After his long and insightful talk with Jeff, Ves said goodbye and entered the military shuttle sent to pick him up. As the armored vehicle lifted into the air, it flew back to the military base at a steady pace.
Ves looked forward to returning, because he observed enough clues to write a damning report. As long as Flashlight or the Mech Corps moved fast enough, they'd be able to uncover the evidence he planned to point out!
Even if he misjudged some of his observations, the accusations would still be able to stick as long as ten percent of his claims turned out to be true!
"Seems like there is no way to avoid a reckoning."
He no longer cared that much about Flashlight's inclinations on making the KNG suffer. Having gathered plenty of evidence of improper handling and outright stealing military mech parts made him rather angry and disappointed at the big mech manufacturer.
Yet even as he blamed the KNG, he couldn't help but fear such an outcome taking place at his own company one day. Ves knew that the important takeaway from this incident would be to be more thoughtful on how to delegate responsibilities.
"Regardless, this has been a very eye-opening lesson to me. Running a mech company is way more difficult than I initially thought."
Kadar and Neyvis already deserved a lot of credit for growing their company to this extent. The only domestic mech companies that surpassed the KNG all enjoyed the direction of Senior Mech Designers.
Therefore, Ves did admire them for their successes and didn't think their life's work should be shut down.
However, he had no say in the government's handling of the company and their owners. Depending on the severity of the problem as well as the agendas of those in power, Kadar and Neyvis could either receive a slap on the wrist or lose all of their property!
In the worst case, they might not even be able to escape jail, though Ves didn't think this option would be likely. Without evidence of their direct involvement in the scheme, they couldn't be blamed directly.
However, Ves knew that they held ultimate responsibility over military production in their facilities. Regardless of how many lower workers failed to do their duties, ultimately the negligence and lack of effort on the part of the owners allowed them all to get away with their misdeeds.
He put aside his deliberations when the shuttle landed at the parking zone of the military base. As Ves waved the shuttle pilot goodbye, he walked towards the building that held his quarters so he could pass on his conclusions to Leland.
The intelligence officer would be able to live with the accusations he planned to report. Ves felt a little relieved that he didn't have to report too many falsehoods to meet Flashlight's expectations on how he chose to fulfill the mission.
Once Ves put this sordid experience behind him, he figured he earned enough kudos from Flashlight to enjoy their backing and protection in earnest.
He deserved it. After all the hardships he endured and the risks he took, Ves definitely expected Flashlight to compensate him sincerely.
Hopefully, this would be the last dangerous mission he took part in. A mech designer like him belonged in a quiet, well-defended research base like Frozen Point. Even if he got assigned to an unfulfilling chore of a job again, Ves resolved to never complain about his duties again!
As Ves walked halfway back to the officer barracks that held his quarters, a bright light instantly flashed across the base.
Moments later, Ves finally felt an excruciating pain! A powerful laser beam burned a hole right through his service dress uniform, punched through his chest and burned another hole on the way out!
Alarms instantly rang out across the base and a host of mechs and security guards jumped into action to secure the entire premises. A handful of emergency responders already raced towards the open spot where Ves collapsed!
"Who fired that laser?! Triangulate its origin point and secure the area!"
"Sir, we've detected that a high-powered laser rifle has been fired inside the premises of our base!"
"Damnit! The sniper is someone from the inside!"
"Spread out! Spread out! Don't let the sniper get away! Also, immediately account for every personnel and guest at our base! Ground all vehicles and don't let any of them enter or exit!"
As the guards and officers stationed at the base went into action, Ves felt hot, numb, burned, pained and woozy at the same time!
Surprisingly, Ves managed to hold on to his consciousness, enough to realize three important facts.
First, the sniper aimed at his heart! Ordinarily, this would have resulted in an instant fatality when struck by a laser weapon, but it just so happened that Ves did not possess a normal heart anymore.
Aside from his recent gene optimization treatments that made his body cope a little better against heat and burn damage, his half-alien traits saved him at the critical moment!
The Jutland organ that Dr. Jutland implanted his body had at first surrounded his heart before slowly merging together to combine their functions!
This strange and wondrous organ which now integrated the functions of a heart was virtually immune to the energy damage which laser weapons typically discharged! No matter how hot or energetic a laser beam such weapons fired, a Jutland organ eagerly gobbled them all up without sustaining any damage as long as the incoming energy didn't surpass their appetite!
Only the weapons discharge of a massive mech-grade laser rifle would be able to induce his Jutland organ to collapse!
The second fact was that he'd been shot from the back. This assassin not only managed to fool the military base's stringent monitoring system, but also managed to fire off a shot without alerting Ves at all!
This stood in stark contrast to the assassination attempt he suffered much earlier in his career. Back then, an assassin armed with a massive deployed railgun attempted to kill him several times!
Yet at those instances, Ves always received advance warning due to the strange flicker of spirituality he perceived.
This time, the assassin avoiding giving themselves away, thereby giving Ves no reaction time to defend himself!
The irony was that the railgun-armed assassin back then was probably better at his job than the laser-armed assassin that succeeded in striking Ves without warning!
The third fact struck Ves while the first responders finally reached his body and began to erect foldable armor screens to protect him from follow-up shots. For some reason, he hackingly coughed out a laugh due to the sheer absurdity of what he perceived.
The laser beam that punched through his uniform and chest, mostly leaving his Jutland organ intact along the way, also burned away his ribbons!
"The Mech Corps will be pissed.. hahaha.. even I'm pissed..."
"Mr. Larkinson! Please remain still!" One of the emergency responders said as they got over their shock that he managed to survive a shot through his heart. "Your condition is too critical for you to talk!"
A large chunk of his lungs, arteries, flesh and other important pieces of himself got burned or vaporized. Ves didn't need a medical degree to figure that out. Yet strangely enough, his Jutland organ not only protected his heart function, but also siphoned away the damage immediately around it, thereby leaving enough parts intact to maintain some basic functioning.
For some reason, he managed to maintain his consciousness throughout the aftermath. Even though the emergency responders injected him with loads of sedatives before carting him off to the nearest infirmary, his body functioned far too well to be laid low by these trifles!
It still hurt a lot to have a hole burned through his body though! Half of the time, Ves screamed or moaned in pain.
As the entire military base went crazy in their hunt for the sniper, the doctors at the infirmary first placed him into a tank filled with some sort of medical goop that instantly soothed the pains in his body. He felt as if much of the pressure of his wounds subsided a bit.
Now that Ves' condition stopped deteriorating through this measure, if only temporarily, the doctors ordered the entire tank to be brought to a military hospital which possessed the facilities to treat such a severe wound properly.
"Hang on, Mr. Larkinson!" The doctor said on the other side of the tank as a lifter bot grabbed hold of it. "I'm not sure why you've managed to survive such an attack, but you'll live! You have to!"
What happened next started to blur a bit in his mind. As the sedatives mixed in with the medical goop started to affect his body, Ves had difficulty staying awake. He was sure he blacked out at some instances, as every time he regained consciousness for a little bit his surroundings kept changing.
First he saw through the transparent cover of the tank that he'd been brought inside an armored shuttle.
Next, he woke up to the sight of medical experts scratching their heads over his medical file and all the aberrations they mentioned. How could they even begin to treat a half-alien freak like Ves?
Sometime later, he thought he woke up in the middle of an operation that sought to transplant cloned tissue into the missing portions of his body, but he wasn't sure.
After a few more jumps in lucidity where Ves only vaguely gained awareness of what went on, he finally woke up for real.
Even though he felt weak, pained and hopped up with far more sedatives than he thought was healthy, Ves couldn't help but release a laugh. His lung function also recovered due to the expert medical treatment he received!
"Hahaha... I survived. Damnit, for all the trouble it's given me, the Jutland organ is certainly miraculous."
"Indeed." Another voice spoke from the side, instantly causing Ves to jump in his bed.
"Leland! You're here!"
"I am." His case officer said and offered Ves a strangely pleased smile. "You've gone through a rough time, Ves. I'm very glad to see you haven't been taken out. I worried for a moment but I was sure you'd be able to pull through."
The strangely enigmatic smile on Leland's face did not fit this situation. It actually caused Ves to grow suspicious.
A horrifying realization dawned upon him. "You... it wasn't the BLM who attempted to assassinate me, right? It was you! You ordered it! One of the members of the strike team probably did the deed!"
The sniper fired within the premises of the base. Who was in a better position to assassinate someone inside the the base than Flashlight that could easily subvert its existing security measures?
Leland grinned deviously at Ves. "I didn't want to let you know, but since you already figured it out, oh well. I admit it. I ordered the hit. Now don't worry Ves, I never intended to have you killed. I have access to record and I'm aware of your unusually strong physical state. I ordered my man to aim at your abnormal heart organ with complete confidence that you'll survive! And you have!"
"You utter piece of crap!"
Ves was so furious he wanted to scream at this slimy bastard! How could Leland do something like this to him! How could Flashlight let him get away with it! No matter what his Jutland organ was capable of, it didn't change the fact that he could have died!
Leland ignored the anger directed at him. Instead, he moved on to business. "The assassination attempt has alarmed the Mech Corps. They definitely bought it. Now is the time to capitalize on it, Ves! Soon enough, the Mech Corps will dispatch someone to investigate the matter. Tell them that you suspect that the KNG or BLM is responsible and explain to them what you suspect is going on at the Mosville Complex. The Mech Corps will definitely be inclined to believe your claims due to attempt on your life!"
So that was why Leland ordered Ves to be struck by a laser beam! It was all to strengthen his case against the KNG and agitate the Mech Corps into treating his investigation with greater urgency!
"What if you miscalculated?" Ves asked. "What if I died?"
"Then your family would be compensated and you'd be buried a hero." Leland shrugged. "In any case, you would have died while you worked as a liaison to the KNG, so the company would definitely fall under intense scrutiny."
It sounded as if Leland didn't particularly care whether Ves lived or died in the first place. To him, the needs of Flashlight came first, and he would do whatever was necessary to achieve the greatest outcome that benefited the agency!