While Iris devoured every detail about the Inheritor design she was allowed to access, Ves practically sat motionless as he struggled to come up with an approach that worked.
Before the Mech Corps assigned him to the Vandals, Ves never truly collaborated with another mech designer on a joint design. Sure, he modified plenty of existing mechs and he briefly worked together with another mech designer during a competition, but those didn't concern true mechs.
The Inheritor design spawned hundreds of mechs and formed the backbone of the Vandal spaceborn mech contingent. Due to the constant minor updates to its design, a lot of variations existed within the mech regiment, but all of them roughly shared the same commonalities.
This also happened to include their spiritual stunting. They never had the chance to develop even a hint of life from the onset their design came into being. To someone like Ves who exhibited a basic appreciation for almost every mech, this attitude of treating them as disposable commodities irked him in a very fundamental way.
That mentality clashed squarely against his budding design philosophy.
What he faced right now was perhaps one of his greatest test in his career. Even if no one would put him to task for failing to come up with a solution, he would still feel bad for himself for letting the Inheritor mechs be deployed into battle in their grossly inadequate states.
To find a viable approach to this seemingly impossible task, Ves needed to go back to the root of his theory on the X-Factor.
What did he wish to accomplish?
"I want the Flagrant Vandals to succeed with as few losses as possible."
"I want the Inheritor design to receive more appreciation to increase the odds of success."
"I want the Inheritor to be a mech that possesses just enough life to be of assistance to its mech pilot."
What means did he possess to engender the X-Factor into a design or mech?
"I can work on a mech in person and infect it with my focused mentality."
Ves already proved this method worked. The spiritual entity of a mech was a smorgasbord of all the emotions and thoughts of the people who worked on the mech and its design. This was why his gold label mechs possessed such a strong X-Factor and why the mechs the MTA materialized into being appeared clinically dead.
As much as Ves knew for certain that this method worked, the amount of labor involved was exorbitant. There was a reason why the LMC sold less than a hundred of his coveted gold label mechs despite their enviable profit margins.
It required too much personal attention from him, and he had better things to do with his time. Forcing a mech designer to fabricate a mech in person was like forcing an architect to construct a house by hand.
"This is the dumbest solution available to me. It works, but it's not practical."
To truly affect every Inheritor at once, Ves needed to affect a change in its design, and subsequently allow it to be passed on to the mech technicians who applied his changes into the existing mechs.
Ves had never done anything like this before. The challenge daunted him because we was treading completely new ground, and unlike before, he did not have access to his precious Mech Designer System to cheat his way out.
Still, System or not, Ves had never relied on its help to progress his understanding of spirituality and the X-Factor. Everything he gained so far had been products of his own enginuity. Mostly.
He turned back to his original goal, to find a way to induce a comprehensive improvement of the X-Factor in each copy of the Inheritor. To do so, the design itself needed to acquire measurable amount of X-Factor.
"According to my theories, all it takes is my personal involvement."
Ves possessed a substantial amount of Spirituality, far beyond a regular human being. This enabled him to imprint his thoughts onto an existing mech with some effort. The same should apply to working on an existing design.
To sum it up, it did not matter what kind of changes he made to his design. As long as he did it extensively enough to leave his fingerprints on the design, its X-Factor should definitely be contaminated by his thoughts. Perhaps enough to foster some kind of life in this deadbeat design.
All of this sounded as if he came up with a solution to his problem, but in fact Ves was no better off than before. "I can't think up a way to improve this design."
Therein lay the rub. With several Apprentices and a Journeyman working day after day on this design, its level of optimization had reached an insane level. Even if they focused on cutting costs rather than increasing its performance, so much time had passed and so much work had been done that a newcomer like Ves wouldn't be able to spot any holes in its design.
Ves turned to Iris, who tucked her coiffed blond hair behind her ear. Perhaps she noticed his stare, because she turned her head and looked at him with a questioning expression. "What is it, Ves?"
"Ah, I'm still brainstorming some ideas. I've thought of several ways to improve this design, but they can't be applied because Professor Velten won't allow it to exceed the hard limits imposed on it. I can't get around these limitations."
Not normally at least, but with the help of Iris he may be able to accomplish something. "I'd like to work together with you for something."
"When you come up with some modifications, bundle some of mine in them as well. I'll try and come up with some ways to compliment your work so that they'll mesh well together. Then, let's serve our work in front of Professor Velten and see whether she's still willing to reject our combined solution."
"I'm not so sure about this, Ves. It sounds as if these hard limits exist for a reason. If she's as obstinate as you say, she won't change her mind just because of my presence here."
She had a point. His suggestion may not sink in to that old coot and her rigid insistence on keeping the Inheritor as light as small as possible.
"Then perhaps I can go at it in a different direction." He mused for a moment. "I think I have a way to stay within the limit. Instead of upgrading the design, I can sidegrade it. The mech won't improve, and there's a risk of introducing inefficiencies, but I think this is the right way to go."
Iris didn't agree with his assertion. "The Inheritor is highly optimized in its current configuration. A downgrade will certainly lead to unintended consequences. Without months of testing, you can' insure that the design will take a step backwards in performance."
"Even if you're right, I still have to try."
They turned back to their work. Iris spent the first day reading up as much as she could before requesting to see some Inheritors in person. While she toured the Wolf Mother's various hangars to observe the mechs take some readings, Ves sat behind his terminal hard at work at overhauling one of the most important but also inconsequential parts of a mech.
When Iris came up with her quick fix, she would inevitably demand a change to the cockpit's neural interface. This device played the main role in establishing a connection between a mech pilot and a mech.
Some neural interfaces put hard bucket helmets on the top of a mech pilot's head. Others extended alloy rods on each side of the headrest of the piloting chair. Many more did not employ a visible apparatus at all. Instead, their workings had been embedded into the seat or behind a wall panel and worked to establish a fully remote connection.
Each method came with their own advantages and disadvantages. The Inheritor employed a wireless design due to the mech's tendency to perform lots of rapid turns in space. While the cockpit's inertial compensators negated most of the g-forces applied to the mech pilot, they didn't always work as intended, especially when the cockpit sustained damage.
Therefore, light mechs predominately utilized a remote interfacing method, thereby allowing mech pilots to jostle their heads around in every direction without bumping into anything stiff.
These remote connections generally worked fine, but their reliability always came into question when fighting in an area with heavy interference. For example, fighting somewhere close to a sun or a black hole where all kinds of strange effects occur would always interfere with the signal between the mech and mech pilots.
Better technology and higher quality designs helped mitigate this problem, but even in the galactic center, nothing could beat a physical connection.
One of the ways in which Ves thought that could work was to suggest Iris to come up with a plan to switch the remote interface to a physical buckethead interface. Some mech pilots preferred the so-called buckethead interface because its reliability was without question.
Naturally, it didn't need to be shaped like a bucket. That was just a general term that mech pilots and mech designers used. The more correct term was helmet, and it could even be stripped down to a headband if needed.
No matter the size and shape, the shift from a remote interface to a buckethead interface allowed for modest weight and space savings. A remote interface came with a lot of complexity that could only be dealt with by sufficiently powerful hardware.
In comparison, a buckethead interface worked relatively straightforward. It was an old school technique that had received countless of refinements over the centuries. Many superfluous aspects and parts had shrunk over the time, to the point where they only took up half the space of a remote interface.
Ves opened up a design program, loaded the file of the Inheritor design, and proceeded to draw some sketches for his changes.
The first thing that had to go was the old neural interface. He would leave the job of filling the gap to iris. In the meantime, Ves turned back to the design and began to sketch out further changes to the interior of the cockpit.
"Raise the height of the forward console by 2 millimeters."
"Change the seat leather from an organically sourced leather to a synthetic substitute."
"Four monitor projections to the left is overkill. A mech pilot often uses two at most. I can definitely shave one off."
Ves did not focus on solving the major issues of this design. Instead he homed in on the cockpit and planted a lot of minute changes that no one except Ves would notice.
None of what he suggested so far would be able to propel the Inheritor's performance to another level. The quality and magnitude of his work didn't matter as much as how much time he spent on leaving his fingerprints on the design.
The more, the better. Volume counted the most. Even if it was an inconsequential change such as shifting the chair of the pilot forward by a millimeter, it did not change the fact that the design had been affected by his intentions, however brief it may be.
Over the next several days, Ves continued on his project to overhaul the entire interior of the cockpit. Iris meanwhile followed his suggestion and worked on designing a buckethead interface to replace the old and familiar remote interface that the Vandals had always used for this mech model.
Both of them rushed to complete their work as fast as possible. Ves had in fact finished his laundry list of trivial modifications, but he still needed to spend several more days in simulating every possible thing that could go wrong.
Several things did in fact turn up creating new vulnerabilities, but it was a lot easier to Ves to simulate the cockpit as opposed to an entire mech. Ves rapidly plugged the holes as they came.
Once they reached the end of the week, Ves and Iris both stepped forward into Velten's office, ready to present their solutions. They walked close together and when they sat down on their chairs, Iris put her hand over Ves' hand, which he readily accepted.
This was a moment of truth for the both of them. Ves smiled at Iris before he turned to face the old lady.
"Well, what have the two of you achieved? I hope you haven't wasted the last week. Let's hear your proposal."