Damn, the exoskeleton was hot. Two minutes strapped into the smart harness with its thick exospine and the oversized, carbon-fiber limbs that grew from it, and sweat pooled between Jenna’s shoulder blades, over her own spinal column. The whole thing hummed with electronics and throbbed with support motors. Nothing like the black top, mini skirt, and sneakers she’d worn on her previous job, waiting tables and tending bar at Lazy Dog’s.
But the pay was three times what she made in tips, and she had the evenings to herself.
She was moving up in the world.
Jenna raised her thick new arms in front of her, closed and opened her fists, rotated her wrists, wiggled her fingers. Her robotic hands enlarged her motions, each finger lined with a flexible pad for a non-slip grip.
The clear visor of her hard hat displayed the specs. Lifting capacity: 400 lbs.
Holy shit, she was strong.
If Paps were still around, he’d be both horrified and impressed. He’d worked the docks all his life, loading and unloading endless trucks of e-commerce goods and wrecking his back in the process, before exosuits became “cost-effective.” All to give her a roof over her head and some measure of security at a time where robotics and AI were turning the job market upside down. He wanted her to have a nice, clean office job and wear a suit to work.
Well, she was wearing a suit all right. Just not the kind Paps imagined.
Anyway, she wasn’t cut out for office work. Couldn’t imagine anything duller than sitting at a desk in a cubicle no bigger than a port-a-john and staring at a computer all day.
“What the hell are you doing?”
A grim-faced man stepped in front of Jenna. Piercing blue eyes under black hair peppered with gray. No exosuit, but judging by the way his muscles bulged and roped under his long-sleeve tee, he’d worked construction for a while. He held a tablet in hand. “You don’t move until I tell you to move. I’m still linking you up. Got it?”
She’d forgotten her Mech trainer.
His name was Daron, and he’d looked pissed from the moment she’d walked into the hangar this morning, after onboarding in the office trailer—an entirely computerized process that consisted of a rudimentary quiz on safety rules, followed by two dozen electronic forms, half of them the company’s liability waivers. He barely spoke to her as he helped her suit up and run system diagnostics, and now he jabbed at his tablet, a permanent scowl etched into his face, like her very presence was a lousy joke.
“What’s your problem?” Jenna snapped.
That got Daron’s attention.
He looked up at her, gaze sharp enough to slice metal. “My problem? Right now, you’re my problem. I have five houses to print this week, a rig that can handle two, and I’m a man short. I need a real Mech, with experience on the job. Remind me, sweetheart, how much experience have you got?”
Jenna bristled. Sweetheart? Was this guy for real—or messing with her?
So she was new—fine. But her tech certificate required sixty hours of VR practice, and she’d clocked in ninety-four and aced all her tests, on top of a hectic schedule at Lazy Dog’s. She busted her ass to get here. A little appreciation would be nice.
“My name is Jenna,” she corrected. “And if we’re as busy as you say, why are we wasting time standing around here talking? Give me a job to do. I’m a fast learner, sweetheart.”
Daron’s eyes widened and his lips twitched, his face a fraction less menacing for a second. But then the scowl was back in place. “Okay, Jenna. I see you’re eager to get out there. Super. But I still need to know one thing. Your number one job qualification, and not something I can look up in your file.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
The Mech stared her in the eye. “Are you going to lose your shit when something goes wrong?Yes or no? Because my crew are out there, and I don’t want anyone hurt on my watch.” He pointed his thumb at the open gate of the hanger and a dusty office trailer baking in the sun. “So if you can’t handle the heat, do us both a favor and quit right now.”
Jenna clenched her teeth and glared. What a dick. Was that supposed to scare her? He wouldn’t be the first to try. “Sorry, I’m not much of a quitter,” she snapped.
“Is that right? I guess we’ll find out.” Daron rotated his arm, the tablet unused for the moment, and jabbed a quick pattern on the touchscreen strapped to his forearm. “And speaking of safety. See that faint lock icon in the upper right corner? It’s a motion override. You try anything stupid, and I’ll freeze your ass.”
Jenna glanced at the icon, indignant. She knew about the safety feature. It was for emergencies only. She was about to tell her trainer to go ahead and try it, see what happened, when a loud metal bang shattered her thought.
Another Mech—a woman in a full suit—had just brought her massive carbon-fiber fist in contact with the gate. Her hard hat was in her other hand. Tattoos swirled up her shaved head and sweat glistened on her throat. “Daron, you coming? We need you to QC.” Her eyes moved to Jenna. “Who the hell is this?”
“Hi, I’m Jenna,” Jenna said quickly. “I’m new.”
“No shit,” the woman answered, then banged her fist on the gate again. “Come on, boss. Chop, chop. It’s getting hot out there.” And she was gone.