Future Is Mecha is an epic adventure podcast

Fast-forward 200 years

Things are finally getting better. There are cities on the moon. Asteroids are being mined. Everyone has a mecha.

Except Praxit.

That’s about to change. Poor kid.

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Future Is Mecha is a science fiction adventure story aimed at smart middle graders and up. It’s realistic but fantastic, dramatic but not grim, and sprinkled with humour and big ideas.

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Brawl – PXT013

Praxit and his friends have been jumped by Davor and the poppers while visiting the Truly Autonomous Zone. Who’s going to win the brawl? And what is Enu up to?

 

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Episode 12 begins:

“Looking good, Prax,” said Azza-lea. “Your baby mecha is sobering up.”

It didn’t feel that way to me. After yesterday’s intense simming in construction mechas and BasicMechs, and especially the LitheMech, the baby felt like a broken hunk of junk. Sure, the arms were maybe a little more in sync, and the feet weren’t trying to drift away like bored drones, but it was still janky.

“I think we can advance a little closer, rather than following him at this distance,” said Coda.

“I think if you’re in group comms range you’re in danger,” I said. But even as I said it I could tell the baby was more stable. “So how far are you making me mech this stupid baby?”

“CakeStand. It’s not the nearest mechafe in this direction, but it’s the best. Their range of pastries is vast. Almost handmade. My treat. It is your birthday after all.”

“I’ve got a cake light!” said Azza-lea

“Tell me it’s a new one. Not that old one that plays…”

“It’s the best!”

It was the best — in the worst way possible. The music was so cheesy, all old-timey squealing guitars and honking saxophones, like straight out of the 1980s. The sensor didn’t work well, so it was really hard to blow enough to make it stop. And, to top it off, it was still loaded with the picture of me from when I was a sad little six year old. Azza-lea refused to change it. It had pictures of all us from when we were six and Azza-lea demanded we use it every birthday. It was a pretty funny tradition. Unless you’re in the eating place blowing madly into a bowl of green gelatin while all the learners are looking, wondering what the heck you’re doing and why is terrible music playing.

“Just how far is this CakeStand,” I said. 

“Three kilometres.”

“I’m going to need arm surgery by the time we get there,” I said. “This thing…the proths—it’s like playing four games of tug-of-war at once.”

“Why don’t you try talking to it,” said Azza-lea. “It has a voice interface. Maybe you can tell what it to do?”

“Walk like a normal mecha, you stupid baby,” I said, but nothing happened. Coda laughed.

“See, it doesn’t work,” I said.

“Not like that. Be nicer. When I want Mr Snork to do anything I talk nice and gentle to him,” said Azza-lea

Mr Snork was her pet pig. It was just a plain grey pig, not a fancy pure-breed like the Osorio’s had, but it was really smart. I’ve seen her ask it to fetch her minitab. It ran up the stairs to her room and came back holding it gently in its mouth. And all it wanted was a scratch behind the ear. Mechas don’t have ears. Or feel scratches. 

“Fine. I’ll try again. Walk straight. Please.”

Nothing changed. I was still wrestling with the proths. 

“Start with just little things. And talk gently, nicely, to it.”

Talk gently? Mechas don’t have feelings like pigs do. They run programs. They have circuitry. Whatever.

“Okay, baby,” I said. I visualised how I wanted to move and then tried translating that into directions that matched up with how I was instinctively moving the prosthetics.

“Let’s just move our feet straight out, that’s it, bring the knees up higher, keep it all moving straight in front of us, that’s it.” 

Hmmm. It seemed to be working? The proths weren’t resisting so much.

“Now the arms. First the left, just a gentle swing in time with the right leg. Now bring it back, and bring the right arm forward.”

“Go on, Prax. No-one’s in comm range. It’s worth a try,” said Coda.

“I am trying,” I said.

“We can’t hear it,” said Azza-lea.

“Well, I’m coaxing it, and it might even be working,” I said. 

“I bet it’s filtering voice commands out of group comms. It’s saving us from the tedium of your control chatter.”

“You’re walking is already better. I told you so.” 

It really was working, except it made it hard to hold a conversation at the same time. I coaxed it along and once it was stepping regularly and the arms were moving mostly at the right time I said to it “That’s it, let’s just keep this rhythm for now.”

It worked. The voice interface was smart enough to understand what I meant. I stopped talking. The baby wasn’t fighting the proths. It was so much easier. Still a bit wonky, but the strain of wrestling every limb was gone.

I was able to talk the baby into walking faster, and faster, until we were moving pretty close to a normal walking rate. It made for a jerky ride. It felt like I was walking through an earthquake. But it was such a huge improvement a wave of relief washed over me. Walking to school on Monday would be okay. It wouldn’t be a passage of humiliation and embarrassment. If I spent more time coaching and directing the thing, it might even be completely normal by Monday. Then it would just be ugly and dumb looking, instead of ugly, dumb and clumsy.

CakeStand was super busy. There were mechas standing along the ring road. All the mecha ports were taken by ten and twelve metre mechas. I guess the place wasn’t popular with kids. There were only two ports free. They were in a prime spot, right next to the road, but they were marked reserved. 

“These must be for us,” said Coda, striding up to the first one.

“Figures,” said Azza-lea, taking the one next to him.

“Sorry, Praxit. You and your little green mecha will have to stand on the street. We’ll see you in the lobby.”

Like every other mecha port in New White Horse, and every one on the Earth and the moon, the mecha ports at CakeStand weren’t designed for short, fat mechas. I de-meched in the street and walked up the stairs, like I had arrived in a basic shuttle, while Azza-lea and Coda docked their mechas. Their feet never even touched the ground. They strolled from their cockpits, along the elevated walkway to the lobby, where they waited for me to arrive.

“It looks even busier on the inside,” said Azza-lea. 

“Never you mind,” said Coda as the server, a blonde woman with a name badge saying “Galah” came up to us.

“Right this way, Mr Ghosh,” she said and we followed her to a table by a window that faced out over the industrial ring and to the wilderness beyond it.

“Mister Ghosh?” I said.

“Thanks for making reservations,” said Azza-lea.

“I didn’t,” said Coda. He brought his shoulders up and acted like he was studying the menu screen, scrolling past picture after picture of cupcakes. “Father bought CakeStand recently. Every CakeStand is now part of GI.”

GI stood for Ghosh Industries, his Dad’s company. I guess Coda could now walk into any CakeStand in the city, in the world, and get the VIP treatment.
“So when I said it was my treat, it is really my Father’s treat. He said, Praxit, that you deserve to order whatever you like. ‘Shower him in cake,’ he said.”

“What? Me? Why?”

Coda stopped scrolling through the menu and looked at me.

“Because he under-estimated you.”

“He under-estimated me? When did he under-estimate me?”

“Yesterday. During your sim rampage. He lost a lot of money on that final round. He even upped his wager when he saw you were in a LitheMech.”

Azza-lea was astounded.

“Your Father was betting on sims?”

“A little discretion, Azza-lea. We’re in public. Lot’s of people bet on sims.”

“But that’s illegal.”

“It was just a wager between friends.”

I wasn’t as surprised about the betting as Azza-lea, but I was kind of surprised he was betting against me. It brought back flashes of “dim lord”. The players you’re up against don’t want you to win. That’s a given. Having someone you know wanting and hoping you would lose, that just made me feel bad. 

“Turn around the frown, my friend. It’s just business. Dad would even wager against me if he thought it would pay. In fact he has. I’ve lost many little bets to him. He’s very good at winning. Like you. That’s why he said to shower you in cake. So pick a cake, a pastry, anything.”

My instinct was to order the biggest, most expensive cake I could find on the menu screen. But the guy owned the place. He owned every CakeStand. He wouldn’t notice. Forget him, I thought. I scrolled past the cupcakes into the full-sized cakes looking for something we could all share. I tapped on a multi-layered chocolate cake that had thick belts of chocolate ganache between the layers and even more on top. It was called “The Chocolate Overload”.

Azza-lea groaned.

“That is so good and so bad,” she said.

“Why bad?” I said.

“Because I will want to finish it and there’s no way I can eat a third of a cake.”

“If there’s any left you can take it home,” I said.

“Awww. But it’s your cake.”

“It’s our cake.”

“Praxit, if that statement has not already given us diabetes, then I’m sure the cake will,” said Coda. “Excuse me a moment while I go and make sure it is perfect.”

He left the table. Azza-lea and I admired the view. I told her about riding out of the city last night, and being surrounded by trees. I pointed in the vague direction of the roadhouse, but there was no sign of it or the road from CakeStand.

“Sometimes, during flight club,” said Azza-lea, “when I’m in a dive and all I can see below is the trees and rocks and creeks flowing here and there, I imagine crashing and just being lost and not being able to make it back to New White Horse. Then I pull up and there’s the city all bright and pretty and my whole body just quivers and shakes it off.”

“You’d be fine. It’d be like an adventure veerie. You’d live out of your cockpit. Catch fish in the stream…”

“It’d be awful. I’d be so far away from everyone. There’s not even drones out there. It would be so lonely. And scarey.”

“Scarey? Nothing can hurt you out there. The only resurrected wolves are on the other side of the continent.”

“Scarey because it’s so dark and crowded but just so empty of everything but trees and trees forever.”

“Trees forever?” said Coda, sliding back into his seat. 

“She’s afraid of trees.”

“Sounds like she’s afraid of forests. I am too. They are rather spooky. Guess who I saw, sitting at a table over by the kitchen?”

“Are they famous?” said Azza-lea.

“Not really, but you know them.”

“Do they play mechrosse?” I said. He was looking so pleased with the game it made me worried about the answer.

“No! It’s Coop. Good old Coop. Turns out it’s his birthday today.”

“Good old Coop? I guess he’s okay,” said Azza-lea. 

“108 and powering onwards. He’s celebrating it with Moira, the invigilator.”

The way he said “invigilator” I was sure he knew what had happened. I leaned out and scanned the tables in the direction Coda had appeared from. I couldn’t see Cooper, but there were walls and booths in the way. I hoped that meant he couldn’t see me either. 

“You didn’t tell him you were here with me, did you?” I said. I could just see Cooper’s red, saggy eyes widening at the mention of my name and him turning to the invigilator and going “So, did you look into Praxit’s 94?”

“No. I don’t think guides like to think much about us learners outside of regulation hours.”

While we waited for the cake Azza-lea showed us videos of yesterday’s melee squad competition. Her and Jaiyeh and Lashana are so impressive. They did this one final strength move where Jaiyeh’s YogiMech finished standing on one hand, its left leg pointing straight up with Lashana balancing on top of it, on her toes upon Jaiyeh’s foot, with Azza-lea’s mecha standing on Lashana’s upstretched hands. That’s impressive, just getting into that position. The thing is, the moment before they hit it, all three of them were in motion, spinning and somersaulting through the air. They each came out of their move, reversed jets, and froze, forming that incredible column. And they came second.

“Definitely a robbery. And in broad daylight,” said Coda. He grinned at Azza-lea. 

“I think I hear my favourite song,” he said.

I groaned. I could hear it, too. And it was getting louder. The guitars. The saxophone. Galah, our server, walked up with the cake, grinning, Azza-lea’s precious cake light on top of it. She must have slipped it to Coda when I was standing the baby. Customers at the other tables turned to see what the noise was. There a was bit of laughter, a few claps. 

Galah put the cake down in front of me. It was a full-sized cake, like a wheel of chocolate. On the top, below the cake light flashing fireworks and a picture of little me looking glum with too much hair, were big, greeny-brown letters spelling out “Happy Birthday Praxit”.

“Start blowing before our eardrums bleed,” said Coda. 

I blew and blew and blew into the little ring at the top of the light. Had the thing finally failed? It wasn’t stopping. I was getting dizzy.

“You are fifty this year, aren’t you?” said Coda.

Azza-lea laughed. What a mean trick, setting my birthday to fifty. I kept blowing and blowing. Every year you need to blow more into the cake light. Then, after you’re fifty, the lights need less and less blowing. Otherwise people like Cooper would pass out face down in their cakes.

The terrible music cut out. Azza-lea clapped. Half-hearted cheers came from the table behind me. I was either blushing from embarrassment or exertion.

“I was very specific about the colour of the writing,” said Coda. “I hope I got it right.”

“It’s very appetising,” I said. 

“I hope you were less accurate about the flavour,” said Azza-lea.

“You will have to taste it,” said Coda with a grin.

Galah, with a large knife and four quick slices, had a perfect wedge of cake in front of each of us. It tasted amazing. Even the awful icing decoration. CakeStand were famous for how delicious and almost handmade all their cakes were. I’m sure it should have blown my mind except I was still thinking about Cooper and the invigilator. Should I eat fast and try and get us out of here? Should I eat slow and hope they leave before we do? I really didn’t want to see them. 

What was I going to do? I could still see that stupid 94 shooting up like a shuttle out of that chart on Cooper’s screen. Toxic, stupid Enu. If only I had other scores that were even close to that. I swallowed cake. It was so smooth and chocolately. I should be enjoying it, but I couldn’t. I needed another good score. And there was only one way to get it that didn’t involve basic Enu.

We ate and we ate. Azza-lea and I drank bubble tea while Coda ordered a hydroponic coffee, black, no sweetener, no soy. 

“Mmm, delicious,” he said, taking a tiny sip when it arrived. “My father says CakeStand has the best coffee out of all the mechafes. I think he’s right.”

Then he slid the cup to the side and didn’t touch it again. 

Azza-lea rolled her eyes at me. I just grinned and made loud sucking noises with the last of my bubble tea. Then I had another, smaller slice of cake. So did the other two. After that, I couldn’t help myself. I had another piece, but it was even smaller than the second. I picked up the knife to cut a fourth piece and Azza-lea was like “No! You’ll be sick.”

I wasn’t going to let that stop me, but just then the cake stopped looking like food and started looking like a lump of chocolate and sugar. I’d had enough. I put the knife down.

As soon as we all sat back, stuffed and happy, Galah appeared and took the cake away, returning with it in a pink box. She hadn’t it to Coda, who handed it to me, and I handed it to Azza-lea. 

“Vivi will love a piece,” I said.

Vivi was Azza-lea’s little sister. Her family had two kids, but both her parents worked in media in the city. Two high incomes made raising two kids out in the rings easy. No way would Azza-lea have a YogiMech if they were living on basic.

“I will also cover the charges for table one fifteen,” said Coda to Galah as she was leaving. “Tell them it was a birthday gift from me.”

“You’re paying for Cooper?” I said.

“That’s so sweet,” said Azza-lea.

“It is sweet,” said Coda, “but it is also useful. He won’t forget it. If I ever have any stream issues I am sure he will be most helpful.”

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 13 (or start at the beginning).

CakeStand – PXT012

Now that’s more like a birthday! Praxit’s friend take him to a fancy mechafé. A tour of the Truly Autonomous Zone leads to a run-in with Davor and the poppers.

 

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Episode 12 begins:

“Looking good, Prax,” said Azza-lea. “Your baby mecha is sobering up.”

It didn’t feel that way to me. After yesterday’s intense simming in construction mechas and BasicMechs, and especially the LitheMech, the baby felt like a broken hunk of junk. Sure, the arms were maybe a little more in sync, and the feet weren’t trying to drift away like bored drones, but it was still janky.

“I think we can advance a little closer, rather than following him at this distance,” said Coda.

“I think if you’re in group comms range you’re in danger,” I said. But even as I said it I could tell the baby was more stable. “So how far are you making me mech this stupid baby?”

“CakeStand. It’s not the nearest mechafe in this direction, but it’s the best. Their range of pastries is vast. Almost handmade. My treat. It is your birthday after all.”

“I’ve got a cake light!” said Azza-lea

“Tell me it’s a new one. Not that old one that plays…”

“It’s the best!”

It was the best — in the worst way possible. The music was so cheesy, all old-timey squealing guitars and honking saxophones, like straight out of the 1980s. The sensor didn’t work well, so it was really hard to blow enough to make it stop. And, to top it off, it was still loaded with the picture of me from when I was a sad little six year old. Azza-lea refused to change it. It had pictures of all us from when we were six and Azza-lea demanded we use it every birthday. It was a pretty funny tradition. Unless you’re in the eating place blowing madly into a bowl of green gelatin while all the learners are looking, wondering what the heck you’re doing and why is terrible music playing.

“Just how far is this CakeStand,” I said. 

“Three kilometres.”

“I’m going to need arm surgery by the time we get there,” I said. “This thing…the proths—it’s like playing four games of tug-of-war at once.”

“Why don’t you try talking to it,” said Azza-lea. “It has a voice interface. Maybe you can tell what it to do?”

“Walk like a normal mecha, you stupid baby,” I said, but nothing happened. Coda laughed.

“See, it doesn’t work,” I said.

“Not like that. Be nicer. When I want Mr Snork to do anything I talk nice and gentle to him,” said Azza-lea

Mr Snork was her pet pig. It was just a plain grey pig, not a fancy pure-breed like the Osorio’s had, but it was really smart. I’ve seen her ask it to fetch her minitab. It ran up the stairs to her room and came back holding it gently in its mouth. And all it wanted was a scratch behind the ear. Mechas don’t have ears. Or feel scratches. 

“Fine. I’ll try again. Walk straight. Please.”

Nothing changed. I was still wrestling with the proths. 

“Start with just little things. And talk gently, nicely, to it.”

Talk gently? Mechas don’t have feelings like pigs do. They run programs. They have circuitry. Whatever.

“Okay, baby,” I said. I visualised how I wanted to move and then tried translating that into directions that matched up with how I was instinctively moving the prosthetics.

“Let’s just move our feet straight out, that’s it, bring the knees up higher, keep it all moving straight in front of us, that’s it.” 

Hmmm. It seemed to be working? The proths weren’t resisting so much.

“Now the arms. First the left, just a gentle swing in time with the right leg. Now bring it back, and bring the right arm forward.”

“Go on, Prax. No-one’s in comm range. It’s worth a try,” said Coda.

“I am trying,” I said.

“We can’t hear it,” said Azza-lea.

“Well, I’m coaxing it, and it might even be working,” I said. 

“I bet it’s filtering voice commands out of group comms. It’s saving us from the tedium of your control chatter.”

“You’re walking is already better. I told you so.” 

It really was working, except it made it hard to hold a conversation at the same time. I coaxed it along and once it was stepping regularly and the arms were moving mostly at the right time I said to it “That’s it, let’s just keep this rhythm for now.”

It worked. The voice interface was smart enough to understand what I meant. I stopped talking. The baby wasn’t fighting the proths. It was so much easier. Still a bit wonky, but the strain of wrestling every limb was gone.

I was able to talk the baby into walking faster, and faster, until we were moving pretty close to a normal walking rate. It made for a jerky ride. It felt like I was walking through an earthquake. But it was such a huge improvement a wave of relief washed over me. Walking to school on Monday would be okay. It wouldn’t be a passage of humiliation and embarrassment. If I spent more time coaching and directing the thing, it might even be completely normal by Monday. Then it would just be ugly and dumb looking, instead of ugly, dumb and clumsy.

CakeStand was super busy. There were mechas standing along the ring road. All the mecha ports were taken by ten and twelve metre mechas. I guess the place wasn’t popular with kids. There were only two ports free. They were in a prime spot, right next to the road, but they were marked reserved. 

“These must be for us,” said Coda, striding up to the first one.

“Figures,” said Azza-lea, taking the one next to him.

“Sorry, Praxit. You and your little green mecha will have to stand on the street. We’ll see you in the lobby.”

Like every other mecha port in New White Horse, and every one on the Earth and the moon, the mecha ports at CakeStand weren’t designed for short, fat mechas. I de-meched in the street and walked up the stairs, like I had arrived in a basic shuttle, while Azza-lea and Coda docked their mechas. Their feet never even touched the ground. They strolled from their cockpits, along the elevated walkway to the lobby, where they waited for me to arrive.

“It looks even busier on the inside,” said Azza-lea. 

“Never you mind,” said Coda as the server, a blonde woman with a name badge saying “Galah” came up to us.

“Right this way, Mr Ghosh,” she said and we followed her to a table by a window that faced out over the industrial ring and to the wilderness beyond it.

“Mister Ghosh?” I said.

“Thanks for making reservations,” said Azza-lea.

“I didn’t,” said Coda. He brought his shoulders up and acted like he was studying the menu screen, scrolling past picture after picture of cupcakes. “Father bought CakeStand recently. Every CakeStand is now part of GI.”

GI stood for Ghosh Industries, his Dad’s company. I guess Coda could now walk into any CakeStand in the city, in the world, and get the VIP treatment.
“So when I said it was my treat, it is really my Father’s treat. He said, Praxit, that you deserve to order whatever you like. ‘Shower him in cake,’ he said.”

“What? Me? Why?”

Coda stopped scrolling through the menu and looked at me.

“Because he under-estimated you.”

“He under-estimated me? When did he under-estimate me?”

“Yesterday. During your sim rampage. He lost a lot of money on that final round. He even upped his wager when he saw you were in a LitheMech.”

Azza-lea was astounded.

“Your Father was betting on sims?”

“A little discretion, Azza-lea. We’re in public. Lot’s of people bet on sims.”

“But that’s illegal.”

“It was just a wager between friends.”

I wasn’t as surprised about the betting as Azza-lea, but I was kind of surprised he was betting against me. It brought back flashes of “dim lord”. The players you’re up against don’t want you to win. That’s a given. Having someone you know wanting and hoping you would lose, that just made me feel bad. 

“Turn around the frown, my friend. It’s just business. Dad would even wager against me if he thought it would pay. In fact he has. I’ve lost many little bets to him. He’s very good at winning. Like you. That’s why he said to shower you in cake. So pick a cake, a pastry, anything.”

My instinct was to order the biggest, most expensive cake I could find on the menu screen. But the guy owned the place. He owned every CakeStand. He wouldn’t notice. Forget him, I thought. I scrolled past the cupcakes into the full-sized cakes looking for something we could all share. I tapped on a multi-layered chocolate cake that had thick belts of chocolate ganache between the layers and even more on top. It was called “The Chocolate Overload”.

Azza-lea groaned.

“That is so good and so bad,” she said.

“Why bad?” I said.

“Because I will want to finish it and there’s no way I can eat a third of a cake.”

“If there’s any left you can take it home,” I said.

“Awww. But it’s your cake.”

“It’s our cake.”

“Praxit, if that statement has not already given us diabetes, then I’m sure the cake will,” said Coda. “Excuse me a moment while I go and make sure it is perfect.”

He left the table. Azza-lea and I admired the view. I told her about riding out of the city last night, and being surrounded by trees. I pointed in the vague direction of the roadhouse, but there was no sign of it or the road from CakeStand.

“Sometimes, during flight club,” said Azza-lea, “when I’m in a dive and all I can see below is the trees and rocks and creeks flowing here and there, I imagine crashing and just being lost and not being able to make it back to New White Horse. Then I pull up and there’s the city all bright and pretty and my whole body just quivers and shakes it off.”

“You’d be fine. It’d be like an adventure veerie. You’d live out of your cockpit. Catch fish in the stream…”

“It’d be awful. I’d be so far away from everyone. There’s not even drones out there. It would be so lonely. And scarey.”

“Scarey? Nothing can hurt you out there. The only resurrected wolves are on the other side of the continent.”

“Scarey because it’s so dark and crowded but just so empty of everything but trees and trees forever.”

“Trees forever?” said Coda, sliding back into his seat. 

“She’s afraid of trees.”

“Sounds like she’s afraid of forests. I am too. They are rather spooky. Guess who I saw, sitting at a table over by the kitchen?”

“Are they famous?” said Azza-lea.

“Not really, but you know them.”

“Do they play mechrosse?” I said. He was looking so pleased with the game it made me worried about the answer.

“No! It’s Coop. Good old Coop. Turns out it’s his birthday today.”

“Good old Coop? I guess he’s okay,” said Azza-lea. 

“108 and powering onwards. He’s celebrating it with Moira, the invigilator.”

The way he said “invigilator” I was sure he knew what had happened. I leaned out and scanned the tables in the direction Coda had appeared from. I couldn’t see Cooper, but there were walls and booths in the way. I hoped that meant he couldn’t see me either. 

“You didn’t tell him you were here with me, did you?” I said. I could just see Cooper’s red, saggy eyes widening at the mention of my name and him turning to the invigilator and going “So, did you look into Praxit’s 94?”

“No. I don’t think guides like to think much about us learners outside of regulation hours.”

While we waited for the cake Azza-lea showed us videos of yesterday’s melee squad competition. Her and Jaiyeh and Lashana are so impressive. They did this one final strength move where Jaiyeh’s YogiMech finished standing on one hand, its left leg pointing straight up with Lashana balancing on top of it, on her toes upon Jaiyeh’s foot, with Azza-lea’s mecha standing on Lashana’s upstretched hands. That’s impressive, just getting into that position. The thing is, the moment before they hit it, all three of them were in motion, spinning and somersaulting through the air. They each came out of their move, reversed jets, and froze, forming that incredible column. And they came second.

“Definitely a robbery. And in broad daylight,” said Coda. He grinned at Azza-lea. 

“I think I hear my favourite song,” he said.

I groaned. I could hear it, too. And it was getting louder. The guitars. The saxophone. Galah, our server, walked up with the cake, grinning, Azza-lea’s precious cake light on top of it. She must have slipped it to Coda when I was standing the baby. Customers at the other tables turned to see what the noise was. There a was bit of laughter, a few claps.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 12 (or start at the beginning).

Final – PXT011

It’s the final round of the elimination series. What mecha did Praxit choose to go into battle with against three HardVac Rangers? Did he make the right choice? Will he finish in one piece?

 
 

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Episode 11 begins:

The lobby was replaced by the narrow virtual cockpit of a six metre LitheMech. The same model my sister had danced in. The same model the sim rig had been tuned for. The same model I had learned to pilot with.

The field appeared and right away it was obvious Coda was right. We were facing each other from the four corners of a tower pad. The pad was bordered by infinitely tall grey walls showing the faint grid pattern of a sim boundary. We were walled in to this small space. Except it wasn’t really a wall. You could collide with it, but you wouldn’t bounce, you wouldn’t stick, you couldn’t punch a hand-hold into it, you couldn’t jump off from it; you would just slide down to the ground. 

There was a beam on the ground in front of each mecha. We all grabbed for them. After the ponderous construction mechas, whose long limbs always seemed to be moving in slow motion, the LitheMech made me feel like I was four-limbed lightning. The feedback from the prosthetics made the heft of the beam obvious. In the construction mechas it was like picking up a twig. I was going to have to compensate for its weight. 

GLRCSux8819 had spoken the truth. The three of them were walking straight towards me and I had nowhere to run to. At least they couldn’t surround me. And if I backed closer to the corner, well, they were going to have take turns attacking me. They were all carrying their beams in the right hand of their mechas. Once they got close only the mecha on my left would have a clean strike. 

I moved back. Gravity was normal and I wished it was ratcheted down again.

As they moved closer group comms cut in and I heard laughter.

“Who brings a dance mecha to a heavyweight slug fest?” said a girl’s voice. By the Scandi accent it had to be AuroraBorer.

“Would you both just shut it and do your jobs,” said another girl. I bet it was BattlePig32. 

As they got closer the mecha on the left tossed its beam from the right hand to the left hand and gave it a swing. Okay. Now two of them could have a swing at me. I could handle it. 

The centre mecha stopped and the other two kept coming towards me. I moved into a defensive stance, waiting to see who would swing first. 

It was the mecha on my left. I swivelled and deflected their beam, then turned, ready to do the same to my right, but I was too slow. 

The full force of an active alloy beam swung by a 15 metre HardVac Ranger caught me in the side. It sent me flying across the pad like a discarded doll. I skidded along the ground until I hit the virtual wall. 

I was so lucky. If that blow had hit my cockpit, or an arm or a hand, anywhere except the body, I would already be red-flagged. I couldn’t risk another hit so my defensive plan, keep blocking and wait for the inevitable mistake, had to be abandoned. I had to go on the attack. 

They were stomping towards me. I threw my beam away and flipped onto my feet, skipping beyond their reach. Between its strength and speed, piloting the LitheMech made it feel like, short of flying, gravity was something you could ignore. 

Every second, every step I took, the old muscle memory kicked back in stronger and stronger. It was like I was playing rather than fighting. 

I led them on a short chase until I was in the middle of the pad. They spread out again, pursuing their three-pronged attack. I danced around them so I was only facing the rightmost one. I stepped in and they swung at me. But I had already danced back out of the way. From there I jumped and landed on their shoulder. There was no way I could pop a joint on these big Rangers with my bare mecha hands, but I knew their weak points. The biggest one was the round peripheral canopy port on each side of the head. It was hardened mono-crystalline glass, designed for deep space. 

One thing that was harder than that glass was the jet shielding on the bottom of a mecha’s foot. As the other player straightened up and reached for me with their other hand I did a little hop and a fast spin and brought the heel of my foot down hard upon the port, shattering it.

I had to jump as it collapsed, losing power as the red flag went up over it. 

One down two to go.

“Remember the deal. Stick with the plan,” shouted BattlePig32. 

That was the last thing she said during the match. The other mecha hit them straight in the cockpit, bending the beam with the blow and sending the Ranger backwards onto the ground, red-flagged.

“The plan’s dead,” said a guy’s voice. I guess it was GLRCSux8819, which means I just took out AuroraBorer. “I’d rather earn my points the honourable way. One on one. Mecha versus mecha.”

He pulled the beam from the the fallen mecha’s hand and advanced on me, swinging both of his weapons back and forth in front of him. 

I cartwheeled away. How could I have forgotten how much fun a LitheMech is? And how fast they are. As long as I kept moving and stayed out of corners the other mecha could never get close enough to touch me. But we had one knockout each. With no building possible, once the clock ran out we would go into overtime and then just keep going until one of us was left standing.

He realised the same thing and stopped chasing me. He stomped to the middle of the pad.

“You’re going to have face me. Might as well as get it over with.”

“You could quit out and save yourself some time,” I said.

“I don’t quit.”

“Me neither.”

I had worked my way back to the beam I had dropped. I picked it up and held it near the end with both hands. Then I sprinted towards the waiting mecha, the end of the beam pointed straight at it. 

He raised his beams, ready to strike me or block any jab I might attempt.

But I wasn’t going to jab him, despite how it looked. Moving at full speed I threw the beam into the air. By reflex he raised his beams to block while I went down into a slide, passing right between his legs, right under him and behind him.

I dug my feet in, stood and back flipped, twisting in the air and landing on the edge where the mecha’s torso joined its hips. From there I leapt again. Turning over in the air I landed just behind the top of his head. Despite its strength, the falling weight of the LitheMech forced its head down towards its chest, opening a gap between the cockpit and the neck. 

I caught the falling beam I had tossed and jammed it into the gap. 

GLRCSux8819 thrashed his beams around his head and I had to jump to safety. Turning to face me, he couldn’t lift his cockpit up. That beam was locked in tight.

“What have you done?” he shouted.

“Stabbed you in the back, I’m afraid,” I said.

I shuffled back and forth in front of him. In and out. Tempting him to attack. He raised both arms and brought them both down, trying to hit me or catch me between them. Except he didn’t. I jumped and landed on his left arm. I jumped again, getting some extra height as he tried to shake me off, sailed over his head, and landed with both feet, knees locked, on the very end of my beam.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 11 (or start at the beginning).

Round two – PXT010

The Tower Battle elimination series continues. Thrown into different mechas, the organisers playing with the environment, Praxit has to use all his ingenuity if he is to make it through.

 
 

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Episode 10 begins:

I scoped the field and started planning. The other three mechas were heading towards me. They wanted to take me out first. That’s what happens when you show up to the lobby late. Everyone makes plans without you. 

It was going to cost them. I moved in among the modules and beams and panel racks where they couldn’t get a clear view of me and spent a few precious moments to program the crane with one hand while shoving beams and fasteners and cables into a module with the other. Then I grabbed a beam in my right hand and a fastener in my left and walked out into the field, stomping off to one side, away from my building site as the crane lowered a module into position. 

These players were smarter than the ones in the first round. No-one was hanging back. They had been starting to spread out, and one was definitely on their way to sneak around behind me, but my new position brought them all back together and heading towards me. They must have watched the first round clips, because they were well spaced and keeping an eye on my crane. Just like I wanted them to.

The situation became a stand off. The clock was running down and they could see that small as my tower was, just two modules, it was still taller than theirs. And I was adding to it like I fully expected to be the last one standing. Which I did. 

Finally they made a move towards me and I took control of the crane and flew it out between us. They saw it coming and froze, ready to move out of the way if it dropped the module it was carrying. They watched it as I brought it lower. In this gravity even a short fall would accelerate the module to a game-ending speed. I brought it lower, which confused them. It even touched down on the ground for a moment, blocking me from their view. And when it lifted back up again, the beam I had been holding was lying on the ground and I had disappeared.

I was clinging to the other side as the crane sped back over to my tower at a speed the mechas couldn’t match. I dropped off before it reached the ground next to my little victory tower. That gravity was cranked way up. It was a short drop but it triggered the emergency jets. I slapped the fastener I had into its place between the stacked modules to secure a corner. I grabbed two more from the module before sending the crane up to the top to put it into place. I had time to grab more fasteners from the supply cache. Most of the corners were secured before I started climbing. I made sure I was out of sight from the others so they would worry about what I was up to.

They were just approaching when I stood up on the top. The three of them stopped and stared up at me. They were doing the math. I could see the crane at the nearest site move into action. Someone was trying to catch up. 

At 45 metres above them I was out of their group comms range, but I would love to have heard what they were saying. 

One player, the one on the left of the little group, made the next move. They slid one leg back and went down on one knee. They did this fast. And at the same time they swung the beam they were holding across and into the knee of the mecha next to them. It failed to pop the joint and as they went for a second swing their victim brought down the end of their own beam, combining high gravity and construction mecha strength, onto the cockpit, cracking the canopy and triggering a red flag.

This left the third player stepping back to get into position to take a swing before they got taken out. This gave the cockpit popper plenty of time to do what the first attacker couldn’t – a full mecha-torso swing of the beam, coming up from ground level and aimed for the other cockpit. A hand got in the way, but that was fine, it popped the wrist and up came another red flag. 

My opponents had eliminated themselves. The match was almost over. I had the only tower. I had plenty of stuff to drop if a climb was attempted. That’s why a crane drone started flying towards me with a module hanging from its cable. 

They got full points for learning. They could try and use the module as a wrecking ball or hope I stood still long enough for them to drop it on me. Not that I would give them the chance. I knocked it out of the sky with my own crane drone. They both spiralled to the ground a long way from my tower, smashed rotors scattering parts as they plumeted.
That made the final player angry enough, or desperate enough, to start climbing. Making it easy for me to take a plate, place it against the edge of the module and let it drop like the blade of a guillotine. It fell like it had been fired from a railgun. I don’t even know what joints I knocked out. Maybe I took both it’s hands off. Who knows. The final red flag appeared and with only a couple of minutes left on the clock I was heading into round four. 

Dad found me as I was lying beside the sim rig tightening the leg proths. The poor rig had seen too many hours and needed a major overhaul. 

“Prax. The robovacs aren’t running, you left your noodle tub on the bench and the curtains…”

“I’m through to round four!”

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 10 (or start at the beginning).

Elimination – PXT009

It’s the first day of the weekend and Praxit is a one-mecha wrecking crew in the Tower Battle elimination series. Is he going to survive to win the final round?

 
 

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Episode 9 begins:

Friday morning was the best morning of the week. I woke up late to sunlight leaking in under the curtains with three whole days before I had to go back to the learning place. I was pretty happy, just lying there, not having to get up, with all that free time stretching endlessly in front of me, until the negative part of my brain spoke up and said “Three days until you get kicked out and your Dad explodes.”

The positive bit of my brain, which I am sure was like a hall drone taking on a construction mecha, tried fighting back with today’s Tower Battle series and visions of simming and winning. I zig-zagged between the two, between down and up, until I was dizzy and starting to feel it in my empty stomach. 

Dad was in the kitchen when I went down. He was perched at the bench, scrolling through the streams on his tablet, sipping cold coffee out of a mug the same orange as his pilot suit. It was Friday so he was whiskery and unshaven. He looked up and grinned at me. That was good. If the learning place hadn’t contacted him yet, they would wait until next week. 

“I have a plan for us,” he said. “For the weekend.”

“Me too,” I said. “I’m booked in for a sim series today that won’t finish until four or five if I go well. And tomorrow I’m doing birthday stuff with Azza-lea and Coda.”

“Your plan leaves plenty of time for my plan.”

I poured basic flakes in a bowl and drowned them in basic bean milk. He was being pretty enthusiastic. It had to be something I wouldn’t like and he knew he had to sell me on it.

“What’s your plan?”

“You’ll love it. Cleaning the house and attacking the garden.”

I groaned through my flakes. Robovacs would do most of the work in the house, but our backyard was huge and, instead of a neat expanse of oxy-lawn like we had out the front, it was an overgrown jungle back there. It could be an edible jungle if we booked some pollinator micro-drones. We did that two summers ago. I don’t know where Dad got the money from. Maybe some was leftover from when he sold the SturdiMech. Two months later we found strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers amidst the bamboo and the peach trees and the domes of prickly blackberry. They were all pretty wonky looking compared to hydroponic stuff, but everything tasted amazing, especially the blackberries.

“Nah.”

“Yah.”

“Nah.”

“Double yah.”

I was trying to find a way to get out of it, but then I had a brilliant idea. An idea totally worth herding robovacs and getting dirty in the garden for.

“How about a deal for your plan?”

“I’m listening.”

“I help, no whining, and you let me cash out my sim points – Coda says he knows someone who can do it – you get the money back for that stupid mecha out there, then we order me a new mecha with all the money.”

He kept his eyes on his mug as he swirled the coffee around. 

“I can’t get Lemur to take it back.”

“He has to take it back. It doesn’t work right. You can’t sell malfunctioning mechas.”

“He’s gone, transferred.”

“To where?”

“They wouldn’t tell me.”

“He owes you money. They have to tell you.”

“Not at this place. They’re big on secrets. Haven’t you noticed I never told you where I’m working? Or what I’m doing?”

He was right. I just figured he was building stuff somewhere out in the industrial zone. Delivery platform ports or drone hives or rocket pads.

“So who are you working for?” I said and Dad laughed. 

“I just told you – I can’t tell you.”

C-O. Enu would never believe this. Or accept it. He had to tell me.

“But I’m your kid. Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course I trust you, but I signed screens declaring I wouldn’t tell anyone and the penalties are huge. Fines. Correction time.”

“So you don’t trust me.”

He set his cup down and gave me his serious look, with his eyebrows pulled down and his smile all flattened out.

“Enough, Prax. It’s just business.”

I shovelled dripping spoonfuls of flakes into my mouth. Enu would be no help without the info. And getting it, well it was already making me feel bad. On the one hand, Dad didn’t trust me. On the other hand, he really couldn’t trust me. He was thinking I might let it slip, while I was straight up planning on telling Enu. At that moment I kind of felt like I sucked as a son. But Enu, he wasn’t going to tell anyone, was he? He just wanted to know all about the stupid baby. I didn’t matter, stream tests didn’t matter, my Dad didn’t matter. In his weirdness nothing mattered but getting the information he wanted.
“I asked Lemur’s division head if I could return the mecha,” said Dad.

“They said no, didn’t they?”

“She said they didn’t have any records matching a green mecha or any transaction.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I think it means we’re not getting our money back. Lemur ripped us off. I’m really sorry about that. It’ll teach me. A deal too good to be true is never a deal. It was already registered. It was…I should’ve ignored it when he offered it to me, but your birthday was coming up…”

All I could say was “Gah!”. I could see he felt bad by the way he stared at the last bit of coffee in his mug, not wanting to see me glaring at him, and I knew I should tell him not to worry about it or that it would be okay or something nice like that, but right then I felt like it was mostly his fault my life, our life, was about to be destroyed and there was no way to fix it.

So instead of saying something to make him feel better I said I was going to go calibrate and left him alone in the kitchen with his head down while I went to the small back room where the sim rig sat, feeling like I don’t know what. Like I was surrounded by shatter charges and their timers were about to go off.

Getting back into my virtual HardVac Ranger helped. I started a private session of the construction trainer and threw stuff around for a bit. That turned into attempting to knock a crane drone out of the sky, which gave me an interesting idea to try during one of the matches. Coming up with a new move gave me a happy rush, pushing away the bad feelings I had brought into the sim. I was working out the kinks in the setup when the invite for the first elimination round popped up. I transferred to the new lobby and the first surprise of the day.

After all that time warming up in an 8 metre HardVac Ranger we were all going to be locked into 20 metre bugs. Except me, going by the avatars. Since my home sim rig didn’t have the prosthetics for the two extra arms I was going to be in a standard 20 metre construction mecha. A smaller, faster mecha, like the Ranger, would have been more useful. The disadvantage was all mine.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 9 (or start at the beginning).

Tower Battle – PXT008

Praxit survives to the end of the school day. His weekend begins with an intense session of veering, warming up for tomorrow’s Tower Battle elimination.

 
 

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Episode 8 begins:

The afternoon technical stream started off in a blur and a daze as I waited for the drone squad to return and collect me. The guide, Tabitha, was nice enough even though she dressed like a popper – all in black with long hair dyed ultra black and her face whiter than white with makeup, except for her mouth and around her eyes, which were black. The kids at the table were fine. They recognised me and asked about the stupid baby, but nothing mean. 

In the first veer session I had to keep stepping back because I was so distracted listening out for drones. It was actually more interesting than this morning’s media stream. It was a simple sim where you could drop and throw balls and bricks and balloons, and it showed how you could use simple math to predict where the objects would land, how fast they could move – things like that. I was surprised when the end of stream bell rang. It had really sucked me in and I had forgotten about the drones and everything until I took off my veer set. Then it all settled back down on me like a stinking blanket.

I took my time packing up so I didn’t have to deal with a hall full of kids shouting at me. It was the last stream of the week so everyone was trying to get out of there as fast as they could. Tabitha had disappeared before I pulled my set up, so even the guides were keen for the three days off. I trailed the crowd down the stairs and through the halls until it was just me and a few other stragglers passing through the main doors and onto the steps. The landing was mostly clear. There were little groups of two and three learners sitting on the steps talking. Mechas were flashing through the air. The roar of take-offs from the transit pads was continuous. The line of waiting mechas shuffled from the stands and out the gate, where it branched like a vine with a tendril leading to each transit pad.

“There you are. Did you get your nice little certificate?” said Coda as he came up to me.

“It was just the stream advisor,” I said.

“Ah, old Coop. He is a helpful fellow, isn’t he? He really cares about the learners,” said Coda. Was he talking about the same person?

“Not as much as he cares about boats,” I said and Coda laughed.

I wished I had told him about Enu, and the cheating, so now I could tell him what Cooper had done. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell anyone now. It was probably all going to be over on Monday, anyway.

The three black DarkStrutters passed by the stairs in the transit line. Their cockpits were all tinted so I couldn’t see Davor, Nobu and Klaus inside, but they saw me. Davor pointed at me and Nobu and Klaus did the same. They didn’t broadcast anything. They didn’t make any gestures. They just kept their fingers pointed at me the whole time they shuffled by. This made everyone turn and look at who they were pointing at. Just what I needed. I guess he was making a joke, but Coda stood there waving at them and giving them thumbs up as if the performance was friendly instead of threatening.

When they turned the corner out the gate and dropped their arms Coda turned to me.

“I would wait until they are entirely out of sight. Just to be sure.” he said.

I was relieved when they took off and their three black mechas headed towards the city. They stood out in the flight lane, making it easy to watch them until they were shunted up into the high-speed lane and zipped away into the distance.

There were still quite a few mechas standing around in front of the steps and they all seemed to be looking at me. Were they waiting for me to get into the baby and stumble home?

“Want to come and watch the weave I’m directing? It’s just on the playing field,” said Coda. “As you can see it will be quite impressive.” 

He swept his hand in front of the waiting mechas. That was kind of a relief, that they were waiting for someone else. It would be cool to watch the weave and Coda in action, but I said no.

“I want to get home while I know Davor is nowhere nearby,” I said. 

“Very wise,” said Coda and we headed down the steps together and into the stand, followed by the mechas waiting to join the weave.

At the feet of his NovaLeet we said good-bye. Again Coda put his hand up for a fist bump. Wary, I brought my fist in slow. Just when I thought it was going to be an actual fist bump he grabbed my hand and twisted it so I had to turn around and my arm ended up behind my back. He gave me a gentle shove away as he laughed.

“Two in row, twice too slow,” he said and still laughing began the climb up the leg of his mecha to the cockpit. The hand- and foot-holds had spring-loaded covers on them that fit perfectly into the surface. You wouldn’t even know they were there. It was features like that that made the NovaLeet so sleek and expensive.

I followed the pedestrian path through the empty stand, checking over my shoulder for black mechas until I was into the trees. The baby was still there, undiscovered and untouched. I knocked and rode the hand up.

“Hello, Pilot Praxist,” it said. 

I just ignored it and slumped in the seat and stared out through the trees at the narrow strip of daylight showing the last of the mechas jetting into the sky. I’m not sure how long I sat there, kind of thinking, kind of stunned by fear of what was going to happen to me. On a normal Thursday I’d be all excited to get home and start simming. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to sim. It was like everything bad had already happened and I was the homeless boy in a veerie, abandoned in the rehab belt, separated from his family, with only his mecha to help him survive. Except I didn’t have a pretend veerie mecha that could talk. Mine could barely walk. 

My sad daydreaming was interrupted by my minitab buzzing with a message from Dad. A grocery drone was delivering this afternoon and he wanted me to get the old pod out to be collected.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 8 (or start at the beginning).

Lunch – PXT007

With Enu’s threats still on his mind, Praxit joins Coda and Azza-lea for lunch. Does trouble leave him alone to have a quiet lunch? No.

 
 

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Episode 7 begins:

“Praxit!”

“Where’s Azza-lea?” I said, trying to get my thoughts together and hide my stress.

“Not here yet. You seem to have beaten the horde. Get to the line before the best goop is all gone.”

“Can I get you anything? Protein drink?”

“No, I’m all set. Alisdair has me well catered,” Coda said as he took a slender white box out of his spotless white backpack. He placed it on the table. It looked like a giant bar of soap carved out of marble. There was a metal lever countersunk in the top of it and he got a finger under it and lifted it. A hiss sounded and, I’m not kidding, when he took off the top mist spilled out of the edges, across the tabletop and drifted down to the floor. Inside were little compartments filled with rice, sushi rolls and sashimi. That fresh fish is expensive stuff. Coda waved the mist away with the lid.

“Grab one for the line. Keep your strength up. I know you love wasabi.”

He revealed a small pool of soy sauce and dragged a chopstick through it. Pale swirls of wasabi paste bloomed on the surface behind the chopstick. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I grabbed a roll, dipped it in the sauce and stuffed it in my mouth. I saluted him as the hot fumes, like delicious mecha paint solvent, barrelled their way up into my sinus cavities. Pungent. I nearly coughed out a spray of rice all over him. 

I headed to the nearest food station, still chewing, keeping my head down and a wary eye and ear out for any cries of “Dim lord!”, but everyone was too busy grabbing food, eating and talking to their friends. 

Food stations are large stainless steel boxes. Imagine a super giant fridge except it has open sections where you can grab pre-packs of drinks, dough pockets, desserts and stuff. You have to pay for those with your minitab. The free food comes out of the serving dispensers – fat metal tubes that dump portions of daily learner slop on your tray, whatever hydro salad or vegetables GLRC thinks you should be eating, and some kind of gelatinous dessert that was either milky and opaque or transparent and brightly coloured. Those dispensers are why kids give the stations names like “SpewTron 3000”, “PukeyMech” and “Regurgitation Station”. My favourite is “Upchuck Charlie”. 

I grabbed a biodegradable tray and a bamboo spork from the stacks in the Upchuck Charlie and joined the line. I was still chewing and I hit a big wad of wasabi hidden between the chicken and the rice just as I was jabbed in the spine with the edge of a tray.

I turned around. It was Berko, and standing behind him was Harisa, grinning maliciously over his shoulder. Berko jabbed me again.

“Get moving, dim lord. You’re holding up the line,” he said. “Well? What are you wai-”

The edge of his tray caught me right in the guts, just as the wasabi was hitting me, the fumes rolling up and burning the back of my nose. I couldn’t help it. I coughed violently. Half-chewed rice, chicken and seaweed went everywhere. A few pieces even hit Harisa, but most of it splatted against Berko’s face and a bunch flew right into his open mouth.

“Ewww,” said Harisa. 

The two guys in the line behind her started laughing.

I was coughing and Berko was spluttering and scraping his tongue with his fingers.

“It went in my mouth you basic micro,” he said.

I tried to apologise but I was still coughing. He grabbed a fistful of my shirt and raised his tray to batter me with it.

Then Azza-lea was between us.

“Save it for try-outs, Berko,” she said. “Hi, Harisa, you’ve got some rice on your shoulder. Could you pass me a tray?”

“He spat food in my mouth,” said Berko.

“Let go of his shirt,” said Azza-lea. She poked him in the breastbone with her finger. It made him flinch.

“He was choking (poke) because you (poke) pushed into him (poke). I (poke) saw it all. The drones (poke) did. Everyone (poke) did. Now (poke) let go (poke).”

“He did it on purpose,” said Berko, letting go of my shirt to rub the sore spot he now had on his chest.

“Yeah, over both of us,” said Harisa, handing Azza-lea a tray but not looking happy about it.

“I hit some wasabi,” I said.

“I can still taste it,” said Berko.

“Eww,” said Azza-lea.

“Would you hurry up,” someone down the line shouted. Azza-lea bumped me with her hip towards the food tubes.

“Deal with it on the field at Wednesday’s try-out,” said Azza-lea.

“You mean he’s going to try out again?” said Harisa.

“I’m going to try out again?” I said.

“See?” said Azza-lea. “He’s going to keep trying out until he makes the team.”

“He’s never going to make the team,” said Berko.

“We’ll destroy the big nosed cretin for real next time. No way is he taking one of our spots,” said Harisa.

“We’re starving back here,” yelled a voice.

I hit the buttons on the tubes and some kind of universal chicken and rice noodle stuff glurped onto the tray, followed by a green splodge of what could have been grass clippings and a dollop of beige gloop that slowly spread out to fill its section of the tray. It smelled like vanilla and had little brown balls floating in it that I hoped were chocolate flavoured.

I waited for Azza-lea, staring at my tray, watching green liquid seep out of the vegetables, ignoring everyone else.

“Why did you tell them I was going to try out again?” I said as we headed towards Coda.

Azza-lea looked at me like she didn’t understand what I was saying.

“Because you gotta.”

“But it’s pointless. The baby’s useless. I’ll just get humiliated again.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“My humiliation doesn’t matter?”

“If you don’t try out, Berko, Harisa, Tien, Risto – they win. As long as you keep trying you don’t lose. And you’ve never been a loser.”

“Well, I’ve never had a loser mecha before.”

We reached the table.

“What was that altercation at the SpewTron?” Coda said as we sat down.

“They were unhappy that Praxit was going to try out again,” said Azza-lea.

“They should be scared. Praxit will take them.”

“And I kind of coughed sushi all over them,” I said and Coda rolled his eyes.

“Right in Berko’s mouth,” said Azza-lea.

Coda laughed. We all laughed, though I did still feel pretty embarrassed about it. We ate in silence for a bit. The chicken stuff was okay. A bit limey and a bit lemony, very tangy. It was probably GLRCs idea of what Thai food tasted like.

“You don’t really think I should try out again, do you?” I said.

“I said it, didn’t I,” said Azza-lea.

“It would be fantastic if someone showed up those brigands,” said Coda.

“You wouldn’t quit a sim if you lost,” said Azza-lea.

“I’d have a better mecha in a sim. I’d lose because a better opponent beat me, not because a basic mecha is making me lose.”

“Perhaps you need to treat the mecha as an opponent,” said Coda.

“Your mecha is supposed to be like a partner, not an opponent,” I said.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 7 (or start at the beginning).