Chapter 19:

Newcomer Ranking!

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

In the simulation…

Brad Kisan's AI pilot materialized into the scene. A brawler variant of the Crimson Raider, it had tough metal gloves on both hands that could easily punch clean through any opponent suit if he got close.

It was modified with an extreme emphasis on upper body strength, allowing it to throw a devastating punch that could blow through a skyscraper's pillar. Brad’s AI naturally was also chosen to be an unarmed combat specialist, having a few martial arts techniques loaded in.

The first simulation was an urban combat ground in the middle of a devastated shopping street, with an open road between two shopping malls being the main area. Brad's AI walked carefully through the main street on the open road, using its exosuit's inbuilt sensor to detect anything in the stores that faced the road and the skies.

The AI pilots were designed to not have information of what the enemy exosuit was as well as the type of AI pilot, which made the battle more realistic, simulating an actual random confrontation.

As he treaded through a demolished store, he noticed a tiny 15cm metallic ball near his feet next to a pile of rubble. The AI pilot immediately kicked it away, to absolutely no effect. The tiny metallic ball just rolled off into the distance as though it was just a rock.

As Brad's AI wondered about where the tiny metallic ball came from, another ball shot towards him at the speed of an arrow, causing the AI to instinctively dodge sideways, except this time a second projectile hit the metallic ball and caused the ball to explode!

Shrapnel pelted the brawler, which immediately used its tough metal gloves to shield most of the incoming damage.

Not suffering much damage, Brad's AI was about to figure out where the attack was coming from when three more balls flew towards it in a staggered formation, creating a wave of explosions and shrapnel both in front of and behind the brawler.

Only having minimal defensive plates on its lower body to compensate for the weight of the gloves with a counterweight on its back, the brawler couldn't prevent the bits and pieces of metal from striking hard against its exposed joints and vulnerable lower body, causing one leg to start to malfunction!

The brawler fell onto one knee due to the lost in functionality and became a sitting duck to the next barrage of 10 metallic balls.

A smoke grenade was even mixed in and prevented the brawler from both visually and electronically detecting when the metallic balls were going to exploded.

With the smoke finally dissipating, Brad's AI was declared dead due to the immense amount of high-speed shrapnel that penetrated the exosuit incessantly! How was a simple non-defensive brawler meant to survive a barrage of grenades intended to wreck an exosuit?

[What a shocking match! The metallic balls were grenades, but I didn't see Ceres add any explosive or even a wireless sensor to trigger the explosion! How did he do it?]

Ceres grinned to himself while watching the fast-paced simulation, which happened in less than 20 seconds.

Brad Kisan was still reeling from disbelief, holding his head in shock. "To be fair, beating a brawler that had no ranged options or gap-closers isn't a good indication of how well my exosuit performs," Ceres thought to himself.

But over the next few simulations, totalling 14 matches for each exosuit in the double round robin of 8, Ceres systematically crushed each and every AI opponent that he was pitted against.

The only one he had an issue with was Merri Skadian's aerial sniper, where her continuous repositioning of vantage points caused massive issues with getting the metallic balls near her.

He eventually defeated her after a prolonged simulation where the aerial sniper ran out of jetpack fuel and had to stay in one position.

Ceres found it extremely interesting that she decided to make the legs as lightweight as possible, knowing that if she had a choice, she would've removed the legs all together to keep it airborne even longer. That made the lower body an easy target for the shrapnel to shred through.

[Unbelievable! The winner of this short ranking match is Ceres! With an unconventional exosuit, he has managed to beat almost every other variant or original design! Let's break down what he did to win so many battles!]

The contestants could finally watch the replay and figure out how Ceres' AI pilot functioned. They assumed he chose a stealthy cunning AI persona, but it seemed to be the one making the aggressive moves early on in the match instead.

Most of the other contestants chose a brave competitive fighter, with the exception of Merri, who chose a patient sharpshooter.

[Insane! After choosing the infiltrator suit, he modified the metallic balls with high density flammable fuel from the power generator, and completely changed his left arm into a dedicated launcher mount for the balls, enabling him to fling them at high speeds, though not as fast a bullet!]

[A pistol was then used to shoot bullets at the metallic balls, causing them to explode! He essentially re-rigged a proximity grenade without using anything beyond the suit and the basic materials provided!]

"I should've won that tiebreaker match," Merri muttered next to Ceres, who shrugged.

"My flak gunslinger would have shredded most aerial exosuits, creating a flakzone you wouldn't have been able to cross, and my AI persona of a short-range gunslinger chose right when he wouldn't engage when you were way beyond the effective range of the ball launcher."

Merri snorted, "If it wasn't an urban combat scenario, I would've wasted you 5 miles away". Ceres just simply smiled, making Merri wonder if he has yet another trick up his sleeve that his modified exosuit has yet to show.

Ceres didn't stay around for an interview, he wasn't going to preach to a crowd of less than 5, seeing as most of the contestants already left to do further training.

He made his way back to the VIP practice room of Ardan, checking his ranking on the multi: [Rookie Ceres: Rank 20577 Overall (Exosuit Repair and Modification)]

The ranking was near the top 33% of trainees of all ages in the Gladius, though it was also subject to change when he participates in real ranking matches. But he would require his nerval jack to be installed first!

"Still a long way to go, but it's a good start." Ceres felt satisfied about getting closer to winning the graduation competition in less than 9 months, as he logged on to the virtual private server.


"The tip of the nerval plug and subsequently the end of the nerval jack should be optimized for more surface area to improve rate of transmission, thus the current design of a conical tip doesn't make sense! It should be bulbous!"

"Ardan, stop thinking about the smaller details, we just need to get the nerval jack and plug working first in its new location!" Erik groaned but still jotted down Ardan's rambling.

"Brothers, it shames me to have to say this, but it sounds like you guys just really want a dildo up your ass." Braton quipped, leaning back on the sofa sipping on virtual iced tea.

The virtual practice room could let its user drink anything that has been uploaded to the community network, which included alcoholic drinks and the subsequent feeling of being tipsy, but it was banned courtesy of Ardan being underage.

Ardan looked at Ceres expectantly, causing Ceres to instinctively dodge away, not wanting his time being wasted on the finer points of rectal nerval capacity.

He was also slightly surprised that Erik was able to hold up to Ardan in terms of nerval technology and understanding, not knowing that the two of them would hit it off so well.

"You really have a penchant for explosives,” Erik grinned as he showed Ceres his multi terminal displaying Ceres' first battle with Brad's AI.

"I feel like I chose the wrong mentor, but then again it’s a good point to test my defences against." Ardan pouted as he recalled all his previous failures. "Maybe I should've designed an anti-explosive bomb suit to fight against you".

Ceres chuckled, "Bombs solves everything, if it doesn't crack your exosuit, I'll just build a bigger one".

Ceres hated making complicated weapons like automated laser drones or turrets, he prefers simple bombs or explosives based on pure explosive strength and making them immune to electronic countermeasures usually always catches people off-guard.

Sure, he was attracted to large scale weaponry like destroyer-class weapons or artillery, but nothing beats a good bomb or grenade placed at the right place.

He developed this more from playtime in the trash yard than Uncle Dawn's teaching, who favoured energy weapons.

"Oh yea, well look at these two big ass bombs on my chest," Braton flexed his chest, bending his head over to kiss his pectoral muscles that seemed to almost burst.

The boys laughed, apart from Ardan, who was deeply concerned that they were actually legitimately about to burst but he kept that to himself, knowing that it would potentially revisit him in a nightmare later down the road.

Ceres spent the remaining hours before the curfew reviewing the various matches that his AI pilot fought in his stead.

The graduation competition would have him act as the main pilot, so learning how the AI pilot fought was extremely useful to him.

He wasn't particularly good at guns, but he intended to pick them up after winning the competition, feeling that he didn't have enough time right now to perfect his marksmanship especially in such tense situations.

This limited his exosuit options in the competition!

Soon, Aunt Fye entered the virtual server, greeted by Ceres who had a smug grin. “Well I had you pegged wrong. Since you’ve cleared the condition, you’re free to ‘mentor’ Ardan and use the VIP practice room.”

“YAY!” Ardan shouted with joy and rushed forward to hug the virtual avatar of Aunt Fye. “Thanks Aunt Fye! You won’t regret this.”

“HOWEVER! Ceres, you’re still lacking a few fundamental concepts in repairing the exosuit. I’ve arranged for you to sit in a advanced lecture that’s happening right now in the main repair hall. Go there now.” Aunt Fye ordered before leaving the virtual server.

Ceres felt a warm surge of feelings in his heart. “Great for you, Ceres! It’s not everyday my Aunt tacitly approve of someone. She might not say that you’re ‘good’ directly to your face, but trust me I can tell.” Ardan slapped the back of Ceres happily.

“Well thanks for the vote of confidence. I’ll head to the lecture now. Erik, you coming? I’m sure she won’t mind an extra student.”

“Sure, why not bring Ardan along though?” Erik asked.

“Urgh, I already learnt all the theory, the issue is execution for me. I’m going to stay behind and practice, you two go ahead.” Ardan waved them away, causing them to log out of the virtual server.

Ceres groaned as he got up from the virtual pod and headed to the lecture with Erik. It was held in the same massive converted starship hangar, where there were a dozen workshop benches equipped with every tool an exosuit designer needed on a basic level.

The lecturer did not pay much attention to the arrival of Erik and Ceres – she was simply paid a flat fee to teach, so it didn’t really matter how many students there were.

“Okay, today’s topic is all about component repair. Now many of you are already experienced exosuit repairers, and you’ll probably have spent months or even years pouring over the blueprints of exosuits trying to memorize the components.”

Erik slightly nodded, him being more towards the memorization side of the spectrum. It did not really apply to Ceres as much, though he did retain some memory of how he thought the exosuit should function, and subsequently the components.

“The essence of repair is not to merely bring the exosuit back to it’s original state, but to modify and even improve it. If an exosuit design was inherently flawed and you were asked to repair a damaged version of it, what would you do?”

A few hands shot up, but the lecturer waved them all away. “It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is you do MORE than repair it, you fix the flaw. And when you’re done fixing the flaw, you go above and beyond to make it even better. You are serving a client, be it yourself or your friends or your loyal customers. Do you not want the best for them that you can possibly make?”

Ceres nodded, but he remembered Uncle Dawn had taught him a vastly different approach: to repair exosuits to it’s bare functionality rather than try to achieve perfection.

“On the battlefield, there’s only so much time you have. You have to be able to make do with what meager resources you have around to retain as much battle capacity as possible.” Ceres recalled.

The lecturer on the other hand, was more of a perfectionist, espousing the need to take the time to push the boundaries on what was possible.

Ceres couldn’t really reconcile the two differing notions in his head just yet. The lecture went on for more than another twenty minutes, with some historical examples being given.

“As a practical example, I will be providing all of you a damaged dumbbell, courtesy of the bodybuilding club who LOVES to destroy this kind of things. Anyone who repairs the dumbbell to be exactly the same as the blueprint will immediately fail. Understood? You have ten minutes to come up with the improved design, followed by the actual repair in another ten minutes.”

Erik’s face slightly paled. He was all for innovation, but not at this breakneck pace!

Ceres relished the challenge, immediately getting to work. But soon he realized that he had no idea what was there to improve on! Wasn’t it just a damn dumbbell?

Ceres glanced around at the other workbenches, where the other attendees were struggling internally as well, wondering how they could improve a dumbbell, who’s form had stayed almost constant throughout the millenniums!

“Wait, I’m such an idiot. Of course I won’t know how to improve them since I don’t use it myself – I should ask the bodybuilders!” Ceres slapped his forehead, before running off in the direction of the bodybuilders.

Erik was slightly stunned, but the realization dawned on him after a few minutes and he ran off in the same direction too.

Some of the other attendees didn’t know what was happening, but they were afraid to miss out on the opportunity, especially seeing that the lecturer had a wide grin on her face and did not scold Ceres and Erik!

“Sorry, could I take a moment of your time?” Ceres asked a resting bodybuilder who was taking a break between sets.

“Sure, what do you want me to write for that autograph?”

“No… well actually yes, could you write down for me the three most important features of a dumbbell followed by your signature?” Ceres held back his inner urge to roll his eyes, but played along anyway.

“Ah, I see you are a man of culture as well, though you don’t physically look like it. Everyone has to start somewhere, brother! Of course I’ll write it down for you!” The bodybuilder gave his most photogenic smile, grabbing the multi-terminal in one hand and Ceres in another sweaty grip to take a selfie.

“The shape, grip and ease of use is the most important! Material is fairly important to consider, but those are my top three by far!” The bodybuilder said as he typed it into Ceres’s multi-terminal.

Ceres slightly winced everytime the bodybuilder pushed into the flimsy screen of the multi, seeing it flex.

“Thank you so much!” Ceres quickly bowed before running back to the lecturer. Re-examining the blueprint of the dumbbell, he immediately identified that the dumbbell was one of the most basic designs ever!

It might not even be popular to use in Ancient Earth with the amount of flaws in it.

“Congratulations, you learnt the lesson of knowing what the client wants. You don’t actually have to repair the dumbbell, they are trash anyway. And if I actually let all twenty of you repair them, the bodybuilder club would come complaining about the inconsistencies in design.” The lecturer grinned at Ceres.

After saying the same thing to Erik after he returned, the two of them could leave earlier, leaving them to go over what they had just learnt.

“Focus on what the client wants….” Ceres realized this did not conflict too much with what Uncle Dawn had said.

The soldiers on the battlefield wanted immediate repairs and battle capacity, but the competition would be different! He would have an allocated time slot to perform the repair.

“Speaking of the competition, how are we going to practice for the group stage?” Ceres suddenly asked Erik.

“I don’t know anything man, you’ve been here at the Gladius more than I have.” Erik shrugged, having no ideas.

The VIP server that they currently used didn’t have enough people to practice a group fight with or teamwork, which was bound to occur during the competition.

The competition will test the limits of the participants in all areas – group combat, decision-making and so on.

Right now, their training procedure just doesn’t cover group combat, as a 2v2 between the four of them isn’t good enough. Even then, Ceres was sure based on past competitions that the group would be way more than four people.

What if they were paired with other random participants? What if they needed lead a ragtag team through a hostile situation?

Ceres had never been in those kind of scenarios before apart from the odd military exercises, but he needed more frequent training than what the orphanage had to offer.

Ceres decided to find a solution soon, before the nine months were over!

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