Joshua took down the enemy rifleman in one shot. The knight endured three more shots but fell after suffering another. The isolated artillery mech panicked after losing its companions and scurried back to base as fast as possible.
Sadly, heavy mechs tended to run at a crawl. Despite its lack of escorts, Joshua prudently slipped away. He shot five times in a single engagement and built up quite a bit of heat. His mech’s internal heat sinks absorbed most of the heat so far, so his mech maintained a low profile.
“All of that heat will spill out if I stress the Old Soul’s heat capacity.”
The mech came with a very loud warning to never exceed this limit. Even if he had to let go of a juicy target, Joshua pretty much had no other choice.
He bunkered down his mech and waited patiently for the heat to disperse. Even as every other mech threw themselves into battle, the Old Soul stood as rigid as a statue, as if it knew its time hadn’t come.
“It’s different. It’s the same.” He muttered. The feeling of piloting any mech designed by Chasing Clouds always enchanted him. Other models felt cold and static compared to his home town mech designer’s work. “It’s like comparing a stuffed animal to the real deal. They’re completely different even if they look the same.”
While he didn’t have the luxury of experiencing the Young Blood, the Old Soul felt like an unfeeling father. Sometimes Joshua shifted his actions without explanation, or start to question things when they didn’t make any sense.
In hindsight, taking out two mechs in a matter of minutes should have been beyond him. Even with an overpowered laser rifle, a young potentate like Joshua wouldn’t be able to kill a knight so easily.
He shook his head. “This rifle is amazing. It’s able to melt through light armor in a single shot.”
Every other weapon with comparable power weighed at least twice or thrice as much. The Old Soul’s highly compact laser rifle allowed Joshua to wield it with much greater ease. Compared to all of these advantages, he completely didn’t mind its limited heat capacity and enormous power drain.
Joshua resumed his hunt. He stalked towards the research institute, ignoring the couple of allies who wanted him to cover their backs. While it might help him out if he worked together with others, he kept longing for solitude.
“No one else will die if I screw up.” He rationalized to himself. He frowned soon after. “It’s just a game. Who cares about others.”
Regardless of the reason, Joshua preferred to move alone. He slowly reached an open park. Above the trees, a couple of aerial mechs harassed each other with largely ineffectual rifle shots. Considering the skill level of the average Silver Leaguer, Joshua expected the stalemate to continue.
“They’re not much better than I was when I started out with the Seraphim.”
The main issue he had with the fight was that none of the flying mechs had the guts to close in. Joshua always learned from his tutors to be decisive and eschew battles of attrition. None of these dolts in the sky had learned proper aerial mech tactics.
His Old Soul found a convenient pile of crashed shuttles that gave it some cover against magnetic sensors. As the rifleman mech settled in, it aimed its weapon at the sky.
A minute passed by as the mech kept still. Every time Joshua wanted to pull the trigger, an impulse held him back. He somehow knew he wouldn’t be able to take out his target. They moved too fast for him to land an accurate strike. Even the Old Soul’s targeting systems strained to predict the movements of these idiotic fliers.
“My mech isn’t meant to hunt this kind of prey.” Joshua painfully admitted. “They’ll swarm my position as soon as I shoot.”
Flying mechs should be the Old Soul’s fatal nemesis. They moved too fast to insure that any of its rifle’s precious shots hit the mark. Even if Joshua activated the particle generator, his mech would easily be sniffed out by these perfect scouts.
Still, Joshua pushed back his unease and patiently waited for the fight to wind down. He knew that these mechs expended a lot of energy in their highly intense clash.
Just as he predicted, his side broke away first after one of their number fell. A trio of haggard-looking aerial mechs gave up on the duel and fled back to base.
The enemy team refused to let their opponents slip and chased after their prey. All of the fliers involved smoothed out their flight trajectories as they prioritized speed over evasion.
Joshua calmly tracked the opponent who lagged behind a bit due to battle damage. Once it crested over an apartment block, he fired.
The laser beam flicked out like a dark and struck the aerial mech’s flight system. A veteran pilot would never fly his mech in a straight line, but Joshua’s unfortunate victim obviously forgot that other enemies might be lurking on the battlefield.
The damaged mech lost altitude and crashed a block away from Joshua. All of the structures in the way prevented him from finishing the job. Instead, he patiently waited out the two seconds for his laser rifle to finish cycling and aimed the weapon at the faltering pursuers.
Just as they came around to the fact that they’d lost a companion, the Old Soul fired its rifle yet again. The laser beam struck the aerial mech square in its chest. Previous battle damage had already peeled away half of its layers. The beam burned through the remainder and carved a hole into the cockpit.
The dummy pilot inside the cockpit couldn’t withstand the massive amount of energy. The dummy tragically evaporated into dust.
“You cowardly sniper!” The surviving enemy pilot raged from his mech. “I know where you’re hiding. Prepare to die!”
Joshua fired twice at the incoming mech but failed to land a hit. Unlike his earlier victims, this guy remembered to dodge.
If the Old Soul possessed a normal laser rifle, then Joshua would be able to dial down the power setting and turn his rifle into a spitter. A rapid barrage of low-powered laser beams would enable him to track his opponent’s flight.
Just as the enemy flier came into spitting distance, the Old Soul’s particle generator released another charge. The thick and blurry cloud of black engulfed the flight mech in an instant. The pilot panicked a bit but quickly wrangled his mech back into control.
He guided his mech straight up in order to shake off the cloud. After gaining back some vision, the pilot tried to track down his hated opponent in order to avenge the death of his comrades.
“Where are you?!”
Had the sniper snuck away while he lost his vision? Or had the sneaky coward stayed in place, confident in the fact that no one could lay a hand on him under all of this smoke?
Just as the aerial mech flew away, a thin but deadly laser beam struck its vulnerable back and damaged the main power conduit that fed its hungry flight system.
It turned out that Joshua had lingered at the edge of the miasma. The Old Soul strained its sensors through the diminished concentration of particles and managed to pick up its opponent as soon as it ascended above the miasma.
With his prey losing altitude, Joshua directed his mech back into the miasma. With three shots left, he wanted to finish off the forcibly landed mech with a single shot. He carefully scoured the miasma and headed vaguely towards the middle.
He bumped into the crippled flight mech a few minutes later. The aerial mech incurred substantial damage from its harsh landing. While it tried to turn its rifle towards its hated opponent, the Old Soul moved first and fired straight through its damaged armor.
“That’s four now.” Joshua whispered to himself as he calmly dismissed his latest kill. “There’s still another grounded mech.”
The Old Soul hadn’t reached its maximum heat capacity yet, so Joshua moved away from the dissipating miasma and tracked down his other prey. He found the crash site of the first aerial mech he shot and followed the debris to a shuttle garage where the wounded mech took stock of its damage.
Joshua instantly silenced the enemy mech by shooting its cockpit. He didn’t even need to adjust his aim in order to eliminate a sitting duck.
Cold satisfaction enveloped his being as he realized he shot down five mechs without suffering a single scratch. The Old Soul was a powerful mech in the right hands.
“This isn’t a training mech. It’s a killing machine.”
He spent the next few minutes cooling down his mech before trudging towards the research institute. The match had reached its zenith as both sides tried to occupy the institute grounds.
Joshua lurked at the flanks and waited patiently for prey to come. He picked off three additional mechs in succession when they fled the carnage. The damaged mechs were easy pickings as Joshua took them out with grim satisfaction. His remarkable contribution titled the balance against his opponents, and his team succeeded in winning the match.
As the battlefield winked out, he leaned back against his pod. He thoroughly stomped the enemy team. None of them had expected to face a sniper on the battlefield. That might change once this model gained more popularity.
His virtual body left the cockpit now that the match had ended. Before he returned to the lobby, a strange message popped in front of his face.
[An agent of the designer of your mech requests permission to utilize your battle footage for promotional purposes. No credits or in-game gold will be exchanged. Do you wish to accept or deny this request?]
It took a few seconds for Joshua to parse the request. If he understood it correctly, then someone who worked for his favorite mech designer wanted to use his footage in a commercial.
“Oh yes! I accept!”
In the game centers throughout the planet, a new set of ads appeared. It showcased the best moments of the Old Soul in action. Curious visitors looked up at the projections as the distinctive mechs started to carve their enemies to pieces in just a couple of shots.
“Is that the new mech?”
“What the? Is that a rifle? It packs more power than a cannon!”
“Those stealth systems are unreal! They’re walking right past that mech without a clue!”
Gavin Neumann looked on as the action-packed footage started to sway the crowd. He smirked contemptuously at the people who disparaged the same model an hour earlier. He hadn’t even edited clips himself. Instead, he left it up to an automated program, which selected the most intense moments out of every battle record it received permission to borrow.
“I don’t even have to lift a finger at this rate.” He noted as some of the potentates started to hop inside their sim pods in order to emulate the incredible feats. “How can these idiots be trusted to defend our borders when they’re easily misled by some cherry-picked footage?”
He opened his comm and pulled up the sales record of the Old Soul. As a publicist working for the LMC, he obtained a limited amount of jurisdiction in the company’s virtual account. The numbers started to pick up from the dozens into the hundreds, and this was only the first day.
“They’re all sheep.”
The publicist knew that he had to promote his employer’s latest design with a different approach than the Young Blood, which possessed a heroic bearing.
The rifleman mech’s boring appearance and extreme specs turned off many potential customers. Thus, Gavin set out to ignore the masses and instead focus on the handful of talented pilots who knew what they were doing.
As expected, those who employed the Old Soul’s advantages to the fullest racked up an incredible score. If he served them up to the skeptical masses, they’d start to question their first impressions and try out the mech for themselves.
Sadly, not everyone got the hang of the rifleman mech’s quirks. Gavin took a look at the statistics and saw that its win rate ranked near the bottom of the pile.
The Old Soul required a specific mindset and set of skills to make to most out of it. Forget about skill level, most of the teenagers who tried out the mech lacked the patience to employ an ambush strategy.
He shook his head at their predictable behavior. “Musclebound idiots.”
Even if a handful of angry customers started leaving bad reviews on the model’s sales page, it didn’t diminish its growing momentum. At this early stage, none of the game centers selected the Old Soul as their 2-star promotional mech. Everyone who tried out the mech this time had spent their hard-earned credits or gold to purchase the trending mech.
“This is all I can do for now, boss. We’ll see whether your variant catches on as a training mech.”