Chapter 13:

Combat Test

[NO LONGER UPDATING] Ceres's Chaos: A Tragic Space Opera

"Erm… Suit Practical Server 9?" Ceres muttered whatever Ardan told him to say prior.

"Confirmed" The pod echoed as Ceres felt the helmet heat up with his heightened sensitivity, while the paralyzing liquid kicked in. His head was covered by a VR Headset that wirelessly collected his thoughts and intentions, converting them into actions in the VR Servers. A sense of a dizzying whirlpool sucked the consciousness of Ceres into the waiting grounds of the server

The Suit Practical Server existed for the simple reason of lack of training equipment. Despite Ceres's elevated privileges of a probational mentor, he couldn't override the already previously booked slots, and any equipment left to be book performed much worse than the virtual version.

There were three separate types of training servers available locally in the Gladius, similar to the three sections that he saw in the hangar bay below.

The server enabled users to duel each other or run private practice rooms, of which Ceres and Ardan were intending to do the latter.

The virtual private practice room could be adorned with an unlimited amount of basic training equipment, whereas the more elaborate ones require additional payment in order for the Gladius to keep up the virtual licensing costs.

Checking through the virtual menu of what equipment, parts, tools and components was available to him, Ceres was more than alright with it, seeing as any mistakes were purely virtual.

He summoned a screwdriver, only to be fascinated by how real it felt, far beyond the VR pods he had used in the orphanage.

There was still a large of unrealism, as he could still feel his main body in the VR pod. When he got his nerval jack installation, he expected the experience to be much better!

Setting the visibility of the room to "Friends Only", Ceres watched Ardan materialize in front of him in a split second.

Both of them were dressed up in the training center uniform of blue and white, with the VIP label emblazoned across their right chest.

Quickly loading up a preset configuration for the room and a training plan hologram in front of them, Ceres brought Ardan over to a rack of suits.

“Okay so first lesson, let’s start off with a basic exosuit duel, just so I can get the hang of how to do stuff virtually. So we're gonna go with the Bee Strathon Mining Suit IV that we both know from the riot. I have the best experience with this so we'll both dismantle, assemble and modify the suit in less than an hour, after which we'll do a combat test with each other plus a VOD review later."

The practical room could be rapidly changed between configurations. In this training plan they were about to rotate through three configurations: two separate identical workshops, a combat room, and a lounge.

The workshops were a basic one that had a tool bench and a small 3D printer in order to simulate the competition settings, while the combat room could be adjusted to any random maps and weather settings, either official or uploaded by the community.

The Bee Strathon Mining Suit IV materialized in, propped up on a stand nicely next to the workshop. A timer appeared in front of both of them, counting down from five. Ceres could barely hold his excitement!

He could finally wear an exosuit for the first time, albeit virtually and not counting the simulations he had in the orphanage, they couldn’t compare to what he was experiencing now. He can’t wait to get his nerval jack installed to experience the full beauty!

The two boys worked separately in their respective workshops, sometimes glancing at each other to keep track of each other's progress. A competitive duel between exosuit repairers was not behind closed doors, but open for both parties to see.

It was also a mind game between the two duellists to either try and trick the opponent or counter whatever modification they were making to the exosuit. An expert exosuit repairer would be able to spot any weakness instantly in the enemies’ exosuit, allowing them to modify their exosuit better to counter it.

It was exactly like a mini arms race!

In a normal open competition, the competitors will sometimes insult each other with trash talk to cause the opponent to lose focus or get lost in their fury.

Ceres however, refused to teach or mention any vulgarity to the little ball of curiosity and happiness that was Ardan, now treating him like his responsibility as well as his lifeline in terms of money.

Who knows what Aunt 50-year-old-Hulk will do to him if she finds out?

Reaching the end of their modifications after a gruelling hour, they donned their suits and did a few system tests.

Ceres was enjoying the donning of the exosuit. The nerval jack connection was also simulated, sending a cold shiver down his spine as the exosuit virtually closed around him, the spine clasping in place to his back.

Flexing and rotating his arms, he tested the limits of his movements, kicking and throwing punches. This was way better than whatever he felt before! It felt like he had unlimited power at his fingertips far beyond what his own body could provide.

“Why do you even attend our orphanage for military school if you’re this loaded? You got everything you need here!” Ceres asked as he continued shadow boxing in the exosuit, getting more and more familiar with it.

“My aunt said it was one of the better schools that was near the Gladius. She said the inner zone schools are all too pussy and don’t provide enough real-world practice, only relying on expensive enhancers and simulators. Since I already have something close to that in the Gladius, might as well get the best of both worlds, is what she said.”

As Ceres and Ardan were warming up for the combat test in a flat open space combat room, they eyed each other's weakness in assembly. Suddenly, a chime indicating the entry of a new individual into the room gave a slight scare to both Ceres and Ardan.

Confirming the visibility setting of the room, he could do nothing but watch a tall burly human colossus materialize a short distance away from Ceres and Ardan.

He had a muscular body shaped like a god and seemed to be an expert at melee combat which could easily dunk both of them, except for the small little fact that he didn’t have a suit on.

"Wow, how did I get a match this fast? I didn't know there were still FFA matches going on at this timing." Braton stretched his arms and flexed his legs, waiting for the combat timer to start.

Seeing as no timer appeared and his two enemies staring at him, he finally realized what was wrong.

"Hey, why am I being matched with exosuit pilots? Or maybe the Gladius system finally recognizes my worth and paired me with stronger opponents!"

Ceres groaned while Ardan didn't bother wasting time on this idiot, continuing to note down any modifications and the limitations of Ceres’ exosuit.

Walking over to Braton, Ceres sighed: "You're in my private room for god's sake, either set yourself as a spectator or get lost! This is my first day in the Gladius and it’s already ruined by you! I'm trying to train here!"

"Oh brother Ceres, fancy Gladius matching me against you. Why didn’t you accept my invitation to join the Gladius with me? Who’s that other kid? Take off that suit and fuck being a mechanic, you belong with the bodybuilders! Who need suits when you got these guns! Hnngh!" Braton flexed his biceps and was about to kiss them before suffering a devasting punch in the stomach from Ceres, causing him to immediately keel over in pain.

Setting the cursing Braton to spectator mode, Ceres walked back to the starting position, asking Ardan: "Are you ready? The first duel is just to learn, so pay more attention to the mistakes both of us make. I’m still not too used to fighting in this VR pod. "

"Yea, but I feel bad for Braton, can you at least un-mute him?"

Hearing an immediate surge of slurs and expletives in which Ceres' non-existent parents and ancestors suffered indescribable events, Ceres immediately re-muted Braton and initiated the countdown for the combat test.


The combat room immediately morphed into a random map that seemed similar to the electrical trash yard common all over Zone 17. Walls of trash and random placements of broken-down atmospheric shuttles and hovercars provided intermediate cover for both sides.

Forcing his brain activity to the maximum and utilizing the effects of the nerval enhancer to improve his vision and senses, he took stock of the new environment, blocking the angry-looking Braton who invoked ghost mode to try to distract Ceres.

"Ardan probably thinks he had a head start in analysing my suit, but I had already memorized his actions in the workshop, giving me a somewhat overall design in my head" Ceres recalled most of the mistakes and changes that Ardan made, visualizing a design layout of Ardan’s exosuit.

Some parts of the design were obfuscated from Ceres by Ardan during the modification phase, so Ceres still didn’t really have a good grasp on the exact details of what Ardan was intending.

The Bee Strathon Mining Suit VI had been modified by Ceres to be lightweight and much more agile, almost looking like a pure skeleton frame with nothing to cover the metal tube-like structure.

Taking some inspiration from the Crimson Mining Group' non-patented modifications, he got a few better performing gears for the joints to improve rotational speed and actuation speed.

Focusing the additional liquid hydraulic pressure into the legs instead of the arms, Ceres' suit was angled towards speed instead of arm power and defence. Obviously, there wasn't any life support system, due to the short time limit of the combat test.

The timer ticking down to zero, Ceres did a quick check of his full range of movements to ensure functionality. On zero, a loud bass boom echoed through the entire map, signalling the start of the combat test!

The combat test set-up was a straight up 1v1 with no other AI opponent, where the first one to lose suit functionality, get knocked out or has the lowest ‘health’ calculated by the AI at the end of the timer loses!

Ceres dashed through the trash piles, weaving through broken down hovercars to reach the peak of the highest vantage point he could find, which was basically the highest mound of trash.

Information was critical in such combat, and Ardan could potentially see him as well, but Ceres would have the greater initiative with his speed, preventing Ardan from having enough time to set up a proper defensive area.

Reaching the top, Ceres surveyed the map for signs of movement of Ardan. He had an inkling that Ardan hardly moved from his starting spot, seeing no signs of any activity from Ardan.

"I know he added a refining module to his mining suit, but I can't figure out what is he going to use it for that could actually defeat me". Jumping down from the peak, Ceres conserved a bit of energy and made his way to Ardan's expected starting position.

During expeditions, certain exosuits were designated as support roles, having things like a furnace or a portable 3D printer that allows them to print basic components.

A refining module allowed the pilot to convert materials to another type, though it was generally a huge energy waste and required the pilot to remain stationary or deploy it himself. What was Ardan planning to do with it?

Turning around the corner that led to a shallow valley walled by trash, Ceres felt a burst of projectiles followed by a heatwave brush pash his cheeks and immediately backpedalled, hiding in a crouched position behind said wall of trash.

The surge of projectiles crashed into the opposing heap of trash, melting it down into slag and causing the heap to collapse in itself.

"What the actual fuck was that?" Ceres cursed in his mind. Mining exosuits usually weren’t modified to handle rifles or machine guns, their arms didn’t have enough control or precision to handle the aiming requirements! Unless...

Ceres decided to do a quick peek to see what was actually shooting at him, but just as he got a good look, yet another projectile forced him to duck defensively as it whizzed over his head.

"Haha! I knew this would work! Come out and fight me like a man! I’ve memorized your design too!"

A yellow barrier was erected at the base of the shallow valley, with the helmeted face of Ardan peeping through the barrier.

His two arms were holding the barrier together, while a separate mechanical arm originating from his right shoulder blade wielded a pressure gun that had a loader belt linked behind.

A refinery module mounted on the back was still churning out literal trash bullets by smelting the trash that had been collected in large scoops inside.

The output of the module was linked to the loader belt and allowed Ardan to keep up his ammunition count, while the gauss gun used the pressure to continuously shoot out compressed ‘rubbish’ in the shape of bullets at Ceres.

Ceres facepalmed, not knowing Ardan had a penchant for running suits with multiple arms. While Ceres did pay close attention to the assembly of Ardan's suit, he didn't take into account the complete manufacturing of a vastly different designed arm.

Ceres only remembered Ardan adding defensive plates and increased strength for the arms but did not expect it to be used like this.

Most suit pilots usually stuck to suits that followed the human physiology, as multiple arms required a higher NIER rating far beyond 1 and even then, it could affect your combat results and habits. It required an insane amount of practice and dedication to even use an extra limb.

Naturally, Ardan got around the simple issue by making sure he didn't move the gun arm when he was moving his main two arms, allowing him to fully focus on moving a single gun arm as though it was his right arm while the barrier and his two main arms were locked in place!

Ceres calculated his potential trajectories to get behind Ardan's defensive barrier, but he noted that the shallow valley allowed Ardan to instantly reposition to have his back against the trash, preventing any backstabs from happening.

Contemplating while Ardan became yet a different person as a slurry of taunts Ceres definitely did not teach him were hurled out of his mouth, Ceres started to run backwards, tracing back to the hovercars that he previously passed.

Ceres deftly flipped the hovercar over, dismantling the bottom cover of the hovercar and taking out the sparkplug of the engine.

Quickly grabbing some wires and with an apparent lack of capacitors or resistors, he reassembled a makeshift bomb using the hovertank's still half-filled energy battery and rigged the sparkplug to burst the battery open on impact with a strong short circuit.

"What's the matter, Ceres, too afraid to come out?" Ardan kept taunting, finally feeling a sense of achievement that he could beat up his new friend/mentor. He’s been training alone in the Gladius for the last 6 months and he had finally something fun to do!

Ending it on a win over his older ‘mentor’ would be a great feeling, despite him being the one who invited Ceres over in the first place.

Deciding not to move till the timer expire in order to achieve a draw, Ardan continuously checked his back and front, but he still remained within the base of the shallow valley that formed a narrow corridor.

Covering all angles, he started to get a bit antsy when the match has been going on for a good three minutes so far, yet he hasn't seen a peek of Ceres since the beginning.

Just as Ardan was about to consider what could Ceres be doing, a small round object flew out into the valley from the corner where Ceres was supposed to be, rolling on the floor down towards Ardan.

Ardan was confused as to what it was, only to finally realize that it was a makeshift bomb! Focusing everything on the aim of his gun arm, he fired a shot that blew the spark plug away without hitting the crudely attached battery, resulting in the bomb being a dud.

At the same time when Ardan fired, both the right and left walls on Ardan side burst out in two separate explosions! The shockwave both giving a slight concussion and showering Ardan in a good amount of trash before he could react.

Ardan immediately disengaged his gun arm and dashed as much as his ‘turtle’ exosuit could before the majority of the trash enveloped him.

As he moved out of the crash zone, a high-speed shadow came out through the flying bits of trash and slammed into Ardan's back! It was Ceres!

Ardan stumbled and was forced to use his barrier as a crutch to prevent himself from falling further forward, slamming it into the ground in front of him.

The refinery module started to vibrate with an even greater intensity as most of its components were damaged in the slam, causing high pitched grating sounds against the frame as compressed rubbish failed to exit into the loader belt.

Before he could get up, Ceres circled him and swept the barrier inwards with a kick that caused it to shift towards Ardan, making Ardan fall over. In a split second, Ceres reached out and damaged the joint connector of the gun arm to the body with a quick punch before dashing away behind another trash pile.

Ardan shot a few rounds after Ceres, but after the first round the recoil was too high due to the loose connector, causing all the shots to miss.

Over the next few minutes, Ardan continuously shot back at Ceres, who kept appearing at different angles and pelting him with random pieces of small trash.

He could not retighten the joint connector any longer due to the lack of precision in strength control for his two main arms. Ardan had designed the main arms to have strength, not the deft fingers of a pianist.

With no ammo and no aiming options left for Ardan, all Ceres had to do was wait out the combat test to win automatically!

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