Once Ves received his own private office and got settled in as the sub-department head, he started to explore his vastly greater authority. First, he gained the power to rearrange every mech related research project. He could close them, change their priority, increase or decrease their classification levels and appoint or remove any subordinates under his direction.
Right now, his subordinates mainly consisted of the virtual zombies composed of AI mech designers and researchers starved of processing power. Virtual Commander Cosit appropriated all of their processing power as they contributed nothing to the Starlight Megalodon compared to more vital AIs such as the maintenance crews who kept the aging ship running.
"Even if I divert processing power to them again, they're under so many restrictions that they can't do anything to help with the research."
The CFA relied heavily on automation and AIs to run their ships, and the Starlight Megalodon's continued operations, if only barely, proved that there was merit to this belief. Yet even this AI-friendly organization never completely went as far as trusting them to the point of letting them take over.
Right now, Virtual Commander Cosit entrusted Ves with the Mech Research Sub-Department because he believed that humans wanted to rule over the Starlight Megalodon again.
That was an extremely mistaken assumption.
These stupid AIs completely disregarded implications of the enormous amount of time that had passed between the deaths of the last survivors and the arrival of new humans from the stars. To them, there wasn't any appreciable difference between the two groups!
The AIs seem blind to the possibility of any ill intent among the newly-recruited humans. To these virtual officers who had been programmed to serve humans from the start, every CFA servicemember should be on the Starlight Megalodon's side.
The only reason for AIs to be wary of humans was when they belonged to the opposite faction. The virtual officers inherited the factional strife of their human predecessors, and it was so acrimonious that this age-old conflict might even take precedence over their commandments not to harm humans!
"I have no interest in perpetuating this conflict. I just want to finish things up and get out of here."
If Ves wanted to, he could probably run all the way to the shuttle bay that stowed his personal CFA shuttle and skedaddle right away!
Yet he knew that Miss Calabast would not be pleased if he decided to be absent without leave.
"Someone as devious as her will likely have precautions in place."
Ves worried a bit about his personal shuttle. While the shuttle bay was heavily guarded and could not be accessed by anyone, Calabast did manage to become the head of the Intelligence Department.
"Feh." He huffed. Unlike Ves, she probably gained her position through cheating and hacking her way to the top. There was no way she could have earned the astronomical amount of merits required to successively be promoted to the rank of commander in the proper fashion.
Still, her rise illustrated that the Starlight Megalodon's administration was full of holes. It just took some daring and ingenuity to take advantage of them. Her example stimulated Ves and caused him to be a bit more flexible in his plans to exploit his new position.
After all, why hold back when he never intended to hold this position permanently?
The Starlight Megalodon's wellbeing didn't concern him at all. Nor did he entertain any notions of abiding by the Common Oath he took upon his commission. Serving the CFA mattered extremely little to a mech designer like him. He had always leaned towards the MTA anyway.
As Ves dove into the administration, his expanded authority enabled him to view a listing of all the mech research projects that fell under his scope. Among the hundreds of projects that varied in scope and confidentiality, he noticed that their descriptions sounded more and more extreme as the latter increased.
"Looks like for all the principles and values the CFA espouses, they don't practice what they preach." Ves huffed. To think he held the CFA on a high pedestal once as the saviors of human civilization. As Ves spent more time aboard the Starlight Megalodon, his rosy view of the power organization had taken more and more of a nosedive. "
A lot of their research on mechs entailed finding the best and most efficient way to counter them. This encompassed methods such as bombarding mech pilots with an enormous amount of gamma radiation in Project Radiance, and this was just the least of the extremes.
Project Mech Eater aimed to develop alloy-eating nanites that could break apart any mech, human or machine without a protective marker.
Project Magnetar entailed mixing various exotics together to synthesize an extreme magnetizing agent that would turn every mech and metallic object sprayed with it into powerful magnets that squashed into each other.
Project Battle Casket took the cake. A joint project from both the Mech Research and Human Genetics Research Sub-Departments, it involved cultivating heavily-modified cloned human brains to act as organic AI pilots for mechs!
While many scientists, mech designer and organizations entertained such notions, they never really worked out due to the listlessness of the cloned brains.
As Ves read through the condensed logs of Project Battle Casket, the researchers bumped into the same problem. A complete human clone simply didn't 'live', in a sense, and the same applied to cloned human brains. They also found difficulty cultivating an artificial human brain that possessed the right genetic aptitude to pilot mechs.
So what was the solution the participating mech designers and specialists came up with? They decided to rip out brains from actual human mech pilots and force them to pilot mechs while being stuffed into jars!
All of these innovative solutions either involved enormous ethical breaches, massive collateral damage or a high risk of running out of control! If any of these methods went out of control, it wasn't out of the question for them to destroy an entire city or planet!
Yet despite these concerns, the CFA back then went ahead and authorized these research projects anyway. Ves could only make one conclusion from this observation.
"The CFA must really have a complex relationship with the MTA."
According to Virtual Rear Admiral Ordoth, whose human predecessor should have been a highly-placed spy from the Five Scrolls Compact, the CFA and MTA made off with the Fire Scroll.
If true, Ves vaguely guessed that the two organizations probably wanted to keep the Sacred Scroll to themselves. However, there was only one Sacred Scroll to go around. This must have surely led to an awkward situation where the Big Two were forced to compromise and share the allegedly extra-galactic object.
Even if no irreconcilable conflicts broke out between the CFA and MTA during the Age of Mechs, the tensions between the two trans-galactic organizations never ceased. Ves speculated that even now the CFA were still cooking up ridiculously controversial research projects behind the scenes.
"Heh." He chuckled. "Even if that's true, what does it concern me?"
None of the research projects his security classification allowed him to know about sounded very useful to him. Even if he could access mountains of exclusive knowledge on the high technology that the CFA mastered, Ves couldn't possibly comprehend them all at his current state.
"If I've been implanted with a cleaned and updated Archimedes Rubal bioimplant, I can probably memorize all the documents. Too bad that's not a viable option right now."
It would be a waste of time for him to involve himself in these over-the-top research projects. Without a background in the esoteric specialties involved, his harvests would be extremely limited.
Of course, Ves did not have to worry about getting stuck without any way to contribute. There were still plenty of more straightforward research projects left where Ves could easily leverage his future hindsight and his advanced knowledge to farm some easy merits.
Merits was the Starlight Megalodon's internal currency. As long as he gathered a small pile, he could exchange it for all kinds of favors from the virtual officers. Their nature made them obstinate in some areas, but easily manipulable in other areas.
Ves thought for a moment and figured his first priority should be to retrieve the surviving Flagrant Swordmaidens. Even though his relations with them turned rather frosty as of late, Ves was now a sub-department head and wielded considerable power in the Starlight Megalodon's hierarchy.
If they wanted to do anything, they wouldn't be able to do anything without his help.
"Hmmm... the Mech Department is pretty much Venerable Foster's playground. It will be a bad idea if all the mech pilots and mech technicians are forced to answer to her, especially once she donates the Belisarius to the Starlight Megalodon."
Once she became a mech major, she would instantly become the second-highest ranking officer of the Mech Department! With how she managed to wrap Virtual Commander Dislan around her fingers, she'd be able to do nearly anything to her subordinates!
The only solution to keep the Flagrant Swordmaidens out of the hands of the Vesians was if Ves managed to find a way to put them under the charge of the Mech Research Sub-Department.
"I guess I'll have to go through with coming up with a new research project that treats the Flagrant Swordmaidens as my test subjects."
While that wasn't particularly ideal for the Vandals and Swordmaidens involved, it at least kept them safe and snug inside the Research Department.
"Let's go farm some merits first."
If he wanted to do anything, he inevitably needed merits. Ves dove into several research projects that seemed to be easy pickings for him. While he couldn't possibly complete Project Radiance or Project Mech Eater by himself, it was no problem for him to make small contributions here and there.
The more classified research projects came with equally high incentives for any progress and breakthrough he managed to achieve. The difference truly showed Ves the difference between the core projects which might actually affect the CFA as a whole and the side projects which were basically just idle distractions of very little practical value.
For several days, Ves became engulfed by the illusion that he was a highly-placed senior researcher in the employ of the CFA.
Such a job would be extremely hard to come by, and only a small number of fortunate and privileged people would ever get in touch with the absolute forefront of human innovation!
Ves felt somewhat envious to those researchers who managed to land this kind of exciting opportunity. Still, he did not begrudge these privileged individuals who came from either the galactic center or from CFA-aligned spaceborn clans.
At this time, Ketis finished her induction into the CFA and underwent numerous thorough examinations before undergoing a drastic medical operation.
The virtual exobiologists and geneticists successfully managed to apply the correction treatment and ensign-grade gene optimization treatment that essentially elevated the quality of her alien genes and human genes respectively.
The correction treatment transformed her entire physique to an entire new level. Through the efforts of the AIs, many parameters about her body such as her lifespan, her immunity to diseases, her recovery ability, her stamina and more received a substantial boost!
When Ketis finally filed into her office a few days, she did so on a hovering chair. The extreme changes to her genes, flesh and blood required a lot of time and therapy before she regained her mastery over her new body.
"Did you do this to me?!" She scrunched as soon as she saw Ves lounging behind his desk in his Squalon. "If you wanted to screw around with my body, you could have just asked!"
"It's for your own good, Ketis." He said, dismissing her anger. "You should be thankful that I've paid for your correction treatment. Did the virtual doctors tell you how your garbage genetic mod template was killing you?"
"Says who? Those stupid AIs who pretend they're human?"
He obviously picked a sore spot from the way Ketis flinched at the mention. She grumbled a bit and seemed unwilling to acknowledge the truth.
After all, the Swordmaidens were ultimately responsible for scrimping on her genetic modification. Ketis didn't seem ready to admit that they possessed any faults.
As for Ves, he wondered whether Mayra was aware of the consequences of her outfit's love for reckless, slapdash genetic modification. It may have been one of the reasons why she became so disillusioned with Commander Lydia.
Ves let out a tired breath. "What's done is done. Let's discuss our next moves. Officially, you're a Junior Apprentice Mech Designer of the CFA and my personal disciple. This is a good thing. As soon as you are capable of walking again, you should visit the armory and redeem your standard-issue combat gear. They've got some really good stuff."
"Do they have high-tech swords?"
"I think so."
"After that, you'll be accompanying me as I'll be working on various research projects."
"Uhhh.. can I skip out on that, Ves?"
Ketis looked distressed.