After Professor Marshall finished her introduction, the entire crowd seperated into groups of hundreds. Each of them were guided towards different locations, where every mech designer had to stand at a predesignated spot. Even the fliers had to stay put above the heads of the walkers.
Professor Marshall patiently waited until the student guides made sure their groups were in the right places. "Now, let us begin with the qualifiers. Three days from now, the best of you will showcase your skills to our most distinguished guests. Only a hundred of you will receive this opportunity, which means we have a big task ahead of ourselves in order to cull 99.8 percent of all contestants"
Everyone shuddered abit. Too many mech designers had flocked to the competition. Even with the age limit of thirty years, the Komodo Star Sector was simply too big.
Everytime the LIT held its open competition, they liked to mix up their tests. Though the organizers often reused most of them, the selection of tests still gave the contestants some anxiety. After all, no one claimed they excelled in everything.
"For the qualifiers, we will hold two rounds today and one more longer trial tomorrow. In our first round, you will be tested on your fundamentals. Without a well-rounded foundation, you have no right to be considered by our masters. In our experience, many of you fail to make the cut, so only one out of five will qualify for the next round."
A projection lit up in front of everyone's faces. To the surprise of Ves and everyone else, it consisted of a series of exams.
"What the hell? Are we back in school?"
"Damnit! I already forgot half of what I learned!"
"Hah! No exam will stop me! I'm the learning expert!"
Some mech designers moaned as if beset with tragedy, while others arrogantly claimed they could ace any exams in a breeze. As for Ves, he maintained his confidence. He might not have been the best book learner, but all of the knowledge he gained from the System had been comprehensively stuffed in his mind. There was no way he'd forgotten any details.
"In the real universe, when you are hired to do your job, you are expected to perform competently. Any of you who have slacked off in any fundamental subject will never have what it takes to grow in the industry. Every Senior, Master and Star Designer has reached their heights by relying on a combination of hard work and talents. Mere connections and wealth can give you a head start, but no designer has ever achieved enduring success by staying lazy."
The din quieted as some of the designers understood the professor's viewpoint. Most of the participants came from far away in order to impress the masters. These eminent figures could not be swayed by regular means such as the size of your wallets.
"Designers, please prepare to fill in the tests. Each of you have received five different exams at a level just beyond what we expect our last-year students to master. You may choose three of the subjects to fill in and submit. Take note that we will only give you five hours of time, more than enough to complete the exams if you are proficient in your chosen fields. Your scores will be counted together and only the top 10.000 will pass."
That meant that forty thousand mech designers were forced to bow out in the very first round. The Leemar Institute of Technology did not hold back in their attempts to diminish the giant crowd of designers. Most of these mech designers were about to have their hopes crushed without even getting a chance to show off their skills in front of a crowd.
The projections unlocked, allowing each designer to interact with the digital exam files. Ves spread them all out to see which topics Leemar picked out for him especially.
Ves swore to himself. He forgot that he declined to round out his foundational skills when he last received a windfall of DP. While he considered his Mechanics and Metallurgy skills to be his best, he neglected to improve his Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics.
"Well, out of the three latter skills, I suck the least at physics."
In order to boost his confidence, he chose to start with his best subject, Mechanics. He flipped the page of the mechanics exam book and started to tackle the problems within.
"This.. this is easy!"
While the old Ves might have crashed onto a cliff, the current him hardly stumbled at the sight of these questions. He leisurely used the correct approach to answer the questions. Some of the problems even concerned how to accomplish greater speeds, which fell right into his alley with his highly developed Speed Tuning sub-skill.
Only at the end did Ves encounter some snags. He vaguely suspected that Master Olson had personally formulated these problems, because they fell into her specialties. He did not specialize in designing energy-efficient mechs, let alone engines. Only his solid foundation in Mechanics allowed him to provide basic answers to the toughest questions.
"I guess anyone who followed courses under Master Olson should breeze through these tests. Anyone else can just blame their poor luck."
When Ves put aside mechanics and opened his metallurgy exam, he raced through the first questions with record speed. While his foundation in Metallurgy was a little shallower, he still had a massive head start compared to the vast majority of his rivals.
Thankfully, most of the difficult questions at the end had to do with alloy compression. Only the elites who studied at the best second-rate institutions were exposed to this exclusive subject. An anomaly like Ves who had every possible subject in his reach simply cheated his way into mastering the basics of alloy compression. In the end, he was quite confident that he aced this exam.
"Now, onto physics. Hopefully my previous scores can compensate for my abysmal performance here."
Pure physics formed the basis of many other related subjects. Ves gritted his teeth and struggled through the problems like a soldier crawling through a trench. He used his much more solid foundation in other skills to figure out the crux of the problems posed in this exam, with mixed success. He only got off lightly when he encountered problems that had to do with his Armor Optimization sub-skills.
After five hours of tortuous number-crunching, the buzzer sounded and the projections winked out. "Time is up! That is enough, ladies and gentlemen. Take a moment to rest while our processors and assistants will score your work."
Almost every walker collapsed. While the fliers endured very little stress due to the comfort provided by their expensive antigrav clothes, the walkers had to fill in three entire exams while standing up. Ves supposed the organizers wanted to subtly test everyone's endurance, for he had witnessed a few contestants collapsing after an hour or two of standing straight.
"Heh, those guys who can't even stand for a couple of hours are pathetic."
"This test isn't fair! Why do they test us on math when processors take care of everything nowadays!"
"I have no idea why I'm being tested on assembly. It's not like I intend to pursue a career as a fabricator."
Evidently, a lot of people fared worse than Ves. He did not sympathize with them. If you wanted to compete at this level, then you'd better be as good as the students who graduated here. If Ves was still stuck as an average novice mech designer, he'd never have the guts to show up. All of his fellow contestants who overestimated themselves were about to receive a harsh dose of reality.
While everyone took a half hour break, Ves visited one of the bathroom stalls before grabbing a free lunch. Many designers huddled together and squirmed as they awaited their scores.
"Alright! Time's up! We've graded your exam papers and most of you have done a passable job. Yet we do not have any use for average results. Our masters only seek the best, and I am sorry to say that most of you will find your journey ends here."
Professor Marshall then pressed a button that caused a lot of people to light up. "Anyone who is lit up by a red light, please vacate the area!"
An uproar ensued as many overconfident designers protested their heartless elimination. While most of the walkers simply shook their heads and stepped away with glum faces, the fliers kept yelling that the evaluation was flawed and mistaken.
"SILENCE!" The dean yelled, and a large group of guards showed up with their stun rifles charged and ready to fire. "We are not your babysitters. Anyone who wishes to view their scores and protest the way we've graded them, you can go backstage. Do not hinder these proceedings."
Under the threat of getting stunned, even the most obstinate designers lowered their heads. Ves found it sad that most of the walkers had left the stage. They were simply unable to keep up with the advanced curriculum of a more developed state. He figured that most of the poor bums that are left must have some strengths to rely on to make it past this strict test.
To everyone's amusement, not everyone got the picture.
"THIS ISN'T FAIR! I'M THE SON OF-"
The poor fellow got shot by a stun projectile, shutting him up pretty quickly. A handful of his type joined him in his unconscious bliss. Fortunately for all of them, their antigrav clothes kept them aloft. Through some override, the clothes automatically floated them off the fields.
"Now, that we have that out of the way, we will proceed to your next challenge. Your task is to see whether you have what it takes to defeat your opponent in a mech design duel. Like all conventional duels, you are given a period of time, in this case eight hours, to design a mech out of a fairly limited selection of parts, though you can design your own if you wish."
Ves already participated in this kind of struggle during the qualifiers where his mech ran a gauntlet. This time, his mech faced another one in a duel, which meant he'd have to pay attention to other aspects.
"This time we've added a twist. You see, while you are allowed to design your mech in peace, you will do so in full view of your upcoming opponent, who will likewise be able to spy on your every move. Every aspect of your design is exposed to your enemy, from its loadout to its shape and even programming."
That was new! Ves had never fought a mech duel like that even in practice. This turned out to be a lot trickier than he thought. "If I'm designing a flight mech, my enemy can just designing a heavy artillery mech in response. I can counter that by designing a knight, but my opponent can counter that by designing a flying marksman."
A headache already started to build within his mind. How could he design a mech in peace when he and his opponent kept spying on each other and change their designs to incorporate counters?