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 Fortunately for Ves, the examination wasn't as extensive as he thought. Professor Oodiv merely guided him into some sort of medical facility and directed him to enter an all-round examination chamber.

Ves remained standing while tons of scans suffused throughout his entire body. He felt as if a thousand fingers massaged his insides!

The uncomfortable experience ended after a dozen seconds. The highly-advanced scanners didn't require any additional time to record the internal makeup of his entire body.

The professor directed an intrigued glance at him when he came out of the examination chamber. "The results have shown a lot of remarkable abnormalities. Although I've already read about it in your record, it is still very notable to see that your body has been subjected to very extensive augmentations."

Ves brashly smiled. "I went through three rounds of gene optimization treatments, courtesy of the CFA! Although they're not exactly up to date, they are some of the best you can get in the galaxy!"

That caused the professor to falter a bit in his smile. "Ah, yes. I have to admit the CFA does good work. The MTA is better, though. The CFA's gene optimization treatments are primarily geared towards optimizing a human's long-term survival aboard ships. Our organization on the other hand has developed very specialized gene treatments that cater specifically to mech designers!"

"That sounds great, but a mech designer like me can never afford them. I'm very grateful to the CFA for allowing me the opportunity to optimize my genes and improve my lifespan for free!"

He spoke his words with utmost sincerity, at least as much as his mask could convey.

While Professor Oodiv looked simple and unassuming, Ves bet that the Senior was receiving tons of information through an implant or some other means at this very moment. Lie detectors and other monitors were probably monitoring him closely nonstop!

The professor and the android slowly guided Ves out of the medical facility. While they were walking towards their next destination, the professor began to lecture him about the MTA.

"I'm sure you know what the Mech Trade Association stands for. Everything you've learned is true, but that is only what the public is allowed to know. Now that you have taken your first real step into mech design, it is time for you to become inducted into some of our secrets."

"If I may ask, professor, does every new Journeyman get to enjoy the treatment of a Senior of the MTA?"

"Heavens, no! Usually, one of our internal Journeyman will do. The reason why you merit a different treatment is because of how quickly you've advanced. Your nominal Master likewise received an impressive reception when she advanced to her current at her young age. While age does not necessarily correlate to ability, we are very hopeful to talents who advance faster through the ranks."

That made a lot of sense. An internal Senior should be an extremely powerful person. Their time was very valuable! If they were forced to meet every new Journeyman who arrived at Halcyon Citadel, they wouldn't have any time left to design their mechs or continue their research!

Ves had already anticipated something like this. His mental preparation along with his mask allowed him to maintain his composure even if he walked right alongside a Senior who was vastly more capable than the Seniors of the rest of the star sector!

"What is your specialty?"

"I specialize in pressure tolerance. To elaborate, I primarily design aerial mechs that are capable of operating in the upper layers of gas giants."

"Wow!"

That caused Ves to look very impressed. He couldn't even imagine designing such a mech! At the very least, no third-class mech would be capable of surviving the extreme circumstances of gas giants!

The professor eventually led Ves to an office. As the two of them took their seats, Ves figured that the interrogation began in earnest. He tried his best to project confidence and assurance in his own strength.

The professor activated his desk terminal and began to peruse some files. "Before we move on to the induction ritual, I'd like for you to answer some questions to fill out the gaps in our record of you. Is that alright with you, Mr. Larkinson?"

"Feel free to ask."

Ves was sure that the MTA would get its answers regardless of what he said. Saying no was just stupid.

"Alright, let us start with the greatest point of ambiguity. In your application to be recognized as a Journeyman, you described your design philosophy as 'metaphysical man-machine symbiosis'. While I know the meaning of the individual words, what exactly do they mean in combination?"

Ves looked a little hesitant. "I don't really like to elaborate my design philosophy."

"Do not be concerned, Mr. Larkinson. We are very well aware that design philosophies are deeply personal to mech designers like you. They form part of your trade secrets and are an essential component to your competitive advantage."

"Then why ask?"

"Because the MTA endeavors to elevate mechs further. Think about it. If every mech designer hoards all of their secrets, how can the standard of mechs improve as a whole? It can't! The MTA exists to manage the many innovations that mech designers develop in their pursuit to realize their design philosophies."

Ves wanted to scratch his head at this explanation. "Why would a mech designer allow the MTA to spread their trade secrets to others?"

"There are many reasons to do so, some of which you'll learn if you advance to Master." Professor Oodiv grinned. "However, the main reason to do so is because turning in your exclusive innovations and allowing other mech designers to make use of them is one of the most effective ways to earn our exclusive MTA merits. Our merits can be exchanged for several exclusive goods, the most significant of which is high-grade life-prolonging treatment!"

Ves widened his eyes. So this was where mech designers could go if they wanted to prolong their lives beyond two-hundred years or three-hundred years of life!

A mech designer's design philosophy and the innovations derived from them were incredibly valuable! No mech designer would voluntarily give away their exclusive tricks, techniques and knowledge! How could they maintain their competitive advantage if thousands of other mech designers could design something similar to their work?

Yet as much as mech designers valued the sanctity of their design philosophies, they valued their lives even more!

What was the use of hoarding all of their knowledge if they couldn't leverage them into improving their lives?

Everyone knew that the Big Two and the first-rate superstates held an oligopoly on high-grade life-prolonging treatments. While it was easy enough for someone wealthy to extend their lives by a hundred years, any step further than that could only be exchanged from one of those four powerful entities!

"Secrets are valuable, Mr. Larkinson." The professor continued. "The MTA recognizes that fact. Therefore, we have a very sophisticated remuneration scheme in place. The greater your contribution, the more merits you receive. You are doing every mech designer in the galaxy a huge favor if you illuminate a better way to design a mech. Many of the older generation see it as a way to leave a legacy behind."

"I see."

The MTA essentially established a market for trade secrets. As long as the price was right, mech designers were more than willing to give away their secrets for an opportunity to extend their lives!

"As a newly-advanced Journeyman, we won't ask you to reveal your methods or anything too sensitive. For now, we merely want you to describe your design philosophy in more detail so that we can develop a more precise understanding of your specialty. We will maintain utmost confidentiality of everything you reveal in this office."

The professor didn't phrase his words as a request, which was a very clever wordplay on his part. It sounded as if it was already a given that Ves would comply!

Ves smiled at the professor. "Okay. I trust the MTA. I haven't revealed the premise of my design philosophy to anyone, not even my subordinate mech designer. It's very controversial."

"The MTA has encountered many different design philosophies, some of which are really unusual. Regardless of how eccentric your design philosophy sounds, we will never judge you for that. Plenty of mech designers with unusual design philosophies have gone on to advance to Master and made the impossible into the possible!"

"Alright.. here goes then." Ves sighed and took a deep breath. "As you already know, I describe my specialization as metaphysical man-machine symbiosis. The central premise of my design philosophy is that I believe there is more to mechs than mechs. They are different from bots in that they are intricately tied to their human mech pilots!"

"That is true. Is that where the symbiosis comes from?"

"Yes!" Ves adopted an impassioned expression. "Humans are powerful! When they combine their strengths with mechs, they contribute much more than their thoughts and their decision-making! What happens on a technical level is not the extent of what happens when a mech pilot interfaces with a mech! Instead, they empower each other!"

The professor frowned a little. "In what way?"

"Ah, that's where the metaphysical part of my design philosophy comes in! While most mech designers focus on the technical performance of their mechs, I believe that there is much more to improve! It is an attribute that is intricately tied to the mech pilots of the mechs!"

"And that is?"

"Divinity!"

"...Divinity?" The professor questioned.

"Yes! Divinity! Godhood!" Ves raved. "It wasn't until I visited the Ylvaine Protectorate and experienced their wonderful faith that I finally realized the truth! The metaphysical component of my design philosophy stands for divinity!"

The professor remained silent while Ves elaborated on his point.

"When I founded my company, I decided to call it the Living mech Corporation. This name expresses my belief that mechs can be more than lifeless objects! They're different from a hammer or a pistol! Although they are built rather than grown, I believe the man-machine connection facilitates a symbiotic relationship between the mech and the mech pilot that allow the both of them to acquire each other's traits!"

"That is.. a remarkable assumption." The professor frowned. "While it is proven that the minds of mech pilots gradually adjusts the longer they interface with a mech, I have never heard of mechs adjusting in response to being piloted."

"That is because it can't be measured! It all happens on a metaphysical level! Don't you see, professor? Mechs are capable of coming alive because they receive the worship of their mech pilots! This is the secret to Ylvainan transcendence! Although ordinary worship isn't very effective because of all the barriers in the way, the man-machine connection skips most of that! By connecting the mind of a mech pilot directly with the systems of a mech, they share an extremely close connection! My design philosophy believes that as long as mechs are designed in a certain fashion, they can capture the worship of the mech pilots and come alive under their control as gods!"

"This.."

"Just think of the potential!" Ves exuberantly yelled. "As long as I succeed, mech design will undergo a pivotal transformation! No longer will I be regarded as someone who designs mechs! Instead, I'll become known as a designer of gods! My creations may look like machines, but hidden inside is beating the metaphysical hearts of gods! This is my ultimate aspiration! This is the future of mech design! Countless people will worship my new gods! In exchange, my gods will fight on behalf of their worshippers! No ordinary mech will be able to withstand the might of my gods! Not even god pilots will be able to withstand the flood of mass-produced gods!"

The professor didn't bother to hide his astonishment.

This was exactly what Ves wanted to see! Even if he was releasing a torrent of nonsense from his mouth, he sincerely believed in this vision due to donning a mask!

Ves deliberately chose to describe his design philosophy in this manner because he wanted to exploit the MTA's biases.

While the Association may claim to be open-minded, as a very science and research-focused organization, they did not take well to religion and superstition!

One of the most surefire ways to drive a mech designer crazy was to invoke unverifiable beliefs!

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