Chapter 183: Concealment, Assimilation Gems
This match was even quicker than the last two. Sudden, and violent.
Lir University’s Dean, Han Ruchao, shot to his feet faster than a llama on jet skis. His eyes were wide and round, utterly disbelieving the scene in front of his eyes.
His expression was matched by Xu Renjian’s own face, slack-jawed and dumbfounded. Behind at the edges of his lips, the ever so faint hints of a haughty smile started to show. He knew his students, knew Tang Xiao’s abilities – or so he thought. How could this be? Everything was backwards, and Bi Qianhu’s attacks didn’t even scratch him!
A simulator hissed sadly as the door opened. Bi Qianhu pulled his medium-sized build from the cockpit with a howl, his handsome features twisted in rage.
“B-BASTARD!! How the hell did that happen?! How did he go from a lumbering idiot to a damn light-speed battering ram?!”
The team’s Lir University instructor looked on. Surprisingly he was young himself, perhaps in his thirties, with an unusually calm expression. After a moment his brows furrowed – just the slightest bit.
“You got flattened.”
This was the young man whom Lir’s Teaching Director, Shi Jiujiu, had treated with such respect. Su He.
Bi Qianhu stared at him, fuming. “You think his equipment was better than mine?”
Su He nodded, impassively gesturing towards the screens. “Note his energy consumption.”
Bi Qianhu’s head snapped up, where he was shocked to discover Tang Xiao had used only three percent of his energy stores. His eye twitched furiously.
It had been such a short match, but in that time he’d had to ward off his opponents and lug that cannon on his shoulder. And here he was at three percent?
He simply couldn’t fathom what was going on 1, and his head nearly exploded as he witnessed Tang Xiao’s energy reserves regenerating. His mecha was actually restoring itself!
“Ch-cheating! They must be cheating!” He shouted rancorously at the screen.
“Shut the hell up! Two victories aren’t enough for you?” Xiao Han stood a small distance away, and spat the words accusingly.
“And what does that mean, huh Xiao Han?” Bi Qianhu narrowed his eyes, glaring daggers. The two school celebrities exchanged heated looks.
Xiao Han snorted scornfully. “Listen and learn. My guess he’s got at least three a-ranked gems specifically for energy management on that thing.”
“A-ranked?” Bi Qianhu turned his head to look back at Su He. The instructor was as before, expressionless and calm as the surface of a lake. He simply gestured towards a third student. “Ming Han. You’re up. Select a new arena. Use the advantage of your speed to keep him at bay, don’t let him get a hand on you.”
“Yes, Professor Su.” The entirely average looking youth jumped in to the simulator.
Bi Qianhu stood to one side, still pondering the situation. A-ranked power gems? C-ranked were the only thing he’d ever actually seen employed at one of these things. It was extravagant! After all, the cost of gems in DreamNet weren’t even slightly cheaper than those in the real world.
Next, Su He slowly turned his attention unto Xiao Han. “Watch this match very carefully. Distinguish the particulars of his equipment. When it comes down to you, do not under-estimate him. This student’s mecha is a near match to yours.”
Upon his victory over Bi Qianhu, the vengeance and anger in Tang Xiao’s heart eased. Steamrolled… of course. He thought back to earlier, to the things his teacher had lent him for the games. A cruel grin spread across his fat face.
Bring it on, Lir punks. I’ll show you the fat man’s ferocity. 2
The arena glowed with a flash of light, and Tang Xiao’s second opponent appeared opposite him in the ring. His name hung in the space over his head: Bi Minghan.
The newly arrived suit looked almost like a toy. It was small, and frail, not a centimeter over twelve meters.
A Darter Mech! Tang Xiao drew a breath.
Bi Minghan elected for another map. The world around them shifted nauseatingly as the backgrounds underwent a series of rapid shifts. The flashes slowed until it settled on their new field of battle: the desert.
“Terrain: desert. Combat shall commence in: Three. Two. One. Begin.”
Tang Xiao winced against the sudden bight light and heat from the sand. It was a vast and expansive field, so close to reality it was difficult to tell the difference. The rolling dunes stretched for five kilometers in all directions, and the beating sun meant that anyone flying overhead would be lost in the glare.
Tang Xiao was off, like he didn’t even need to think. He was the first to react as the match begun, and took a step forward.
The mecha plunged headfirst in to the dunes. Within the cockpit, the controls were unresponsive, silent as a grave.
The audience’s omniscient view afforded them more information, like the dim yellow aura that hung over Tang Xiao’s silver mecha.
Su He watched the screens, and for the briefest of moments, his brows lifted in surprise.
Xiao Han sneered at the screen, then called out to his instructor. “An assimilation gem, right Professor?”
Su He nodded slowly. “C-ranked.”
Bi Qianhu stood to one side. His rage had begun to subside, and he was now more annoyed than angry. The mention of the assimilation gem brought him back to the battle at hand. He recalled the power gem’s function as he watched the scene.
Assimilation gems were able to force a mecha’s environment to accept it as part of itself. In that way it resonated with the surroundings and fought off radar detection. The Achilles heel lay in the fact that it was too effective. If the pilot found themselves in an area of high energy output – like, say, a sun-drenched desert – it overloaded the electrical systems. Tang Xiao knew this when he hid himself beneath the sands.
Restarting the mecha would take time.
Lan Jue looked on from the bleachers, nursing a bitter expression. This damn fat-ass! There hadn’t been any assimilation gems in the kit Lan Jue had provided him. The only explanation was that it was Tang Xiao’s own. It was like he was determined to depress the hell out of everyone!
Half a second after Tang Xiao went down, Bi Minghan was on the move.
However, they appeared to have been deposited a distance from one another. Seek and destroy would be the game. Bi Minghan engaged its radar acquisition equipment and began to scan for Tang Xiao’s location. The Darter’s strength was immediately apparent as it raced over the sands fast enough to look almost ethereal. Two ionized light sabers sizzled in its hands. It was like a monstrous spirit racing through the scalding desert.
The audience was able to observe both contestants on different screens, and by now many who had previous cursed Tang Xiao were forced to mutter praise. Luckily for him, the moment the assimilation gem shorted his suit and activated was the very moment Bi Minghan’s radar sweep was passing over him. Was it not for that gem he’d certainly have been discovered and caught unawares.
Tang Xiao made no effort to turn on his own scanners once the mecha was operational. He simply poked a hole in the sand to peer out of.
Of course Bi Minghan was unaware of any of this. As a contestent he wasn’t made aware of the situation as the audience was. And so he kept searching the dunes, wary of stopping for fear that Tang Xiao would do to him what he did to Hua Qianhu. His nerves were certainly on edge, ready to bolt and evade at a moment’s notice.
Su He’s instructions were clear, if not direct. It wasn’t important that he defeat Tang Xiao, but instead to drag out a battle. With any luck Tang Xiao would tip his hand, reveal his abilities, and consume some precious energy.
The audience watched with baited breath. They saw Bi Minghan’s own energy reserves begin to deplete as he raced around the desert arena at staggering speeds. Tang Xiao’s energy levels had regenerated to full.
The previous battles had been short and violent. This looked like it was going to be a different beast. The audience readied themselves for a knock-down, drag-out battle.
Ten minutes passed.
Beads of sweat dripped down Bi Minghan’s forehead as he sat in the dark simulator pod. As the time stretched on, his nervousness only increased, and keeping up his mecha’s speed was exhausting. Still his opponent was nowhere to be found – like he’d vanished in to thin air.
Bi Minghan was grappling a growing impatience. He knew very well that Tang Xiao must be hiding, but where he couldn’t fathom. How was it his radar detection could find absolutely no trace?
The time indicator on the screens over the audience’s head began to flash red as the final five minutes of the battle began to tick down.
Bi Minghan’s eyes flashed down to the control console, where he saw the state of his energy levels. Twenty percent gone, just from racing through the desert searching. The price of his high speed. Still, there was five minutes left in this fight – and a DreamNet competition was judged by damage to the mecha, not the amount of energy stored.
If it continued until the end, the match would result in a draw – really, a loss for both sides. But since the NEU was already down two wins, it would mean their aggregate score would be lower. They’d lose the competition.
This realization caused Bi Minghan to have a shift in thinking, focusing instead on self-preservation and protection instead of seeking out the enemy. He lifted in to the sky, distancing himself from the battlefield so he could get a better view.
Only two minutes remained until the end, and yet Tang Xiao was still nowhere to be found.
Was this really to be how it’d end? In a tie, a terribly anti-climactic finish. Bi Minghan suspected his enemy was still biding his time, concealing himself until the last minute where he’d reveal his strength.
Bi Minghan decided upon what he thought was the best option given the circumstances – he coaxed his darter mech higher towards the simulated cloudless sky. His mecha was specialized in speed, no slower even than Tang Xiao with his empowered thrusters. All he had to do was keep his distance, just for one more minute. That’s all, then he’d done his job.
The console beeped as Bi Minghan’s radar caught a ping.
The large silver mecha burst from within a sand dune, filling the air with choking dust. Bi Minghan sat slack-jawed in his simulator as a veritable meteor shower of particle beams filled his screen.