A pair of security bots escorted the two 'test subjects' into an interrogation compartment. Stripped of their gear and fitted out with standard CFA prisoner clothing, Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise both looked barren and without any of the aura of command and confidence they used to hold.
Obviously, languishing out in the safe zone for a few weeks did not do the Flagrant Swordmaidens a service. No further help or survivors arrived while the dominant Vesians continued to build up their presence next to the Starlight Megalodon.
This definitely forced the remnant of the Vandal and Swordmaiden ground forces to reassess their condition.
"It's Lieutenant Command Adeseus Longhorn while we're here." Ves replied perfunctory as he entered the interrogation compartment. The security bots who escorted them inside positioned themselves behind Ves in a preplanned move to enhance his stature in their eyes. "I've worked hard on the Starlight Megalodon to a position of leadership among the altered command structure. The ship is in a very weird condition right now."
Ves proceeded to fill them in on the virtual officer system, the executive officer's emergency protocol, the role of humans as the inheritors of the ship as long as they proved their competence and his own status as a Senior Mech Designer and the head of the Mech Research Sub-Division.
Besides that, he also informed them of some of the potential threats from the virtual officers of the captain's faction and the Vesians. This was to add some urgency to their considerations. None of them could afford to take it slow and steady.
After all of that explanation, both Orfan and Dise appeared overwhelmed. While they already surmised some of what they heard, the true picture sounded much more complex and difficult to navigate than they thought!
"Where is Ketis?" Dise asked with a soft voice. "She disappeared all of a sudden a few days ago."
"Don't worry, she's safe. I received an opportunity to recruit her into the CFA early, so I brought her in before anything could happen to her. I hope you understand."
The Swordmaiden officer smiled. "That's good. I hope I can see her soon. I have some things to tell her now that Commander Lydia is likely..."
"What I want to know is what will happen to us now." Captain Orfan spoke up, abruptly changing the subject away from their awful losses. "Right now, we're all locked up in cages. Why aren't we able to become recognized CFA officers like you?"
"It is not yet within my power to help you become a part of the Starlight Megalodon's crew. After all, none of you have passed the recruitment test."
"But you can get us inside through another way, right?"
He did. Virtual Commander Cosit already granted him the power to press gang any human who didn't enjoy any special protections, but Ves deliberately held back that detail. Right now, he wanted to talk to Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise with as big of a power disparity as possible in order to encourage them to open their mouths.
"I'm working on that." Ves replied tepidly. "It might take me some time. For now, you're safe inside your cells. The Vesians won't be able to abuse their own authority in an effort to eliminate you all. However, this protection only lasts so long as I maintain my standing inside the ship."
As Ves answered some more questions about his inability to empower the survivors, he always emphasized his own position of power but simultaneously reminded them of his precarious situation as well.
He might have been able to promote to a Senior Mech Designer, but how long would that last before the battleship underwent a major upheaval?
Both mech officers grimaced more and more as they realized their fates lay fully in his hands.
Captain Orfan sighed and crossed her arms. "Alright, let's cut the crap. Don't think I don't know what you're doing, 'Mr. Longhorn'. You want something from us, right?"
Ves spread his arms in innocence, which didn't seem very sincere considering two heavily-armed security bots from the Mech Research Sub-Department stood guard right behind his back.
At this point in time, he activated the signal jammer function of his Squalon combat armor. The entire area became suffused with strong interference. Even the pair of bots standing behind Ves seemed to have lost their senses.
"Look, I'm not trying to lord over my superiority over the two of you or anything." That was a lie. "However, it seems that out of every member of the Flagrant Swordmaiden ground forces, only I am in a position to complete the mission. Don't you think it's time for you to tell me what our overlords are really after?"
While Captain Orfan struggled over the decision to reveal what she was after, Lieutenant Dise seemed much less hesitant. She wasn't military, after all, so she had much fewer compulsions regarding the need to keep secrets.
"Ves, Adeseus, Mr. Longhorn, whatever, it's like this. Have you been informed how we initially obtained word of the Starlight Megalodon?"
He began to recall what he heard from several sources. "Supposedly, a number of FTL-capable shuttles piloted by human clones managed to jump out of the spacetime distortion that surrounds the Aeon Corona System and ended up in the frontier where they got picked up by several outfits. Each of the clones sent out word about the Starlight Megalodon's existence and what might be found there. They also brought 'keys' that when combined with a number of them formed a navigational guide that facilitated their journey to the Starlight Megalodon."
Lieutenant Dise nodded. "That is correct. Those who captured the clones and heard what treasures they might be able to recover from the Starlight Megalodon all tried to keep this find to themselves. A few other powerful influences managed to get wind of it anyway, but all the power brokers hashed out a private agreement behind the scenes to prevent any further leaks. This is because we are out to recover is really too attractive."
"What is it that has sent you all racing towards the Starlight Megalodon like lemmings jumping off a cliff?" Ves asked the crucial question.
She hesitated. "It is... a means of extending someone's life. Certainly, when we interrogated the clones, they revealed many interesting treasures we might be able to gain from the ship, but by far the most attractive prize is the high-grade life-prolonging serum that is locked within one of the Starlight Megalodon's vaults. This has sent the powerful people backing us up into a frenzy! While it's hard enough for them to be able to extend their lives by a hundred years, it is almost unthinkable for them to extend it successively as the price for each subsequent treatment rises exponentially."
"The old geezers who are pulling our strings all want to live for three-hundred, four-hundred and even five-hundred years." Captain Orfan finally admitted now that Lieutenant Dise spilled the beans. "I won't tell you who is driving the Flagrant Vandals, but that person is an incredibly powerful bigshot in the bright Republic. It's in all of our best interests to fulfill the mission, because you don't want to know what will happen to us if we made it this far only to return with empty hands."
"Let me think for a bit." Ves said, forcing a momentary paused.
He folded his hands in front of him to block the frown trying to engulf his face. A mix of emotions roiled through his body and mind.
For some reason, he felt empty and disappointed.
He felt empty because if Lieutenant Dise and Captain Orfan told him the truth, the Flagrant Swordmaidens truly risked the lives of hundreds of mech pilots and many thousands of support personnel all in an effort to extend the life of a powerful official.
He also felt disappointed because he held some suspicions that the two mech officers still held back some of the truth. Why go through all this trouble and sacrifice so many lives if not for a greater goal?
Certainly, retrieving the life-prolonging treatment serum was sure to be a mission objective, but how would that help the Bright Republic?
In the perspective of the government, the Starlight Megalodon offered much more treasures that could enhance the power of the entire state rather than a single individual!
Truly, Ves didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the answer that Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise finally settled upon. After experiencing the greatness of the CFA and the grand vision that guided their actions, the motives and ambition driving the backers of the Flagrant Vandals and Lydia's Swordmaidens all seem petty in comparison!
"Is this all you are after?" He asked, trying to confirm their answers and allowing them the chance to amend them. "The more you tell me, the more I'm able to help you complete your missions. I don't intend to return with empty hands either, you know."
"We've heard there's more to be gained on this ship, but we're hardly in the position to make off with them." Lieutenant Dise shrugged. "Retrieving the higher grades of life-prolonging treatment serum as always been our primary goal, at least when it comes to the Swordmaidens. It's possible that Commander Lydia held other ideas, but I don't think so. She's gone now so we'll never be able to find out what's in her head."
"Same as what Dise said." She grumbled. "From the moment we began with the mission, we only came for one thing, really. You have to know that it's really suspicious that the Starlight Megalodon sent out a bunch of FTL shuttles helmed by clones. It smells like a trap. Yet the people pulling our strings want us to go in anyway, hoping that we'd be able to get in and out as fast as possible with the only prize they really care about. That's the full score."
Ves held the same suspicions, but regardless of that he still couldn't completely get around to accepting their claims.
Nonetheless, he had no choice but to accept them at face value, at least in the open. "I've already informed you before that I'm collaborating with a third party. They advised me not to tell you what they are after, so forgive me for keeping this short. As far as the third party has informed me of their intentions, they have not expressed any designs towards the life-prolonging treatment serums. They are after something greater, I think.
The two mech officers adopted mixed expressions.
"You owe this third party your current position, right?" Lieutenant Dise asked.
"How trustworthy is this third party."
"Practically nil. However, as long as we need each other, there is sincerity in our cooperation."
"Who is this supposed 'third party'?!" Captain Orfan asked with a frustrated tone.
Ves couldn't answer her, though. "I don't have a clue. It's a powerful influence, but they are doing their best to obscure their actual identities and allegiances. I think it's better off that we don't know. The less we know, the less they have a reason to off us all."
All three of them nodded in a rare moment of agreement.
"It still sounds shady and precarious as hell, though." Orfan remarked, "But I guess we'll roll with it because we don't have another choice. Just make sure you watch your back. There's no telling what will happen once you become a liability instead of an asset."
"Oh, I've already taken that into account."
The meeting devolved into a discussion of their future plans. Ves promised to exert his efforts into recruiting as much of the Flagrant Swordmaidens as the Starlight Megalodon's crew as possible. He also offered his help into attempting to retrieve the life-prolonging serum from the vault, but the two mech officers wanted to try and obtain them through their own efforts first.
Despite their differences, Ves was still on their side. As long as the objectives of the Flagrant Swordmaidens didn't clash with Calabast's intentions, there should be any harm in assisting both at the same time.