Ambush – PXT006

Praxit meets the other kids in his new stream. He’s still getting called “dim lord” and Enu ambushes him on the way to lunch.

 
 

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Episode 6 begins:

The next morning I locked in my stream selection over the standard basic juice, basic toast and basic flakes breakfast. I didn’t want to visit Admiral Cooper so soon after his maritime misadventure. 

I did end up choosing the technical instead of the vocational stream. All my searching, mainly interviews with sim designers, made it obvious I would need it. I gritted my teeth and ticked the technical box. How old would I be by the time I got through it? Do it for the sims, Praxit, I told myself. 

Dad was sitting on the chair in his bedroom lacing on his pilot boots. I waited outside the door with his tablet. I didn’t like going in there because of the photos he had on the walls. 

“Don’t say anything,” I said, handing him the tablet as he came out. I followed him down the stairs as he tapped through the screens.

He did say something, but it was only “Good choices”.

When it was time to leave we were in the front yard, same as the day before. After fiddling with his bike, Dad had inspected the baby. He poked at the back of the legs where the jet intakes should be and grumbled.

He knocked on the front of the leg and waited. 

“You don’t have the special touch,” I said, and knocked. We watched the whole hand lowering routine like we were final round dance judges.

“That’s all really smooth,” he said. “So the problem’s not in the servos. The whole boarding process is pretty weird. Non-standard, you might say. So it might be a separate circuit, maybe not involving the GLRC cockpit links. Okay if I have a quick pilot?”

“Sure,” I said.

He stepped on the hand but nothing happened. He stepped off then back on, slapped the thumb, yelled “Up! Lift! Hello?”, but the baby didn’t budge. He stepped off.

“Maybe it’s my weight? It’s expecting yours?”

I stepped onto the hand and it lifted me up to the cockpit, smooth as every other time. I stowed my bag and wriggled the controls as he stood below and wrapped his safety collar around his neck and latched it. It would expand over his head and shoulders and down his spine if he came off his bike.

“We sometimes use calibration frames if we’re doing fine work,” he called up. “Stand in it. Touch a series of points. Maybe you can come up with something like that? Gotta go. Love ya.”

I made our “Love ya” sign at him. It’s really just the loser sign, your fingers making an “L” at your forehead, but you also thump your chest twice with the other hand, kind of like a heart beat. My brain always whispers “Love ya, you big loser”, but it’s the affectionate loser.

After Dad zipped away on his bike I thought about calibration frames and what I could use. The front of the house was nice and flat with lots of window corners to touch, but I doubt Dad would like to come back to a half-destroyed house. The only other flat surface was the mecha pad I was standing on. It was worth a try.

I shut the canopy and staggered off the pad. It took some drunken shuffling, during which I nearly did clip the house, to get turned around and facing it. 

Like me, you might think the thing could squat seeing how that’s what it did every time I knocked. But as soon as I started moving down I could feel it getting unstable. I tried compensating with the arms, but they did exactly the wrong thing. For a moment I thought we were going to fall over backwards, which would be a disaster, but the arms jerked in the direction I was pushing them as I straightened up and we pitched forward, cockpit first, onto the pad. 

You’d think I’d know better, but I wasn’t strapped in. So I crashed into the canopy and gave my left shin a might whack on the console as I tumbled. Yeah, that was stupid. I blame simming. I never strap in there. Most people never wear straps in their mechas unless they’re heading onto a sports field or a dance arena. 

At least I lived in a dead end street. And only the Osorios across the street can see into our front yard. So minimal witnesses to my epic failure.

“How are we going to fix this?” I said to myself.

“Calibrating,” said the baby. It really is a baby. A proper mecha wouldn’t fall over like this. 

“Calibrating, calibrating, calibrating. You’re such a help,” I said.

I climbed up on the console. From there I could just reach the arm proths. The baby had fallen with the left arm out ahead and the right out to the side. The ground was limiting their movement to a single plane, so I was able to get them both reaching up overhead, though there were still some jerks and spasms.

From there I pulled the arms down towards the shoulders like I was going to do a push-up. The cockpit started to rise. I let the waist bend. There was some shaking, but the torso rose close enough to vertical where I could get into the seat and strap in. 

Getting the baby up was tricky. It was those short arms and legs and it’s stupid belly. I had to push up hard and get a leg underneath. It took three tries. The first two ended with the hands slamming back down onto the pad and me slamming against the straps. 

On the third go I got upright, tried to step into a balanced stance and staggered across the pad and into the strip of sink trees between our yard and the Lau’s yard, snapping some heavy branches. I was stopped by the trunk of a tree. Good thing they’re so solid or I would have ended up in the Lau’s kitchen.

I was up. I was sweating. I was running late. I got messages from Azza-lea and Coda asking where I was and that I better not be staying home. I looked at the branches hanging from the trees, and the cracks and chips in the pad where the cockpit had hit it. 

“Got distracted doing yard work. On way,” I replied to them.

As I headed out to the ring road I noticed that none of the canopy panels were scratched. Definitely not plexi. Whoever built the cockpit must have known the thing would be hitting the ground a lot.

Since I was running late the streets were empty of kids and it was just me and the odd commuter.

The walking was as fun as ever. I tried a new strategy. Keep it simple. Let the leg in the air go where it wanted until I needed to put its foot down or balance started to shift. It was less work from the inside, but from the outside it must have looked totally chaotic.

The arms added to the chaos vibe. The left arm decided it wanted to be straight up in the air like a waiter carrying a tray, so you could say the calibration was a successful failure. The right arm wasn’t causing trouble. It just hung there, twitching.

Learning Place 548 and its recreation zones are cut into New Whitehorse’s outer green ring. There’s sixty metre high sink trees right up to its edges. Instead of going to the mecha stand, I stomped in amongst them. There were no branches lower than twenty metres from the ground, so it was pretty easy to collide and rebound my way until I was in the shadows. You wouldn’t spot the big baby unless you were looking for it. 

The only reason I stood it there, deep in the trees, away from the school, was because I was absolutely ashamed of the stupid thing.

I hit stand-by and grabbed my bag. 

“Stand-by, Pilot Praxist,” the baby said as it brought its hand up.

“Getting closer,” I said.

“Closer,” it said and nearly knocked me back into the cockpit with its hand.

“Not your hand, my name,” I shouted at it.

“Hand cancelled,” it said and dropped its hand.

“Bring back the hand. Hand!”

The hand came back up.

“Just put me down and stand-by. And maybe lower your left arm.”

“Calibrating.”

As it lowered me towards the ground I looked for any damage from the pad impact. Not a scratch or a smudge or a mark anywhere on the cockpit, the chest or the arms. If its body was green all the way through I don’t think I would ever know for sure. Pounding it on reinforced concrete didn’t even scratch the surface. 

I was late enough that the hall drones were waiting as I walked in the main doors. Coda and Azza-lea were already in their stream rooms. Everybody was. 

Just about everyone took the media stream because everyone wanted to be a veer star, or even a screen star. Acting, dancing, singing, vrogging, hosting, vreaming. Most of the Global Tier sim lords vream their matches. I’d be vreaming but Dad’s like “You can wait until you’re old enough to apply for your own license”. Year before last a syndicate called V-Sim Star Network tried to get me a license but Dad deleted the authorisation notice and gave me another lecture. He said he was protecting me, but I think he didn’t want me making money when he wasn’t.

My new stream room was 3.3.A – the entire south side of the top floor of Wing Three. While Leopard, the learning guide, who had to be my Dad’s age, going not just by his name, but the way he looked, ticked boxes on his tablet, I scanned the room for Azza-lea. She had messaged me that she was in this room and there were seats at her table so I was pretty excited about finally being with friends. 

A tiny hand was up in the air and waving a flashing minitablet at the far end of the room. Below it was a head of yellow, orange and blue hair. I waved back.

“Let’s find you a table, Praxit,” said Leopard. With his free hand he twisted the end of his long hair around his pencil while he made sucking noises and looked at the tables around us.

“How about up that end?” I said.

“No, no,” said Leopard, walking in the opposite direction. “Follow me. I’ve got the tables organised in what I call a learning continuum. Learners entering the stream begin at this wall up here and as you progress through the sections you advance through the room until you reach the other wall right the way down there. Down there is where you will be when you ready to develop your own media. It can be quite collaborative and collaboration can be distracting. Up this end, when you’re learning, there won’t be any interruptions. Here’s your table.”

There were five kids sitting around it. Three girls were all sitting on one side next to each other. On the other side were two guys sitting with an empty chair between them. 

Leopard tapped on the table with his pencil until all the kids pushed up their veer sets. 

“Jumana, Pili, Fleurette, Van, Oswin,” he said, pointing at each kid as he announced their name, “Praxit is joining your table. Say hey.”

They all mumbled “Hey” and “Hi”, except for Oswin who gave me a “Yo, neef”. I held up my hand and wiggled my fingers in a wave. I didn’t know any of these kids, but I bet they all saw my disastrous try out yesterday, either from the sidelines or in a share, and that share was probably in slo-mo with a funny soundtrack and explosions and a horde of Connors popping in to flap their hands and smack their foreheads.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 6 (or start at the beginning).

Rockdog – PXT005

After the learning place is out Praxit gets competitive in his favourite sim and tries to pretend everything is fine.

 
 

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Episode 5 begins:

We came out of the doors onto the main steps. Kids were heading in every direction. A line of mechas was trudging in step towards the transit pad where once in its centre their jets would kick-in, the backwash spilling through the heavy steel grill to the dispersal chambers underground, the mecha flying them home, to the city, or just a short hop to the nearest mechafé. 

I couldn’t see the little green baby for all the proper sized mechas in motion, but I was relieved to see that Davor and the other poppers were already gone. I wouldn’t have to face them this afternoon. 

My minitab buzzed in my pocket. The message was from an ID I didn’t recognise: “DeviceA0F3”. That’s not even a person. I was about to block it out of reflex, figuring someone’s shoe got hacked to spam, but the preview read “Your 94 wasn’t free.” I walked away from Azza-lea and Coda, over to the red brick wall of the building where no-one could sneak a peek, and opened the message.

“Your 94 wasn’t free. You owe me. If you want your cheating to remain our secret you’ll get the data I need. I want who your Dad works for and who sold him the mecha. Play it smart, sim lord. And if I were you I would delete this. You’re the only one leaving evidence.”

I deleted it as my empty guts twisted and twisted a nasty acid burp up into my mouth, stinging my throat. I swallowed hard. Basic Enu.

“Hey, Praxit,” called Coda. I turned back to him and Azza-lea standing on the edge of the steps. Beyond them mecha after mecha blasted up from the transit pads. The sky was full of hundreds of coloured shapes, glinting shapes, of mechas in flight pose, flying in equally spaced formations along TravNav’s preset paths towards inner rings or onto the city, towards mechafés, sports fields, or just the transit pad nearest their house. It was always amazing to me and I’ve wanted to be part of it so badly. I was no closer to joining in. Really, I felt like my chance of ever joining in was crumbling away.

“Azza-lea’s frantic schedule is interfering with my plans for your birthday,” said Coda. 

“We’ve got a comp coming up,” said Azza-lea.

“So it’ll just be the two of us,” said Coda.

I lied. “I can’t,” I said and waved my minitab. “Dad has plans for this afternoon and I can’t get out of them.”

“Don’t look so down, Praxit,” said Azza-lea. She squeezed my arm. “We’ll do something tomorrow.”

“Can’t tomorrow,” said Coda. 

“I’m out Friday. We’ll do something super fun on Saturday,” she said. “I promise. Oh look at you. I feel like I’m quitting on a veer puppy.”

“I’m fine,” I said. I put on a smile. “I’d rather be doing something with you peeps, that’s all.”

“Saturday for sure. I’ve gotta jet,” said Azza-lea. She gave me a hug, fist-bumped Coda, then took off down the steps.

“I’m jetting, too,” said Coda. “Show that baby who’s the sim lord.”

He held up his fist. I went to bump it and he slapped my hand away, making me turn, and punched me in the shoulder, the same one Azza-lea had hit. I think he bruised a bruise and it hurt.

“Old and slow now, Prax. So old, so slow.” he said, then laughed and headed down the steps. 

It got a smile out of me for a moment, but it faded along with the pain in my arm. I watched Azza-lea climb up to the shoulder of her YogiMech and unlock the cockpit with her handprint. She waved at me as the canopy lifted. I waved back and she hopped in. The mecha was in motion before the canopy sealed and she gave me a giant thumbs up as she stomped out of the stand to the pads, her forearm ribbons fluttering. I headed down the steps on foot while she shot up into the sky on jets, then TravNav took over and her mecha spun 180 degrees and sped her away to melee practise, the ribbons now trailing and whipping behind her. 

Coda was sitting in his dazzling white NovaLeet with the canopy up when I walked by. He was talking to someone on his minitab. The group comms wouldn’t kick in until he closed the canopy, so it was kind of a public form of privacy. He was so engaged in the call he didn’t notice me as I walked by, but that was fine. How many times do you have to say good-bye?

There were still a dozen or so mechs in the stand, but none near the baby. Even standing alone it looked smaller than ever. The way its oversized cockpit sat low on the shoulders and a bit forward, I realised, made it look dejected. Mechas are supposed to look like they’re ready to take on the world, backs straight, cockpits up. But no, the baby looked exactly like how I felt. The guy who sold it to Dad said it was the perfect mecha for me. What would he know? But if it was perfect for me then go ahead and stick in the tubes, glue on the veer set and declare my life officially over.

I ran my hand over the leg, scratched at the surface with my fingernail. It wasn’t polished, but it wasn’t rough. It didn’t feel like paint, but it didn’t feel like alloy, which is always super smooth. The EM fields that give active alloy strength also mean that if you somehow manage to scratch the surface they will smooth out over time and fade away. Was it really green all the way through? And why didn’t it activate when Enu knocked on it? Did I have a super distinctive knock going on?

I took a step back and punched it. Where I punched it, well, okay, it was the groin area. And then I punched it again, in the same spot. It came online, the servos started up. Was there such a thing as knuckle prints? And if there were, who would put a knuckle print reader in that spot. But there was nothing there, just green alloy.

As the hand lifted me to the cockpit I remembered what Coda had said. Show that baby who the sim lord is. 

“Hello, Pilot Practise,” it said.

“Praxit,” I said. “My name is Praxit. Prax-it. P-r-a-x-i-t.”

“Hello, Pilot Practised,” it said. I groaned and wiggled the prosthetics and eyed the traffic on the street as Coda shot up into the sky like a bolt of lightning returning home. His was the only mecha heading away from the city. His family lived in a compound cut into the wilderness around Haeckel Hill, out beyond the industrial ring. Very private and very lush. They had an amazing swimming pool. 

The canopy snapped shut. It was time to start a new sim. It was called “Get home without tripping over”. Challenge level: Global Tier players only. 

On the street it was the period between learning places emptying and workers heading home. No-one’s in a rush at this time of the afternoon, especially not bored kids, so I ended up with a noisy posse trailing me. 

I get it. The baby’s small, a disgusting colour and walks funny, if you can call it walking. I didn’t need to be told these things over and over again and I didn’t need the blaring group comms. I focused on getting the feet to hit the road where I wanted, the arms to counterbalance the legs, which was c-o tricky, and tried to ignore my followers. Shout insults at me during a sim because we’re thirty seconds in and you’re already losing and I won’t even hear them. But those c-o kids, trying to out-do each other with their funny comments and their laughter, they were making me lose my mind.

“You’re all so funny, now cut out the laughter,” I yelled. 

The right foot landed further out than I expected, making the whole mecha lurch, forcing me to swing up the left arm to stop the movement turning into a stagger that would take me into the path of oncoming mechas. 

“Group comms disabled,” the baby said and the cockpit emptied of sound. 

I was madly juggling hands and feet, so until I got the thing walking properly upright again all I could do was wonder. Group comms are like arms or legs. They are part of the mecha design, part of GLRC’s cockpit technology. You can’t turn them off. It would be like turning off jets when you’re a kilometre above the ground.

“Group comms status,” I said.

“Group comms disabled.”

“Well, enable them.”

The voices of the kids in the mechas trailing me flooded back in. It wasn’t like they were really talking to me. Shouting at me, sure.

“Disable group comms,” I said and silence returned. Well, silence except for the sounds of the baby’s movement transmitted through the frame. Some mecha’s, like Coda’s NovaLeet, have a special cockpit mounting so you can’t hear even a neck servo whine. Personally, I like to hear what’s going on, but this absence of group comms felt too weird.

“Enable group comms,” I said. “And can you make it quieter?”

The laughter and taunts returned, but at a level that didn’t stop the signals from my brain from reaching my hands. And maybe, just maybe, between my brain and my hands, I was building a technique for piloting the baby. Compared to this morning it was more like juggling than wrestling, but juggling drones that had deliveries to make. Put a foot down and it wanted to be up. Lift a foot up and it wanted to kick the other leg. Move a hand back and it wanted to backhand whatever was next to it. And all of those moves I had to catch and counteract, while trying to direct it where I needed it to go. 

I’ve seen toddlers trying to walk and now I know why they need so many naps. I was glad when I reached my street. I took the corner pretty wide but still had to slow down to a shuffle. Once I was across the intersection lines I left the other mechas behind. They were geo-fenced out because it was a private street. Kids are fenced out of everywhere that isn’t a public space or one of their registered areas, like home or a learning place. The group sounded pretty young, so they would probably all head home now their source of fun was gone, or they would go play in the green ring. There was an area nearby that generations of kids had dug and carved and piled trees into what was known locally as the TAZ – the Truly Autonomous Zone. No guides in industrial mechas, no parents, no rules. Also no jets. Can’t be burning the place down.

I noticed the Osorios’ mecha dock was empty. I know they worked from home, so they probably jetted their MesoDrifters to the city to eat or see a live performance. 

Turning, especially tight turns, was still a challenge, so the easiest way to get the baby onto the mecha pad was to walk backwards onto it. And the easiest way to do that was to try and walk forwards, then do my best to steer as it inevitably staggered backwards. It worked.

I flexed my hands open and closed, rolled my shoulders and jiggled my legs. Who said meching isn’t exercise?

The canopy opened and I stepped out onto the hand. 

“Shutdown, you big baby,” I said. 

“Goodnight, Pilot Practised,” it said as I was lowered to the ground.

Goodnight! It wasn’t even four in the afternoon. The sun wasn’t going to set for hours yet. The spring days are long when you’re this close to the Arctic Circle, and the summer days almost endless.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 5 (or start at the beginning).

Stream – PXT004

You think things would go easier in the safety of the common stream room than on the mechrosse field. Not for Praxit.

 
 

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Episode 4 begins:

“Come on,” she looked at her tablet, “Praxit. The tables have been re-structured today, so you’re now at the far end. Follow me and I will introduce to your new section table mates.”

They did this every four weeks. I should have expected it because the morning stream got re-structured last Wednesday. It was supposed to create a dynamic learning environment, but everything still looked the same inside your veer set. 

I was glad everyone had their sets on. No-one paid any attention to me until we reached the table. There were seven kids sitting around it plus a single empty chair waiting for me. Two of the kids had mechrosse team shirts on. They had a red mecha fist holding a mechrosse stick with ‘548’ underneath it. I got a bad feeling. Miami tapped on the table until the kids flipped up their sets and looked at us. 

“Yo, dim lord,” said Kai. “Try-outs for this table are closed.”

She held out her hand and the girl next to her, Harisa, she was a defender on the team, slapped it, then the girl and guy across from her slapped it. She got a slap from everyone. It was like a tiny round of applause. 

“Praxit has been assigned to this table. Please make him welcome. Once you’ve all completed the veer scenario I want you to help each other reach consensus on the learnings and complete the joint quiz. Take your seat, Praxit. What are you waiting for?”

I was waiting for them all to stop grinning at me. Particularly Kai and Harisa.

“I want to take the section test and move to a higher table,” I said. 

Miami huffed so her grey fringe flew up and fell back down. 

“Now you tell me.”

She started walking back the way we came. 

Kai flipped me the fingers. I flashed Kai an “L” for loser. They all flipped me the fingers. One guy, I think his name is Delmar, added the thumb. What a day for fingers it’s been. 

“Quickly,” said Miami. “The testing desks are right by the door. Where you came in. I have another one hundred and twenty seven learners to monitor, you know, to be spending my time escorting you back and forth.”

The testing desks have their own veer sets and keyboards, just in case you’ve modified your own for cheating. Both are secured by wire cables to the desk, in case you might want to steal them because they are so worn, the optics so foggy, and throw them out a window or donate them to a museum. 

“In your own time,” said Miami, once I had the veer set in place. The test scenario flashed into focus. It was just practical calculation. You know, one third this plus eight point two multiplied by seven fifths divided by three point nine to the power of twelve and two thirds point four. That kind of thing. All presented in text and coloured pies and grids of dots with multiple choice answers hanging below them. I clicked through it, skipping a couple, more for time than for trouble, but not enough to stop me from passing. 

I should have taken the test ages ago, but I didn’t care for a couple of reasons. Hanging out in common stream was easy, especially if you scored a seat against the wall and kept a front camera box in the corner of your veer display to spot the guide. You could watch whatever you wanted. If you were careful you could sim. Nothing too frantic. Exploration sims were perfect. Slow brawls, too. If you could find one notched down far enough you could set up your moves and check in every once in a while, see if your blows were landing or if anyone was sneaking past your defence.

The big reason to finish common stream is it unlocks your access to TravNav, the transport system. You’d think sim scores would be enough, but no, they think you need to know all kinds of useless stuff before you can request a course and step onto a transit pad. Until you finish you can’t jet anywhere except to places pre-set by an adult. 

Before, when I didn’t have a mecha, I refused to pass common stream until I got one. Along with the whining, I was doing that to put pressure on Dad to get me a mecha. It didn’t work. Now I have the only mecha without jets so finishing common stream wasn’t going to change my life. 

Except. Except now I was suddenly becoming Dim Lord. Hanging out in common stream, way past average completion time, even though I was almost finished, gave the name some teeth, a real grip. It might set in permanently if I don’t do something. Or it might get worse. It might go from dim lord to dumb lord.

I finished the test and waited for the system to alert Miami that I had passed and was assigned to a new table. She was pretty happy about my result.

“Already? You are interfering with my rounds,” she hissed at me. “You’re not the only learner. There. That’s your new table over there, with the yellow and black haired kid.”

She pointed towards a table with five people and three empty chairs around it. Even if he had shaved his scalp I would have recognised the blocky head of Risto and his ridiculously square chin, like a box with a mouth glued on the front. I kind of knew some of the others, going by their hair and clothes, but there was no way I was going to sit at a table with him. It was going to be four weeks before tables were re-structured again. I would rather stay home and sim than be within reach of Risto every day. But then, if it was even possible, he might make it out of common stream before me. And he was a year younger than me. Wouldn’t he love that. 

“I want to test out of this section, too,” I said.

Miami’s fringe flew up and down three times. I think she was trying to cool herself down.

“You want to test out of common history? Before viewing the scenarios? It’s forty hours of content.”

“Oh, I’ve covered lots of the material on my own. Lots of history veers, history sims, even some books, you know. Can’t get enough.”

“Books? You? Fine. Take the test. I hope you pass. It’s the final section of the common stream so passing means I won’t have to watch you pretending to learn any more.”

She wiggled her fingers at me. It was the three finger pattern you use when you’re cycling between views in a slow brawl using a keyboard. I gave her my best confused look as I slid back onto the seat of the test desk.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 4 (or start at the beginning).

Enu – PXT003

Praxit’s mechrosse try-out is action packed, but not in the good way. Trouble follows him off the field.

 
 

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Episode 3 begins:

“On my signal hit it.”

A high piping sounded and the mechas pumped their jets and headed at me like arcs of blurred silver. They left a gap I could turn and slide through. I hit my jets, but this wasn’t a sim. Nothing happened. 

I screamed “Jets!” and heard through the ringing impact of a mecha elbow colliding with my left shoulder a “Calibrating.” 

Trying to move just left me standing on one leg and easy to knock off balance, which they did, but it took three of them. I tried to get off a last second pass, but the arms had different ideas and instead bent the stick, letting the ball drop to the ground.

I dropped too, spinning to land face down. I was thrown forward against my straps with nothing to see but perma-turf pressed against the canopy. I wondered if I was going to have bruises to show off tomorrow. The mecha shuddered with a hit, and another hit. I could feel the arms had come up over the back of my head. I was still holding the stick and it was taking some of the punishment.

“Interstellar,” yelled Risto in a long cry, “object-doosh!”.

I was hit so hard the stick was knocked from the mecha’s hands, and we both bounced and slid forward. He must have got a jet throw. That’s when other mechas grab and throw you higher as you jet up, so you fly above and beyond the height restrictions. It’s more of a dancer’s move, since it’s illegal during mechrosse games. So he got some altitude and then he fell down right on top of me. A classic sky-drop. And he stayed on me. He was banging on the back of my head. The basic c-o-o cretin was trying to pop my cockpit during a try-out.

“Okay, okay, off him, off him,” the coach said. I felt the ground quiver with each step as he stomped over. The banging stopped and I was lifted into the air and turned upright. The coach had me in one hand and Risto in the other. He dropped Risto, whose jets cut in as he fell and he swooped over to Tien. They knocked sticks and then they both made foot-rubbing motions on the turf. The rest of the team joined in. 

I could hear laughter as the coach carried me off the field and put me down just beyond the edge of the danger zone. 

“Mechrosse isn’t for everyone,” said the coach. “Least of all you. Maybe stick to sims until you can pilot that thing.”

“Okay, players, passing drill,” he said and went back to the field. 

“That was chaotic,” said Coda. “But we now know your cockpit is on tight.”

He and Azza-lea had come over to give me their support, but I could barely hear it through the buzzing in my ears. I wasn’t hurt. I was seething with adrenalin from the action and Risto’s attack. The buzzing was blood rushing at high speed through every part of me. I wanted to get back out there, but in this c-o-o baby I didn’t stand a chance. 

“Risto is so basic, so toxic. He was trying to pop you, right in front of the coach and the coach didn’t even say anything,” said Azza-lea.

Coda stomped around me. “You’re in good shape. I do not know what you are painted with, reckless Praxit, but there is not even a scuff mark let alone a scratch in your even green skin, and Risto sky-dropped on you.”

“Oh my moon, you are right,” said Azza-lea, taking a look. She stood in front of me and patted the top of my cockpit. I could see her in her cockpit, the patting movement of her hand in the prosthetics, and I could somehow feel her hand on my own head. “That’s one tough baby you’ve got. I say shrug it off and come and dance.”

That pat on the head, the way the two of my friends cared, acted like an antidote to the adrenalin. Azza-lea was right. I should shrug it off. But I couldn’t shrug off just how bad the baby was. Did it even have jets?

“So, coming and dancing?” said Azza-lea.

Dancing was by far the most popular mecha activity. Most people stuck to the popular dance styles – flash, ice, weave, alpha-pop, and so on. Not Azza-lea. She was in a three person melee squad. They performed stylised fight sequences, some traditional, some from veeries, and some of their own invention. They didn’t do the slo-mo, “we’re so graceful and symmetrical” style. They were all about the high-speed, jets on, whipping and slashing. When they didn’t end with three tangled mechas on the ground, their routines were like watching a shining, shifting tornado striped with their fore-arm ribbons, which moved so fast the colours mixed like paint. I don’t have the brain to remember all the moves Azza-lea memorises. I’m limited to free-styling or simple cha-cha-cha-kick-swing-bow. Now, my sister…let’s not go there. Not where I want to go.

“Hello in there?” said Azza-lea. 

“I’m back, I’m back! I need to do more meching. This thing is still calibrating and I couldn’t keep up with you even if I knew the steps,” I said.

“Are they not delivered calibrated?” said Coda. 

“Yes. Every single one except this baby,” I said. “Want to trudge clumsily beside me across the autonomous zone?”

“Would love to, Praxit fellow, but there’s a weave building over there that needs my input. Be wary out there in the wastelands.”

A trefoil was forming on the field, attracting mechas from the other dance teams. There was no size limit on a trefoil weave. The interwoven circles just kept getting wider as you added more mechas. It was a bit tricky when the jets cut out so low to the ground. The rings were flattened and the trefoil was virtually horizontal instead of vertical. The dancers had to make constant, tiny adjustments to keep circling. If that wasn’t hard enough, they also had to spin like a slow drill as they followed the intricate path of the trefoil. It was pretty to watch, but I never understood why you would want to participate for more than a minute. Weave dancers will lock into the zone and just trace and re-trace the pattern for, like, ever.

My friends stomped away and I decided walking back to the mecha stand was enough of a challenge. I didn’t want to be out in the autonomous zone on my own and get tangled up in a game of chain-ball or get intercepted by bored poppers. 

It was more of a slow trudge than a walk. Have you heard the saying ‘practise slow to learn fast’? I took my time. My arms and legs were getting tired fighting the mecha, but if I held off correcting the steps we would start staggering sideways and the arms, well, they just seemed to want to twist and float up. I figured there had to be something I could do.

“System status,” I said.

“Calibrating,” the stupid thing said.

“Calibration status,” I said.

“Calibration system is calibrating.”

“When will the c-o-o calibrating be finished?”

“Unknown, Pilot Brackish.”

“Gah. My name is Praxit.”

“Understood, Pilot Flaccid.”

“Praxit.”

“Understood, Pilot Practise.”

I was getting close.

“Prax-it, you big baby.”

“Understood, Pilot Prac-tise.”

I gave up. Something major had to be wrong with this thing. The voice interface was as broken as the prosthetics. Dad bought a dud. It was kind of my fault. I’d been pressuring him so hard to buy one. Years of my worst, shameless whining, the kind you can’t turn off once you start. Look what it got me. If I had just kept calm and held out for another year, or even just Christmas, I might have got a real mecha. As if I could have held out longer. I’m only flesh and blood. A kid can’t control their mecha urges. I guess I’m still calibrating, too.

The mecha stand was mostly empty. Everyone was out in the grounds playing, including the poppers. I had plenty of space to manoeuvre into my spot. Nothing made a person madder than coming back from free play and finding their spot taken. 

After I de-meched I actually took a moment to walk around the thing. The combined disbelief and disappointment this morning must have had me in shock when I first climbed in, then I was running late when I got to the stand, and yeah, I hadn’t even looked at the thing properly. 

First thing I noticed, the lack of mount points on the arms and chest continued on the back. There weren’t any holes anywhere. Anywhere. There were markings on the lower back where a data port should be, but that was it.

The other thing I noticed – no intake ports on the legs. It made me kick the right leg hard enough to hurt my foot. The thing didn’t even have jets. Who heard of a mecha without jets? I was going to have to walk everywhere. I couldn’t use the transit pads, I couldn’t jet over to the city with my friends, or drop in on Coda’s place. I was still stuck co-piloting, cramped behind Azza-lea’s or Coda’s seat in their cockpits, if I wanted to go anywhere with them.

At that point the big baby went from being a problem I had to solve to a depressing lump of metal. 

“Happy birthday, Praxit,” said a voice behind me. 

I turned to see Enu, standing there in the red-framed arrie glasses he never took off. He was a tall skinny kid who was obviously ignoring the hair fashion. His was cropped short enough to see his scalp. The guy was a bit weird, but everyone put it down to him being super smart, like the rest of the Four Freaks. We all wondered what he had happening in his glasses because his eyes were always moving, little jerks left and right, up and down. If you asked him all he would tell you was it’s his “systems”. 

“That’s an interesting mecha you’ve got there,” he said.

“Did you see my mechrosse try out?” I said.

“Everyone saw your try out. It’s been shared everywhere.”

“Well, it’s not interesting. It’s a primitive piece of basic poop,” I said. “In colour and quality.”

He tapped the arm of his glasses. “I saw the registration pop-up yesterday. It was curious.”

“Yesterday? This thing has been around for years. And how could you even access that?”

“My mother’s in city security. That has its advantages. The mecha might have been around for years, but it was registered yesterday for three years in your name. But that’s not what’s curious.”

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 3 (or start at the beginning).

Try out – PXT002

Praxit introduces his new mecha to his friends, Azza-lea and Coda, and takes up Tien’s challenge to try out for the mechrosse team.

 
 

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Spotify

 

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Episode 2 begins:

I found Coda first. His bleached white cylinder of hair was like a transit pad marker rising out of a wide hallway crowded with multi-coloured heads. The current fashion was to dye your hair to match your mecha’s paint job. A fashion I would not be following. Coda’s mecha, like every mecha he had before, was pure white. He called it minimal-mechism. 

“Your birthing day, young Praxit,” said Coda. “Receive any of the good loot? Have you left the ranks of the reckless and mech-less?”

I groaned. He got the wrong idea. 

“No despair. I bet when Christmas eventually comes around one will be looming over the tree.”

I looked away. “I kind of got a mecha,” I said.

“Par-don?”

I couldn’t quite bring myself to look in his eye. “I kind of got a mecha,” I said to the floor. 

The final stream bell sounded and everyone started moving in the direction of their assigned rooms. 

“I can’t hear you. You were caught in a wreck?”

I looked at him. “I kind of got a mecha.”

“Hey! Finally, Prax! What kind? The new HardVac Ranger?”

His happiness on my behalf was sweet, and about to be disappointed. Coda was one of the first kids in our cohort to have a mecha. Every birthday since his parents give him the latest and greatest. Money isn’t something they have to worry about, except, probably, how to spend it. 

Then Azza-lea semi-tackled me. It was a gentle tackle for her. I was still standing but I wasn’t going anywhere until I was properly squished. 

“Hey, Azza-lea, Prax got a mecha,” said Coda.

“Praxit!” squealed Azza-lea. She squeeze me harder. The pressure in my head and ears skyrocketed and my ribs creaked. 

“Happy birthday, dude! Birthday! Birthday!” 

She shook me in time with her shouts of “Birthday” while kids pushed past us.

“You look like a monkey!” someone shouted.

“And you smell like one, too,” shouted another voice. Ah, birthday traditions. They warm the heart.

Azza-lea stepped back and looked me up and down. Her hair was a halo of yellow and blue with lines of black through it. 

“You don’t look any taller. Or any happier for a guy who finally, after years of frustration, dreaming and co-piloting, finally got his very own mecha,” she said. “What did you get? HardVac Ranger? MacroBod? SturdiMech?”

Her shaking had left my backpack straps down at my elbows. I shifted them back to my shoulders and started up the stairs.

“It’s not a great mecha,” I said over my shoulder. They both bounded up after me.

“What kind is it?” said Coda. “Come on, you can tell us. We’re going to see it at lunch anyway.”

“We don’t actually care what kind of mecha you got,” said Azza-lea. “A mech’s a mech.”

We had reached the last landing. We were lagging and the stairwell was empty. Coda grabbed my shoulders.

“What. Kind. Is it?” he said, looking right in my eyes. I looked down.

“No kind. It’s no kind, no brand, no model. Dad got it through a guy at work. It’s short and…and…”

Now this is stupid. I know it’s stupid, but I’d been dreaming mechas for years and despite what Azza-lea had just said, mechs are not just mechs. The difference between a top of the line mecha and the bottom, or even lower, mine, is the difference between a world-class athlete and a smelly basic fat guy covered in warts who hasn’t seen his own feet in years, so he’s barefoot and his feet are covered in warts, too. Now imagine that through no fault of your own you woke up one day as the fat guy instead of the athlete. You, too, might catch a bit of dust in the old eye sockets, get a bit glassy-eyed, maybe a hot tear might drop onto the toe of your shoe because your friend is playfully shaking you.

I wiped my eyes and took a deep breath. Coda had taken a step back and was next to Azza-lea. I gave them a little flat smile and shrugged. You’d think I was confessing to murder. I took a deep breath.

“It’s small, it’s fat, it won’t walk straight and it’s, it’s, it’s…”

“It’s what?!” they both yelled.

“The whole thing is baby poo green.”

They looked at me. They looked at each other. They bent over laughing. They were laughing so hard, I don’t know, I’d witnessed a lot of laughing that morning, but seeing my friends laughing, it flicked a switch somewhere and I started laughing, too. I finally got a mecha and it was the colour of baby poo. It was awful, so awful it had to be hilarious, at least for a moment. 

“Are you for real?” said Azza-lea between gasps.

“The exact shade of baby poo,” I said. They laughed harder.

The hall-drone release bell rang and we all staggered up the stairs, laughing. 

“I cannot wait to see it at lunch,” said Coda.

“We can help you repaint it sometime if you want,” said Azza-lea and pulled a handful of my hair so hard my head went back. “Because I do not want to see you with that hair colour.”

That’s friends for you. Sharing your misery, helping you fix it, and making your eyes water with pain.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 2. (or start here)

Birthday? – PXT001

 

Welcome to the first episode of Future Is Mecha. It begins 200 years in the future on what might be Praxit’s worst birthday ever.

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Episode 1 begins:

Okay. We’re recording, big guy, keep it down. 

I hope I get the chance to delete this, but if I don’t, I guess that means we lost. Or I lost. Big time. So, hello to whoever is listening to this. My name is Praxit and the epic saga I’m about to share with you began on my birthday. 

For quite a while, I’m talking weeks and weeks, I thought my last birthday was the worst. I was used to disappointing birthdays. The last five were not great and don’t even ask me about Christmas. But this birthday felt like the worst of all because for a whole minute and a half I thought it was going to be amazing.

The day started off normal enough. I woke up. Sun light was coming through the curtains. It was feeling like it might be a beautiful spring day. Then I remembered what day it was.

I figured this birthday was going to be the same as the last ones. Dad had only started working again a few weeks ago, so we were still living on basic income. Less than basic income because I was a so-called “excess child” and GLRC cuts your basic forever if you have more than one kid. Stupid. If you have more kids you need more money. I’m not just talking birthdays.

So I was lying there, wishing GLRC wasn’t so stingy, and working on this year’s disappointment. We always had pancakes for my birthday breakfast, but they weren’t really what you would call pancakes. I was building up to a big sad sigh about that when I heard the deep throb-throb-throb of an ultra-heavy delivery drone.

It was coming from the direction of the industrial ring. Just a delivery to the city, I told myself. Probably a housing module to be bolted onto one of the cloud towers for some other basic family to live in. But it kept getting louder. And louder. Then it felt like my room, the whole house, was bouncing to that throb-throb-throb.

My mind was boggling with the reasons an ultra-heavy drone was over our house. Then a shadow drifted down my curtains, blocking the light for a long moment. Under the noise of the drone’s rotors came a quick series of clanks and high pitched whines, which I knew were steel cables being retracted into the belly of the drone.

The drone throbbed off into the distance and I was too excited to move. I was still boggling. I knew that, at long last, outside my window, standing in my front yard, was my very own mecha. Finally. 

I was literally, actually, and really the last kid in my learning place to get their mecha. By like two years. Some kids get theirs at, like, seven. I’d been rolling to the learning place on a basic scooter that wasn’t even mine while seven year olds stomped past me. I could see them in their cockpits, wiggling, laughing, or worse, shaking their heads with pity at me, still stuck on wheels. 

But today that would end. Now what model was it going to be? The latest NovaLeet, like Coda has, would be the dream, but I knew it couldn’t be that. Not on a bug pilot’s income. Dad knew I was keen for any kind of HardVac Ranger model. They were a bit heavy, but had power and finesse. It’s what I always piloted in the sims, and what I used for all my victory runs. I’m the main reason that even older models hold their value. Yes, I’m that Praxit, Praxit2230. Probably even in the future you’ve seen my tag. I’ve been up and down the global rankings across all the leading veer sims and never had my own mecha, until today.

I jumped out of bed and pulled open the curtains so I could see exactly what it felt like when joy was crushed by disappointment. 

Standing out there on the mecha pad was not a HardVac Ranger. I didn’t know what the c-o-o it was. I know mechas, every kid knows mechas, but it was like nothing I had ever seen. It wasn’t a giant gleaming marvel of technology. Not at all. It was squat and ugly and looked dumb and did not gleam or glitter or even glint. I could see the top of its cockpit and shoulders and I was only on the second floor of a house. It didn’t even reach the gutters. And it was a weird dull shade of green. Not weird, disgusting. Baby poo green. 

Dad was in the front yard, too, already in his bright orange industrial pilot onesie, waving at me to come down. 

So I pulled on clothes and went down and I can still remember how he looked as I crossed the grass towards him. He was smiling, but it was his “I know this is awful but let’s pretend it’s fine” smile – lots of teeth, wide eyes and raised eyebrows, like he’s being electrocuted. We both had years of practice at this expression. It’s been flashed many nights at the kitchen counter over plates of basic mince. We used to arrange the mince in different shapes out of boredom. We once agreed it tasted best as a triangle. 

Of course it didn’t. 

That smile has helped us get by, but it isn’t fair because I wanted to be angry at him for getting me this stupid mecha, but I had to be nice. 

“Happy birthday, Prax,” he said and we hugged. “What do you think?”

I couldn’t say anything. We just stared at it. The Osorios from across the street stopped on their way out with their two Dalmation pig clones to join in the staring. Then they waved, shrugged and went on their way. They had a matched pair of golden MesoDrifters standing either side of the mecha dock on their roof. I doubt they would want to do a trade with me.

“Does this mean we have to move into central housing?” I asked. I was looking past the Osorios’ house, their beautiful mechas, and the dark wall of sink trees behind them to the city towers. The buildings looked like they were raining glitter. That was the morning sun bouncing off the thousands and thousands of mechas and drones in flight. 

“Hey,” said Dad. “We can afford this. I’m working now. And it was a real deal. I know it’s not a HardVac Ranger, but…” 

“It’s not an anything,” I said.

It really wasn’t. All consumer mechas are built around four GLRC frame sizes: 6 metre, 8 metre, 10 metre and 15 metre. All the differences in mecha brands comes from skins, panels, software and sometimes cockpits. Underneath they’re all the same, but if you’re a kid they only let you pilot the 6 and 8 metre ones. This thing was not even 6 metres tall. 

“Yeah, I’ve never seen one before, but it’s registered for three years, and the guy at work I got it from, Lemur, he’s in accounting or something, he sold it to me for a really good price, even threw in delivery. Anyhow, he said it’s a solid mecha. The company got it a while back but never used it and it was just taking up space.”

“No wonder no-one used it. It looks like a baby,” I said. “A giant poo green baby.”

Everything coming out of my mouth was pretty mean. Dad was doing his best. Ever since, ever since, well never mind, just know it’s been tough. For both of us. 

“But thanks, Dad. I’ve finally and really got a…a…mecha thing.” 

It really did look like a giant baby. The arms and leg were thick and short. I’m telling you, the torso had a pot belly, and the cockpit was oversized, making it look top heavy, like it might fall over and crush us. And you know what, right then I would have been fine with that. Also the skin job on the thing was really lazy. One ugly colour all over. And I couldn’t see any mount points. There’s always mount points. What if I wanted to attach speakers, a shield or butterfly wings? Not that I would, but I couldn’t even if I wanted to. And the whole thing was just an awful flat greeny brown.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 1.

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.

Back to now

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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Fireside

 

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