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.
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 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.”
“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.