Shizuka looked out across the landscape, feeling the dry grass crunch under her boots. She tried to stretch for a moment, feeling the armoured plates dig in and straps pull tight before she could really get satisfaction. Her armoured pilot suit wasn’t the best for moving around outside of a cockpit, or being worn this long, but these unusual times called for unusual behaviours, and what she was witnessing was certainly unusual.
Down on the plains below her lookout point, wind rippled through the long grass, making it look almost fluid. This was normal. But as she looked further up, in the sky out by the horizon, the calm blue suddenly shattered into a million pieces, shards moving across like clouds of broken glass. It was unlike anything that Shizuka had ever seen.
She raised her binoculars again, scanning the bizarre anomaly, searching for any clues as to what it was, or where it had come from. The sensors on her gear warned her of strange energy behind it, although it could not identify the type. It seemed to be the same kind of energy that warns of an incoming warp, but somehow more dispersed, with a chaotic maelstrom of raw data underneath that her portable scanners couldn’t begin to process.
Occasionally in the shards she would see strange, alien landscapes. Purple tendrils reaching for something; strange squat green mechs with large cannons; vents of steam and giant gears; strange translucent wings flapping… each image was gone as soon as it appeared, as if the shards had caught a momentary reflection of someplace else.
She watched on a moment longer, pondering her next move. She would learn nothing else just looking from here. She savoured the crunch of the grass under her feet for a moment longer before turning and walking back to her mech, Gecko Fang. It was custom-made for her, it’s pale blue armour matching her combat suit. She could hear the soft hum from the railgun positioned over the cockpit. She loved that mech more than she had loved anyone. It wasn’t as sleek and fast as Tomasu’s, or as heavily armoured as Chiba’s, but the stability and precision engineering on every single piece was beyond anything else. She could end her combat matches before her opponent knew she was there, sniping from outside of the range of conventional scanners. And sure, sometimes that didn’t earn her the best ratings from the audience, but her fan base loved the skill that she could show more than any other pilot.
As she climbed into the cockpit, she saw a flashing light on her comms. Flicking the audio through her headset, her manager’s voice crackled to life.
“Shizuka! Where are you? There’s the fight of the century starting right now and you can be on the docket! Send me your coordinates for an outgoing warp and I’ll message you the details as we send you in.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with the sky exploding now, does it?” Shizuka scoffed. The silence on the other end of the line told her all she needed to know. She could practically hear her manager’s inner thoughts as he decided how to sell her on this one. She had known him for years though, and trusted he would make the right call when he needed to.
“My coordinates should be with you now. Make sure I have rockets and a warp cannon on arrival, and send me the stats on the pilot I’m facing. And whatever is causing this special effect, let me know how it will affect weapon trajectories and any info on countering it.”
“See, that’s the tricky part… You aren’t going in against any pilot. Or at least, none that we know anything about. Or their weapons. Or really anything. You aren’t even facing enemies from the Kegawa Corp.”
Now this gave Shizuka a moment of pause. Everyone was under Kegawa Corp. It had been for generations. Something outside of that? Had a subsidiary tried for independence? That was utter insanity! They would be sanctioned so severely that nothing would exist. They would lose everything.
“Then.. Who am I fighting?”
“So, that pretty fractal in the sky seems to link to… well, somewhere else, I guess? The news networks can’t seem to agree with exactly what it even is. But the important part is, some warp beacons have ended up wherever it leads. And Tora Umi, that pilot that got lost in a warp six months ago? He seems to be there and raining hell down on whatever uncivilised natives are there. But there’s calls for backup for him now.”
“I’m sorry… You’re sending me to fight some kind of aliens?” The whole notion was absurd.
“Maybe? I don’t know. But they want you. There are calls for not just gladiators, but any effective fighters. And you’re on the top of some of the execs lists! They want you to spearhead an attack to show off the might of all of Kegawa. They don’t need a close up melee for this one, a laser from a mile off would look amazing, and with the amount of small timers heading out there, we will have close up shots of your targets as you hit them! Play this right and we are going to launch you to the top of the next favourite pilots poll! You get in there, and I’ll start organising your press tour for when you get back!”
He didn’t wait for her reply, the line going dead, as he was no doubt calling up his next fighter with the same pitch. It didn’t matter. Shizuka knew this was the kind of opportunity a pilot didn’t say no to. This was the biggest change up for the corporation in living memory. And she had a chance now to carve her name across it. She just hoped he had remembered to put in the requisition for her long range weapons. Then again, with all the other fighters jumping in on this insanity, who knew how long it would take to get them delivered. Shizuka hit her pre-fight playlist, ready to build some hype before the fight, but barely had the first song started when the lights of a warp wrapped around her mech. Her manager for once didn’t seem to be exaggerating. To be sent this early, there really must have been a higher up interested in getting her into the fight. Everything shined bright and the world around her disappeared.
Gravity pulled down again suddenly. Maybe slightly stronger here? It was hard to tell. Below Gekko Fang’s forefoot was a warp beacon, sending out its homing signal for incoming warps to find. Shizuka pushed the throttle forward, feeling Gekko Fang lurch out of the beacon’s landing zone, clearing it for the next mech that would be warping in. Her scanner pinged back several other mechs in the surrounding landscape, though none of the callsigns she recognised. No one from her league in this area yet. Her comms flashed again, this time showing a text memo that seemed to be autogenerated to anyone warping to this beacon.
*Memo: New combat region
All pilots, your primary mission is to defend the warp beacon. Maintain your broadcasts throughout your time across the void.
Should the warp beacon be secure, move out and secure the surrounding area. Any non-corporation property or personnel are considered sanctioned targets. All pilots are free to destroy or capture any found. Please ensure you pay all appropriate finders taxes and retrieval fees on your return.
Kegawa Board of Directors
Well, the orders appeared clear. And direct from a member of the board. She continued forward. Looking down her scopes, Shizuka could see a green mass of steel rolling slowly towards them. It looked like an easy target. Gekko Fang stopped and braced its legs, stabilising the shot. The rail gun above whirred to life. Shizuka exhaled, and gently squeezed the trigger.