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My Powersuit Arrived From eBay Today
My powersuit arrived from eBay today. I was lucky to win it. A group of anime freaks in Kansas had ganged up to outbid me but I cut in and beat them at the end. They’d just have put it in a glass cabinet, the better to stare at it and admire it. They wouldn’t have had any fun.
The manual looks like it’s been translated from Japanese by way of Hungarian. Real John Cleese stuff; the book doesn’t contain the words “My hovercraft is full of eels” but it may as well do. It’d be more help. There are big cartoon diagrams instead of warning labels. I think one near the back has a mushroom cloud. I dread to think what powers this thing.
I try UseNet, find
alt.binaries.warez.powersuit-control.ID10. The control software’s all in Japanese, something I didn’t think of when I put in that bid. The cracked version promises to just be a translation, but I can’t be sure. I find a sandbox emulator for the powersuit, but it needs a machine five times as fast as mine to consider loading. I install the software anyway. Sure, it might have a virus and I might die when I try it, but if I try piloting it with only Kanji text then I’m definitely going to die. At least it’s a better excuse than the one I have for the ripped copy of Microsoft Office 2023 that opens up the manual.
For ease of use and safety:
- Ensure all flammable objects and people are at least fifteen (15) metres away from flight jets.
- Do not expose to excess heat or pressure (this unit is not rated for operation below the planet’s crust)
- Keep arms and legs away from catches when donning suit.
- Do not smoke when operating powersuit.
Some models have a minor problem with the built-in IFF designator. This is a known issue. Do not activate weapons within fifty (50) metres of friendly targets. All weapons are NRA-certified
Emma’s getting annoyed. I’ve spent the last three nights tinkering with this thing, trying to get the software to a usable point. I try explaining that the guy only shipped a parallel adaptor rather than the USB one that he advertised, that it’d take a week to get everything operational. She smiled and asked what one more day was. I gave up that night, and took her to dinner. I may have a powersuit but I’m not obsessed.
Actuator settings are stored in static RAM, accessible even if the on-board power plant (from the look of it nuclear, with a fifty-year usable lifespan) cuts out. Of course, the bastard who sold me this heap of junk didn’t bother re-setting them. As it is, trying to move my arm nearly ripped it off. I spend a painful hour typing one handed, re-setting things manually, and trying to restore feeling to everything below my right elbow.
One of the laser lenses is cracked. I don’t know how I missed it, but it’s no more powerful than a flashlight. I check the prices of replacement lenses, but they’re stupid-high. More than I make in a month writing web pages. The siren song of eBay calls again, but I look at the suit and the cracked lens and the chipped paint and the stupid manual, and sigh. I’m going to have to re-spray it as well; the previous owner had no fashion sense. If I save really hard, I can get by on just one laser for now. The shock cannons should help, but the replacement ammo is only available through accredited resellers who add monstrous profit margins to the astronomical import duty. Another weapon of last resort.
There’s a weird smell inside the helmet. I can’t spray it clean because that’d mess up the circuitry. So I’m going to have to put up with the smell of someone else’s head-sweat whenever I pilot it. On the other hand, the image enhancement and terahertz radar are nice and sharp. The mounted iPod is full of J-pop and synthrock crap. I spend a night working up a heavy metal playlist for my heavy metal powersuit.
I need a launchpad. Emma won’t let me take off too close to the house, not with our new set of garden furniture. I move my stuff (lawnmower, stash of hard copy pornography, video games) from the eaves of the shed and install an opening roof. Everything but the lawnmower goes on eBay; it goes in the garage. I mention over lunch one afternoon that an underground hangar would be cool, but I get The Look. We’ve not had the garden done more than six months, and there’s no way I’m digging it up to build what she calls “a bigger shed”.
For my birthday three weeks later, she buys me a new laser lens. I take her out to dinner every night that week, because I have been neglecting her and I know I’ve been neglecting her and I don’t want to turn into one of those weirdos who get off on advanced military hardware rather than humans. I leave the suit unattended, data umbilicals trickling bytes into the on-board computers. Nothing to do now but fit the lens and wait for everything to patch itself in.
A suit this size normally has a ten-man support crew and twenty more incidentals, running software patches and checking armaments and that sort of thing. I wonder what most of them actually do. Sure, it’s taken a long time, but my powersuit is ready to run after just over a month’s work. On the other hand, there may still be some bugs. I left a semiautonomous agent looking at the software to see if there were going to be any conflicts, but it couldn’t be certain. Powersuit systems are really complex.
The night of my first test flight. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of whisky by my hand. Emma’s out, studying how to make nanotech out of kitchen foil and sticky-back plastic, a night class run by an old Blue Peter presenter. I’m staring at the glass because the suit still smells of someone else and the actuators aren’t perfect and I’ve not even re-done the paint and I’m going to die when I take off. I must be mad. Sure, these things are all the rage in Japan, but nobody in Britain bothers with them, except the RAF’s experimental squadron. How the fuck am I supposed to control it? What am I going to do with it? This dream isn’t coming true gracefully. I drink the whisky, trying in vain to numb the doubt.
Feedback needles prick my skin, interfacing with my nervous system. The cavernous breastplate folds over, cables snap away. The powersuit’s arms lock around my own. I pick up the helmet and lock it on, a thin trickle of sealant gel running down my bare spine. All readouts are good. Nothing overhead on radar. The shed roof opens up above me. My legs lock into position. Control surfaces unfold. The jets roar.
I’m flying! I’m a fucking genius!
There’s a place my uncle works at over the river that re-sprays cars. I owe him a visit, he owes me a favour. I know he works late of a Thursday, the night his wife spends “quality time” with their kids. Given that each of the little sods thinks “quality time” is screaming, running around and being sick on one another, he does right. There’s a pinup calendar on the wall, beautiful girls draped over beautiful cars, and an old gas-burning Mustang on the jacks. He laughs like a maniac when I pop the helmet and he can see my face. I tell him I need a re-spray. He’s wanted to do one of these since they took out the giant lizards off Osaka.
An hour later, with paint shining in the light and having spent far more money than I first intended, I take to the skies again. I land outside the school where Emma has her night class. Her face makes me smile. She didn’t know I was having a test-run. We don’t say anything to anyone. Pressure-sensitive panels in the fingertips let me wrap a force field around us—wouldn’t do for her to get bugs in her face—and we take off once more.
This beats having a car any day.
Stew Wilson is a writer, game designer, computational demonologist, and mathematician.
This blog covers his professional writing and game design work.
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