The Mech Touch Chapter 944

942 Mine

Returning to the Flagrant Vandals made Ves experience the deplorable level of technology that was the norm in much of the galactic rim.

The Shield of Hispania's medical bay lacked the high technology medical equipment that could make sense of his altered physiology. Their doctors also didn't recognize the effects of gene optimization treatment.

Since their medical examination failed to confirm the identities of Ves and Captain Orfan, the Vandals resorted to an alternative method.

They first put them through various cognitive and emotional tests to see whether their current behavior matched their known behavior.

Then they brought in various Vandal servicemen they were familiar with to have a chat. Usually, a friend who interacted a lot with someone would know if that person got replaced by a clone. While clones were able to emulate the behavior of their originals to a superficial level, they often dropped the ball during longer and deeper conversations.

Since the doctors suspected that Ves and Captain Orfan might be more sophisticated clones cultivated using CFA technology, they went through extremely lengthy sessions with various known associates without rest.

Ves took this disguised interrogation in stride. He readily reported some of the experiences he went through on the surface of the Aeon Corona VII, and he was sure that the people overseeing the interview would try to corroborate his story with the one from Captain Orfan.

Of course, since he was meeting the likes of Chief Haine and Chief Avanaeon, he couldn't tell them anything too sensitive.

"Damn! I've been missing out!" Chief Engineer Avanaeon cursed while he stared at Ves as if the latter won the jackpot. "You not only got away with all that fancy gear, you also went through some of the best treatments in the galaxy!"

"Outdated treatments." Ves reiterated as he tried to downplay the benefits in order to lessen the jealousy emanating from his latest conversation partner. "The gene optimization treatments are three-hundred years out of date. All the other CFA officers are probably running around with version 2.5 while I'm still stuck at version 2.0."

"Pff! Look at you talk! Your crocodile tears don't fool me, Ves! Version 2.1 may be a little underwhelming compared to version 2.5, but it's loads better than the rest of us unevolved cavemen who are stuck at the original version 1.0!"

"Great risks are often associated with great rewards." Ves repeated the adage he increasingly came to believe during his adventures in the frontier. "When the brass initially planned the ground expedition, you probably received the offer to join them, didn't you?"

"I'm a ship engineer! I know FTL drives like the back of my hand! I'm too valuable to be sent down the surface and suffer the travails that most of you went through."

To Ves, it sounded like Avanaeon was merely making excuses for himself. He decided to comfort the engineer.

"Don't worry. I think you made the best decision. Out of the many thousands that made up the Vandal ground forces, almost all of the mech pilots and support personnel sacrificed their lives for the mission. I do you know Chief Engineer Leslie Dakkon?"

"Dakkon? Yeah, I'm acquainted with him. He doesn't really like mechs, but he's done great work aboard the Beggar's Bounty." Avanaeon sighed. "Too bad she's no more. The sandmen tore her apart and sucked out all of her energy once the crew received orders to abandon ship. She was simply too slow."

"Dakkon and all the other engineer that came down with him are dead. Captured by the Vesians and executed by their hands."

The chief engineer scowled. "I heard of that. The Vesians really outdid us all in their commitment. They even took the risk of sending down a young expert pilot and what sounds like the most expensive mech of the entire Mech Legion!"

"The Vesians gambled big, but the disaster that happened at the end probably equalized us all. There's no way the Vesians would have been able to evacuate all of their ground forces in time."

"Yeah, everything moved pretty quickly once the higher-dimensional particles stopped flowing and the battleship at the surface started getting chomped on by the biggest sandman mothership that we've ever encountered!"

The two continued to chat, with the chief engineer pointedly steering the conversation towards specific topics that he'd been ordered to bring up.

Even though the various conversation partners forced Ves to repeat his answers over and over again, he didn't begrudge them on their persistence. The Vandals truly did a thorough job in trying to confirm their identities and stories. He would have doubted their competence if they'd embrace the two returnees with open arms immediately upon arrival.

Ves just hoped this wouldn't take too long, because he felt really anxious about what was happening in space. No one told him the current status of the fleet and whether the Vandals and Swordmaidens succeeded in reuniting their scattered ships.

Also, while Ves warned them that the Finmoth Regal likely deserted, they only told him they would confirm the news themselves if they ever encountered the lost Vandal combat carrier.

Though Ves hadn't been able to track the time, he guessed that at least three days had passed. The interrogators tried to keep him from falling asleep, only to find out they'd need to wait at least a week before his altered physique finally accumulated enough fatigue to turn his thoughts sluggish.

At that point, Major Verle entered the interrogation room. The man sat down at the opposite side of the plain metal desk and crossed his arms. "Mr. Larkinson, you've been busy."

Ves shrugged, uncaring whether he appeared disrespectful to the senior Vandal mech officer. "I reckon you read through my interviews and checked the data chips I handed over to you? Even if you think I'm a clone, at least I helped you out! That should count for something!"

"We stopped suspected you were a clone after the first day of interviews." Major Verle admitted unapologetically. "Still, we needed to make sure you aren't compromised by hidden CFA or Vesian bioprogramming or the like. Captain Orfan strongly vouched for you, though. She told me all about how she's never be able to survive her deployment to the surface with your invaluable assistance throughout the journey. Your contributions have been noted."

"Oh? So you cleared your suspicion on Captain Orfan before me, sir?"

The major smirked. "Captain Orfan has a… unique personality. That makes it easy for us to tell whether she's the real deal or not. Besides, we found out that she has somehow ascended into the ranks of expert candidates, through your aid she claims. Can you explain to me why a mech pilot who we long knew did not possess the inclination to advance in rank suddenly broke past a barrier that many mech pilots failed to pass?"

"I can't tell you, sir."


"I said I can't tell you with the monitoring system and half the ship listening in on the conversation. This is really too sensitive for anyone else to hear. If you'd give me back my customized CFA combat armor, I'd be able to scramble this compartment so that no one will be able to eavesdrop on us."

"You're quite possessive of your loot, aren't you, Mr. Larkinson? You even went as far as stealing entire crates of nutrient packs from a CFA battleship!"

"Hey, that's mine! Don't touch it! They're my souvineers! In fact, all of my gear is keyed to my identity as a lieutenant commander of the CFA. Even if my identity is forged, my stuff is completely useless to the rest of you."

"We can always donate your shuttle and your gear to the Mech Corps for them to reverse engineer some of the principles."

"Hah! Good luck with that. Even if they're out of date, you're talking about genuine high technology. Even if you understand some of the principles, you can't afford to apply your new knowledge without bankrupting the entire Mech Corps!"

"Even so, their value alone will pay for our mech regiment's reorganization. We lost hundreds of mechs and thousands of valuable personnel. It costs many billions of credits to recoup those losses."

"Don't you dare sell my gear!"

"As a mech designer in the service of the Mech Corps, there is really no concept of owning your own personal gear. Every piece of equipment you make use of belongs to the Mech Corps. This is how the military works."

Ves could accept losing his CFA shuttle. After all, it was just a means to go from one destination to another, though it held a lot of nifty capabilities that made stuff a lot easier.

However, the thought of losing his valuable Squalon with the Cadisis, signal jammer, stealth detector, upgraded transceiver brought a lot of distress to him. All this time, he relied on his gear to survive!

To be rid of all of those goodies while the remnants of the fleet were likely still in great peril brought him back to square one in terms of survival capabilities!

"Hahaha!" Major Verle suddenly laughed. "It's a good thing you're with the Flagrant Vandals. We're not much of a stickler for rules around here. I like you, Ves. Even if your story is a little shaky at the end, you were pivotal in enabling Captain Orfan to complete the mission and return with the prize in hand."

Ves saw a ray of hope. "So will that mean you'll return my gear to me, sir?"

"All the engineers, technicians and armorers who studied your fancy CFA gear tell me that it's impossible for anyone else but you to make use of them. They're also quite impressed with what they've managed to find out. Considering the enormous amount of merits you've earned in our books and the uncertainties we might face during our journey back to the Bright Republic, I will allow you to wear your armor. It will just collect dust in the armory anyway if I don't give it back to you."

"Thank you, major!" Ves smiled brightly at him. "Is there anyway for me to keep my gear once we return home and after the war?"

"Let's talk about that later. I reckon the bureaucrats back home won't allow you to keep your possessions."

"I sense a 'but' there."

"You know what kind of company I keep." Major Verle threw a peculiar glance at Ves. "As long as I put in a good word for you to the right people, there may be a possibility that you'll get to bring your armor home. However, that's predicated on whether it will benefit the Bright Republic more if you retain personal use of your gear rather than giving it up for study and reverse-engineering."

Ves nodded reluctantly. He understood what Major Verle was getting at. The mech officer stated that while the Mech Corps would likely be very obstinate regarding this issue, Flashlight and the Firestarters might be more flexible regarding this issue.

The key was that Ves needed to come up with a good reason to explain why he should keep his material gains from the Starlight Megalodon. He might have done the Brighter military intelligence service a huge service with his performance during the mission, but that didn't mean they'd pass on something as advanced as his Squalon!

Ves doubted he could fend off their greedy hands by telling them it was his property. He could tell that coming up with a good reason to justify his continued use and possession of his CFA gear would be extremely difficult.

Still, he was thankful for Verle for opening up this option to him. "I'll think about. Is there anything else you'd like to ask, major?"

"I have many questions, but as you say, there are too many ears in this room." Verle said and leaned closer. "For now, I want to ask you one thing. Do you feel guilty?"