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 If the Vandals and Swordmaidens regained their ability to access the galactic net and communicate with the rest of the galaxy, they could do a lot.

Even if the Comm Consortium and many others listened in to their conversations and data transmissions, it would still be fine as long as Major Verle managed to relay a brief message to his superiors in the Bright Republic.

Just like how the Swordmaidens called upon their friends to back them up, the Vandals would also be able to muster up some help.

The only difference between the two was that help from the pirates would arrive much faster by dint of their proximity. Any help the Bright Republic could offer would be limited by the fact that they could only draw upon assets from home, which was very far away from the frontier.

Therefore, the crucial point in the coming month for the Vandals was to stay in the good graces of the Swordmaidens.

This was the most precarious situation the Verle Task Force ever came across! As long as they crossed over this difficult hurdle, the remnants of this once-great mech force would return home soon enough.

In the next couple of hours, the Vandal and Swordmaiden vessels successfully escaped the envelopment of the pirates attempting to corner them. The hole blown open by crippling the Finmoth Regal's mobility successfully allowed them to fly to the edge of the star system without bumping into any other human opposition.

As for the sandmen, they mostly congregated towards Aeon Corona VII for some unfathomable reason. Those close to human ships attempted to hunt them down if possible, but such chases mostly went nowhere.

Some human vessels already managed to escape this cursed star system!

Due to the weird behavior of the sandmen, no one wanted to stick around in this star system any longer than they had to! Beside the Dragons of the Void, every other force just wanted to get as as soon as they could before they all got swamped by a swarm of sandmen ships!

As Ves sat in his office and called up the long-ranged scanners pointed towards Aeon Corona VII, he wondered in his head if this was all Sigrund's doing.

He had the feeling that Sigrund attempted to take control over his fellow sandmen. While the hybrid AI managed to draw the motherships towards him, taking control of them was easier said than done.

If Sigrund already managed to co-opt the sandman motherships, then he would have certainly sent them all out to hunt down all the escaping human ships!

The less humans made it out, the lower the chance that his existence would be exposed! It was already bad enough that the ships that just jumped out of the Aeon Corona System.

As half a day went by, the remnant fleet finally managed to cross the point where the system's gravity finally fell below the danger threshold.

[ALERT! FTL TRANSITION IS IMMINENT!]

The surviving crew all prepared for the activation of the FTL drives. After locking everything down and securing themselves into place, the Shield of Hispania and all the other ships successfully transitioned into FTL.

Practically the entire crew and refugee Vandals aboard the combat carrier erupted into a spontaneous cheer!

"Yes! We're finally out of this goddamn dangerous star system!"

"We're safe! We're safe! We're safe!"

"This calls for a celebration! Let's head to the ship's bar and drink until we pass out!"

A palpable sense of relief overcame every Vandal as they finally put down their guards for the first time in months.

To some, this respite gave them the opportunity to come to terms with losing so many of their fellow comrades. Not only did they lose virtually every member of the ground forces, they also lost the majority of their space forces as well.

To others, the temporary reprieve allowed them to relax their shoulders and unwind in order to forget their worries. Many Vandals started to drink, gossip, gamble and even entered into fistfights against each other.

In general, the security officers mostly allowed the unruly Vandals to vent and decompress even if they became a little bit too rowdy. The Shield of Hispania picked up way too many Vandals, and concentrating so many people together in a single ship was bound to lead to problems.

Ves watched on as Vandals did their best to... cope. He found that word fit the current circumstances best. All of them incurred some trauma or another in the Aeon Corona System, and they couldn't be more jubilant when they finally exited this blasted place.

Even Ves felt as if he needed to do something else. However, he didn't feel the need to lose control like the rest.

He chalked it up to his vastly altered body and mental states. "All the genetic treatments are at least good for something."

The documentation left behind in his CFA comm told him little about the concrete effects. They only vaguely explained that the gene optimization treatments would improve his human nature in a comprehensive and holistic manner.

How this actually translated into benefits differed from person to person. These benefits also affected more than more concrete and measurable variables such as his lifespan, immune system, energy intake and muscle and bone strengthening.

As he projected a mirror image of himself in front of him, Ves studied his appearance and noted that despite the faint increase in maturity, he also transformed in many other ways.

"I don't look all that different, but there's something about me that gives a different charm now."

Besides his maturation and his increased confidence in himself, he also exhibited that transcended human quality that made it obvious that he went through many augmentations.

He would never be mistaken for an average baseline human. Ves found that to be a little bit annoying. Even if he thought he looked a little more dashing than before, he would rather prefer to look plain and unassuming.

The more people underestimated him, the more they wouldn't look too closely into the secrets he tried to hide.

"Still, it's not as if looking distinct is all that bad."

As a mech designer who presided over his own company, Ves was well aware of the power of the cult of personality. A distinctive-looking mech designer attracted much more media attention and became a lot more memorable to the public.

While a part of him deeply disliked adopting a high profile, he knew that it would be necessary to step into the limelight in order to grow his business.

These days, a mech designer wouldn't be able to stand out from the pack just by designing good mechs.

As Ves mentally tallied up all the changes the medical procedures caused, he focused foremost on his mind.

He didn't think his mentality changed all that much, but his cognitive functions definitely improved. His thoughts came a little faster, he memorized everything he read a little more thoroughly and generally felt as if he could subject his mind to a bit more pressure.

"I know know exactly how much better I am at thinking, but it is sure to be substantial."

The CFA's gene optimization treatments mainly aimed to improve the performance of their officers. This was one of the key methods of maintaining their superiority over every other human organization in human space. Everyone knew that CFA spacers were significantly better than baseline humans in almost every aspect!

Ves wished he had access to the System so that he could call up his Status to find out how much his Attributes actually increased. In truth, he didn't expect too much of an increase considering he already augmented his mind to a very major degree.

These heavy changes didn't leave too much untouched areas where the gene optimization treatment could provide a measurable improvement to his cognitive functioning.

"Nonetheless, every little bit adds up."

The only downside to these drastic changes was that he didn't entirely feel comfortable in his own skin. The rushed treatments and the lack of structured therapy and adjustment left Ves flailing on the move sometimes.

At some quiet moments, Ves even felt as if his own body started to reject him. Other times, he was caught with the impulse of rejecting the abomination that his body became.

He never asked to be operated on by an insane exiled doctor from the Five Scrolls Compact. Yet that incident irrevocably set him on the path of alien hybridization and genetic modification.

The only reason why he hadn't spiraled into a cycle of self-destructive loathing was because many of the changes brought a lot of benefits, especially recently.

"I'm a transhuman now." He declared. "Since I'm already like this, I should embrace this aspect of myself. There's no point in beating myself up."

Some of his restlessness eased up once he made peace with this issue. No matter how many augmentations and modifications shifted him further and further away from his original state, as long as he remembered his humanity, he wouldn't be at risk of losing the essence that comprised his identity as Ves.

He chuckled to himself. "I think I went over these concerns a lot easier than I ought to. Is this one of the beneficial effects of gene optimization treatments?"

A big part of why the CFA pushed their gene optimization treatments on everyone was because they wanted to avoid the reckless genetic modification in the past. When leaders became unhinged due to unintended side-effects of enhancing their bodies and minds with alien DNA, they forever stigmatized these kinds of transformations to the public at large.

Ves always thought that humanity stopped dabbling in modifying their own genes and playing with alien traits, but after all he'd been through so far he knew that it had only gone underground and out of sight.

"The need to improve our bodies and minds is too irresistible. How else can we get ahead in our life and careers if we are still average?"

He didn't have a good picture of the extent of human augmentation, but the more he came in touch with the upper echelon of human society, the more he realized how much humans relied on it to get ahead.

The CFA's gene optimization treatment ranked near the top, but many other individuals and organizations probably offered something similar, if not as good.

"Humans are competitive by nature, and there are only a small amount of positions at the top. If I don't try to keep up, I'll forever be left behind."

Ves lamented the hyper-competitive nature of today's society. He realized that a baseline human without any special endowments simply didn't possess the chops to make it far in their lives.

It was at this time someone rang just outside his office. Ves accepted the call on his comm. "Who is this?"

"Mech technician Davis Sollerent." The projection of a middle-aged man's head replied. "There's something I need to discuss with you about the state of our workshops. It's far too crowded there and Chief Haine isn't helping matters along."

Ves frowned at that. "Even if you are dissatisfied with Chief Haine, there are other chief technicians who you can turn to with your complaints."

"All the chief technicians are in it together. Talking to one of them is the same as talking to Chief Haine. Nothing will change."

"Okay, come in then. I'll hear you out at the very least." Ves decided while activating the command to unlock the hatch to his office.

To be honest, Ves really couldn't be bothered with such mundane tasks such as listening to the concerns of a random low-ranking mech technician. Yet he also knew that someone in his position shouldn't ignore any inadequacies with regards to the way the mechs were being serviced, repaired and maintained.

As Davis Sollerent nervously entered his office, Ves gestured to the chair in front of his desk. "Please take a seat."

"I would prefer to stand, sir. This won't take long."

Ves shrugged. "Alright. Suit yourself. Please explain why you feel the need to bring up this issue to me. I generally don't involve myself in the running of the workshops."

"I understand." Davis said as his nervousness increased as he got closer to Ves. "It's like this. You should die."

"Oh hell, not again."

Davis whipped out an oversized ballistic pistol from his belt holster and instantly fired a round at his target's head!

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