art by Wi Waffles
On The Big-fisted Circuit
by Cat Rambo
Jane counted them again to make sure: twelve.
Twelve signatures on the back panel, most jerky with haste, a couple deliberate and firm, one with a little flower above the i, for god's sake. The pen in her hand ready to add the thirteenth.
How blatant were they going to be?
This was the biggest suit she'd ever crawled into. It meant money, money dripping through the wires around her, money in the gleaming metal struts, money being made by every step it took, money her family needed, every step a week's rent and food if they were careful with it.
She'd never hit a thirteenth signature before. Most rigs, even the monster ones like this, got destroyed long before a thirteenth fight. It wasn't just the bad luck, it was dealing with machinery that had been damaged and repaired, damaged and repaired, until you didn't know what was original body and what was filler.
The sound of the crowd filtered into the suit. Most were screaming, "Coke! Coke! Coke!" as though they meant blood instead, shouts thrumming through the five railroad cars' worth of metal surrounding her.
Everyone knew what happened in a rig's thirteenth fight. Sure, not every time, if a fighter had enough mojo to overcome the bad luck. But who needed to ride odds like that in a fight? Plenty to think about then without having to listen for the black cat's squawl.
Unless you'd already closed your ears to the sound, choosing to listen to cash's siren song.
"Everything okay?" Herk poked his head into the interior, but came no further. Day of a fight, the suit's wearer didn't really want anyone else in the control cavity, the suit's heart, even with the struts retracted so there was enough room for a couple of people to wiggle around.
"It's a thirteenth," she said.
Her mechanic paused. The red and green and blue of the interior lights played over Herkimer Smith's face, scarred with sparks and the blow that had ended his own career. Jane had figured Herk wanted her to succeed, but it couldn't feel all that fine, seeing someone brushing past you on the path you'd figured you'd be treading.
And that blow had come while wearing a suit in its thirteenth battle, fighting for a breakfast cereal they didn't make anymore.
"You want out?" Herk finally said.
"Not an option," Jane said, her voice as flat as a past-due bill's red font.