The second round commenced after various bots cleaned up all the debris from the pressurized arena ring. Two very different aquatic mechs emerged from the hatches.
The Cava City Sea Dragons sent out a stubby eel-like mech. The announcers already laid out their predictions.
“Slippery Winston has entered the stage! Will the third-strongest member of the Sea Dragons deliver another victory for his team?”
“Not very likely in my eyes, as the Velton Myrmidons mean business this time! Look who they brought into the ring!”
The Myrmidon supporters among the crowd erupted in support of the mech athlete who entered.
“Firebreather! Firebreather! Firebreather!”
Unlike other aquatic mechs, Firebreather’s mech took on a shape that didn’t resemble any terrestrial animals. From the commentary the announcers provided, Ves learned that the designer adopted an original shape that didn’t resemble any Terran or exo creature.
If Ves had to describe Firebreather’s mech, he’d say it resembled an octagonal honeycomb. Its symmetrical angular sides all featured octagonal-shaped armor plating. Besides functioning as modular armor, the armor plating also camouflaged the placements of thrusters, boosters and weapon hardpoints.
The logic of its unusual design became evident once the round commenced. The eel mech approached the octagon mech, slithering forth with electric grace. Sparks of current ran throughout its frame, making it obvious that tangling with it up close was a bad idea.
Slippery Winston started off the engagement by launching a pair of high-powered harpoons at the octagon mech. Both of them puncturered through the octagon mech’s relatively weak plating.
“Firebreather got harpooned! But will it stick?”
A strong current ran through the cables between the harpoons and the eel mech. Yet before it could do much damage, a spark of liquid heat erupted from the affected side of the octagon mech. The cables melted apart, freeing Firebreather from the electric attack.
The octagon mech started to spin a bit and present an undamaged side to the eel mech. Its strange shape gave the mech a lot of options as it possessed an array of weapons and thrusters at each side. Constraints in disposable space limited their power, but the enormous redundancy gave the mech a lot of options.
Not content to sit back and let Slippery Winston out of his grasp, Firebreather sent his mech forward and fired off volleys of short-ranged heat attacks.
Even if Slippery Winston gained his fame for his ability to dodge all kinds of attacks, the wide area heat sprays proved extremely difficult to avoid. His eel mech specialized in agility, but its top speed left something to be desired.
“It’s like a battle between a striker and a skirmisher.” Raella noted. “Except this skirmisher is a little slow.”
“It’s hard to design an aquatic mech that can go faster under these circumstances.”
Mech designers had to allocate an exponential amount of power to mobility if they wished to make an aquatic mech go faster. Thus, most deep sea designs emphasized agility and power over pure speed.
Right now, Slippery Winston’s eel mech started to looked cooked as its armor plating started to break down from the continuous exposure to heat. The duellist of the Sea Dragons attempted to fight back by launching harpoons and missiles, but the octagon mech’s ridiculous amount of redundancy made it look like they fell into an endless hole.
“This match is over.” Ves predicted. He could tell that the eel mech didn’t have much in store except to go all in.
Ordinarily, such a move would be best as it could use its deadly electrical currents to fry its prey from within.
Slippery Winston must have realized his predicament. As his eel mech started to get cornered, he finally stopped avoiding the attacks and dove head-first into the octagon mech.
“Oh, Winston is going in! Will this be the end?”
“He’s falling right into Firebreather’s hands!”
The octagon mech blasted out a giant spray of heated liquids that struck the eel mech head-on. The sheer amount of heat distorted the water around them, but Ves could see that Slippery Winston cleverly rotated his mech to spread the damage over its frame.
However, the octagon mech kept pumping out a constant torrent of thermal energy. Firebreather decided to dump his full arsenal at this moment, which rapidly degraded Winston’s mech.
Yet the eel mech still persisted under these circumstances. It used the tail end of its frame to lash against the octagon mech, smashing aside the armor at those spots.
The two mechs continued to batter at each other, hoping to force their opponent to concede first. The contest of endurance turned into a contest of wills. Whoever lost their nerve first would be savaged by the pumped up crowd!
Even Raella clenched her fists at the action underneath their floating room. “Get closer!”
“I can’t. There’s too many rooms in the way!”
A whole pile of floating rooms had congregated around the side where the fighting took place. The VIPs all wanted to get close to see the outcome of this decisive moment with their very own eyes.
Moments like these reminded Ves why he adored mechs. The visceral combat stimulated the primitive part of his brain that craved for blood. For all humanity pretended to be civilized, deep down they still let themselves be ruled by the instincts that evolution had been slow to erase.
The sense that he lost his purpose started to fade as he got caught up in the fight. He made an important realization during this match.
“Mechs embody violence.”
When Ves recently worked on his limited edition mechs, he explicitly designed them to be display models. While there was nothing wrong with designing mechs for peaceful purposes, it should never be his primary focus.
A real mech should be bred for war. Any refinements that Ves chose to add to his mechs should never overshadow their primary purpose of destroying their enemies.
The duel reached its final stages when the octagon mech managed to burn a large gap in the frame of the eel mech. Firebreather instantly capitalized on the weak point by focusing all of his heat attacks on that spot!
A low boom echoed from the dome as something critical inside Slippery Winston’s mech exploded! The disruption caused by that explosion opened up the insides of his eel mech to water, which quickly crushed the delicate internals inside the affected compartments.
The referees forced a halt to the fighting because Winston had been knocked unconscious from the sudden shock. Fortunately, his cockpit’s integrity remained intact, so he escaped from the duel with his life intact.
Ves lost interest in the tournament at this point. The subsequent matches proceeded rather tamely as the mech athletes played conservatively and dragged out the time. None of them wanted to end up like Slippery Winston.
Even Raella started to yawn when the standoff between two shark-like mechs went on for more than fifteen minutes. Both mechs primarily relied on spikes and torpedoes to harass their opponents to death.
Only the dedicated fans remained excited for their adopted teams. Ves stopped caring about the outcome and instead focused on the mechs themselves.
All of the mechs he had seen so far possessed a spark of life. Ves could tell that each mech adopted a unique design that had gone through numerous evolutions. Each time they sustained significant damage, their designers tweaked the designs so that the mechs fared a little better next time.
They were very much opposite to the clinically clean and lifeless machines of the MTA. Mechs produced through materialization paid for their perfection with their souls. Even if they delivered superior performance over mechs produced through fabrication, Ves wondered if they represented the answer to making better mechs.
It depended on the potential of the X-Factor. Ves only scratched the surface with this metaphysical phenomenon. He suspected that a stronger X-Factor might have dramatic effects, but he was years away from another breakthrough. At his current level of progress, achieving those levels seemed far away.
“What do you think about materialized mechs?” Ves asked his cousin out of the blue.
“You mean that fancy new production technique from the galactic center? It sounds like it’s really expensive. I’ll probably be dead before materialized mechs become mainstream in our neighborhood.”
“Do you think they’re better?”
“Of course! It’s more expensive, so it must be worth the money, right?”
Her answer revealed that Raella didn’t know much about mech production. A mech pilot like her wouldn’t know the difference.
Would Ves still have a place in a future where materialization became reasonable enough to take over the galactic rim? If mech pilots started to become more exacting about their demands, then Ves expected to face a lot of difficulty trying to achieve the inhuman level of quality that materialization easily provided.
Something started to crystallize in his mind as he wrestled over this issue. Ves had always been fascinated by the X-Factor. Since he already achieved some progress, he owed it to himself and the System to see this journey through.
Even if materialization came with many benefits, it could not replace the fundamental value of plain-old craftsmanship. Mechs should come with a human touch.
His newfound conviction seemed to cleanse his mind once again. Rather than regard materialization as an inevitability or a looming threat, he treated it as an alternative that he already ruled out.
If the mech market progressed in a way that favored materialized mechs, then Ves would continue to fight for mechs produced through more traditional ways.
He’d prop up his own market if he had to.
That was not to say that he aimed to fight against this technology. Materialization offered a lot of benefits in other industries that had always been chasing after zero errors. Progress couldn’t be stopped once it was unleashed. The mech industry as a whole stood to gain a lot from this method of production as well.
“Not everyone cares for a handmade mech.”
The vast majority of mechs sold today consisted of cheap, mass-produced mechs. Once materialization became more affordable, the lower end of the market should gain a lot of benefits as the overall quality went up.
The Sea Crown Tournament reached its final act as the Sea Dragons and the Myrmidons went even with each other. Both teams eked out two wins, beating most people’s expectations that the reigning champions would easily steamroll the challengers.
Ves regained his interest in the tournament once the final round commenced. Both teams sent out their team captains for this decisive match.
“Jackknife Jake is carrying the final hopes of the Myrmidons! Will he be able to deliver on the promise he made to his fans, or will he return to Velton with empty hands?”
“Not if the Sea King has anything to say about it! With over nine years of duelling experience, the King has reigned over our planet for three consecutive years as he led the Sea Dragons to victory time and time again!”
Jackknife Jake piloted a medium-sized angular fish mech with lots of retractable weapon hardpoints. Ves could tell his mech relied on hit-and-run attacks with its sharpened fins to grind his opponents down.
In contrast, the Sea King piloted a sea dragon-shaped mech. The extravagant machine had clearly been designed to evoke a sense of majesty, as if it was a given that the Sea King should reign over Moira’s Paradise. Its design achieved an optimal balance between power and flexibility. Its two claws added a lot of extra options to the Sea King’s arsenal.
“Jake!” The Sea King broadcasted through an open channel which the arena passed on to the crowd. “Your team did well this year, but your lucky streak has come to an end. You’ve never defeated me before. The outcome is already set!”
The team captain of the Myrmidons responded, if only to please his supporters. “Boast after you win, not before! I’ve crawled through countless rivals to get to this point, beating expectations along the way. Even if you have the better machine, nothing is ever set in stone!”
While Jackknife Jake piloted a very good aquatic mech, the amount of money invested into the sea dragon mech beggared the mind. From what Ves could tell, the Sea King’s mech was worth at least three times as much as Jackknife Jake’s machine.
“Is the outcome already determined?” Ves softly asked to himself. Personally, he found the Sea King’s attitude to be repulsive. He started to root for the Myrmidons again. “Come on, Jake, show him what a better pilot can do!”