicitous Remembrance's fall to be a tragic event. It was such a waste to trash such an expensive vessel! Anyone who managed to salvage the ship or scavenge the debris would make a killing! They'd earn as much as most mech companies earned in a year!
If Ves still possessed a working comm connection to the galactic net, then he was half-tempted to order the LMC to commence a salvage operation of this site.
Of course, he would never go through with it. A precious battlefield such as this would attract all kinds of scum.
As Senator Tovar's personal shuttle crossed over in open space, it managed to attract the attention of the enemy pirate mechs.
While it wasn't the only shuttle flying through space right now, it differed from the others by its ostentatious design and appearance! Most of all, its exterior also carried Senator Tovar's personal mark!
Alarms began to ring inside the shuttle. "We're being targeted!"