Chapter 6 – The Childhood Friend Battle, Part 2

“Help. Room E014”

Simple, straight to the point. But most importantly, it wasn’t Sam’s problem. What was her problem was the second rig, that was delivered to the lab after Jeff left. Thankfully, Sam managed to find a pissed off mechanist who was kicked out of his own lab in the middle of a parts test, to act as a supervisor while she worked on the parts she knew about. An international student was starting a few days late and had sent her personal rig ahead of her to have its safety inspection done and have its monitoring system added to the school’s network. Since it was a personal rig, the owner’s settings were very exactly calibrated and any changes needed to be balanced to ensure the pilot doesn’t feel any different.

While Sam had a theoretical knowledge on how to adjust the core settings, she didn’t have any experience with it and was very worried about damaging something, or setting off the anti-tampering system. For her own peace of mind, the she worked on the rig while the core was removed.

Looking over the rig’s design, it seemed to be another speed based model. That wasn’t uncommon or surprising since that was the current most popular type. The most popular type flowed through cycles; speed to defence to power and back again. Whenever the bulk of pilots chose one thing, the best counter would gain popularity. Abnormal types and balanced rigs never really gain popularity, since they were seen as risky and few countries would invest in something dangerous when they have so much to lose.

An exception to that would be the pilot that inspired Sam to become a mechanist. Sara Campbell was a legendary irregular type pilot who was most famous for her work with mechanist. She used the concept of a pit crew from the old sport of car racing to ensure she could fight any opponent.

The most commonly accepted rules for rig battles were that a rigs layout had to be submitted before the fight, in between the rounds was a 5 minute break, there could only be one mechanist on the team for each pilot, and any rig not out of the bay when the round started forfeited the round. Using those rules, Sara would submit her rig schematics as a stripped back unit with just thin armour, thrusters and a shield. It wasn’t the kind of gear that could win a fight, but it could let her survive long enough to learn about her opponent’s habits while her mechanist planned for the break. During the break, her rig would be entirely refitted to counter whatever she was fighting and would go out and win the subsequent rounds. The only way that was at all possible was because of the skill of Sara’s mechanist, and because Sara helped out with the fitting.

Other teams tried to copy them, but they quickly realised just how hard it was. The pilot needed to learn to use use speed, attack and defence type rigs, while learning to predict their opponents and enough about rig design to be able to help out. When most pilots tried to help, they only really got in their mechanist’s way. With the limited work space available to a undeployed rig, even trained mechanist could get in each other’s way, let alone a pilot that barely knew a thing.

When Sara’s mechanist was forced to retire, she did so also, saying that her pit technique simply couldn’t be replicated with someone else on her team. Seeing that trust and teamwork inspired the young Sam, and made her completely want to become a part of something similar. At the time, she had just started using sleepless, so that she could work a job while at school, so she knew that becoming a pilot, even entering a piloting high school, would be impossible. That was the only time in her life that she ever regretted starting on sleepless.

The strangest part of Sara’s retirement was that she hadn’t been heard from since. She hadn’t appeared in the media, started work at any training or maintenance places. It was like she disappeared. Even her rig and core, which were to be either placed on display or inherited, were stolen while in transport. The core creator, who tracked where every core was, released a statement saying that she didn’t know the location of the core in an interview that was described as, “Some of the worst acting ever to be caught on camera.”

Seeing that Sam was distracted, her supervisor told her to go for a walk to clear her head. If she screwed up and triggered the defences, they both die, and he didn’t seem very keen for that to happen. The time was a few hours after school had finished, and there weren’ many people around. Given the time of year, the sun was only just starting to set. Silhouetted by the pink and red sky, Sam could see to figures talking in the distance.

One was a big breasted, tall woman with straight, long black hair running down her back. The beautiful tree in the forest, Sachiko.

The other was a short woman with gorgeous red hair cut into a bob. She was the cute owner of the rig that Sam had spent the last hour working on.

As they either didn’t notice her or didn’t care, Sam decided to listen in on them. Something she regretted.

“When I heard that you were also someone from Satou’s childhood, I was a little afraid. But seeing how you acted when you barged into our class, I have no worries. There’s no way he would choose someone so shameless.” Said the tall mountain.

“When I heard that something was sticking itself to my Satou, I knew I couldn’t just wait around. Turns out I was right; a fattened leach was right there beside him.” Said the short planes.

“How am I the leach when I knew him first? Don’t try and raid my nest, you cuckoo.”

And so it went, on and on like that for several minutes, until they agreed to settle it with a rig battle. “It was obvious that it was always going to end that way, so why did they bother with the preamble?” was the only response on Sam’s mind. That was until she realised that that meant she would have to have the personal rig finished faster, and prep a school model. With Jeff working on Satou’s rig, the only people available for that are Sam and the guy that was kicked from his lab, Jared.

Crushed by that, she went back to the workshop and to Jared about what she heard. His face had already been one of frustration and exhaustion, but somehow it seemed to get worse. It was the face of someone who had resigned himself to the gallows, without any hope for pardon. After another hour passed, they had a rhythm to their work going and they were almost feeling like they were going to be able to finish at least the personal rig, when Sam’s phone went off.

It was a reminder she set; the latest time she could be there before she needed to start going home if she didn’t want to be late for work. Jared had heard the notice before and knew what it meant. The small confidence he had built up fell apart at the tone. With a small apology, Sam left in a hurry, knowing that she would still be at least a little late. As she ran, she sent a text to Jeff.

“The personal rig is needed for a fight tomorrow and so is a school model, hurry back to the workshop once you’re done.”

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