Chapter 191: Miracle? Masterstroke!
Tan Lingyun burst forward in a speedy dash the moment the bout began. Her Anticipative Advance was near flawless. Her speed and control made it clear, she was a solid Sovereign-ranked pilot – but the difference between her and Xiao Han was expansive.
Xiao Han was only just crossing the Sovereign threshold. He was learning the basic techniques, largely from textbooks and indices. Tan Lingyun, on the other hand, was old school. What’s more, she was the most capable pilot in the NEU – at least, as far as they knew. Her Sovereign experience was extensive, comparatively. Even in the whole of the Eastern Alliance, she was a name that was recognized.
But her opponent was not so easily cowed. As Tan Lingyun raced forward, Su He’s reaction was unexpected. Instead of dodging or racing away, he chose not to make an escape. There was no attempt to keep their distance fixed, nor did he heft and aim his weapon.
Instead, he urged his mecha to dart head-on towards the oncoming Savage Goddess.
What was he planning? Countless confused stares followed the yellow mecha, unsure of the tactics at play.
The two mecha drew ever closer. Tan Lingyun sat in the dark simulator, the full intensity of her focus on the screen before her. Like the others, she wasn’t sure what Su He was doing by charging her. But her indomitable will was stronger than the metal her suit was made of. She refused to be intimidated.
The green mecha’s arms splayed out to the side, and with them the small wings spread wide. Its mechanical hands flared, and a pair of three-meter long spikes protruded from the palms.
They were clearly close-ranged implements, and as they appeared the Savage Goddess coaxed her suit faster. The thrusters keeping her aloft changed from an angry red to a dazzling white. Less than one hundred meters remained between the two fighters. She tore ahead like a green hurricane.
Su He’s yellow suit stopped just then, hovering in the air. It seemed somehow, fuzzy.
Crash! The crunch of impact as the suits collided rang from the screens.
Su He remained where he’d stopped, but Tan Lingyun’s forward momentum had her reeling another hundred meters away.
Onlookers noticed, then, the weapon the yellow mecha bore. They had appeared at some point before impact, and the wicked looking things stretched from hand to shoulder, wrapped around his arm. It was an odd item that originated from the suit’s elbow.
Close combat? He had the giant canon on his back, but appeared to have chosen to engage Tan Lingyun in close.
Professor Tan had, by this time, swung her suit around her another pass. As she did, the audience could clearly see two deep gashes along her shoulders.
She was already damaged. In fact, were it not for her energy shield, she’d likely have been cut in half. At first, this looked like a simple hand to hand fight, but this was a shock to everyone.
Most onlookers couldn’t clearly discern what happened when he two mecha collided. All they saw was that, suddenly, Tan Lingyun’s mecha was damaged.
Su He’s yellow mecha was on the move once again. But it was in no rush – no charge or tricky advance. It looked more like a leisurely jog. Once it drew within about a hundred meters, the mecha… flickered. At first it looked like a glitch, or maybe some malfunction of the suit, but as the audience watched the screens they saw a ghost image of the yellow fighter appear – for just a split second.
What the hell was that? Everyone was at a loss. It was a normal reaction, for only the highest level mecha pilots would have an inkling.
“Ghosting?” Wang Hongyuan gasped in alarm. He twisted his neck to talk to Lan Jue, but found the seat beside him empty. Lan Jue apparently hadn’t yet returned from his ‘bathroom break’.
Wang Hongyuan turned his eyes back to the screen, his heart fluttering. Of course he knew it was ghosting. It was the result of intense speed, where a pilot’s thrusters were engaged and shut off so quickly the mecha appeared in two places at once for just a moment. It was a God-ranked pilot ability.
DreamNet simulations were calibrated for safety. That meant that abilities and attacks were only employed to where the pilot could stand it. If they couldn’t, the simulation forced them to stop for safety. So, in DreamNet using the ability was somewhat easier due to the calibrations, but even then it was well beyond the ken of a normal pilot. Wang Hongyuan wasn’t capable of the feat himself, since his hand speeds weren’t fast enough.
Ghosting also had different ‘levels’. At the highest levels it was said the after-image was persistent, like it really was a doppleganger. An attacker couldn’t distinguish the real one from the copy. The very best pilots were reputed to do just that, with distances up to ten meters between the real mech and the ghost.
Su He wasn’t at that level, and the images he cast lasted so briefly it was hard to notice. Still, it was there, and nearly half his torso long. That was an accomplishment most pilots could never achieve.
The tactical benefit of the maneuver was misdirection. Making determinations on target, direction and more were made infinitely more difficult. Even radar couldn’t pick it up. It was traditionally used versus snipers, but this time the sniper Su He was the one using it.
Tan Lingyun watched from the simulator, her mind blank.
The crowds couldn’t see clearly, even with their eagle-eye view, what had happened. But Tan Lingyun, she should’ve. Should’ve, being the operative term.
The moment before impact, her green suit had been launching towards Su He, spikes bared like animal claws. For a moment she thought she’d landed the blow, but before her eyes she saw the spikes go through him, and then he vanished. He stood just slightly out of harm’s way. In that same instant he had mauled her.
Had she not instinctively poured full energy in to the shield, she’d have been reduced to scrap right then.
Tan Lingyun was stunned, and took stock of the situation. She was fast, with a hand speed that was more than sufficient for her rank. On average, a Sovereign pilot required twenty moves per second. She was capable of twenty-five, which in and of itself was an impressive feat.
But in that split-second confrontation with Su He, she was already well aware of her disadvantage. The young man’s hand speed was around forty, nearly double her own. Forty combat maneuvers in a second, that was what she faced.
Wang Hongyuan was able to distinguish the ghosting method, so of course Tan Lingyun could as well. He wasn’t a God-ranked pilot, but damned if he wasn’t close to it.
It was over. She’d already lost, it was just that simple.
To the uninitiated the difference between a Sovereign and God-ranked pilot seemed surmountable; just a single rank difference. However, in reality even ten Sovereign pilots didn’t stand a chance against one God. That’s why they called them that. In the world of mecha piloting, the higher you climbed the greater the differences between peers.
Once one became a God-ranked pilot, there were no further ranks to attain. But that didn’t mean all pilots were the same there, either, and those in the know understood that there could be vast differences in ability from one God to another.
A powerful sense of dizziness washed over Tan Lingyun. In the next instant, she was assailed by the unpleasant sensation that she was being pulled apart. Even here in the simulation, she was forced to employ her Discipline to stave off the terrible feeling.
She lost? This was the feeling one had when they were being obliterated in DreamNet. It was a feeling she hadn’t encountered in quite some time, she thought bitterly.
She brought her powers to bear, to fight off the evil feeling. However, she couldn’t shake the dimness that was suddenly clouding her vision. She was struggling to even see the controls in front of her. Her body and eyes weren’t working in tandem.
Impossible! This was a simulation, not a real mecha fight. And if her suit was destroyed, the fight would have ended already.
What was going on?
Tan Lingyun took a deep breath, and tried to regain her composure. She focused her attention back on the fight at hand.
Outside, the audience was an in absolute uproar!
It was indeed an uproar. Students and teachers alike gaped at the screen. They hollered and gesticulated, stunned by the display.
What did they see? A miracle.
In the moment Su He’s yellow mecha split in to its double image, those pilots in the know felt their hearts sink. But their depression was short lived. The green mecha that was their mecha blurred before their very eyes just before the Su He approached and landed his blow, and split in half.
It hadn’t been cut in half. Instead, it appeared to miraculously change midflight until it birthed a second copy. An identical mirror-image.
Su He’s strike had passed right through the phantom mecha, but the true one remained. This is what the crowd had witnessed.
A miracle? No, a masterstroke! And the people stared on with eyes wide and mouths agape.
Was this even possible for a pilot to do? Before this moment, no one would have thought such a thing possible.
Wang Hongyuan was among them. He had just been bemoaning Su He’s ghosting ability.
But this was real ghosting. It had birthed an actual phantom image. And it was their own Savage Goddess who’d pulled it off.
He suddenly felt like an injection of blood rushed through his mind. He was on his feet, overflowing with excitement.
Seeing something like this was a memory that would etch itself on your spirit forever.