The top of the tower morphed into a very different environment after Lieutenant Ferct made her announcement.

The dark tower seemed to magnify in size until its circumference became as large as an extensive practice ground!

The casual manipulation of reality further hit home the fact that everything was under the control of the Rim Guardians.
They could turn gravity upside down, they make the dead come to life and they could force Ves to live in a completely simulated galaxy for the rest of his life!

Ves did not feel comfortable about his lack of control over the environment.
He could deal with an unfamiliar environment as long as it conformed to logic, but now that the laws of reality had become the playthings of the Rim Guardians, Ves could no longer count on even the most basic assumptions!

”It ’s like living in a reality with a very meddling god above my head! ”

How could he ever live a normal and peaceful life if some nameless, all-powerful entity kept jerking him around? He would rather kill himself than to suffer the whims of such a tyrannical being!

Therefore, even if a tiny part of him looked forward to see how well the Rim Guardians simulated the experience of piloting a mech, he mostly dreaded what he would find.

”Is it really possible for me to pilot a mech? ”

Making mechs more accessible to norms had always been a dream to many people.
Genetic aptitude limited a huge amount of the population from ever piloting a mech, which was a huge shame since there were probably many exceptional people among them who might excel in battle.

Yet was it really such a good thing to eliminate genetic aptitude as a requirement to pilot a mech?

Every prior implementation of allowing norms to pilot mechs ended in failure.
Due to their mental and physical limitations, they couldn ’t interface with a mech as fully and extensively as a mech pilot.

Therefore, most attempts to make mechs more accessible focused around heavily limiting the amount of data that was being exchanged through the man-machine connection.
Automation took over most of the low-level functions of a mech, leaving the ’mech pilot ’ in control over the higher-level operations.

In theory, the idea was sound.
In practice, it was like directing a bot to fight in their stead!

The principal advantage of mechs was that they allowed mech pilots to embody them and control them like their own bodies.
While this control wasn ’t perfect by any means, the man-machine connection was so deep and profound that every mech controlled by a fully-trained mech pilot consistently outperformed the same machine when controlled by an AI!

Trying to increase the accessibility of mechs by neutering the man-machine connection was the wrong way to go about it.
The less control the mech pilot exerted, the more the performance of the bot depended on its programming and its AIs.

While AIs programmed to pilot mechs could be decent, they simply lacked the intuition and spontaneity of human minds.

”Of course, one of the biggest reasons against developing these dumbed-down mechs is that there ’s no way an expert pilot will emerge from piloting them in this manner. ”

How could anyone reach the extraordinary threshold when they were simply piloting a mech like a kid controlled a miniature toy mech?

There was no comparison between this control mode and the real thing!

While Ves played various simulation games in his youth, the experience always felt fake to him.
The games available to norms like him were far from the experiences that potentates get to enjoy when they hopped into a simulator pod.

Everyone generally assumed that norms would never be able to pilot a mech in a serious fashion.
This act was the exclusive privilege of those fortunate enough to possess the right genetic aptitude!

”But what if this isn ’t the case anymore? What if newer tech has emerged that has subverted this assumption? ”

Ves refused to believe the upcoming trial was anything more than an unrealistic simulation.
Lieutenant Ferct already expressed as much.
Perhaps he was making a bigger deal out of this than needed.

Still, he couldn ’t get it out of his mind that the MTA might be capable of doing more.
What if they already cracked the puzzle? Were they holding back the tech that allowed any average human being to pilot a mech as well as a potentate?

If that was true, then the MTA held a powerful card in their hands that could trigger a major shift in human space!

Even if norms weren ’t capable of reaching apotheosis, the flood of low-level mechs onto the battlefield would massively increase the amount of casualties as every side threw more bodies into the fray!

Most conflicts between human states exhibited a lot of restraint because manpower had always been the most limiting factor.
With just a tiny amount of potentates and mech pilots available at any time, it was easy for states to run out of them if they fought too long!

Expending the readily-available reserves of mech pilots happened to be the primary reason why the Bright-Vesia War never dragged on for more than five years or so at a time.
Neither the Bright Republic nor the Vesia Kingdom could afford to weaken themselves further by losing more mech pilots.

”Yet all of this will change once a limitless amount of cannon fodder can replace the scarcity of potentates. ”

Such a massive change would also have major implications to mech designers like Ves.
The mech market would definitely balloon, providing every mech designer a lot more opportunities to sell their mechs!

”The premium segment won ’t be affected, but the lower segments will become a lot more significant! ”

For now though, the MTA wouldn ’t introduce such a pivotal shift concerning the future of mechs.
Allowing everyone to pilot a mech would just intensify every war and lead to much greater slaughter.
The MTA didn ’t want to revive the chaos and destruction that forever tarnished the latter days of the Age of Conquest!

”Enough hesitation.
Let ’s see how well the Rim Guardians can simulate the actual experience. ”

Ves pressed the button and activated the mech.
As its systems started booting up, his anticipation continued to build.
Whatever means the MTA came up with to simulate mech piloting, it was doubtlessly completely different from the simulations he played when he was young!

As the mech started to issue various error reports in incomprehensible alien script, Ves hovered over the button that another mech designer already identified as the command to activate the neural interface.

Ves was afraid.

He was afraid of what he might encounter.
Would the experience be so real and so fantastic that he would continue to yearn for it when it ended? Would he develop a lifelong urge to repeat the experience?

He shuddered in his piloting chair.
A part of him became tempted to give up.
To keep the simulation unknown.
He couldn ’t become addicted to something he never experienced.

that was the coward ’s way out.
A streak of courage lifted him up.
Why should he be so afraid? Did he exhibit so little self-control that he wouldn ’t be able to resist the temptation of piloting a mech?

Ves closed his eyes in a solemn fashion.
”I ’m a mech designer.
I chose my path.
No matter what I ’ll experience today, I will never forget my real identity. ”

He pressed the button.
A few seconds passed as the alien interface began to display a whole slew of alien symbols.

After that, Ves felt as if someone abruptly slammed a pipe into his mind!

”It ’s starting! ”

A gradual stream of data entered his mind, which automatically parsed it before sending back a response.

This exchange began small, but happened in an instant.
Mere milliseconds went by before the exchange of data turned from a trickle into a stream!

More and more data began to be exchanged between his mind and whatever was at the other end!

Ves tried his best to maintain his composure.
He knew he wasn ’t interfacing with a real lithic mech, but instead some kind of standalone neural interface that was ostensibly meant to give anyone in the trial ground an opportunity to experience what it was like to pilot a mech.

In essence, no matter how real the sensations felt, they ultimately fell short of the real thing!

”It ’s still very close, though! ”

Ves was not a stranger to what it was like to interface with a mech.
He rode in the minds of numerous mech pilots during his Mastery experiences.
The one that stood out the most in this case was his third Mastery experience.

He spent a significant time in the mind of Eloise Pelican.
During this period, she deployed from her carrier numerous times.
Each time she started her shift, she began to interface with her mech.

What Ves was experiencing with his mind right now was almost exactly the same that Eloise experienced whenever she connected with her own mech!

”There are differences, though! ”

The exchange of data should have continually ramped up.
That didn ’t happen.
At some point, when Ves felt as if he was close to reaching his limit, the stream of data no longer expanded.
It maintained its current volume as it tried its best to connect Ves to the mech.

Now that the initial phases had passed, Ves began to experience another change.
He began to feel as if he was in control of a second body.

The sensation was extremely weird to him.
While he still maintained control of his own body, he felt as if he acquired a second body.

Ves experimentally tried to lift his arm.

Both his physical arm and the arm of the frontline mech began to lift.

He actually moved his mech!

this is too real! ”

Ves was incredibly astonished.
Although the simulated interfacing still fell short of what he experienced in the minds of real mech pilots, this was by far the most realistic approximation that he had ever stumbled across!

As long as the implementation took a couple of more steps forward, the gap between real and fake would shrink to the point where every norm could pilot a mech!

He began to experiment more and more with the operation of his mech.
Due to his previous Mastery experiences, he already knew most of the knacks when it came to asserting basic control over a mech.

He just hadn ’t thought about using those tricks himself, so he was awfully clumsy at first.
The lithic frontline mech he piloted tipped dangerously back and forth as Ves hadn ’t been able to balance the mech properly.

Outside his cockpit, the other three mech designers weren ’t faring any better.
The light skirmisher claimed by Goz even tripped on its feet and crashed to the ground face first!

Obviously, the ultra-realistic piloting simulation was too much to bear to unpracticed mech designers! They had always been the ones to make the mechs.
Never did they ever think they would be placed in a situation where they had to pilot the machines themselves outside of simplified games!

Ves loosely estimated that the current experience was about seventy to eighty percent similar to a real piloting attempt.
While that didn ’t sound very impressive at first, even the best simulation games that Ves had played only reached ten to twenty percent similarity at best!

Aside from a number of simplified operations, Ves genuinely felt as if he interferfaced with a real mech!

As he slowly began to rein in his apprehension and astonishment, Ves began to exert an increasing amount of control over his frontline mech.
He quickly mastered walking and was currently practising his aim, which wasn ’t very good.

Now he knew why mech pilots needed to be good at marksmanship with their bodies if they wanted to be great shots when they piloted their mechs.
Their personal skills partially transferred over to their machines.

While it was possible for mech pilots to become good at mech marksmanship, they would have to develop their skills from scratch, which wasn ’t all that practical, especially since their proficiency was largely tied to their practice mech.

”In short, personal skills offer a valuable shortcut to mastering the same skills when piloting a mech! ”

Unfortunately for Ves, his marksmanship left a lot to be desired.
The two heavy laser cannons of his frontline mech often went wide whenever he tried to hit a specific point! Even a third-year mech cadet exhibited better aim than him in a mech!

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