Chapter 3 – The Class Rep Fight, Part 2

“Hey Jeff, I couldn’t find any imperial arm stabilisers, but there were some metric ones that would mostly fit, so remember to correct the aiming system two degrees to the left if you end up using them”

Unfortunately for Jenna Baker, the note that Sam left for Jeff was blown off the table by the door shutting behind her, and was unnoticed by the stressed out worker. Some time after midnight he finished his work and left the programs to compile overnight. Given that the arena was a kilometre at its longest, a two degree difference could ether be completely unnoticeable or a devastating defect.

Jenna however, was a precision shooter, that specialised in almost entirely in making difficult shots while moving at high speeds. For her loadout, that mistake would throw off her entire performance. That mistake would normally been easily corrected at multiple points, and if the same parts were there in the morning, Jeff would have easily noticed that mistake. But things didn’t turn out that way and instead Jeff went home thinking that he had done his job correctly.

Early the next morning, at around six, Jeff was once again back at work. With travel time and living, he had only slept four hours the previous night. As such he trusted himself and applied the compiled programs into the black cubes that formed the rigs. The only difference between the two one square meter cubes was that one had a jutting yellow sphere sticking out of one of the sides. It was the core energy receiver that showed that it was a training model. When each of the boxes ran the programs and reconfigured themselves into the shape of a suit of winged armour, the yellow sphere was still visible, fixed in place in the chest-piece.

While the transfer student, Satou, had a suit of armour that wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a cyber-punk renaissance fair, Jenna ‘armour’ almost made him feel embarrassed for her. Aside from gauntlets and greaves, the suit could best be described as bikini armour with a back plate where the wings attached. The official explanation of the armours appearance was that it cut down on the materialisation of armour in order to boost the complexity of the flight system, while keeping the weight down. Given the suit’s projected performance, Jeff could almost believe that. That is, if he hadn’t read the previous worker’s report say that he had been instructed to keep the exposure high as a means of throwing opponents off balance.

In one of the gauntlets was the one and a half meter long barrel of her suit’s famous Rig-Breaker rifle. It was somewhat famous amongst mechanist, as it was a rare solid round rail gun type weapon, but was designed to look like a conventional firearm. The downside of that was that actual ammunition would have to be carried into the match, meaning the pilot needed to plan carefully. Too many bullets would add to the weight and slow speed, but too few meant risking running out. All in all it was an incredibly unbalanced glass cannon.

The set up Satou had requested was basically the exact opposite; an all-rounder that could do a little bit of everything. It had a sword in one hand and an energy pistol in the other, a solid setup for short to mid ranged fights, without having to worry about planning attacks in advance. The armour was durable but not too thick, and it had several smaller thrusters positioned in key locations. Defence wise, it could stop a couple hits and avoid a few also. On one hand, it could be said that the loadout was suited to every situation. On the other hand, it could be said that the pilot hadn’t committed himself to anything.

With the rigs finished and delivered to the arena, Jeff could finally get back to work… doing the same thing for more sets of school models in the lead up to the start of practical lessons. At some time just before the start of the school’s lunch period, he received a call from one of the teaching staff. It seemed that she was the home room teacher for the two idiots that picked a fight on the first day, and wanted to organise for some members of the maintenance department to oversee the fight. Normally, Jeff would have sent Sam along to something so tedious sounding, for the sake of her education of course, but it was one of the days she was at her university instead.

Knowing that it was easier to just get the tedious tasks that pilots set over and done with, Jeff agreed to do it personally. If one of the senior mechanist was there, then only one person needed to stop working. So it only made sense in terms of meeting their deadlines. With someone else from the department taking over his work, Jeff made his way over to the arena ready to treat the fight as a short nap between tasks.

When he arrived at the arena control room, a room that look similar to an airport traffic control tower as it looked over the field. Seeing no one else around, he booted the main computer and set to work, making sure all of the monitoring equipment was functioning. Given that the arena’s core had to maintain the protective field at the same time as powering the Satou’s rig, its power would be distributed at a 3:2 ratio. As such, Jenna’s rig would be required to operate at 40% max output, and going beyond that would cause her loss if the fight ended in either a draw or time ran out. Since they had agreed to a single 5 minute round, time out was entirely a possibility, and the fact that Jenna not only agreed to, but proposed that rule, showed how completely confident she was in her victory.

A couple minutes before the event was set to start, the teacher that called finally showed up. She was a pilot that retired early when an opponent’s blade managed to get through her rig’s shield and score a direct hit to her leg. While the injury was mostly healed, to the extent that she wouldn’t notice it in her daily life, the cut was contaminated with formless rig particles, that couldn’t be removed. If she were to come into contact with a core, its energy would likely activate those particles, causing them to expand and slow her bloodflow. Since that problem wouldn’t occur with a school model, if she ever wanted to fly again, teaching was her only option.

Her real combat experience was how Ms Deborah Burgess gained the student’s respect. But amongst the maintenance department, there were some bad rumours about. Despite her young and innocent appearance, it was said that she had had several affairs with her students. Her black hair matched the suit she wore, and only served to make her already small chest seem ever more diminutive. Apparently, the rig she had used was a speed type like Jenna’s, only coloured with a black and red instead of Jenna’s patriotic blue, red and white. With that look she had been known as ‘Battle Imp’ during her short lived career.

With the overall importance of rig related jobs, a lot of problems were overlooked. Jeff’s own gambling was probably being ignored, as well as Sam’s obvious drug dependency. Compared to them, Deborah’s affairs were almost promoted. Rig control was dependent on a factor called ‘Digital Comparability’, which was a measure of how similar their thoughts were to the code that the receptors could recognise. The higher the percentage, the more their thoughts could be converted to commands and the more information gathered by the rig could be conveyed to the pilot. DC was also a genetic trait, meaning the children of two pilots were more likely to be able to become pilots.

A normal person had a DC of about 15%, which would be enough to directly control a rig on land, as though it were a prosthetic limb, after a couple months of training. Fight required 25%, and basic combat needs at least 35%. In order to receive information from the rigs sensors, a basic requirement for fighting at the flight speeds of a rig, at least 40% DC was required. As such, the official school acceptance rate as set at that.

When Deborah Burgess entered the room, she didn’t notice Jeff at all. Like most pilots, auxiliary staff were invisible to them; just a part of the computer he was operating. It was such a normal occurrence that it was far more surprising when one actually did greet them. To other pilots however, they would be some of the most sociable people around, hiding hatred with kindness and lust behind pleasantries.

Not long after, the fight began. Jenna started out aggressively and pinned Satou down with long ranged combat and easily avoiding his pistol fire, with both speed and distance. The silver colour of Satou’s rig started to get stained black with scorch marks from near misses from the Rig-Breaker and, after four minutes, he looked worn down and tired.

Suddenly, in response to Jenna’s taunting, he directed his thrusters straight back and started to fly directly towards Jenna, seeming to make a final desperate dash. Slashing his sword, he cut the projectile racing towards him and gained ground, ever closer to his target. There was only a few seconds left on the count down, and both sides were running low on power.

Satou raised his blade when he was within range and readied an attack. But he was too late. The time had run out and the match was over. He had lost and Jenna was the new class representative.

Through the sound control system, Jeff could hear Jenna whisper, “For him to predict my shots so precisely… unbelievable.”

With the match over, Deborah rushed out to meet her students, leaving Jeff there to pack up the system and start repairs. During the post-match rig maintenance, Jeff noticed the mistake he had made with the arms parts, and quickly wrote a note.

“Hey Sam, about the work on the custom rig. If anyone asks, say that John did the targeting calibration.”

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