It’s the final round of the elimination series. What mecha did Praxit choose to go into battle with against three HardVac Rangers? Did he make the right choice? Will he finish in one piece?
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Episode 11 begins:
The lobby was replaced by the narrow virtual cockpit of a six metre LitheMech. The same model my sister had danced in. The same model the sim rig had been tuned for. The same model I had learned to pilot with.
The field appeared and right away it was obvious Coda was right. We were facing each other from the four corners of a tower pad. The pad was bordered by infinitely tall grey walls showing the faint grid pattern of a sim boundary. We were walled in to this small space. Except it wasn’t really a wall. You could collide with it, but you wouldn’t bounce, you wouldn’t stick, you couldn’t punch a hand-hold into it, you couldn’t jump off from it; you would just slide down to the ground.
There was a beam on the ground in front of each mecha. We all grabbed for them. After the ponderous construction mechas, whose long limbs always seemed to be moving in slow motion, the LitheMech made me feel like I was four-limbed lightning. The feedback from the prosthetics made the heft of the beam obvious. In the construction mechas it was like picking up a twig. I was going to have to compensate for its weight.
GLRCSux8819 had spoken the truth. The three of them were walking straight towards me and I had nowhere to run to. At least they couldn’t surround me. And if I backed closer to the corner, well, they were going to have take turns attacking me. They were all carrying their beams in the right hand of their mechas. Once they got close only the mecha on my left would have a clean strike.
I moved back. Gravity was normal and I wished it was ratcheted down again.
As they moved closer group comms cut in and I heard laughter.
“Who brings a dance mecha to a heavyweight slug fest?” said a girl’s voice. By the Scandi accent it had to be AuroraBorer.
“Would you both just shut it and do your jobs,” said another girl. I bet it was BattlePig32.
As they got closer the mecha on the left tossed its beam from the right hand to the left hand and gave it a swing. Okay. Now two of them could have a swing at me. I could handle it.
The centre mecha stopped and the other two kept coming towards me. I moved into a defensive stance, waiting to see who would swing first.
It was the mecha on my left. I swivelled and deflected their beam, then turned, ready to do the same to my right, but I was too slow.
The full force of an active alloy beam swung by a 15 metre HardVac Ranger caught me in the side. It sent me flying across the pad like a discarded doll. I skidded along the ground until I hit the virtual wall.
I was so lucky. If that blow had hit my cockpit, or an arm or a hand, anywhere except the body, I would already be red-flagged. I couldn’t risk another hit so my defensive plan, keep blocking and wait for the inevitable mistake, had to be abandoned. I had to go on the attack.
They were stomping towards me. I threw my beam away and flipped onto my feet, skipping beyond their reach. Between its strength and speed, piloting the LitheMech made it feel like, short of flying, gravity was something you could ignore.
Every second, every step I took, the old muscle memory kicked back in stronger and stronger. It was like I was playing rather than fighting.
I led them on a short chase until I was in the middle of the pad. They spread out again, pursuing their three-pronged attack. I danced around them so I was only facing the rightmost one. I stepped in and they swung at me. But I had already danced back out of the way. From there I jumped and landed on their shoulder. There was no way I could pop a joint on these big Rangers with my bare mecha hands, but I knew their weak points. The biggest one was the round peripheral canopy port on each side of the head. It was hardened mono-crystalline glass, designed for deep space.
One thing that was harder than that glass was the jet shielding on the bottom of a mecha’s foot. As the other player straightened up and reached for me with their other hand I did a little hop and a fast spin and brought the heel of my foot down hard upon the port, shattering it.
I had to jump as it collapsed, losing power as the red flag went up over it.
One down two to go.
“Remember the deal. Stick with the plan,” shouted BattlePig32.
That was the last thing she said during the match. The other mecha hit them straight in the cockpit, bending the beam with the blow and sending the Ranger backwards onto the ground, red-flagged.
“The plan’s dead,” said a guy’s voice. I guess it was GLRCSux8819, which means I just took out AuroraBorer. “I’d rather earn my points the honourable way. One on one. Mecha versus mecha.”
He pulled the beam from the the fallen mecha’s hand and advanced on me, swinging both of his weapons back and forth in front of him.
I cartwheeled away. How could I have forgotten how much fun a LitheMech is? And how fast they are. As long as I kept moving and stayed out of corners the other mecha could never get close enough to touch me. But we had one knockout each. With no building possible, once the clock ran out we would go into overtime and then just keep going until one of us was left standing.
He realised the same thing and stopped chasing me. He stomped to the middle of the pad.
“You’re going to have face me. Might as well as get it over with.”
“You could quit out and save yourself some time,” I said.
“I don’t quit.”
I had worked my way back to the beam I had dropped. I picked it up and held it near the end with both hands. Then I sprinted towards the waiting mecha, the end of the beam pointed straight at it.
He raised his beams, ready to strike me or block any jab I might attempt.
But I wasn’t going to jab him, despite how it looked. Moving at full speed I threw the beam into the air. By reflex he raised his beams to block while I went down into a slide, passing right between his legs, right under him and behind him.
I dug my feet in, stood and back flipped, twisting in the air and landing on the edge where the mecha’s torso joined its hips. From there I leapt again. Turning over in the air I landed just behind the top of his head. Despite its strength, the falling weight of the LitheMech forced its head down towards its chest, opening a gap between the cockpit and the neck.
I caught the falling beam I had tossed and jammed it into the gap.
GLRCSux8819 thrashed his beams around his head and I had to jump to safety. Turning to face me, he couldn’t lift his cockpit up. That beam was locked in tight.
“What have you done?” he shouted.
“Stabbed you in the back, I’m afraid,” I said.
I shuffled back and forth in front of him. In and out. Tempting him to attack. He raised both arms and brought them both down, trying to hit me or catch me between them. Except he didn’t. I jumped and landed on his left arm. I jumped again, getting some extra height as he tried to shake me off, sailed over his head, and landed with both feet, knees locked, on the very end of my beam.