Chapter 16: Pieces of the Puzzle
A mech was a weapon, a tool in which humanity used to wage war. In ancient history, when humans wanted to find a means in which to leverage a power greater than the human body could carry, they turned to horses. When cavalry added their weight to a charge, a normal footsoldier possessed few means to resist such force.
With the rise of machines and the fuels that could power their insatiable appetites, warfare evolved. The deadliness of a single soldier remained limited, but could be multiplied if they operated tanks or airplanes. Though the uses of infantry never faded out even until this day, the primacy of machines over man in matters of warfare reigned supreme ever since.
The introduction of mechs to the battlefield reinforced this principle. Melding the human form with the awesome power of machinery, the mechs provided humans with an excellent means to wage warfare on the ground. In the past 400 years since the first mechs stomped all over a battalion of infantry and tanks, they remained the mainstay of human planetary warfare.
Ves thought deeply and could not wrack his brains in figuring out where this elusive X-Factor fitted in. It sounded a lot like the metaphysical bullshit that remained a popular topic of conversation among the dreaming students back in college.
quot;Man, why am I trying to figure this out myself?quot; Ves shook his head. He sat down in front of his terminal. quot;Letapos;s see what the galactic net has to say about the X-Factor.quot;
The topic appeared to be obscure, but due to the sheer size of the galactic net, Ves found plenty of sources.
quot;Does the X-Factor exist?quot; An interviewer asked the older gentleman across the seat.
quot;I do not know.quot; The professor replied, shaking his head. quot;In all my years of researching and developing the neural interface that allows pilots to control a mech like their own body, I have never come across a case where the mech provided measurable feedback to the pilot. The vague stories Iapos;ve heard about the X-Factor all originates from the mouths of mech pilots, who arenapos;t exactly the most authoritative voice in the area of mech design.quot;
quot;So youapos;re saying it might be a hoax?quot;
quot;I try to keep an open mind, so Iapos;m not inherently dismissing the theory. If someone is able to present me with stronger proof in the form of hard data, then Iapos;d happily convert into a believer. But from what I have found out so far, the primary sources that speak about the X-Factor are mostly veteran pilots suffering from borderline PTSD. Age, combat stress and mental injuries all contribute to hallucinations that mislead them to think a mech is doing more than it should. We havenapos;t conducted enough research on the impact of prolonged use of the neural interface to a pilotapos;s psyche.quot;
quot;Alright, so you remain skeptical.quot; The interviewer nodded. quot;Then professor, letapos;s change to a different tack. Do you believe that mechs are alive?quot;
The academic let out a contemptuous laugh. quot;Let me ask you a question for once. Do you believe that mechs can think for themselves?quot;
quot;Hmmm at some level they do. All mechs possess computing power. Without processors to regulate a mechapos;s operations, the pilot would be overwhelmed by irrelevant data. They act as the unconscious mind of a humanapos;s body. Since the infrastructure for an unconscious mind already exists, whoapos;s to say a mech canapos;t also support a thinking mind?quot;
quot;I donapos;t know why Iapos;m still alive.quot; A wounded mech pilot rasped as he beheld the stumps of his arms. quot;I knew I was a goner as soon as three bastards popped out of nowhere. My mate died, his cockpit blown apart before he could dodge. Something just snapped then. He was my friend, the partner I always shared my patrols with. Even our mechs had been a pair ever since they rolled off the factory. I guess my mech felt the same, because he fed his anger into me while I channeled my fury back into the frame. You know what happened next. We tore those bastards to shreds.quot;
A shaggy-haired prisoner of war sat down on a metal chair behind a metal table. He looked around the interrogation room with distaste. quot;You want to know my secrets? Hah, you unfeeling murderers donapos;t know the first thing about the mechs youapos;re piloting. Have you ever rubbed your hands against them affectionately? Have you sat down next to their gigantic feet and tell them about the stars? Did you for one tiny moment stop murdering innocents long enough to treat your mechs like a person? I guess not. Thatapos;s why Iapos;ve been able to kill over two hundred of you bastards with just me and my mech. Because I was never alone.quot;
quot;Iapos;ve chased after the oft-rumored X-Factor for my entire life.quot; An elderly executive stated as he sat behind an imposing desk in his office. quot;I bought and piloted over three thousand mechs. Bipedal, quadrupedal, humanoid, avian, reptilian, whatever the shape, you can be sure I piloted it at least once. Iapos;ve also painstakingly tracked down over a hundred damaged, scrapped or second-hand mechs piloted by some of the most famed aces in the galaxy. All of them were excellent machines, especially after I restored them to their glory.quot;
But now he came across plenty of hearsay that suggested that mechs were more than unfeeling tools. They had to capacity to think, to feel emotions, to make decisions on their own, even if only faintly. Was this what the System referred to as the X-Factor? Though skeptics provided plenty of viable alternatives, Ves leaned more in favor to the idea that mechs could possess life.
Still, his beliefs changed nothing by itself. His mission wasnapos;t to uncover the mystery behind the X-Factor. Instead, he had to design a mech that incorporated the vaguely defined X-Factor. How the hell was he supposed to bring life to a mech?
Then he remembered that he might have already touched the threshold. He activated the System and switched to his old designs. He called up the Seraphimapos;s evaluation.
[Design Evaluation: Fantasia 2R Seraphim.]
Variant name: Fantasia 2R Seraphim
Base model: Fantasia 2R
Original Manufacturer: Kezia Armaments
Weight Classification: Light
Recommended Role: Aerial Marksman
Carrying Capacity: F
Energy Efficiency: D-
Performance improvement: 17%
Overall evaluation: The Fantasia 2R Seraphim features a superior aerial performance at a horrible cost. Its performance in close-ranged combat has been sacrificed for powerful long-ranged firepower. The mech is able to outperform its opponents as long as it has energy to spare, which isnapos;t much. The Seraphim further shines out due to its attractive appeal.
The description commented on the Seraphimapos;s fundamental attributes. Nothing in it hinted at anything metaphysical, yet the System still gave him an F in X-Factor. Ves almost couldnapos;t believe it. The Seraphim, a kludgy variant of the four hundred year old Fantasia model, carried the potential to ignite a mech pilotapos;s performance beyond its pinnacle.
quot;What makes the Seraphim so special? The R2-E, Phantasm and Nomad are also based off the Fantasia, but why donapos;t they have a whiff of X-Factor?quot;
The puzzled nagged at Ves. He felt as if he had the pieces in front of him, but he just couldnapos;t make it fit. He doubted spending more time in the galactic net would help. A lot of the people who researched it never experienced the X-Factor for themselves.
Maybe he should find someone closer. He considered calling Melinda, but he didnapos;t want to distract her from her work. Serving in the Bentheim Planetary Guard was a great honor for a pilot as young as her. Ves already crossed the limit when he asked her to pass over information on the Caesar Augustus.
quot;I donapos;t need to find a real pilot. Iron Spirit is supposed to simulate reality accurately. Can it also simulate the X-Factor?quot;
It was an interesting question that Ves had no way of answering, but he was willing to bet the answer was favorable. He went to his store page and checked his sales log. Only five players bought the Seraphim. Four of those only piloted the mech occasionally, with mixed results.
Only one player piloted the Seraphim frequently and with considerable prowess. A Bronze Leaguer with the nickname TheSeventhSnake.
If you find any errors ( broken links, non-standard content, etc.. ), Please let us know < report chapter > so we can fix it as soon as possible.