Among mech pilots, expert pilots occupied a special place. Often likened as demigods, these experts display inhumanly good skill in piloting mechs.
Every basic parameter concerning piloting received an overall boost. From battle sense, weapon accuracy, resilience, willpower and more, any expert pilot was able to beat ten advanced pilots without any effort if they all piloted the same mechs. In some cases, their best attributes even surpassed the human limit.
Therefore, people considered every expert pilot to be an elite by definition.
However, this was not enough to elevate experts into objects of worship. The true worth of an expert pilot was that their cognition experienced a specific mutation that opened them up to resonance.
This wasn't the fake resonance that mostly relied on passive exotics and a little helping of mental compulsion from a customized neural interface. The resonance that expert pilots could call upon was at least ten times stronger, and each could achieve a much greater variety of effects.
This was what true resonance looked like. It was the power that elevated expert pilots into heroes on the battlefield, and enabled them to fight a hundred enemy mechs by themselves.
"An expert pilot is a one-man killing machine. Where one treads, hundreds of mechs will fall apart. Entire regiments despair when an enemy expert pilot stares at them. Sometimes, a grueling battle has been made irrelevant due to the outcome of a duel between experts."
Of course, such sayings left out a host of factors. Not every expert pilot and expert mech was the same. Nonetheless, even the weakest expert possessed a level of strength that was almost impossible to overcome by any other mech pilot.
Befitting of their status as demigods, the life of an expert pilot was filled with difficulties. No expert pilot came about from greenhouses. Not even the MTA or the first-rate superstates could reliably engender expert pilots among their ranks. They all came about by chance, though good genetics sometimes played a role.
In any case, nobody could predict whether a potentate was destined to advance to the rank of expert pilot. They could come from descendents of a small military dynasty such as the Larkinsons or emerge from the underclass of an overcrowded city.
As long as enough mech pilots received the opportunity to pilot a mech, their hidden talents would inevitably emerge. However, this happened only when the mech pilots received enough stimulation. Heated combat and the threat of death was the simplest and most effective to draw out an expert candidate's potential.
The amount of expert pilots that emerged from the battlefield vastly outnumbered their counterparts from the dueling arenas. This was the strongest proof that to raise an expert pilot, lots of mech pilots needed to be thrown into a conflict.
The more mech pilots entered battle, the higher the odds of uncovering an expert pilot. Some people say this was the principle reason why war was still so prevalent throughout human space. If states didn't wage war against other states, they often tended to wage war against themselves. No matter where anyone turned in human space, there was always a fight to be found.
No one succeeded in fostering a specific mech pilot into a vaunted expert. Many have boasted the ability to do so, but most training programs simply aimed to push their mech pilots to their limits.
It wasn't uncommon for the training programs to turn deadly.
The only way for states to foster expert pilots was to play the lottery enough times. An extremely low probability event almost always delivered no results, but if it was repeated many times, then eventually the jackpot would fall.
Each expert pilot that fought for a state added to their overall strength. Yet even then, the advancement of an expert pilot had only just begun.
Beyond their current rank existed even more powerful existences called ace pilots, and that was not the end.
Beyond ace pilots, a rare crop of mech pilots had attained power unimaginable. So much so that people couldn't help but call them god pilots.
Only several hundred god pilots existed in the galaxy. They were just as rare as Star Designers, and both enjoyed a similar status in human space.
The only difference was that Star Designers generally transcended human division and employed their apex abilities for the betterment of the human race as a whole.
God pilots on the other hand remained more willful for some reason. While some join Star Designers into declaring neutrality, others have decided to remain attached to either the Greater Terran United Federation or the New Rubarth Empire. No other state possessed the appetite to retain a god pilot.
Even if they had been declared as divinity in human form, god pilots still hungered for what lay beyond. None of them had ever advanced to the rank after god pilot, but all of them sensed a vast fog of possibilities. In their pursuit to surpass their god-like existences, these peerless warriors believed that they could only reach a greater height through continued struggle.
Rixt O'Callahan was no god. Right now, he could be called a demigod as best, and a decrepit one as that. With one foot in the grave, his body had long lost the fitness of his sprier years. If nobody knew that he was an expert pilot, they might mistake him as a walking corpse!
Yet no matter how awful his body looked, it still retained a large portion of its inner strength. It was generally known that the mind of an expert pilot had broken the shackles of the human limit. What others might not be aware of was that their physiology also followed suit.
Though expert pilots generally didn't bother training their bodies to a superhuman level, they did sought out treatments and medicines that strengthened their flesh in order to endure the physical demands of piloting a mech.
Thus, even as O'Callahan emerged from his hibernation chamber, he only needed a couple of minutes to return to his peak state. After apprising himself to the current conditions of the Vandals, O'Callahan immediately entered the cockpit of his personal steed, the Parallax Star.
This wasn't his first expert mech. Having lived for over a century, O'Callahan often piloted the best of what a state could offer to their precious experts. A champion without the finest armor and weapons would never live up to their potential.
He still remembered his first mech, so long ago. When he was still an advanced pilot, he was assigned to a mech regiment of the Mech Corps that fielded lancer mechs.
Back then, everything was simple.
"I was so young and stupid back then." The Venerable sighed as he boarded his exquisite mech. "How could I know that I needed to cherish my life?"
In truth, O'Callahan hated the Parallax Star. It did not match the grandeur of the mechs that accompanied him before. Those mechs were true beauties designed by multiple Seniors in collaboration. None of those machines failed to disappoint. Some even approached the quality of mastercrafted mechs.
That was a long time ago, when his skin was still smooth and when his hair still glistened in the light.
As he spoke a silent prayer, he begged whatever higher powers that may exist to spare his life some of his lifespan. Though he used to be an atheist during much of his life, when the onset of death came ever closer, he started to seek refuge in faith.
"How pathetic. I used to be a model citizen from the Bright Republic as well. What will my publicists think when they hear me praying to the heavens?"
That was a thing of the past. Now, his value had fallen to such an extent that he had to resort to joining the Flagrant Vandals to remain relevant. None of the other mech regiments agreed to his demands.
"How short-sighted of them! Even if my resonance strength is far from my peak, I'm still strong enough to be a terror on the battlefield!"
The magnificence of his youth and strongest years invigorated his old bones. His strong sense of confidence asserted itself, and as the Parallax Star finally launched into space, he cast aside all distractions.
"Come, my Parallax Star. Even if you are the weakest steed that I ever had the privilege to pilot, you are still a thoroughbred! Show me your strength!"
The aged expert pilot turned deaf against the mech officers that attempted to pass on instructions to his ears. He blinded himself against the glut of information being displayed on his consoles. The Venerable completely invested himself into melding himself with the Parallax Star.
The custom mech coated in burgundy and black and embellished with gold started to brandish its lance and power up its flight system. In a single instant, the expert mech flung itself away from the Gorgon's Gaze.
Soon, it bypassed the anti-stealth formation. Its exclusive flight systems accelerated the Parallax Star onwards. The two rod-like wings affixed to the rear of the mech glowed as hot as stars. Their radiance blended together, giving the mech the illusion that it was burning like a star.
The rest Vandals scrambled to response to Venerable O'Callahan's unilateral approach. Major Verle originally intended for the Parallax Star to keep pace with the Vandal mechs. Now, all those plans had to be thrown out the window.
A large portion of spaceborn mechs separated from the stranded Vandal fleet and hurried after radiant lancer mech. The Vandals only retained enough Inheritor mechs to maintain a contracted detection envelope.
When the Frosty Meteors initially saw O'Callahan's approach, they laughed. Had the robber regiment gone crazy?
Then, the mechs started picking up peculiar sensor readings. Not only did the mech accelerate faster than any normal mech ought to, they also detected the faint but unmistakable signs of true resonance.
"It's an expert pilot!"
"Who is it! What mech is it!?"
"No idea, sir! The mech isn't on our records! All we know is that it's a lancer mech!"
The Frosty Meteors ran a search on all Brighter lancer mech pilots with a projected strength of thirty laveres. They quickly came across a fossil in their search results.
"Venerable O'Callahan? Hasn't that sack of bones bit the dust yet? I can't imagine he's still alive!"
"Even if he clings to his life up to now, it won't take more than a bump to push him into his grave. Let us help him give him the rest that he deserves!"
Lesser mech pilots despaired when an enemy expert pilot showed up. Not so for the Frosty Meteors. As elites, they have encountered many crises in battle. The appearance of an unexpected Venerable failed to impact their morale.
It was unfortunate that they hadn't brought an expert pilot of their own. They didn't even know the enemy task force carried one, since Venerable O'Callahan hardly deployed into battle since he signed up with the Vandals.
To the Frosty Meteors, the entry of an enemy expert pilot only formed a minor hiccup. At most, they had to scrap their initial battle plan in order to accommodate the unusual abilities of the incoming expert.
Despite the vast distance separating the Frosty Meteors from Venerable O'Callahan, the latter seemed to sense the contempt directed against him. "Bastards! Don't ignore me!"
His mech glowed even brighter as he started to push beyond the limits of what his mind, body and mech could withstand. The resonance that accelerated his mech beyond its regular limit grew stronger, and the glow surrounding the Parallax Star started to extend towards the lance, enveloping it in a strange energy field.
The Parallax Star expended a massive amount of power just from its initial approach. It was an extravagant waste of energy that no clear-minded mech pilot wished to throw away.
O'Callahan wasn't in his right mind at the moment. The naked contempt of the Vesian mechs in front of him engulfed his mind with fury. Nobody affronted his pride as an expert pilot and got away with it! Frosty Meteors or not, everything fell before his lance!
"Come, Parallax Star! Charge as hard as you can!"
The distance between the two closed within minutes. The Frosty Meteors long adjusted their formation into a half-sphere. They might not be able to stop the initial charge, but they believed that they could easily strike down the expert mech after it lost its momentum.
"Brace yourselves! Here it comes!"