Life went on. Although the loss of the prototype impacted his mood considerably, Ves knew he shouldn't dwell on it too much.
"The most important task right now is to finish the design." He whispered to himself.
He cast away as much distractions as possible and let go of his concerns about his volatile surroundings. The contradiction between the reformers and traditionalists still raged on, but his role was set in stone.
Completing the design of the Transcendent Messenger mattered more than anything else. His plans and Calabast's plans hinged on its success.
When Ves and Ketis finally returned to the workshop, they went back to work. Ves already analyzed a good amount of test data, but the processors at the guest compound were too weak for his purposes. The mech workshop offered much more capable processor banks that specialized in performing mass calculations typical to engineering projects.
"When the design process has reached this stage, the time for second-guessing and major revisions has passed." Ves explained to Ketis as he showed her the preliminary changes he made to the design. "All of our design choices are set. The changes we can afford to make at this stage should not impact any of them negatively. Our goal is to work away the flaws while perfecting what is already good about the design."
Ketis nodded. "I know. If we go back on our design choices at this point, we'd be designing a variant instead of the base model."
Mech designers needed to be decisive in their judgement during the earlier stages of the design process. If their hesitation on some of the choices grew more serious by the time they received the test results of their first prototype, then they didn't do a good enough job.
"This is important, Ketis. A lot of mech designers get hung up over 'what-ifs' or magnify the negative aspects of their comprise solutions. They'll go back to their design and shift the very nature of their mech into something else. That's not good. You need to have the confidence that you can make your mech great from the decisions you've already made. Look forward instead of gazing back at the past."
While Ves already learned this at school, Ketis never entered one. These kinds of suboptimal traits afflicted many mech designers despite receiving plenty of warnings. Perfectionists particularly exhibited this pattern of behavior, causing them to take several times longer to complete their mech designs.
Fortunately, neither Ves nor Ketis exhibited too much tendency to turn back to their designs. Both of them were decisive people and they didn't worship quality on a pedestal.
Ves wanted his mechs to be as good as possible, but only as far as practical concerns allowed him to. Due to the deadline he imposed on himself, he didn't have much time left to optimize the Transcendent Messenger. He would just have to make do with one or two more prototypes before he finalized its design.
"Let's get to work."
Ves performed the bulk of the work this time. Each change, no matter how small, affected a myriad of parameters of the mech. This was very delicate work and required a deep and comprehensive understanding on mech design in order to juggle all of the tradeoffs he needed to make.
At this time, Ketis still lacked this depth and breadth of knowledge, so she could only perform an assisting role by supervising the simulations and such.
The optimization work he performed was like solving puzzles. There were countless ways to solve each problem, but only a small number of them actually led to an actual improvement in the design.
One solution always introduced another problem. The key to improving the design was to make sure the new problem that resulted was smaller or less significant than the old problem. While Ves could never obtain a perfect solution, at the very least the mech design achieved a net gain in performance.
The more he optimized the mech, the harder it became for him to find a solution that resulted in clear improvements. It felt like he needed to make use of a microscope in order to determine whether it was worthwhile to implement his solutions.
Nonetheless, the Transcendent Messenger design became increasingly more polished over the next days. His design seed worked wonders at this stage. He could judge the best solution for many problems without resorting to time-consuming calculations and simulations.
Naturally, his design seed only helped him come up with a solution that he would have been able to figure out on his own.
In other words, his knowledge base formed the foundation of his design seed. If he hadn't studied too much in a particular field, then his design seed had very little to go on. It possessed the same biases as him and could never come up with a solution based on knowledge that he lacked.
"It's not an auto designer."
Nonetheless, even if his design seed couldn't automate everything to perfection, the boost it provided to Ves was just right. He still needed to wrack his brains and perform some manual calculations in order to solve particularly difficult problems.
His design seed only came in handy when he faced easier but extremely tedious problems.
All in all, Ves initially expected that he needed at least two weeks to complete the second iteration of the design.
Yet by the time a week had gone by, he no longer found any issues that needed addressing!
"That was fast." Ketis commented after Ves declared they completed the second iteration. "I remember that Mayra worked just as fast when optimizing her designs. You Journeymen are beyond human in this aspect! I can't even keep up with your problem-solving pace!"
"It's a convenience, I admit, but it's not a panacea. You still have to do the most important work yourself. If you want to get to this point, make sure to keep up with your studies and accumulate more knowledge."
"I don't even know how many books I have to read to match your mind. How come you know so much but never spend much time on studying?" She suspiciously asked.
Ves only smiled coyly in return. "I'm a fast learner."
"Yeah right. I know you're good at that, but your learning speed is too fast!"
He shrugged off her questions as best he could, but the suspicion lingered. Ketis worked alongside Ves for many months now. She wasn't blind to the oddities surrounding him. Perhaps the only reason why she didn't inquire any further was because they were all benign.
As Ves declared the second iteration of the design to be complete, they proceeded to fabricate the mech at the workshop. He had already ordered several batches of materials beforehand, so they could immediately proceed with fabricating the mech.
Several days later, they produced the second prototype.
"It doesn't look very different from the first one."
"That's the point, Ketis. To optimize a mech is to achieve the best gains while making as little changes as possible. If the iterations looked distinctly different, then that is a sign the first iteration shouldn't have stopped at that point in the first place. Whoever decided to end the design process prematurely at that point is lacking in judgement."
Over and over, Ves emphasized the importance of judgement. Good judgement not only helped with making the best design choices, but also made sure that the mech design drew out its potential.
Each mech designer optimized their mechs in a different way. Two different mech designers working on the same iteration of a mech design would produce two subtly-differed optimized mech designs.
In most cases, the mech designer with the better judgement achieved greater improvement. It didn't matter if the other mech designer possessed a greater knowledge base.
"Building up your knowledge base only expands your options. The more you know, the more you're able to come up with advanced solutions to tricky problems." Ves lectured to Ketis, who looked to be a little tired at getting talked down to all the time. "However, all that knowledge will go to waste if you don't possess the right judgement. Learning how to utilize your existing knowledge is important, and it can only be done when you design your own mechs."
"I get it, I get it. Being nerdy isn't enough. You have to possess the wits to compliment your smarts."
She understood the importance of the lessons, but sometimes she felt like she was being treated like a kid.
"What do you think about the Transcendent Messenger so far?" Ves asked.
"It's already really good. Better than the Aurora Titan in many ways because it's so versatile. However, there's something about your last design that's really special that isn't present in our prototypes."
"That's related to my design philosophy. The true magic can only be felt once I complete the design. Trust me, the Transcendent Messenger will fully live up to its name once the finished products roll off the production line."
She nodded in understanding and didn't say anything further. She knew it was pointless trying to ask any further.
When it came time to pack off the second prototype for testing, he handed it over to the professionals employed by the Curin Dynasty.
Due to the theft of the first prototype, the Curins became aware that the mech that Ves was designing must be something remarkable. They pulled a lot of strings and managed to convince the Kronons to beef up the security around the subsequent prototypes.
Three full mech companies escorted the transport containing the prototype to a specialized testing ground a small distance away from Krent. The Protectors of the Faith pulled out all the stops in order to prevent a similar incident from occurring again.
Ves did not accompany the prototype this time. He trusted the staff of the testing ground to know what they were doing and obtain the test data he needed to see whether his judgement was sound.
A different elite mech pilot in service to Calabast volunteered as the test pilot for the second prototype this time. As for the first test pilot, the man personally arrived at the guest compound in order to meet with Ves in private.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Larkinson. I failed to stop the True Believers from stealing your mech."
Taon Melin appeared much different from before. He looked devastated. His confident demeanor was nowhere to be seen and the bags in his eyes showed that he wasn't sleeping well lately.
"I don't blame you, Taon. Near the end of the stress testing, the prototype you piloted was already beat up. Against the sudden intrusion of so many mechs at a time, your mech stood no chance of repelling them. This isn't an action dramas where damaged hero mechs often win against overwhelming odds. The conditions simply weren't right back then. We can only blame the True Believers for their great timing."
Informers like the director of the testing ground assisted the True Believers in their planning and preparation. The Protectors of the Faith were completely caught off-guard and hadn't learned the true purpose of the raid in time. There was nothing Taon could do to stop the True Believers from making off with the prototype.
He still blamed himself, though.
"I have been reflecting on myself, and I think it is best for me to resign my position as one of Director Cecily's ceremonial guard mech pilots. It's a position that conveys great honor, but it's one that I don't deserve!"
Ves frowned. If Taon withdrew, then who piloted the Transcendent Messenger in his place? He didn't wish to deviate from his plan of designing a set of six mechs. This mech pilot needed to get his head back together!
"Man up, Taon! You're an elite, right? You're still young! Failure is normal! I don't know why you're so hung up on what happened. You couldn't have done better in that situation."
"That doesn't change the fact that I've failed! If the great prophet saw me now, he would shake his head in disappointment! I'm unfit to be a mech pilot!"
Ves grew alarmed. Taon was taking his failure way too seriously!
However, something else happened in this time. Just after Taon mentioned the prophet, Ylvaine's spiritual fragment began to stir.
It seemed to be reacting to Taon. Just as Ves wondered what the spiritual fragment was up to, it spontaneously blasted out of his mind!
The fragment left his mind so abruptly that Ves hadn't been ready to block its escape! It broke through the passive barriers of his mind and entered into Taon's mind in an instant!
The elite Kronon mech pilot gasped before he rolled his eyes and fainted!