Chapter 39: Luck or Skill
The Kirbyapos;s heavy, burdened form stepped forward into the arena yet again. Its steps echoed the quiet arena as it beheld its opponent. The medium mech looked as spotless as ever, though it exchanged its twin submachine guns for double kite shields.
quot;Damn, this is ridiculous.quot; Ves muttered to himself as his eyes widened at the ridiculous loadout.
It wasnapos;t unheard of for mechs to bring double shields to the battlefield. Two shields offered a great amount of protection against ranged damage. Knight type mechs holding a defensive position often made for great defenders for their more vulnerable comrades if they carried two shields for maximum cover. Some savvy manufacturers even got in on the action by selling purpose-built tower shields that weighed like a brick but could withstand incredible punishment.
That was why the notion that Alexander carried a pair of heavy shields for his swift and agile mech sounded ridiculous. Why give up his advantage in mobility to gain an average amount of durability? The shields may prove useful against the Kirbyapos;s guns, but their weight turned the skirmisher into a sitting duck, allowing Charlotte to pound Alexander into a pulp before heapos;d even reach his enemy.
quot;Could it be that Alexander is carrying another weapon?quot;
The timer counted down. Plenty of people in the audience took note of this match. Not only did it determine which team entered the finals, it also signified a battle between two unusually modified mechs. The crowd was beginning to come around to the idea behind the Fusion Cup. It not only tested a pilotapos;s judgment and skill, it also involved his partnerapos;s craftiness. The mech designerapos;s role might not be as flashy as the pilotapos;s, but his every move affected the battlefield in a way that was no less influential.
Ves feared Michael quite a bit for this reason. The man hid his competence well, for the skirmisher that he fixed up revealed no hints of what lurked beneath its spotless facade.
quot;Three, two, one, START!quot;
The match exploded into action as Charlotte fired all her guns without waiting to engage her targeting systems. Her manual aim proved sufficient as pretty much both of its explosive shells detonated squarely against the skirmisherapos;s shields.
Surprisingly, the shield held against the immense assaults. The lasers fired from the Kirbyapos;s shoulders merely splashed the shieldapos;s surface with ineffectual heat. The second volley of shells from the Kirbyapos;s arm cannons failed to deal any substantial damage to the sturdy shields. The skirmisher calmly stepped forward, leaning its posture square against the shields just before Charlotte fired. While the shields contributed much to the Skirmisherapos;s unyielding pace, Alexanderapos;s impeccable piloting skill made sure his mech maintained its balance.
Most heavy mechs turned like whales on land. Charlotte loved her new rocket launchers, but she was aware her opponents wouldnapos;t obediently stand behind her and let the rockets launch at them with a smile. So she conceived of the creative idea of hollowing out one of the launchers and stuff some acceleration boosters in its place.
As a pilot, she lacked the background to appreciate the challenges involved in such an operation, especially since they were short on time. Nevertheless, his budding jury rigging skill worked full tilt in order to produce a solution that turned the impossible into something that might work.
After switching over to the Kirbyapos;s chest-mounted backup sensors, Charlotte aimed again with her freshly reloaded cannon arms. She shot her left cannon as soon as the barrel tracked her opponent. The weapon fired just as the skirmisherapos;s knife sliced into one of the Kirbyapos;s armor gaps.
The explosive shell failed to detonate due to impacting within its minimum safety range. If the shell detonated its explosive payload at full strength, both the target and the Kirby would get hit by the blast radius. The Kirbyapos;s ammunition was significantly tuned down for this tournament so the Kirby might have stayed safe, but the safety range remained unimpacted, which led to Charlotteapos;s curse as she realized her mistake.
The knife impacted the gap near the Kirbyapos;s left arm joint, which disabled the arm cannon. But before Alexander could pull out the weapon and retreat, Charlotte went berserk and knocked the Kirbyapos;s upper torso forward, causing it to fall in Alexanderapos;s direction. Still recovering from its previous attack, the skirmisher failed to disengage in time, causing it to get caught into the Kirbyapos;s falling momentum.
No one spoke. Even Ves stood with his mouth wide open. Everyone just watched as the skirmisher comically tried to wriggle its remaining limbs underneath the Kirbyapos;s prodigious weight. It was like watching a tiny mouse scurry from underneath the paw of a cat. Nothing worked. Charlotte could just keep rocking the Kirbyapos;s weight against her opponent to crush it into a pancake.
quot;The winners are Charlotte Hoffmeister and Ves Larkinson! Their team has successfully advanced into the finals!quot;
An alarm went up as the referees activated several safeties. Thick robotic arms emerged from underneath the arena floor and lifted up the Kirby with difficulty. The people in charge obviously feared the Kirby might actually crush the thin medium mechapos;s cockpit with its bulk. Ves couldnapos;t blame them. The skirmisher looked as if it sacrificed even the armor around the cockpit to get it to move so fast.
As the pilots exited their cockpits, they all met at the center of the arena to shake each otherapos;s hands.
quot;Congratulations on your win.quot; Alexander haplessly said as he shook Charlotteapos;s hand. quot;You caught me good with that fall. It would be reckless suicide to pull off such a stunt in a real battlefield, but in a duel situation I guess it worked out very well for you.quot;
Charlotte huffed at the excuse. quot;If it were up to me, those shells would have shredded your mech. Those safeties are bullshit. My Kirby can take the punishment.quot;
While the two pilots kept exchanging excuses, Ves and Michael Dumont met each other a short distance away.
quot;Great engineering. I donapos;t know how you made those shields so durable in such a short time.quot;
Michael gave out a sullen smile. quot;Itapos;s just a trick. It canapos;t compare to reaching the final round when youapos;re ranked near the end.quot;
Ves didnapos;t like the mech designerapos;s tone. He maintained his composure though.
quot;I admit Iapos;m lucky enough to be paired with a good pilot with an uncommon mech. Her heavy mech poses a lot of problems just by carrying so much stuff around. I know it put you in a tough position.quot;
The modesty only soured Michaelapos;s expression even further. quot;If this yearapos;s mech design competition hadnapos;t switched to this bullshit Fusion Cup, then youapos;d be congratulating me. Youapos;re right in that you got lucky, punk. Your team beat mine fair and square, but if it came down to a showdown between just you and me, then Iapos;d wipe the floor with you ninety-nine times out of a hundred.quot;
If Ves wasnapos;t aware that quite a number of recorders were pointed in his direction, then heapos;d give the prick a piece of his mind. Instead, he kept up his smile and straight-up turned his back at Michael, signaling that the conversation was over as far as he was concerned.
quot;You should gracefully resign now while you can.quot; Michael gave his parting shot. quot;Donapos;t think you can overcome Edwin McKinney. He gained the qualifications to study in the New Rubarth Empire for a reason. You canapos;t imagine the depth of his knowledge!quot;
Fair enough. The Kirby looked awfully wrecked, having lots both of its shoulder mounted lasers while getting one of its arm cannons disabled as well. More troubling, the Kirbyapos;s abrupt fall at the end of the match left repercussions in the mechapos;s internals. Mechs simply werenapos;t built to fall like that with all their weight shifted into another direction.
The organizers fortunately took their situation into account and gave Ves a generous amount of time to fix up the Kirby as best he could. Shortly after they cleared the arena, the main tournament went back into swing. The quarter-finals and semi-finals took quite a bit of time to complete. Ves and Charlotte were scheduled to battle against Edwin and his partnerapos;s team just before the finals of the main event took place.
quot;I donapos;t know how strong Edwin will be, but even if itapos;s inevitable that we lose, Iapos;m not going down without a fight!quot;
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