Brawl – PXT013

Praxit and his friends have been jumped by Davor and the poppers while visiting the Truly Autonomous Zone. Who’s going to win the brawl? And what is Enu up to?

 

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Episode 12 begins:

“Looking good, Prax,” said Azza-lea. “Your baby mecha is sobering up.”

It didn’t feel that way to me. After yesterday’s intense simming in construction mechas and BasicMechs, and especially the LitheMech, the baby felt like a broken hunk of junk. Sure, the arms were maybe a little more in sync, and the feet weren’t trying to drift away like bored drones, but it was still janky.

“I think we can advance a little closer, rather than following him at this distance,” said Coda.

“I think if you’re in group comms range you’re in danger,” I said. But even as I said it I could tell the baby was more stable. “So how far are you making me mech this stupid baby?”

“CakeStand. It’s not the nearest mechafe in this direction, but it’s the best. Their range of pastries is vast. Almost handmade. My treat. It is your birthday after all.”

“I’ve got a cake light!” said Azza-lea

“Tell me it’s a new one. Not that old one that plays…”

“It’s the best!”

It was the best — in the worst way possible. The music was so cheesy, all old-timey squealing guitars and honking saxophones, like straight out of the 1980s. The sensor didn’t work well, so it was really hard to blow enough to make it stop. And, to top it off, it was still loaded with the picture of me from when I was a sad little six year old. Azza-lea refused to change it. It had pictures of all us from when we were six and Azza-lea demanded we use it every birthday. It was a pretty funny tradition. Unless you’re in the eating place blowing madly into a bowl of green gelatin while all the learners are looking, wondering what the heck you’re doing and why is terrible music playing.

“Just how far is this CakeStand,” I said. 

“Three kilometres.”

“I’m going to need arm surgery by the time we get there,” I said. “This thing…the proths—it’s like playing four games of tug-of-war at once.”

“Why don’t you try talking to it,” said Azza-lea. “It has a voice interface. Maybe you can tell what it to do?”

“Walk like a normal mecha, you stupid baby,” I said, but nothing happened. Coda laughed.

“See, it doesn’t work,” I said.

“Not like that. Be nicer. When I want Mr Snork to do anything I talk nice and gentle to him,” said Azza-lea

Mr Snork was her pet pig. It was just a plain grey pig, not a fancy pure-breed like the Osorio’s had, but it was really smart. I’ve seen her ask it to fetch her minitab. It ran up the stairs to her room and came back holding it gently in its mouth. And all it wanted was a scratch behind the ear. Mechas don’t have ears. Or feel scratches. 

“Fine. I’ll try again. Walk straight. Please.”

Nothing changed. I was still wrestling with the proths. 

“Start with just little things. And talk gently, nicely, to it.”

Talk gently? Mechas don’t have feelings like pigs do. They run programs. They have circuitry. Whatever.

“Okay, baby,” I said. I visualised how I wanted to move and then tried translating that into directions that matched up with how I was instinctively moving the prosthetics.

“Let’s just move our feet straight out, that’s it, bring the knees up higher, keep it all moving straight in front of us, that’s it.” 

Hmmm. It seemed to be working? The proths weren’t resisting so much.

“Now the arms. First the left, just a gentle swing in time with the right leg. Now bring it back, and bring the right arm forward.”

“Go on, Prax. No-one’s in comm range. It’s worth a try,” said Coda.

“I am trying,” I said.

“We can’t hear it,” said Azza-lea.

“Well, I’m coaxing it, and it might even be working,” I said. 

“I bet it’s filtering voice commands out of group comms. It’s saving us from the tedium of your control chatter.”

“You’re walking is already better. I told you so.” 

It really was working, except it made it hard to hold a conversation at the same time. I coaxed it along and once it was stepping regularly and the arms were moving mostly at the right time I said to it “That’s it, let’s just keep this rhythm for now.”

It worked. The voice interface was smart enough to understand what I meant. I stopped talking. The baby wasn’t fighting the proths. It was so much easier. Still a bit wonky, but the strain of wrestling every limb was gone.

I was able to talk the baby into walking faster, and faster, until we were moving pretty close to a normal walking rate. It made for a jerky ride. It felt like I was walking through an earthquake. But it was such a huge improvement a wave of relief washed over me. Walking to school on Monday would be okay. It wouldn’t be a passage of humiliation and embarrassment. If I spent more time coaching and directing the thing, it might even be completely normal by Monday. Then it would just be ugly and dumb looking, instead of ugly, dumb and clumsy.

CakeStand was super busy. There were mechas standing along the ring road. All the mecha ports were taken by ten and twelve metre mechas. I guess the place wasn’t popular with kids. There were only two ports free. They were in a prime spot, right next to the road, but they were marked reserved. 

“These must be for us,” said Coda, striding up to the first one.

“Figures,” said Azza-lea, taking the one next to him.

“Sorry, Praxit. You and your little green mecha will have to stand on the street. We’ll see you in the lobby.”

Like every other mecha port in New White Horse, and every one on the Earth and the moon, the mecha ports at CakeStand weren’t designed for short, fat mechas. I de-meched in the street and walked up the stairs, like I had arrived in a basic shuttle, while Azza-lea and Coda docked their mechas. Their feet never even touched the ground. They strolled from their cockpits, along the elevated walkway to the lobby, where they waited for me to arrive.

“It looks even busier on the inside,” said Azza-lea. 

“Never you mind,” said Coda as the server, a blonde woman with a name badge saying “Galah” came up to us.

“Right this way, Mr Ghosh,” she said and we followed her to a table by a window that faced out over the industrial ring and to the wilderness beyond it.

“Mister Ghosh?” I said.

“Thanks for making reservations,” said Azza-lea.

“I didn’t,” said Coda. He brought his shoulders up and acted like he was studying the menu screen, scrolling past picture after picture of cupcakes. “Father bought CakeStand recently. Every CakeStand is now part of GI.”

GI stood for Ghosh Industries, his Dad’s company. I guess Coda could now walk into any CakeStand in the city, in the world, and get the VIP treatment.
“So when I said it was my treat, it is really my Father’s treat. He said, Praxit, that you deserve to order whatever you like. ‘Shower him in cake,’ he said.”

“What? Me? Why?”

Coda stopped scrolling through the menu and looked at me.

“Because he under-estimated you.”

“He under-estimated me? When did he under-estimate me?”

“Yesterday. During your sim rampage. He lost a lot of money on that final round. He even upped his wager when he saw you were in a LitheMech.”

Azza-lea was astounded.

“Your Father was betting on sims?”

“A little discretion, Azza-lea. We’re in public. Lot’s of people bet on sims.”

“But that’s illegal.”

“It was just a wager between friends.”

I wasn’t as surprised about the betting as Azza-lea, but I was kind of surprised he was betting against me. It brought back flashes of “dim lord”. The players you’re up against don’t want you to win. That’s a given. Having someone you know wanting and hoping you would lose, that just made me feel bad. 

“Turn around the frown, my friend. It’s just business. Dad would even wager against me if he thought it would pay. In fact he has. I’ve lost many little bets to him. He’s very good at winning. Like you. That’s why he said to shower you in cake. So pick a cake, a pastry, anything.”

My instinct was to order the biggest, most expensive cake I could find on the menu screen. But the guy owned the place. He owned every CakeStand. He wouldn’t notice. Forget him, I thought. I scrolled past the cupcakes into the full-sized cakes looking for something we could all share. I tapped on a multi-layered chocolate cake that had thick belts of chocolate ganache between the layers and even more on top. It was called “The Chocolate Overload”.

Azza-lea groaned.

“That is so good and so bad,” she said.

“Why bad?” I said.

“Because I will want to finish it and there’s no way I can eat a third of a cake.”

“If there’s any left you can take it home,” I said.

“Awww. But it’s your cake.”

“It’s our cake.”

“Praxit, if that statement has not already given us diabetes, then I’m sure the cake will,” said Coda. “Excuse me a moment while I go and make sure it is perfect.”

He left the table. Azza-lea and I admired the view. I told her about riding out of the city last night, and being surrounded by trees. I pointed in the vague direction of the roadhouse, but there was no sign of it or the road from CakeStand.

“Sometimes, during flight club,” said Azza-lea, “when I’m in a dive and all I can see below is the trees and rocks and creeks flowing here and there, I imagine crashing and just being lost and not being able to make it back to New White Horse. Then I pull up and there’s the city all bright and pretty and my whole body just quivers and shakes it off.”

“You’d be fine. It’d be like an adventure veerie. You’d live out of your cockpit. Catch fish in the stream…”

“It’d be awful. I’d be so far away from everyone. There’s not even drones out there. It would be so lonely. And scarey.”

“Scarey? Nothing can hurt you out there. The only resurrected wolves are on the other side of the continent.”

“Scarey because it’s so dark and crowded but just so empty of everything but trees and trees forever.”

“Trees forever?” said Coda, sliding back into his seat. 

“She’s afraid of trees.”

“Sounds like she’s afraid of forests. I am too. They are rather spooky. Guess who I saw, sitting at a table over by the kitchen?”

“Are they famous?” said Azza-lea.

“Not really, but you know them.”

“Do they play mechrosse?” I said. He was looking so pleased with the game it made me worried about the answer.

“No! It’s Coop. Good old Coop. Turns out it’s his birthday today.”

“Good old Coop? I guess he’s okay,” said Azza-lea. 

“108 and powering onwards. He’s celebrating it with Moira, the invigilator.”

The way he said “invigilator” I was sure he knew what had happened. I leaned out and scanned the tables in the direction Coda had appeared from. I couldn’t see Cooper, but there were walls and booths in the way. I hoped that meant he couldn’t see me either. 

“You didn’t tell him you were here with me, did you?” I said. I could just see Cooper’s red, saggy eyes widening at the mention of my name and him turning to the invigilator and going “So, did you look into Praxit’s 94?”

“No. I don’t think guides like to think much about us learners outside of regulation hours.”

While we waited for the cake Azza-lea showed us videos of yesterday’s melee squad competition. Her and Jaiyeh and Lashana are so impressive. They did this one final strength move where Jaiyeh’s YogiMech finished standing on one hand, its left leg pointing straight up with Lashana balancing on top of it, on her toes upon Jaiyeh’s foot, with Azza-lea’s mecha standing on Lashana’s upstretched hands. That’s impressive, just getting into that position. The thing is, the moment before they hit it, all three of them were in motion, spinning and somersaulting through the air. They each came out of their move, reversed jets, and froze, forming that incredible column. And they came second.

“Definitely a robbery. And in broad daylight,” said Coda. He grinned at Azza-lea. 

“I think I hear my favourite song,” he said.

I groaned. I could hear it, too. And it was getting louder. The guitars. The saxophone. Galah, our server, walked up with the cake, grinning, Azza-lea’s precious cake light on top of it. She must have slipped it to Coda when I was standing the baby. Customers at the other tables turned to see what the noise was. There a was bit of laughter, a few claps. 

Galah put the cake down in front of me. It was a full-sized cake, like a wheel of chocolate. On the top, below the cake light flashing fireworks and a picture of little me looking glum with too much hair, were big, greeny-brown letters spelling out “Happy Birthday Praxit”.

“Start blowing before our eardrums bleed,” said Coda. 

I blew and blew and blew into the little ring at the top of the light. Had the thing finally failed? It wasn’t stopping. I was getting dizzy.

“You are fifty this year, aren’t you?” said Coda.

Azza-lea laughed. What a mean trick, setting my birthday to fifty. I kept blowing and blowing. Every year you need to blow more into the cake light. Then, after you’re fifty, the lights need less and less blowing. Otherwise people like Cooper would pass out face down in their cakes.

The terrible music cut out. Azza-lea clapped. Half-hearted cheers came from the table behind me. I was either blushing from embarrassment or exertion.

“I was very specific about the colour of the writing,” said Coda. “I hope I got it right.”

“It’s very appetising,” I said. 

“I hope you were less accurate about the flavour,” said Azza-lea.

“You will have to taste it,” said Coda with a grin.

Galah, with a large knife and four quick slices, had a perfect wedge of cake in front of each of us. It tasted amazing. Even the awful icing decoration. CakeStand were famous for how delicious and almost handmade all their cakes were. I’m sure it should have blown my mind except I was still thinking about Cooper and the invigilator. Should I eat fast and try and get us out of here? Should I eat slow and hope they leave before we do? I really didn’t want to see them. 

What was I going to do? I could still see that stupid 94 shooting up like a shuttle out of that chart on Cooper’s screen. Toxic, stupid Enu. If only I had other scores that were even close to that. I swallowed cake. It was so smooth and chocolately. I should be enjoying it, but I couldn’t. I needed another good score. And there was only one way to get it that didn’t involve basic Enu.

We ate and we ate. Azza-lea and I drank bubble tea while Coda ordered a hydroponic coffee, black, no sweetener, no soy. 

“Mmm, delicious,” he said, taking a tiny sip when it arrived. “My father says CakeStand has the best coffee out of all the mechafes. I think he’s right.”

Then he slid the cup to the side and didn’t touch it again. 

Azza-lea rolled her eyes at me. I just grinned and made loud sucking noises with the last of my bubble tea. Then I had another, smaller slice of cake. So did the other two. After that, I couldn’t help myself. I had another piece, but it was even smaller than the second. I picked up the knife to cut a fourth piece and Azza-lea was like “No! You’ll be sick.”

I wasn’t going to let that stop me, but just then the cake stopped looking like food and started looking like a lump of chocolate and sugar. I’d had enough. I put the knife down.

As soon as we all sat back, stuffed and happy, Galah appeared and took the cake away, returning with it in a pink box. She hadn’t it to Coda, who handed it to me, and I handed it to Azza-lea. 

“Vivi will love a piece,” I said.

Vivi was Azza-lea’s little sister. Her family had two kids, but both her parents worked in media in the city. Two high incomes made raising two kids out in the rings easy. No way would Azza-lea have a YogiMech if they were living on basic.

“I will also cover the charges for table one fifteen,” said Coda to Galah as she was leaving. “Tell them it was a birthday gift from me.”

“You’re paying for Cooper?” I said.

“That’s so sweet,” said Azza-lea.

“It is sweet,” said Coda, “but it is also useful. He won’t forget it. If I ever have any stream issues I am sure he will be most helpful.”

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 13 (or start at the beginning).

CakeStand – PXT012

Now that’s more like a birthday! Praxit’s friend take him to a fancy mechafé. A tour of the Truly Autonomous Zone leads to a run-in with Davor and the poppers.

 

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Episode 12 begins:

“Looking good, Prax,” said Azza-lea. “Your baby mecha is sobering up.”

It didn’t feel that way to me. After yesterday’s intense simming in construction mechas and BasicMechs, and especially the LitheMech, the baby felt like a broken hunk of junk. Sure, the arms were maybe a little more in sync, and the feet weren’t trying to drift away like bored drones, but it was still janky.

“I think we can advance a little closer, rather than following him at this distance,” said Coda.

“I think if you’re in group comms range you’re in danger,” I said. But even as I said it I could tell the baby was more stable. “So how far are you making me mech this stupid baby?”

“CakeStand. It’s not the nearest mechafe in this direction, but it’s the best. Their range of pastries is vast. Almost handmade. My treat. It is your birthday after all.”

“I’ve got a cake light!” said Azza-lea

“Tell me it’s a new one. Not that old one that plays…”

“It’s the best!”

It was the best — in the worst way possible. The music was so cheesy, all old-timey squealing guitars and honking saxophones, like straight out of the 1980s. The sensor didn’t work well, so it was really hard to blow enough to make it stop. And, to top it off, it was still loaded with the picture of me from when I was a sad little six year old. Azza-lea refused to change it. It had pictures of all us from when we were six and Azza-lea demanded we use it every birthday. It was a pretty funny tradition. Unless you’re in the eating place blowing madly into a bowl of green gelatin while all the learners are looking, wondering what the heck you’re doing and why is terrible music playing.

“Just how far is this CakeStand,” I said. 

“Three kilometres.”

“I’m going to need arm surgery by the time we get there,” I said. “This thing…the proths—it’s like playing four games of tug-of-war at once.”

“Why don’t you try talking to it,” said Azza-lea. “It has a voice interface. Maybe you can tell what it to do?”

“Walk like a normal mecha, you stupid baby,” I said, but nothing happened. Coda laughed.

“See, it doesn’t work,” I said.

“Not like that. Be nicer. When I want Mr Snork to do anything I talk nice and gentle to him,” said Azza-lea

Mr Snork was her pet pig. It was just a plain grey pig, not a fancy pure-breed like the Osorio’s had, but it was really smart. I’ve seen her ask it to fetch her minitab. It ran up the stairs to her room and came back holding it gently in its mouth. And all it wanted was a scratch behind the ear. Mechas don’t have ears. Or feel scratches. 

“Fine. I’ll try again. Walk straight. Please.”

Nothing changed. I was still wrestling with the proths. 

“Start with just little things. And talk gently, nicely, to it.”

Talk gently? Mechas don’t have feelings like pigs do. They run programs. They have circuitry. Whatever.

“Okay, baby,” I said. I visualised how I wanted to move and then tried translating that into directions that matched up with how I was instinctively moving the prosthetics.

“Let’s just move our feet straight out, that’s it, bring the knees up higher, keep it all moving straight in front of us, that’s it.” 

Hmmm. It seemed to be working? The proths weren’t resisting so much.

“Now the arms. First the left, just a gentle swing in time with the right leg. Now bring it back, and bring the right arm forward.”

“Go on, Prax. No-one’s in comm range. It’s worth a try,” said Coda.

“I am trying,” I said.

“We can’t hear it,” said Azza-lea.

“Well, I’m coaxing it, and it might even be working,” I said. 

“I bet it’s filtering voice commands out of group comms. It’s saving us from the tedium of your control chatter.”

“You’re walking is already better. I told you so.” 

It really was working, except it made it hard to hold a conversation at the same time. I coaxed it along and once it was stepping regularly and the arms were moving mostly at the right time I said to it “That’s it, let’s just keep this rhythm for now.”

It worked. The voice interface was smart enough to understand what I meant. I stopped talking. The baby wasn’t fighting the proths. It was so much easier. Still a bit wonky, but the strain of wrestling every limb was gone.

I was able to talk the baby into walking faster, and faster, until we were moving pretty close to a normal walking rate. It made for a jerky ride. It felt like I was walking through an earthquake. But it was such a huge improvement a wave of relief washed over me. Walking to school on Monday would be okay. It wouldn’t be a passage of humiliation and embarrassment. If I spent more time coaching and directing the thing, it might even be completely normal by Monday. Then it would just be ugly and dumb looking, instead of ugly, dumb and clumsy.

CakeStand was super busy. There were mechas standing along the ring road. All the mecha ports were taken by ten and twelve metre mechas. I guess the place wasn’t popular with kids. There were only two ports free. They were in a prime spot, right next to the road, but they were marked reserved. 

“These must be for us,” said Coda, striding up to the first one.

“Figures,” said Azza-lea, taking the one next to him.

“Sorry, Praxit. You and your little green mecha will have to stand on the street. We’ll see you in the lobby.”

Like every other mecha port in New White Horse, and every one on the Earth and the moon, the mecha ports at CakeStand weren’t designed for short, fat mechas. I de-meched in the street and walked up the stairs, like I had arrived in a basic shuttle, while Azza-lea and Coda docked their mechas. Their feet never even touched the ground. They strolled from their cockpits, along the elevated walkway to the lobby, where they waited for me to arrive.

“It looks even busier on the inside,” said Azza-lea. 

“Never you mind,” said Coda as the server, a blonde woman with a name badge saying “Galah” came up to us.

“Right this way, Mr Ghosh,” she said and we followed her to a table by a window that faced out over the industrial ring and to the wilderness beyond it.

“Mister Ghosh?” I said.

“Thanks for making reservations,” said Azza-lea.

“I didn’t,” said Coda. He brought his shoulders up and acted like he was studying the menu screen, scrolling past picture after picture of cupcakes. “Father bought CakeStand recently. Every CakeStand is now part of GI.”

GI stood for Ghosh Industries, his Dad’s company. I guess Coda could now walk into any CakeStand in the city, in the world, and get the VIP treatment.
“So when I said it was my treat, it is really my Father’s treat. He said, Praxit, that you deserve to order whatever you like. ‘Shower him in cake,’ he said.”

“What? Me? Why?”

Coda stopped scrolling through the menu and looked at me.

“Because he under-estimated you.”

“He under-estimated me? When did he under-estimate me?”

“Yesterday. During your sim rampage. He lost a lot of money on that final round. He even upped his wager when he saw you were in a LitheMech.”

Azza-lea was astounded.

“Your Father was betting on sims?”

“A little discretion, Azza-lea. We’re in public. Lot’s of people bet on sims.”

“But that’s illegal.”

“It was just a wager between friends.”

I wasn’t as surprised about the betting as Azza-lea, but I was kind of surprised he was betting against me. It brought back flashes of “dim lord”. The players you’re up against don’t want you to win. That’s a given. Having someone you know wanting and hoping you would lose, that just made me feel bad. 

“Turn around the frown, my friend. It’s just business. Dad would even wager against me if he thought it would pay. In fact he has. I’ve lost many little bets to him. He’s very good at winning. Like you. That’s why he said to shower you in cake. So pick a cake, a pastry, anything.”

My instinct was to order the biggest, most expensive cake I could find on the menu screen. But the guy owned the place. He owned every CakeStand. He wouldn’t notice. Forget him, I thought. I scrolled past the cupcakes into the full-sized cakes looking for something we could all share. I tapped on a multi-layered chocolate cake that had thick belts of chocolate ganache between the layers and even more on top. It was called “The Chocolate Overload”.

Azza-lea groaned.

“That is so good and so bad,” she said.

“Why bad?” I said.

“Because I will want to finish it and there’s no way I can eat a third of a cake.”

“If there’s any left you can take it home,” I said.

“Awww. But it’s your cake.”

“It’s our cake.”

“Praxit, if that statement has not already given us diabetes, then I’m sure the cake will,” said Coda. “Excuse me a moment while I go and make sure it is perfect.”

He left the table. Azza-lea and I admired the view. I told her about riding out of the city last night, and being surrounded by trees. I pointed in the vague direction of the roadhouse, but there was no sign of it or the road from CakeStand.

“Sometimes, during flight club,” said Azza-lea, “when I’m in a dive and all I can see below is the trees and rocks and creeks flowing here and there, I imagine crashing and just being lost and not being able to make it back to New White Horse. Then I pull up and there’s the city all bright and pretty and my whole body just quivers and shakes it off.”

“You’d be fine. It’d be like an adventure veerie. You’d live out of your cockpit. Catch fish in the stream…”

“It’d be awful. I’d be so far away from everyone. There’s not even drones out there. It would be so lonely. And scarey.”

“Scarey? Nothing can hurt you out there. The only resurrected wolves are on the other side of the continent.”

“Scarey because it’s so dark and crowded but just so empty of everything but trees and trees forever.”

“Trees forever?” said Coda, sliding back into his seat. 

“She’s afraid of trees.”

“Sounds like she’s afraid of forests. I am too. They are rather spooky. Guess who I saw, sitting at a table over by the kitchen?”

“Are they famous?” said Azza-lea.

“Not really, but you know them.”

“Do they play mechrosse?” I said. He was looking so pleased with the game it made me worried about the answer.

“No! It’s Coop. Good old Coop. Turns out it’s his birthday today.”

“Good old Coop? I guess he’s okay,” said Azza-lea. 

“108 and powering onwards. He’s celebrating it with Moira, the invigilator.”

The way he said “invigilator” I was sure he knew what had happened. I leaned out and scanned the tables in the direction Coda had appeared from. I couldn’t see Cooper, but there were walls and booths in the way. I hoped that meant he couldn’t see me either. 

“You didn’t tell him you were here with me, did you?” I said. I could just see Cooper’s red, saggy eyes widening at the mention of my name and him turning to the invigilator and going “So, did you look into Praxit’s 94?”

“No. I don’t think guides like to think much about us learners outside of regulation hours.”

While we waited for the cake Azza-lea showed us videos of yesterday’s melee squad competition. Her and Jaiyeh and Lashana are so impressive. They did this one final strength move where Jaiyeh’s YogiMech finished standing on one hand, its left leg pointing straight up with Lashana balancing on top of it, on her toes upon Jaiyeh’s foot, with Azza-lea’s mecha standing on Lashana’s upstretched hands. That’s impressive, just getting into that position. The thing is, the moment before they hit it, all three of them were in motion, spinning and somersaulting through the air. They each came out of their move, reversed jets, and froze, forming that incredible column. And they came second.

“Definitely a robbery. And in broad daylight,” said Coda. He grinned at Azza-lea. 

“I think I hear my favourite song,” he said.

I groaned. I could hear it, too. And it was getting louder. The guitars. The saxophone. Galah, our server, walked up with the cake, grinning, Azza-lea’s precious cake light on top of it. She must have slipped it to Coda when I was standing the baby. Customers at the other tables turned to see what the noise was. There a was bit of laughter, a few claps.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 12 (or start at the beginning).

Final – PXT011

It’s the final round of the elimination series. What mecha did Praxit choose to go into battle with against three HardVac Rangers? Did he make the right choice? Will he finish in one piece?

 
 

Listen to it on your favourite podcast player.

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On Android? Click this.

 

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Episode 11 begins:

The lobby was replaced by the narrow virtual cockpit of a six metre LitheMech. The same model my sister had danced in. The same model the sim rig had been tuned for. The same model I had learned to pilot with.

The field appeared and right away it was obvious Coda was right. We were facing each other from the four corners of a tower pad. The pad was bordered by infinitely tall grey walls showing the faint grid pattern of a sim boundary. We were walled in to this small space. Except it wasn’t really a wall. You could collide with it, but you wouldn’t bounce, you wouldn’t stick, you couldn’t punch a hand-hold into it, you couldn’t jump off from it; you would just slide down to the ground. 

There was a beam on the ground in front of each mecha. We all grabbed for them. After the ponderous construction mechas, whose long limbs always seemed to be moving in slow motion, the LitheMech made me feel like I was four-limbed lightning. The feedback from the prosthetics made the heft of the beam obvious. In the construction mechas it was like picking up a twig. I was going to have to compensate for its weight. 

GLRCSux8819 had spoken the truth. The three of them were walking straight towards me and I had nowhere to run to. At least they couldn’t surround me. And if I backed closer to the corner, well, they were going to have take turns attacking me. They were all carrying their beams in the right hand of their mechas. Once they got close only the mecha on my left would have a clean strike. 

I moved back. Gravity was normal and I wished it was ratcheted down again.

As they moved closer group comms cut in and I heard laughter.

“Who brings a dance mecha to a heavyweight slug fest?” said a girl’s voice. By the Scandi accent it had to be AuroraBorer.

“Would you both just shut it and do your jobs,” said another girl. I bet it was BattlePig32. 

As they got closer the mecha on the left tossed its beam from the right hand to the left hand and gave it a swing. Okay. Now two of them could have a swing at me. I could handle it. 

The centre mecha stopped and the other two kept coming towards me. I moved into a defensive stance, waiting to see who would swing first. 

It was the mecha on my left. I swivelled and deflected their beam, then turned, ready to do the same to my right, but I was too slow. 

The full force of an active alloy beam swung by a 15 metre HardVac Ranger caught me in the side. It sent me flying across the pad like a discarded doll. I skidded along the ground until I hit the virtual wall. 

I was so lucky. If that blow had hit my cockpit, or an arm or a hand, anywhere except the body, I would already be red-flagged. I couldn’t risk another hit so my defensive plan, keep blocking and wait for the inevitable mistake, had to be abandoned. I had to go on the attack. 

They were stomping towards me. I threw my beam away and flipped onto my feet, skipping beyond their reach. Between its strength and speed, piloting the LitheMech made it feel like, short of flying, gravity was something you could ignore. 

Every second, every step I took, the old muscle memory kicked back in stronger and stronger. It was like I was playing rather than fighting. 

I led them on a short chase until I was in the middle of the pad. They spread out again, pursuing their three-pronged attack. I danced around them so I was only facing the rightmost one. I stepped in and they swung at me. But I had already danced back out of the way. From there I jumped and landed on their shoulder. There was no way I could pop a joint on these big Rangers with my bare mecha hands, but I knew their weak points. The biggest one was the round peripheral canopy port on each side of the head. It was hardened mono-crystalline glass, designed for deep space. 

One thing that was harder than that glass was the jet shielding on the bottom of a mecha’s foot. As the other player straightened up and reached for me with their other hand I did a little hop and a fast spin and brought the heel of my foot down hard upon the port, shattering it.

I had to jump as it collapsed, losing power as the red flag went up over it. 

One down two to go.

“Remember the deal. Stick with the plan,” shouted BattlePig32. 

That was the last thing she said during the match. The other mecha hit them straight in the cockpit, bending the beam with the blow and sending the Ranger backwards onto the ground, red-flagged.

“The plan’s dead,” said a guy’s voice. I guess it was GLRCSux8819, which means I just took out AuroraBorer. “I’d rather earn my points the honourable way. One on one. Mecha versus mecha.”

He pulled the beam from the the fallen mecha’s hand and advanced on me, swinging both of his weapons back and forth in front of him. 

I cartwheeled away. How could I have forgotten how much fun a LitheMech is? And how fast they are. As long as I kept moving and stayed out of corners the other mecha could never get close enough to touch me. But we had one knockout each. With no building possible, once the clock ran out we would go into overtime and then just keep going until one of us was left standing.

He realised the same thing and stopped chasing me. He stomped to the middle of the pad.

“You’re going to have face me. Might as well as get it over with.”

“You could quit out and save yourself some time,” I said.

“I don’t quit.”

“Me neither.”

I had worked my way back to the beam I had dropped. I picked it up and held it near the end with both hands. Then I sprinted towards the waiting mecha, the end of the beam pointed straight at it. 

He raised his beams, ready to strike me or block any jab I might attempt.

But I wasn’t going to jab him, despite how it looked. Moving at full speed I threw the beam into the air. By reflex he raised his beams to block while I went down into a slide, passing right between his legs, right under him and behind him.

I dug my feet in, stood and back flipped, twisting in the air and landing on the edge where the mecha’s torso joined its hips. From there I leapt again. Turning over in the air I landed just behind the top of his head. Despite its strength, the falling weight of the LitheMech forced its head down towards its chest, opening a gap between the cockpit and the neck. 

I caught the falling beam I had tossed and jammed it into the gap. 

GLRCSux8819 thrashed his beams around his head and I had to jump to safety. Turning to face me, he couldn’t lift his cockpit up. That beam was locked in tight.

“What have you done?” he shouted.

“Stabbed you in the back, I’m afraid,” I said.

I shuffled back and forth in front of him. In and out. Tempting him to attack. He raised both arms and brought them both down, trying to hit me or catch me between them. Except he didn’t. I jumped and landed on his left arm. I jumped again, getting some extra height as he tried to shake me off, sailed over his head, and landed with both feet, knees locked, on the very end of my beam.

Hear the rest. Listen to Episode 11 (or start at the beginning).