Even if Ves hadn't even made a single move yet, he already saw through another layer of the test.
It challenged his mental fortitude.
By showing him a glimpse of the ambitious impossibility the Skull Architect attempted to reach, Ves should have been scared off or dismiss the Senior as a nutjob.
"Is he, though?"
The Leiner Grey incorporated many aspects that Ves couldn't help but consider pure genius. Certainly, the temptation to learn from them and copy the tricks for himself grew stronger the more he dove into the Skull Architect's work. His progress in increasing the efficiency of his mechs had reached a height that Ves had never seen in any other mech.
"Damn, what am I thinking?" He shook his head. "This design is a temptation! If I didn't catch myself, I would have been converted to the Skull Architect's design philosophy!"
An authentic design from a Senior usually put pressure on the minds of junior mech designers, warning them to go no further unless they willingly threw away their paths to follow someone else's. The high accessibility of the Leiner Grey design somehow circumvented this defensive measure, causing those who become too eager to study this design to become full converts to the school of efficiency.
It was a naked temptation, and Ves couldn't help but question the Skull Architect's motivation for disseminating this design. "If I give in to the temptation, I would get a quick boost in my mech design ability at the cost of losing all of my previous progress. If I resist, I will still be contaminated, but it should be in a controllable range."
The latter sounded negative, but what really went on was that the Skull Architect passed on some lessons to Ves. It was simply up to himself to ensure he didn't get lost in the abundance of what he learned.
He needed to remain clear-headed throughout his design work, but the problem with that would strengthen his concentration. If he muddled his head a bit, he could prevent the X-Factor from becoming stronger, but then the contamination gained the opportunity to spread.
Ves faced an implacable dilemma at this junction.
"At this stage, I can't afford to harm my nascent design philosophy. It is the core of my being and something that is wholly unique to me. The best path for me is the one that I forged on my own."
After some contemplation, he decided to maintain a slightly higher focus at the risk of leaving a stronger imprint on the test design.
Ves encountered no more surprises as he worked on the Leiner Grey. Perhaps it hid other secrets underneath its clean lines and dry specifications, but it there were any, Ves lacked the perception to pick up on them. The aspects he picked up already put enough concerns on his plate.
Compared to the freeform test he issued to Ketis, the test with the Leiner Grey narrowed down the problems into highly specific instances. The missing gaps in the design could only be filled in a limited amount of ways. The only materials and component licenses that Ves could draw upon were those included with the design files.
One of the issues that initially tripped him up was the fact that the Leiner Grey was a second-class mech design. It utilized a higher standard of materials and technology from third-class mechs which Ves had always worked with in his main designs.
To put it simply, Ves worked with pauper designs where cost was the major restraint. Exotics were used sparingly and many mechs he came into touch sold for prices ranging from three million bright credits to several hundred million bright credits at most.
The Leiner Grey, despite being a light skirmisher that didn't use up a lot of materials, already came with a floor cost of one billion credits!
If Ves tried to convince the Vandals to upgrade their landbound light skirmishers with an estimated cost of just 20 million bright credits to a Leiner Grey, they'd punch out his teeth before dumping him out of the airlock!
One billion bright credits was an extravagant price for a mech that only performed a couple of times better than a third-class equivalent!
"The cost is multiplied by a factor of at least a hundred, but the performance boost is only multiplied by five to eight times at most."
This was a horribly poor exchange rate, but a wealthy state like the Friday Coalition could afford to be extravagant. They possessed vastly more wealth relative to their manpower. Each of their mech pilots got to enjoy luxurious mechs compared to their pauper neighbors.
The result of all of this was that Ves needed to adjust to the higher standards. The amount of power and might at his fingertips tempted him to be liberal about their implementations. Ves realized that this was yet another trap.
"It's a temptation for me to swing all that power around. However, if I do so, my solutions become sloppy and I"ll lose sight of my original standards."
Ves had never been wasteful about the resources at his disposal. Making the most out of a limited set of resources had always been a lesson that each mech designer from a third-rate state carved in their hearts. In the face of sudden wealth, the last thing they needed to do was to take it for granted and spend it all without a care in the galaxy.
He narrowed his focus yet again, preventing him from getting caught up in the rush of power. Once he got a grip on his mind, he resumed solving the problems of this test.
Days passed by in quiet contemplation interspersed with continual insights. Deconstructing, analyzing and providing solutions to the gaps within the design became a form of catharsis to him. He slowly forgot all of his responsibilities and become entranced at the challenge of solving the puzzles the Leiner Grey presented to him. Ves felt compelled to engage in them like a mouse going after a trail of cheese.
The puzzles he solved dealt with problems that seemed trivial but might prove fatal to the design if Ves offered the wrong solutions. Larger problems on the other hand granted him more leeway into solving them, yet he needed to do so in his own way rather than the way the Skull Architect preferred to do so.
As the Flagrant Swordmaiden fleet almost reached Mancroft Independent Harbor, Ves finally completed his design work after investing six entire days into filling up the gaps. The holes in its engines, power reactor, sensors, internal architecture, legs, arms, and many more had all been filled with parts that seamlessly merged into the existing design.
When Ves finally took a step back and evaluated the finished design, he rubbed his tired, bloodshot eyes and sighed. "Well that didn't go according to plan."
The Leiner Grey compelled him to invest increasingly more attention into solving it. Ves tried many times to restrain himself in order to remain at a healthy distance, but his obsession got the better of him a few times. Rarely did he get to touch, feel and work with such an advanced mech design that unabashedly exposed all of its secrets!
"This design is like a succubus. It's constantly tempting me into abandoning my own principles."
The Skull Architect deserves his infamy. Even if he stopped chopping up mech pilots to advance his research, he still found a way to screw over others. Though whether the victims became worse off or not was still in question.
"The less talented mech designers with no hope of forging their own paths will benefit from following in the Skull Architect's footsteps."
Ves had no such intentions, however. He aimed for the top, and that required him to learn from others without becoming subsumed by their attraction. In order for students to surpass their teacher, they needed to step outside the rails their teachers meticulously constructed for them. Even if staying inside the rails was the path to least resistance, it always led into a solid wall at the end.
"What a profound design. I've learned so many lessons in these days."
Pure satisfaction ran through his tired body and exhausted mind. As he basked in the joy of completing this perilous but fulfilling challenge, he reflected on his results.
If Ves followed the original intentions of the Leiner Grey, then he would have pushed its limits in terms of energy transmission and other factors. This allowed it to achieve a greater level of performance at the cost of eating away at its tolerances.
Basically, it turned the Leiner Grey from a dull but stable mech platform into an exciting but inwardly brittle piece. The gains the original design had achieved in adding extra power and armor were partially negated by the awfully tight state of its internal architecture.
It also made the mech a lot harder to control. The Leiner Grey gained a boost in performance that went past its stable limits. The mech basically strained against its own frame with every vigorous action it performed.
If Ves compared it to the exertions of a human athlete, then he could easily develop muscle sprain, culminating to severe injuries if he kept pushing his body past its limits.
A human body was flexible and had the ability to grow in order to cope with the added strain. A mech frame on the other hand was a static, mechanical construction that was essentially static. It wore down and broke when it faced continuous abuse.
"This is one of the weaknesses of the Leiner Grey. It's performance is high, but its life cycle is too short. It can already be written off after five years of intensive battles."
That made the Leiner Grey a mech with a poor benefit-to-cost ratio. Customers paid the equivalent of about one billion bright credits and lasted five years with the mech.
For the same amount of money, mech purchasers could instead buy a similarly priced mech that could easily last at least ten years or more. The only downside to these alternatives was that their performance was slightly inferior to the Leiner Grey.
Still, faced with this calculus, the most rational option to most customers was to buy a mech that lasted at least a decade.
"The only reason the Leiner Grey isn't an outright failure is because there is a market demand for high-performing mechs."
The mech markets of second-rate states was completely different from the lesser markets of the Bright Republic. People had more money to spend, and they didn't mind splurging lots of money for a momentary advantage. Acquiring a new mech was like changing a set of clothes. A poor benefit-to-cost ratio was no issue to these wealthy customers as long as the performance was high.
The only problem with the Leiner Grey was that the original configuration increased the difficulty of piloting such a machine. It was like manually driving an aircar that was perpetually moving at its top speed. The uncontrollable performance of the aircar could easily lead to a crash if handled improperly for just an instant.
The barrier to pilot the Leiner Grey was so high that only advanced pilots with excellent training and above-average neural aptitude were qualified to pilot this beast. Even then, nobody liked to pilot this berserk mech. The strain on their control abilities made piloting this high-powered mech a chore at beast, and torture at worst.
It simply wasn't pleasant to pilot this mech model, and that proved to be its ultimate downfall.
"No wonder the Skull Architect pursued the X-Factor. In order to accommodate the extremes he's willing to push his designs, he sought a way to compensate for this deficiency by trying to find a way for the mech to strain their mech pilots less."
The Leiner Grey design marked a point in time where Reno Jimenez was at the cusp of giving in to his darker urges. His designs all shared the same problems. They strained against their limits and were barely controllable by their mech pilots.
This problem must have gnawed at the Senior Mech Designer's mind for years. After being tortured by the same issue over and over without a solution in sight, was it any wonder that he grew desperate?
Either he could find some way to solve the control issue, or he could abandon the design philosophy he painstakingly built up over many decades.
The latter was too painful to contemplate, while the former involved chasing after a unicorn called the X-Factor.
"No wonder he went crazy."