Chapter 13 – The Soldier Sorties, Part 1
“You’d better look out, my partner and I are headed to that friendly international. If you’re not careful, you’re partner’s rig’ll hit the arena hard!”
In the middle of his workshop, Jeff started laughing while reading that. It wasn’t just the absurdity of it, but also the confidence. While school pilots entered junior tournaments fairly regularly, they never got beyond the second round. The difference in real combat experience was simply far too great. They also faced an unfair match in terms of equipment. Rig parts were cheap so the standard used on school rigs were outdated. While rigs manufactured a lot of their own internals, even the designs used could be expensive. Licensing fees for proprietary parts was almost as expensive as manufactured parts and using unlicensed parts in a competition was grounds for disqualification. That was why school league pilots, who had access to lower paying matches, tended to have worse parts.
There was an exception, of cause, for people with wealthy backgrounds or connections to the design companies. Talented pilots could also gain licenses through sponsorship deals, or through winning matches with their licenses as the ante. That kind of challenge was dangerous to accept, as it usually lead to a spiral of losses, were their condition got worse and desperation got greater.
Ensuring that all licenses were up to date was one of the key reasons for having a personal mechanist, as having multiple people involved sometimes lead to confusion. At the very least, a personal accountant could be substituted there.
Hearing Jeff suddenly start laughing, his pilot walked over to see what happened. In the month that they had worked together, Savannah Luca, hadn’t once seen her mechanist do that, and was naturally curious. She was average height for a woman her age, though the thick layers of muscles on her tone body tended to either make her seem taller or shorter than she was, depending on perspective. It was a strange effect that was somehow heightened by her dark coloured skin. Jeff insisted that her crew cut hair added to the effect, but one of the other pilots, Bradley Wright, said that it was actually somehow worse when she grew her hair out.
Coming from a long line of soldiers, she was completely comfortable as she walked about wearing fatigues and heavy boots, even in the relaxed environment of the workshop. Sav’s rig even reflected that to a large extent. It could be called an irregular type, or maybe just an abnormal attack type, but it definitely reflected a type of military adaptability.
It was, at its core, a lightly armour full body type that focused on physical arms over energy weapons and retained a lot of energy for customising for specific opponents. It wasn’t like the pit method, where parts were changed in the match, it was about changing parts before the match to target the opponent. It was a very strong theory, but one that required a pilot with excellent adaptability, and a mechanist able to work quickly and research well. Jeff’s experience at that school was basically the best preparation they could have asked for; he spent years researching pilots and adapting rigs for them nearly every day.
Although Sav seemed stiff and overbearing at first, as Jeff got to know her, he realised that she had a kind of naivete about her that was almost endearing. The way she paid careful attention to the condition of her rig, and ensuring that she was there for, and understood, every step of the maintenance also left a positive impression. That allowed the two of them plenty of opportunities to talk and made their teamwork blossom. Whenever Savannah felt the rig was even the slightest bit off, she was comfortable to report it and discuss whether it was something to change or improve. Whenever Jeff noticed extra strain on some parts, he could tell her about it to correct errors in her manoeuvres.
In the month since Jeff started there, she had become the most improved member of the junior team.
One of the interesting things Jeff learnt about Sav during that time, was that she hadn’t attended a piloting school, and had therefore never been in a school league tournament. With her family having a tendency to travel, she had to be home-schooled for her education and learnt rig piloting from soldiers on the various bases, in various counties, she visited. The mixed together piloting method certainly reflected having dozens of teachers, in Jeff’s opinion.
Her focus on building physical strength was actually something she had learnt from one of those teachers; “Rig piloting is about reaction speed, so is your DC is lower than your opponent’s make up the difference with your body.” That was what they said and it was certainly a reasonable method, though not a widely used one. Most piloting schools felt that beyond a certain point, if you have time to train, you have time to pilot. That wasn’t an unreasonable way of thinking either, experience was the best way to judge a winner.
Sav’s learning method did give her one edge that other pilots didn’t have; extra time to practise. Whenever she was taught a martial art or a new way to use a gun, she adapted it into rig combat. It meant that she could train to use a rig, even when she didn’t have a rig with her.
That was the number one reason why Sam’s message was funny to him; there was no way in hell his partner would lose.
Without much event history, they would be entering the event unseeded. That meant that it was far more likely that they would have to fight school league pilots, with the way the rounds were organised. That was slightly troubling for Jeff, since that meant less information to work with, but was also a good warm up for Sav.
The match was going to be held in a school arena that was recently won back from an enemy country, so while it was a home game tournament for Jeff’s team, neither side were particularly familiar with the area. Jeff, as a mechanist, would have to go their in advance to scope out the area. While that would normally be his job alone, Savannah was planning to go along with him, using the time to acclimatise and insure that the conditions don’t affect the rig. When Jeff heard that, he felt completely relieved. Although assassination attempts were unlikely in a friendly event, there was still a risk. With a rig next to him, however, that risk approached zero with there being little chance of success and no chance of escape afterwards.
A couple days passed and they were standing outside the event arena. It went for the same Colosseum design that he was used to, though was more newly constructed then the one at the previous school. A notable difference was in the efficiency of the energy shields that protected the crowds. Although it was designed as a school venue, they had clearly intended more for it to function as a fighting grounds than a learning grounds. That was evident through the way the power was distributed. The field only had enough energy projectors for two school models at a time, and instead focused on shielding. That would mean that only two students could use the space at once, slowing down training and limiting availability. On the other hand, it ensured that even it two attack type rigs with cores were to hit the shields at once, the crowd wouldn’t be in danger.
The shield generators, that made it possible for one core to over power four rigs, worked by being far, far more energy efficient. While it had been attempted many times, no one had ever succeeded in reaching anything like the same efficiency with a portable generator, like what a rig used. Arena shield generators were large, each one was almost the size of full rig, and were filled with delicate parts that couldn’t be easily moved.
Unlike what Jeff was used to, the city they were in was inland, and the summer heat varied hugely between day and night. The air was also incredibly dry, meaning energy based wouldn’t have their impact limited by the ambient moisture. So long as that didn’t change before the start of the junior matches, they would be able to try out their latest plan.
The junior matches were scheduled to start on the Monday of the week following the school division. That meant that there was still plenty of time for the weather to change, but was also plenty of time to get used to the conditions.
Looking around, Jeff saw a familiar face amongst the other mechanist checking out the venue. Sam was there, dragging a cart filled with parts towards her team’s workshop. Earlier that day, he saw a truck making deliveries and had assumed that Sam’s parts were included, but it seemed that the school was still practising favouritism.
Walking up to her, he let out an exaggerated sigh, to get her attention and set the mood, before saying, “How many more trips before you’re done?”
Sam’s face lit up with surprise as she turned around and noticed him, but quickly hid it to play along, “Only another three trips. Thankfully the admin staff were able to get my delivery truck permission to travel into the outer ring, otherwise I’d never have found the time to exercise.”
From her snarky tone, it seemed that Sam was starting to believe his, ‘admin are out to get us’ theory. Better late than never. After that, he introduced Sam and Savannah to each other. To both Jeff and Sam’s surprise, Sav offered to use her rig to help move the boxes. Something about that felt kind of wrong, but convenience made them cave and Sam accepted the help. After that, Jeff didn’t see Sam until the start of the school league matches.
Sam, whose mysterious partner was apparently the youngest Kaya, had her first match on the opening day. Sachiko’s rig seemed to have been outfitted with a core and the existing weapons had been replaced with even larger ones to match the new power supply. Her usual gatling gun was replaced with one with an even larger barrel, it was more like a rotating rail gun than a normal projectile weapon, since it had so many magnetic boosters and stabilisers attached. Her missile launcher was also enlarged, opting for additional capacity over more explosive yield. That made a lot of sense, since they were already very effective and the additional 5 shots allowed more leeway to include more niche explosive types. Knowing Sam, Jeff suspected they were probably capitalising on that.
Since there was very little public data on the way the students fight, there wasn’t much choice but to watch the matches if they wanted useful data. Watching was also helpful for ensuring that the stadium didn’t have any secrets or twists that needed to be known. As such, there were a lot of mechanist from the junior divisions in the crowd for those matches.
Sachiko’s first opponent was a defence and evasion type, that tried to use both armour and speed to wear down their opponent’s power levels before using the weight of the armour to inflict blows. It was an incredibly one sided match, as, although that strategy was one that would work on some opponents, it was the perfect enemy for Sachiko’s rig.
The gatling gun tore through the shields and quickly turned the main thruster to Swiss cheese, leaving the main armour to be cooked by missiles. Jeff’s suspicion seemed to be on the money as one of the missiles used, in addition to the normal type, was a high-heat warhead that raised the armours temperature and left it more vulnerable to force. Before even half of the first round was up, Sachiko’s opponent had their system lock out. They didn’t seem to have a personal mechanist, and weren’t able to repair before the 5 minutes were up, thus losing the second round also.
After that match was over, Jeff sent a message to Sam.
“Congratulations on the easy win, the variety pack missile launcher is a nice touch.”