de. ”

The mech officer proceeded to ramble a bit about how to select good leaders and how to deal with an absence of capable leaders.
Ves felt as if Major Verle wanted to vent but couldn ’t really let down his guard to anyone but him.
He particularly took note of the use of the word kinship.

The Skull Architect once mentioned several times that they were kindred.
For Major Verle to tie them together in a similar fashion with the word kinship meant that the man saw Ves as a person of the same vein.

Ves felt flattered, though he recognized that he would never have as good of a human touch as the likes of Major Verle or Chief Haine.
His failure to integrate with the Flagrant Vandals and his preference for delegation showed that Ves naturally gravitated to a more imperious style of leadership.

The pair reached the shuttle bay before he could contemplate the matter further, and Ves threw the issue of leadership out of his mind for the moment.
Right now, he looked forward to obtaining a close glimpse at the remains of a high-class sandman leader!

”Are you familiar with sandmen crystallizations, Mr.
Larkinson? ”

”I ’ve studied the sandmen before, sir. ” Ves nodded.
”The sandmen bodies consist of sandgrain-sized substances that are animated through an energy construct that is either the source or an effect of their consciousness.
When an individual sandman dies, the energy construct disappears but their physical bodies remain.
The lowest caste of sandmen often utilize literal grains of sand, hence their name, but the higher castes adopt higher-quality materials as their base.
Their leaders often blend a variety of precious exotics into a single solid crystal. ”

These crystallized remains are the only objects of value that we can retrieve from a sandman force.
Most of the time, the earnings from selling them won ’t compensate for the losses incurred by fighting the sandmen.
Fighting them is a thankless job. ”

The two finally reached the shuttle that had recently gone out to pick up the sandman admiral ’s crystallization.
Two security officers escorted a pair of exobiologists followed by a floating protective case.
The transparent sides of the case showed off a small, finger-sized crystal shaded in red.

This tiny crystal used to be the center of a governing intelligence of a spaceborn sandman fleet! Ves stared at the strangely reflective crystal with great fascination.
Though he sensed nothing spiritual or anything else that signified the crystal used to be alive, it nevertheless possessed an attractive luster that made for a great jewel.

To be honest, the red remains reminded him of Lucky ’s crystals.
Did they share the same properties?

”The sources I ’ve consulted never mention the use of these crystallization. ” Ves remarked as he stood up after having his fill of staring at the curiosity.
”All the articles only tell their readers that the CFA pay a good price for the intact crystallizations of the sandmen ruling castes. ”

”It ’s no surprise they do so. ” The male exobiologist garbed in a hazard suit replied.
”The sandmen ruling caste are born to lead.
They are more intelligent on their own and have the ability to strengthen their cognition by drawing upon the spare thinking capacity of their subjects.
You can say that they exhibit traits of both sentients and processors at the same time. ”

The other exobiologist, a woman, piped in as well.
”The reason why the CFA is eager to acquire the crystals while the MTA show no interest is because of one of their philosophical disagreements.
The Common Fleet Alliance mainly operate warships, which are huge, complex vessels that are run by huge crews.
However, these warships are far too large and complex to be directed by human crew alone.
By necessity, they rely highly on automation in order to help keep their ships running without relying on an excessive amount of spacers. ”

Ves frowned at that.
”What does that have to do with the sandmen? ”

”Well, a potential sandman leader has the ability to think similar to a human while possessing the ability to connect to as much hardware as possible to increase their raw capabilities.
Don ’t you think that makes for a great AI core? ”

”That ’s only a rumor. ” The male exobiologist retorted.
”I doubt that the mighty Common Fleet Alliance will deign to repurpose the remains of a marginal alien race as an AI core of all things.
Perhaps they are studying the crystallizations to advance their automation technology, but it ’s crazy to say that they are putting literal alien carcasses to use as the center of their operating systems! ”

Verle held out his armored hand, halting the argument between the two exobiologists.
”Inspect the crystallization for any lingering threats and learn what you can out of it.
Once you are done, stow the remains in our vault.
Don ’t scratch it.
We can still earn a decent amount of money once we pass it over to the CFA. ”

Once the exobiologists and their escorts brought their encased loot out of the shuttle bay, Ves and Major Verle returned all the way to his stateroom.
After they arrived, Ves activated his signal jammer before they began their long-awaited discussion.

”Alright, Mr.
Larkinson, enough dilly-dallying around.
Tell me what is going on with our good expert pilot.
His insubordination is far outside the pale.
According to the personality profiles my men have constructed, Venerable Xie would never dare to disobey a direct order from the Fourth Prince.
Are the changes working or not? ”

”I don ’t know. ” Ves simply replied.
”I ’m not a neuroscientist or a psychologist.
My expertise lies in mechs.
I think you are able to tell me more about mech pilots than myself.
All I can say is that according to the telemetry I ’ve observed from the Parallax Star in action, the changes I ’ve made should have caught on.
Venerable Xie may not have lost his loyalty to the Fourth Prince, but his newfound adoration for the Flagrant Vandals should have surpassed his prior feelings. ”

This was the most insidious part about the code that Ves had cribbed from Farund Inc.
The company ’s much-maligned programming enabled them to subvert their victims with almost no resistance!

It should have worked perfectly if Ves understood the entire code and copied more than a couple of fragments, but alas he didn ’t have the time or capability to do so.
His haste and sloppiness in the implementation had bitten him back this time!

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