Chapter 18:

Gladius Monthly Tournament

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

A series of punches echoed through the virtual practice room's lounge, as Ceres sat down with Ardan to perform another VOD review while Erik walked around the room, amazed at the lounge. Braton was punching a boxing practice machine, still feeling hyped from the combat test.

"Thanks for inviting me again, Ardan, really appreciate it. Little Melody is really nice too!" Erik smiled as he tested the realistic feeling of the virtual full-leather sofa while standing behind Ceres.

Ardan gave him a thumbs-up, being more than happy that he had more friends to practice with! His life was becoming a lot more exciting than the lonely life he had previously prior to inviting Ceres, so he was all for more people.

"You really think that hulk is nice? She literally called you 'yet another leech' right off the bat." Ceres grunted as he continued watching the mistakes he made during the combat test.

He had just come back with Erik from a riot at the same Saintess Square, helping out Taren and his Crimson Mining Group again.

"Like I said, microphones" Ardan rolled his eyes at Ceres and checked the holographic interface floating in front of him that displayed the statistics of the combat.

"Only an hour to go before your Gladius ranking placement match, you ready? If you don't get first place, it will be hard to remove the ‘probation’ from your title, and I’ll have to work hard to convince Aunt Fye to let you stay."

The Gladius internally ran ranking matches, to act as a persistent competition between trainees of the same course or category, which for Ceres was the exosuit repair category.

This was great as he could finally shake off the probationary part of his title and be sort of recognized by Vice-Manager Fye to be allowed to continue staying around Ardan.

Since he was a newcomer to the Gladius, his current ranking was placed at the very bottom, while the matchmaking would assume his ability is around the 50th percentile. It was through the placement match that will determine his true starting ranking.

"Don't worry Ardan, I got this. My hand speed has been improving loads, it'll be an easy win." Ceres' hand speed has been progressively becoming more stable due to the new training method, courtesy of the ‘inner’ student who he duelled with in the museum two days ago.

"I can't believe listening to insults while playing that game actually works," Erik shook his head in denial. "Anyway Ardan, wanna have a go? I really want to try out this training practice you and Ceres got going on, looks fun."

"Sure, but let me figure out this problem with my nerval jack theory." Ardan squinted at the holographic interface in front of him that was now covered in equations and a diagram of the human body.

"What's wrong?"

"Can't figure out if the base of spine or nearer to the asshole is better?"


"Yea, receptors, nervous."

"I see. Direct, better, less complicated."

Ceres stared at two freaks who seemed to devolve into utterances of mere singular words to convey their thoughts, as though any form of trying to implement grammar would detract them away from the topic and reduce their computational ability.

"Well, I'll let them get right to it then," Ceres thought to himself as he got out of the way of the 'conservation' between Erik and Ardan who were engrossed in nerval jack theory. He felt that if it works, it works, no point trying to improve on it.

"Good luck for the ranking match!" Braton shouted as he continued dodging the punches being thrown by the boxing machine.

Ceres nodded as he logged out of the virtual pod and headed out of the VIP practice room with confidence. It was time to prove himself in the larger world!


There were thousands of Gladius participants in various ranking matches that happened almost every day in parallel. Ceres was about to attend his first one which will determine his starting rank in the exosuit repair category, finally confident enough to win one after acclimatizing to the Gladius.

Exosuit competitions also had different weight and size categories, breaking down generally into four: minimal, lightweight, medium and heavy. Exosuits were not particularly regulated on size or functionality, but they usually fit into these four areas.

Ceres considered himself an expert at minimal and lightweight, as he has been working with repairing and modifying barebones mining suits for ages, such as for Taren’s Crimson Mining Group.

Ardan on the other hand for example, leans more towards the medium and heavy categories with his penchant for extra defensive plates and bunkering.

The upcoming tournament was a lightweight-focused one, meaning that the suit to be given was going to be light. Lightweight suits generally don't weigh much more than the user themselves, and is generally considered to be a good balance between speed and offense.

This also meant that even if the power was cut, the user if strong enough would be able to move under its weight with much more ease compared to a heavy exosuit.

Having slightly lower defence on the other hand requires the exosuit pilot to be relatively decent to be able to make the best use of its wide range of movements in order to evade damage.

The ranking match format was the same as what Ceres and Ardan had been practicing for the past few days, making Ceres extremely relaxed.

Waiting in the tournament venue which was the same repair section in the large hangar bay that already had 8 basic workshops set up at equal distance from each other, Ceres started fiddling with his multi on Glucose Rush again.

He had been continuously denying to himself that he has a serious addiction and was only doing it to warm up his hands. The announcer began to drone in a monotone voice, introducing the match.

[Another ranking match, another migraine... I mean another EXCI-TING day at the Gladius. This time, it is your regular newcomer snooze fest of a match for the exosuit repair and modification category! Let me explain the format once again for my extremely crowded audience of fourteen people and eight contestants!!!]

A series of holographic fireworks appeared in the middle of the venue to the fanfare of absolutely no one.

A holographic diagram replaced the fireworks, showing the two different phases of the competition.

[It's going to be a rapid-fire match, so for the first phase, each contestant will choose an exosuit out of three given. None of the suits are in a great state, with all suits being damaged to a similar extent for fairness! Each contestant will be given 5 minutes for selection, 2 hours for repair and modification, and the remaining 25 minutes will be an AI simulation of their suits!]

This meant that AI pilots were going to be donning the exosuits and competing in matches with time sped up by 10 and in rapid succession.

A scanner would analyse the exosuit and upload its performance data to the server where the rapid matches will occur. Each contestant can select a specific AI pilot to fight for them, or could select a random pilot.

The eight AI pilots selected will then fight a double round-robin, with the ranking based on number of wins-loss-draws. In the case of a tie, a tiebreaker match will be quickly simulated repeatedly in a best of five until there was a clear winner.

[Here comes the exosuits! Their surface layer has been almost turned into molten slag, while the internal components has varying internal issues that the contestants would have to either solve or replace! Certain contestants may be able to get ahead with their specific knowledge in certain fields, so they would have to carefully pick the right exosuit to repair!]

[All of the exosuits are lightweight category, and fit various roles. The three roles represented here is the skirmisher, aerial assault and infiltration! Which of these suits will be the most selected? Stay tuned, because I won't be! Oh, and I forgot, the competition started 30 seconds ago when the suits came in, so get cracking!]

The timer already running, most of the contestants groaned, and started walking towards their individual suit rack which was all loaded with the same three suits right next to their tournament workshop station.

Ceres scanned the crowd and noticed that most of the audience were the personal trainers or parents of the contestants.

Erik and Ardan didn't come to watch because Ceres assured them it would be much more of a stomp compared to his regular training with Ardan, but he didn't expect the format this time to include an AI pilot! He scratched his chin, trying to consider which type of suit and AI pilot would be the best for winning when he wasn’t the one piloting!

The skirmisher exosuit was called the Crimson Raider by Vikiders, a fast-paced melee focused exosuit design company. It featured a submachine gun and a long sword for its weapons, with its defence being reliant on the ability of the pilot to parry.

Though the arms possessed a decent amount of strength bordering on middle weight specifications, it suffered from the lack of precision aiming in the gun, which theoretically wasn't necessary for the submachine gun's purpose of suppressing.

It had zero life-support system, no electromagnetic countermeasures and was intended for landbound conflicts. The upper body featured a secondary redundant power generator in the event of a backstab, which gave it a huge amount of staying power despite the lack of defensive plates generally apart from the chest area.

It was a good melee skirmisher that could easily enter the fray and lock an opponent into a melee duel.

The aerial assault exosuit was called the Iron Vulture by the B.P Aeronautics, an aerodynamic -focused company that specialized in atmospheric flight.

It possessed a thruster pack that could lead it into the air with 6 degrees of freedom, allowing it to perform gravity defying manoeuvres. However, it was not designed for prolonged flights, but more for soldiers to cross ravines and scale buildings easily.

It could hover in the air for a maximum of 2 minutes, after which it had to recharge for an hour. In this competition, it essentially meant that the exosuit would be dead on the ground when facing the Crimson Raider.

However, it possessed a jet-propelled long trident that could burst forwards at unexpected speeds, which can deliver a fatal blow to enemy exosuits in a flash.

A simple pistol kept it on the lower end of the weight class, and the only defensive plate was a round deployable shield plate that could be mounted on the arms, allowing the exosuit to acts as a jet-powered shielded spearman.

The infiltrator suit, the Night Dagger, was a pure stealth exosuit, with only a single dagger and pistol for its weapons. In fact it’s designer was anonymous, the design being open source and manufactured by multiple places.

It mainly had active plates that prevented electronic detection by other suit and a certain level of visual camouflage that allowed it to sneak past enemy lines.

The active plates drained a lot of energy, so it usually remained passive while the exosuit had a series of mini smoke bombs that both provided cover and distracted enemies.

It was the lightest of all the three suits, but had less defensive and offensive power than the Crimson and less speed than the Iron Vulture.

Not to mention the surface of every exosuit was actively damaged, which hurt the chances of the infiltrator more. The power generator for each suit was also tampered with, resulting in an even shorter uptime of stealth even if the plates were repaired or replaced.

[One of the promising newcomers, Merri Skadian has made her choice of the aerial assault! She has made a name for herself in previous ranged weapons competition, specifically sniper rifles, so maybe we'll see an interesting variant from her over the next two hours!]

Two hours was a ridiculously short time to actually make a good variant of the exosuit, but any simple modification would already make a difference from the base, especially when Merri was potentially trying to convert the Iron Vulture from a jet spearman into a sniper!

[Oh! Another contestant, Brad Kisan has chosen the Crimson Raider! A rising star in unarmed combat as well, he may be modifying the exosuit to be a brawler? Nothing on his record says that he's great at swords or guns, so maybe he can throw us all for a loop!]

As time went on, nearing the end of the 5 minutes, the contestants all made their pick between either the skirmisher and the aerial assault exosuit, except for one.

[What's this? Someone chose the infiltrator model, potentially the worst suit for AI combat, the Night Dagger!]

Ceres scoffed to himself. "This isn't the worst, it's the best." The audience of a measly fourteen people looked at Ceres, who chose the infiltrator suit, with a sign of shock, awe, pity or all of those combined.

[Well, that was a shocker! But the selection time is up right now, let's get into the repair and modification phase!]

Arranging his workshop tools and printer in the way he preferred, Ceres took a scanner out from the set of tools and started to create a 3D image of the exosuit. He had never worked on this exosuit before, but he felt that it gave him the best chance to win the competition in a landslide. But first things first, he needed to learn the design of the exosuit.

The original design files were not given away due to intellectual property issues, and the contestants weren't expected to manufacture one from complete scratch either.

Having a somewhat completed exosuit albeit with parts turned to molten slag should accelerate the understanding of how the exosuits work. It was a test on skill and ability to reverse engineer designs, and subsequently modify them.

Ceres took note of the power circuitry and the range of movements of the suit, the various key components and their respective interfaces into the main processor that controlled them all and filtered the information.

He identified key problems with the flexibility of the torso , as well as intermittent issues with the power generator and lastly the extremely damaged panels.

All these problems might be great obstacles to the normal exosuit repairer, but Ceres was anything but normal when it came to exosuits.

His hands moving deftly, speed increased by his years of practice of Glucose Rush. He quickly dismantled the broken panels and melted them in a recycler machine.

The recycler machine, however, didn't print out new panels as per the default setting, instead it acted as a crusher, mincing the camouflage panels into bits and pieces!

[What is Contestant Ceres planning right now? He seems to be destroying the only advantage that the Night Dagger has over the other exosuits which is the stealth panels! This might be the biggest twist of the tournament, or a complete disaster!]

The audience started to pay more attention to Ceres, noticing that all the stealth panels were crushed to pieces. He reheated and fixed bent beams on the arms, rewired the power generator and tested the rotation of the new torso that wasn't burdened by the stealth panels anymore.

The infiltrator exosuit became less and less like a stealth unit, looking more like a construction unit over the first hour. Anyone watching would be completely stunned as to what Ceres was attempting to do – design an exosuit meant for stealth without stealth panels!

With only one hour left to go, Ceres began to make tiny metallic balls of 15 cm wide each, hanging them on the belt area of the exosuit as though he was decorating a Christmas tree. He dismantled the left hand of the exosuit, repurposing the arm to look like a launcher.

[It seems like Ceres is planning to kill his opponents by launching scrap balls at the opponents! I can't understand his thinking at all! Perhaps he's planning to make the opponent roll and trip on the balls in the middle of the battlefield...]

As the two-hours mark reached its end, Ceres had already chosen his AI pilot!

Patreon iconPatreon icon