The Mech Touch Chapter 470

472 Clashing Values
The height of his current level of Intelligence had reached a ridiculous height. This was the first time Ves put his efforts into absorbing as much knowledge as possible, and his reading and comprehension speed astounded him. He browsed through the pages of his textbooks with such speed that he already flipped to the next page while he read the current one.

Before he ingested the Transcendence Pill, he was like a slow transport. After he took it, he turned into a blazing fast corvette.

"The difference is like night and day. There's no comparison!"

The boost in Intelligence hadn't made him any wiser, but it had certainly transformed his several cognitive functions that manifested fully when it came to learning new knowledge. His brains basically turned into an organic processor that could rapidly memorize, process and understand anything he came across.

Ves became increasingly proficient in Computer Science, to the point where he had long gone past the Incompetent tier.

That said no one would ever become proficient in hacking just by reading a few books. As much as Ves absorbed a university degree's worth of knowledge, he hadn't fully mastered what he learned.

"It's like learning how to play an instrument by reading a book. As much as I'm familiar with the theories, I'm still missing some elements."

Ves did not set out to learn how to program and how to hack mechs on his own. He only wanted to gain a solid foothold into this field so he could somewhat understand what other hackers tried to pull off under his supervision.

"Besides, it's not like this knowledge will go to waste. I can leverage what I've learned to all of my future work."

Still, as much as Ves saw the potential in mastering the software side of mechs, he felt absolutely no affinity for this field. The more he delved into this topic, the more he got the sense he was beginning to go astray.

This caused him to pause his learning for a bit. He struggled to understand why some part of his personality meshed so poorly with his latest area of interest.

"Is it… because it clashes with my values?"

He could find no other answer that made sense. Programming was barely tolerable to him, but the topic of hacking really sang a discordant tone to the rest of his mind. The more he immersed himself in the many ways in which he could manipulate a mech down to its very root, the deeper his unconscious repulsion for the idea.

"This is… not compatible with my design philosophy!"

It all came down to his core ideology concerning mechs. He long believed that mechs weren't lifeless machines and shouldn't be treated as disposable commodities. Every mech held the potential for life, and they should be treated more akin to individuals than pure products.

Ves might not have completely formed his design philosophy, but he definitely knew the direction it was heading in. All in all, he believed that even the shabbiest mechs deserved a basic measure of respect.

Yet despite his beliefs, he hadn't truly fleshed out the nebulous concept of life. He always thought of it in an abstract fashion, which wasn't wrong in itself, but only scratched the surface of what this contentious word really meant.

Some people believed that bots fell into the definition of life. Even the stupidest cleaning bots possessed some form of autonomy, and even if they couldn't propagate by themselves, neither could many other organisms such as certain castes of ants or bees.

Yet even if a radicalist tried to argue that bots should be regarded as living beings and thus deserve the same rights as animals or humans, nobody would entertain such a whacky idea. Even the best AIs developed by experts that could pass most of the sentience tests eventually became stumped when it came to highly illogical subjects such as love, art, culture and faith.

Thus, society found it acceptable to treat bots and AIs as objects instead of actual life. Ves wouldn't shed a tear if a malfunctioning AI needed some readjustment, because in the end they served as tools for humanity.

The same couldn't be said for human beings. Through countless of examples throughout the Age of Conquest, humanity gained a deep abhorrence to any attempts at trying to program the human mind. Many forbidden technologies developed by heretical organizations such as the Five Scrolls Compact became masters in subverting the minds of anyone who fell into their grasp.

The vast majority of society deeply rejected these kinds of methods. Humanity had developed into one of the overlords of the galaxy, and through this growth their collective pride in their own being had grown.

"Every human is precious. No human life should be belittled."

This thought became the unofficial motto of the Age of Mechs. Heralded as a principal reaction to the massive amounts of destruction and sheer disregard for the value of human lives, the principle that life should be valued became one of the most accepted principles in human space.

Due to this universal thought, any incidences of brainwashing, slavery and excessive slaughter of humans received near-universal condemnation. Even the most tyrannical and poorly-run states tried their best not to cross these red lines, if only to deny their rivals a casus belli to justify a war against them as well as get the MTA and CFA off their backs.

"When you think about it, hacking a mech is sort of messing with their minds."

Even if it was limited to bypassing their locks to allow other mech pilots to use them, it still represented a violation of a mech's personal sovereignty. This may be why he felt an unconscious repulsion for the entire concept of hacking mechs.

"It's not a good idea for me to delve in this field any further. Not until I figure out how far I can go without compromising my design philosophy."

He didn't feel too bummed out with this unexpected limitation. Besides the Polymath, no mech designer chose to master every field. Ves had already set his priorities on which fields he wanted to develop, and hacking simply didn't fell into his list of priorities. He wasn't any worse off than before.

Above all else, this realization aided his understanding of design philosophies. They were more than a set of opinions. They guided the principles mech designers set forth through their work.

The best way for Ves to describe it would be to call it the overarching vision of a mech designer. It worked on a higher level than the mech-specific visions Ves established at the start of every design project.

"I see now! I get it!"

From this understanding, Ves faintly sensed that a couple of gears had been turned in his mind. He couldn't help but believe that he had taken one step closer to advancing towards a Journeyman Mech Designer.

Would he be able to reach that rank before the end of the war?

"Who am I kidding. I'm still years away from reaching that rank."

Ves spent the rest of his time trying to consolidate what he learned up until some of the Vandals returned to the base with hostages in hand.

"Mr. Larkinson! Your hackers are here!"

Ves immediately pulled himself out of the Clifford Society's virtual portal and strolled out with his helmet floating behind him. He didn't need to wear the helmet at the moment, but he didn't think it was safe enough to shed his light combat armor. Most of the other Vandals still wore their hazard suits or some other pieces of armor they scrounged from the base.

Kneeling down with their hands over their heads, around two-dozen prisoners whimpered and remained cowed as couple of Vandal soldiers stood over them. All of them had their wrists tied together and more than half of them sported ugly bruises on their faces and bodies.

"Please, let us go!"

"Don't kill us! We hate Lord Javier as well!"

"My child is sick! She needs her medicine!"

Ves frowned at the noise. Though a small part of him sympathised with the civilians, a greater part of his mind reminded himself that Captain Orfan's group wouldn't be able to do anything without making use of these prisoners.

"Take them away." Ves waved his hand away as if he pushed away some trash. "I'm sure this base has a holding cell or something."

The armored, gun-toting Vandals kicked and cajoled their prisoners away from the mech stables, saving Ves from their annoying pleas. He looked at the three Vesian prisoners that remained. The two men and one woman appeared to be in the upper commoner class. Though that didn't make them nobles, they would have certainly enjoyed a lot of status on Detemen IV.

"Are these the Vesian hackers?"

"Yes, Mr. Larkinson. They are placed in your custody. You can do anything you want to them."

"Good." Ves smiled.

Things were picking up now. He looked at each of the three prisoners and saw that all of them looked to be in their thirties or thereabouts. Right now, their expressions looked awful. Each of them had seen how the ruthless Vandals captured their family members and treated them with rough hands. Fear and worry suffused their minds.

Ves nodded in satisfaction when he saw their fear. He took no pleasure in their suffering, but he wanted them worried enough that they wouldn't think of pulling something off.

He stepped forward, letting his armored boots clank against the deck of the mech stables. This caught their attention.

"Welcome to the makeshift headquarters of Captain Orfan from the 6th Flagrant Vandals. It's kind of a mess right now. It would be much cleaner here if we can get all of these mechs out. That's where you come in. I need you to put your hacking expertise to use and unlock these mechs so that the Vandals can make full use of them. Refusal is not an option."

The three prisoners looked at Ves as if he was a devil. "W-W-Will you let my family go?"

"Sure." Ves whipped his hand dismissively. "We'll have to keep you until the end of our deployment on Detemen IV, but yes, if you do what you are told, you can leave with your families after this is over."

Perhaps coming from him this might not have been much of a carrot, but the stick was big enough to force them into compliance anyway. The three hackers unanimously agreed to hack the mechs under his supervision.

"Ah, we don't have our tools. Without our special computers, it's going to be four times as hard to break into these mechs!"

"We don't have enough time to retrieve your equipment. Make do with what you have." Ves answered instantly.

Ves had already prepared some computer terminals for them. He also made sure to disconnect them from every other network. He wasn't too assured with disabling their connectivity from the operating system, so he took the extra step of opening up the gadgets and physically disabling the components that allowed it to connect with any networks.

The only way these terminals could interact with other machines was through hardline cables.

"We can't work as well without our hacking software. I need to download my software suite from the galactic net."

"No!" Ves rejected in an even stronger this time. "We won't risk you pulling something off on the galactic net. I know that mechs can still be hacked with a basic terminal, so don't give me any excuses. You work with the tools we've given you and nothing more."

Though it certainly crippled the capabilities of these hackers, Ves and the Vandals simply couldn't afford letting these Vesian hackers run out of control.

Thus, under gunpoint and under coercion, the kidnapped hackers proceeded to cobble up their own tools as they discussed how to hack the mechs. Ves stood quietly behind the three and listened on. While he couldn't completely follow their thread of conversation, with the help of his newly acquired knowledge he understood enough to know if they did their jobs in earnest or tried to slip in something bad.

After two hours, the hackers unlocked their first mech.