Cadet Lovejoy's brilliant last moves were noted by few. Compared to the dazzling mechs destroying their rivals left and right, a worn-out mech like the Unicorn attracted little attention. It had quietly served its purpose for the few hours it remained in existence.
Ves almost dropped to his knees when he saw his pilot's ploy come into fruition.
"You're lucky that worked." Patricia noted calmly, as if the move was nothing more than child's play. "The quality of your pilot and your mech gave the plan a very low chance to succeed. It only worked due to the enemy pilots screwing up."
He knew she had a point. While his pilot clearly knew his business, he wasn't as exceptional as the ones from the top 10. The first-ranked Lovell still hopped around the battlefield with a half-wrecked rabbit mech, ambushing unsuspecting mechs right where it hurted. He managed to gather an incredible amount of eight coins through sheer skill.
"While I missed out on the best, I'm quite satisfied with my current pilot." Ves smiled. He already noted down the characteristics of Cadet Lovejoy and even had access to a brief profile. Next time he'd add a sword instead of a spear to his mech. "What about your own pilot? He's ranked somewhere in the mid-300's."
The difference between a pilot from the top 20 and the top 300 was a very large moat. A lower ranked pilot performed much worse in many different aspects. In the current round, what mattered most was judgement and battle intuition. Those who picked and choosed their battles wisely fared better than those who blindly blundered into unnecessary fights.
Surprisingly, Patricia stayed unconcerned. "Do you believe a mech's performance is determined by the skill of the pilot?"
"Of course it is. A pilot is the brain of a mech."
"If that is what you believe, then that is how your mech is built."
The sentence was short and simple, but contained profound implications. If a designer believed the skill of a pilot mattered the most, he'd consciously or unconsciously designed a mech that allowed a skillful pilot to play it to its full strengths. While this might work great if you expected your mech to be piloted by an excellent pilot, in the hands of a more average one the mech would never perform to its full potential.
"I see what you mean. You expected your mech to be piloted by an average pilot, so you designed your mech in a way that is simpler to operate and can be mastered easily."
No wonder Patricia dared to design a heavy artillery mech for the battlefield. Any dummy pilot with a brain could operate a slow, heavy mech with simple fire-and-forget missiles. It posed no requirements to finesse and reflexes.
A pilot only required decent judgement and a familiarity with missiles in order to operate the spider mech competently. As cadets from a renowned academy, all of the pilots mastered the basics, including those who ranked in the top 300.
However, there should be a limit to how far a dummy-proof mech could go. Ves asked a pertinent question. "Will you be able to reach the finals with such a philosophy?"
"Have the masters always apprenticed a designer who reached the finals?"
"Ah, not always."
In the history of the Leemar Open Competition, the masters usually picked up a couple of disciples from the finalists. Usually did not mean always. While the masters usually liked to pick winners, they placed more importance in compatibility. As long as a mech designer had a minimum amount of competencies, they could be picked by a master even if they did not make it through the first round.
This was also why plenty of designers valued the opportunity to make it past the qualifiers. Though extremely rare, a couple of masters had once selected apprentices from those who stalled at the start of the main event in the past. It gave everyone the tiniest bit of hope, which kept the competition vibrant.
The battlefield kept raging even after the Unicorn bowed out. After all of the excitement during the mid-game, the final hours arrived with the introduction of a couple of exceptional mechs. The majority of them were either heavy mechs or well-built medium mechs. Even Barakovski's light mech killer and Patricia's spider artillery mech had to make way for these alpha mechs.
The medium mech designed by Carter Gauge attracted everyone's attention. As the top seed of the competition, he boldly spent an inordinate amount of time on his mech. It was built like a hybrid knight. Its excellent sword and shield made it a menace at close range while its accurate shoulder-mounted ballistic guns ate up anything at range.
For all the anticipation, it did not disappoint. Even with a pilot ranked in the top 500, the medium mech moved faster and hit harder than almost any other mech out there. As its pilot became more accustomed to the awe-inspiring capabilities of his mech, he practically turned into a wild beast. His mech savaged anyone in its way, and stole coins left and right.
Even the commentators got pulled into the action. "Look at that mechanical wonder! He's at it again! This makes it the twelfth time it destroyed a mech, and it hardly received a scratch in return!"
"How tough must its armor be in order to deflect such a powerful kinetic round?"
"I don't know, but besides artillery, there's hardly any mech that could deter this killing machine."
Besides Gauge's invincible medium mech, some of the other latecomers also rolled over the early birds. While some designers simply delivered disappointing mechs, others made full use of the time to submit well-armored and well-armed mechs that was worth as much as four mid-game mechs.
Most of the late-game mechs utilized advanced compressed armor that went beyond the basic procedure Ves mastered. He only mastered the shallowest layer of alloy compression. More advanced methods could work with a wider variety of alloys and provide a more effective result in much less time.
Ves also learned from the designers in the waiting room that the best armor also underwent highly classified chemical treatment. Certain chemicals added before or after the compression process interacted strangely with some of the exotic materials incorporated in the alloys. These reactions increased the effectiveness of the compression procedure, resulting in thinner, lighter but much stronger armor.
"The chemical formulas are highly prized secrets. They are one of the core possessions of a mech design company. Some even build an entire dynasty around their formulas." Patricia noted succinctly. "Entire research departments might spend decades in order to come up with a single formula. The decent ones have a market value of trillions of cols."
This was on an entirely different level. These kinds of core technologies were highly prized assets that only the most formidable organizations were able to possess.
Someone like Ves could only ever purchase a license for the outdated formulas that have long been leaked. Even then, the prices were harsh.
The first round finally finished at the end of the day. This time, the amount of destruction exceeded last year's result. Many mechs hadn't been able to gather a sufficient amount of coins.
The threshold for passing turned out to be around six deliveries. The only problem was that a bit more than a hundred mechs had delivered at least six coins. This meant that some might pass and some might fail.
Ves bit his lip as he anxiously waited for the score counters to tally the final results. Finally, the sorting finished.
VES LARKINSON - REDDY LOVEJOY - 89th
"Yes!" He raised his fists. He passed the first round due to having delivered the coins faster than many others who gathered the same amount. This was another minor rule that gave preferential treatment to those who risked submitting their mechs early.
He looked at the scores for the few people he knew. Surprisingly, the combination Alyssa Lynch and Richard Lovell earned an impressive rank of 32nd. Considering that Cadet Lovell piloted one of the worst mechs on the battlefield, that was an incredibly heroic feat.
As for Patricia, her domineering artillery mech blasted its way into the 70s. While her spider mech easily demolished any opposition, its traversal speed was as slow as a snail so it barely gathered seven coins.
He checked the names of anyone else he knew. He finally spotted Barakovski's name way up at the 19th rank. She achieved a much better result than him even though she submitted her light mech a lot later. Her well-built mech hunted down many badly built mechs and ruthlessly robbed them of their coins.
As for Carter Gauge, he did not disappoint. His medium mech only came late, but its overall excellence proved even more tyrannical than Patricia's light mech killer. No matter the quality of its opposition, as long as it had a coin, it quickly died. With its supremely optimized sensors, it had no trouble tracking down coins. In just a couple of hours, its pilot easily gathered nineteen coins.
"This guy is in a different league than us." Ves noted as he stared at the top score. "He should be participating in events organized by first-rate superstates. Why is he slumming it with us?"
Patricia nodded in agreement. "You're right, but It's a political game. The Gauge Dynasty wants to press down the Carnegie Group's liveliness by emphasizing their deeper roots."
None of this concerned Ves, so they quickly dropped the subject.
Now that the main event had concluded, the audience started to return to their hotels. A few designers were invited up on stage to talk about their mechs in the aftershow, but Ves had no interest or expectation that he'd be invited up there.
When Ves met Dietrich back at the entrance of the arena complex, he took an irritated Lucky from his grasp. "There now, we only have two more days before we can go home."
"A lot of girls have been petting him." Dietrich explained Lucky's bad mood. "He's never gotten a proper rest. But hey, I'm not complaining. He's a great chick magnet."
Ves shook his head. His pet might look like an adorable cat, but his claws could cut right through a solid piece of armor.
"What do you think about Lovejoy? He's the sixteenth ranked pilot at the Abelard Academy. Is he better than you?"
"I'm a marksman, and he's a swordsman. We've got different specialties. His basics are very solid. I have to admit he's got a better reaction speed than me. He'd chew me up if he gets into melee range. Still, he's obviously too green. Any rookie pilot is no good until their lives are put on the line."
"Well hopefully that won't matter because they're all cadets. They haven't graduated yet."
Dietrich shook his head and pointed at Richard Lovell's name. "You're wrong. There's a couple of pilots who are different. This guy is the most obvious one. Every move he makes is focused on ending lives."
That sounded ominous. Ves had no familiarity with Alyssa Fill. She courageously designed and submitted an extremely rushed design in two hours in order to claim the best pilot available. Someone who took such a daring risk had to have some real capability. Her gamble worked, and she now had sole possession of the number one pilot, which gave her a great advantage in subsequent rounds.
Every formidable designer made it through the top 100. Those freeloaders who passed the last qualifying round while doing nothing all crashed and burned in front of an audience of trillions. Ves was relieved he made it through the first pass, but he was a little disappointed he hadn't reached a higher score. The impressive achievements of his rivals had taught him that he was far from the best.
"I've got a good enough pilot, and that's what matters. It doesn't matter if my mech gathered six or nineteen coins. It's enough to make it through with the best pilot possible."
He look forward what tomorrow had in store.