Chapter 32: Gauntlet
quot;You gave us too little time!quot; A young woman complained as tears fell from her stressful face. The mech she worked on only appeared half finished. quot;Give us more time!quot;
quot;Twelve hours is too little!quot;
quot;This is unfair!quot;
quot;Silence!quot; The presenter ordered with a bloody air, instantly causing the meek the designers to quail. quot;The terms of the qualifiers are published beforehand so you should have prepared for this round. Last yearapos;s qualifiers also took twelve hours. Weapos;re on a tight time table here, and the main round happens tomorrow. We wonapos;t postpone the event just so you can put the finishing touches on your work.quot;
When Ves looked around to see the progress of his fellow contestants, he judged about a third of them hadnapos;t finished their designs. Many people tripped up because they spent too much time forcing components designed for different mechs to work together. Such failures proved they didnapos;t possess much knowledge beyond the basics in mech design. It was interesting to see that the organizers place a lot of emphasis on this when holding the qualifiers.
Some other designers lost too much time due to faulty judgement. One heavy mech featured highly advanced engines and power reactor. That was all fine and dandy, but the designer spent way too much time adding a lot of toys to make full use of that capacity. If he kept the twelve-hour limit in mind and kept his choices modest, he could have made it through with his level of skill.
In general, the contestants who left unfinished designs at the end of the period chewed more than they could handle. If they picked simpler, less mechanically complex components out of the pile of junk, then theyapos;d at least leave a functioning mech at the end, showcasing their competence in working under pressure.
quot;Although I canapos;t say I blame them for being ambitious.quot;
Ves might have been one of these losers if his father hadnapos;t left him the System. If he was participating in the contest and wanted to have a shot at getting past the qualifiers, then he couldnapos;t settle for average among 150 other contestants. The mech had to perform better than almost anyone elseapos;s work, so taking risks was unavoidable.
As he looked at the dejected contestants who were forced to give up on the qualifiers due to their incomplete designs, Ves felt a little guilty he cheated his way out of this circumstance. Before the Systemapos;s arrival, Ves was like any other novice mech designer who graduated from a local university. He possessed basic knowledge but never excelled at anything other than mechanics, and even that impressed no one because he learned outdated techniques that would be laughed at in more advanced states.
His father gave him the System to circumvent years of dedicated study and experience. Why did he deserve to benefit from this miracle when many other of his former classmates were left to wallow in their mediocrity? He wasnapos;t a saint, he never donated to charity, he wasnapos;t even nearly as good in his studies as some of the others.
There was no point complaining about it though. Ves knew that the gauntlet was a long-held custom in the mech world, and that its inventors had plenty of time to curb much of its faults.
The Lance Star moved. Its thin and lightweight design spoke of a great retention in motive power. Natalie Montag evidently possessed real skill for getting a mech traverse so smoothly. The machine flitted through the debris-filled streets of the gauntlet like a dancer.
When the Lance Star encountered enemies, Hans piloted the mech as a high speed scout. It dodged aside the attacks sent in its way and avoided traps and entanglement whenever possible. If a mech was able to come up to its front and present an obstacle, the Lance Star only dealt enough damage with its lance and auxiliary pistol to squeeze its way through.
Natalieapos;s mech started stumbling when Hans couldnapos;t avoid a couple of laser beams. The gauntetapos;s computer controlled opponents might not be very smart or skilled, but they possessed overwhelming numbers so it was impossible to keep out of reach no matter how many times Hans dodged.
The missiles hadnapos;t delivered too much damage, as the Thunderstorm still had plenty of armor to spare. But as Hans piloted the heavy mech forwards while trying to destroy as many enemies as possible, the missiles continued to pour in from above, each wave leaving behind more explosions and more damage.
The sad thing about the Thunderstorm was that it performed well enough against enemies in reach, but offered no solution to the constant long-ranged missile bombardment. The mech possessed almost no mobility, allowing the missileer to stay out of reach. With no line of sight nor a set of targeting data, Hans couldnapos;t even switch his cannons to artillery mode and fire back lobbing shells. He tried a few times when the combat reached a lull, but it obviously represented nothing more than a gamble with very long odds.
When the Thunderstorm finally got wrecked by all the missiles, the presenter came back on stage and analyzed the statistics. quot;I am mightily impressed with the Thunderstorm. Hans achieved a whopping thirty kills and damaged twice as many other mechs. While he hasnapos;t moved far from his starting point, his damage scores are more than ample enough to vindicate this mech.quot;
The main goal of the gauntlet was to get the mech to pass through ten kilometers. Regardless of success, a run was scored on damage inflicted and distance reached. This gave both light and heavy mechs an equal chance in reaching a high evaluation.
Yet for every mildly successful run, at least three more failed spectacularly.
One medium mech sported a highly visible gap in its arm connections. The mechapos;s armor couldnapos;t cover up the musculature of the arms, leaving them prone to damage. Even with Hansapos; best efforts, a couple of missile strikes fouled the connectors pretty quickly, leaving the mech with only barely functioning arms. Suffice to say, the handicapped mech hadnapos;t lasted long at all.
Another mech was designed as a solid, sturdy knight with an excellent sword and shield. However, when Hans put its endurance to the test, a solid cannon shell to the chest disrupted the mechapos;s internals. The knightapos;s sturdy exterior covered up a bevy of flaws, most of them related to sloppy work into putting the internals together. The big hit practically disrupted the engineapos;s connections, leading to a heavy slowdown in the knightapos;s operation. In addition, due to the loss in strength, its sword was unable to strike down opponents.
Someone next to Ves shook his head. quot;Again, itapos;s a shame we werenapos;t given a lot of time. Itapos;s so bullshit.quot;
When Carlosapos; mech came up to the stage, the young man in question hugged Ves in a show of nervousness.
quot;Damn it, I hope my baby will do well. This is the first time my creation is tested in public. I hope I wonapos;t disappoint my parents.quot;
The mech Carlos spent twelve hours on looked like an ill-fitting mess. With its over sized legs, the humanoid mech seemed confused whether it wanted to be a medium or heavy mech. Carlos evidently faced the same problem as Ves, but solved the problem by going into a different direction.
Though people often disparaged medium-heavy hybrids, the Huntsman Carlos cobbled up performed fairly better than anyone expected. The legs caused the mech to move slower than normal, but it also became incredibly resistant to damage. With a shield in one arm and an awkward sawed off heavy rifle in the other, the mech gunned down plenty of mechs in its way.
However, the lack of melee options dragged the Huntsman down. It was only able to deal with mechs that came close by dropping the rifle and unsheathe its backup knife. This turned the mech into a competent defender, but allowed the rifle mechs in the distance to shoot at the Huntsman with impunity. This envelopment eventually resulted in the Huntsmanapos;s death.
The presenter gave the Huntsman an average evaluation. It did not do very well, but at least it hadnapos;t failed outright in the gauntlet. Ves wrapped his arm around Carlos and tried to cheer him up from his dispirited mood.
quot;You did quite well there. Youapos;ve proven yourself at the stage that you have the chops to be a mech designer.quot;
quot;Yeah, but my score is way behind. Nevermind the top 8, I canapos;t even reach the top 32.quot;
quot;All of the people who score that high are talents.quot; Ves sighed even as he figured he was also one of them. quot;Donapos;t aim too high. Youapos;ve got opportunities many of your other colleagues wish they have.quot;
His job working on quality control at a large manufacturer was facilitated through connections from his parents. Carlos already had already stepped one foot in the mech designer industry. After a couple of decades of working up the ladder, Carlos could have the opportunity to join a mech design team and contribute his rich knowledge to the formation of a new design.
quot;Up next is our lovely Patricia Schneiderapos;s Rosaria!quot;
The announcement attracted everyoneapos;s attention. The top graduate of this yearapos;s cohort was about to show her fangs.
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