Ves clenched his fists as he looked downward at the stage where his Sword Dancer tried to fight against an aerial fortress. Even he was rendered helpless when facing one of Carter Gauge's impossibly advanced aerial mech.
The technology of that time shouldn't be able to support such incredible flight systems. Gauge must have spent quite a bit of time customizing the outdated wings and bring it up to the current generation.
Ordinarily, that might have led to his folly. After all, the more time he spent on the wings, the less time he could allocate on the armor and internals. Looking at the Pterodactyl's performance showed that the flying heavy mech did not lose out that much in other aspects. Its armor was especially resilient even after some hasty repairs.
Even the audience thought the match would end with no suspense and turned away to view more even matchups.
"I'm impressed Cadet Lovejoy hasn't lost his mech yet." One of the commentators noted when he switched his view. "Out of all of the Pterodactyl's opponents, he's already lasted the longest."
"That's because Lovejoy is paying more attention to dodging than thinking about hitting back. If he's trying to outlast the Pterodactyl in terms of energy consumption, then he's fooling himself. The heavy mech is packed with energy cells."
"The only chance he can squeeze a victory out of this narrow road is to get a lucky hit with his low-grade pistol."
With only about an estimated ten minutes left before the laser barrage cut through the medium mech's armor, the Sword Dancer had very little else to go on. Lovejoy scowled as he pulled out every trick in his bag in order to stay ahead of the suppressive laser fire from above.
From the frequency of the lasers, he judged the heavy mech had plenty of reserves. In contrast, his Sword Dancer had been designed for short-duration high-intensity combat. Even at a lower power setting, it still drained a significant portion of energy over time.
"I have to finish this quickly." Lovejoy concluded with difficulty.
He gave up on saving power and instead routed more of it towards feeding his pistol. The weapon beeped in alarm when it exceeded its recommended safety limit. Lovejoy had to dig through the settings and override all the safeties.
The weapon's programming estimated that the pistol had about three percent chance of blowing up with each shot. This probability increased in accordance with the amount of heat the weapon accumulated.
"I don't care if it will blow up in a couple of minutes!" He screamed at his pistol and ruthlessly tore down the last safety holding him back from firing high-powered beams.
The pistol whined audibly as it discharged the accumulated energy in a single eye-watering blast. The beam shot straight into the sky and burned a small gap in the heavy mech's wings.
That gap represented the first real sign of damage on the Pterodactyl. It gave Lovejoy hope, though the Pterodactyl also started to increase its speed and sway a little bit more. Both sides increased their power consumption in order to put a quick end to the match.
The broadcasters took notice of the increased intensity of their fight and put the battle on the main projection. Alongside the ongoing duel, the faces of the pilots and the mech designers were added to the sides.
"Look at the faces of Larkinson and Lovejoy! They are still clinging to the last shreds of hope. Can their Sword Dancer defeat the Pterodactyl in one of the most uneven clashes ever?"
"Our processors have analyzed the odds of Cadet Lovejoy managing to score a deadly blow. He only has a 2.3 percent chance in the best scenario!"
"It's safe to say that Carter Gauge has racked up another victory. There's no way the Sword Dancer's pistol can get past that heavy mech's armor."
Despite the long odds, everyone's attention was glued to the tragic battle. They all hoped the underdog mech could pull off a miracle and put a dent into Carter Gauge's invincible halo.
Those affiliated with the Carnegie Group had more reason than many to support Gauge's opponents. Of all the talents from Leemar who faced the dreaded genius, none had high hopes of matching him equally in the field of mech design.
Where would their faces be if they let someone nurtured by a rival partner of the Coalition trample on their talents?
A lot was at stake for this fight. As the Sword Dancer had been matched up against weak opponents, it had a high probability of dropping off the top 25.
As for the Pterodactyl, it had vanquished against a couple of strong opponents so its passage into the top 25 was assured. A fourth victory in this round would cap off Gauge's invincible halo and propel his momentum into an unstoppable tide once he reached the finals.
A few minutes went by as Lovejoy kept dancing with the devil. His pistol glowed with excessive heat to the point of starting to melt its some of its softer furnishings. The Sword Dancer flirted with disaster each time it fired an overcharged laser beam at the gigantic hovering mech.
The Pterodactyl stoically endured the high-powered laser beams. The accuracy of the pistol left something to be desired and the Sword Dancer also had to keep moving which further degraded its aim. Though the heavy mech presented a large target, half of the beams went wide. Those that did hit its surface only melted a couple of widely distributed holes in its heavy armor.
The next shot achieved a different result. By sheer coincidence, the beam impacted near a previously damaged weak point at a spot covered up by flimsier replacement armor. The consecutive hit possessed enough power to melt through the damaged portion and inflict serious damage to the internals underneath.
Just as the Pterodactyl suffered a minor explosion in its underbelly, the Sword Dancer's pistol also succumbed to the abuse. The backup firearm had never been designed to tolerate this much heat, especially when firing at a constant frequency. The weapon exploded, causing heat and shrapnel to engulf the Sword Dancer's outstretched arm.
"No!" Lovejoy yelled as the surface of his mech withstood the rest of the shrapnel. He cared little for his mech's lost arm or the scratches it received. Now that he lost his only weapon, he had no means of damaging the Pterodactyl. The game was as good as lost.
As for the heavy mech, despite the damage it suffered, the mech was built to take a beating. Heavy mechs never collapsed after suffering a single penetrating hit. Even if it lost some power, the Pterodactyl possessed enough redundancies to keep it afloat.
"What is the Pterodactyl doing? It's stopped firing. According to our readings, its weapons should have plenty of juice left."
"It's hovering closer to the Sword Dancer. The pilot wants to gloat over his victory!"
Some of the people in the audience started booing at the unsportsmanlike behavior. Only the most conceited individuals disrespected their opponents this way. The worst thing about the act was that the latter half of the duel had been broadcast to the entire Komodo Star Sector.
On the main projection above, both the pilot and Gauge adopted arrogant expressions. Though joined together through circumstance, they both compliment each other nicely. Gauge wanted to prove his superiority by partnering with a bottom-ranked pilot, while the pilot grew an inflated head due to the excellent mechs he received.
A shadow hung over the motionless Sword Dancer. Lovejoy already gave up on the match and sank down in his simulation pod. He paid little attention to the ongoing match.
Like a caveman staring helplessly at an aircar, the Pterodactyl emphasized its superiority by maintaining its altitude over the helpless swordsman mech. It even dipped up and down in an exaggerated motion, which attracted further scorn from the audience.
"Finish it already you asshole!"
"You don't have to take it Lovejoy! Just forfeit the match!"
"You're despicable Gauge! If it's up to me, you'd already be tumbling out of Carnegie space!"
Back in his simulation pod, the constant beeping of his mech's proximity alarm grated Lovejoy's ears. He stopped wallowing about his impending defeat to see why his mech hadn't been sent to the graveyard yet.
"What the? Are you teabagging me?"
Lovejoy could accept getting beaten. He could even accept a loss against a much superior mech. After all, this competition revolved around mech designers, so the participating pilots already mentally accepted that they'd face such disparities.
What he couldn't accept is the enemy pilot rubbing his face with a victory he didn't deserve. The pilot of the Pterodactyl was certainly someone who certainly ranked far below him. The only reason he won in the first place was due to his massively overpowered mech.
"Even if you've won, that's no reason to diss me!"
A spark of anger ignited amid his overwhelming grief. He unsheathed his sword and pointed it at the sky while roaring at the Pterodactyl.
"You can trample my mech, but not my dignity!"
Caught in the fires of his rage, Cadet Lovejoy wanted to spite the Pterodactyl. He impulsively rotated the Sword Dancer and with a mighty heave he threw the sword at the behemoth in the sky.
Despite seldomly having thrown a sword before, the weapon somehow spun in the direction of the Pterodactyl without fail. The sword did not only carry the momentum of the Sword Dancer's spin. It also carried Lovejoy's defiance against his fate.
Back in the waiting room, Ves tracked the spinning sword as it flew up with undaunted purpose towards the heavy mech. He had no hopes for the desperate throw either. A sword flung from this much distance lost a lot of its power on the way up. With the kind of armor the Pterodactyl sported, it would be like a pebble thrown against a suit of armor.
Strangely enough, everyone who took note of the duel still fixed their gazes on the sword. It held a magnetic attraction to them, as if they could sympathize with Lovejoy's frustrations. They also thought it was a pity that his mech stood no chance.
Once the sword neared the Pterodactyl, the pilot instinctively tried to dodge it by moving his mech. Somehow, the mech's belated movements caused it to draw the sword to its damaged and exposed section. The pilot had forgotten all about the hole in his mech's armor and was completely clueless about his mistake.
Both Ves and Lovejoy widened their eyes. The tip of the sword scratched the edge of the molten hole before sinking deep inside the burned and melted internals. The remainder of its force allowed the blade to cut through many layers of weakened components before it finally reached a critical cable attached to the power reactor.
A massive machine like the Pterodactyl consumed a lot of energy even at rest. The interrupted cable along with the other damage the heavy mech had already suffered caused the spot to be engulfed in another localized explosion.
While ordinarily this explosion should not be any cause for concern, the safeties that were supposed to be in place had already been destroyed. The explosion caused a lot of damage to other components, which started up a cascade of errors.
The Pterodactyl suddenly lost seventy percent of its power. That was not enough to keep the mech in the air. The flight system whined as it tried to keep the mech at a constant altitude, to no avail.
The pilot woke up to the sudden crisis and frantically tried to redirect more power to the flight systems. Due to the damage his mech had already suffered, he found no alternative paths.
"What kind of piece of shit mech only has this many paths?!" He cussed, completely forgetting his earlier flaunting of his mech.
While an ordinary heavy mechs possessed a lot more redundancies, Gauge only received six hours of design time. He could not spare much energy in adding redundancies to his mech's internals when he had to invest most of his time in improving the flight systems.
Smoke trailed the Pterodactyl as it descended to the ground in a soft landing. The wings possessed sufficient enough power to avoid a crash landing. That did not help the Pterodactyl much when the mech had been designed solely for aerial combat. It did not even possess legs, which turned it into a sitting duck on the ground.
Lovejoy's eyes gleamed. Ignoring his mech's amputated arm and weaponless state, he drove his mech forward and approached the Pterodactyl just as it skid along the grass. The pilot of the heavy mech noted the danger and rerouted power from the flight systems to the laser mounts. A couple of weak beams started to pepper the Sword Dancer.
"As if those weakened lasers can save you!" Lovejoy laughed as the Sword Dancer took the lasers head-on, causing it to suffer some light damage in the process. The medium mech ignored the mosquito bites and jumped on top of the grounded Pterodactyl.
The entire audience stood still. Even the commentators had no words to say.
As a mech designed to bombard the ground from above, the Pterodactyl was not meant to attack any targets that landed on its back. When the side-mounted laser turrets turned around to face the assailant, the Sword Dancer simply grabbed the barrels of the lasers and snapped them off one by one. They only managed to unleash a dozen ineffectual beams before their mounts got wrecked.
Even the majestic heavy mech's beak-mounted cannon posed no threat to the Sword Dancer. Its range of motion only allowed the beak to swivel sideways. Just to be sure, Lovejoy stomped his mech's foot repeatedly on the head until its neck collapsed.
The Pterodactyl lost all of its weapons. The sudden reversal caught everyone by surprise.
"Are my eyes deceiving me?" A male commentator befuddled asked. "Did Gauge's mech got strung like a duck?"
"I don't think anyone believed this has happened. A thrown sword changed destiny. The undefeated has tasted defeat."
"Gauge must be stewing in anger right now. Look at his awful face!"
Lovejoy cared nothing for the commentary even if he could hear it. Somehow, he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, so he tried to cling to it as tightly as possible. He resolved not to make the same mistake as his opponent and started to dig into the Pterodactyl.
Without a weapon and only one arm intact, the Sword Dancer could not inflict much damage to the grounded mech. It had to kick aside a loosened plate and dig into the internals with brute force.
After a couple of minutes of helplessly sitting around, the pilot finally bowed down. He could not take the humiliation and exited the match by forfeiting.
Ves and Lovejoy won their fourth duel after an arduous match. Their total victories in the second round propelled them to the single digits in the top 25. Their last victory especially gave them a lot of points. It was a no-brainer for them to move on to the finals.
"Thank you Lovejoy. You really saved my skin." Ves said with a smile. He really dodged a bullet there. He could not bear to think what he'd do if he narrowly missed the top 25.