The Mech Touch Chapter 939
937 Costly Gains
The vault of the gods existed no more. A new age dawned on Aeon Corona VII. For the first time in thousands of local standard years, a day-night cycle began to affect the planet once more. The flowing golden higher-dimensional particles that always encompassed the planet and isolated it no longer separated the surface of the planet and the ships in orbit.
They also no longer made it more complicated to transition in and out of FTL, though it would still take some time before the surrounding space grew stable enough to safely transition away. The keys used to program the FTL drives to slip through the cracks no longer worked now that the astral wind patterns followed a declining but unpredictable pattern.
"For the moment, everyone in this system is stuck." Ves concluded after he reasoned out the consequences of the end of the supply of astral wind. "Life on Seven will also experience some drastic changes. Regardless of whether the sandmen or the CFA will come in force and take over this star system, the god species on Seven will no longer be so special without a new source of higher-dimensional particles entering the planet's ecosystem."
To be honest, Ves was merely passing the time right now as he set the shuttle's transceiver to periodically transmit hails to any Vandal or Swordmaiden starship in range.
The CFA shuttle continued to escape the pull of Aeon Corona VII's heavy gravity. As a simple craft and one that underwent a reasonable amount of maintenance from the ship's bots and virtual officers, the shuttle nonetheless boasted a considerable amount of thrust, easily able to reach and surpass the escape velocity necessary to reach near orbit.
"By the way," Captain Orfan began. "Qilanxo is sending us a feeling of gratification towards you, Ves. What did you do?"
"I put a vehicle teleporter on her and warped her out of her cell in the Mech Research Sub-Division."
Both Orfan and Dise looked at him with mild surprise.
"Thanks for saving her, Ves. She really doesn't deserve to get caught up in this.
Ves realized something weird. "Are you still able to sense her emotions? At this distance?"
Orfan shrugged. "Yeah, it's weird. I don't know what's going on, but the more time we spent on bonding with Qilanxo, the more our mind started to shift. I think the genetic optimization crap we went through also did some stuff. The support crew for the beast riders knew more, but..."
"I think I copied over the relevant research data over to the high-capacity data chip that Captain Byrd passed on to me. I probably won't have the opportunity to study them any further, but I'll be sure to pass on the research back to the Bright Republic so they can understand your condition."
"I'm not worried about our 'condition'." She grinned. "As far as I see it, it's something good. I also happen to be connected to Dise over here."
"And I would like it if you think less vulgar thoughts!" The Swordmaiden officer yelled from the helm. "Thank the stars we only share each other's emotions. I wouldn't know what to do if I knew exactly you think!"
"Oh, come on, Dise, you love it, don't you?"
Ves observed the two squabbling but friendly mech officers who inexplicably shared a metaphysical mind connection with each other and Qilanxo. He stopped keeping up with the research on the beast riders ever since he completed the development of a beast rider neural interface.
He underestimated how a bond with a sacred god transformed their minds and bodies.
"Are you sensing any weakening in your bond with Qilanxo?"
"Nope. It's as present as ever. To be honest, we could always bond with her without the use of your neural interface since a while ago."
Ves realized something important. Their bonds with Qilanxo paired with the two rounds of genetic optimization treatments that they went through brought them closer to the genes and physical characteristics of the blessed people!
He suspected that Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise might even be genetically indistinguishable from that altered off-shoot of genetically optimized humans!
Everyone in the shuttle benefited enormously from their experiences on Seven. Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise not only turned into some form of posthumans, their bond with Qilanxo also pushed them past a barrier that stalled the vast majority of mech pilots and lifted them amongst the enviable ranks of expert candidates.
This immediately multiplied their value as mech pilots at least a hundred times! If Captain Orfan ever returned to the Bright Republic, she could easily apply to transfer to a more prestigious mech regiment and have it approved without any fuss.
As for Lieutenant Dise, although her identity as a pirate was enormously troublesome, plenty of forces were willing to invest in nurturing an expert candidate in the hopes of securing the services of a future expert pilot!
Ves glanced back at Ketis who sat back at the passenger compartment worrying about the fates of the remaining survivors that they left behind on the collapsing ship. Though Sigrund promised to let them go, who knew if the other Vandals and Swordmaidens managed to board a shuttle and depart the Starlight Megalodon in peace.
Out of everyone present here, Ketis gained a new chance of life now that she corrected the flaws in her low-quality black market gene mod template. In any case, her physique no longer threatened to break down by the time she reached the age of forty. Her lifespan literally doubled or tripled thanks to the correction treatment and the genetic optimization treatments that Ves secured on her behalf.
As for himself, he benefited just as much. The CFA's virtual doctors truly did good work, and even Sigrund's influence on them couldn't stop them from providing the best care as mandated by their programming.
Or at least he hoped so.
In any case, if all went well, then the three rounds of genetic optimization treatment, the second phase priming agent and the genetic reprogramming on his hybrid alien organs all secured his health for the next fifty to a hundred years.
Next to his body transformations which no one could take away from him, he also gained a lot of high-quality CFA gear. Even if they were pretty outdated by modern CFA standards, his Squalon field engineer combat armor alone was probably worth as much as his mech company, if not more!
The only concern he had was that the Squalon's extremely high tech nature made it challenging for Ves to maintain. The main reason why high technology gear and machines didn't tend to last very long in the galactic rim was that their owners couldn't afford the cost of keeping them in working condition over a longer period of time.
If Ves wanted to make the best use of the Squalon, he needed to use it sparingly and avoid straining its capabilities.
At this time, the comm panel finally beeped.
"We've received an incoming signal!"
As Ves accepted the hail, they didn't make contact with the people they wanted to hear from the most.
"Captain Orfan! Please help us! Our sensors fixed your location but there are sandmen escort ships chasing after shuttles!"
"It's the other survivors of the ground forces!"
As the residual astral winds faded away from their surroundings, both the sensor and communication systems of the CFA shuttle finally regained some of their old strength. Ves switched one of the screen projections to a readout of the sensors and sent a direction scan at the direction of the incoming comm signal.
"I've locked onto the location of another CFA shuttle more than seven-thousand kilometers away!" Ves reported. "There are hazy energy signatures in pursuit of the shuttle!"
"Can the shuttle outrun the sandman ships?"
Ves quickly analyzed the plot and came to a dreadful conclusion. "No. Half-a-dozen sandman escort ships are approaching the shuttle from high orbit from several directions. They are able to borrow Aeon Corona VII's pull of gravity to accelerate their interception. On the other hand, the shuttle carrying our comrades are still fighting against the gravity!"
"They have no choice but to descend and make use of the planet's gravity to stay out of reach from the sandman ships." Lieutenant Dise concluded.
Just half a minute later, the other shuttle did so. Ves observed from his sensor readings as the shuttle gave up trying to climb up to orbit and instead shot down like a meteorite launched into the planet.
This abrupt reversal prevented the sandman escort ships from trapping the shuttle, but only for the moment.
"The sandman ships aren't giving up! They're hot on the heels after the shuttle!"
Their comm connection to the other shuttle also broke as the distance stretched too far to maintain a stable connection. Neither Orfan, Dise or Ves suggested turning around to help their beleaugured comrades.
Only Ketis looked upset as the other three made no moves to respond to the request for aid. "Why aren't we turning around?"
"The mission is more important." Orfan replied after a short silence. "Everyone who deployed to the ground sacrificed their lives to attain our goals. Turning around and sending us headlong into danger will only risk all of our gains and make everyone's sacrifices meaningless."
Lieutenant Dise nodded gravely. "I hate to say it, Ketis, but the other shuttle is probably a goner now. We're both daughters of the frontier. We know how relentless the sandmen are once they locked onto their prey."
The pirates roaming the frontier feared each other the most, but they feared the sandmen just as much. The deeper they entered the frontier, the greater the chance they stumbled upon this hated alien race.
"Mission mission mission! It's always about the mission!" Ketis screamed and vented her rage. "I hate this stupid mission! How many of our sisters have we lost to secure those tiny lockboxes?! Commander Lydia is gone! Mayra is gone! Thousands of sisters are gone, and the final survivors other than ourselves are gone as well because we're too afraid to lend a hand! I thought the Swordmaidens took our sisterhood seriously!"
"Ketis" Ves called softly. "There is no way our shuttle can help them out of their fix. While the CFA has been generous enough to mount some weapons on this shuttle, they're more of an afterthought and can't possibly defeat six sandman ships by itself."
The young woman grumbled and huffed at him before turning around. She experienced too many tragedies during the mission and became thoroughly disillusioned with the entire venture.
Ves didn't blame her. He held his own misgivings about the 'mission', whatever it really was. He couldn't even tell whether the lockboxes the mech officers brought with them actually contained any high-grade life-prolonging serum or something else entirely.
That reminded him that Calabast didn't come away empty-handed. Even if Project Icarus turned out to be a giant trap, she still managed to come away with the most important gains from Project Void Calamity and Project Pandemonium Descent.
The Vesians also made off with substantial gains, though whether their ground forces could manage to evacuate this sandman-infested planet and star system was another matter. Sigrund himself would probably do his best to eliminate as many loose ends as possible before he cleaned up his tracks and fled to parts unknown.
As minutes slowly went by, their shuttle finally managed to connect with another ship.
This time, they made contact with the correct ship!
"This is Major Verle on the Shield of Hispania. Captain Orfan, we've received your encrypted burst. Don't transmit anything else! The entire space around Aeon Corona VII is extremely chaotic right now! Sandman ships are converging from every corner of the star system and every human fleet is under constant assault! We are currently abandoning our makeshift base from the second moon. Follow the contingency plan! I repeat, follow the contingency plan! This is Major Verle, out!"
Everyone looked at each other in dismay. Captain Orfan looked as if she wanted to scratch the head. "Uhh the contingency plan states that we should try and fall back to Aeon Corona VIII or IX, right?"
"Whichever planet is closer right now in terms of insystem navigation." Ves summed up. "It involves some orbital mechanics and stuff, but our CFA shuttle should be able to calculate the correct destination."
Though they finally received word that the fleet hadn't been blown to bits, their condition didn't appear all that good. Nonetheless, the four survivors at least gained a shred of hope. Without boarding an interstellar warship, their dinky little CFA shuttle would never be able to escape this star system!