Chapter 3: Skeletal Retraction

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At the space port where the sixth division was stationed long-term, a small, private vessel marked with a seal indicating its temporary acquisition by the military was hovering by the exit terminal. 

Louie walked slowly toward the black vessel and found that it was not merely a ‘small, private vessel.’

On it was the Avaricious Wolf’s insignia, engraved in a twinkling dark color.
Ordinary citizens, and even military personnel, would not notice the insignia on the vessel’s stern.
If someone had not attained a high enough rank, they would think it a decorative emblem. 

“Which rank were you in your graduating cohort?”

Louie suddenly spoke. 

Jiang Wei was stunned for a moment, then answered posthaste: “Fifth on the planet!”

Fifth was an excellent rank.
When his roommate had found out about this accomplishment, he wanted nothing more than to toss him in the military academy’s river to celebrate the occasion. 

Louie nodded, then said: “No wonder.”

“Colonel Louie, I don’t understand.”

She only stared at the starship as it grew nearer and nearer, seeming to smile slightly. 

Jiang Wei followed behind Louie and could not see her expression clearly, nor could he be sure that his new, mercurial superior had smiled for a moment. 

As Jiang Wei steadily followed Louie, he was surprised to discover that while his new superior looked somewhat absent-minded walking along the pathway, each of her steps were precisely the same length and even synchronized with her breathing. 

He could not help but argue inwardly, although it was the first compulsory course for new students at the First Interstellar Military Academy, no one would be nearly this strict out fighting in the field. 

One should know that the difference between the posture of standard military procedure and camouflaging amongst the common people were as different as water and fire: completely incompatible. 

Especially a student of the First Interstellar Military Academy. 

Ever since the people of Almia were decimated in the war, losing close to ninety percent of the population, the First Interstellar Military Academy, AIMA[1], which was founded alongside the Federation’s government, had completely inherited everything from the original Almians. 

Traditional customs, societal patterns, administration structure, models of behavior…Everything had been replicated, without fail. 

Of all the peoples of the universe, only Almians were inherently indifferent, treating absolute submission as the only code of survival. 

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The entire planet was covered in fierce combatants, but this was strictly a one-sided advance.
The supreme leader addresses himself by the same name as the planet, but in reality, the leader just possesses the power to command the whole planet. 

In spite of this, they strictly enforce and scrupulously maintain the population size. 

These qualities, which promote military efficiency and are completely segregated from morality, won the unanimous support of those in power in the universe. 

Because they did not care one whit about who exercised control, so long as they pledged to provide basic resources to Almia, and because their non-aggressive, abnormal infatuation with research into military science and technology was satisfied, they were the most incisive weapons in the hands of the powerful. 

Politicians at the highest levels had been changed many times, but Almia always had the strongest military force in the universe.
In the midst of changing tides, Almia remained constant. 

 The universe gave this race of people another name: humanoid weapons. 

They soon arrived at the entrance of the vessel.
Jiang Wei took the initiative to move forward.
The vessel’s door automatically scanned his unique mental imprint, which was embedded into the Avaricious Wolf’s secret network, verifying his identity.
The door opened silently. 

While the door was closed, Louie finally finished the second half of her statement just now, “Boastful.”

It was unknown if she was talking about the door, or if she was commenting on Jiang Wei’s entire line of successive actions. 

Fifth at the academy, blessed by the heavens, pleased with himself, boastful in action.
As expected. 

Still needs experience.

Louie considered the report she would give to the higher ups so she could have a different soldier. 

When she stepped onto the private vessel, she finally expanded the range of her movements. 

The popping, crackling sound of unfolding bones rang out.
The short, small frame extended at a speed detectable to the naked eye, and the white prison uniform which was originally draped loosely on her was now filled out by the newly stretched-out body. 

Concealed for a year and a month, she had always presented herself as a child to others.
After such a long time, her bones were just about to start rusting. 

Jiang Wei stared at her blankly from behind. 

While skeletal retraction was one of the electives offered at AIMA, it was usually used for long-term undercover missions.
The students today were not very enthusiastic about learning this kind of ancient technology. 

After all, now that there was appearance-altering technology with a simple transformation of the gene sequence, few people would diligently study this method of folding and shifting bones. 

It was an arduous journey that bore little fruit.
Aside from the pain when the bones folded and unfolded, there was always a chance that if they were folded too long, the bones could become permanently locked or dislocated. 

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No one would take that class unless there were some people at the Academy who clung onto their drop of fanatical, Almian blood. 

If he remembered correctly…Colonel Louie must really be a member of that faction?

Is it possible that the faction in the graduating classes prior to his still had these kinds of bloodline-chasing antiques?

Louie did not concern herself with what Jiang Wei was thinking.
She stepped into the washroom. 

These kinds of ‘urgently acquisitioned private vessels” were pretty much freely used by the military.

After all, they all came from AIMA’s research and development center.
The internal structure was created from a set mold, so there was no wasted time getting familiar with the interior of the ship. 

“Surgical equipment, hyperplasia ointment, a small scalpel, alcohol, and clean clothing.
I want to see these items in the washroom in under five minutes.” Louie instructed. 

She addressed this statement to the ship’s artificially intelligent automation system, Sophus[2]. 

Sophus was a system used particularly for military vessels which was similar to domestic housekeeping robotic units but with the additional responsibility of the automatic operation of the ship. 

“Jiang Wei.”

Louie continued speaking.
Jiang Wei acknowledged at once. 

“Look into Hyde’s current situation.
If you can contact him, tell him to report back quickly.”

She really was not in the mood to look after a rookie who just graduated from the military academy. 

This was the longest string of words that Jiang Wei had personally heard Louie speak. 

Truthfully speaking, Louie’s voice was quite unique. 

At first listen, her voice sounded like the emotionless, mechanical way of speaking that comes from AIMA, but perhaps because she had been undercover for over a year, her voice now carried a slight note of softness. 

To use a metaphor, it was a little bit like an ice cube in winter. 

The transparent, bulky cube refracted the clear rays of sunlight.
Within its body, the single beam of white light broke apart into a multitudinous riot of colors that scattered in all directions. 

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The ice cube’s edges were dulled under the sun’s heat and no longer cuttingly sharp, but after touching it for a while, one would soon discover that the cube had already adhered to them.
Should one try to remove it, the cube would take a layer of skin and flesh with it. 

A frozen beauty. 

Bitterly cold and high-handedly arrogant, but dazzling nonetheless. 


Jiang Wei performed a military salute.
Under Louie’s force gaze, which seemed to have the unspoken subtext ‘haven’t you gotten to work yet’, Jiang Wei immediately slunk off to the study. 

Then, Louie strode into the washroom. 

She turned the knob on the faucet——who knew what those researchers who studied the unified sensory perception of organisms in the universe were thinking, but frankly speaking, regarding the basic necessities of life, most organisms strongly preferred the manual controls of ancient times.
It gave them a sense of self-determination and freedom. 

Just because those old pedants spend days arguing back and forth over these kinds of questions, the particulars of the design of these vessels changed from day to day. 

Louie preferred automated appliances, but unfortunately, this vessel was clearly manufactured during a time when the ‘freedom of manual operation’ faction was in power. 

White, misty water vapor soon filled the washroom. 

The mirror seemed to be covered in a layer of winter’s frost. 

Louie stood in front of the mirror.
With effort, she managed to wipe a patch of the mirror so she could see. 

The mirror revealed the person reflected within’s fine collarbones, the contour of her solid musculature extending down from her shoulder.
Her wheat-colored skin intensified the sense of her physical strength. 

Louie’s face was worthy of being called ascetic; trust that, should this scene be photographed, it would not be inferior to those lively celebrities on stage and would perhaps even gather a large fan following. 

It was just too bad; this body’s owner did not have this kind of awareness. 

Louie picked up the scalpel which had already been prepared, lifted her hand, and searched her left arm for the wound, which had just begun to heal.
With a fixed gaze, she dug the scalpel into her flesh. 

Precise, swift, without so much as a superfluous splatter of blood. 

Due to physiological reasons, her arm inevitably shook. 

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Bead-shaped droplets of water—whether from the washroom’s mist or her body’s natural sweat, it was unclear—slid off her forehead and dripped onto her arm. 

She removed a thumb-sized, silver ellipsoid from her arm. 

It was one of those pieces of gravel, jewelry, and other small bits that had been embedded in her wound while she was ‘busy’ killing Lilith, to be exact. 

A little gift from that big man Zhao Yu. 

A little bauble beneath notice, stolen from the hands of a Sylouisian. 

The Federation Police’s Headquarters would only complete a body search for these ‘liberated slaves’ at the lowest security level.
Aside from stuffing the object into her body, there was no other way for her to bring it along. 

Louie released a muffled groan.
She randomly smeared waterproof ointment on her bloodied arm, then submerged her whole body into the bathtub. 

The hyperplasia ointment promoted the growth of new cells.
At a rate fast enough for the naked eye to pick up, the flesh of her wound began to heal.
The numb feeling made her feel a little itchy. 

She smoothly reached out a hand and grabbed the bottle of rum beside the bathtub.
She ripped the cap off with her teeth, then gulped some down. 

As the cold alcohol slid down her throat, the crease in her brow eased slightly.
Louie shut her eyes and at last let out a long sigh. 

People who graduated from AIMA were not emotionless robots.
They had been drilled and taught that their own, superfluous feelings needed to be concealed to the highest degree possible. 

When needed, they could relieve themselves with the aid of alcohol. 

The people of Almia had never needed to possess their own desires.
From the past and even until the present day, when the planet had become the universe’s premiere academy, this remained resolute. 

Long-frayed and taut nerves relaxing under the influence of the hot water and alcohol made Louie let out a lethargic, sleepy breath. 

She was like a contented cat, shutting her eyes as she found relief. 

This lasted until she connected to the Avaricious Wolf’s specialized Star Link network and received an urgent report from Jiang Wei.
She suddenly opened her eyes. 

Desolate and abstruse, like an all-absorbing black hole. 

A short briefing note appeared in front of her eyes, the news from Jiang Wei hanging suspended on its surface:

“Lieutenant Colonel Hyde de Witt unfortunately encountered a Kunpeng while passing through the transfer point on the return journey.
Onboard was the other personnel, as well as an interstellar wanderer.
Both are missing!”

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