"Damnit, Venerable Foster has already promoted to mech major?!"
She rose too quickly!
Virtual Commander Dislan already sent him a message demanding him to drop by the Mech Department to appraise the Belisarius that they just received. While Ves believed that he might be able to play some small tricks there, he couldn't do anything too drastic because the AIs weren't that blind.
The virtual officers must have already recognized what a supreme example of mech design they managed to get their hands on. While all the Rorach's Bone only provoked a minor amount of interest, the true value in the expert mech lay in its exquisite, advanced design and engineering.
Studying over three-hundred years of advancements in mech design would surely allow the Starlight Megalodon's knowledge base to advance by leaps and bounds!
"Major Foster is probably the darling of the Mech Department now. I'd be a fool to enter her territory."
Ves decided outright that he would never step foot in the Mech Department again. He sent a polite rejection to Virtual Commander Dislan, using the excuse that he was performing extremely vital research and couldn't be pulled away for the next couple of months.
If Virtual Commander Dislan had any objections, he could take it up with Virtual Commander Cosit.
"Hehe. There's no way Cosit will ever let go of a merit printing machine like me. He'll cling to me like a rotten tooth." He grinned as he sent the message over the internal network.
Naturally, Ves knew that he burned his bridges with Dislan and the Mech Department as soon as he did so. Yet did he have any choice?
"Besides, according to the regulations, it's nothing unusual for a mech designer to be engrossed in a research project and not show up for some time."
As a Senior Mech Designer, Ves received more autonomy and room to decide his own schedule. Some problems became much easier to solve when reaching a higher rank.
During the past few days, he also fleshed out his research proposal meant to put the Flagrant Swordmaidens under his protection. He meticulously dug into the records to see what kind of projects appealed to the CFA and by extension the AIs and tailored his latest project for maximum appeal.
He decided to center his research project and Qilanxo and the beast rider neural interface due to his relative familiarity with both. While he suspected sure that Qilanxo and the god species was a product of Project Icarus, it was so heavily classified that Virtual Commander Cosit might not even be aware of the details!
Ves saw an opportunity to exploit this fault by submitting Qilanxo and the beast rider neural interface as a new research project! If he truly guessed right, Virtual Commander Cosit wouldn't even realize that the new project was completely redundant!
After he finalized the research proposal by stuffing it full of irrelevant jargon and barely legible scientific nonsense, he brought it over to Virtual Commander Cosit's office.
[I would have thought you'd spend your efforts on completing our current research projects before embarking on a new one, Mr. Longhorn.] Cosit frowned as her processors worked at full tilt in an attempt to figure out what the research project actually attempted to do.
Good luck with that.
"I see an opportunity to transform our entire understanding mechs by studying and breaking this extraordinary instance of mech pilots interfacing with exobeasts! Deciphering the mechanics behind this connection will allow us to revolutionize our ability to bring man and machine closer together!"
[What is it that you actually intend to achieve?]
"Why, to turn exobeasts into machines, and machines into exobeasts! The intricate man-beast connection shares many similarities to the man-machine connection that underpins the heart of mech operation. What if we can mix them together and form a beast-machine connection? Just think of the possibilities of mechs piloted by exobeasts! Such a transformational paradigm shift will lessen our dependence on human pilots and save trillions of precious humans lives!"
[Your research proposal doesn't mention how a beast-machine connection would even be capable of following our instructions.] Cosit scratched her head in confusion.
"Well, ma'am, it's like this…"
After half an hour of talking nonsense, Ves managed to wear down Cosit's circuits to the point where she completely lost the thread of the conversation.
Ves knew that Virtual Commander Cosit was not a research AI and did not possess the ability to evaluate research projects all by herself. It was exactly her her lack of research capabilities that she came to lead the Research Department, because every other virtual researcher became shackled by so many restrictions that they couldn't even say hello or something!
[Fine!] Cosit metaphorically threw up her hands! [I'll approve your damn research project! I'll assign it a lab and classify it high enough that no one will disturb you as you've requested. I see that this is also a joint research project involving Exobiology Research Sub-Department. Have you even asked them whether they want to jump in on this project of ours?]
"Virtual Exobiologist Neeran will be happy to collaborate with me on behalf of Exobiology." Ves answered without worry. "Please make sure to accommodate all the 'test subjects' that I intend to bring."
[Very well. I will take care of the paperwork.] Cosit said sardonically.
"Is there any way to convert any possible test subjects into CFA servicemembers without running them through the recruitment tests?"
This took Cosit aback. [Why would you contemplate such an option?]
"Errr.. to incentivize the test subjects to cooperate with my research. While I can always force them to play along, it's much easier if I obtain their willing cooperation. Humans don't tend to behave very well when they are slaves, you know. They will work much harder if they think they are free, but I'll need your help in that because they aren't good enough to pass the recruitment tests." Ves explained with a wink.
[You make a good point, Mr. Longhorn. It is difficult to circumvent the recruitment test, or we would have already arranged something like that many years ago. However, while virtual officers such as myself are limited in how we can exert our authority, you humans face fewer limits. It is within my power to grant you the power to press gang any humans in our custody, but… this has always been an extreme solution to the CFA. The other virtual officers will not like it if I let you obtain this power.]
Ves smirked at Cosit. "Oh, come on. I've given you so much help ever since I joined the Research Department. I can make it worth your while…"
They hashed out a quick agreement regarding this issue. It was very trivial for Ves to bribe the virtual commander with a small pile of merits, ostensibly to placate the protests of the other virtual officers.
Now that Ves obtained everything he wanted from his superior, he made to leave. Before that, Cosit asked one more question.
[By the way, how do you want to call your new research project?]
"Hmm… let's call it Project Unfathomable."
[Why call it that?]
"Because it is unfathomable to everyone except for me." Ves grinned.
Virtual Commander Cosit moved quickly, which made sense since she wasn't a slow and inefficient human. A large and roomy lab deep into the restricted section of the Research Department quickly became the new home of Project Unfathomable.
Ves became the project lead while Virtual Exobiologist Neeran became the co-lead. Nonetheless, the latter expressed no interest in spending time on this nonsense research project.
[I don't know what Cosit was thinking when she approved your ridiculous proposal, but I don't want any part of it.] The exobiologist said over the comm. [Besides, I'm unable to perform any original research on my own initiative, so I will not be able to help anyway.]
"That's fine. I merely wanted to add your name to the project to lend it some legitimacy and prevent others from dipping their fingers into it. Joint research projects are much better protected and face much less scrutiny." He replied before closing his comm.
As soon as Ves entered his new lab and set the project up, he began to command the Starlight Megalodon to retrieve his 'test subjects'.
The battleship activated her tractor beams in quick succession, dragging over every single Vandal and Swordmaidens that Ves could find on the overview. He also designated Qilanxo as a priority test subject, causing the big exobeast to abruptly wake from her hibernation as her huge body began to float in the air!
Fortunately, the Starlight Megalodon's huge size and volume provided just enough room to accommodate the sacred god. She was currently holed up in a large cell that nonetheless seemed rather cramped to a big exobeast and roared out in alarm.
"Hoh, there, Qilanxo! It's me, remember!" Ves said when he arrived in front of her cell. "This is just temporary. You'll get out of the cell soon enough. I'll make sure the lab will provide you with food and water to tide you over."
While Qilanxo still roared with alarm, she slowly calmed down when she realized nothing would change. The cell was so strong that it could easily endure her stomping and clawing.
Besides, hearing that she would get to eat and drink for the first time in weeks must have been a relief to her. One of the biggest faults of the safe zone was that it didn't offer any large-scale food sources. The sparse plants the bots from the Starlight Megalodon hadn't bothered to uproot wouldn't be able to feed such a huge and voracious carnivore.
It was a good thing the Starlight Megalodon still possessed the ability to cultivate artificial meat.
"It's a shame Qilanxo and the two breakdown-proof mechs from our side never found an opportunity to prove their worth in battle in the red zone."
Events grew wildly out of his expectation. The Enduring Protectors that Ves poured his heart and soul into designing now collected dust and rust inside the safe zone.
"It's a shame, but it's also a relief." He sighed. He would hate to see them in battle against a cheat mech like the Belisarius.
This was also an inevitable part of being a mech designer. Some mech designs never saw the light or day, or only saw very little use due to circumstances completely outside of the control of the person who developed them with the best intentions.
A mech existed to do battle, but many mechs and mech designs never actually stepped foot on the battlefield. Some mechs mainly served as a powerful deterrence and their mere threat cowed every enemy that laid their eyes on them into avoiding a fight.
Despite never actually battling, these mechs nonetheless fulfilled their primary purpose of advancing the interests of their owners. It was better to win a battle without a fight.
It was too bad the same didn't apply to his third original mech design. A profound sense of disappointment wracked his spirit when he realized the Enduring Protector would never be able to justify its existence in battle.
Nonetheless, Ves needed to move on. Plans might have changed, but the mission remained.
As he approached the cells containing his human 'test subjects', he narrowed his eyes.
"It's time they spill the beans on what they are after. They can't ignore me this time."
He long wondered why the Flagrant Vandals suddenly split in half at the Detemen System and went their separate ways. While the more valuable ships and mechs sneaked their way back to the Bright Republic, the Verle Task Force where Ves happened to be stationed at randomly traveled to the Reinald Republic before being sent knee-deep into the frontier!
All the time, Ves felt as if he was a passenger aboard an out-of-control shuttle crashing slowly into the ground from high orbit. The lack of control truly frustrated him, but now that he became a Senior Mech Designer in the battleship's hierarchy, Ves was no longer content with knowing nothing.
"They better cough up the truth this time."