Chapter 1 – Prologue

“Hey Jeff, welcome back to a fresh semester,” the informal repair notice read, “I know you’ve only just gotten back from holidays, but some students have declared war on the first day, so work needs to be done on their rigs by tomorrow. Sorry about that.”

Needless to say, Jeff was irritated by the note left beside his computer when he arrived back at work. The ‘holiday’ mentioned in the note was three day off to work at another school’s mechanics department in the lead up to the start of the semester. Unpaid work at the request of someone he owed, and in order to do that, he had to use up the sick days he had saved up. Although his official roll was called a rig mechanic, the job itself would appear more closely resemblant to an engineer or a lab technician, simply do to the strange nature of the devices he worked with.

Rigs were human shaped piloted weapon made to outperform any cannon in damage, shield in protection or jet in speed. The material they were made from could even be programmed to take on different shapes, and were controlled through a pilot’s mind. As they were not much bigger than their pilots, rigs were even hard to detect on conventional radars. They would be the best weapon ever made with human hands if not for one problem; their inventor put in place systems to ensure no one could ever learn how the cores worked, and prohibited their use in any combat aside from self-defence and sport.

Obviously, some members of military organisations didn’t take to those threats well, and attempted to dissect one of the cores in a secret lab. The resulting explosion was said to have turned more sand to glass then at the trinity test site. Other attempts simply resulted in the death of researchers and destruction of facilities, but eventually the creator’s wishes were agreed to. It certainly helped that the supply of new cores stopped to anyone that attempted to analyse them.

That in turn lead to a sudden and strange change in global conflict. With the option to attack neutralised by the power of rigs, a nation’s borders became basically fixed, and the independence of a country within could be guaranteed if they possess even a single rig. Then, a strange case set a twisted precedent. One of the largest nations placed a bet with one of the small nations that separated from it. A battle between the best rig pilots of each country, with large tracts of land as the wager. Since the creator didn’t prohibit rig based sport, the bet was approved, and the contestants met.

At the end of the fight, that small nation was once again a part of the large one, and the interactions between countries was changed. At first, people across the world were outraged by the possibility that their country could be gambled away. However, slowly over time, the outrage passed and it simply became normal. It was so natural and a part of everyday life, that the youngest generation seemed entirely unaware that the changing of lands was once a bloody and vicious affair.

The desire for national growth lead to heavy investment into all fields of rig training and research, with the development of pilots being a national priority in every country. After a while, piloting schools sprung up in capital cities allowing the hopeful and desperate to claw to the top. As resources pooled in more wealthy and prestigious countries, the local schools started to open their doors to international students, teaching everyone equally in the hopes of poaching talent.

One such school was where Jeff found himself overworked and underpaid. He was in his early thirties, though the stress of his work had lead to the emergence of some grey hairs in his otherwise tawny brown, messy hair. It also gave way to some thick dark circles around his eyes, masked by the this frames of his prescription glasses. His pale skin could also be attributed to his working life, as it left him in a basement lab for most of the day. With his normal looking appearance and generic lab coat uniform, he sank entirely into the background around him.

Rig mechanics like Jeff were some of the most highly trained workers, and Jeff himself had to study for nearly ten years just to be qualified. He was lucky to have entered that field straight after graduation, entered the workforce directly after he finished his degree. As such, he had more than five year experience as a rig mechanic; more than most his age could boast. If measured in hours, however, he would likely have more experience than someone with twice as many years, simply do to the unethical way that the school worked him.

In the early stages of his degree, his GPA was particularly high, and the scholarships available to him were therefore limited. In desperation, he signed a contract with the school he was working at, and was unable to quit until that debt was paid off. The wage he received from working as a rig mechanic for a school was much lower than what he could get in the international league, and as he would still be stuck at the school for a couple more years. Originally, his wage, minus living costs, would have paid off the debts in fifteen years, but Jeff had shorted that to a predicted seven through hard work.

Well, hard work and gambling. Not only did nations bet on rig battles, it was very popular amongst normal gamblers also. Since he had access to the base stats of the rigs in the fights, and the repair history, Jeff was able to place far more accurate bets, though that was done through an anonymous co-conspirator. As such, when his partner in crime needed him to help get her school ready for the start of the semester, he could only resign himself to helping.

And that brought him back to his present situation; a new kid and an international student were having a fight over who gets to be the class representative, so he has to spend his first day of the semester doing complete overhauls on two rigs far sooner than he normally would have to.

Noticing a problem, he swore in frustration and left an informal maintenance note on his missing colleague’s desk.

“Hey Sam, that American rig uses imperial parts and we don’t stock any. Can you have someone check with the student if they’re willing to either foot the bill for importing parts or willing to use a school model. Honestly, what kind of idiot gets a personalised rig, but doesn’t even have a mechanic competent enough to prepare it for long term travel.”

 


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