Chapter 15 – The Soldier Sorties, Part 3

Chapter 15

“How do you fight something like that?”

Jeff understood that Sam was still very new to the sport, but was still a little disappointed that she got distracted by what she was watching and forgot the first lesson a mechanist learns; ‘There is no magic, only parts.’ It was such a fundamental point, that it was all he was willing to send her. If she didn’t catch on, then her loss would be a good learning experience.

‘There is no magic, only parts.’

On entering a competition, all rig parts were registered in the entry form and any parts added later had to be registered on a separate form attached to the same file. As such, no matter how mysterious the stealth technique seemed, how it was achieved could be looked up by anyone.

Sure enough, after 10 minutes of skimming through the list, Jeff had the answer. That was why stealth type rigs were rarely successful, the match was always decided before it begins.

Different types of stealth technology worked in different ways, some blind, others hide and others still disappear. To blind meant to impede the opponent’s sight and sensors. To hide meant to camouflage or otherwise change themselves so that they can’t be discovered. To disappear meant to not be where the opponent is looking, either through confusion or constantly moving. Those three methods were the basis for stealth. As with all forms of rig combat, effectively using those things was a matter of balancing power. Ideally, a pilot would want all of them to be maximised, but doing so would leave no energy for anything else, such as a weapon.

The trick that the Second Black Spider pulled was different to the first. The first retired after their method was revealed; that she had a lot of extra parts equipped to make their opponent focus on those parts, which were never active to begin with, when she really only stayed hidden, buried under the arena surface and attacked with a variety of silent weapons and traps. The second seemed much different, they seemed to be actually using all three, and their only weapon was a single throwing knife on a string.

The part that tipped Jeff off was the lack of weapons. There were a lot of weapons listed as spare, but if you paid close attention, there was only one type that was ever listed as used; small and throw-able weapons. Knowing that, even without knowing how the trick worked, it was still possible to beat them. All they had to do was fight defensively and strap on as many layers of armour they could find. As great as the knife-wire seemed, it still wouldn’t be able to put a cut in the thickest of armours. Energy shields wouldn’t work, though, it was too easy to just ground the field with the wire to let the knife through. That was how the previous defence types failed.

Even if they couldn’t get enough armour for everywhere, the more they had, the fewer options the opponent had for where to strike. If the options were limited, it became possible to lay a trap and attack when the trap was tripped.

Weapons aside, Jeff admired the designs behind some of the equipment being used. In particular, a set of deployable spikes that were launched throughout the arena. Each one had a signal jammer, wind maker, hologram emitter and its own battery. While the hologram made wasn’t very high quality, if a shadow was made out of the corner of their opponent’s vision, while blowing dirt up at that moment, they would be convinced that the spider had moved there. It was really a must have for stealth rigs. Downside was, it was a disposable item so using a lot of them would be expensive.

When the match started, it was clear that Sam had either not understood his message, or had something else planned. Sachiko’s rig was deployed with the energy weapon unequipped and the rocket pod enlarged. Furthermore, they had a larger thruster installed. From the moment he saw it, Jeff and every other mechanist knew what their plan was; ‘If you can’t find them, hit everywhere.’

It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad compromise, but the way they counted damaging themselves, a better thruster to avoid the damage, gave to many options to their opponent. Since they were both fast, they both just needed to be in the same space. Spider could just follow behind them and be in no danger. It was also bad due to their opponent being a wire user. So long as wires were strong, they could kill a speed type effortlessly. The usual way that was countered was by fortifying a shield in the flight direction and using sensors to avoid hazards. With signal blockers throughout the field, however, trusting sensors would be a mistake.

Sure enough, that was how the first round ended, as she attempted to fly away from an explosion she caused, a tort wire cut through the shield and severed the armour on Sachiko’s arm, only a hair’s breadth away from shaving her arm. While intentionally killing an opponent in rig combat was internationally illegal, inadvertent and apparently inadvertent death was a real part of the sport. Luckily for Sachiko, it was the arm that would normally have housed the cannon or gatling, so even if the damage wasn’t fixed during the break, it wasn’t the largest of losses.

What was needed, however, was the thrusters that were mounted on that arm. Even if the wing thrusters were mostly undamaged by the wire, without them a lot of complicated movements would be a lot harder to perform. It was also a glaring weakness that few people would pass up. Without the arm mounted emitters, the rest of the bodies shield emitters had to cover up the hole. That meant the shields throughout the whole rig were weakened, but it was particularly weak at the arm. A well placed attack wouldn’t be slowed in the slightest by that kind of weakened shield.

The round ended after thirty seconds of starting, when a blade passed through the gap and straight into the main thruster. It was a scalpel like attack that made Sachiko fall from the sky like a stoned bird. As she collided heavily with the ground, the system froze up and reverted.

During the break, Sam showed off her skills and managed to get the rig to redeploy before the time was up. She worked skilfully enough that she even had time to equip a jury rigged solution to the missing arm. A metal buckler style shield with a thruster pack strapped to its underside with wires, both control and power, visibly trailing from it to the body.

Even taking an attitude of, ‘what works is what’s good’ that kind of workaround really didn’t seem good. From the starting point, the thruster had a different power level and was in a slightly different location. With that kind of sudden change, it was more likely to be a liability than a use but both Sam and Sachiko seemed proud of their ingenuity.

With that kind of rig in use, the second round started.

Tension filled the ring as Sachiko hovered around looking for any sign of her opponent. Feeling like they completely had control of the match and victory in their hands, Spider toyed with his prey and let her flail about looking at shadows.

For a full minute there was nothing. No sign that her opponent was even in the field. Then suddenly, dust kicked up to Sachiko’s side and she immediately turned to launch a missile. The deep roar of the explosive warhead ripped through the crowd as the metal of a rig was torn, flying across the arena grounds.

It had been a trap. A trap the Sachiko completely fell for. Her rig fell from the sky and into the ground as an attack from behind severed her rig’s wings. The planned and careful precision of that attack was only possible with complete domination. But somehow, they still had more planned.

The amount of damage taken from that from that attack was substantial, but it was still short of what was needed to cause the rig to revert. Sachiko wasn’t able to fly, but she still had to fight against an invisible flying enemy. Worse still, her only weapon was the missile launcher, which was far less effective if aiming down wasn’t an option. With Jeff’s contentment at his job, he hadn’t felt the need to go gambling; a decision he regretted greatly when looking at how one-sided the watch was.

Even in that position, Spider didn’t finish her off.

The match eventually timed out, leading to Sachiko’s humiliating defeat through points. By not finishing her off, even after cutting off her wings, Spider was effectively saying, “You’re not even worth my effort.”

Finishing a fight in such an insulting way at an event meant to foster friendship was a dangerous game to play, but even more so when the target of that was the third generation Kaya. Governments were already uncomfortable just letting the Kaya’s compete in such dangerous sports, not willing to risk angering the supplier of rig cores. To actively try and enrage them was the same as treason, attempting to harm the country itself. Anyone would think that the second Black Spider was insane.

That was, anyone who didn’t know their personal history. A history that Jeff had uncovered in his research.

Black Spider Donna and Alicia B. Kaya were bitter enemies, though very few people knew about it, and even fewer understood why. Donna discovered Alicia’s identity as the mysterious pit mechanist very early in their careers, and at first they didn’t really do anything about it, it having no real impact on Donna’s life so she had no issue keeping it quiet.

That was until Sara Campbell revealed her pit method to the world. After running the numbers with her mechanist, it was clear to Donna that Alicia was cheating. When Donna confronted her about it Alicia lied straight to her face and said that she was doing nothing of the sort.

After that, Donna took half a year off from rig combat only to return to the sport with the first Black Spider rig. From the reports Jeff had read, before the time off, Donna had been an optimistic person who saw rig combat as mankind’s greatest invention, a way to end wars and save lives. Once she returned however, she seemed completely different. The ‘Black Spider’ moniker was in reference to her combat style and colour choice, but it was also about her personality.

Dark, venomous and mercenary; rigs had become a means to an end. She had even received sanctions for taking side-jobs in tormenting her opponents during the matches for money. Several times she had been quoted saying, “This sport is corrupt and disgusting, so why shouldn’t I be?”

Alicia hadn’t taken the change well, and saw Donna as a corrupting influence on the shining system that her mother built. Alicia even petitioned to have Donna’s core taken from her, an action that Erin Kaya blocked, using her influence as the creator. Rumour had it that Erin wanted Donna to continue piloting as a lesson to Alicia, that her actions had consequences, though from the repeated petitions, if that was the case then the lesson wasn’t learnt.

Prior to her retirement, Black Spider Donna’s legacy was something she absolutely prided herself for; never having lost to Sara Campbell. The greatest weakness of the pit method was the first round vulnerability, and the Black Spider’s strength was in its ability to overwhelm from the start. It was one of the best methods to overcome Sara, and it was most likely designed that way. For so long as her hiding method stayed hidden, Donna could claim that she was a better pilot than Alicia was mechanist.

In the end, someone completely unrelated discovered Donna’s method, and Alicia retired before they could have a final match.

It seemed from the second Black Spider’s attitude that the grudge had been passed down through the family tree. Jeff felt that was a little unfair for Sam and Sachiko, but that kind of rivalry could be beneficial to their growth.

Thinking about something that would be a small comfort, Jeff messaged Sam.

“Even if you’ve lost now, if you win the runners-up match and get third, you can still make it into the Junior League. If you make it there, you can get a rematch.”

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