Charlotte glowered at him. "Are you fucking kidding me? No! I won’t sacrifice my Kirby’s long-term health for a short-term boost. Only scum do those kinds of things!"
No matter how many times Ves tried to explain it, the pilot kept sticking to her stance. He understood then that to Charlotte, her Kirby’s health was more important than even getting one up over the hated Miranda.
"Maybe we’ve gone off the wrong foot. Let’s try this a different way." Ves said in a conciliatory tone. "Tell me more about your Kirby."
"Why’d you wanna know that?" Charlotte looked at him with suspicion.
"We’ve got two hours of time left and maybe I can make a few tweaks here and there if you’d let me. The only way I can do that is if I know more about the mech and be able to suggest improvements in line with your thoughts."
Though she showed she still had misgivings about it, when it came to her mech, she felt better if she bragged about the Kirby. "I won the top marksmanship prize in the academy tournament. They loaned me the Kirby as the first place prize. It’s the best mech I’ve ever piloted so far. He’s an old training mech, but he’s got the best specs among the heavies in terms of firepower."
Charlotte went on and on as she gushed about the mech’s substantial firepower. She really obsessed over the ability to turn an enemy mech into Swiss cheese before they even reached her. Ves thought the reason why she personalized the Kirby so much wasn’t because she considered the mech a person, but that its weapon loadout featured tons more firepower than all the other piddling mechs she practiced with. In her words, those smaller medium and light mechs were pansies.
"I think I see what you want." Ves nodded his head. "Your training mech is a great fire support mech, but Miranda is going to destroy you with her sword again if you go on stage with the same mech. You have to plug your vulnerability to close ranged mechs if you want to stand a chance of winning the cup."
"I don’t want you ruining my Kirby."
"No no, I’ve got something different in mind. I’d like to install some temporary additions to the Kirby. What do you say about bolting more guns to the Kirby’s frame?"
The prospect of even more guns exciting Charlotte a bit, and after Ves detailed his plans based on the Kirby’s build and the available parts, she enthusiastically gave her approval.
As a Turbofire model, its design had proven itself over the years as a sturdy and reliable way to deliver heavy firepower. It featured a large, stocky bipedal build, allowing it to hide behind hills or structures and fire its weapons over the top without exposing itself excessively. Its main weapons were its two heavy cannons that took the place of the arms. This left the Turbofire with a well-integrated pair of weapons that could easily be fired around corners and over other obstacles. Naturally, this also prevented the mech from wielding external weapons such as rifles or swords.
Though much of the mech was devoted to supporting the two cannons, the mech also featured twin laser shoulder mounts. Each mount carried three medium-powered lasers and normally fired in rapidfire mode in order to take down missiles and light mechs.
The Turbofire design incorporated extra large and extra sophisticated sensors. Their best feature was their strengthened targeting systems, allowing the laser mounts to fire more accurately at fast-moving targets. Charlotte always relied on the autonomous shoulder mounts to take care of rushing mechs.
Unfortunately for her, Miranda knew about this detail and confronted the Kirby with a knight-type mech. The shield was specifically prepared for this arena duel. Hiding behind the reinforced shield, Miranda was able to dodge the heavy cannon shots and shrug off the laser beams long enough to reach Charlotte’s rear. As the Kirby lacked any way to turn her weapons around, Miranda had ample opportunity to do all manner of things to the lumbering heavy mech. Even the shoulder mounts couldn’t turn around due to their excessive length with the mech’s large head in the way.
To plug this gaping weakness in the Turbofire’s design, Ves offered to add a small change to the Kirby. He wanted to add a couple of rear-facing weapons on the Kirby’s back. With relatively little experience in this area and only less than two hours to accomplish the job, Ves knew it wouldn’t look pretty. But right now he needed to impress the crowd and just sticking to safe and boring repairs wouldn’t cut it. The Kirby also deserved better.
Mounting weapons on the rear of the mech was a tricky operation. It couldn’t be something with a long barrel such as a cannon because the enemy mech could just stand to the side or even cut it off. The weapon should also be limited in weight, or else it could shift the mech’s center of gravity too far backwards, making it easy to trip on its back.
"Hm, lasers could do. There’s a couple of smaller mounts available. Still, they don’t pack enough of a punch."
There was really only one solution. Missiles.
The basic ranged weapons available to mechs consisted of three separate choices.
Laser weapons boasted high accuracy, weighed relatively little and required no physical ammunition. They also slurped energy like a thirsty hog and generated incredible amounts of heat. However, their light speed damage delivery meant that if a mech’s sensors were good enough, it could even detonate explosive shells in mid air.
Ballistic weapons, which included solid projectiles as well as explosive shells, often fired through an electromagnetic barrel. This caused them to consume energy and build up heat, but in a much lesser proportion to lasers. They generally delivered a lot more damage at the cost of accuracy and having to carry around ammunition.
Missiles in these days were basically considered self-propelled and self-guided explosive shells. They boasted a substantial amount of firepower and did not require a large and sophisticated weapon platform to launch. The simplest missiles could even be launched from an improvised pipe. They demanded the least in terms of heat, weight and space out of the mechs, but they were also the most troublesome to reload since they took an incredible amount of space.
Still, their ease of delivery made them popular alternatives to ballistic weaponry. These missiles also came in hundreds of different varieties. The most dominant type of missiles were long-ranged missiles, which could travel at long distances and arrive at a target with pinpoint accuracy as long as it was supplemented with decent targeting.
What Ves decided to incorporate in the Kirby’s back was something different. Long-ranged missiles were all fine and dandy, but the close-ranged nature meant that much of the propellants in the missiles would never be fully utilized. He decided to go with short-range rockets instead. While they didn’t possess enough propellant to travel beyond a kilometer of distance, they used up all of the freed space for extra explosives instead, leading to a bigger boom.
Their relatively low-tech and self-contained natures meant that mounting the launchers carrying the rockets was as simple as welding a metal box to a surface. Ves installed three separate launchers on the Kirby’s broad back in a slightly angled, semi-circular arrangement. The middle launcher pointed its rockets straight ahead, while the two launchers to the side angled a bit to the left and right respectively. This eliminated the Kirby’s blind spots. Naturally, the actual installation was a bit more complicated than described, but he still managed to hook up the launcher systems to the Kirby’s operating system.
"Alright, time’s up! The first match of the Fusion Cup will commence in a single-elimination bracket style. Matches will last at most twenty minutes, after which each mech can be serviced until the time they are called up to the stage again. You won’t have too much time between matches, so make the best of your time and conduct only the most essential repairs."
The rules of the Fusion Cup posed slightly harsher restrictions compared to the main tournament. In the normal YTE competition, repairs to the mech were always done by a team of professionals. The Fusion Cup placed all responsibility on the mech designer alone. In practice this meant that Ves could only spend a small of time effecting repairs before Charlotte took the Kirby for another match. Therefore, to make it to the finals, Ves had to make the best use out of a very limited window of time, while Charlotte was forced to defeat her opponent while suffering as little damage as possible.
Ves refused to look down on Charlotte’s opponents. Five of them achieved a higher ranking in the main tournament, and all of them were well aware of her fighting style by now so they could prepare countermeasures. The only good thing about the Fusion Cup’s rules was that the announcer revealed the randomized match ups at the end of the modification period. This prevented Charlotte’s immediate opponent from bringing in a mech specialized in taking down heavy gunners.
The announcer revealed the brackets. As expected, the organizers probably nudged a few things here and there in order to make sure that the first and second place teams faced each other at the finals if they won all the matches. Ves wouldn’t be dealing with Edwin and his partner just yet. Instead, their first match surprisingly coincided with what he desperately did not want to see.
"Let the first match begin! Charlotte Hoffmeister and Miranda del Rey, please enter the arena!"
A light and heavy mech both entered the stage. Charlotte’s Turbofire’s footsteps cracked the surface of the arena with each step due to the additional weight. Though the rear-mounted rockets weighed relatively little, that was only the case compared to other weapons. It made Charlotte’s mech into an even bigger sitting duck once its ammunition ran out.
Miranda’s mech was a statement in elegance. Not unlike the Fantasia, Miranda’s training mech looked thin and feminine. With his familiarity with the Fantasia, Ves spotted commonalities that convinced him that Miranda’s mech was designed by Kezia Armaments as well. Only this company insisted the most on feminine appearances.
"Say goodbye to winning, because this lady is going to teach you a lesson." Charlotte taunted as they waited for the ready signal.
"Heh." Miranda arrogantly trash talked, not even bothering to keep her conversation private. "I whooped your ass once, I’ll whoop it again."
"Oh yeah? Well I got a few surprises ready. I’ll spank you and send you back to your mom if you think you can get the drop on me again."
Ves just palmed his face. Why did it seem like he was back in high school? Coincidentally, he looked at Patricia, who looked similarly exasperated. Mech designers possessed cooler minds. They had to in order to endure the mind-numbing texts they had to read. Mech pilots on the other hand favored boldness and intuition. Too much thinking led to hesitation, which was not at all desirable when shells and missiles flew above the pilot’s head.
In any case, the signal went green. Miranda’s female mech exploded into action, moving rapidly in a zig-zag motion in order to confuse Charlotte’s aim. Her mech’s highly advanced ECM systems pumped into action. Other auxiliary systems made their presence known as well. One module caused distortions to appear in the naked eye, the result of a special smoke that hindered optical targeting systems and fed them a whole bunch of garbage data.
However, Charlotte showed the audience that she wasn’t a heavy gunner specialist for nothing. Without waiting for her targeting systems to punch through Miranda’s ECM, she fired her cannons and lasers in a wide spread without fine-tuning her aim. The chaotic spread of laser beams and projectiles failed to hit Miranda, but some of it came close to damaging her just by proximity.
Miranda stopped fooling around and circled her way forward at an oblique angle, always making sure she never closed the distance in a direct path that allowed for easy hits. Despite Charlotte’s prodigious firepower, none of her weapons hit. Only when Miranda reached halfway did she suffer minor damage to her mech’s legs when an explosive shell detonated a bit too close. It peeled a few layers of armor but nothing more.
"I told you Charlotte, you’ll always be beneath me!"
Charlotte appeared to have panicked a little and overloaded her laser mounts. The weapons pushed past their maximum cycles and fired until the launchers overheated. Ves winced as he thought how troublesome it was to repair the launchers. Overheating affected laser weapons a bit more severely than other components due to the high demands of integrity the weapons required. If the focusing elements were a little bit off, then what the barrels spat out wasn’t a tight beam, but a wide spread that felt more like a tanning machine than a deadly weapon.
Miranda suffered a number of hits not just due to the increased frequency of shots but also due to the shorter distance. Getting closer meant her profile grew in Charlotte’s targeting vision. This increased the heavy mech’s chances of hitting the light mech.
However, as Miranda continued to close the distance, the hit rates decreased even as the lasers kept their frantic firing. Her mech’s sideways dodging increased the amount of degrees Charlotte had to adjust her aim once the distance between the two narrowed.
It was like the difference between shooting a clay pigeon five meters away and fifty meters away. If the clay pigeon was thrown in the air from a distance, the shooter only needed to shift his weapon a couple of degrees at most to track the projectile. If the clay pigeon flew a lot closer, then the shooter might even be forced to turn his body over a hundred degrees single second.
Heavy mechs notoriously turned their mechs slowly. Even the Turbofire’s large but sluggish laser mounts failed to keep up with Miranda’s mech.
"Haha, if you think I’m going to fall for your stupid trick, then think again! My partner’s not blind and neither am I!"
Miranda’s mech struck out with her sword as she kept to the sides of Kirby. Ves was afraid of that. While the Kirby posed a lot of threat at its front and rear arcs, the sides could not be covered by any weapons. Patricia must have recognized what Ves cobbled up and reminded Miranda of the threat to Kirby’s rear.
However, just because Ves was afraid of the option didn’t mean he or Charlotte anticipated the action. Ves passed on a tactic he learned from the online adventures of his cousin Melinda to his partner, hoping she could utilize it at the right time.
As the sword was about to hit Kirby’s arm, Charlotte chose to retaliate by forcefully detaching the nearest laser launcher. The overheated component blocked and foiled Miranda’s sword strike, causing the light mech to pause. In the meantime, Charlotte successfully used the time she bought to turn her mech about forty-five degrees, enough for one of her rocket launchers to face the gobsmacked feminine mech.
The launcher disgorged its entire complement of rockets practically right at point-blank range.
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