The Mech Touch

Chapter 128: Two Layers

Calsie called back two days later. She enlisted the help of the Pioneers in putting pressure on the City Council. Ves interrupted her explanation and only wanted to know if she got his permit.

"Well, the short answer is yes." She said. "It should have gone into immediate effect by now. "

To verify her words, Ves stepped outside. The bots and construction workers from SASS had picked up their work and were beginning the long and difficult process of installing and entrenching the heavy turrets.

"Work has resumed. Looks like there are no more barriers in my way."

His advisor warned him not to let his guard down. "There will be inspectors keeping an eye on your property in order to make sure you don't exceed the specifications laid out in your application."

"That's fine. As long as the City Council steps aside, they can watch all they want."

Ves appreciated her efficiency. Even if she did not do much on her own, she proved to be a valuable contact who could leverage the Pioneers on his behalf. Certainly, they might pay a visit to him in order to ask for a favor, but that was the way the universe worked.

His new employee passed him a warning. "I've been doing some snooping around, and there's an undercurrent of dissatisfaction regarding your decision to base your company on this planet."

"What kind of excuses are they throwing around?"

"The White Doves are afraid that someone as prominent as you will attract raids from pirates or enemies who have a bone to pick with you. The greens are dissatisfied with the increase of interstellar traffic and the pollution they bring when they transport your goods."

Calsie made it clear that the local politicians weren't done with him yet.

"Will they be ambushing me with anything else in the next two months?"

"Not as far as I'm aware of. The likelihood still exists. I think the Doves and the Greens are taken aback at your sudden courtship with the Pioneers."

"That's good. You can pass on to the Pioneers that I'm open to collaboration. Right now, I'm occupied with a very important project. I'll be largely indisposed for two months."

After passing on a couple of instructions to his new advisor, he ended the call.

He smiled and stretched his arms. "Now that there are no more distractions, it's about time I start with redesigning the Marc Antony."

He loved Marc Antony. As his first commercial design, he fabricated two physical mechs and sold them to two different customers. Those mechs were still in use today, causing Ves to feel a strange form of parental pride.

"I brought those mechs to life with my own two hands. They are my children in a sense."

His sentiments made him reluctant to change the design. Such an act proved he lacked faith in his own work and that he found it necessary to correct its shortcomings. This mental barrier pushed Ves to keep finding excuses.

Still, if he continued to procrastinate, then what was the point of taking this profession? "I can't aim for perfection all the time. There's a time when I have to draw the line and say it's enough."

Ves did not have the luxury to indulge in endless study and indolent diversions. He had to run a business. No matter how many virtual mechs he designed, the real universe only cared about physical mechs.

"Let's get to work. First, I'll have to draw up a schedule."

He opened his terminal and split his redesign project into several chunks.

First, he planned to spend an entire day to developing and refining a focused intent.

He dedicated three entire weeks to revamping the mech's entire internal structure.

After that, he allocated two weeks to revamping and optimizing the mech's armor.

The week after that consisted of tweaking and optimizing the remaining self-contained components such as the engines, power reactor, cockpit as well as the weapons.

Once he finished going through all of the components, he planned to subject his design to a barrage of tests for the next two weeks.

"Looks like a decent schedule." Ves nodded to himself as he drew back. "Hopefully, three weeks is enough to finish the enormous task of creating an entirely new internal structure."

Ves recently gained the Structural Pathway Configuration II sub-skill for this task. Still, he never specialized in Electrical Engineering, and only managed to reach Apprentice-level through the System. He did not wish to delay this project any further in order to spend a month in trying to raise it again.

He shook his head and redirected his thoughts to establishing a strong image for the Marc Antony Mk II.

In hindsight, Ves realized he constructed a rather chaotic image for the Marc Antony. After untangling the jumbled mess he initially composed, he realized he combined three separate images into one.

The first image consisted of the appearance of an Ancient Roman Legionnaire. He started with the standard knight form from the Caesar Augustus and adjusted its appearance to look like a Roman soldier. The most significant change was that he took the base model's kite shield and added enough bulk to turn it into a hefty tower shield.

The Roman Legionnaire contributed strongly to the defense portion of the image. The inspiration invoked a trust in the shield, a sense of martial discipline and a grit that never faltered.

The next image related to the names of the variant and its base model. Jason Kozlowski originally named his mech the Caesar Augustus due to its prominence in taking up an inspirational leadership role on the battlefield. Ves kept to the theme by taking the name of the Roman Emperor's defeated rival Marc Antony.

As an image, the name evoked a strong sense of daring and the willingness to seize opportunities. This fit with the style of a cavalry general, whose formations changed the course battle with a well-timed charge.

The last component had to do with the mech's intended role. As an advanced mech and a hybrid knight, the mech served as a pivotal lynchpin in the battlefield. It combined the defensive stance of a knight with the offensive tendencies of an aggressive frontline leader.

He slipped in the last image unintentionally. Ves tentatively concluded he added this last one in due to his exuberance in creating his first production design. The hybrid knight acted as the glue that bonded the two previous images together in a coherent whole.

From the information he gathered and the guesses he made, Ves came to a tentative conclusion on how to evoke the X-Factor. He couldn't prove his hypotheses, but he figured it didn't hurt to adjust his mindset.

"There's two layers to it. The primal layer absorbs the essence of my intent. It distills the most complex images into its core components."

For example, when he formed the inspiration of a Roman Legionnaire, the primal layer stripped all unnecessary elements. It only preserved the overarching meanings embedded in the image, such as defense, discipline and grit.

The second portion that made up the X-Factor consisted of the conscious layer. Ves only inferred the existence of this layer when he studied a lot of replays of past matches. The Unicorn, Marc Antony and Young Blood all exhibited signs that they affected the conscious judgement of their pilots.

"Can an image actually come to life this way?"

Ves grappled with this question. It sounded impossible. How could figments of his imagination develop a conscious mind? "The X-Factor doesn't make sense in the first place."

Without deriving the theory on how the X-Factor operated, Ves could not draw upon humanity's existing understanding of the universe. He had to watch out for coloring his assumptions with unconscious biases. Researchers who studied alien technology specifically learned to detect and mitigate their prejudices.

Only his instincts hinted that he was on the right track. Ves imagined what it meant if his guesses panned out. "If there's two layers to the X-Factor, then there might be a third or a fourth, just waiting to be discovered."

All of these were fanciful thoughts that Ves had no way of uncovering now. He shoved aside the matter and set his sights on working with the two layers he identified so far.

"There's an issue." Ves slowly realized as he formulated an optimal model for the X-Factor. "The primal layer works best with strong simple concepts. The conscious layer on the other hands requires an extensive backstory in order to shape its personality."

The two demanded competing approaches. If Ves spent his time on focusing on a few key concepts and left the details vague, then the design would carry strong instincts but weak direction. If he flipped around his priorities, then his mechs could consciously assist the pilot but with a weaker boost to overall performance.

Both had their good points, and Ves believed a design could be strong in both. He just had to find the right approach.

"This is mostly a mental exercise, so as long as I have the right mentality, I can strengthen both."

That was easier said than done. Ves believed he owed his previous good scores for the Unicorn and Marc Antony due to his passion. If Ves stopped second-guessing every decision, he might be able to hold contradictory thoughts. In short, the key to maximizing his X-Factor was to hold a delusional mindset.

"I'm not about to get drunk or inject myself with stimulants in order to reach this state." He quickly decided. Those kind of shortcuts might work for artists, but engineers like Ves had to remain sober in order to work with precise schematics.

Ves had to refrain from going off half-cocked. He could try out his outlandish theories when he designed his virtual mechs. Since he intended for the Marc Antony Mk II to serve as an active combat mech, he had the obligation to deliver a stable product.

"Let's settle for a basic approach. An advanced mech will generally be piloted by talented and experienced mech pilots. These kinds of customers benefit more from a boost in instincts than having a second opinion."

He had to remind himself that only professionals bought and piloted his mechs.

After all of this theory-crafting, Ves finally got down to the brass tacks. He sat back in his chair and spent the rest of the day with fleshing out the inspirations for the second version of his variant.

Mindful of his priorities, he focused mainly on strengthening the detail of their combat performance. The Roman Legionnaire became a gritty veteran of uncountable campaigns. Marc Antony demolish the Gauls under the direction of Julius Caesar. Ves skimmed the parts where they were not in battle.

When it came to the hybrid knight, Ves halted for a moment. "Can I even use an inanimate object as an image?"

It posed another interesting question. Without trying it, Ves had no idea if it was possible. According to his previous hypotheses, using a shield as an inspiration showered the primal layer with defense-oriented instincts optimized for shield handling.

Using a mech to inspire another mech sounded strange. Ves had the feeling the notion resembled asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. It posed another conundrum especially when the existence of the X-Factor presumed that mechs also lived.

Eventually, Ves concluded it might not be any harm to proceed with constructing a life around a hybrid knight. "I think all those passionate mech designers throughout history must have also imbued their designs in this fashion. There might even be a form of self-fulfilling prophecy at work where the traits the designers wished for are actually expressed in their product."

It explained why some designs like the Caesar Augustus radiated faint auras. The mech designers in question remained ignorant to the X-Factor, so they never picked it up like Ves who at least reached Incompetent at Metaphysics.

"I can probably advance it to Apprentice once I test out all of hypotheses." Ves remarked, aware of the possibility of treading new ground. In the entire galaxy, perhaps only the creator of the Mech Designer System had walked this path.

Ves treated the matter of constructing an image around the hybrid knight carefully. He incorporated both elements of defense and offense, but his main focus laid in increasing the synergy between the mech and the pilot. Both were indispensible. If Ves had to pick a single concept to embody his thoughts on the matter, then it was trust.

The pilot trusted his machine to perform at its best, and to never falter.

The mech trusted his pilot to steer it right and treat it with respect.

Now that Ves polished the images into shape, he began the arduous task of holding them in his mind. His enhanced concentration worked overtime trying to keep the images distinct in his mind. He wrangled the three sources of inspiration into place and condensed them into a beam of focused intent.

He managed to hold this strenuous state for an hour, but no more. Ves had to rest his mind so that he could piece together his frayed concentration. That took at least ten to fifteen minutes.

"Looks like I'll be taking regular breaks once I start with the next phases."

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