The gains and benefits of teaching took time to ferment. Right now, Ves felt like a farmer who just sowed his seeds. He needed to wait at least an entire season for the crops to grow ripe before he harvested the fruits of his labor.
Unexpectedly, an opportunity to practice his teaching came after they wrapped up the meeting. As soon as they returned to their office, Iris came up to his desk.
"Can you teach me?"
Ves blinked at the sudden request. Iris hadn't done anything to merit such a privilege. She had her own work to perform, so asking him to tutor him right now was highly inappropriate.
Still, he was never a stickler for rules. "As long as it doesn't affect your work too much, I'm fine if you want to receive some pointers."
Iris put her hand on her hips and smirked. "I'm not expecting you to pass on your knowledge for nothing. Don't forget that I have my own strengths as a mech designer. My fundamentals aren't as solid as yours, but when it comes to neural interfaces, I dare say that even Professor Velten can't match the depth of my expertise!"
That was an extremely bold claim to make, and if Ves thought a little more highly of the old woman, he would have reprimanded his assistant.
"You shouldn't say such things out loud." He responded mildly. "Also, the study of neural interfaces is severely restricted by the MTA. I need to obtain a permit from the Association before I'm allowed immerse myself in this field."
"That's only important if you actually do something with your newly-gained knowledge, such as designing your own neural interfaces. The MTA will let it slide if I am just 'giving you some pointers' instead of trying to raise you up as a fully-fledged neural interface developer. I'm not allowed to pass on the core teachings of the Jupiter Family anyway."
Ves mulled the proposition carefully. After committing a heinous war crime behind the MTA's back at the System's behest, his instinctive reverence towards the all-powerful organization had taken a significant hit. The idea of bending some of their rules to his advantage didn't sound as bad.
"Well, if you are sure they won't act, I'm open for an exchange."
When Ves explained the Skills he was proficient in and revealed some of the extent of his depth in Physics, Iris looked very impressed at him. Somehow, her astonishment pleased him and spurred him on.
"It takes years of study and access to a lot of good textbooks to reach my level. However, I can grant you access to a handful of helpful titles to get you starting on shoring up your fundamentals."
"That's great! I can't thank you enough! Still, I'll feel guilty if you gift me all of this help. I know I don't deserve it was I am right now." Iris tapped her delicate chin. "How about this. Let me teach you more than a few pointers about neural interfaces. In fact, if you don't have anything urgent on the agenda, let's start right now!"
Ves recalled his current schedule and knew there was nothing on the agenda for today. "That's fine. I can determine whether it this topic fits with my interests."
"From the Jupiter Family's perspective, a mech designer who neglects the importance of neural interfaces are stunted in their growth. In the eyes of my elders, the MTA has gone overboard in restricting the study and development of neural interfaces after the infamous Farund Affair."
"Well, brainwashing through interfacing with your mech is a horrible nightmare that no sane person would wish to another." Ves pointed out. "The sanctity of the mind is a core value for humanity. When your thoughts have become the property of others, our race will cease to flourish."
"Hmph." Iris huffed and waved her hand dismissively. "Neural interface technology can be abused just as much as laser weapon or power reactor technology. In the wrong hands, they can achieve an enormous amount of devastation, but you never hear any reactor developer getting arrested for designing exploding products, do you?"
"Abuse of other technologies are easy to spot and easier to prevent. The damage that neural interfaces do is often invisible and pernicious. The fear of the unknown is often scarier than the planet-cracking superweapons of the past."
"Well, let's agree to disagree then." Iris gave up on this argument. To her, Ves had hopelessly been affected by too much MTA propaganda. "The point I was trying to make is that while neural interfaces can do a lot of damage in the wrong hands, the flip side is also true. A well-designed neural interface that is geared towards specific mech pilots can boost their effective performance by the same margin!"
Ves had often heard these kinds of claims, but it sounded fantasy back then. "How is this possible? A mech has a defined level of performance. It's impossible to exceed the parameters of a spec sheet."
"I'm not talking about breaking the specs." Iris shook her head. "As a mech designer, do you believe that a mech is constantly pushing its performance to match the upper limit of the specs in the spec sheet?"
Ves paused at that question. Just because a mech exhibited a top speed of a hundred kilometers per hour didn't meant it ran at that speed all the time. Most of the time they would briskly walk to their destination, if only to minimize their energy consumption.
"The spec sheets only define the upper limits of the specs. Mechs don't push that far most of the times."
"This is the where a good neural interface can make the difference. They smoothen and facilitate the man-machine connection so that the thoughts of a mech pilot will lead to more responsive performance from the mech. This enables the combination to switch between high and low states of their parameters on a whim. The best analogy that my Family came up with would be like comparing a rubble-filled street with a well-paved street. Mechs are able to walk through a cleared street much more easily than a street that suffered the aftermath of a destructive battle."
"So in other words, thoughts flow faster and more effortlessly with a better neural interface?"
"I wouldn't call it a better neural interface. There are ways you can elevate the absolute quality of an interface, but much of our craft concerns accommodating the unique minds of every mech pilot we've come across."
"Then are interfaces doomed to be a customized product that's bound to a single mech designer?"
"Not to that extent. Instead, you can say that mech pilots fall into a couple of hundred different types. Do you know that some mech squads from the galactic center are grouped together because they possess the same neural profile? This allows them to pilot any mech in their squads without worrying about incompatibility."
"Ah, but is it worth it? The mechs we are working with so far are doing fine without any fancy tricks with their neural interface."
"That's because the MTA-mandated standard models are designed to be as compatible and complication-proof as possible. They're the safest and most limited models, and if you knew what neural interfaces are really capable of, you'll realize how crippled they really are!"
"Well, in exchange for opting with these limited neural interface models, I'll at least benefit from some peace of mind." Ves retorted. "I don't think any standard neural interface model has ever malfunctioned since the MTA started promoting their use."
Iris laughed at that. "To me, it sounds as if you are willingly taking the hardest road when there is a much more easier path over to the sides. Neural interfaces that are able to demonstrate the potential of what they could do are highly precious because they enable a mech pilot to modulate the parameters with much less effort. Practically speaking, mech pilots that make use of tailored neural interfaces are able to push their mechs to their upper limits without any strain!"
Now that finally caught his attention. If she was telling the truth, then the risks of catastrophic failure wasn't enough for Ves to abort this plan.
"What's the difference between a standard neural interface and a better one? Besides the advantages that you already mentioned."
"Hm, the foundation of the control scheme of a mech relies on conveying the thoughts of the mech pilots to their mechs. Do you know how difficult that is? Mech cadets need months to get used to the disparity between controlling their human bodies and operating their mech bodies. A good neural interface is able to shorten this adjustment period until it's nonexistent! This is the difference that good design and access to the best materials could bring to the table."
"That doesn't entirely answer my question. I get it that better materials allow you to construct a better interface, but what are the factors in the design that provides such a specific improvement."
Iris smirked at him in an intrigued manner. "What I'm about to say is a little controversial, but here goes. Neural interface developers are able to...influence the man-machine connection. There are many dangers involved with this, the Farund Affair being one of the more subtle outcomes, but with careful prodding we're able to push a mech pilot into various patterns of behavior, such as improving their reaction speed or making them more alert to attacks from the rear!"
She was right. This was a massive bombshell to Ves. "Isn't that brainwashing?"
"Every manipulation of the mind is a form of brainwashing. It's a meaningless catch-all term. We'd like to call it influencing. Through our predetermined designs, we're able to influence the set behavior of specific mech pilots into performing actions they normally wouldn't take. Of course, as mech designers we exclusively try to come up with outcomes that will increase the odds of survival."
"That still doesn't change the fact that you're talking about unwilling manipulation! Do the mech pilots even know that their own neural interface is messing with their minds?"
"We generally abstain from disclosing the truth to regular and advanced mech pilots. Registered neural interface developers like myself received special dispensation from the MTA to withhold the truth. Mech pilots aren't the smartest bunch of people in the galaxy. Telling them the full scope of what our neural interface do will only incite panic and fear."
"Maybe some of that panic and fear is justified." Ves retorted. He hadn't completely calmed down from her earlier revelation. "The more I heard about this, the more I'm leaning away towards accepting your teachings. No offense, Iris, but messing with the free will of man and machine deeply abhorrent to me."
Like hacking mechs, manipulating mech pilots through their neural interface clashed directly against his design philosophy.
Still, despite his reactions, Iris kept smirking at him. It was as if she had encountered plenty of skeptics before.
"Let me in on another secret, boss. You should know that every expert, ace and god pilot receives a tailor-made custom mech, right?"
"Of course. They're worth the investment and they can't express their full abilities without a mech that fits their strengths."
"A custom neural interface is the key to facilitating resonance! While it's possible to achieve resonance with a standard interface, it's ten times easier with a connection that is already programmed to strengthen the association connected to the resonance phenomenon!"
That meant that every elite mech pilot above the expert level willingly submitted themselves to a benign form of brainwashing!
Ves could not receive anymore shocks for today. He held his heart and felt awfully conflicted. If Iris spoke the truth, what did it mean for his design philosophy. He held a lot of ambitions. He had no doubt that in the future that he would design plenty of elite mechs for experts and aces worthy to receive his assistance.
With the current direction his design philosophy developed towards, Ves would have to accept a handicap if he wanted to design an elite mech!
Time seemed to freeze as his doubts and mental conflicts came to a head. He felt as if he needed to make a clear decision on the spot.