Fearing a trap or a plot on his life, Ves resisted his immediate impulses to make some preparations.
He first put the Scarlet Rose on red alert and locked down all of the compartments and corridors. If some kind of infiltrator left the escape pod and skulked across his ship, then locking all of the spaces should pose a significant hindrance to the sneaky bastard!
Second, he withdrew all of the bots from the affected areas and ordered most of them to remain dormant and in place.
If any bots still moved during this time, then that was a very clear sign that someone managed to subvert a part of the Scarlet Rose!
Third, he withdrew to his quarters in order to don his second-hand combat armor. With a solid layer of armor protecting him from outside threats, Ves felt a lot more secure about confronting any potential intruders!
He armed himself with the triple-type heavy assault rifle while slotting the compact laser pistol in a dedicated holster.
Aside from that, he also checked his other gear, which encompassed various gadgets ranging from a jamming device to a multiscanner.
Only after he prepared his full loadout did Ves feel secure in investing the mysterious intrusion.
"Alright, let's go, Lucky."
With Lucky in tow, they descended from the upper decks and approached the suspicious compartment.
Before Ves reached the entrance to the escape compartment, he halted a fair distance away.
Having learned his previous lesson, Ves no longer dared to act as a vanguard.
Who knew if the escape pod was a missile in disguise? Wouldn't Ves be making the exact same mistake as last time if he entered a compartment which was filled with unknowns?
"Stay on guard." Ves spoke and summoned up an interface from his combat armor's wrist. "We should scout the situation first."
He summoned a random scanning bot used for routine inspections from a nearby maintenance compartment. After it arrived in front of the entrance, Ves ordered the hatch to open long enough to allow the bot to enter.
Once inside, Ves switched his view to the sensor bot's optical vision.
After issuing an order, the bot did not immediately approach the strange escape pod. Instead, he instructed it to scan every corner of the compartment, from its escape pods to the sensors that made up the monitoring system.
He wanted to find out if the hardware had been tampered with. As long as Ves discovered anything suspicious, then he'd be able to confirm that someone hostile had been messing with his ship!
Surprisingly, Ves encountered nothing amiss.
It was as if the sensors and alert systems hadn't been touched at all!
Nothing else had been touched as well. The bot found no holes cut into the bulkheads, no breaches in the other escape pods, no radioactive particles or other traces that signified that something in space had intruded in the compartment.
This was actually the weirdest observation of all. How could all of the customary traces of space exposure be absent, especially when a foreign escape pod somehow managed to sneak into this compartment?
"What is going on?" Ves asked in puzzlement.
Many of his paranoid suspicions turned out to be a bust if the scanning bot's results could be trusted.
Had the scanning bot been fooled? Was his mystery opponent more formidable than anything he had imagined?
Whatever the case, Ves guessed that the answer lay in the peculiar escape pod.
When Ves directed the bot to approach the escape pod, the feed suddenly cut off.
He blinked at the interface as if he expected the feed to restore.
Yet as several seconds passed, the scanning bot didn't resume its transmission!
Had it gone on a strike or something?
Ves furrowed his brows and switched the feed. When Ves watched what took place from the footage recorded by the monitoring system, he observed the scanning bot had shut off and crashed against the deck.
This inexplicable malfunction instantly doubled his apprehension!
If the earlier signs had succeeded in stoking his suspicions, then this latest occurrence definitely proved that something was wrong!
Ves knew that all kinds of strange and inexplicable technology existed. Ves had witnessed all manner of technological wonders that could result in such a strange escape pod appearing out of nowhere.
He even experienced many strange sights related to spirituality. From surviving an encounter with an assassin with spiritual potential to dealing with all of the strangeness of the Temple of Haaatumak, Ves did not rule out that some spiritual shenanigans might be at work.
Yet Ves did not take these possibilities too seriously. If he set aside all of these unrealistic and low-probability scenarios, then the simplest explanation was that the escape pod simply managed to infiltrate the Scarlet Rose by exploiting her backdoors.
Though Ves had made a lot of progress in closing all of these backdoors, he was under no illusion that he addressed all of them. Even if Calabast sent him a lot of supplementary data that pointed out these vulnerabilities, was it truly complete?
"Evidently not." Ves grimaced. "This is getting more and more precarious."
While he was tempted to dispatch another bot, he began to run out of patience. What if he tipped the escape pod off? What if he triggered some kind trap?
Ves decided to throw some of his caution to the wind. He turned his attention to Lucky.
"Go in and investigate the escape pod in the center."
"Go do something useful for once and scout the escape pod!"
"Meow meow meow!"
"Don't jerk me around! You've been eating so many exotics that your debt has only increased! The least you can do is to see what's wrong!"
After a bit of arguing, Ves managed to browbeat his pet into entering the escape compartment.
Lucky reluctantly flew towards the compartment and phased through the hatch. After entering the area in question, he did not let go of his intangible state.
With utmost care, Lucky floated closer and closer while exhibiting a lot of vigilance.
When the gem cat passed by the place the scanning bot malfunctioned, nothing strange occurred.
It seemed that Lucky appeared to be immune to the effect that downed the scanning bot.
"Good." Ves sighed.
Whether it was due to Lucky's intangible state or his extremely strong resistance against hacking, as long as he remained functional, he could probably get close to the escape pod.
"Lucky, transmit a feed of your vision to the ship."
His cat did as instructed and the view of his projection changed.
The moment Lucky came within touching distance of the escape pod, the cat paused for a moment.
"It looks kind of.. old."
The escape pod looked as if it had been floating in space for at least a couple of decades.
Its surface was worn and pitted by a combination of damaging radiation and micro impacts.
None of the damage breached the inner chamber of the escape pod. However, some of the scarring did appear to have affected some of the components responsible to keep the pod functioning.
What was clear though was that this pod was likely very old!
"The model is unfamiliar as well."
Ves tried to find a match of its model in the Scarlet Rose's internal database. Sadly, his search did not produce any matches despite the countless different models it stored in its archives.
This basically ruled out that the escape pod was built by the Friday Coalition.
Yet that only confused him even further.
"If it's not from the Friday Coalition, then how can it access the backdoors of my ship?"
Did he guess wrong? Did the escape pod sneak onto his ship using other methods?
His doubts continued to grow along with the questions in his mind.
An inexplicable sense of fear grew within his heart as he began to contemplate various frightening possibilities.
"What is wrong with this escape pod?!"
After a bit of observation, Lucky finally gathered the courage to touch the surface of the escape pod. He reached out with a paw and materialized it long enough to bump the surface.
Nothing happened. No bomb exploded. No commando jumped out of the pod.
Lucky grew a little more courageous when he found out that no threat was forthcoming. After a bit of sniffing, he took advantage of his intangibility to dive into the escape pod.
The feed temporarily darkened before showing off a screaming face!
Ves practically jumped in his combat armor as Lucky panicked and floated out of the escape pod!
"What the hell?!"
Lucky zipped out of the compartment and returned to Ves and clung on the surface of his armor!
"Meow meow meow!"
Ves ignored his panicked cat and his own distress in order to rewind the footage. The moment he locked the frame which displayed the screaming face, Lucky jumped again!
"Stop being a scaredy cat, Lucky! How can you even be afraid of this sight?!"
The moment Ves repressed his primordial instincts, he finally saw the truth of what was locked inside.
"It's just a dead body!"
The escape pod contained the body of a dead woman, one who was wearing nothing but a worn-out vacsuit whose markings and identifiers had faded due to some erosion that shouldn't be happening.
In fact, the wear and tear on the vacsuit contrasted remarkably with the condition of the body, which had completely dried up and turned dark! The mummified state of the body made it seem as if the escape pod had actually been used as a coffin!
Yet if this was true, why did this coffin sneak aboard his ship?
"If it's an honorable space burial, then it should have been hurled into a star. If it's a less-than-honorable burial, then it should have been flung into the nothingness of interstellar space."
Anything thrown into the void of space between star systems should have been floating for millions years before ending up in another star system!
The aging of the mummified corpse and the escape pod did not suggest that they spent entire eons in space!
Ves was no forensic scientist, but as someone who worked with mechs, he could glean several clues from the appearance of the escape pod.
First, while its model, manufacturer and origin was still in question, the standards governing escape pods mostly remained the same barring some minor updates.
Ves happened to know some of these changes. When Ves inspected the damaged and pitted surface of the escape pod, he found out some outdated implementations that had been phased out in modern escape pod models.
"Some of these modules stopped showing up around 150 years ago."
That meant that if this escape pod wasn't some kind of historical reproduction, it might be around this age!
Yet how could this be?! Any escape pod that lingered in space for some time should have been picked up by rescuers or flown off in the middle of nowhere!
Ves had never heard of instances where escape pods casually lingered in space for at least a century before automatically entering ship while its occupant was long dead!
"What is even going on?!"
A complication like this was the last thing Ves wanted to deal with! He had the feeling that the arrival of this escape pod heralded something very significant!
"This isn't the time for me to indulge in mysteries!"
The rational part of him wanted to minimize any unexpected incidents that did not facilitate his escape.
The chances that this mystery escape pod would aid him was extremely small. There was nothing about this strange occurrence that signified that it was meant to aid his escape!
Yet.. another part of him grew curious. What was the secret behind this escape pod? What was the story of the mummified corpse? Why did the escape pod choose to enter the Scarlet Rose? Did it even have a choice at all, or did some outside influence manipulate its entry onto his ship?
Ves needed answers, and it seemed that he had no choice but to investigate in person!