Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise regaled them with their attempts to pass the test.
All of the challenges took two hours to complete, though everyone usually got kicked out within five minutes after failing the very first hurdle.

Even if the recruitment tests adhered to outdated standards and customs, it still took an immense amount of talent and skill to pass them all.

”When we attempted to pass the test for mech pilots, we got dumped into a simulation where we piloted a random three-hundred year old mech on a random battlefield.
Did you know what the first challenge asks us to do? We needed to defeat forty mechs of the same quality by ourselves within ten minutes! There ’s no way that we could pass such a ridiculous test! ”

That did sound like an enormous hurdle to Ves.
Perhaps only expert pilots would have been able to pass the challenge, but so what? Numerous other tests awaited them right afterwards.

All the other tests for other positions imposed equally ridiculous standards right at the start, causing none of the survivors to be able to pass the first test.

Ves started to think.
”Maybe I have a chance.
Mech design is a very new profession.
It doesn ’t have much history and only existed for about a hundred years since the Starlight Megalodon went missing. ”

Both Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise shook their heads.
They chuckled at his confidence and believed he would fall flat as soon as he attempted the test on his own.
The AIs administering the tests may be adopting outdated standards when composing their tests, but the galaxy didn ’t change all that much in the last three-hundred years.
It was impossible to rely on a generation advantage to get the upper hand in the test.

”You can try, but you ’ll fail.
The recruitment tests of the CFA are no joke! The Starlight Megalodon might be using an abridged two-hour test to determine whether you ’re qualified, but that doesn ’t make it easier. ”

”Is there any consequences for failure? ”

You ’ll only get locked out by the AIs for the remainder of the two hours.
There ’s no way you can make an attempt one after another. ”

Therefore, each time someone failed, they needed to wait around two hours to try again.
Such a cycle of instant failure and constant waiting would have worn down anyone ’s spirits.
Few people possessed the willpower to undergo continuous failure and lengthy boredom for long.

”Do you know why the executive officer implemented this recruitment process in the first place? ” Ves asked.

Captain Orfan shrugged.
”The AIs don ’t tell us much.
They ’re all obstinate and constantly reply that we ’re not authorized to ask them any questions.
However, from what we guess, the AIs administering the test is supposed to distinguish between CFA and non-CFA people.
The AIs don ’t recognize us as CFA spacers, family members or true spaceborn humans, so we all got served with the more difficult test for non-CFA people. ”

None of the Vandals or Swordmaidens possessed any connection to the Common Fleet Alliance.
Demanding to take the easier test for CFA personnel wouldn ’t work.
Even if it was easier, the CFA still maintained ridiculously high standards.
Perhaps they might pass the first or second challenge, but they would never be able to last two hours.

Ves wanted to try anyway.
He turned to Ketis.
”You go try as well.
Even if you don ’t stand a chance, it doesn ’t hurt to open your eyes. ”

”Can I skip please? ” She whined.
”I don ’t want to get beat up by a test.
I know my limits.
There ’s no way I can satisfy the standards of the CFA. ”

”You ’re going and that ’s it. ” He insisted.
”Don ’t try to finagle your way out of it.
At the very least, the ways in which the Starlight Megalodon simulates the testing environment should be a unique experience. ”

Before they left, Ves and Ketis discussed a few more matters with Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise.
The latter two had both been cut off from the ground forces, and as the highest ranking officers of the survivors, they needed to understand the threat of the Vesians to lead the remnants.

He didn ’t tell them about the high-capacity data chip he carried that contained most of the logs and essential research data.
He mostly told them about the Vesian forces and their combat strength.
He described the Belisarius in vivid detail and mentioned that its regenerating properties allowed it to operate in the red zone with impunity.

Captain Orfan erupted at that last detail.
”That ’s cheating! If we have to face off against this Belisarius with our Enduring Protectors and Asterias, it ’ll be like a fox in a henhouse, and we ’re the hens! ”

Even Lieutenant Dise of the Swordmaidens looked hopeless.
For a Swordmaiden, her complete lack of faith in winning a battle against an opponent was extremely characteristic.

Yet the description provided by Ves was simply too overwhelming.
Twelve Silver Valencias attacking the Belisarius at the same time to the point of self-destructing didn ’t leave a permanent mark on the Belisarius! How could she possibly think their outdated, simplistic breakdown-proof mechs stood a chance against a genuine expert mech?

The Swordmaidens may be courageous, but they weren ’t delusional!

The topic then turned towards how Ves and Ketis managed to escape the Vesians and make it all the way through the red zone without looking like a mess.
From the appearances of their combat armor, they hardly looked as if they stepped outside!

To this, Ketis looked at Ves with an uncertain expression.

He knew that he needed to provide a satisfactory answer.
If Ves said anything wrong, the survivors might suspect they turned their coats!

Furthermore, he also needed to explain what might happen when Miss Calabast took him away.
If he ended up missing without a word, they might think he encountered a mishap or abandoned the survivors.

He decided that even if Miss Calabast warned him not to tell the survivors anything, he couldn ’t leave them with nothing.
He decided to throw them a few bones, enough for them to chew on without completely displeasing his temporary partner.

”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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