No Senior Mech Designer ever made it to their rank by being stupid. Despite her slow responses and her erratic behavior, when it came to mechs, Professor Velten was as razor sharp as any mech designer.
She immediately took note of the abundance of superfluous elements in his design proposal.
"Mr. Larkinson, of all the elements of a mech that you could have chosen to work on, you focused on the cockpit. Worse, besides switching the neural interface systems, most of these changes appear to be purely cosmetic! I can understand if you've made the cockpit sturdier or increased its ability to withstand a breach, but all you have done is rearrange its interior! What do you have to say for yourself?!"
Ves held up his hands. "It's not cosmetic, ma'am! Far from it! Every adjustment I have made is needed to increase the ergonomics of the cockpit!"
In order to cover for his ability to affect a mech pilot through the X-Factor, Ves had delved into real ergonomics several times before. Just for this occasion, he brushed up on his theory by referencing the textbooks the Mech Corps made available through the central database.
"According to Leitzbritz's theory of luminescent comfort, putting more than three projectors in a row will excessively distract the mech pilot and…"
"The height of the piloting chair is set according to the average height of every mech pilots in the service more than a century ago. That's fine as a whole, but the average height of the mech lots in the Flagrant Vandals is a little bit shorter than that…"
Ves basically spun a tale of nonsense cloaked in scientific rigor. The vast majority of his adjustments had no point. They were only there so that Ves could leave his fingerprints on the design. While he changed plenty of things inside the interior, getting these changes approved was a very different matter.
After a couple of minutes of blabbering on, Ves reached the end of his prepared speech. He waited in a tense moment of silence as Velten parsed his words.
"I have no doubt that your applications are sound." She conceded slowly and knocked a gnarly knuckle against her desk. "Yet none of it seems worth it. How will any of these changes improve the performance of the Inheritor? As much as you tout the benefits of this proposal, there is an alarming lack of hard estimates on how much the design will improve. How am I supposed to approve to the wholesale modification of every Inheritor in our possession, thereby wasting a large portion of our limited logistical capacity?"
In other words, Ves might have talked a good game, but he hadn't been able to justify why the Vandals should overhaul the cockpit interiors of every Inheritor. It wouldn't take a lot of time and effort to rearrange the interior of a single cockpit, but it was an entirely different story when it came to hundreds.
A mech regiment as large as the Flagrant Vandals constantly ran their production equipment night and day, doing all sorts of tasks. The mech technicians always had more things to do. Thus, convincing the Vandals and Professor Velten that his changes was worthwhile would always be an uphill battle.
Fortunately, Ves already prepared an answer to this question. He withdrew a data chip from his pocket and gently put it on the desk. "I have already tested out the changes. The raw data and the results are in the data chip. Please take a look, professor."
The professor looked at him with a little skepticism, but she didn't dismiss the data chip out of hand. As she slid the secure data device in her terminal, she began to peruse the logs and data that Ves had recorded during the tests.
This was his trump card for this meeting. During his stay with the design department, he heard many stories about Professor Velten. Everyone spoke about her ironclad rigidity on certain matters.
If she expected someone to finish a report within a day, he better well do it or he would face a reckoning.
If she said that someone should increase the performance of a specific component by a couple of percentage point, the entire design team would be forced to slave for weeks or months until they finally achieved their goal.
A mech designer like the professor was set in her ways, and she never showed any leeway in anything. That troubled Ves a lot, and he struggled to think of to deal with this personality trait until he realized that if he played things correctly, it could play to his advantage.
While most of his fellow mech designers grumbled about Velten's inflexibility, Ves recognized that she was simply a mech designer that worked in terms solid numbers and quantifiable results. In other words, she was a very data driven engineer.
To overcome the objections of someone who was driven by data, Ves merely had to serve up additional data that played in his favor. So in the final day before he had to report to the professor, Ves brought Iris to one of the Wolf Mother's hangars and conferred with Chief Carmon and Lieutenant Chandis.
"I have a way to renew the Inheritor." He began after pulling them aside. "Iris and I have worked on a set of minor modifications that will boost the performance of a mech pilot. The changes aren't very big, but it could potentially be the start of something bigger."
Ves proceeded to explain a summary of what he had in mind.
"What do you need us for then?" Chief Carmon asked as she crossed hear hefty arms and chewed on an illegal stimulant. "I don't know if you've noticed, but we're kind of busy right now. We don't have time to spend on installing fancy frills like a spiffed up cockpit."
The lieutenant voiced his own objections as well. "My men are used to piloting with bare heads. They won't take buckethead interfaces very well. Light mech pilots really hate those unwieldy things!"
"Don't knock it until you try it! I only need one mech and a test pilot to gather some data. What will it hurt? Besides, once I can get this modification proposal approved, it might open the door to further improvements."
They both thought that this was a waste of time, but the carrot that Ves had dangled at the end sounded very tempting. If Ves could get the obstinate professor to approve of further modifications to the Inheritor design, then they stood a chance of vastly improving its survival rate.
To that end, letting Ves free reign on a single Inheritor mech was a cheap price to pay.
"Okay, you've convinced me. Go ahead, but don't change anything else!"
Ves and Iris proceeded to inspect the Inheritors in the hangar and selected the most up-to-date one because it matched the current design the closest.
After that, Ves personally worked on tearing out the old interior and replacing it with his own. He did everything in person, from fabricating new replacement parts, to assembling them into place at their exact positions.
Iris in the meanwhile worked to fabricate and install the buckethead interface system. Though Ves could have taken care of this chore on his own, he found it best to leave it to a genuine expert.
"It's best you leave it to me because I can tailor this neural interface to our test pilot." She said. "Not all neural interfaces are born the same. The best ones are made to accommodate the mind of a specific mech pilot."
So Ves left the job of installing the best neural interface system as possible on their testbed mech while Ves cobbled together the rest. He worked quickly but efficiently, helped by the fact that none of the work involved anything challenging. At his level of skill, putting together the revamped interior was a piece of cake.
All the while he worked on overhauling the interior, he focused his mind on the Inheritor in order to foster its X-Factor. Since it wasn't his own design, he did not attempt to usurp its dominant flavor, nor did he try to go directly against the intentions of the original designers.
The Inheritor's X-Factor still needed a direction, though. While he couldn't go against the mech's original intentions, he could add something small to it that nudged it in a better direction.
Therefore, when he drew up the modifications to the design, he infused it with a single, abstract idea, one that would have presence even if it was diluted to an enormous extent.
Anything more complex might not hold up because of his lack of involvement in the design. Ves had seen plenty of mechs of other designers that held some potential, but ended up with stillborn spirits. That was because even if the mech designer put a lot of his heart into his design, he washed his hands off them as soon as he completed it, and left the production of the mechs to some efficiency-driven mech manufacturer.
Thus, Ves needed to keep things simple. After a bit of thinking, he bestowed the Inheritor design with the concept of survival.
Why survival? It was more than simply wishing that it would last longer on the battlefield, though that would certainly help. Ves chose to focus on the concept of survival because it was the primary drive of a short-lived species, no matter if it was mechanical or biological in nature.
Ves likened it to humanity's place in the galaxy. Were they not like the Inheritor version of a sentient race? When humans first sprang up during the Age of Space, they were seen as weak and pathetic sentients by the alien races that ruled their corner of the galaxy. Humanity's intelligence, strength and lifespan all fell below average to the more privileged races that evolved on planets with an abundance of exotics.
Well, humanity enjoyed the last laugh. Their lack of dependence on exotics and relatively high birth rate allowed them to outgrow those stagnant and snobby alien races.
Yet why did humanity come to dominate half the galaxy while other humanoid races that shared the same broad traits wallowed in obscurity?
Many human supremacists likened their success to fate or their superior genes, but more sober-minded scholars and philosophers attributed it to their drive to survive. Their race faced constant challenges during their rise, and each time they overcame their existential crises through grit and the drive to stay alive.
Survival was one of the most primal goals that drove the human race, and Ves incorporated its purest form into the design and the mech he modified.
He felt it taking shape underneath the materials he shaped and placed according to his will. He even rejected the assistance of bots to help him carry or lift the heavier components. Instead, he did as much work by hand as possible in order to strengthen his involvement into the modification work.
His dedication to his work had not gone unnoticed. Iris paused in her work of installing the neural interface systems to ask him a question.
"You don't need to lift everything by yourself, Ves. Bots can do the same thing as well, you know? You only need to check their work afterwards if they left some discrepancies."
"It's not about efficiency. Otherwise I would have listened to your suggestion or let some mech technicians do the heavy lifting. It's about dedication."
"Yeah, it's…" Ves briefly paused his work to look at Iris. Should he tell her something like this? It hinted strongly towards one of his secrets.
He decided to keep it vague.
"It's about remaining involved through every step of the way. Without implementing my proposals by my own two hands, how can I know whether they will work as planned? With me on hand, I can instantly recognize if something doesn't pan out the way I want to. This way, I can insure I will deliver the highest quality possible. That's the true meaning of dedication."
His words put Iris to thought, but only for a moment. While Ves spoke the truth, it was only a small portion of what he was really after. He hoped that Iris would quickly dismiss his words as wishy washy aspirations and go back to her work.
Instead, she smiled at him and spoke out her own thoughts. "You know, I've always had a feeling that mech designers don't do too much on their own. You're the first person who put my feelings into words. I always felt better about the mechs which I personally worked on. Now I understand a little. Thank you for that, Ves."
Ves wanted to palm his face. It wouldn't have been so bad if he mentioned this point to Alloc instead of a Vesian.
The more he worked by her side, the less her identity mattered. They were both mech designers who respected each other's competences.
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