[MissMisstep: Jarle, what do you think is better when it comes to mech duels, a win with severe battle damage or a loss without scratch?]
“A win! You’ve got to win all the way! If you’re already starting to think about repair bills when you’re duelling another team, you’ve already given up.” Jarle emphatically said. “The only way to earn enough credits to keep your mechs in tip top shape is to keep on winning!”
In truth, even a top-tier team like the Velvet Fists couldn’t afford to wreck their mechs in every match. Each duelling season tested the skill and judgement of each team. Some knew when to give up early and saved up on repairs, while others kept on fighting past the point of no return and faced exponentially greater costs.
Explaining all of that took a lot of nuance that belied his public image as a daredevil. With his handsome face and his half-shaved blond hair, Jarle presented himself as the ultimate thrill seeker who constantly risked it all and won.
His bold but slighty dim person also helped mask his deviously tricky fighting style.
[ZevHarper: Will we be seeing you in action this summer?]
Jarle nodded inside his virtual cockpit. “I’ll be appearing in a couple of rallies organised by the Mech Corps. Be sure to check the schedule in my profile page!”
Even as he responded to his many viewers, his DarkSpear silently crept through the rocky cliffs and hills of a desolate moonscape.
His mech’s high powered stealth systems ran at quarter strength right now. It did nothing to prevent a mech from seeing his DarkSpear if it had a direct line of sight, but it was sufficient to dampen his other emissions as long as Jarle stayed behind cover.
Finding the right place to hide happened to be one of his specialties. Under his expert control, he slowly crept behind the highly advanced swordsman mech that kept a wary eye towards its surroundings.
In 1v1 duels like this, if your opponent never showed up, he probably prepared an ambush. As a fellow Diamond League player, the enemy pilot didn’t let down his guard. An extremely complicated dance emerged as a result where both sides tried to maneuver in their most optimal positions.
The DarkSpear held a decisive advantage over the swordsman mech. The latter excelled in open duels, and did not include any sophisticated sensor arrays capable of detecting stealthed opponents.
However, even if the swordsman mech only possessed a standard set of sensors, their overall quality ensured they’d be able to detect any approaching assassin mechs once it reached a distance of fifty to a hundred meters or so. That gave the pilot enough reaction time to set up a guard.
As long as his swordsman mech withstood the first blow, his advantage only grew.
With soft and measured steps, the DarkSpear slowly closed the distance to the swordsman mech. Jarle moved practically in sync with his mech. He became completely immersed in the act to the point where he stopped paying attention to the questions of his viewers.
He was on the hunt.
The enemy pilot had a brain, as he chose the most open area on the battlefield. A wide stretch of moon plains provided precious few opportunities to conceal an approach.
Jarle estimated the DarkSpear’s power and heat reserves and noted that he had less capacity in the latter. It didn’t matter too much as his estimates placed his mech’s capacity within range of his targeted distance.
He flicked the switch that activated the full-powered stealth suite. The DarkSpear shimmered out of existence, and a low oppressive dampening field minimized its other emissions.
Jarle entered a highly focused state where he constantly adjusted the movements of his mech according to his judgement. He moved when his opponent looked elsewhere and sat still when he risked getting noticed. Even if the DarkSpear obscured its entire frame, it was very difficult to hide its footsteps.
He managed, somehow. He utilized a special stepping technique that allowed the DarkSpear to move forward briskly while leaving minimal traces behind. It utilized the slight uneven terrain to its advantage as no battlefield was truly flat.
The swordsman mech had no clue a deadly hunter approached its back. As the DarkSpear slowly stalked its way closer, Jarle’s anticipation built up to a heightening crescendo. Target fixation threatened to overwhelm his mind but Jarle made sure to hold back his urge to propel his mech forward.
“Now is not the time.”
His mech subsided a bit as it realized that Jarle had a point. The swordsman mech turned around abruptly a few seconds later. If the DarkSpear charged out at this point, it would have been exposed.
It became a test of time. Would the swordsman mech turn back around before the DarkSpear’s cloak ran out? It might be better for the assassin mech to begin its attack, for if it became exposed at a distance, it would suffer a very bad fate.
In this, Jarle could only rely on his own seasoned instincts. Normally, he never really took simulations like Iron Spirit seriously. For all of its professed attempts at realism, it always seemed to pale in comparison to the visceral feeling of piloting a real mech.
Yet the DarkSpear changed his outlook on the game. He only purchased the gimmicky model on a whim as he was curious to see how someone could marry a spear wielder and an assassin mech. Ever since he entered the cockpit, Jarle had the sensation that he entered into a black hole. The mech hid a lot of depth, and he’d plunged straight into the hole.
By now, he must have piloted the DarkSpear through hundreds of duels. All of his viewers got to see his overwhelming performance in the comfort of their homes. Even now, his fans screamed for him to wreck this swordsman mech and add another victory to his already swelling record.
As Jarle’s mech only had around five seconds left of cloaking time, the swordsman mech finally turned around. The moment it did so, the DarkSpear erupted from its hiding spot and charged forth in a blazing black missile of doom. The Festive Cloud Generator attached to its frame billowed out demonically towards the unsuspecting swordsman mech.
The enemy pilot’s mech blared an alarm. To his credit, he turned around fairly quickly, though the only thing he saw was a big black streak of vapor closing in on his mech. The pilot panicked and prepared to dodge, only to stop when he belatedly noticed that his sensors detected a mech at the forefront of the cloud. The swordsman mech quickly raised its sword in a guard.
“Too late!” Jarle yelled as his mech deftly veered to the left at the very last moment. Propelled by the full momentum of a mech at the apex of its charge, his spear punched right through the swordsman mech’s chest and dealt moderate damage to its internals, barely missing the core shell of the power reactor!
The stricken mech received such as heavy blow that it had been flung into a half-spinning back throw. Even then, it recovered remarkably quickly. It continued to spin and kicked out with its feet, preventing the DarkSpear from delivering its coup-de-grace.
“You’re bleeding.” Jarle grinned. “I can feel your power reactor failing.”
The swordsman mech exhibited unstable movements as its entire frame suffered from a lack of power. Still, even at half its strength, the swordsman mech possessed superior strength and speed. Besides its awful chest wound, all of its other sections remained undamaged.
As if realizing its predicament, the swordsman mech threw caution to the wind and embarked on a furious counter-attack with all of its systems running past their peak. Its pilot needed to ensure a quick win, and he was confident that his damaged mech could handle an assassin mech out in the open.
Jarle grinned as he guessed his opponent’s intentions. “You’ve already died after I made my first blow.”
His viewers howled for blood and started betting on how much time it took for Jarle to finish it off. The shortest bet ranged from ten seconds while the longest one went up to three minutes.
Perhaps an average pilot might be in trouble, but Jarle had more than a decade of duelling experience. While he missed his daggers, the DarkSpear’s eponymous weapon jabbed and spun with expert handling. Taking advantage of its reach, Jarle kept the fumbling swordsman mech out of range while slowly chipping away at the gaping hole in its chest.
“Damn it, if I had my daggers, I’d already be peeling open this can of worms!”
It took an entirely different set of skills to handle a spear compared to a pair of daggers. What got to Jarle the most was that his opponent read most of his moves like he was an open book.
Despite his earlier setback, the enemy pilot was still a highly skilled swordsman. Jarle had to take advantage of his opponent’s failing machine to get an edge. In addition, after hundreds of duels, Jarle had slowly become used to the unwieldy weapon.
After parrying aside another sword slash, the DarkSpear plunged forward abruptly with its strong legs and shoulder bashed the swordsman mech. It dealt relatively minor damage to its opponent, but successfully threw the swordsman mech off balance.
Even as the swordsman mech slashed wide in a last-ditch effort to deter an attack, the DarkSpear took the blow head on, allowing its free arm to be amputated while the other arm thrust its spear into damaged sections of the swordsman mech.
The victory message hardly sated Jarle as the virtual battlefield winked out of existence. This fight shouldn’t have turned into an open brawl. Almost every opponent he met as of late survived the initial charge and fought back with the ferocity of a wounded bear.
“This mech is getting kind of boring.” Jarle spoke to his viewers once his cockpit shimmered away and threw him back to his lobby. “Do you think I should pilot something new?”
His viewers expressed divided opinions. Some wanted him to carry the DarkSpear all the way to the top of the Diamond League while others missed his more conventional skirmisher style.
Jarle grinned at the comments and responded with a simple message. “I’ll think about it.”
After answering a few more questions, he said his goodbyes and shut off his stream. As he emerged from his simulator pod, he felt oddly empty now that he left the virtual cockpit behind.
The DarkSpear had a way of compelling him to return and assassinate more mechs. Even piloting his competition mechs felt hollow in comparison. Personally, Jarle figured that the novelty of piloting such a unique variant must have infected his mood.
While Jarle left the simulator room and headed for the showers, his agent suddenly appeared.
“Jarle! I’ve got something interesting for you!”
“What is it?”
“There’s this kid called Gavin Neumann on the line. He says he represents the mech designer who came up with the DarkSpear you’re messing around lately. He wants to enter into a minor sponsorship agreement with you!”
Jarle frowned at his agent. Minor sponsorship agreement usually netted him and his team a paltry sum. “I thought I told you to refuse all these petty deals. I’ve long grown beyond grovelling for pennies.”
The early career of a mech athlete always revolved around money. Jarle remembered that he used to sign contracts for baby feed and dog toys back when he started out.
“Hey, it’s not like that. This is more of a temporary thing where you pimp the DarkSpear for a couple of weeks.” His agent replied defensively. “Gavin is claiming that the mech designer is willing to design a customized virtual DarkSpear for you.”
That attracted his attention. Like any mech pilot, Jarle appreciated custom mechs. Unlike the general models on the market that had been designed to accommodate as many pilots as possible, custom mechs allowed their pilots to bring out their full strength at any time.
Mech athletes like Jarle hardly ever showed any interest if someone threw a money chip containing millions of credits in front of his feet. On the other hand, the moment a decent mech designer offered to design a custom mech, they’d all be slobbering like dogs.
Jarle only kept his composure due to the fact that he’d merely be getting a customized virtual mech. Even then, his constant longing for the DarkSpear made it very difficult to set this offer aside.
“Tell me more. How much work do I have to do to earn this custom mech?