Chapter 181: Flogging Corpses
Xu Renjian’s chubby face twitched at Han Ruchao’s incessant, passive-aggressive whining. However, his voice was calm and even as he spoke. “I disagree, it’s a very different thing from actual strength. Geng Yang is still inexperienced, and in fact his mecha was more than capable of handling a blast or two from that canon had he managed to succeed in the forward assault. Had he managed properly, that barrage wouldn’t have given him pause. Had that first strike not pinned him in a killzone your student’s victory would have been far from assured. But it was a clear indication of your school’s dominance in this area, Ruchao.”
Han Ruchao nodded his head. “Mecha technology is important here, but experience always trumps toys. Every week our university holds a small sparring session, with real mechas. If their suits are damaged, they must earn study credits to repair it. Then, they can continue to participate. Rinse and repeat. We also offer a great deal of incentives in the form of rewards for a good showing. Under this sort of motivation, we foster a vibrant spirit of learning and competitive exchange.”
Xu Renjian shot him a glance, but did not speak. A lump formed in the pit of his stomach, the result of the depressed realization that this was destined to get worse. He didn’t anticipate his students would ever pull out a victory, he just hoped it wouldn’t be an ugly defeat. At present, it looked like he could only pit all of his hopes on Tan Lingyun in the instructor competition.
With the first fight finished, the NEU’s second challenger appeared in the ring.
Tang Mi entered with a fiery gusto, ready to risk everything. She was well aware of the skill discrepancy between herself and her opponent, and that left her with only a single course of action. She would focus her strategies on consuming the sniper’s energy reserves, in order to set up an advantageous start for her brother. If they could just get the better of this one guy, they’d be redeemed!
Compared even to Geng Yang, she was a weaker pilot. However, where she had the upper hand was in her experience. This was a result of the Tang family’s resources. The family was wealthy enough to properly outfit both she and her brother with capable mechas once they’d joined the NEU. As they grew and improved, so too did their suits.
Hua Qianhu beckoned her forward tauntingly.
As the losing party, she had the option of continuing the fight with the current arena or opting for a new one. Without hesitation, she chose to continue where they were. It was the best fit for how she intended to proceed.
The suit she used now was not the same she’d employed in her fight against Nooblet so long ago. Compared to Geng Yang’s, it was a far sight flashier.
The streamlined, golden mecha released a shimmering halo of light. By simply looking at it, it was impossible to distinguish precisely what the suit was specialized in. It resembled its pilot in many ways; long legs, crouched and ready for a fight.
“Three. Two. One. Begin!”
The second contest began with the blow of an alarm.
Like Geng Yang before her, Tang Mi’s mecha began the fight by leaping upward leaving a contrail of golden light in its wake. All thrusters burned as it tore through the air, and what’s more the mecha itself was surrounded in a grey halo and a golden shield of light. Disruption and defense.
It was not that Geng Yang had forgotten to use a shield in his own fight. The constructed and loadout of his mecha was different from Tang Mi’s. His particular choice wasn’t properly suited for combat against long-ranged fighters like the sniper, even if he had used it. It would not have made any difference.
The golden mecha barreled forward at incredible speed. Its right arm stretched out, and from the palm a blast of golden light fired towards the distant sniper.
It wasn’t straight, but instead traced an arched trajectory through the sky, spinning erratically like a boomerang. It rushed in almost sideways towards Hua Qianhu.
The slender sniper mech dropped in a crouch. It was starting to look like his standard response to any attack.
The golden mecha, like Geng Yang before it, advanced with Disordered leaps. But unlike Geng Yang, Tang Mi’s hand speed wasn’t quite as developed. As a result her advance, and the jerking motions of her Disordered leaps, was visibly slower. There was no afterimage from her passing.
The golden beam of light whistled over Hua Qianhu’s head. The slender mecha stood, never moving from its spot. Still that same, terrifying calm.
A pale pink light spread out from Hua Qianhu’s back, stretching over him in a photomask.
“Dang!” His shield came online, encompassing him in a rippling orb of pale pink light.
It was quite the powerful shield! The suit must have had at least a c-ranked gem powering it to maintain such an effective defense.
Tang Mi fumed, both at the situation and in envy of his mecha. She quickly recovered, however.
The boomerang of light hung in the air for what felt like an age before screeching a path once again towards Hua Qianhu. In the same instant, the deafening blast of the sniper’s cannon rang out.
A sizzling beam of red light lanced through the air with a frightening metallic roar.
Tang Mi was attentive, and made adjustments as she watched the sniper move.
Sure enough, the cannon’s blast made landfall less than five meters from Tang Mi’s golden mecha. It was indeed a miss, but in the space of a few seconds another thunderous blast was heard. A forest of deadly laser beams came crashing down from on high.
Tang Mi coaxed her mecha to leap high overhead, while in the same instant the thrusters launching her forward went from gold to white. The mecha vanished in a flicker of light before appearing at Hua Qianhu’s side!
“She got passed the kill zone!”
The entire NEU section of the audience watched on the edge of their seat, fists clenched as their representative finally got within striking distance.
As Tang Mi reappeared, her mecha had at some point produced two shimmering golden daggers which were now clutched in its mechanical hands. The matching armaments were a frightening pair, almost appearing possessed of their own intimidating aura. High-frequency blades 1. With these in hand, Hua Qianhu’s shield was not as intimidating.
The sniper certainly hadn’t anticipated this golden mecha was capable of such speed. He subconsciously jerks his suit to the side, narrowly avoiding Tang Mi’s deadly scissor slice.
Lan Jue watched from within the crowd, and quietly shook his head. No one saw, for all their attention was fixed on the large screens before them.
As the sword cut through the air, the golden mecha’s chest was left exposed. However, as its arms spread wide in the follow-through a glaring burst of light spat from its torso to launch at Hua Qianhu. It was a textbook, arrogant move. NPD, near-proximity detonation.
The striking distance was less than five meters, and though it was dangerous the destructive power was increased as such close range, even beyond that of the sniper’s electron canon. Its utility was compounded by an increased blast radius. It was an important aspect of a close-ranged fighter’s arsenal for countering snipers.
Victory! Tang Mi swelled with pride and excitement. The NPD was too close for her opponent to dodge. Even his c-ranked gem couldn’t deflect the attack.
But, did she really pull out the win?
The sniper lay prostrate on the ground, but was still movement. The suit twitched and struggled. It’s left hand clutched the cannon, and with a fierce thrust of its right the suit was upward once again.
Just as the NPD fores, Hua Qianhu’s suit released two beams of light from its shoulder plates. It launched his suit backwards to mitigate some of the damage and push back from the hot zone.
He caught the edge of the blast, but it was enough to violently knock him to the ground.
The sniper mecha twisted while airborne, spinning directly above Tang Mi’s head. Time almost appeared to slow as the cannon lined up directly over the golden mecha. He pulled the trigger.
The golden mecha’s head exploded in a brilliant shimmering display. When the dust settled, the suit’s entire torso was missing.
Peng! Hua Qianhu’s sniper landed with a thud. It paused, looking over the crowd for a minute before continuing. He slowly walked around the wrecked, placed a foot against it, and viciously kicked the remains to the floor.
Shouts of indignation rose from the crowd as nearly every NEU student and faculty member balked at the display.
That digitized voice returned: “Tang Mi had been annihilated. Hua Qianhu is victorious.”
Wang Hongyuan was absolutely livid as he glared at the screen. “Too excessive. He wins and then beats on the wreckage!”
Lan Jue said nothing, but his own face was a mask of displeasure. Lir University certainly was one to go too far. This was clearly provocative behavior.
Xu Renjian’s glowering face turned again to Han Ruchao. “Director Han. Is this what your university teaches its students?”
Han Ruchao looked on as though nothing untoward had occurred. “In combat you must never give your opponent an opportunity 2 What is the suit is equipped with a self-destruct mechanism 3? Naturally we teach our future soldiers to avoid this risk. You can’t feasibly expect us not to treat this like a battlefield, Renjian. Our instructors use simulation as a foundation, to prepare them for the real thing. It’s common sense, I’m surprised you don’t understand this.”
“You…!” Xu Renjian’s face was dark with rage.
The crowds below bellowed their curses at the screen.
There was a term for Hua Qianhu’s actions in DreamNet: flogging corpses. It was specifically to humiliate the opponent, despite whatever training they touted, and was universally despised as a practice.
And think of Tang Mi’s reputation. She was one the school’s Great Beauties, and an Emperor-grade pilot. She may not have had the same following as Zhou Qianlin, but she was still a school celebrity. This was especially true in the mecha combat department, where she was considered their muse. How could anyone suffer this sort of humiliation and keep a level head?
The crowds raged and cursed, oblivious of the filming equipment quietly watching from a dark corner.
“Silence!” Wu Junyi’s commanding voice rang out, but even with his deterring presence he had to shout three times before he could illicit a response. Eventually he succeeded in curbing the vitriolic riot that was on the cusp of boiling over.
By the time Tang Mi pulled herself from the simulator, her face was pallid and drawn.
Those many days ago when she’d been dismembered by Nooblet’s Brunois Assault, the only ones to witness it had been herself and that damn landmine. This time, however, two entire universities had witnessed her outrageous defeat.
“Tang Mi.” Suddenly she felt herself enveloped in a comforting embrace.
“Your brother will avenge you!” Tang Xiao’s pudgy face was conspicuously absent of his normal teasing smile. Now, it bore the brutal expression of someone out for blood.
He hugged her tight. He spoke to no one, did not even acknowledge Tan Lingyun. Wordlessly, he stuffed himself in to the simulator and began the set up.
Hua Qianhu shouldered his weapon. He stood proudly at his end of the arena, soaking in the jeers.
A flash, and at the other end of the arena appeared his third and final challenger.