Chapter 16 – The Soldier Sorties, Part 4

Chapter 16

“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.”

The message Jeff sent wasn’t very comforting to Sam, especially when both she and Sachiko were in need of something to vent their frustration over. It did, however, give them a goal. Sachiko’s bright orang rig had been mostly reduced to scrap and had to be dragged out of the arena. The damage and work that was awaiting them was in no way as frustrating as the minutes they had to wait while their opponent lost interest in them. They were treated like dirt, like they weren’t even there, but if they acted out in frustration they could have been ended at any moment.

It was for the best that they had to suck up their pride and wait for the end of the fight, but it still annoyed Sam to no end. The worst part was, Jeff had sent her a warning, one that contained the most basic lesson in a mechanist degree, but Sam still had no idea what he meant. Looking through the parts list didn’t really reveal anything to her; they registered dozens of different parts as spares and actives, and the effect she saw during the match seemed far greater than what the listed parts said.

‘Could they have been cheating? Was that what Jeff was saying?’ As Sam thought that she immediately knew it wasn’t the case. As corrupt and money-grubbing as Jeff was, he would never risk not reporting known cheating. That was mostly do to him being so risk-averse; getting caught knowing about cheating and not saying anything meant being de-registered.

That meant that there had to be something in the registration data that she was overlooking. That just added to her frustration, since she didn’t even have time to look into it. The other semi-final would be on the next day, and their next match would be the day after that. While that would normally mean that they would have the advantage over their opponent in terms of time, with the condition Sachiko’s rig was in, they would be lucky to be able to get it running in time.

After finding all of the broken parts she could and reverting them back into formless rig particles she found that she was still missing 2% of the rig’s mass. It was normal to losses 0.1% mass after a match, and that amount could be regrown by the core, the amount they lost was simply to much to regrow in the short amount of time they had. That meant that new mass formless particles needed to be grafted into the rig’s cube and made to match the existing matter. If nothing went wrong, and they found the exact brand and series as the rest of the matter, that meant at least eight hours of compiling time for each percent lost.

On top of that, a large number of the physical parts were also broken in the fight, especially parts in the wings, arm and legs, where the bulk of the damage was taken. While she had spares for most of the pieces she needed to replace, there were some that she hadn’t thought she would need. Especially wing joint components, they were so resistant that even mechanist in the professional league only replaced them once a year. That meant that Sam needed to rush about town looking for parts as well as getting them registered after she bought them. With only two days to get that done, Sam could really feel the pressure.

Her first point was to organise parts and particles; everything else was secondary since if she couldn’t find them, then everything else wouldn’t happen. Looking through an online phonebook, she quickly found a list of dealers in the area and started phoning around. After a few hours on the phone, she had organised to buy most of the parts she needed, though a couple could only be purchased directly from a manufacturer.
Formless particles were also a problem. While most behaved basically the same, different makers used different encoding methods to ensure that rival companies didn’t steal their designs. That also meant that mixing brands was very difficult to do, and most mechanist considered any cost saving made by doing so was lost in the time spent making it work. To make matters even more confusing, several companies had experimented with different encoding types over the years, so blindly choosing particles from the same company sometimes didn’t work either. Unfortunately, Sachiko’s rig was made by one of those makers, and as such Sam needed to find particles from a specific production year.

That meant by the end of the day, she had only managed to by three quarters of the mass they needed. While that was a fairly big problem, it was one that could be overcome by reprogramming the armour’s configuration to deduce density in some locations. The issue with that was how much time doing that would take. Thankfully, with fewer formless particles being added, the compiling time would be slightly reduced.

For other mechanist, Sam’s work schedule over the preceding two days would have likely been impossible, but with her use of sleepless, she managed to power through without taking a break. The only time she stopped was when the compiling was taking place, and there wasn’t anything else she could do. It was at that moment, sixteen hours away from the next match, that she actually looked up who they would be fighting.

Lauren Riveria, Lucy’s twin sister.

Not only did they have identical appearances, they also had identical rigs. It was very nearly the best match up, since it would be a good way for Sachiko to vent her frustration. Sam had heard that Sachiko was still annoyed over the fight she had with Lucy. Even though she won, the result was simply too close. It was a fight against someone that looked just like someone she wanted to fight. Sachiko had been lazing about the workshop with a bad expression while Sam worked so anything to put her back in a good mood was welcome.

It would have been better if their opponent was actually Lucy, but since international students couldn’t compete in that tournament, Lauren would have to do. Sam did find it strange, however, that Lucy chose to study abroad, when her own country was so close. In the end, it was probably to give herself a point of difference over her otherwise same sister.

Lauren’s rig being the same as Lucy’s was also lucky, since it meant that they were already familiar with it, and had some understanding on how to fight against it. Just like her sister, Lauren’s rig was only equipped with an energy based pistol and a sword.

Looking at her combat data, however, and the settings on her rig, there seemed to be a huge difference between them. Simply put, Lauren was better. Even if they both had rigs built for speed, the blackout safety limits on were much, much higher for Lauren. That meant she was able to make sharper and faster turns without risking blackouts, or needing to use power to support her body. Her career accuracy rating, as short as her career had so far been, was more than ten percent higher. Considering that that accuracy rating was taken while moving at a much faster average speed, there was no doubt that Lauren was the better shot. If the pair were to fight, even with identical rigs, nine to one times Lauren would win.

Even if Sachiko won the fight against Lucy, the margin was very slim. Considering how much better Lauren was, it seemed to Sam that Sachiko stood a good chance of losing. As much as they didn’t want to waste money, in order to stand a chance, custom missiles were going to be necessary to win. When Sam told that to Sachiko, she simply huffed, and said, “I won before and I’ll win again. My rigs improved and I’ve got you now. So what if this Lucy is better than the last.”

While her confidence was reassuring, it slightly worried Sam that she was thinking of Lauren as just another Lucy.

As the few hours passed and the match for third place began. Both contestants met in the centre of the arena. To Sachiko’s surprise, Laura started the match off by sending a call to her display. It was a very rare thing for pilots to talk during a fight, especially since they had such short rounds. Out of curiosity, Sachiko accepted the call. As her mechanist, Sam could also hear the conversation.

“I watched you beat sis in a match not long ago. I also heard that you were trying to take Sou from her. Because of that, I’ll beat you down in the name of justice.”

“Who’ll bead down who?! Let’s see how confident you are once you taste my missiles.”

With that, Sachiko launched a surprise attack with a missile, an attack that was easily avoided with the difference in their speed. Experiencing it for herself, Sam realised just how different the difference in speed between Lucy and Lauren really was. Where the blue-green colour of Lucy’s rig made her difficult to see, on Lauren’s rig it made her essentially invisible.

Not knowing where to attack, Sachiko let loose with her energy cannon, trying to get a lucky shot in. It really wasn’t effective and the return fire from Lauren’s small pistol was deadly with its accuracy. Even if most of the damage was being absorbed by the rig’s shield, it was still draining power at an alarming rate. It seemed that in order to maximise the drain from each attack, Lauren was targeting directly above the shield emitters; when that place was hit it caused a burst of power draw to compensate for the amount that was lost..

The way the attacks were happening with precision and out of nowhere, it was almost exactly like their fight with the Black Spider.

In fact, it seemed entirely too much like Black Spider. Thinking that, Sam brought up the footage from that match and overlaid it with the current fight. Sure enough, every attack was placed in the same locations and from the same directions as in the previous fight. Lauren had watched their fight and was recreating it. That meant they knew where the next attack would be coming from, but only if Sachiko also noticed.

Sam stared at the screen intently, hoping that Sachiko would realise what was going, watching her get chipped away at. Each of Lauren’s attacks were far weaker than Spider’s, so they would often double up to try for the same result.

Suddenly, the decisive moment from the previous match came. The moment when the wire tore off Sachiko’s rig’s arm.

Sam held her breath as that moment drew nearer. Previously, Sachiko avoided hurting her arm by the thinnest of margins, and that was with wire as a medium. Since Lauren only had a sword to replicate the effect with, it was unlikely that Sachiko would be so lucky again.

Then it happened. The speeding blade tore through the air and the sound of metal striking against metal reverberated through the stadium. Moments later, blood poured over the grass of the arena grounds. Moments later still, a rig impacted with the soil, leaving a dragging crater in its wake.

The crowd met the spectacle with a shocked silence, followed by the deafening roar as the blood hungry group saw what they came to see. The blade of Lauren’s sword sliced through the right wing, through the shoulder mounted missile launcher and sunk deeply into Sachiko’s fleshy arm. But the Blade had been slowed too much by the layers of metal it passed through the reach there, and couldn’t retract fast enough.

That left Lauren vulnerable and open to Sachiko’s cannon, that shot out at a distance that could almost be called touching. The energy ripped through Lauren’s shield, armour and flesh, severing a leg and searing the wound. After that, Lauren passed out from the pain, and her rig hit the ground heavily, though didn’t retract. It was good that it didn’t, the frame prevented any further harm, and kept her stable until the medics arrived.

From what Sam had seen through the monitor, and from the medical brief knowledge that was included in her degree, it was a wound that would require a prosthetic replacement, but wouldn’t end her career. Since prosthetic limbs used the same basic technology as rigs, pilots could operate them almost instantly, requiring little more than a day of rehab, and there were some cases where pilots had improved their performance after losing a natural limb.

Needless to say, that was the end of the match and it was Sachiko’s victory. With that, they claimed third place and the right to fight in the Junior League. After taking Sachiko to the medics, Sam sent a message to Jeff.

“Looks like we get to have that match. Don’t lose before we get to you.”

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