Chapter 178: Last Minute Preparations
As was often the case, Lan Jue had arrived at the mountain early this morning to send Qianlin to school. He likewise heard from her that today was the day the NEU and Lir University were to begin competing at the West Hill training grounds. All teachers were expected to attend and learn from the spectacle. The electives instructors were no exception.
He’d left Hua Li and Chu Cheng back at Skyfire Avenue. They were in the underground, training mecha combat in the jewelry store warehouse while he was busy. Hua Li had shut off his communicator and was once more effectively ‘in the wind’ – at least as far as Mo Xiao was concerned. Hua Li knew she was no fool, that she probably suspected he was hiding in the Avenue. Luckily, however, she had no way to get in and find him. In this part of the galaxy, there were some things even the Poseidon Group couldn’t pull off.
“Professor, you were looking for me?” Tang Xiao trotted up to Lan Jue, who was waiting patiently behind the electives building in their former meeting place. The young pupil panted from the exertion.
“Right, stop pretending. Your fat, but all this for two steps of running is a tad ridiculous don’t you think?” Lan Jue’s words were honest and cutting. An apprentice as deceitful as this, he didn’t have any recourse.
Tang Xiao chuckled, and sure enough his panting stopped immediately. “Am I getting predictable? I do it to perplex my enemies.”
“So I’ve noticed,” Lan Jue said wryly. “Your downright rotten to the core. Are you feeling confident about the competition today?”
Tang Xiao looked almost pained as he answered. “How could I be? It’s like a King of Fighters style battle with three people, right. So last year we only knocked out one of their fighters before the second cleaned us all out. This year they’re even meaner. They’re saying it’ll only take one of them to finish us.”
Lan Jue looked impressed. “What rank are these pilots?”
“The word is Emperor-Class, but I dunno how accurate that is.” Tang Xiao shrugged. “Students don’t know anything about their competition before the actual bout. The professor war games are even more intense. They’re all at least Emperor First Class. Strong. So they have us beat on every side. It’s a pretty cruel way to lose.”
Lan Jue thought for a moment, staring at his pupil. “Simple. Time’s a little tight, but I can teach you a few tricks. Call it last minute preparation. Are there any restrictions on the mechas specifically?”
Tang Xiao blinked. “Actually, no. Everyone’s permitted to use their own mecha in DreamNet 1. We’re pretty crappy in that department, too. As you know, in DreamNet each component costs. Every part and gem, and what’s more it’s about equivalent to what you’d get in the real world. The school helps us a little, but they don’t have the resources compared to LU 2. This is the main reason why we can’t beat people even our own rank, much less stronger. They’ve got some big money behind them. I mean enough to launch a whole contingent of war mechas. They’re just altogether better than we are in every way.”
Lan Jue chuckled in response. “Outfitting is the single last thing you need to worry about as a pilot.”
Tang Xiao’s eyes flashed with sudden interest. “But professor, if I don’t prep my equipment I won’t have any stopping power.”
Lan Jue looked over his pupil for a moment before speaking. “You’ve worked hard lately. Fine, I’ll help. It helps that your combat style is different from others’. Oh, and by the way, if you should run in to that Xiao Han in the arena beat the piss out of him for me. If you win, be patient.”
“Got it!” Tang Xiao snapped to attention, giving his professor a sloppy salute.
Nation Eastern University Reception Hall.
“Is the press release ready?” Han Ruchao inquired of Shi Jiujiu 3
“Everything’s prepared,” Shi Jiujiu’s deep voice answered. “The NEU has garnered no small amount of fame simply by hosting that Poseidon concert. This can be to our advantage, however. If we win not only will it improve our standing, the press will turn right around and trample all over their current golden boy.”
Han Ruchao nodded his head in tacit acceptance. “I can’t wait to see that look of utter defeat on his pig face. We’ll beat them so bad he’ll feel it. If he gets ill enough from the shame, maybe he’ll lose some weight.”
It wasn’t a stretch. Rarely did the NEU hold such activities, and now two in as many days. It was only during their field day once a year that the school approached anything as busy as this.
This was different. Right on the heels of Poseidon’s Sounds of Nature benefit concert, was the highly anticipated (or dreaded) educational exchange between Lir and NEU. Under the guise of ‘cooperative improvement,’ of course.
And yet everyone on campus knew this drama was inevitable once a year. They expected to suffer at Lir’s hands, accepting it as their lot.
So here it was again this year, with the people of the NEU bracing for humiliation. But there was a silver lining; at least they got to watch some nice mecha combat. That was something everyone could get behind.
Perhaps that was another reason for this farce they embarked upon year by year. Of course this was not their world, but like anyone the students of the NEU desired to experience and get better at it. Their piloting abilities and the strength of their mechas were crucial to their identity.
In the last five years the NEU had suffered significantly in this area. In the hardware sector alone they were only just catching up with other high level universities. With their reputation so low, they had no means of attracting talented students4. And thus cycle continued. Every school wanted to see their facilities improve, in all areas. Unfortunately, it was easier said than done.
It was after lunch, and students had begun to make their way in chattering groups towards the mecha combat area situation on the campus’ West Hill. Lan Jue got the news moments before from Qianlin via their Soulcaller gem, telling him that Tang Mi would also be competing. The both of them felt like it was an embarrassing shot in the dark.
It really was interesting! He thought back to when he was in school, though admittedly not that long ago. He never had any opportunities to join in activities like these. For the simple reason that none of the universities were interested.
But he didn’t know anything about how schools were run these days. He never really paid attention to that sort of news.
His thoughts wandered further, to the beginning of his studies, and almost immediately his face slackened. Those memories always brought a darkness with them when they floated to the surface.
West Hill, NEU Mecha Training Area
The training field was actually a massive stadium, easily ten times the size of a normal field.
The entire thing was supported by the hills that composed the area to save on costs. Inside, it was separated in to several sections. Among them were the forest, mountain, plains and desert. Each one was the result of a simulation, but served as excellent practice fields that trained students in tactical awareness.
Of course, they also had a standard combat arena, though that was used for the real thing.
As the teachers and students of the NEU filed in, they immediately spread out across the spectator’s bleachers. Looking over the stadium, it was clear that the National in the school’s name wasn’t just for show. They certainly would need the help of the Eastern government to pull something like this off. It was the largest arena on Skyfire. In fact, it was among the three largest in the entire Eastern Alliance.
It could handle thirty thousand spectators without trouble. Hanging above the stands were scores of holographic televisions. This way the spectators had a comprehensive view from every angle.
The NEU welcoming committee was on a stage nearby, Tan Lingyun among them. The Savage Goddess was clad today in a white combat suit, that brought out her every proud curve. Yet despite her alluring figure no soul dared venture near, for fear her attention would fall upon them. As Lan Jue knew, misunderstandings were a real danger. Easily provoked was probably an understatement.
Tan Lingyun spun around, and her eyes fell upon Geng Yang, Tang Mi and Tang Xiao. Her voice was low and harsh. “Remember the order. Geng Yang, when the sim goes live, you’re up first.”
“I’m frst?” Geng Yang gaped at her in surprise. He was the best pilot the school had, enrolled in the Emperor-rank for more than a year already. Recognized as the valedictorian of his mecha combat class. He was truly dumbfounded by Tan Lingyun’s decision to send him in first.
She nodded. “I don’t know what the opposition’s roster is, but I do know that beyond a doubt we’re no match for the Lir team, at least in terms of raw power. Situations like this, you rely on your ace in the hole to get an advantage. If you go in first, you’re guaranteed to take out at least one, and if we’re lucky weaken another. An important task, our vanguard. You understand?”
“Yes Professor, I understand.” Geng Yang’s eyes shone with anticipation, the fire of combat lust deep in their depths.
Next, Tan Lingyun turned her attention to Tang Xiao and his sister. “Tang Mi will be second. Your job is to keep the advantage on our side, to the best of your ability. Tang Xiao you’re last, and for you I have only one demand – just do the best you can.”
“I will, Professor!” Brother and sister answered in unison. To Tan Lingyun, Tang Xiao looked like a good, honest kid. He was obedient, quiet and simple.
Tang Mi poked her brother’s pudgy waist. “Bro,” she whispered, “You think you can do it?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Tang Xiao nodded his head in resolution. “I know it.”
“You don’t know crap,” Tang Mi said suddenly. “Even if Geng Yang beats his first opponent and weakens the second, I’ll still need to try my best to at least drain their mecha’s energy stores. In this sort of competition, they won’t allow us to stop and charge our suits. It’ll be up to you to take on the second challenger and the third. At any rate, if we even get that far, it’d be better than last year. Hell, we’d probably get awards from the school.”