Chapter 8 – The Childhood Friend Battle, Part 4

“Hey, we somehow managed to get them done. I’ll leave transporting them up to you.”

It was a message that showed up on Sam’s phone that really made her night. After a long first half of her shift, she was already feeling worn out, and the thought of having to spend the day working on those rigs wasn’t very appealing. The warm and humid night became pleasant as the cool breeze, that drifted in off the lake that ran through the centre of the city, touched her skin. It was something that she had come to love, the way the night felt so cool, but that feeling felt all the more heightened by the contrast in experiencing the day.

Through the use of sleepless, Sam was never tired. It wasn’t like a buzz from coffee, more like a constant moment of clarity, just after waking up. More than a decade had passed since she had started using it, and it was fast approaching the point where it would be lethal to stop. If she weaned herself off it slowly, and went through a long and arduous rehabilitation program, and if she did that before the end of that year, Sam would be able to stop using it altogether. After that point, however, her body would have gotten too dependent on it, and she would die without it. As it was, it could be lethal if she stopped to suddenly. As well as the destruction of DC, that was one of the major reasons why it was a controlled substance.

Not that it was particularly hard to obtain. Whenever Sam needed more, she just bought some online from a large chemical manufacturing company in India, that had no issues with violating other county’s substance control laws. Simply put, they were too large to fail and too powerful to stop. The only people who would have difficulty getting sleepless, would be professional pilots, whose diets and substances were closely monitored. A drug scandal could cost a country land, so they monitored their athletes closely. Either that or they tried to help them beat the tests.

Jeff pushing the transporting onto her was a little vexing, if not very predictable, but that was nothing compared to the actual work required on the three rigs. Thinking about it, she couldn’t imagine just how they could be done. Even at his quickest, Jeff would normally only just be finishing setting up Satou’s rig. With a shrug, Sam dismissed it, thinking that they somehow roped one of the other workers in on it.

After work, when the sun was only an hour away from rising, Sam sat in her apartment with a worried expression. She had miscounted the number of doses she had left. It was bad. Two days of sleepless left and the next shipment would need three. It was a dilemma that she hated to face, either cut the remaining pills in thirds and subsidise the effects with sleep, or pay extra for faster shipping. Sam’s budget was fairly tight. She wasn’t a miser like Jeff, trying to pay off his scholarship even a day earlier, but she was trying to avoid getting any debts to begin with. Since she couldn’t skip work, she would have to sleep during the time when she would normally study, if she chose that option, and if she paid for fast transport she would have to cut things out of her expenses. Food? Could be a little cheaper. Fuel? There were buses during the day but none ran at night. Rent? Not a chance. Food and fuel would at least save some, but not really enough.

Not sure what to do, Sam messaged Jeff, hoping for any kind of useful advice, while not really expecting anything. A few minutes later, she received a reply. “Just do what I do; there’s the fight at school today and it’ll be aired at Luke’s Place.”

Luke’s Place was a bar that mostly catered to supporters of Rig sports, and a haven from gambling. The building itself was an old factory that was converted into a club before being converted once again into a sports bar. It had a lot of history with the city and was one of its oldest buildings. That history was one of the reasons that investigations tended to ignore complaints of unlicensed gambling. For the kind of low stakes that Sam would need, a local match would be perfect, and Luke’s Place wouldn’t have a problem with the conflict of interest that comes from her having worked on the rigs.

Jeff had said it before, “You’re a really mechanist when you can tell which rig would win from the raw data alone.”

Although he said that, he was only right about 80% of the time. Much higher than most, but lower than his boast would warrant. His advice kind of felt like someone trying to push their hobby on someone else, more than actually helping, but he was right that it could work. If it didn’t work, she could always take money out of the money she had saved for the next year’s university fees. It probably wouldn’t put her that far behind, and with her grades, she could probably apply for a much better scholarship than the one Jeff got; maybe even an academic one that didn’t require being paid back.

As the sun rose, she made her way into the school and organised the rig’s transportation, before going to university for her classes. At around lunch time, she made her way to the old brick building that was almost a straight line between the school and the university. Even from outside the two story building’s door, the smell of spilt cheep beers drifted stronger than the outdoors breeze. Walking through the doorway, there were rows of round tables arcing around the back wall, directed at a large screen that was live-streaming the view from the school’s centre arena. A nondescript guy behind the bar counter nodded to her and welcomed her inside.

There were a few groups of people about, not many but that was normal for the time of day. A whiteboard on a side wall had the odds written up for various fights scheduled throughout the day. Most prominently as one scratched in at the bottom with, ‘local fight’ written beside it. From the odds, it seemed that they favoured Lucy, the speed type transfer student, over the attack build of Sachiko. Since neither had any fight history, and they had very similar DC, pick the one with the type advantage was a very sensible decision.

Sam placed her bet and made her way over to a table. She nervously waited for the fight to start, while texting Jeff a question she had. In professional matches, the official bet had to be made public, but at a school level, it was up to the competitors whether they wanted to reveal it or not. They still had to inform the school so that they could enforce the result, but other people wouldn’t know. Since it wasn’t made public, Sam wondered what they bet, and asked Jeff if he knew.

“I looked it up,” the reply read, “and it’s a fight over who gets to challenge Satou first. They might not have realised it, but since it’s a fight between the two of them, it doesn’t bind other people. I overheard some students say that the class rep fight might have a sequel, so they might be fighting for nothing.”

Having heard just how snarky and unpleasant the pair could be, Sam did gain some amusement from reading that. Since Jenna Baker’s rig was worked on recently, they would only have to do a quick once over before it could be used again, so it wasn’t particularly bothersome if that fight did happen.

Before long the fight started. The blue-green colour of Lucy’s rig seemed to diffuse into the blue sky with her speed. While chameleon and stealth devices were usable, their power requirements meant that few pilots would use them, especially against any pilot that could operate rig sensors effectively. With that in mind, colour choice and fast movement was the most cost effective option, so long as high altitudes and speeds were maintained.

With that in mind, the first damage of the match was dealt to Sachiko; her attack build was too laden with ammunition to move out of the way. Her rig was like a lightly armoured warrior, with just a chest plate, boots and gloves. To balance out to weight of her gatling gun and four-box missile launcher, she cut down the weight of her armour. The bright orange colour of the rig was almost defiant in the way it contrasted with the green of the field.

The pair had agreed to a single round ‘armour break’ match with no time limit; a more dangerous form of the sport were the goal was to cause the opponent’s rig’s main armour to fracture. Another name for it was ‘mechanist’s hell’ or ‘part dealer’s dream’. It was popular amongst crowds for the risk involved; one attack just slightly too powerful and the pilot gets cut. But, any parts broken need fixing or replacing, so that meant work for mechanist and money for part dealers. Sam had seen the work slip, and it definitely hadn’t mentioned that it would be an armour break round. While Sam normally though that what Jeff said about the admin workers being intentionally malicious, instead of just incompetent like Sam assumed, kind of seemed more likely.

Lucy was getting a lot of light hits in, and light damage was clear across Sachiko’s rig. The mood in the bar was evident, the patrons were convinced that it would be her win. However, Sam could see something they could not; Lucy was losing speed. So that rigs with cores could compete against training models in contests without the possibility of going to a score, the monitoring system looked for any times the limit gets breached, and sections off additional power based on its prediction of how much the rig would have needed to achieve that burst. The problem was, it wasn’t a very good system. Just getting close to the limit was sometime registered as going over, and it almost always overestimated the power draw. An inexperienced pilot wouldn’t notice, but the longer they pressed the advantage, the worse off they would be.

It seemed that Sachiko was aware of her opponent’s power issues, since when the speed dropped, she started to make a comeback. No longer just avoiding, her three barrelled gun rotated and flared to life. She didn’t aim directly at Lucy, but instead used the barrage of bullets to control where she could fly.

With her movement’s pinned, Lucy didn’t notice it until it was too late. The second heavy weapon Sachiko took with her fired also, with three rockets flying out. Knowing it was her best option, Lucy flew through the stream of bullets, avoiding the rockets that struck into the rear boundary. With fractures across her rig, it was only moments before Lucy would lose.

Knowing that, she dropped a pistol and used that arm to hold the armour together as she made a sudden charge straight towards her opponent. Unable to turn in time with Lucy’s movement, Sachiko was slammed into the back wall with the full force of Lucy’s thrusters.

With both their rigs nearing a state of being called tattered, it turned into a battle of endurance; which rig could simply hold itself together. Both pilot’s knew that, and turned the remainder of their power towards armour integrity.

Seconds passed that felt like minutes. The bar had gone silent waiting for the result.

Another couple seconds passed, and the winner was decided. Lucy lost; the early power drain was too much, and reinforcement was too inefficient in the lightest armour types.

With the fight over, there was a cheer from a half the bar, as successful punters collected their winnings and more drinks were ordered. That day Sam returned to school with a dark mood. Not saying anything, she filed an informal maintenance report titled, “Two damaged rigs require full work-over after match”.

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