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.”
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.