As his newly fabricated aircar carefully traversed the dangerous streets of Neron City, Ves needed to pay attention to a lot possible threats.
Rioters and troublemakers revelled in the streets, brandishing their weapons as they helped themselves to goods normally out of their reach. Too many businesses burned due to a complete absence of law and order. Ves wondered where the local Planetary Guard had gone.
"Did Lord Javier recall them all to defend his own hide?"
Whatever the case, the total lack of authority on the streets brought out the best and worst out of every citizen left behind. As his aircar discretely flew over their heads, he spotted lootings, rioting and senseless destruction.
Detemen IV obviously hadn't been governed very well, because the outskirts of Neron City hosted an enormous underclass of people who felt they had nothing to lose.
Still, various communities and neighborhood associations banded together as well to protect their homes and businesses against the jackals that wanted to take what they wanted. Occasionally, fighting between different groups broke out on the streets, and Ves often had to take a detour if he didn't want his aircar to be hit by a stray projectile.
After a long time of very slow and very cautious flight, his aircar finally left the slums and entered into the city proper. The residential areas he flew over seemed more orderly and cleaner, though the area hadn't completely escaped the anarchy that gripped the planet.
A lot less random thugs prowled the streets, but in their stead Ves spotted far more organized gangs sporting much better gear. Ves needed to rely more and more on his stealth systems to get by, but that didn't help much when someone spotted his aircar flying by with the naked eye.
"Aircar! Touch down immediately or be fired upon!"
"Yeah, no thanks!"
Ves responded by maxing out his propulsion. The aircar quickly lurched forward with a hail of lasers and projectiles peppering his wake.
The only problem with moving so fast was that his aircar's stealth systems became ineffective. Other gangs in the aircar's path detected the vehicle flying above their turf and responded with violence.
Due to its flimsy construction, the aircar couldn't withstand too much damage. Its bottom became increasingly scarred as long-ranged infantry fire occasionally scored a lucky hit.
Ves watched with distress as the integrity of the aircar declined at a rapid tempo.
"Damn these thugs! Don't they have better things to do than shooting an aircar out of the sky?"
No one traveled in the air during times of turmoil. It was too easy to be mistaken as an enemy, and flying a vehicle above the heads of others had a tendency of making most of them uncomfortable.
Flying in the air also happened to be a bad idea because any vehicle that flew above the cityline would be horribly exposed to fire.
After a small missile hit the rear of his aircar, Ves cursed again and lowered the altitude of his car. He didn't like travelling so low through the streets, but it would at least cut off the line of sight of attackers from the neighboring streets.
Unfortunately, lowering his altitude also exposed him to the armed people in his path. As the car accumulated more damage, its stealth systems became increasingly less effective.
"It's an aircar! Shoot it down!"
Flying through the latest barrage of fire directed in its way caused the car to finally reach its limit. An important antigrav module lost power, causing the vehicle to be unable to keep it aloft. Ves desperately controlled the aircar's descent into a controlled crash.
The aircar hit the street with a firm thud and slid forward with whatever forward momentum it had left. Once the battered vehicle stopped its slide, a door banged open and an armored figure jumped out.
"Someone came out!"
More than two-dozen gang members approached his position. Unlike the lowlives Ves had encountered before, this gang exhibited much more coordination. They spread out and tried to encircle his position before assaulting him from several directions at once.
Ves considered his options, but found no better option than fighting his way out. He patted his light combat armor. Though it was made of fairly low-class materials, it still beat anything else the gang members used as armor.
He also possessed the Amastendira, which proved to be a decisive edge against his assailants.
Ves hid behind the wreckage of his aircar and shot at each exposed gang member. Though he missed more than he liked, many of his targets met their end when he simply readjusted his faulty aim with the beam still on. This made it incredibly easy for him to take out the opposition.
As he explicitly targeted anyone that seemed to be the leaders, Ves only killed five of them before they broke. The Amastendira's powerful capabilities completely intimidated the survivors, especially since Ves proved that even cover offered little protection against its powerful beams.
Still, routing the criminals came at a significant cost. The Amastendira only retained half a charge, and needed a lot of time to recharge by itself. "I can't afford to get dragged into another fight."
Besides, his light combat armor wasn't invincible either. Ves aimed to fabricate the stealthiest mechs with the resources at hand, and similar to designing mechs, Ves needed to make a lot of painful tradeoffs. Thick armor didn't mesh well with stealth.
"I've got to gear up again." Ves concluded as he studied the map projected by his helmet. He downloaded a map of Neron City from the galactic net, but it didn't help him out too much because it didn't depict the territories owned by the different gangs that held sway on the streets.
He eventually found a mid-sized mech workshop a few kilometers down the road to the center of the city. This workshop was much larger than the shabby excuses he had used last time. A better workshop would certainly contain better machines and resources. He already started to salivate at the thought of what he could fabricate with all of those goodies.
He sighed. "It's going to be tough getting past these stupid gangs."
Nevertheless, he decided to go forth, because he wouldn't be able to last forever on foot. He engaged his backpack module's stealth systems, which due to the lack of quality materials didn't do much but block long-range scans. It didn't make him invisible and neither did it block anything powerful, but at the very least nobody seemed to be hunting him down.
As Ves slowly took to the side streets and avoided every possible contact his combat suit's sensors detected up ahead, he also took in the sights.
A storm had already swept through some of the streets he passed. Currently, he made his way through a residential district comprised of apartment blocks, and some of them had been burned or emptied out already. Others seemed to hide a lot of scared and frightened Vesians. A few of them even peeked out their windows before drawing back their heads at the sight of an armored figure.
"Help! Help!" A woman screamed as a laughing group of people in gang colors dragged out several families from an upscale apartment block.
Men, women, girls and boys got beaten and lurched around as several gang members stormed their apartments and took out anything that seemed valuable.
Others had other intentions in mind. They gazed at their prisoners with depraved expressions.
"Hahahaha! First dibs on me!"
"Unhand me, you brute! I am the secretary of the Ailmont Carrie, the personal dog trainer of Lord Javier himself! When Mr. Carrie and our Lord finds out about this, there won't be any corner in the galaxy that can keep you safe!"
A few gang members faltered in their revelry at those words. Although she didn't occupy a very high position, her connections alone elevated her to a completely different class than the rest.
"What are you scared about?!" One gang member yelled at his comrades. "Lord Javier is a goner soon! This is our chance!"
"Yeah! This hag has been strutting around with her nose pointed at the sky for far too long now! It's time she gets what is coming for her!"
"No! Mr. Carrie won't forgive you for this!"
It was obvious what the gang members intended for their captives. Ves quietly shook his head under his helmet and took a very wide detour around the congregating gang members. As much as his decency urged him to come to the rescue of innocents, he held no obligation to defend Vesian citizens.
They were still his enemy, after all. In fact, he should be glad to see Vesians turning against themselves. Ves would rather see them turn to infighting than to face a united front that maintained complete control over their own territory.
Thus, even as children screamed and men got shot, Ves closed his ears to the increasingly desperate pleas for help until he escaped far away for them to fade in the wind.
Ves encountered a few more incidents like this, mostly by gangs that got pushed out of the richer business streets that held the best loot. Unable to rob the best sites, they settled for the fancy homes occupied by higher-class commoners. While most were mainly out for goods like jewelry and luxury goods, others just wanted to get their hands on the people they formerly considered untouchable.
In short, a lot of disgraceful things happened in the apartment buildings he snuck past. The only good thing about it was that the more these kinds of things happened, the fewer people would be on the streets.
In this way, Ves managed to cross a fair distance as the twin suns reached high above the sky. Once he reached the end of the latest residential district in his way, a signal suddenly crackled from his military comm.
"Mr. Larkinson?" An clipped female voice spoke. "Please respond."
Ves frowned and made his way towards an alleyway before responding through his combat suit's communicator.
"Who is this?"
"My name is Lieutenant Burke. I am the former communications officer of the Rising Apple. Please check your comm, I've sent proof of my credentials."
The comm issued to him by the Flagrant Vandals couldn't perform a lot of functions, but it did do a few things fairly well. One of the core functions in his military comm was to verify the identities of any Vandal. His comm only took an instant to verify Lieutenant Burke's identity.
While it was possible that the woman who spoke over the comm had hacked the Vandal verification system, Ves thought it was unlikely for anyone to have done so. The Flagrant Vandals wouldn't utilize this system if it could be hacked so easily.
"I believe you, lieutenant. What would you have me do?"
"We are in the process of rallying every survivor of the Stubby Growler and the Rising Apple that made it into Neron City. We could desperate use the help of a mech designer."
"Did you get your hands on some Vesian mechs?"
"Yes, but we are unable to penetrate their systems and get them to work for us. We need your help to unlock these mechs."
Ves closed his eyes. If they had trouble bypassing the security measures of the Vesian mechs, then Alloc probably wasn't among their ranks. The Journeyman Mech Designer was a wizard with anything related to software, which meant he could be a scary hacker as well.
Hopefully he made it through the Stubby Growler's destruction.
Ves opened his eyes and nodded. "If you need my help, my services are at your group's disposal."
"That's great! We've fixed your location through your comm. Stay put. We'll be sending a retrieval party after you, ETA twenty minutes. If you're spotted and under attack, please let us know. Out."
"Will do, lieutenant."
As Ves closed the channel, he felt a little mixed at the unexpected contact. He hadn't expected to get in touch with the Vandals so soon, and certainly not with other survivors of the combat carriers that succumbed to the Vesian missile attack.
"Still, there's safety in numbers. I'm no commando. I can barely sneak my way past apartment blocks. It's going to be ten times worse once I reach the downtown area."