The designers of the Torch of the Vanguard shaped it in a lengthy, triangular form. It looked like a stubby rod where the top was narrow in order to provide windows to every cabin and fat at the bottom to store lots of cargo. Thus, the underbelly of the ship had enough room to setup a small arena, shielded by the best screening technology the Friday Coalition could afford.
A large crowd already gathered around the high-tech stadium. Even for the Friday Coalition, seeing a nextgen mech perform was not an everyday sight. Only the elites from second-rate states were privileged to pilot such an expensive and powerful mech.
Naturally, the first-rate superstates treated nextgen mechs as their basic models. The cutting edge generation that they were still developing would be unleashed to the wider galaxy in about a decade. Ves was already apprehensive about the sea of changes that ensued with every generational leap.
"Hey Ves, can you explain to me what's so fancy about the next generation?"
Each new generation represented a major leap forward in a couple of areas of technology. Usually the incorporation of hitherto unknown exotic materials supported such innovation.
"I don't have the details, but I've heard the next generation is largely an advance in weapons and energy storage technology. Lasers and other types of direct energy weapons are more powerful and can deliver a higher burst of damage without damaging their weapons. High-end energy cells are also able to store more power. As for heat management, the improvement there hasn't caught up so mechs running energy weapons won't last as long."
"Okay, so lasers are gonna hit harder and longer but the heat management is going to be a bitch. Sounds like it's ideal for skirmisher-types. What about ballistic and missile weaponry?"
"There's no major innovation there, but weapons manufacturers have reduced the costs of much of their premium weaponry. It basically means that the other weapon types can catch up at the cost of reduced profits to manufacturers."
"Heh, sounds good. Those greedy bastards charge way too much for ammunition. It's about time they get to bleed."
Ves did not mention that armor systems also failed to keep up. That largely meant that battles between nextgen mechs were shorter and more intense. The risk of death increased while the amount of repairs and replenishments was going up. The strategic use of mechs was about to change in many ways.
They sat around the arena and waited for the show to start. It did not take too long for the stars to arrive.
"That's Wolf Greer of the Constellations! His Moonhowl mech once smashed three pirates at once with his Overload Fist!"
A bulky medium mech carrying twin pistols on its hips arrived first. Despite the pistols, the mech was built like a brawler, its main weapon being its reinforced fists. The pilot had guts for resorting to unarmed combat. The shorter range meant the mech had less reach and more importantly less leverage to punch through armor.
"What's the Overload Fist?"
"Don't know. We'll see it in action soon enough."
As Ves admired the Moonhowl's refined lines, its opponent came onto the stage as well.
The other mech weighed a little lighter than the Moonhowl. The large logo on its arm told the audience that the mech named Righteous Sword fought under the banner of the Winston Corps.
"That's Iris Peterson's famous Righteous Sword, one of the best sword mechs of the Coalition!"
The two nextgen mechs met each other in the middle of the arena. After a short handshake, they parted and stood at the standard dueling distance for small-sized arenas. The small setting gave the Righteous Sword a lot less room to run around. As a mech armed with nothing but a single sword, Iris needed all the room she could get in order to leverage her mech's superior mobility.
Now that the duelists made themselves known, the crowd started to make their bets. When Ves heard the amount of money they chipped in, he thought better of putting in his own bet.
Like a rural hick, Dietrich dropped his jaw. "Heavens, did that guy just bet the equivalent of two-hundred-million bright credits? He could feed an entire planet for a day with that much money!"
As soon as the bets tapered off, the organizers strengthened the security screens and greenlighted the duel.
The nextgen mechs exploded into action. As each nextgen mech represented the pinnacle of mechs from the Friday Coalition, Ves was ready to study how far they pushed the envelope.
The spectacle didn't disappoint. The forces the mechs were able to leverage caused the mechs to move with speed and power that put older mechs to shame. The Moonhowl especially embodied this as it sought to charge straight at the Righteous Sword.
The battle embodied the classic match between a brute and a mover. The Moonhowl excelled in straightforward fights and trading hits while the Radiant Sword sought to attack weak points and avoid getting entangled. In normal circumstances, Iris should have been able to leverage her advantage in mobility, but Wolf made good use of the cramped arena to slow her down.
"Enough of this!" Wolf broadcasted as his mech engaged a set of hidden boosters.
"Damn, that guy's timing is impeccable! There's no way for Iris to escape!"
The Righteous Sword was in the middle of fleeing to the side. Its momentum could not be redirected instantly. By the time it turned, the Moonhowl was already upon the slimmer mech.
As if knowing that any further evasions had no use, the Righteous Sword extended its sword. The Moonhowl shifted its orientation and position slightly by adjusting the power of its individual boosters at the very last moment. This caused the sword to punch through the side armor and miss the power reactor.
On the other hand, the Moonhowl's fists glowed red as some sort of strange energy enveloped the limb. Just as it was about to strike the Righteous Sword's cockpit, both mechs abruptly stopped.
"That's enough! The winner is Wolf Greer!"
Most of the crowd booed at the premature end of the duel. Even if the fist had hit, the damage it dealt might not cripple the Righteous Sword. Ves understood why the organisers shut down the fight so quickly. Repairing nextgen mechs was expensive and they did not want to weaken the power of their best escorts.
Dietrich shook his head, having bet quite a lot of credits on the beautiful female pilot. "Man, this arena is a waste of time if the organizers keep pulling everyone's punches. They don't have the guts to show us a real fight. I'd be better off watching a projection from the galactic net."
The pair split up again once Dietrich escorted Ves back to their cabin upstairs. As Ves wanted to save as much credits as possible, he declined to follow Dietrich outside as he perused the ship's extensive entertainment.
The Torch of the Vanguard slowly made its rounds as it hopped across borders. The distance it traversed within a short amount of time was incredible. That it took over two weeks to reach Leemar was a testament to the Torch's incredibly powerful engines. Luckily, the Leemar System happened to be situated a little closer to the Bright Republic, so Ves could board any standard passenger ship to reach Leemar in time for the qualifiers.
The ship's prestige and its escort of elite mechs from the Coalition deterred all troublemakers. Most of them took one look at the scanners and got scared off by the Torch's immense engine readings. Only the largest organizations from second-rate states possessed the knowhow to build such a powerful ship.
Ves made good use of the time by studying the virtual books as if he was a desperate student about to take his exams. He already learned much of the core knowledge from the System, but the books expanded upon the main concepts and provided him with a lot of good references.
At the end of the Torch's voyage to the Coalition's border, Ves firmly stabilized his foundations in mechanics. He now possessed sufficient confidence in designing a mech with mechanical principles beyond the reach of an average novice.
"Mechanics might not be as sexy as metallurgy or optics, but its the main pillar that underpins every mech."
Perhaps he might still be behind the best geniuses participating in the open competition, but he should be able to pass the qualifiers at the very least. He had taken a brief look at the rules and understood the days preceding the main competition was meant to filter out the riff raff.
"Too bad the hype around my mechs have faded."
His virtual sales tapered off. The Marc Antony and its 'Male Variant' proved to be surprisingly successful while they graced the news, but the novelty passed when the broadcasters focused on other events. Without the constant exposure in the media, the mech dropped into obscurity.
What further nailed the coffin into his sales was that a couple of other designers copied his codpiece. It proved to be a minor trend in the local market, but so many pilots repelled the myriad designs that the copycats never earned much of a profit.
Ves studied the figures and nodded in disappointment. "There's no future in driving sales through unique looks. Excessively decorated mechs don't fare well in the market right now. The current trend is to keep the mech's appearance sober in order to avoid attracting enemy fire."
It might be a different story if the mechs were rated lower. First and second-star mechs often featured brighter colors and more flamboyant touches. However, by the time pilots were able to buy five-star mechs, they were old enough to graduate from academies and pilot a mech on a real battlefield.
At the last day when Ves was about to depart the Torch, he decided to spend his accumulated DP. He already spent a lot of time sorting out his recent gains, so that left his mind free to accept an influx of new knowledge.
"Now what will I upgrade?"
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