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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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.