267 On A Roll
Despite the battle damage the Blackbeak incurred, its shield arm remained somewhat functional. Melinda managed to retract the spade integrated in the back of her mech and hold it like a makeshift axe.
"Is that a spade?" Captain Vicar asked with bemusement. "Your arm is already falling apart. It won't do you any good!"
"That's for me to decide!" Melinda spat back as she moved her mech to meet the Havalax in battle.
The crowd turned ecstatic at the visceral exchange of blows. Both mechs dual wielded their weapons with a varying amount of proficiency. Unfortunately, Melinda fell into leeward due to her mech's damaged shoulder and her relative lack of experience in fighting with two weapons at once.
The Havalax showed off its might by batting away the spade with its axe. The Blackbeak barely held onto the spade and recovered just in time to deflect another swing.
Every time the Blackbeak seemed pressed, Melinda always managed to recover in time. Sometimes she even hit back in unexpected ways by lashing out with a low kick in between another swing.
"You're better than I thought." Captain Vicar grunted in frustration as he tried to peel away Melinda's defenses.
The problem for him was that he pressed his mech too hard for too long. All of that running had especially stressed the Havalax's power reactor. To prevent his mech from overheating, Vicar reluctantly dialed down its power levels and therefore the amount of power his machine could exert.
He had no other choice. If he kept operating his mech at its maximum power level, then he had to be able to end the match in the next two or three minutes.
Ordinarily, Captain Vicar wouldn't have hesitated to take the most aggressive option. Yet after trying and failing to take out the Blackbeak several times, Vicar developed a modest amount of respect for Melinda.
"I always heard you Larkinsons are tough as brass, but this is the first time I've seen it for myself! You should have joined the Infernal Hellhounds!"
Melinda often received such compliments in her career. "Sorry, Captain, but all of that traveling and military discipline isn't for me. I'm happily serving with the Planetary Guard."
Even though the Havalax dialed down some of its power, it still managed to hold the advantage due to the difference in skill. Captain Vicar's mech sustained little damage so far. Any blows Melinda got past his guard landed squarely on the Havalax's thick chest armor which easily blunted glancing blows.
Getting the Blackbeak's sword to punch through all of those layers of armor required specialized techniques which Melinda didn't practice very much in lately.
Any time she tried to put some weight into her blows by turning the Blackbeak's torso or moving the entire frame forward, she telegraphed to the whole world what she planned to do. It was child's play for Captain Vicar to read her movements and adjust his own.
Melinda made a risky decision. She feinted another serious attack, which prompted the Havalax to put up a defensive posture. The Blackbeak quickly interrupted its original movements and instead continued its turn while stepping away from its opponent.
"It's been fun, captain, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!"
The Blackbeak ran at full throttle through the narrow gaps between the cliffs. Even though it exerted quite a bit of strength and suffered from a few more telling blows, the mech's mobility hadn't been affected. It ran as fast and spry as in the beginning of the match.
In contrast, the Havalax suffered relatively little damage but exhibited the largest decrease in performance so far. For all of its upper-body strength, when it came to the engines and legs, the white mech didn't enjoy a substantial edge over its adversary without resorting to its boosters.
Captain Vicar bit his lip as he grappled with a dilemma. The Havalax didn't incorporate a lot of high-powered boosters in its back, and their fuel capacity left a lot to be desired. He engaged them once already, which meant the Havalax only carried enough fuel to boost it one more time.
He decided to bite the bullet. His mech would only start to degrade from this point onwards. All of that time spent chasing and fighting hadn't weakened the Blackbeak to its limits.
Heat and smoke started to emit from the overstressed Havalax as it began to run on fumes. The limited amount of boosters installed in its back flared with white as they pushed the offensive knight forward.
Melinda noticed the elevated heat signals emanating from the mech of her opponent, and she knew she was in trouble. Her eyes darted back and forth but she found no way to exploit the terrain to her advantage.
Her eyes drew down towards the weapons the Blackbeak currently wielded. Her spade hadn't been very useful so far. The damage to the shield arm had been too extensive to make efficient use of the limb.
She decided to throw it at her opponent. The Blackbeak made blind overarm throw that spun the spade towards the incoming Havalax. Captain Vicar managed to cross his mech's armaments in time, which deflected the spade over the head of his mech.
The move momentarily slowed the Havalax down while allowing the Blackbeak to run a little faster. Still, the interruption didn't change the fundamental equation. The Havalax would be upon its prey in seconds before its boosters ran out of juice.
Melinda considered throwing away her sword, but changed her mind fairly quickly because she still needed a weapon to finish off her opponent. She needed to pull another trick if she wanted to survive this latest crisis.
"If you want a piece of me so bad, then here I come!"
The Blackbeak turned on its heels and ponderously halted its momentum. It faced the incoming Havalax with only a single sword in its hand.
Captain Vicar didn't expect his opponent to make a stand, but he welcomed it anyway as he pushed the Havalax to collapse upon the seemingly vulnerable Blackbeak with a double overhead chop.
Just before the Havalax landed the blows, Melinda abruptly jinked her mech into a ball. The Blackbeak hunched forward and began to roll, something which few mechs had been built to withstand! Ves practically stood up from his seat when he saw the move.
Wonder above wonder, the Blackbeak didn't collapse on itself during its rolling motion. Its armor largely held up, aided by the fact that the mech sustained most of its damage in its frontal areas.
What didn't help the mech was that the Havalax suddenly tripped over its frame. A messy impacted resulted from the sudden roll as Captain Vicar failed to adjust his mech in time. All of that boosting had forced his mech to rocket forward and fall into an undignified heap.
Both mechs suffered serious impact damage as the Blackbeak's back collided against the Havalax's legs.
The entire arena fell into silence as they wanted to find out which mech recovered first. Despite the collision, the Blackbeak managed to keep on rolling until it stopped in a crouch. Melinda carefully straightened up her mech while she suppressed all of the error messages.
A couple of fuel cells suffered catastrophic damage. Some of it had been ejected by the Blackbeak, but the deformities on its back prevented some of the cells from vacating their slots.
Besides the ruptured fuel cells, the damage to the Blackbeak's torso also affected its internals in other ways. Some of the delicate power channels turned inoperable, which affected the Blackbeak's already meager peak performance.
"It could have been worse." Melinda muttered as she brought her mech to an upright position. "How's it going, Captain?"
"Who the hell rolls a mech?! Don't you know how dangerous that is?!"
Vicar indeed had much to complain. The Havalax's legs suffered major deformities from the collision. The damage didn't cripple the limbs, but disabled enough systems to severely hamper its movements. The captain guessed that his Havalax would only be capable of jogging at most.
He let out a cry of frustration! Melinda's stupid roll managed to cripple his mech to the point it had no hope of continuing the chase! It was an abrupt and ignoble end to his chance of winning the duel.
Landing the deathknell, Melinda tested the Blackbeak's mobility. Despite the earlier collision, the black mech's overall toughness allowed it to shrug it off with only a moderate loss of performance. It could still continue to run at a fair pace, which was a lot better than what the Havalax could manage with its half-crippled legs.
Melinda started to grin and began to stroll away from the Havalax with her mech. Even though it was a bumpy ride, the Blackbeak's integrity insured it wouldn't fall apart any time soon.
Meanwhile, Captain Vicar still hadn't given up. The Havalax's legs looked bad, but he hoped that the collision had affected the Blackbeak as well. With shaky movements, his battered mech climbed up to its feet. It then started to chase after its opponent yet again.
The next few minutes turned into a rather sad affair as the Blackbeak easily teased the lumbering Havalax along the battlefield. While Melinda felt playful enough to tease the movement-impaired Havalax, her common sense prevailed and she kept a healthy distance instead.
To all of the people expecting blood, the duel had turned into a boring farce. The Havalax didn't seem capable of catching up to the Blackbeak unless the latter mech suffered from another malfunction, which didn't appear to be happening anytime soon.
Melinda's legendary roll had already entered the annals of history as the spectators spread the news along with captured footage from their comms. The Larkinsons inadvertently gained prominence throughout the Republic even before the duel had formally ended!
Watching from above, Ves shook his head at Captain Vicar's dogged persistence. His belief in himself was admirable, but his machine eventually couldn't keep up with him. While he never expected Melinda to turn the tides in such an unexpected manner, he felt relieved that his faith in his niece had borne out.
"I think this sideshow has gone on long enough." Ves remarked to Dumont. "It's time to throw in the towel."
His rival mech designer deepened his glower. Of all the reasons for Dumont's mech to fall behind, it had been a simple roll that spelled the end for his ambitions. His entire plans had fallen apart due to that fateful roll. It was practically an iron-clad rule that mech pilots should never attempt to roll their mechs!
In truth, Ves didn't design his mech to accommodate a roll. However, he did strengthen his mech's internal structure around its back in order to make it easier for the Blackbeak to dig up hardy soil. All of that modest strengthening also happened to have mitigated much of the potential damage his mech might have incurred from the roll and the collision that followed.
Dumont let out a frustrated sigh. "I concede."
A tone sounded out throughout the entire arena, announcing the end of the design duel. Mech designers had the right to concede on behalf of their pilots because design duels tested the mechs rather than the individual pilots. Dumont's words definitely put an end to his challenge and his hopes of boosting his profile.
From now on, Ves could brag that he designed the better mech, and most people would believe him at face value. The public might not understand a highly technical spec sheet, but they definitely understood the outcome of a duel. For all of its advantages, the Havalax hadn't managed to prevail against a competing design.
Ves smiled for the recorders, which hopefully broadcasted his face throughout the entire Republic. This must have been something that Dumont had been looking forward to himself. Ves reaped all of the rewards, while Dumont had to contend with social and financial ruin.