Cohost writing prompt: @Making-up-Mech-Pilots — Mech Pilot who lost the match but won the crowd

The Mechball big leagues are a trillion-credit industry. State-of-the-art custom machines, their glowing energy cores generating some of the most powerful artificial magnetic fields ever seen. Huge spherical spaceborne arenas, plastered with sponsor logos. And the ball: a dense, solid, ferromagnetic sphere, a wrecking ball big enough to take out a mech on a fumbled grab.

Some people watch it for the strategy; some people watch it for the mechs. Some people watch it for the pilots. But a lot of people watch it for the chance that today, they get to see a hypervelocity matte black ball of iron fucking kill a guy.

Local league is...a bit tamer.

A scrappy collection of ageing off-the-shelfers, extensive safety rules on reactor output maximums and ball velocity. No arena but a Mech Positioning System software fence, regulation distance from the central radio buoy. Two teams of amateurs, up-and-comers not yet up-and-come, and too-old-for-it never-up-and-camers.

The Clangwood Gunheds are getting flattened, in the usual "had 'em in the first half!" way they do against...well, everyone. First game of the season, and they're starting off their obligatory meteoric plummet to the bottom of the league. Engine trouble for one of their flankers meant they needed to sub in a spare machine, which would have gone better if there were any; and then the Harrison Annihilators kept possession for the entire second half, snappy long-range passes and slick handoffs, launching it through the scorezone once and twice and stop, stop, we're already dead!

Lindy nearly had it. Nearly. The one bit of smart manoeuvring they've managed all match, and then whomp. She was spinning at G-warning speeds, emergency thrusters braking hard, core going into controlled safety shutdown. When she slows down enough for her vision to go back to normal, she can make out, in the rotating starfield outside, her mech's left arm, way off in the distance being chased down by rescue-retrieval bots.

So while the standby medic's checking her over, she had a front-row seat to the last few minutes on the match clock, with the Gunheds two mechs down, when the Annihilators make it 4-0.

Things are quiet and a bit tense in the shuttle down. Not that anyone thinks it's Lindy's fault, but it's going to be a hell of a chunk of repair money out of the club finances, when they're already so broke they cannibalised the substitute mechs for parts.

They file out into pouring rain and head off their separate ways, not even commiseration drinks on the cards, and Lindy trails off towards her car in the shuttleport's parking.


"Sam? What the hell are you doing out here in this?"

Lindy's roommate Sam skips over through the puddles, under a big, bright yellow umbrella, wearing probably the only Print-On-Demand Clangwood Gunheds shirt ever sold. She watches all their games from the shuttleport downlink screen when she can; she is, they joke, the home crowd, as in "the home crowd couldn't make it, she had to work late."

"Waiting for you." Sam's not beaming, the way she normally is; not even wearing her usual 'rough game, huh' sympathy. There's a little frown creasing her forehead. "You okay? That was a hell of a hit."

"I'm fine. Medic checked me out."

"Actually fine, or macho fine?" Sam gets close enough to reach up and twirl the umbrella over both of them, looking up at her, and Lindy's heart twitches in the way it's been doing more and more often around her.

"Sore," she admits. "Headachy from the Gs — hell of a spin. But fine, honestly."

"Uh-huh." Sam shakes her head. "I'll drive, okay?"

She really is starting to feel it. "Okay," and then Sam surprises her in the car with a juice box and painkillers, and she tears up a little. "Oh! Thanks."

"Sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I just—" she waves the juice box. "You're taking real good care of the team's most expensive disaster player."

"Nah." Sam crooks her a grin, and starts the car. She grips the wheel like she's nervous about something, shoots Lindy a sideways look.

"Are you okay?"

"Worried me out there today. You know how it is," Sam says, still looking, a burr in her voice. "The home crowd's always wild for our star striker."