“Hey, we’ve been assigned to help that Satou kid out with his match. You’ll be taking point so make sure there’s no public betting, in your name, on the game.”
When Sam received that message, she had no idea what would come to pass. The situation that followed was never really explained to her, but definitely affected her career. Everything seemed normal in the lead up to the start of the event; the only difference was the consideration of the other staff.
They could easily see that Sam was nervous about her first time as a competing mechanist, and helped her out with the pre-match planning and maintenance, rather than pushing odd jobs onto her. Their support made her feel like they trusted her and wanted her to succeed. It was incredibly rare for an undergrad to have an opportunity to act as a competing mechanist, even for a school level match. It was usually only even an option in the final year of the degree, but the school had no other undergrads. It was something that would look really good on her resume if she wanted to work on a team in the future.
The silver-white frame of Satou’s rig deployed at her touch and it filled her with a sensation of power. The match was in her hands. She had control over the fate of one of the most powerful weapons ever built. That kind of intoxicating feeling filled her mind as she looked over the generic looking shape of the rig.
To ensure that the pit method would work, the rig had been fitted from head to toe with hole like sockets that parts could be rapidly fixed in. That was a part that worried Sam; If sand or gime got into the holes before a part was inserted, the efficiency of the connection would drop. It was a particular problem for someone like Satou, whose high DC would make a grimy connection feel like he had sand under his skin. It was actually a strategic decision that she needed to make; whether to leave the holes open or place a cover on them.
Covers would definitely prevent grime, but they would also take extra time to remove before a part could be inserted. With the really tight deadline for redeployment, it would be hard to make all of the part exchanges even without the covers. In the end, Sam decided to go without. His opponent would be using a precision weapon that would need to be avoided more than blocked. Weighing that against the risk of deploying without finishing, it made more sense to her to go without.
In the lead up to the match, Jeff was constantly rushing between the tower and work space, trying to do two jobs at once. He wasn’t really able to focus on her work while monitoring the system on his phone. When It was time to move the rigs up to the starting locations, he rushed up the tower again to work as the announcer. At that time, Sam followed him, trying to make sure she didn’t miss anything in the match that would impact the parts she used.
Jenna’s rig entered the arena first, glowing with prideful and vivid red, white and blue colours as she showed her rifle to the awaiting crowd. She was hailed with cheers as her showmanship warmed people up to her. Satou’s entrance was just a loudly greeted, though with no effort needed; the benefit awarded to the home team. He had ditched the pistol he had used in the previous match, instead holding a wide metal shield, the same colour as his rig. He seemed to know that attacking in the first round would do him no good, that the pit method was to bet everything on the second and third round.
His sword too was replaced. Instead he had a small knife. It seemed to be a concession to weight, hoping to maximise his unarmoured defence while still having a method to attack if an opportunity presented itself. The only problem was that if the rig’s design didn’t give his intention, the equipment certainly did.
The moment the match began, Jenna focused everything into attack, hoping to lock out his rig before even the first round was up. Locking out was an aggressive way to win that revolved around causing enough damage that the rig reverted back to a cube, losing the first round, and also enough damage that it wouldn’t be fixed in the 5 minute window. Although it was a tactic that was mostly associated with attack model rigs, Jenna’s speed based sniper had more than enough impact to pull it off.
The trick to her success, was a commonly used loophole. Solid round weapons had to bring their own ammunition with them. Since they didn’t want to be slowed down, they would normally only bring what they planned to use. In matches with multiple rounds, however, they were able to restock up to the number they brought out in the first round. As such, most pilots would start the first round with an extra box and dump it at the start of the match. After that, they could restock as much as they needed, not having to mind the upper limit. Since the box was often destroyed by their opponent to stop it from being gained, or by collateral damage, pilots that had to pay for their own expensive ammunition were reluctant to use that strategy.
With the limited power of Satou’s rig he could hardly make any complex movements and even the defaulted school rig was capable of more complicated manoeuvres. In that state bullet after bullet tore through his outer energy shield and struck hard against his armour. Even though the monitor, Sam could see several of the holes distort under the pressure. Since they wouldn’t be usable, had had to quickly think of ways to equip parts around the damaged areas or bypass the damaged connections. All the while, Satou continued to take more damage.
Somehow he managed to get to the end of the first round without reaching a lock out, though the metal shield would have to be completely scrapped. As per the signal Satou gave her as he docked, Sam had a heavy defence system ready to install. Before he had even finished landing, she had already started strapping lumps or thick metal into place. The black coloured parts gave a completely different atmosphere to the rig’s default appearance; its dark colours and sharp edges gave it the image of a stealth bomber or a tank.
Sam somehow managed to just barely get the armour change done in time, ignoring safety standards to get it done. She told Satou about the work arounds as she did them. They were really not very good fixes, with the total range of motion reduced by about 30%. Sam did her calculations well, and they reduced performance would be concealable. If Satou piloted well, Jenna wouldn’t even notice the problem.
The heavy defence rig had to run out onto the field, since its thrusters were disabled to redirect the power. Thick, durable armour and an over-powered energy shield; it was a rig that could easily resist the damage from Jenna’s rifle.
But that wasn’t enough to win a match. Simply resisting damage would award the round to Jenna on points. With the first round clearly her’s, Satou couldn’t afford to lose any more. That was where the energy for the thrusters was directed. Strapped to the back of the sleek black rig was a large single cannon. While he couldn’t be able to bring new solid ammunition into the match, energy weapons, that ran on the rig’s own power, were fine without. The cannon, with a barrel about the size of a very fit adult’s arm, completed the tank-like look. The default armour, with it’s silver and white colours, was heroic in its splendour. The heavy defence frame, however, looked like the product of a cruel and efficient military.
The stark difference between before and after the pit method shocked the crowd. They let out a wild cry as they saw the legendary technique used right before their eyes. The cries peaked even more as Satou mounted a surprise comeback.
The bullets from the Rig-Breaker lost their power as they passed through the energy shield and fell harmlessly to the ground on contact with the dark armour. No-one could have expected such a sudden change, and Satou capitalised on that advantage. A solid stream of plasma burnt through the air and chased after Jenna like a hound. The bright light of the energy weapon prevented the accurate use of her rifle, even against a nearly unmoving target. She could only outrun the beam and hope to line up an attack before it caught up.
That blinding light was one of the decisions Sam made. The actual damage of the weapon had to be lowered to increase the brightness, but she felt it was necessary against a sniper. The reason it was needed was, like most things in rig combat, an issue of power. The energy shield had to be lowered when the cannon fired, and without that in place, far more areas of the rig became vulnerable to Jenna’s fire. Even with the shield, a well placed shot, such as any of the damaged joints, would still result in damage. It wasn’t that the cannon’s output was low, any school rig hit by it would shut down immediately. It was only against another core unit that it was in any way insufficient.
Thankfully, the rest of Satou’s rig had a low power usage. Since it was grounded, they didn’t even have to waste energy with maintaining flight or countering the force of the weapon. That was one area that Jenna was definitely not winning at. By the end of the second round, Jenna had lost due to energy expenditure, mostly from her flight speed and heat shielding from narrow misses.
In the second pit stop, Sam had enough spare time to fix some of the damage from the first round as well as prepare their secret change. The crowd waited in anticipation, wondering if they would make another drastic change for the final round. It almost seemed disappointing when the same black figure made its way out onto the field after the 5 minutes were up.
During the break, Jenna adjusted her strategy, changing her scope with one that could block out flashes, and using heavy explosive rounds. Because her bullets flew through electromagnetic forces, she couldn’t use rounds that wouldn’t be affected by the energy shield, so she instead chose ones that would cause substantial damage even if they were slowed. The weight of the rounds meant that she preferred not to use them, but they were the right call to make, even Sam agreed with that.
One minute into the final round and cracks could be seen in the back armour, revealing the silver beneath. Up until that point in the round, Satou still hadn’t used the cannon that had controlled the flow of the previous round. The way that the cannon rose and fell at his back, gave the impression that something was wrong; that the weapon had failed to deploy.
Worried expressions could be seen on some of the faces around the venue, as Satou once again one sidedly took a beating, defensively curled like a turtle. It was at that point that Jenna flew in closely to try and finish him off. At a closer range, the energy shield wouldn’t be able to slow the rounds nearly as much, and greater damage could be dealt.
However, that was a trap.
When she was within range, the cannon deployed on Satou’s back, but it looked different to how it previously was. Instead of a single barrel it had six rotating barrels. Solid bullets flew out from it and struck into the surprised Jenna and caused her to fall backwards. While she was off balance, micro thrusters, hidden by the black armour, flared to life as he approached her in an instant.
Moments later a dagger was piercing through Jenna’s rig’s core’s armour; triggering it to disable and return to its box form.
The match was over and there was confusion throughout the crowd. Where did Satou get the solid ammunition? Did he cheat? Would he be disqualified. At that moment, the main screen displayed the space where Satou had hunched over to receive the shots. Resting there, surrounded by the damage from Jenna’s explosive rounds, was a green metal box about the size of a shoe box. It was the ammunition box that Jenna dropped at the start of the first round. Jenna had been shot with her own rounds. Rounds that Satou loaded while pretending to be pinned down under fire.
That idea was Sam’s. She noticed the box sitting there undamaged and unused and thought of a plan that could turn around the disadvantage that would no doubt happen in the final round. With the announcement of their team’s victory Sam rushed up the tower to find Jeff.
Jeff wasn’t there, however, instead Sam met with the principal. On her orders, Sam would be Satou’s permanent mechanist and her degree would be fast tracked so that she could graduate at the same time as him. That meant that her study hours would need to increase, but the school would provide a scholarship that didn’t have a repayment clause. It seemed that some from the government had been watching, and as such they would foot the bill. Otherwise, the school was unlikely to be so generous with their spending.
Having received such favourable conditions, Sam felt the need to rush back to the workshop to brag about it to the miser Jeff. When she arrived however, his desk was cleared and his work area uncharacteristically neat. She looked about with a worried expression before eventually finding a note placed on her desk.
“Congratulations on your first win. I might be in touch when the dust settles.”