Chapter 24: Melinda
A great number of business flowed through Bentheim, the economic apos;portapos; of the Bright Republic. Due to a complex system of spatial distortions, spaceships had an easier time navigating towards Bentheim. This especially facilitated ultra-long-ranged FTL or faster-than-light travel. Put simply, a ship can travel directly towards Bentheim without making any stops in between in order to reorient themselves and cycle the FTL drive.
Humanity actually stole the FTL technology they use today from a long-exterminated alien race. Through hundreds of years of study and refinement, they have already pushed their knowledge base on the tech to its limits. Nowadays, to go from one end of human space to the other only required a couple of years of non-stop travel. The existence of FTL-friendly ports formed the basis that made this swift travel possible.
Bentheim therefore formed the economic heart that kept the Bright Republic prosperous. It also invited greedy eyes, such as their ever-present rival the Vesia Kingdom. Not content with their own port system, they always hungered to invade the Bright Republicapos;s territory and snatch the strategic planet away for themselves. Some of trouble the Bentheim Planetary Guard had to handle could be traced to the covert actions of the Vesians.
Just the last month alone Melinda had to respond to several emergencies. One case was a lone wolf who took an illicit drug and went on a rampage with his heavy mech. Another case involved a family who fell into ruin in the past returning from the dead and taking on one of Bentheimapos;s established family businesses. Then there were always the ever-present pirates skulking in the outskirts, ready to snap up a lightly defended transport convoy.
Though only in the service for four years, the amount of petty and not-so-petty conflicts she had to resolve numbered in the hundreds. While not a genuine substitute to the high intensity battles of a full-scale war, Melinda was able to increase her experience and sharpen her rough initially rough piloting skills.
Right now, Melinda finished her shift for the day. She deposited her mech at the hanger, waved the technicians goodbye, and left for the Guardapos;s exclusive training center.
quot;Hey Melly.quot; A fellow junior Guard pilot sidled up to Melinda. quot;Whatapos;s up? I can see the smile in your eyes a light-year away. Got a date or something?quot;
Melinda huffed. quot;I wish Janet. Nah, I nagged my uncle for a few thousand credits and pried it out of his hands.quot;
quot;Wow. And he let you do that? Must be nice to be a Larkinson.quot; Janet held out her hand as if she was a crippled grandmother. quot;Spare some alms for a poor commoner?quot;
quot;Ouch!quot; Janet received a playful punch in return.
quot;Scram! I already have something in mind.quot;
Melinda entered the training center with a curious Janet trailing after her. They skipped past the physical exercise rooms and entered the virtual simulation area.
quot;Oh, are you going to spar against someone again?quot;
quot;Wow. And you say itapos;s cheap? It looks just as grand as the original Caesar Augustus, just with a different flavor.quot;
The dark armor plates, the blood-red shield with its lightning bolts and eagle wings, the various red and bronze accents, they all contributed to an image of unbridled blood lust and aggression.
quot;Whatapos;s that cool looking thing at the top?quot; Janet curiously asked as she spotted the strange helmet crest and the red vapor spouting quietly from the slit at the top.
quot;Beats me. My cousin used the Festive Cloud Generator thatapos;s famous on his home planet to achieve this effect.quot;
quot;Haha, he actually used a party trick on such a serious mech.quot; Janet laughed, though she inwardly admitted that it added very nicely to the mechapos;s flamboyant flair. quot;So whatapos;s its tier and how much for one?quot;
quot;Itapos;s a middling tier 5 mech, but it costs just 25,000 credits.quot;
quot;Sounds like a good deal to me.quot; Janet nodded. Despite not having logging in for a year, she still retained much of her knowledge of the game, including the going prices of virtual mechs. quot;If itapos;s as good as the Caesar Augustus, then itapos;s a steal.quot;
Melinda swiped her hand, removing the illusion and returning the pair back to the shop. She went through with the purchase. quot;How can my cousin throw away money like that? He made a lot of changes, but the most important one is he replaced the stock armor with the 1004-HRF.quot;
quot;The fucking HRF? That shitty armor the bean counters at the office loves so much? Wow, your cousin should win an award for using such a cheap material to make such a cool looking mech. No wonder it carries such a huge shield.quot;
Once Melinda finished her purchase, the pair exited the store and they walked back to the central plaza where they could transfer to different areas.
quot;Give me 15 minutes so I can get the hang of my new mech. Letapos;s head into a match after that, okay?quot;
quot;Sure, Melly. I need to go through my mech stable and make sure my mechs are still configured right. I havenapos;t played in ages, after all. What game mode do you want to queue up for? I vote for the 2v2 Arena.quot;
Melinda shook her head. quot;I wonapos;t be able to play the Marc Antony to its fullest potential in an arena match. Letapos;s queue up for the Wartorn Instances.quot;
quot;Damn, sister, so you wanna jump straight into it. Iapos;ll go prepare a long-ranged support mech for you then, because youapos;ll need the cover.quot;
As Janet left to sort out her neglected game account, Melinda entered her mech stable and walked to the stall where her new purchase awaited her entry. The dark mech emanated an invisible aura even as it silently stood inert.
She calmed herself down and booted up the mech. It came to life with a flicker, causing its golden eyes to shine like twin suns as various systems engaged their checks. After all the systems reported no errors, Melinda finally gained full control over the mech. It blew away the constant unease Melinda felt before. It was as if it was all an illusion.
quot;Okay now, I only have a few minutes to get used to its quirks.quot;
Melinda dove into controlling her mech with gusto. After using the neural interface to connect with her mech, she felt as if she had become a giant filled with strength. The neural interface worked great, with no lingering issues unlike with older, second-hand interfaces.
The Marc Antonyapos;s shield overburdened her shield arm, throwing her mech out of balance. She carefully trod then jogged then sprinted with her mech, getting familiar with the angled posture required to move with her tower shield held in front. She then repeated the same motions only without the shield, just to see how much her speed had been affected.
The fifteen minutes came and went in a flash. Janet opened up a private conversation with Melinda. quot;Come on Melly, show me what you can do with that beast.quot;
quot;Alright. Iapos;m kind of curious as well if my cousinapos;s work can stand up to a real fight.quot;
The both of them paired up and entered matchmaking for one of Iron Spiritapos;s larger game mode, the Wartorn Instances. It simulated real battlefield circumstances, as most mech battles between the smaller human states employed at least a few dozen mechs. Wartorn Instances usually played out as a team deathmatch mode with an impressive amount of players on each team, ranging from the standard 50v50 to a gigantic 1000v1000 during special events.
Since Melinda wanted to drop into combat immediately, she selected the fastest 50v50 mode. Only a couple of minutes were required for Iron Spirit to match them up with 98 other Platinum League players around the galaxy.
Iron Spirit customarily limited the matchmaking for Bronze League to a single planet or star system. Only until a player reached Silver, theyapos;d be able to play with mech pilots from many light-years away, though in the lower leagues most of their teammates and opponents came from the same star sector.
Naturally, as career pilots, Melinda and Janet easily achieved their Platinum ranks, and had the qualifications to play in a league filled with veterans, e-sports athletes and geniuses.
As the large map started to load, the fifty players of team blue, evidenced by the blue glow encompassing the name tags above their mechapos;s heads, came together in a large holding area.
One impressive looking flying mech had a small crown hovering over his name tag. He was the highest ranked player in their team, and enjoyed commanding privileges as a result.
quot;The nameapos;s Jaxon645, as you can read. Iapos;m too lazy to form a plan, so you can do whatever you wan to do. Itapos;s not as if youapos;re kids.quot;
Janet and Melinda both shook their heads. Just because most of the players in the Platinum League were professional pilots in the real universe, didnapos;t mean that leadership was unnecessary to win in the game. But it was usually difficult for fifty complete strangers to agree to a single personapos;s ideas, so nobody really bothered to take over the vacuum in leadership.
Silence prevailed in the interlude between missile launches. The Marc Antony banged its mace against the side of its heavy shield, letting the clanging shake their minds awake.
quot;I asked, WHO IS WITH ME?!quot;
Now that everyone on the team turned to Melinda, they began to notice the mechapos;s unusual appearance. It had an aggressive build, carrying a stylized tower shield and a bulky mace. The red vapor helmet crest lent the mech an ancient, authoritative air, as if they were facing a martial general instead of just another mech.
quot;WHO IS WITH ME?quot;
quot;WHO IS WITH ME?quot;
quot;WHO IS WITH ME?quot;
Janet stepped forward with her mech. quot;I am!quot;
Taking the opportunity to push the rest of her team into something other than sitting ducks, Melinda turned around and led Janet forward. quot;Follow me if you want to win!quot;
As if pulled by inertia, most of the medium mechs followed the strange black-and-red mech. The heavies struggled to follow in their footsteps. Soon enough, their entire team approached the enemy teamapos;s position like a wave crashing against a cliff. Lacking any fear, Melinda kept her bulky shield in front and focused her eyes for other ambushes. Her blood pumped faster as she relished the upcoming clash.
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