Upon passing his promotion test to Senior Apprentice Mech Designer, the Starlight offered Ves a complimentary gift from her inventory of high-tech gadgets and gear. Each of the choices surpassed the performance of any standard-issue CFA gear and was somewhat precious even to the wealthy organization.
Therefore, Ves faced a difficult choice back then, as he could upgrade almost every capability, but only for a single time until he passed another promotion test.
At first, he decided whether he should pursue short-term necessity or long-term utility. While he often leaned towards the latter, he couldn't afford to think that far ahead with many acute threats on the horizon.
What Ves needed the most was a way to survive a crisis situation!
After setting his priorities, he began to think about what he could use to insure his survival. The Squalon couldn't accommodate any stealth systems, so he scratched that possibility out. The ECM systems of his combat armor already sufficiently shielded him against most mech sensors as long as they didn't come too close.
"The best way to survive a perilous situation is to neutralize the threat, be disregarded by the threat or be out of reach from the threat."
The first option entailed trying to kill the threat if possible, but Ves didn't excel in this area. He already possessed the Amastendira as his trump card so he could hardly obtain anything better from the CFA.
He already ruled out the second option as he'd have to replace the Squalon with an infiltrator suit if he wanted to have any hopes of evading every possible means of detecting his presence.
Therefore, after considering every option, Ves finally decided upon the last option. It truly fit his needs if he could obtain a strong means of evading a threat!
The Virtual Chief Armorer smiled appreciatively at the high-tech piece of gear that Ves didn't hesitate to redeem. The flat, palm-sized grey object didn't look anything special, but a lot of high technology hid underneath its plain exterior.
[I don't know what you're thinking, Mr. Longhorn, but it's not every day I get to have my virtual hands on a CFA Single-Use Emergency Personal Teleporter! Personal teleporters are extremely valuable life-saving talismans that are mainly reserved for our admirals and high dignitaries. Unlike the proper PTs, your EPT is a more affordable knock-off version, and can only sustain a single teleportation attempt.]
"What's the specifications of this EPT?"
[Its teleportation range is merely a thousand kilometers, which is useless in space.] Levitt shook his head in regret. [A proper PT can teleport an admiral up to a hundred-thousand kilometers away, enough to allow them to jump towards another warship. Even so, your EPT retains the same ability to withstand moderate spacetime instability, so it will be difficult for most opponents to interdict your teleportation.]
"Can I choose where to teleport?"
[The EPT offers the option to preselect a large amount of preprogrammed coordinates to jump to whenever you activate it. If there aren't any suitable coordinates within range, it will teleport you somewhere at random within five-hundred to a thousand-kilometers away from your starting destination. Mind you, while its programming is sophisticated enough to avoid teleporting you high up in the air or deep into the ground, it's best not to rely on it if possible.]
Ves nodded. "I'll be sure to take that into account. Did you already modify my Squalon to fit the EPT?"
[I managed to free up enough space in the lower back of the Squalon to fit the EPT. As long as you don't incur any damage from the rear, you'll always be able to teleport away. Mind you, the teleportation process takes about three seconds, upon which you'll be exceptionally vulnerable to interruption and damage. Make sure you're alone or well behind cover before you teleport.]
The proper PTs reserved for admirals shortened the teleporter window down to a single second, allowing them to get out even under hectic situations. Certainly enough, the admirals at the top of the hierarchy prized their lives very highly. They were probably impossible to kill!
In the next half hour, Ves stripped out his fancy-looking but fragile CFA uniform, retaining only his thin underlayer CFA vacsuit. With Levitt's help, Ves learned how to activate the Squalon and key it to his identity before suiting up. As he experimentally moved his limbs, he found his movements to be rather awkward and difficult.
[The Squalon isn't a simple suit of combat armor. There's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to mastering all of its capabilities and functions. I've already uploaded the relevant manuals to your CFA comm.]
His newly-upgraded CFA comm integrated nicely with the Squalon, allowing it to maintain connectivity of his suit even when separated from it. The CFA comm could also take advantage of the Squalon's powerful transceiver to boost its signal strength and range.
Overall, the only other downside that Ves noted was that the Squalon didn't offer any room to holster his CFA laser pistol. Ves had to resort to mounting it on a holster attached to his armored toolbelt.
As Ves studied his appearance on a mirror projection, the Squalon truly granted Ves the sense that he was a bona fide CFA officer. The Squalon's contours was significantly slimmer than than his old Earth Ant. It looked more like a full hardsuit version of a hazard suit in some ways.
Coated in the traditional black and dark blue CFA colors, the Squalon blended in well against the backdrop of interstellar space, affording it an additional form of protection against optical sensors.
Only the blocky hump on his back marred the sleek contours of the Squalon. The minifab system weighed quite a decent amount, enough to shift his center of balance to the rear.
Considering that the minifab system basically provided the capabilities of a 3D printer on the move, Ves easily accepted these inconveniences.
"Alright, I guess that's it. Thank you for preparing my gear for me. I'll be off now."
[Wait a minute!] Levitt's physical projection immediately disappeared from his place and reappeared in front of Ves. [You still owe me some merits. Pay up before you go!]
"Oh, that." Ves laughed awkwardly. He activated his comm and transferred the merits. "Here you go."
Even though Ves was forced to pay some additional merits, he didn't begrudge the extra bill. The virtual chief armorer and his team truly met all of his demands and more.
An important point that Ves initially agreed on was that his gear shouldn't come with any backdoors. With Levitt's inability to lie, Ves made sure that his gear truly didn't come with any backdoors that the virtual chief armorer knew of. This didn't rule out the possibility of deeply-hidden vulnerabilities that only a small number of CFA officers could take advantage of, but at least his gear wouldn't be riddled with holes.
Ves exited the Marine Detachment's armory with a jaunty step. His vigorous movements looked silly and awkward, but they slowly grew more fluid as Ves adjusted to the unfamiliar combat armor.
Now that he received his newly-upgraded gear, Ves possessed a lot more confidence in being able to survive the perils on the horizon. Good gear and good skills were the two most vital assets in his possession.
He had no doubt that the Vesians would be able to narrow the disparity in terms of gear, but that still took some time.
"Even if I'm outfitted for survival, I can't rest on my laurels and stay complacent. I have to keep earning merits." He resolved to himself. "I think it won't take too long before I'm eligible for promotion again."
Wearing his new armor, he returned to his regular duties, continuing to pick the dwindling amount of low-hanging fruit in the form of easy research projects.
Although Ves faced an increasing amount of difficulties with regards to the mech research projects that remained, he was still barely able to achieve breakthroughs at his current level of competence.
It seemed that in no time, Ves accumulated enough merits to qualify for the promotion test for Senior Mech Designer!
Reaching this rank was a watershed moment for Ves! Once he became the equivalent of a lieutenant commander of the CFA, he officially joined the ranks of senior officers, whose status was only inferior to the flag officers and high dignitaries who truly called the shots in the expansive organization!
"A lieutenant commander can already become the commanding officer of one of the smaller CFA warships!"
Of course, Ves wouldn't be able to wield so much influence on a huge capital ship such as the Starlight Megalodon. The general rule of thumb was the bigger the ship, the bigger the hats. Even a Senior Mech Designer wasn't much better off than a dog aboard a battleship.
Several more days went by as Ves waited for Miss Calabast or the virtual exobiologist to get in touch with him again.
In the end, it appeared that Miss Calabast required a bit more time, as Dr. Neeran got in touch with him first.
[We completed the analysis of your DNA and tissue samples. Please drop by my laboratory at the Exobiology Department. Be sure to leave some time in your schedule.]
Ves quickly ended his overtime work and raced towards the Exobiology Department. While the virtual individuals of the department stared at him with frosty eyes, Ves took no notice of their contempt as he hopped inside Neeran's lab.
"Did you complete your analysis of my body, doctor?"
[It took some time, but together with that virtual geneticist you recommended we managed to crack most of the code. It's quite interesting how your body is set up, so much so that I'm actually glad my existence hasn't ended yet. Please take a seat, because it will take a long while to explain our findings and what we can do to treat your condition.]
As Ves took a seat, Dr. Neeran started projecting a wireframe model of his body. Almost all of it lit up in various colors that denoted deviations from the human standard. Some parts glowed redder than others, signifying a more drastic divergence from baseline human bodies.
[First, whoever cultivated your hybrid alien organs and operated on your body used fairly rudimentary equipment. Aside from the alien source material your Jutland organ is derived on, many parts about your body isn't unfathomable from our perspective once we cracked the encryption on their biological programming.]
"So what's the verdict regarding the programming?"
[It's as you've feared. Your bioprogramming is suffused with a considerable amount of malware with very detrimental effects to your health. Some of the malware only triggers in response to the presence or absence of specific stimuli, while other malicious code will only take effect after a set amount of time.]
"Is it treatable?"
[Very much so, Mr. Longhorn. While we can't guarantee we've identified all of the malicious code in the bioprogramming of your organs, I'm fairly certain of our judgement considering the relatively low level methods utilized in the growth and formation of your hybrid alien organs.]
Ves smiled ruefully at Neeran's remark. To a virtual exobiologist in the employ of the CFA, Dr. Jutland was merely a country bumpkin in the field of exobiology and genetic modification.
It made sense, though, as the Five Scrolls Compact clearly didn't value Dr. Jutland and exiled him along with his radical ideas.
"What about the Jutland organ? Did you manage to find out what is so special about it and why it has turned my body into this condition?"
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[Ah.] Neeran frowned. [What an interesting puzzle. I am sorry to say that we have not managed to understand its workings and whether it is completely safe. However, we did manage to identify the form of energy that has been cycling through your torso. The most peculiar part is that this energy is so rarely seen that we've had to access the restricted data banks to find a record of it. What we have found as surprised half the Exobiology Department!]
Ves had a sinking feeling that the Jutland organ was much more complicated than he thought. If Even the CFA found its effect to be exotic, then it must be extremely abnormal!
"Just tell me, doctor."
The virtual exobiologist adopted a serious expression. [Have you ever heard of the Seven Apex Races?]
The question threw Ves out of the blue. "They're the seven most dominant alien races in the galaxy during the Age of Stars. They pretty much carved out most of the stars among themselves before they drew back during the Age of Conquest."
[These aliens believed that they are the most powerful and perfect races in the galaxy, to the point where they convinced themselves that they are its rightful rulers. One particular race is called the Alshyr, the third-most powerful apex race. One of the strengths of this unfathomable giant avian-like alien race is their ability to traverse the higher dimensions with their own bodies! They are able to do so by utilizing the same energy that is locked within your body!]
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