ded dryly as she saw that Ves was fully serious in preparing his own escape shuttle.
”Perhaps it ’s best if we plan to make our separate ways sooner than anticipated.
Regardless of your proclivities, I ’ve come to inform you that the influx of humans has stirred up the more radical virtual officers.
Although I don ’t have any solid proof, I am reasonably certain that they are plotting our demise even now. ”

”They ’re really serious about perpetuating old hatreds?! ”

”You have to realize that the Starlight Megalodon faced no external enemies for thousands of years.
That has warped the priorities of the AIs.
The absence of outside threats means they instead look to themselves for foes. ”

Ves wanted to bash the data banks of those stubborn AIs with a hammer!

”So you ’re saying we are running out of time. ”

”For now, the aggressive captain ’s faction is being constrained by the admiral ’s faction, who by far has received the most new recruits.
The Mech Department is especially prepared to receive a large influx of human mech pilots and mech technicians under Venerable Foster ’s lead. ”

In short, too many humans were joining too quickly into a single department.
Ves could see why that would alarm so many virtual officers.

”Shouldn ’t you tell me which research projects you are aiming to obtain? ” Ves asked with narrowed eyes.

”Let ’s talk somewhere more discreet. ”

They entered one of the many empty compartments nearby before Calabast activated her signal jammer.
After that, she handed over a peculiar-looking secure data chip to Ves.

”What ’s this? ” He asked even as he stowed it away inside a special cushioned and shielded compartment inside his Squalon.

”That ’s the key to your next tasks. ” Calabast explained seriously.
”In the next couple of days, I will finish arranging your access to two highly sensitive research projects.
One of them is Project Void Calamity from the Exobiology Research Sub-Department, while the other is Project Pandemonium Descent. ”

Those project names sounded a lot more bombastic than the others he heard! Obviously, the researchers who devised these top-level secret projects held some very lofty visions!

”Can you tell me what they ’re about? ”

Calabast shrugged.
”You ’ll find out soon enough.
It is not your job to meddle with the projects.
My only expectation of you is to get in, insert the secure data chip into the restricted terminals in their labs, and let the hacking software do its job. ”

”How are you so sure the hacking software on the chip is sufficient to circumvent the layers of security protecting the research files? ”

”Because I programmed it myself these last few weeks. ” She grinned.
”I may not look like it, but I ’m a very adept hacker.
It comes with the job.
My new position also affords me many lessons on how to crack the CFA ’s own security suites. ”

”Really? ” Ves gazed dubiously at Calabast and couldn ’t imagine her for one of those stereotypical programmers turned bad.
”Aren ’t you just taking credit for the work of your operatives or something? ”

”Believe what you will. ” She neither confirmed nor denied his suspicions.
”Just make sure you do not draw the attention of the virtual AIs that are overseeing the projects and for everyone ’s sake, don ’t mess with things you cannot possibly understand! Is that clear? ”

”I get it! Will I be off the hook once I do this for you? ”

”Not yet.
After you let the data chip hack into the terminals of the two projects I ’ve mentioned before and come back to me, we ’ll need to go together to access one more secret project.
This is a joint project that spans many disciplines such as exobiology, genetic modification, mech design, artificial intelligence, exotic materials science, energy physics and more. ”

”What an expansive project! ”

”It ’s scope is enormous. ” Calabast agreed.
”It ’s also the crown jewel of the Starlight Megalodon and we ’ll both have to work together to enter the deepest and most secretive lab of the Exotic Research Sub-Department. ”

”I didn ’t know such a sub-department existed. ”

”That shows you exactly how classified this project is! The Exotic Research Sub-Department is not only the place where the CFA tries to find applicaties of newly-discovered exotic minerals with high potential, but it is also a center for any miracle research that spans far beyond their current understanding of the sciences! ”

”May I know what the project is called? ”

”Project Icarus.
Don ’t bother searching the databases of the Starlight Megalodon for mention of it.
You can ’t find it in any records. ”

Ves tried hard not to blink or look astonished.
In the end, while the Flagrant Swordmaidens claimed to go after the life-prolonging treatment serum stored in the vaults, Miss Calabast aimed her sights much higher from the start!

She wanted to retrieve the research data on potentially the most impactful project on the ship, one which could easily change the course of human history! 

Virtual Rear Admiral Ordoth wanted Ves to access this project as well on behalf of the Five Scrolls Compact.
That alone gave him enough reasons to stay well away!

Yet fate had a strange way of forcing him to converge upon the one research project which the Starlight Megalodon most wanted to keep out of anyone else ’s hands!

It seemed that Ves guessed wrong about one thing, though.
Project Icarus wasn ’t housed in any of the biology sub-departments but instead in the Exotic Research Sub-Department which Ves never encountered any mention before.

”What will happen afterwards once you get what you want? ” Ves asked, pressing Calabast to answer his question properly.

She smirked and crossed her arms.
”Are you worried about being dumped? ”

”Wouldn ’t you want to prevent others from finding out that you ’ve obtained the research data of those three projects? ”

”I trust in your discretion. ”

Ves frowned deeply.
”That ’s awfully generous of you.
Sadly, I don ’t believe a word of what you said. ”

”Let me just say that I have grown very appreciative of you.
You are more use to me alive than dead. ” She grinned and abruptly entered his personal space to lean in until her scent brushed his nose and her lips almost touched his ear.
”After all, it ’s not every day I catch a rogue Holy Son in the wild. ”

It was as if a lightning bolt struck his body!

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