Xenosaga fic continues with Der Wanderer und Sein Schatten, Chapter 1, Part 4. As before, prior knowledge of the XS series is probably not required to follow this, but there are allusions you may miss. Plus, possible spoilers.
Since somebody’s going to ask: Steel is good at withstanding kinetic impacts from projectiles, and the honeycomb cross-section makes it more cost- and weight-efficient, lead blocks high-frequency radiation as from a nuclear blast or gamma laser, when ice is hit by a visible-range or lower laser weapon it turns into an expanding cloud of shiny particles that reflect and diffract the laser, plus it’s an excellent heat sink, and paraffin wax is the most cost-efficient way to absorb hard radiation from a nuclear blast. The hull underneath all this is probably aluminum or something similarly light and strong.
That just left the cruiser. No longer needing to worry about its mecha, Seth swooped in close, barely dodging a lethal blast from one of its particle beams. Too close to the ship’s hull for its weapons to fire on him, he skimmed rapidly over the surface until he came to one of the points where the transport’s defenses had burned away most of the armor, leaving a jagged pit four feet deep, lined with alternating inch-thick layers of honeycomb steel, lead, ice, and wax.
Seth stopped, and swiftly detached his remaining missile pod. Quickly, he wedged it into the corner of the hole in the armor plating, and then kicked off, flying straight through the ship’s engine exhaust.
“Boom,” he said, and triggered the pod. A multitude of explosions tore through the hull and into the primary sensor integrator, scrambling the pirates’ fire control. It’d only take them a few minutes to recover, but those would be a few minutes in which Seth could grab the cargo they were trying to steal from right under their noses.
Seth zipped toward the transport. “How’s it going in there, guys?” he asked.
“We ran into some borders in the aft cargo hold,” Vix reported. “We’ve got them pinned down, but a couple fled fore before we could stop them. We’re worried they left some AMWS up there.”
“Roger. I’ll come in from the fore end, see if I can cut them off before they get their AMWS up.” Seth redirected his flight to the fore cargo bay. Sure enough, the bay doors had been blown clear off. There were two AMWS units inside, powered down, and a third standing guard. Seth fired at one of the powered-down models, hoping to take it out before its pilot could get aboard, but he missed.
“Damn it!” he swore, as the guard turned to face him. “They’ve got a Swordsman?” The Swordsman series of AMWS were solidly built models designed for close-quarters combat against other AMWS. Unless he could lure it out of the bay, it would be more than a match for him in a fair fight.
Fortunately, Seth didn’t believe in fighting fair. He opened fire from outside the bay, and the Swordsman dove for cover. Keeping up fire, Seth swooped into the bay. Turning, he kept up fire, landing his AMWS at the far end of the bay. The Swordsman returned fire with its two small projectile launchers, but Seth ignored the shots. His armor could handle them. He was more worried about the Swordsman’s main weapons–and here they came!
Seth punched his engines, launching his AMWS back off the ground and toward the two deactivated AMWS units. Two ribbon-like projections, broad, flexible, and viciously sharp, slashed past, far too close to him as he rocketed across the floor. The Swordsman quickly retracted them to their usual position, curled over its shoulders, then attacked again. Quickly, Seth grabbed the inactive AMWS and cut his drive, spinning to throw them at the oncoming blades, then again turning to drive back out into space.
Behind him, a pair of explosions filled the cargo bay. “They won’t be getting any use out of those anytime soon!” he crowed. “How’re you guys doing in the aft cargo bay?”
“Just about done, captain!” Wehj chirruped.
“Good. Once you’ve confirmed the area’s secure, Vix, you dismount and inspect the cargo. Wehj, stand guard.” By the time he finished giving instructions, Seth reached the bay in his AMWS–like most ships, this one had both AMWS-sized hallways for moving cargo and human-sized for moving people–which had also had its doors blown off, rather less neatly. “Whew!” he whistled as he entered the bay. “Did you two make this mess?”
Humans, Realians, AMWS, and combat drones lay strewn across the floor of the large cargo bay, smashed, burned, and splattered. Smashed cargo containers, all empty, and pits and burns in the floor and walls gave testament to all the shots that had failed to find their targets.
“Vix thinks this is probably where the main party of boarders hit, and they hit the fore cargo bay just so they could move on foot down here and make a pincer,” Wehj explained.
“Looks about right,” Seth answered as he landed. Then his AMWS’ left leg collapsed under him. “Shit!”
The other two cried out in alarm as Seth collapsed. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m fine. Guess that Swordsman got me after all. I’m not getting any power to the left knee or below.” He double-checked the seal on his helmet, then popped the cockpit.
“Come on, Vix, let’s check out this cargo. That pirate ship might have more AMWS or drones in reserve, or they might decide to just blow us out of the sky.”
“Right, cap’n.” Vix dropped lithely from her own cockpit. “One of the cargo containers is armored. I saw a laser blast ping right off it during the fight.” She pointed. “It was over there.”
“You sure?” asked Seth.
“Absolutely. I knew as soon as I saw it take the hit that whatever was inside must be worth one hell of a fortune! Especially since every crate that cracked in the fight was empty.”
The two walked over to the crate. Seth whistled when he saw the monolithic steel-gray container. It was easily twice as tall as his AMWS. The corners were heavily reinforced and the whole thing was plated in ablative ceramics, not to mention locked into a pair of heavy floor clamps. “Nice,” he said. “If all the other crates are empty, that means whatever was in there was worth sending an entire transport for, surrounded with decoys and enough defenses to make a pocket cruiser sweat.” As he spoke, he pulled a small toolkit out of his flight suit pocket and knelt by the clamp controls, prying the access plate off to poke in their innards.
“No escorts, though. So whatever it was, they were either in a hurry, or didn’t want to be noticed. Either way, they’ll pay a ton to get it back.” Vix grinned ferally. With her narrow features and short-cropped hair, it made her a vision of an alternate humanity closer to snakes and wolves than apes, which wasn’t far from the truth.
“Man, they didn’t want anybody looking at it without their permission, either.” He moved a wire aside with a screwdriver. “Looks like this thing is linked up to the reactor core. If anybody blows the clamps or enters the wrong access code, the whole ship goes up.”
“Shee-it,” whistled Vix. “Careful in there, huh, boss? Blowing up is not on my to-do list today.”
“Hey, when am I not careful?”
“Remember Geryon 4?” asked Vix.
“Arkis 8, Boralla, Lesser Gremmil…”
“Don’t forget that thing with the maneuvering jets last week!” chimed in Wehj over their communicators.
“Right. And landing without even looking at your system warnings, what, five minutes ago?”
“Okay, okay! So maybe I’ve cut a corner here or there. I’ll be careful this time. I don’t want to blow up any more than you — oops.” Seth hastily stood and pocketed his tools as the clamps opened.
“What oops?” Wehj’s voice was panicky. “No oops. This is a no-oops zone!”
“It’s okay,” said Seth. “I just, kind of, accidentally triggered a backup self-destruct.”