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Chapter 558: Red Widow’s Iron Curtain

    Chapter 558: Red Widow's Iron Curtain

    Su Xiaosu tapped the table before her. Immediately, a three-dimensional image sprang to life in front of them. It was their primary base, on the rock they called Arachnid behind the asteroid belt.

    "Arachnid's planetary defenses are all-inclusive. Thanks to its asteroids, they have a considerable system of attack and defense established. If we go after one of the outlying bases, we'll have to contend with the defenses and reinforcements from the other asteroids. If we go after their main base, the considerations are the same. This deterrent is what has kept the Red Widows safe. There's no way to approach them."

    Su Xiaosu's eyes were trained on the image as she spoke. She spread her hands, and the image enhanced.

    "So, you have to overwhelm them with superior firepower. All four brigades could launch attacks on all four targets at once. If we can prevent the outlying bases from recovering, then our task is half done. Our intelligence says the Red Widows are three thousand men strong, with a thousand fully equipped mecha suits. Their fleet is spread through the bases, but their mecha are all on the main asteroid. Clearly their strategists are smart."

    The Driver chimed in, brows scrunched tightly together. "We've only got two ships, how are we going to fly four missions? Also if we don't destroy the planetary defenses first thing, we're likely to face casualties. The kind of firepower that things has, mecha suits won't stand a chance. We'll be routed."

    Xiaosu met his question with a mysterious grin. "You're right, so the perfect plan isn't available to us. We'll have to resort to more drastic measures. We solve the little problems first, then we deal with the rest." She pointedly indicated the largest asteroid, where the main base sat.

    "Relatively speaking, our biggest concern is the planetary defense system. Majesty and Zeus-1 are fine, but if our mechs join in the fray we won't be able to avoid losses. What we need to solve then, is that particular menace.

    "According to what I've been able to find out, the Red Widow Clan's defenses are almost perfect. With their resources, no one could do it better. Their defenses are equipped with an electromagnetic field. That means that the Blinding Stone's effects won't help us once we get past the atmosphere. They'll see it right away and engage their planetary defenses."

    The Coffee Master looked flustered. "And the pirates themselves? What are they doing hiding beneath their tortoise shell?"

    Xu Xiaosu laughed. "Preparing to deal clean up when it comes to people like us, out to clean house! I can't imagine how many pirate clans have been repelled by their defenses. So this is what we have to do..."

    As they listened to her plan, the leaders of the Star Division each nodded in understanding. Cruel smiles spread across their lips.

    ζ

    The Arachnid Asteroid Cluster.

    One of the four enormous rocks spun quietly through space. It was mineral-rich, but hostile to life. Still, the Red Widow pirates paid a lot to have a base erected on the unforgiving surface. More than a few thousand souls occupied the planet now, along with a battleship and five smaller ships.

    The Red Widow commander was a cautious man. While they were creating this place he was often prone to outbursts of anger. He was a strong man in his own right, but feared keeping this miscreants in their proper place. As time progressed the pirates came to understand that his caution kept them alive.

    They didn't go out to plunder often, but chose their targets well. They would leave for a few days only to come back with ships heavy from plunder. They would hit hard and disappear.

    No one knew the history of the Red Widow's origins. There were whispers that they had their start in the Northern military. After some misconduct a group of them left before being court marshalled. At first they didn't do very much looting, and used what they did gather to establish their pirate clan.

    Ten years later, they were already among the strongest clans in the Shattered Starfields. The Red Widow himself earned the love and respect of his people. They were given hot food, good drink and a life, they couldn't ask for much more than that. Ever since, their numbers have grown.

    Now, all of the Arachnid asteroids' stores were full of riches, especially food. They were able to get a portion of that from their surroundings, but they were pirates. There weren't many here with agricultural know-how. A lot of it had to be bought from elsewhere.

    Pirates were a greedy bunch, but they were also wise. There were always merchants willing to trade with the clans in exchange for 'protection.' Cheap food and drink from the Alliances would find its way out here and suddenly become invaluable. The Shattered Starfields were also rich in resources, which they used to trade. The desperate drive for riches made people take risks they normally wouldn't.

    All of the pirate clans in the Starfields built supply lines like this, and the Red Widows were no exception. It took a lot of food and drink to keep things running, and they were getting more people every day. They had people coming constantly to resupply.

    They didn't bring any of these resources right to the main asteroid for security reasons. Policy was that anything they off-planet had to go through the three surroundings asteroids, first. From there, the Red Widow's own people brought it to the main base. Outsiders were strictly prohibited from entering, otherwise they would have to face down the planetary defense.

    Su Xiaosu's intelligence showed that the Red Widow clan had a wealth of battle experience. How else did they get enough capital to purchase a defensive system like this?

    Arachnid-3 - one of the asteroids - was under the command of Mai Ken. He'd been at the Red Widow's side from the beginning, and had become the pirate leader's right-hand man. The Red Widow was a suspicious man, and there were only a handful of people among his crew that he trusted.

    Mai Ken was the commander of Arachnid-3, and also the captain of the battleship stationed there. The position was awarded to him by the Red Widow. He was precise, and disciplined. He didn't inundate himself with women or alcohol, and performed all of his duties fastidiously.

    "What's the world on the recent resupply," Mai Ken asked one of his subordinates.

    "Checks are completed, boss. No problems found. Who would dare try and poison the Red Widows?! I don't understand why we have to check every shipload." The pirate chortled in self-confidence. Although they didn't agree with what they saw as unnecessary caution, they followed orders. At Mai Ken's request, they checked again.

    After everything was in order, Mai Ken nodded. He allowed their transport to the main base.

    Pirates didn't use transport ships - they were cumbersome, a liability. Instead they used their battleships, which were much faster and capable of defending themselves against pillagers. The Red Widows were no different, though they used a blacked out patrol ship with a red widow painted on its side. Half an hour after the goods were checked, the ship was on its way to the main base.

    The clan had a protocol for checks, to make sure that enemy didn't sneak in. For instance, the pilot was expected to remain a specific, constant speed. Any deviation in the prescribed plan gave enemies away. They were very particular about their safety.

    A series of checks and passwords allowed the ship to traverse the space between asteroids in peace. They moved slowly through the dark with a skeleton crew of engineers. It only took five people to fly a ship of this size. Most crewmen were stations on the main base.

    It was a process, but the pirates were used to it now. They recognized the need for Red Widow's caution and embraced it.

    Lan Jue sat in the pitch-blackness, with a resigned look on his face. He was the crux of Xiaosu's plan because he was the only one who could infiltrate the main base unseen. It wasn't her preferred method, because sending a single soul into the tiger's den was irresponsibly dangerous.

    But after Lan Jue broadened his understanding and joined with the sword, everyone looked at him differently. So, when Xiaosu offered up the idea they unanimously agreed. Lan Jue didn't have any say in the matter. After his flashy display, he could only say, he played himself.

    Really, Xiaosu's reasons were sound. Lan Jue going in alone was the best way to avoid casualties. Only he could sneak in and open the door.

    Not long after, much to his dismay, Lan Jue found himself crouched in the belly of a pirate ship.

    Even sneaking aboard had been somewhat of a chore. Although Lan Jue was capable of spaceflight at his level of cultivation, he still needed a mecha. Without one he would have to expend a great deal of energy. After all, he wasn't a Paragon. Yet.
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