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.”
“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.”