”To be honest, we made it here after being rescued by a third party. ”

Both mech officers instantly shot up straight.
”Is it one of our pirate rivals?! ”

”No. ”

”The natives? ”

”No. ”

”Who then? ”

”I ’m not allowed to tell. ” Ves replied simply.
”I don ’t think there ’s a conflict of interest, though.
However, there ’s a price for my rescue, one which I ’m about to pay soon.
Don ’t be surprised if you can ’t find me anywhere.
That ’s all I can say about this issue.
Just tell you this much is already crossing the line. ”

Both Orfan and Dise pressed him a bit, but Ves remained unphased.
Unless they beat the answer out of him, he was determined to keep his mouth shut.
This frustrated the mech officers but they didn ’t push the issue any further.

From the hints that Ves already told them, they knew this third party shouldn ’t be simple.
They also extended some trust to Ves, but only up to a point.

A small barrier formed between Ves and the others.
What Ves said about getting involved with a third party made them a bit less willing to be open in his presence.
He knew that this outcome might happen, but as long as they didn ’t accuse him of being a Vesian spy, he didn ’t mind the suspicion.
He intended to redeem himself in time.

”Whatever is going on, I hope you don ’t forget that you ’re a part of the Vandals, Ves. ” Captain Orfan finally said.
”This mission is way over my head.
While Major Verle filled me in on some of the details, only Captain Byrd knows the full scope. ”

”Do you know what our superiors want to retrieve from the Starlight Megalodon? ” Ves asked with sharp eyes.
”It would help if we know what constitutes a success in their eyes. ”

Captain Orfan shrugged and smiled.
”Let ’s talk about that once one of us managed to get past the battleship ’s recruitment tests. ”

The discussion ended soon after that.
Ves and Ketis left their packs behind and approached the hull of the battleship under the guidance of the mech officers.
All the other survivors noticed where they were heading to and follow suit.

They wanted to witness a good show.

When they almost came close enough to throw a rock at the aged and partially-corroded exterior of the battleship, the mech officers halted.

”Once you step past this point, the battleship will throw you into a physical projection.
No one outside will be able to witness what you ’re experiencing, and you won ’t notice our presence either.
You ’re all alone out there.
Good luck. ”

Ves and Ketis looked at each other before stepping forward.

Both of them instantly got caught in some kind of illusion.
To the spectators watching outside, both of them became engulfed in a dark cube that appeared out of nowhere.
This dark cube isolated every senses and threw those caught inside in their own simulated reality.

Inside one of the cubes, Ves only encountered darkness.
It was so dark in fact that he couldn ’t even see his own limbs.

A few seconds after trying to puzzle what happened, a shuttle-sized logo of the CFA materialized into being in front of him.
The logo representing the mightiest spaceborn battlespear of the human race adopted the iconic shape of a stylized battleship in blue.
A white four-pointed star pointing in each cardinal direction rested behind the battleship.
The black background representing interstellar space featured a random distribution of tiny speckles that represented the stars in the galaxy.

Each aspect about the CFA ’s logo carried profound meanings, but Ves didn ’t spend the time to think about them right now.

In front of the logo, a majestic projection of a CFA officer materialized into view.
The officer wore a uniform in a style typical to what CFA personnel used to wear three-hundred years ago.
From the rank insignia of the projection, Ves gathered that this person was a lieutenant junior grade.

Yet the moment it opened up its mouth, Ves heard a flat, robotic voice.

[I am Virtual Lieutenant Junior Grade Baskanson.
Please present credentials if you are an active serviceman or an affiliate of the Common Fleet Alliance.]

”I have no connections to the CFA. ”

[Emergency Protocol Theta-Thirty-Seven is in effect.] The stiff lieutenant declared.
[All humans up to moderate alien hybridization are allowed to undertake a simplified recruitment test to enlist in the CFA.
Please state the profession or position which you wish to apply for.
Guests are authorized to ask a limited number of questions.]

Ves gathered by now that this so-called ’virtual lieutenant ’ must be one of the AIs governing the battleship in the absence of living humans qualified to serve as active CFA personnel.
He found it interesting that an AI presented itself as an officer.
He didn ’t know whether it was a good or bad idea to give AIs ranks in the first place.

”Are there any living CFA personnel serving aboard the Starlight Megalodon? ” Ves experimentally asked.

[You are not authorized to ask this question.]

”What is the current time and date? ”

[You are not authorized to ask this question.]

”What is the name of this star system? ”

[The name of this star system is the Aeon Corona System.]

”How did the Starlight Megalodon crash on this planet? ”

[You are not authorized to ask this question.]

”Why are the FTL drives leaking higher-dimensional particles? ”

[You are not authorized to ask this question.]

”I am your father. ”

[Your query is invalid.]

”Non sibi sed homo sapiens. ”

[Semper Fortis.]

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Ves smiled at some of the answers this virtual officer spat out to his statements.
He didn ’t have to ask a question to prompt an opinion from this artificial intelligence.
It seemed as if this AI didn ’t have to adhere to its strictures and possessed some leeway in its words and actions.

”I ’d like to apply for the position of mech designer. ”

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