Jannzi Larkinson breathed deeply as she brought out the Shield of Samar out into space and towards the demonstration site.
She brushed her shoulder-length raven hair back as she continuously explored how she could better connect to her mech.
Strangely enough, some of the strange advice that Ves had given her actually seemed to work!
Her experience with the Shield of Samar was unlike any other mech she piloted before. As a younger Larkinson, she mostly piloted various training mechs used by many other mech cadets.
Training mechs had been designed to be as easy to interface as possible with as many people as possible. The space knights that she used to pilot felt like docile horses in her mind. The mech responded fairly easily to her commands.
She had never been an exceptional Larkinson. Born to a Larkinson mother at a common planet in the Rittersberg region, she enjoyed a fairly normal childhood. The lengthy visits to the Larkinson Estate every now and end brightened up her days as she got to play with many little Larkinsons.
As she grew up on the stories of her grandparents, her aunts and her uncles, she hoped she would be lucky enough to possess the genetic aptitude to pilot mechs!
Her wish came true when the test results came in! Her genetic aptitude had been graded as C+!
While her genetic aptitude didn't attract too much promise among the Larkinsons, it was still above average compared to mech pilots in the Bright Republic.
As she took her first classes at the mech academy, the question that came to her next was her specialty.
The decision to specialize in a certain domain of mechs came up early. Many mech cadets couldn't decide in their first few years at the mech academy. Not Jannzi.
The basic mech academies only focused on teaching the fundamentals of piloting landbound mechs. Young mech cadets would occasionally go on a field trip in space to try out various spaceborn mechs, but their complexity made them unsuitable for most mech cadets to start with. This gave Jannzi very little opportunity to pilot spaceborn mechs in her early teens.
Yet as soon as she entered the cockpit of her first spaceborn training mech, she instantly fell in love with flying free in space.
There was something very fascinating about space. Humanity thrived in it. In the Age of Mechs, the ceaseless expansion of human civilization in the galaxy may have stalled, but it had cemented its rule over countless star sectors.
How could she turn her eyes to the ground when there was so much to explore in space? Planets only made up a miniscule portion in the vast gulf that was space!
She developed a fascination for spaceborn mechs early on, and enjoyed the few times she got to pilot them for real.
Her regular forays to the Larkinsons and the training she received from her family allowed her to explore spaceborn mechs much more often than regular mech pilots. She eagerly learned the basics of piloting spaceborn mechs even before she fully mastered the basics of piloting landbound mechs!
The moment she could choose which advanced mech academy to attend, she immediately chose a famed spaceborn mech academy based in the New Foundation System!
Upon arrival, she eagerly explored the range of possibilities available. Although she enjoyed almost every spaceborn mech she laid her hands upon, her lack of skill in marksmanship made her unsuitable to specialize in ranged mechs.
Of the melee mechs that remained in her consideration, she eventually chose to go for a very uncommon specialty.
She decided to dedicate herself to piloting space knights.
Why space knights?
"Because my friends and comrades need protecting."
Although she enjoyed piloting agile light skirmishers, she found it burdensome to keep up with the rapid decision-making required to make the most of these machines. Other melee mechs were easier for her to pilot, but she just constantly felt vulnerable while piloting those offense-oriented mechs.
Space knights gave her the feeling of piloting a mobile bulwark. They meshed well with her because she felt useful just by being there. A space knight's main task was to shield more vulnerable mechs from damage, and while it was not a glamorous job, it was a very vital one that Jannzi didn't mind fulfilling.
Whereas most mech cadets thought dismissively of space knights as clunky mechs that flew like pigs with wings, Jannzi enjoyed the responsibility she took upon piloting this type of mechs.
Everyone looked up to their space knights when they needed cover! Jannzi always felt gratified when she managed to gain the appreciation of her fellow mech cadets for performing this vital role.
The only regret she had was that she wished she had been born a few years earlier. The war already broke out when she attended the advanced mech academy. Although all the advanced mech academies accelerated their training programs in order to hasten the supply of new mech pilots, the war had already ended before she even finished graduating!
To the Larkinson potentates, missing out on the war just before they graduated was one of the most painful moments in their lives!
The worst part about it was that the war ended too early! If the war had lasted five years as usual, then Jannzi would have had enough time to get settled into her new mech regiment. A year should have been enough for her to see real action and become a real Larkinson!
This regret haunted her endlessly after the outbreak of peace. Even if she graduated from the advanced mech academy with honors, she felt utterly listless at the thought of spending twenty to thirty years of endless training, boring patrols and feeble skirmishes before she could finally live up to her family name.
She was so envious at the likes of Ghanso and Porellia Larkinson for being able to bloom during the war!
While Jannzi didn't have much hope of advancing to expert candidate due to her aptitude, had she been born at the same time as the latest stars of the family, she would have been able to go home with her head held high!
As it was, the war was over and nothing could be done about it. Jannzi completely felt as if she had suddenly gone adrift. What was there to do for her? The Mech Corps which she long hoped to enlist in would never engage in any action that could equal any major battle during the war. How could she find any fulfillment in her duties in those times?
She initially regarded the family's decision to assign her to the care of Ves Larkinson and his thriving business as a moment for her to reflect. She did not think too much of the mech business that one of her richest cousins in the family had founded. To her, the Larkinsons were never that short of money, and Ves had only designed a couple of landbound mechs so far which didn't spark her interest.
All of that changed when Ves came up with the Aurora Titan. From the moment she first heard of its conception, she found the design to be fascinating in so many ways.
"The Aurora Titan a space knight taken to an extreme!"
While the developing design was not as sturdy as a genuine heavy space knight, it nonetheless offered a lot of defensive power. The lack of mobility was a sore point, but Jannzi had already become accustomed to piloting sluggish mechs.
Even then, she never realized the full potential of this design until she finally came face-to-face with the Shield of Samar.
It was the most impressive mech she'd ever seen. The same compelling quality that was present in all of Ves' mechs pulled her in immediately and never let her go! As she interfaced with the mech for the very first time, she felt she entered a state of nirvana as she felt as if her mind elevated into a higher at that moment!
As Jannzi practiced more and more with her mech, she developed a strong affection for the Shield of Samar!
Despite its many flaws and shortcomings, piloting the mech was such a joy that she had completely forgotten about her earlier regrets!
Even then, she never considered the Aurora Titan to be more than just a mech. She loved the Shield of Samar like she loved a favored tool or weapon.
Yet did she adopt the right approach to her mechs?
The Shield of Samar already felt responsive to Jannzi. Could she really achieve an even greater connection with her mech?
"Is Ves really on to something?"
It didn't hurt to try. She tried to follow Ves' instructions the moment she entered the cockpit and turned the mech into standby mode. This kept the mech active but with all of its functions locked down.
With her safety and the safety of her surroundings assured, she tried to put her mind into a deeper connection with her mech.
What was the role of a space knight? To defend, to shield and to protect. The Aurora Titan design exemplified these ideals to an even greater degree than regular medium space knights!
Jannzi already adhered to these ideals herself, but this was the first time she actually invoked them in her mind while she interfaced with her mech!
She followed the other advice that Ves gave her as well. She cast aside as many distractions as possible and tried to embody the other traits the Shield of Samar was supposed to embody.
"What is Samar anyway?" She idly wondered.
The moment this distracting thought passed through her mind, she felt a distinct pulse of feedback from her mech!
The strange reaction creeped her out, at least at first.
As Jannzi explored the strange landscape of her man-machine connection with her mech, she found nothing else besides the soothing presence of her mech.
The only difference was that she felt as if her mind had come significantly closer to her mech than before!
More than that, her mental proximity to her mech allowed her to sense that the Shield of Samar was more than a cold machine that ran on processor logic!
The mech somehow felt warm and welcoming to Jannzi, as if it was an affectionate pet like Ves' mechanical cat!
Somehow, equating the Shield of Samar as something similar to Lucky rather than a regular mech helped Jannzi gain an even closer connection to her mech!
Was Ves truly right in that she could do much more with her mech if she regarded it as a living partner? Was the company's motto truly applicable to its products?
A sea of change went through her mind. Jannzi became immersed in deepening her connection with her mech. Although the mech instructors at the academies always warned of the dangers of diving in too deep into the man-machine connection, she took no notice of this warning at this moment!
She felt as if she had found a wonderful partner in her mech! She no longer felt as if the other end of the man-machine connection was a lifeless puppet for her to inhabit. Instead, she felt like she had developed an intimate bond with a mech-sized pet!
Jannzi became so immersed in this wondrous state that she almost missed the moment of her launch!
Even though she drew back her immersion in order to focus on her performance during the upcoming demonstration, the mech nonetheless continued to accompany her! It was as if the Shield of Samar was as eager to show off its full capabilities to the public as Jannzi!
The moment she positioned the Shield of Samar in front of the dummy mech, she had entered into her highest state of focus! The importance of her performance to the success of the Aurora Titan model and the company made it critical that she piloted the Shield of Samar as flamboyantly as possible!
Though it seemed like an illusion, Jannzi somehow believed that her mech would do its utmost to assist her in giving the audience a great show!
The moment the laser beams struck her mech, she already entered into an invigorated state! She no longer fought alone! She had her partner to back her up this time!